iii.) turning into tiny particles / floating through empty space.

“Do not stop, Kohana.” Lest she be witting to the myriad of corpses littering the streets behind her. “Do not look back.” She would be struck still as a statue at such a sickening scene. In her shock, the Shadow above would not hesitate to slay her. “Press forward.” For her foe will spare her no quarter. In stalking her from above, it promises her first mistake will be her last one.

She makes denying death look effortless, evading one instant-killing attack after the next with frightening focus. She is running the streets of Kyoto with the Star Stealer brandished not out of obligation as Spectra’s general, but out of a fervent desire to be a hero. I will be blunt, I care little about exploiting Kohana’s naïveté and will use her love of heroism to my advantage.

The Shadow eclipsing the sun is less lenient than the one before it, avoiding toying with Kohana altogether. For all her agility, a laser manages to graze her cheek and immediately decapitates the pedestrian behind her. Their head explodes and she catches another one underfoot, crushing it as she continues to dodge the Shadow’s barrage of beams from above. Those who do not fall from the Shadow’s missed attempts to kill her die from the instant-death effect of its attacks, being killed by the lasers an out-and-out mercy in comparison. Kohana’s instincts are animal; like we Celestial Beings, Summoners have an inherent aptitude for battle. Training is an unnecessary, but welcome, addition to a Summoner’s already-heightened prowess. She is too concerned with stopping the Shadow to notice the massacre happening around her, becoming more of the cosmic weapon she dreaded by the second. Kohana is indifferent, too concerned with annihilating her target to care, brutal in her pursuit of it, destroying moving vehicles as she hops atop them to attain higher ground, thereby making highly-populated buildings the Shadow’s next target.

She runs up a 7-storey building with blistering speed, the windows that find themselves unfortunate enough to be level with her stilettos shattering under the pressure of her gravity-defying advance. She throws her blade up the length of it in the same manner one would throw a javelin, deciding she does not need it. When she reaches the top of the building, she looks down and her mouth twists into a grimace. Knowing the building will soon crumble, she steadies herself for its inevitable collapse and launches off it by way of a backflip, thereon calling upon her magic while she makes her descent. Her eyes glow furiously as the building is caught mid-fall by way of her spatiokinesis, surrounded by the same green light that spills from her irises.

True to her self-sacrificing nature, she has placed the lives of the civilians over her own, sparing them from being crushed to death by the building at the cost of recovering from her fall. To my surprise Kohana rotates her body with catlike agility and ensures she lands hand-first, her touchdown smooth as it is gentle. Utilizing her momentum, she pushes herself off the ground and leaps back into an upright position, snapping her arm out to the side in order to catch the previously-discarded Star Stealer which, after spinning around multiple times, falls perfectly into the palm of her hand as soon as she opens it, the people of her planet staring wide-eyed at her performance.

“Doing a ton of work down there Yuki.” I place the tips of my index and middle fingers against my ear to adjust the reception of my communicator. D’ivoire has picked an odd time to contact me. “Earth’s getting shredded.”

“That would be the Shadows and the Summoner’s doing,” I correct, looking at a group of Shadows coordinate an attack against Kohana. She sees them but is unsure how to approach them, making a loosely-wound fist with her left hand and taking a tentative step back. Fighting the instinct to run, she takes a deep breath and steels herself for what is to come.

“Hold on, hold on. What do you mean Shadows? Shadows, with an ‘s’? Shit.” It finally dawns on him that Kohana and I’s situation on Earth is dire.“You didn’t tell me things were that bad, only that you were stranded. I’m so stupid, I should have known you of all people wouldn’t contact me if it weren’t serious.” He was the one who told me ‘even Spectra’s Strongest needs help,’ his words verbatim.

“Did you think me indestructible, D’ivoire?” I tease. I glance at Kohana who is now surrounded by Shadows, fighting tooth and nail in order to avoid being overwhelmed by them.

“Knock it off, will you? Now I have to see who’s available and scrap up a last minute team. None of the people I have on hand are good enough for that sort of competition. Rayne is going to kill me.”

My dear sister would never hurt him. “To be fair, I also did not know there was an umbrakinetic here. Do not blame yourself, D’ivoire. Rayne will understand as well.”

“Not sure how understanding she’ll be seeing you brought back to Spectra in a casket.”

“There is no need to catastrophize. I am well; you should know the Summoner fought a Shadow by herself mere hours ago.” I do not hear anything from D’ivoire for quite some time. It’s worrisome.

