Dai's room was messy as always, and the floor reverberated in time with the bass of the music he was playing. Rikki had to shout in his ear a few times to get his attention and she grinned when he hurriedly turned down the volume.
"Who was that?" She asked, enchanted by the music that was now coming at a reasonable volume from his speakers.
His green eyes showed his shock. "They're the newest hot band."
Rikki pursed her lips and shrugged. "Don't know them."
Dai groaned and sat heavily on his bed. "EverScript? Have you even heard of them?"
Rikki shook her head innocently, an abashed smile on her face. "Sorry. Finals were hell and I'm still trying to figure out if I wanna go to university."
"Rikki, they came out a year ago. And the deadlines for applications passed a few months ago." Dai sighed in exasperation.
"Really?" Rikki cried out, and she slapped her forehead. "Stupid me. I knew I should have looked at that before!"
Dai raised an eyebrow. "And why didn't you?"
Rikki blushed scarlet. "I…forgot."
Dai groaned half-heartedly. "I'm assuming you also didn't know about Kai and Yuki, did you?" He asked, listing their other two friends.
Dai smiled at her, and shook his head. "You're really helpless. They got together last month, and have decided to go to the same university."
"Why am I always the last to know?" She wailed. "What else have I missed?"
"That there's an EverScript concert tonight." Dai blushed slightly as he mentioned it. "Do you want to go with me?"
Rikki shrugged, a bit of her jacket slipping off her shoulder at the movement. "Sure, why not? I just have to stop by home to tell mum and Cho."
Dai began grabbing his wallet and a jacket as he answered. "Sure, sure."
The walk to Rikki's house wasn't far, and the only sounds on the way were their breathing and the thud of Rikki's combat boots on the pavement. Dai had his hands shoved into his pockets, and his blonde hair blew across his face with the wind.
"So…what have you decided to do after this summer is over? It's our last summer, you know." Rikki said cautiously.
Dai sighed. "I've told you before, I'm working with my dad at the store." His thoughts were obviously someplace else, and Rikki flushed as she realised that he had already told her his plans.
"Oh. Seems like I'm the only one who doesn't know what she wants to do," she replied as she laughed nervously.
Dai's face was thoughtful. "I don't think anyone knows what to do. We're just taking things as they come."
By this time, they were already in front of Rikki's house. Cho opened the door before they had even finished climbing the stairs of the porch, and the brunette scowled at her older sister. "Rikki, you said you going for groceries."
Rikki grimaced. "Oops. I forgot. I saw Dai's window was open, so I decided to stop by."
Cho fixed her glasses and readjusted her bag on her shoulder. Her short, wavy hair barely brushed her shoulders and she flicked it behind her with an exasperated look on her face. "I figured you would. So, what's up?"
"Dai invited me to go to this concert, and I came to pick up a couple things." Said the white-haired girl, barely suppressing her excitement.
Cho smiled. "Yeah, sure. Don't worry about the groceries, I wanted to get some fresh air anyways. Mum's out by Mrs. Ishida, and I guess she's not going to be back before you. Have fun."
Rikki hugged her younger sister, gushing, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Dai laughed. "Sometimes I wonder who is the older sister."
Cho levelled her blue eyes at him as Rikki disappeared into the house. "Me, of course."
Rikki came running back outside and grabbed Dai's hand. As she rushed off, she waved at her sister in good-bye, her face split into a wide smile. Cho smiled back and sighed as her sister disappeared. "She always has so much energy…"
The line for the club wasn't long, and Rikki was bouncing on her toes with enthusiasm. "This is going to be so much fun!"
Dai nodded, barely suppressing his chuckle at her child-like antics. As he looked away from Rikki to the bouncer, he didn't notice as Rikki's eyes focussed on a shadow at the door of the club. Before her eyes, the shadow seemed to detach itself and slip into the club. She shook her head. It must have been a play of the light… Before she could ponder it further, Dai nudged her. She showed her ID to the bouncer and continued to the ticketing. By the time she entered the club, the shadow was already forgotten.
Chika glanced out the curtain and scowled. "Dammit Akae, I hate you."
"Is the crowd big?" Akae's gold eyes were wide in anticipation, and she had her hands gripped in front of her bosom expectantly.
