Chapter 1

“The Girl Who Found a Cat”

The alarm clock broke the silence of the early morning with an obstinate and repetitive high pitched beep, until an arm managed to find its way from underneath the mess of sheets and covers on the bed to silence it, with more tries than she’d have liked to admit. Ran emerged from the warm little nest she had assembled during the night, with her red, almost pinkish hair covering her freckled face. She crashed her head back on the pillow with a frustrated scowl.

“Awuuu, it’s too early…”

Rubbing her face, she sat up.

“I can’t stay on bed. I can’t be late again.”

She hugged herself as the chill of the outside world got through her flowery white and blue pyjamas, and quickly made for the bathroom with fast but short steps.

“Ran-chan? Are you awake?”

The feminine voice was coming from the kitchen. The origin was a woman standing in front of the sink washing dishes, and when the water from the tap slowed down its flow she closed it.

“That girl, she could at least respond,” she said, shaking her head.

“Come on Miya, she just got up,” the man sitting at the table responded, sipping his coffee.

“Sure Taizo, she takes after her dad, huh?”

She turned to the man and smiled. Her red hair was a shade darker than Ran’s, and it was collected in a small bun on the back of her head. Taizo let his eyes linger on her wide and radiant smile, and then looked at her narrowed eyes and smiled too, shaking his head.

“I just can’t resist that smile of yours, you devilish woman.”

It was only a few minutes before the door of the bathroom opened again.

“Ran-chan?” Miya called.

“Yeeeees.”

“Hurry up or your breakfast will get cold!”

Ran walked into the kitchen and sighed.

“I hate this uniform,” she complained as she sat down.

“No complaints young lady,” Miya reproached her, “it’s hard times for everyone, it is what it is.”

“But moooom,” she continued in her special I’m about to have a freak out complaining voice, “it’s green and khaki and grey everywhere, even dad is wearing that and he’s not even in the army! Why can’t we wear something nice! A silk dress, a nice blouse, all I have that is not dull, dull, dull, is my ribbon, and it’s the same pink as my hair! Why?!”

She was about to take some air to continue when Miya put a plate full of breakfast in front of her. With an almost audible click, she forgot about her fashion woes, took up the cutlery and quickly went down to business eating. Miya smiled and patted her daughter’s head.

“Really, every morning the same thing…” Taizo said, shaking his head.

“Oh dear, are you going to start too?” Miya said, turning to her husband and smiling.

Taizo looked at his wife and started laughing.

“Ayah, you got me there.”

“Ran takes so much after her dad.”

And with that and her smile, she sat down to have her own breakfast. Taizo stood up just a few minutes afterwards.

“Well, I for one don’t want to be late, so I’ll see you two later young ladies.”

He winked, put on his grey cap, and headed off. The small apartment looked as if it had doubled its size with the departure, he was almost twice the size of his wife and his daughter combined.

Something Ran was very proud of. She smiled happily thinking of how jealous all the other girls were of her awesome father.

“You’re smiling.”

“Dad is awesome,” she said in between bites. After she cleaned up the plate, she rushed out of the house, with a cheerful “I’m leaving!”

“Be careful!” Miya shouted as her daughter slammed the door, “really now, she goes from being all sleepy to being hyper in less than half a breakfast.”

Ran rushed down the stairs of the building and, after shouting a good morning to the old lady cleaning the lobby, left it with a spring on her stride. It was a beautiful day. She looked up, and the sun was filtering nicely through the canopy of vegetation covering the dome. The city was nestled snugly on the side of a mountain, and the dome covering it was well camouflaged under the plants that grew on top, mostly a genetically modified creeper plant that could run over the reinforced glass for many many kilometres. The light of the sun was always green under the dome.

But it’s not green. I wish I could see the sun outside one day, mom always says it is the most beautiful light in the world, and that she only realized it when she lost it.

The air was a bit cold, it always was. She adjusted her military green jacket and started her walk to school.

“Ara? A cat.”

The cat seemed as surprised to see her as she was at seeing it, it was jet black with bright and clever looking eyes.

“Good morning, black cat-sama.”

Ran smiled, and nodded to the cat as she continued her march. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that she stopped and realized something.