“A’ight, listen. Tell me, what the hell kind of wet-behind-the-ears Summoner doesn’t die fighting a Shadow? Jeez.”

“The stubborn kind,” I say in full confidence. D’ivoire sucks his teeth.

“Oh, okay then. Can’t wait to meet this miracle kid and learn their secrets. I’d like to be able to beat things that should annihilate me by being hard-headed too.” Before I can respond he ends the transmission, most likely annoyed by Kohana’s resilience. Whatever the case is, I can now focus.

“Are you alright, Kohana?” The Shadows have her on her back. One of them is salivating over her, long, jagged teeth coming into formation. Her face tenses as the Shadow slams its hands on either side of her head, teetering as it leans in closer.

“Does it look like I’m okay to you?” she says, full of derision. “A little help would be nice. Appreciated, even.”

“Call upon the Star Stealer.”

“And what is the Star Stealer going to do against” She pauses, counting the number of her enemies down on her fingers. “16 Shadows!

“As I have said, the Star Stealer is attuned to your magic. Your proficiency, as a result, is heightened. The Star Stealer will guide your hand.”

Kohana takes my advice and conjures her weapon but, instead of using it, throws it at a horde of Shadows a few feet away from her. Before I can say anything, some of them burst around her. The one responsible is a wolf that shifts mid-assault, exchanging her fur for knee-length hair barrel curled loosely at the ends. Though ethereal, there are several unnerving things about her, such as her eyes being the colour of bright, vivid blood. In them I see countless massacres and, most notably, the corpses of all those lacking the sense not to challenge her. She manages to portray herself as nothing more than a pretty, empty-headed girl and a cruel, wicked demon whose evil knows no bounds all at once. It is not the execution itself that is jarring, but the fact that she succeeds in combining two conflicting things as seamlessly as she does. It is my belief that this is the effect she wished to attain through her shift, to come off as both doll-like and destructive in equal measure.

There remains one wolfish thing about her in this form: the way she moves with extreme and ferocious energy, ripping Shadows to ribbons with claws she has kept long and sharp with reckless abandon.

This is the first time I have seen self-preservation from Shadows, scared out of their wits into sense by the she-wolf’s presence. From her wafts something biblically cataclysmic, something that smites those against her in an instant. She, the water into blood. She, the mixture of wild animals. She, the death of the first born, the final and most painful blow. With her on our side, we have an unbeatable advantage. The Shadows want nothing to do with her, and will abandon their pursuit of Kohana if she is near her.

Kohana rises to her feet in awe, too fascinated to look away and too terrified to run.  As the girl walks past the Star Stealer, she wraps her hand around its hilt and pulls it out the ground, wind surging through its blade as it reacts to her magic. I am impressed she understands how the Star Stealer functions without being told. In a deft motion, the girl presses the Star Stealer’s blade stark against Kohana’s back, to which she raises her hands up in surrender and yelps. The girl smirks, unveiling her teeth to Kohana who gulps upon catching a glimpse of them.

The girl’s smirk widens as she brings the Star Stealer up to Kohana’s throat and turns the steel in a way that forces Kohana to instinctively lift her chin up. “You are leader?” She speaks with a thick Russian accent, omitting the article between ‘are’ and ‘leader.’ Kohana looks at the girl as best as she can and nods her head, resulting in the removal of the Star Stealer’s blade from her neck. She lets her body fall in a sigh of relief, doubling over and catching her breath after forgetting how to breathe. She will get no sympathy from this girl, it seems that compassion is not something she is capable of.

Kohana coughs before rising up on her feet, reaching out towards her. “W-wait!” she stutters, tripping over herself as she attempts to follow the other. There is a blush that dusts her cheeks. “You haven’t even told me your na—!”

“Do not.” A cold but powerful command, one that causes Kohana to quickly retract her hand and take a hurried step back.

“Yes ma’am!” Kohana says as she snaps into attention. This girl is truly a force to be reckoned with, managing to frighten Kohana into submission. That is something neither I nor the Shadows could accomplish.

“I believe she means she does not have a name,” I say, clarifying the girl’s comment. I thought the aforementioned clear, considering the girl is a shapeshifting animal. The girl turns around again and Kohana gets behind me, peering at her from around my shoulder.

“She’s scary.”