Chika glared at her. "It's huge." Akae squealed, and Chika covered her ears.
"This is so exciting! Ohmigosh!"
"Akae, shut it, would ya?" Chika yelled over her screams.
"Why are you so upset?" Akae folded her legs under her as she sat onto the ripped and over-used sofa, picking up her guitar and strumming a few chords. Ai, their bass guitarist, joined in on a lower chord. "It was your idea."
"I didn't think you would go this far! Not only did I have to endure months of practising and recording, now you're making me do…this! I was being sarcastic!"
"Chika, I am hundreds of years old. I don't get this language of 'sarcasm'."
Ai looked up at the two, her brown eyes wary for a fight between the red head and black-haired girl. Chika had her small arms crossed over her unusually large breasts and her hazel eyes were furious, and Ai could see a little fear behind it. The blonde sighed and picked up Chika's drum sticks and threw it to her, and in a show of dexterity, Chika grabbed the spinning sticks in mid-air.
"We're on in five." Ai's voice was bored.
Chika gulped and started beating her legs in a senseless rhythm on her thighs.
Ai stopped playing and swung her bass guitar over her shoulder, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her baggy jeans. Akae also stood and pulled down the hem of her short dress. She then strung her guitar around her shoulders until it was in a comfortable position.
When the emcee announced their presence, Ai and Akae walked out with large smiles on their faces while Chika glared darkly at the crowd before settling behind her drums. She immediately started the drum intro for their first song, and Akae shot her a sharp glance at starting so early. Chika gave her an impish grin, and the concert began.
They were well into their seventh song when Akae gave her two other band members an imperceptible nod. Ai started a low riff and Akae played a chord so high that it was unheard by human ears.
The three members of EverScript tried to cover their winces at the high pitch, but none could hide their disappointment. I guess it's only us – again, thought Akae to herself. The two other hosts also looked disappointed. However, a flash of white drew Akae's attention to a girl in the middle of the crowd, and a triumphant smile broke across her face. Or maybe not.
She was bent over, her hands covering her ears and her mouth was open in a small 'O'. Akae saw that both Ai and Chika noticed her too, and without waiting for their consent, she closed her eyes and summoned the fire deep within her.
Time slowed, and finally stilled. The silence of Akae's other world was deafening, and as she opened her eyes, the reddish tint of her world made everything seem more demonic. As a spirit of a legendary creature, she was able to create her own world and summon who she wished into it. Usually it was only hosts that were allowed entrance into her dimension, thus eliminating the chance of innocent humans getting injured if there was a battle. It sucked all hosts in the surrounding area into it, also allowing Akae to identify new hosts. This dimension existed alongside the human's, but in a vacuum of time. No matter how much time passed here, when they returned to the normal world, no time would have passed.
The three women jumped off of stage and made their way over to the girl, and Akae saw that a blonde haired boy was holding onto her shoulder supportively. He was looking around him in wonder. That in itself was odd, as no normal human should be active in her dimension. Akae shrugged off the thought, brushing it off as a coincidence of holding onto the girl as she transported into Akae's red world.
Akae then gave her full attention to the girl, who was slowly straightening. Her ice-blue eyes were turning into a deeper blue and her hands turned from claws to normal. "Wha-wher-huh?" She was staring around her in a confused expression.
Akae spread her arms in the international sign of welcome, and gave the girl a wide smile. A flash of movement caught her eye, and her gold eyes flicked to behind the human boy. She winced as she saw Chika raise her bow and bash him on the head. Chika's longbow was made of the hardest wood, and normally could not be pulled unless the person was abnormally strong- which Chika was. Because of its hardness, it made a good club, and Chika used it to its full advantage. Ai would sometimes come out of practice with large bruises on her stomach from being hit by the thing.
"Ow, what was that for?" The boy immediately spun on her, his hands covering her slightly bleeding head. His green eyes were furious.
Chika shrugged, an impish smile on her face. Her bow shrunk into one of her drumsticks. "Coz you're so damn cute." She retorted sarcastically, but when her eyes locked with Akae, the interest and confusion were evident.
"Who are you people?" The girl's frightened whisper made Chika bark with laughter.
"We're humans, idiot. We're the same as you."
The girl's blue eyes were frightened. "What do you mean, 'like me'?"