Did that cat nod back at me just now?

She looked back, but the cat was gone.

Ah well.

“Ran-chan!”

“Oh… Good morning, Sugi-chan!”

A girl with black hair and a round, happy face was waving at her. She was shorter than Ran, and given that she was not very tall to begin with, it put her definitely in the petite category. She looked almost too young to be a highschooler, something all her friends teased her with from time to time.

“Good morning!” Sugi replied, smiling widely.

“Ooh, did you cut your hair again? It’s super short now!”

“Hehe, yes. I can’t help it, with the water restrictions it’s too hard to wash long hair without using up all the water.”

“Really, what do you do in the shower?” Ran tossed her hair around a bit, which was long enough to barely graze her shoulders, “I never have a problem washing it.”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s just too nice to be under the hot water to spend time messing with my hair.”

“Really now… Oh! You won’t believe it, I saw a black cat on my way here!”

“For real? Wow, that’s great! I wonder if he lives around here, it has been so long since I saw one last…”

“We can go back after school and look for it!”

They talked as they walked the grey streets. Much like their uniforms, the houses in the hidden city were built to last, but from cheap materials and with dull regularity. It was row after row of four storied buildings, and with the dim light that filtered down the dome they never looked cheerful. Yet every morning they passed close to the food growing quarters, the only place one could see any bright colours over the landscape at all. Unfortunately, access was so restricted that watching it from the distance was all they could do.

“It looks really nice today,” Ran commented.

They had stopped like every morning at the top of the small hill to look down at the farm. Rows of white lights reinforced the weaker sun that managed to filter down, and a few animals moved about in their very crowded pens.

“It’s such a waste, plants grow outside on their own, but here we can’t grow them without the special lights,” Ran sighed.

“It can’t be helped, Ran-chan. It’s too dangerous to go outside.”

“Yes, I know…”

They arrived to school as the bell started ringing, just in time to run inside before the gates closed.

“Phew! Really now, I thought we wouldn’t make it!” Ran said as she huffed and puffed.

They both were slightly bent down and breathing heavily after the last sprint, and walked side by side giggling all the way inside until they were interrupted.

“Oh good morning.”

Ran and Sugi looked up, and their eyes opened wide when they saw who it was. Ran felt her cheeks warm up slightly at the sight of him.

“G-Good morning, Kokawa-kun!”

Nagataka… *Mental Sigh*

“Good morning.” Sugi said, more composed and smiling widely.

“You always make it just in time, don’t you.”

Ran could only giggle, while Sugi carried the bulk of the conversation.

“It can’t be helped. How come you’re always so early?”

“Ah that’s easy, I just have to walk a few blocks. I suppose I have an unfair advantage, huh? What takes you so long to get here anyway?”

“We always stop to look at the farms from the top of the hill,” Sugi giggled slightly, “it’s so nice, there are so many colours there.”

Yes, it is. But I don’t like it that much from up close, it really stinks in there, specially the pigs.”

“Ara? You have been inside?”

“Yes, my father took me for a visit once, when he was in charge of security in there. I haven’t been back since he transferred to the defence forces.”

Ran hadn’t been able to speak a word so far.

What are you doing you stupid girl? You always clamp up like this! Really now, say something!

Ran’s imagination had taken a life of its own by then. She imagined herself calling Nagataka, and he looked so handsome when he turned around. With his brown hair parted in the middle, his sharp features and high cheekbones, the narrow brown eyes she so liked, and that smile. And maybe he wouldn’t just smile, but he would answer, and she would confess, and then… and then..

“Ara, that’s a shame, I could’ve asked you to sneak me in and take a look!” Sugi said.

“Haha, I suppose so. Hey, maybe I can ask my dad anyway.”

“Really? What do you say Ran? Want to sneak into the farm with Kokawa-kun?”

“Kyaaaaa! Noooo!”

Nagataka and Sugi looked at her with complete surprise. Ran was trying to hide her blushed face behind her hands, and for all the shouting she was doing she sounded extremely happy. She stopped with the sudden realization that imagination had gotten the best of her.

“Wha…” Nagataka started saying.

“Ran-chan, what were you thinking?” Sugi echoed.