“Hopefully you think her less so in the future. She is a Summoner, same as you. There will be ample opportunity for you to become acquainted with her. Do not give up, she may yet open up.”

Kohana perks up, clinging to the sleeve of my coat. The girl’s ‘scariness’ bothers her little compared to the possibility of never growing close to her, although that raises a few questions on its own. Kohana craves the girl’s companionship, that much is certain. With the way she blushes at her there may be something deeper here, a crush. To be afraid and infatuated all at once, Kohana is struggling to make sense of her conflicting emotions. Her passion betrays her, her emotions so extreme they are written across her face in big, bold letters. She could not hide her infatuation even if she wanted. It permeates her expression, her voice, her body language; every part of her professes her love for this girl, and it is only by the mercy of her being a wolf that the object of her affection takes no notice. I did not think I would bear witness to ‘love at first sight.’ I vow to keep Kohana’s feelings a secret.

“We will refer to her as her military titlethe Summoner of Changeuntil we are in a more favourable environment to discuss such frivolities.”

Our wolf companion stops and turns towards us, her eyes still retaining that bleeding quality about them. “Very well.”

“I am not calling her the Summoner of Change,” comes Kohana’s adamant response, stomping her foot and peering up at me while wearing a pout. “It’s a mouthful! That’s six whole syllables.”

“So is the Summoner of Time,” I reply, tilting my head. Only Kohana would throw a temper tantrum over something as inconsequential as this.

“That’s not the point.” Kohana illustrates hers by folding her arms in a petulant manner, huffing as she does so. “She’s a person, she needs a name.”

“Forgive my bluntness, Kohana, but there are more pressing matters to attend to.” Such as preventing her world from being destroyed. Surely she can see the cracks stretching across impressive lengths of the Earth.

“The tall one is right.” The girl’s rationality is sorely needed in our ensemble. It is my hope that she makes a habit out of ending Kohana’s tantrums. “Come.” She punctuates her command with a sharp turn on her heel. Kohana speeds up behind her.

After a while of silence, Kohana pokes her index fingers together, mustering the courage to look at her. “Um…” The girl does not turn around, ergo, Kohana is forced to talk to her back. “…Miss?” she continues, her expression brightening. “I-I was wondering… How did you… y’know… find me?”

“You reek.”

Kohana nervously laughs and scratches the back of her head. There are tears pricking in her eyes and her lips are wibbling.

“She means she was able to find you because of the magic you exude. Unique to the Summoner of Time is their passive emission of magic. Unlike other Summoners, you are constantly producing magic as per the unique way you were created. Said magic is largely ambient, that is to say it is not normally a specific type that you send forth. In the case of it being a particular kinesis, generally it will be newly-created time and space that you exude.”

“She tracked me on smell alone? How does one smell magic?”

“Yours is particularly potent.”

Kohana purses her lips together, desperate to change the subject. “Let me guess… the Summoner of Change can manipulate change.”

“That is not entirely wrong, nor entirely correct. As the Summoner of Change, she is what you would call an inclinkinetic.” My pause is purposely done to savour the look of confusion on Kohana’s face at that last word. As Spectra’s general, she will be expected to have memorized known kineses by name and function. “…Or a shapeshifter. Surely you were curious about the girl’s wolf form.”

Kohana narrows her eyes at me, knits her brows, and purses her lips. “What wolf form? I didn’t see a wolf.” Feeling self-conscious, she draws her hands into tightly-wound fists and frowns, compensating for her inattentiveness with anger. “Maybe if a certain someone didn’t leave me at the mercy of a thousand Shadows…!”

To that I cannot help but chuckle. “If exaggeration were a talent you would win the show, Kohana.”

“Exaggeration?” The word falls out of Kohana’s mouth like a shard of broken glass. “I’m telling the truth!” she insists, folding her arms with undo aggression. “I didn’t see anything!” That is surprising, considering she had been gawking at the girl like a love-struck puppy. “Finish what you were saying about the Summoner stuff, I’m not arguing with you on this.”

“What you see now is not truly how the girl looks.”

“Are you saying she’s an actual wolf?” Kohana stops and blinks. “Can animals become Summoners?”

“Yes.” It is an answer to both of her questions. “That is likely the case. There is a distinct possibility, however, that she may not be a wolf. We can speculate the actuality of her existence, but we will never know what she truly is until she tells us.”

“So the opposite of a werewolf, then!” comes Kohana’s triumphant conclusion. “A wolf cursed with humanity… sounds sad. I should paint her, you think that will cheer her up?”