Akae sighed and conjured a cushioned chair. She folded her legs under her as she sat. Waving her hand to encompass the two others, she started to explain. "We are the hosts for powerful spirits, like the one you host in your own body. But before I get into all of that, what are your names?" As she spoke, more chairs and sofas appeared into the room.
The girl sat warily into the nearest sofa, and the boy sat next to her. They shared a glance, and shrugged. "I'm Rikki. His name is Dai."
"I'm Akae, that-" She pointed to EverScript's drummer, "is Chika, and the blonde is Ai. So now the introductions are finished, I can explain this better to you. Tea, anyone?"
Chika snorted as she settled into a chair. "You know you want hot chocolate. I'll take coffee."
"You know how I like my tea, Akae." Akae nodded in Ai's direction, and pointedly looked at the newcomers.
"Um, water should be fine." Rikki seemed to be the spokesperson for the pair. Akae waved her hand and the drinks appeared in front of their owners. Rikki stared at it as if expecting it to bite her, and made no move to pick up the bottled water. Akae shrugged, her expression serious. Finding a new host s one of the things that Akae would take seriously.
Blowing on her steaming cup of chocolate, she began to explain. "If you think that there is only the human world that exists, the you are incorrect. "
"Are you saying you're aliens?" The girl's face of wonder was almost comical.
"No, idiot," snapped Chika. "As in other dimensions. There's our dimension, the spirit dimension, among others."
"So, what is this?" The boy's green eyes were almost cold as he looked at the three women.
"This is another dimension, but one that I created." Replied Akae. "It's a fabricated dimension, so it's not like the others. I can summon this at anytime and change things within it, like the chairs and drinks. However, the dimension I want to speak to you about, Rikki, is the spirit one. It exists alongside the human world, and it is not unusual for spirits to look in at the mortal world. Very rarely do spirits actually cross over."
Ai jumped in. "They can't live as spirits alone in this world, or else they'll wither away and die. I guess that's where the ghost stories come from; spirits unable to find a human host strong enough to hold them. So they wander around human dwellings, 'haunt' them for the rest of their lives. They can never return to the spirit world, and die here."
Rikki stared at them blankly. "So what does this have to do with me?"
Akae answered, leaning on her knees so that she was able to look the younger girl in her eyes. "Some spirits that do cross over would inhabit the body of a human. This spirit gives its host various attributes, from different coloured hair, abnormal strength and speed, and even control over a form of an element. These animal spirits differ, just as you and I differ. Thus the abilities would obviously be different from host to host. Chika is unusually strong while Ai is the fastest out of us all. However, these hosts all have strength, speed and hearing far above a normal human's."
Rikki shook her head. "I still don't get what this has to do with me."
Chika rolled her eyes. "You're one of those hosts."
Rikki's deep blue eyes widened and a soft gasp escaped her mouth. Dai looked thoughtful, and his eyes flicked from one girl to the next. He didn't look too shocked, and Akae assumed that he probably caught on from the moment that she had mentioned the different dimensions.
Ai nodded. "We all are. These spirits inhabit humans at birth, or even at conception; we're not really sure. The spirits also alter their hosts- like your white hair, for example. Chika is unusually strong and I'm really fast. Akae…well she's special." The red head gave them a brilliant smile, and it almost seemed as if she was sparkling.
Dai snapped his fingers. "So that is why you established EverScript. You can play high notes on your instruments that allow you to see anyone in your crowd is a host. There are some flaws with the plan, but that's pretty smart."
Chika growled. "Watch it, smart boy. It was my idea."
Akae rolled her eyes. "Weren't you the one complaining about it the most just now?"
"Just because I thought of it doesn't mean I have to like it." The shorter girl retorted.
"Anyways," Akae interrupted Chika's rant with a sharp look, "how did you feel when I played the high note?"
Rikki shivered. "As if everything inside me was telling me to run. I felt as if there were ants crawling under my skin."
"And she grew claws." Dai interjected.
Chika grinned. "Her eyes also became really cold, too, almost like a feline's. I can't wait to see what kind of animal she turns out to be!"
"Wait, what? I thought I was only possessed by an animal spirit."
"The spirits, when they gain full control, take on an animal's form. This too differs from person to person, spirit to spirit." Akae answered, taking a sip of her drink.
"What animal are you?"