“Aya, nothing, nothing! Hahaha! ^_^;;”

“Still, I’m not sure if my dad can do that, since… Oh dear, I suppose we better go to class!”

The hall was looking rather deserted, so they ran to the classroom. To their surprise, the class had not started yet. But less than a minute after them, the principal made it in, followed by a woman they had never seen before.

It was quite a contrast, the principal was a short, balding man in his late forties, wearing thick glasses and always in a very dull looking grey suit. The woman was much younger, mid twenties perhaps. She had the longest hair any of them had seen in a long time, almost reaching down to her waist, and it was of a dark pinkish red. Her high cheekbones and slightly narrow face had a profound sense of elegance, and her whole person radiated an aura of power that had the whole class enthralled. The girls were admiring her, the boys… Well, a few were experiencing a hormonal thunderstorm for the first time in their lives.

She was wearing a simple white blouse with a red knee-length skirt, and higher heels than was custom for anyone in that school. The red ribbon choker completed her attire, altogether not excessive but far more colourful than most.

“Good morning everyone,” the principal spoke in his trademark monotone, but nobody was paying attention to him, “as you know, Ms. Shibata quit two months ago and you have had a substitute Maths teacher since. Well, from today on you’ll have a new permanent teacher, this is Miss Kokawa Hoshiko.”

“Welcome Kokawa-sensei,” the class answered.

“Hello everyone. I hope we will get along nicely!”

She smiled and the whole class erupted in noise, squees of delight from the girls, ooohs and aaaahs from the boys, and everyone telling everyone else what they thought and how crazy it was to have such a teacher.

“Oi Nagataka, is that your older sister or your aunt or something? She’s such a babe!” One of the boys asked.

“What are you talking about Shiro, I don’t know her!” Nagataka replied, annoyed.

“Come on now, she looks a lot like you, and Kokawa…”

“Tsk, how does that woman look like me? I can’t believe this.”

The principal left them, and Hoshiko managed to calm everyone down by counting attendance. She smiled when she called Nagataka, which earned him a few comments and made him surprisingly unhappy, and then came Ran’s turn.

“Shimizu Ran.”

“Yes!”

Ran squirmed uncomfortably under the intense gaze of the teacher. A few of the students looked back at her, sitting in the last row, and a low murmur could be heard. Finally, Hoshiko spoke again.

“Please stay after class.”

“O… okay…”

How did I get in trouble this time?

By the time classes were done, Ran had mentally exhausted herself trying to figure out what was going to happen. She was not the best student, but usually managed to pass most subjects. That, of course, didn’t stop her mind from racing ahead through a thousand different avenues.

“I can’t believe I got detention from the teacher on the first day, really now…”

“Come on Ran-chan, maybe she just wants to talk about your score on the last test,” Sugi said, trying to cheer her friend up.

“Bu-uuuut!”

“Anyway, I’m going home, take care!”

“Ah! See you later, Sugi-chan!”

She spent a good ten minutes alone in the classroom waiting for her teacher to appear. Outside, the sun had already gone behind the cliff side, so it was getting rather dark. She looked up, and saw the pale green of the dome was still bright enough to see.

“It’s so nice… Oh!” She looked down at the grounds outside the school, “the black kitty is here. Hello black cat-sama!”

She was waving from the classroom, and she thought the cat had stopped to look at her, but was so far away, and the cat was so black, she could barely see it.

The door to the classroom slid open. She almost jumped out of her skin.

“Kokawa-sensei!”

“Have a seat, Ran,” Hoshiko answered, looking very serious, and with a voice that matched the mood.

Ran gulped.

“I’m sorry, Kokawa-sensei, really. I don’t know why I made you so angry, but…”

“I’m not angry.”

“But…”

“Sit down. I’m not angry, but there’s some important matters I need to discuss with you.”

“Okay.”

Ran did not have a chance to sit down. When she grabbed the back of the chair, the whole school started trembling, amidst very loud crashing noises.

“Kyaaa! What’s happening?!” Ran shouted.

Hoshiko rushed to the window and looked outside, with a surprised and very tense expression. She immediately looked at her watch.

“It can’t be, it’s too early! And here!”