“You would paint her before me?” I tease. “Am I not pretty enough to catch your artistic eye? I have known you longer, it is only appropriate that I be painted first.”

“I’ve known her longest,” she huffs, closing her eyes and folding her arms in an indignant manner. “There is an alien named Isleen Tchaikovsky in my mother’s stories. She’s one of my favourite characters, but my mother doesn’t talk about her often. I understand why. She’s Prince Ukyo and Princess Saki’s knight, so Isleen’s too busy with military stuff to go on adventures with them. And she’s not just any knight, no, she’s the knight commander! She’s so skilled everyone calls her ‘the Chevalier,’ that’s her official title. She reminds me a lot of Isleen. They’re both cool and pretty. They have the same red eyes and silver hair; they could be the same person. Same person, same name. Isleen Tchaikovsky, that will be her name.”

Isleen is a rather soft name for an animal, but I am given no time to vocalize my thoughts. The sky’s colour returns as the Shadow abandons the sun. Kohana, Isleen and I raise our guards, expecting a battle. In lieu of the aforementioned, the Shadow fashions itself into a lightning bolt, striking down a school immediately thereafter. The impact shakes the earth, covering the school in a thick black residue. Kohana’s horror is written all over her face, she need not say anything for Isleen and I to understand the severity of this situation. She opens her mouth to speak, but instead of giving words she lets out a shriek of terror. Balling up her fists to stop her arms from shaking, she takes a deep breath and then shakes her head, invoking her super speed; we lose Kohana in an instant.

Fortunately she has not gone far. We find her in the school a few paces away from the entrance, paralyzed by the grisly scene awaiting us. The walls are drenched in blood, the floor littered with pieces of her peers and instructors. I cannot recall the last time I have seen such savage, indiscriminate killing. What immediately comes to mind after seeing such violence is the millennia I spent in the Academy Program. I was made a spectator to exams wherein I watched hundreds of aspiring Advisors kill each other until one studentunrecognizable by way of a combination of wounds and being dressed in the remains of their opponentswas left standing. Exams that happened weekly, exams that the Academy eagerly awaited as a collective. It was difficult in the beginning, getting close to people only to lose them the next day.

Just as I had done when I was much younger, I begin to count the number of corpses present. Try as I might, there are far too many of them in this area; I am certain the Shadows brought most, if not all those still present to this specific location to kill them. Several of the Shadows are now eating what is left of her late friends and acquaintances in order to throw her into more emotional turmoil. I look to my left and see a boy no older than my charges attempting to crawl away from a Shadow. His lower body is missing. Using the last of his strength, he drags himself across the ground, leaving chunks of himself behind in the small distance he covers. Like an over-excited child, a Shadow bounces over to him and morphs its arm into a spear, driving it through his chest with a skin-crawling squelch. The boy writhes on impact, encouraging the Shadow to drive its arm further into his body before he stops moving altogether.

Another Shadow has crucified a child and is now picking their organs out of their body and popping them into its mouth like candy. As this Shadow happily chews on the child’s heart, other Shadows amuse themselves by wearing the faces of the children they have killed to amuse those around it. The Shadow in the sky’s recent attack could not have caused this. I believe these Shadows infested Kohana’s school after she left to meet with me. It is likely the Shadow that eclipsed the sun fled here to lure us.

It is not up to me to decide what we should do next. That decision is Kohana’s to make and the she-wolf knows this as well. I turn to Kohana, whose eyes are unfocused without any luster, so wide and unblinking that they simulate a pair of glasses. She is staring into the distance, her vacant gaze characteristic of a war-weary, traumatized soldier emotionally detached from the horrors around them. She runs her fingers through the hair cradling her cheeks to provide herself some form of comfort, only to drag her fingers through her scalp and do away with the neatness of her buns.

Isleen has grown impatient. Irritated, even, at Kohana’s reaction. She takes a single pointed step past Kohana and, although subdued, raises her lips to snarl at her.

“Leave her.” She proposes a solution to Kohana’s shock with cold logic. This girl is not one to mince words; she speaks like the edge of a dagger, short and sharp with calculating precision, a stark juxtaposition to Kohana’s words full of raw emotion.

“She will die.” I fold my arms over my chest, expecting a change in her decision; in lieu of the aforementioned, she presses on with bone-chilling indifference. “The school is infested with Shadows. They are attracted to her with intense and immediate interest. You will be ignored, and she will be devoured.”