Akae gave her a proud smile. "The best ever: a phoenix."
"So you rise from your ashes?" Dai asked, his face intent. Rikki's face was amazed and incredulous, but Dai's face was serious.
"Yes. I lost track of how many lives I have spent on this earth."
Rikki's mouth was now hanging open. "So that means you're...old."
Akae jumped up, her gold eyes flashing. "I am NOT old! I'm still young, barely a thousand years old!"
"Face it Akae, you're an old woman." Chika chuckled.
Akae glared at Chika, and a spark of fire appeared on Chika's sleeve. "Ee-iee!" Chika jumped up and down, trying to out the growing fire on her arm. "Put it out, put it out, put it out!"
Akae gave her a triumphant look and stopped the flames spreading up Chika's arm. "Don't call me old."
"Sure, sure." Chika stomped away from Akae, mumbling under her breath.
Ai sighed and looked at the freaked out pair. "Not only do we 'shift' into our animal forms, we also have control over elements- as Akae mentioned earlier and just nicelt demostrated. My second form is a lioness, and I control earth."
"No one can control the earth." Rikki retorted.
Ai raised a blonde eyebrow, and without a twitch or change of expression, the ground under her chair started to shudder until it the area around it broke off from the floor and started to rise in the air. Rikki gulped.
As Ai lowered herself, Rikki seemed to be getting a hold of herself. "So, what does Chika control?"
"Wind." Chika answered from the back corner of the room. "I'm a hawk."
"When will I find out what I control?"
Akae sighed. "When your second form reveals itself, you will discover it. However, we only control part of the element- like I control the whole element of fire, but that's because I am a creature of legend. Usually, a spirit that control over an aspect of fire would only be able to control flames or heat. For example, with water, there is ice, mist and then water itself."
Both Ai and Rikki froze, and both their noses twitched. "Intruder." Ai's voice was no louder than a whisper. The blonde reached for her earring and as she removed it, it turned into a staff with a lethal-looking blade on one end.
Akae's eyes flicked to the corners of the room, a perfect replica of the club they were in. Her golden eyes alighted on Dai. "Someone knock out the human." She hissed, a slender katana growing on her chain belt. She pulled it out of its sheathe and gripped the handle in a two-handed grip.
Chika already had her bow out, and she raised it over Dai's head. For the second time that night, the short girl hit him with her bow.
"Ow, would you stop hitting me?" Seeing the look of pure murder in her hazel eyes, he started to back away from her, his hands raised in surrender. "Hey, can we talk this out?"
"No, you're supposed to be in the real world! You're not supposed to survive my blows! Die!"
Akae shook her head as Chika chased the blonde boy around the room, but her eyes were sharp and flicking around the room. She saw that Rikki's eyes were distinctly cat-like, and ice blue. Her hands were already forming claws, and the beginnings of black stripes began to form on her skin. Akae already had an inkling of what animal she was, but she didn't have time to ponder it now.
A man-shaped shadow detached itself from the doorway, catching Rikki's eye. The teenager was about her age, with floppy black hair that partially covered his bright green eyes. He gave her a mocking smile.
Akae noticed him a second after Rikki had. "Kaede. I should have smelled your stink a mile away." Her voice was so cold, Rikki expected her element to be ice and not fire.
"You're too late." Shouted Ai, her staff at the ready. Rikki noticed that Ai's teeth had sharpened and that Chika had an arrow strung on her bow, and had it aimed at the boy's chest. "We have her already."
Kaede gave Rikki an appraising glance, which made her cheeks grow hot. "Really? Seems she likes me better."
"Buzz off, Kaede." Chika raised her bow threateningly, Dai cowering behind her.
The boy raised his hands in defeat, but his captivating eyes never left Rikki's. "Until next time, then."
The tension in the room didn't dissipate until Rikki sensed the boy's aura leave Akae's dimension. The people in the room released a collective breath.
"Who was he?" Rikki's eyes darkened, but they were still trained on the spot where he had stood. Her hands and skin were once again normal.
Chika lounged across the nearest sofa. "Kaede. Son of the two biggest baddies in the world."