“Kokawa-sensei…”

Ran joined her, and what she saw rendered her speechless. Two of the buildings by the school had been damaged, and a lot of debris was falling from the sky. She looked up and saw there was a huge hole in the dome, and pieces of it kept falling down.

From the rubble and the dust, a large humanoid figure stood up. It was like a twenty feet tall person, without the neck or the head. The skin was a bright metallic red, with several white stripes painted on top. Instead of a head, it had a glass half-sphere, and Ran couldn’t see what was inside under the mirror-like surface.

“Ran! Get back!” Hoshiko yelled as she dragged Ran away from the window, “don’t get near the window, and stay inside, no matter what, you understand?”

“Sensei, are you leaving…”

“I’ll be back for you, stay here!”

The trashing outside the school continued, until she was no longer able to resist it and rushed to the window again. The army had already responded, and several ground vehicles and soldiers were surrounding the large monster. She shouted in surprise when the armoured vehicles opened fire, and after a few seconds the monster responded. It suddenly made a sweep with one of its arms, and several globes of energy launched from its open hand, crashing on the vehicles and the ground and exploding with great violence.

“That’s enough!”

She didn’t quite recognize the voice, but it sounded familiar. She turned to the end of the building where the voice had come from, and saw there was someone standing on the roof. A tall woman, and Ran realized she could see her clearly, almost like she was glowing. She had beautiful golden blonde hair meticulously braided in a long braid that reached all the way to her waist, with a sparkling bracelet holding it together at the end. Her dress was of pure white, wrapping around her in a tight fitting zig-zag pattern like it was made of several sheets of silk weaved together. A large red jewel was clasped on her chest, looking as if it was holding everything together, and Ran could make out some reflections on the edges of the cloth, but was too far away to see it was threads of gold weaved through the ends in a beautiful swirling pattern. The dress hugged her curvaceous body tightly thanks to a wide leather and golden belt with silver studs that neatly fit her to perfection, and several long strips of leather hung from her belt, each studded with shiny silver studs and a red jewel at the end, weighting down the knee-long silky white skirt, also weaved with gold on the edges. Her feet wore leather Roman styled sandals, with straps wrapping her slender legs all the way to her knees, and held there with golden and silver bracelets. The sandals had each two small wings on the sides, and in her hand she was holding a branch of some sort.

Ran was hypnotized by her presence.

“Your evil scheme will not come to fruition, I did not come to this place to fail when victory is at hand. For Earth and her beloved people, I will destroy you!”

The monster responded by firing several energy blasts at her, but she jumped out of the way with ease.

Wow, what a jump!

Ran couldn’t quite see what happened next, because the blasts that were meant for the woman impacted the school instead, and the whole building trembled like it was going to fall apart. Things started dropping all over the place, and she couldn’t keep her balance, landing with the shower of debris and ending up under a pile of foam ceiling tiles.

When she got back to the window, she couldn’t believe her eyes. The monster had lost an arm, and the woman was standing at the top of a utility pole. And in her hand she no longer held a branch.

Is that a spear? Really, it is a spear! She’s amazing!

She pointed at the monster with her spear.

“This is the end for you! I…”

She was interrupted after having to jump quickly out of the way when some more energy shots landed on the pole where she had been standing.

“Another monster?!”

Ran gasped in horror when she saw another identical monster jump down from the gaping hole in the dome and land on to the battlefield, followed by a shower of debris from the broken superstructure. It quickly engaged the woman, while the wounded one turned and started moving about the school grounds.

“It’s not attacking her, what is he doing?”

Suddenly the one-armed monster snatched a the ground trying to grab something. And right where the hand was, something jumped out of the way. Black, and moving fast.

“Kitty! Oh no!”

For some reason the monster was trying to grab the black cat and, although it moved fast, the monster seemed to be getting closer to catch it.

“Poor kitty…” Ran’s expression turned sad and worried. She started remembering finding the cat in the morning, and how wonderful a surprise finding a cat had been. All she ever saw outside the protected farms were a few boring insects, the occasional very disgusting rat. That cat was a breath of fresh air. “No way, I’m really saving that cat!”