The girl gives an arrogant snort of laughter. “A paltry meal,” is her only response before disappearing amidst the corpses and Shadows. The fact that she insinuated Kohana would not be a fulfilling meal makes me pause. She entertained the thought of eating her.

I turn my attention towards Kohana whose legs have given out from under her. There is a part of me that wishes that I could understand the devastation that plagues her.

I kneel next to Kohana and brush her bangs out of her eyes. She will hate herself for leaving school, for ‘leaving these people to fend for themselves.’ She will hold herself accountable for not being here to save them.

I remove the glove on my right hand. My ecliptic coordinates, in all their gold splendor, begin to glow. Ecliptic coordinates are Celestial-made tattoos that resemble constellations. Though pretty, their purpose is not an aesthetic one. On Spectra, it is thought that stars are a division of heaven. We eat the assembly of the blessed and adorn ourselves in it. Using a cosmic-coloured ink made from the magic that pervades our planet, we don the heavens in geometric patterns, paradise written all over our skin. Ecliptic coordinates, like our eyes, glow when we cast magic, and are especially vibrant when conjuring the additional kineses they bestow us.

I employ the magic Kohana has wanted so strongly for me to use. My coordinates cover the length of my arm, my hands, and my fingertips, moving counterclockwise against my skin before leaving my body and smattering themselves against Kohana’s skin. Her face in particular is freckled in my coordinates; it is the area they have decided is the most effective place to employ their magic.

This is not the devastating magic she assumed me capable of. My coordinates emit a gentle healing aura that enfolds her and brings her back to her senses, her eyes opening slowly as if she has been roused from sleep. When she realizes where she is and what is happening, she buries her face into my jabot before letting out a wail and immediately bawling.

“Why did you wake me!?” she screams into my chest. Curling her hand into a fist, she strikes my shoulder over and over again. “Why did you bring me back!” With each word she becomes more incoherent. “Why, why, why!”

“If we do not act, more people will die.” It is a sobering realization for Kohana, one that causes her to go silent. “You must,” I add, helping her to her feet. “You will. You can mourn after you have carried out your obligations. You must move forward for the Earth’s sake as well as your own. Now brandish your blade.” She opens her right hand and the Star Stealer materializes in it. “The other Summoner,” I begin, correcting my statement, “Isleen went ahead of us. I doubt she will be successful in locating the umbrakinetic, but it would be wise to follow her.”

“What do they even want.” Her voice has lost its colour. She does not sound like the Kohana I know.

“Umbrakinetics are incredibly strong magic users and are well aware of such. They are trying to test you, or perhaps lure you to them in order to unveil themselves. This school would not strike their fancy elsewise; they know there is something here that is important to you, perhaps

My mother!

Kohana holds the Star Stealer with both of her hands and sprints forward into a sea of Shadows, deftly sliding between a few of them before they realize she means to evade them in lieu of facing them in battle. Scorned, they begin to lash out at her, unleashing a barrage of swipes from long, needle-sharp claws and spiked punches. Kohana jumps over one Shadow’s head and flips in mid-air, landing on the shoulders of another before steadying herself and hopping off of it, thereon slamming the Shadow into the wall next to her and through what I assume to be a vacant classroom, her grip loosening around the Star Stealer. I watch as her sword slides against the floor. Greeting us is the Summoner of Change who calmly retrieves the Star Stealer and points it towards a Shadow different from the rest sporting blue hair and purple irises.

“Jinnouchi-sensei…?!” The urgency with which Kohana says that name brings me to pause. Even more troubling is the fact that Kohana seems to be referring to the Shadow.

It says Kohana’s name quizzically in response, its tone deep, distorted. Kohana’s heart sinks as she runs towards her teacher, stopping so abruptly in front of her that she nearly falls over. Like the heroes she idolizes, Kohana tries to be a pillar of strength. Fire-eyed, she throws her body in front of the Shadow, using herself as a shield against Isleen’s attack. I did not think Isleen capable of such merciful hesitation. She strikes me as the sort that would utilize any opportunity to defeat her opponent, even if that means striking down a comrade in order to do so.

Kohana is not intimidated by the tip of the Star Stealer mere centimeters away from her back. I am confused by her decision to shield this Shadow. They are the enemy; though not the umbrakinetic we seek, it is clear they are responsible for the Shadows flooding the school and killing everyone here.