"Hiro and Tomoe are the two most powerful demons from the spirit world." At Rikki's confused looks, she continued, "Demons are spirits who are corrupted by their dark element. They're not different from other spirits except they control an element of darkness. Thankfully there aren't many but they are strong. Hiro and Tomoe came here a few years after I did, and have been occupying humans ever since." Akae's voice was sad. "It just so happens that the couple they possessed this time around had a son. I don't know whether it was sentimental reasons, but they left him alive."
"Sentimental reasons?" Dai's voice was bewildered.
Ai sighed. "Kaede is a host of a spirit, like us."
"He also controls the element of darkness." Akae's voice was so low, Dai and Rikki had to strain their ears to hear it.
"Oh." Rikki's eyes strayed back to the doorway.
Shaking her head, Akae gave the pair a winning smile. "Well. Seta would want to meet you as soon as possible, so stop by after the concert. Your training would start right away."
"Our training master, manager, whatever you want to call him. Oh, and you would most probably have to live with us from now on." Akae tapped a finger on her chin. "The house I think does have a few unoccupied rooms…"
"What about our families?"
"You can't live with them anymore." Chika's voice was bitter. "It will be too dangerous, and they would probably want nothing to do with you after this anyways."
"What?" Rikki's tone was disbelieving.
Ai answered, her voice neutral. "Well, for one, your family would be targeted if you continue to live with them. And they usually want to kick you out when they find out you're a freak."
"You...you've got to be kidding me." The three band members shook their heads sadly. Rikki sat onto the nearest chair, hard. "I can't believe you. I can't. My family is not like that."
"What about me?" Dai's voice sounded lost.
"Well you, I don't know about you. You're a normal human." Akae's tone was bewildered. "You're not a host, so I don't think there'll be anything different. As for you, Rikki, we will give you some time tonight to say goodbye and get your things. Meet us back here when you're done."
Rikki's blue eyes showed her anger. She stood up, towering over the phoenix. "You're lying! They won't kick me out!"
Akae met Rikki's infuriated blue eyes with her sad golden ones. "I guess we'll find out."
Rikki walked into her house, doubts plaguing her mind. What if Akae was speaking the truth? What if her mom and sister really did shun her?
"Rikki? Is that you?" Rikki released a sigh of relief as he mother came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands. She ran into her mom's arms and took in her familiar scent. "Hon, what's wrong?"
Rikki wiped her eyes and gave her mom a weak smile. "If I told you I was a freak, would you kick me out?"
"Oh honey, no! We would never do that!"
Rikki took a deep breath, gathering her courage. "Good. Because I am."
Kagura's face became angry. "Who told you that? Because you're not. Just because your hair is not a normal colour, doesn't mean you're a freak!"
"No, mom, I am. Watch." As she said that, Rikki closed her eyes and searched for the light that she had discovered tonight. She found it, and bathed in its brightness before allowing it to spread throughout her body. She felt her hands elongate and sharpen, felt herself become stronger and she knew when she opened her eyes she would be able to see with more clarity than ever before. But when she opened her eyes, she saw something she never expected: her mom's terrified face.
"You're a monster." Kagura's voice was low, but full of fear. Rikki felt her heart tear into two. Kagura backed away from her daughter, her hand over her mouth as she gasped uncontrollably with fear. "You…you're not my daughter. I want you out of my house!"
Rikki released her light and allowed herself to return to normal, her expression sad. "I'll pack my bags."
Her mother didn't protest as she made her way up the stairs. Rikki threw her clothes into a duffel, looked around her small room, and couldn't think of anything to take with her.
A noise behind her made her spin around, wary. Cho held the door open, her eyes impassive as always. "I saw what you did downstairs. Mom's an idiot. But I guess you're going anyways." Rikki nodded her head. Cho sighed, and hugged her sister around the waist. "Please take care of yourself. If you don't have me, I don't know what you'll do. Don't get yourself killed, ok?"
Rikki smiled at her little sister. "Sure thing."
As she turned to leave her room, Cho stopped her with a hand on her elbow. "One more thing. Please take this?" In her hand, Cho had her favourite locket.
"Cho, I can't. That's yours."
Cho shrugged. "Something to remember me by. Plus, I'm gonna be taking all your stuff anyways."
Rikki smiled and shook her head, but took the locket anyways. "Fine. Take care of mom will you?"
Cho rolled her eyes. "Duh."
When Rikki left the house, she never looked back.