Kohana is shaking despite acting decisively. She cannot keep her hands steady around the Shadow’s shoulders. It acknowledges her reassuring gesture by bringing its hands up to her neck and, thereon, wrapping them tightly around it. Kohana strains against the Shadow’s hold, placing her hands atop its own. “You have to…” She struggles to find the air to finish her sentence, “fight it! This isn’t you!”

“Please, Kohana.” Its tone is akin to a tender caress against the cheek. Kohana falls victim to its ruse. She is at ease, her body relaxing despite the Shadow tightening its grip.

Kohana holds the person the Shadow has been masquerading as in high regard; she trusts this Jinnouchi completely, and believes she would not do anything to deliberately harm her. I will be blunt: Jinnouchi does not exist. She never has. She never will.

Kohana’s aim is plain. With an act of self-sacrificing submission she hopes to reawaken Jinnouchi’s humanity, but she cannot rouse what is not there. Whatever the reason, this Shadow donned a human skin. It went against its violent nature to live amongst them. It fit the mold of a teacher of all things, and did the aforementioned so well that Kohana does not recognize her life is in danger even while she is gasping for air. I imagine Jinnouchi was friendly and congenial with her students, Kohana most of all. Drawn to the latter by way Kohana being a Summoner, Jinnouchi must have found it difficult to curb her urges to kill her. It is possible Jinnouchiin an attempt to quell themlavished Kohana in affection in much the same manner parents dote on their only child.

I almost pity it for teaching itself to love. It was without result, and now Kohana will suffer twofold for its error.

“I’ve killed so many already. I can’t hold myself back much longer.”

“I won’t! I can’t! You can do this Jinnouchi-sensei!” It pains me to see Kohana give her all for someonesomething that was never real. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Kohana struggles to keep her smile on her face. “I’m here,” she reassures the Shadow in a pained whisper, her eyes welling with more tears. “I won’t let you die.”

“Kohana.” I am stern, my expression that of stark disapproval. “Jinnouchi never existed. It is and has always been a Shadow. Do not fall for its ruse. Get away from it, now.”

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” There is no getting through to her. She is sick with emotion. “Stop talking!” Her voice is hoarse, her eyes bloodshot. “Stop!” she begs, she pleads, “I won’t let you hurt her! Leave us alone! I won’t let you, I can’t let you!”

Isleen tightens her grip around the Star Stealer andin one deft, heartless motiondrives the blade through Kohana and into the Shadow. The sound of Kohana choking on her unsung words is the only thing that can be heard before a powerful wind surges through the steel of the Star Stealer, the current ruining the room.

Kohana falls limp on the sword and the vicious shredding of Jinnouchi follows thereafter. Impaling Kohana with her own sword is not cruel enough for the she-wolf. Once enough of Jinnouchi has been flung throughout the room, she rips the sword out of Kohana’s back and retracts her arm, flicking Kohana’s blood across the floor. Isleen carelessly drops the Star Stealer and turns sharply on her heel, not sparing me so much as a glance as she makes her exit. I will not chase after her, nor am I keen on leaving Kohana to lay in a pool of her own blood.

“Will you be sending me off now?” Forlorn of all hope, the Shadowin all its scattered piecesasks if I will slay it, its voice resounding from every direction.

“Unfortunately, yes.” The ecliptic coordinates on my arm leave my skin and transfer to Kohana’s body, illuminating her with a wealth of constellations. Already the bruises on her face begin to fade. “You were created to protect her.” It is not a question. There is no other explanation for this Shadow’s strong attachment to Kohana. “I assume she fell out of favour with the umbrakinetic, then.”

“You know who they are.” Though tender in tone, there is a keen edge to its words. “There is no need for manipulation, Celestial, for I will not tell you anything you don’t already know.” I scoop Kohana off the ground as the Shadow continues to lecture me. That it thinks it has any say in my duties as an Advisor is absurd. “I don’t understand you. You condemn me for hiding the truth from Kohana and prolonging the inevitable, but are you not doing the same?” I owe this Shadow no explanation for my actions. Unlike itself, I am not pretending to be one of her parental figures. I do not dignify it with an answer. “Take care of her.” The Shadow passes along the orders it was given to me as it begins to dissipate into nothing. Its voice grates on my nerves, I should have rid myself of it sooner. I do not know how it is Kohana came to adore this person.

“Believe what you will.” For a moment it almost sounds human. “I loved that girl.” I will not fall for its deception. A Shadow knows nothing about love. “I did all I could to save her.” I am angry on Kohana’s behalf; would that she is conscious to hear how absurd her precious Jinnouchi sounds. “I did more for her than you ever will, hate me for that if you must.”

7 thoughts on “iii.) turning into tiny particles / floating through empty space.

  1. I think the thing I enjoy the most about this chapter is the glaring contrast between Kohana from the previous chapter to the one at the beginning of this chapter. She speaks of not wanting to become a cosmic weapon, that she wants to save people, but the frightening thing here is that when she is locked into a mode of intense combat with a being so strange and so powerful in of itself, she forgets her surroundings. She forgets that there are people in that moment to save. She forgets that she’s destroying things that people spent their lives on creating. She already possesses some innate qualities of the ‘cosmic weapon’ without really realising it. However, there are moments later on in the fight where her humanity does come through. That the idea hasn’t quite ‘taken hold’ and I really want to see how much this changes or if Kohana will fight back against what she is becoming.

    With Isleen’s introduction, I really like how Kohana immediately reacts to her. A mix of admiration, jealousy and love and yet Isleen remains disinterested. She doesn’t seem to care about accolades or needing to be praised to continue doing what she needs to do, and focuses solely on the task at hand with a cold and merciless eye. I really enjoyed reading the initial introduction of Isleen too, especially regarding her appearance. ‘Dreamy but vulgar. Soft but eerie.’ It automatically makes me think of china dolls painted to the highest quality and yet, no matter how much you make them look sweet and ‘innocent’, there is some creepy and mysterious nature about them that will never go away. And of course there is nothing sweet or innocent about Isleen. The way she tears the Shadows apart as if they are nothing and if I was concerned with Kohana’s initial ruthlessness about leaving people behind before then I’m more concerned that Isleen would kill whatever was in her path regardless of its affinity. I can’t wait to see how both of them work with each other as their personalities will make for some interesting and humorous interactions.

    Towards the end of the chapter I really get pulled in just because of the tonal change of the story so far. I had anticipated some horror elements from the Shadows, but I did not expect such brutality so early, which makes me really start to feel for Kohana and how this is going to affect her. There, in the school, many of her friends and acquaintances dead, and finding out that her teacher was a Shadow all along– how will this affect a young girl who, at the beginning, did not have any of this cosmic weapon business thrusted upon her and merely went to school and spoke to trees? The last few paragraphs of the chapter really do describe the sudden weight that comes down on Kohana, even if it is through the eyes of Hiroyuki himself who has shown us in previous chapters his inability to sympathise with Kohana’s human reactions, but during this event I do see some flickers of warmth come through. Whether that is an artificial warmth to get Kohana to complete her mission remains to be seen, but he definitely notices the emotional strain that this has on her.

    “Her voice has lost its colour. She does not sound like the Kohana I know.”

    I have a fear that Kohana will never recover from this and it will be the ‘beginning’ of many more to come. It will also be the beginning of a ‘new kohana’ perhaps. A Kohana less trusting of others. A Kohana too afraid of getting close to others in fear that she will lose them in an instant. A Kohana afraid of being alone where not even the trees can keep her company.

    I just love the tonal change the most. Will wait for chapter 5!

  2. This chapter is definitely my favourite. I feel like I have said that with each chapter that has been progressively coming out, but this one is DEFINITELY my favourite.

    I really like the juxtaposition of sweet/childlike imagery with the relatively gory nature of … literally /everything else/ going on. I mean, in just the first few sentences there’s LITERALLY tonnes of bodies piled up around everywhere — and Kohana remains in this dreamlike trance of grace and massive acts of heroism. She’s innocent and borderline oblivious to just how atrocious everything around her really is.

    There’s something about the way that you wrote this chapter that was terrifying because it was so horrifically …. sweet? Like, how the Shadows are “plucking out organs like candy”. That’s one line that has particularly stuck with me. It’s such an awful image, followed up by this grotesque battleground of dismembered children — I absolutely LOVE it. I cannot even put into words how much I like this particular way you chose to describe this whole situation; I think you’ve done a fantastic job of showing us just how monstrous the Shadows really are, that they could massacre an entire schoolyard and use children’s heads for a game of table tennis. It’s absolutely horrible, but in a way that’s so much fun to read.

    AND ISLEEN!! She has such a powerful presence already, and she’s hardly said a word to either Kohana OR Hiroyuki!! The description of her eyes as a “wet red” is more of your imagery that I particularly adore .. and like the whole nature of the chapter, Isleen really embodies this whole dichotomy of candy-sweet innocence and fundamental depravity. Her description makes her sound delicate and doll-like, and in the same breath she’s so monstrous that “even the Shadows show self-preservation” in her presence and run away — bearing in mind what I just said about the Shadows, that’s a feat in of itself. And then Isleen continues to prove that her appearance and her personality don’t align. And I believe that’s a clue as to what the REAL tone of this novel is.

    While I’m thinking about it, where Kohana was oblivious to the carnage around her out of focusing on this image of being a hero, Isleen is oblivious to the carnage out of sheer apathy. I definitely agree with Hiroyuki’s observation that Isleen is something of a “foil” to Kohana, and they’ve hardly even interacted yet besides the whole “turned me into a kebab” thing.

    OH AND JINNOUCHI AND HIROYUKI’S CONVERSATION … that came as a bit of a shock, honestly. I didn’t expect any of that to happen, I’m definitely thrown for a loop here. I have so many questions.

    I can’t wait for the next chapter to come out!!

  3. This chapter was dark. Dark, as in it woke me up from the heroic, self-sacrificing narrative Kohana gives only to be passed on to another perspective and mindset that describes her struggle as a young war general. Possibly my most favorite part of this chapter was the fact that Kohana is projecting the romanticized idea of ‘Isleen’ onto the summoner of change, only to find out she is nothing like her at all. Equally heartbreaking and psychologically jarring, the imagery of the deceased within the school was .. horrible to imagine, much more for Kohana to experience it all face to face. Best chapter so far imo, can’t wait for more to come ! – Kidd

  4. I think my favorite part is the striking realization in both the first few paragraphs and the last. we’re finally seeing and realizing that everyone’s intent wont change no matter how manipulative the shadows are, Jinnouchi is my absolute fave and i enjoyed what we’ve seen of them and how they went out in the last chapter.

    I ENJOYED isleens interaction. Its amusing, and chilling at the same time. Its interesting of their ‘unfriendly rival’ dynamic, without being too introvertedly overwhelming so we can all focus on whats going on at hand instead of whats going on in both kohana and isleen’s mind ( super clever in using hiroyuki as a narrator instead of kohana so we have a central ideal of things )

    I think the only problem i had was reading the scenery transition cues until it was deep within the actual scene and where I begin to pick up in what the actual character is doing ( in which we know they went from the city area to the school and how kohana was struck by star stealer ) but beyond that im rlly rlly excited to see what isleen does next. :^)

    1. Scene transitions are definitely something I plan to clean up when I come back to this chapter because I totally did rush connecting a couple of them. I’ve got big plans for Isleen and you’re totally right, if Kohana had narrated this chapter Isleen would have been written off in a completely different light. Kohana is not exactly the best judge of character and especially with someone like Isleen, who deliberately goes out of her way to be perceived as something she isn’t.

  5. Ahhhh another great chapter! I love the fact that we have the fight narrated to us in detail, there’s something about distancing ourselves from Kohana and watching her as she dazzles us and saves people with what seems to be no effort to us!

    Also ISLEEN! I’m so excited to see her appear! Your description of her makes her seem so ethereal and stunning. I love how we get the little fourth-wall break with the “it is my belief that this girl will foil Kohana” I know it isn’t a fourth wall break but it feels a little bit like one.

    However i must point out that the part about the painting was a little hard to follow, i had to reread it a few times to understand it!

    Kohana is so sweet, she’s like candy and will only end up giving me a toothache, I know there’s only doom impending for her, but I do not want to know what it is. It was heartbreaking to see her fight like that. Her emotions are so intense they echo through me as well.

    I wish we had more interaction between Hiroyuki and the shadow in the end. A longer conversation between who protected Kohana and who will end up raising her from now on.

    But it was a great chapter, nonetheless !

    You’re doing a great Job with these chapters Sol!

    1. Yeah I do intend to go back and revisit that part. Kohana cycles through her thoughts and emotions quickly, with emphasis on her emotions, but that’s to be expected with the mental illness she has. Still, I’ll try to see if I can make that cycling a bit clearer.

      As for the Jinnouchi and Hiroyuki exchange, the brevity of their conversation should be covered next chapter. Thank you for commenting, it’s always a joy seeing you around!

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