Without second thought, not giving her brain time to second-guess her stupidity, she turned and rushed downstairs. The trashing outside the building continued, and that reassured her that the cat had managed to avoid being squashed or captured. She slammed open the back door of the building and rushed outside.

“Black cat-sama! Over here!”

That attracted the attention of both the cat and the monster.

Oh no, I wasn’t thinking! What do I…

She crouched down on the ground as the monster shot an energy ball at her, and it crashed on the building, blocking the exit with several tons of debris. The cat had come rushing towards her, and jumped on her arms. She grabbed it almost by instinct.

Run, run, run!

She was not the most fit person in the school. She tried to run, but the monster constantly blocked her way with its long arm. She didn’t stop to think that it could have squashed them both if it had wanted to, she was too scared to realize.

Finally she was cornered. The monster stood blocking her way, and Ran felt like she was being watched. From up close, she could make out there was something moving behind the glass of the half sphere that sat on the monster’s neck.

Is it some sort of robot?

She looked around. Amidst the debris of the school and the dome all she could find to grab a branch that was near her foot. It must have been a piece of the vine that covered the dome, she thought. Holding the cat with her left arm, she raised the branch towards the monster.

Really now, what can I do with this stick? This is ridiculous. But I don’t care! I’m not giving up!

The branch started glowing as soon as she had that thought. Soon the light engulfed her, and she felt as if time suddenly stood still.

She was floating. She felt she was naked, but her body was immersed in the same glow and her skin itself felt as if made of light. A sudden wind came from beneath her, and her hair was sent flying up. It grew longer, longer, until finally, and with a flash, it changed its colour to a golden blonde, working itself into a long braid as the wind stopped and it fell on her back. The light wrapped around her body, and turned itself into a soft silken white short skirted toga. Its edges shone brightly, and the light curled itself into a wavy pattern that finally solidified into a golden thread adorning the edges of the fabric. She raised her hands, and a disc of light materialized just above them. It descended slowly, adjusting itself to the diameter of her body as it moved. The nails of her hands were painted pink, and over her wrists all the way to the elbow, a pair of golden bracers with a pattern of waves appeared, covering the outside of her forearm and wrapped with wide leather straps on the inside. As the disc of light descended, a mask appeared over her face. It was more of an armoured faceplate, of silver colour and with golden relieves. It started from a tiara, and along her cheeks two long narrow strips of metal protected her face, and over her nose was only a very thin strip of pure silver, it all offered little protection and covered almost nothing of her face, other than most of her forehead. The light touched her shoulders, and a shoulder mantle of deep red, almost brown rich velvet with a V neck and fluffy white fur along the edges joined up with her toga, and the same red appeared on a second skirt of lighter fabric that reached her knees. When the light finished at her feet, she was wearing Roman styled sandals with long straps reaching at her knees and golden greaves over her shins, them too with a wavy pattern on them. The sandals had little wings on the side, pure white and of real feathers. When the disc had passed her, it exploded in a million little lights, and they twirled and converged into stripes that launched on her body. From the waist, where they made a leather belt with a double hole buckle and pairs of holes rimmed in gold running along its length, then several more stripes of leather hung from it along its length, weighting down on the skirt. Up on her chest six stripes of metal ran like false ribs over her toga and under her shoulder mantle, assembling like a protective armour. A small rain of sparks fell on her, and as they touched the stripes of the belt they turned into so many tiny silver studs, plust a sparkling jewel at the end of each one, and on the edge of her red skirt into a white lace that ran the length of the skirt with minute regularity. Two pieces of lace broke off from the skirt, and tied themselves into perfect bows around her wrists over the bracers.

Words came into her head, and she spoke them without even thinking about their meaning.

“I carry the hopes and dreams of mankind, and that of the Earth who is their mother, hear my name now and despair. I am Nereida Nostrum!”

“Uh… Nostrum?”

“Yes! What came to mind was Nereida Mediterranea, but really now, it’s so long that I went for the Latin name of Mare Nostrum, and…” She suddenly stopped talking when she realized who she was talking to, “c-c-c-cat! A talking cat!!”

The cat was looking at her with an obviously bored expression.

“Whatever,” he said nonchalantly, and looked ahead at the monster, “you have done well, Nereida Nostrum, but don’t get careless. You have to learn to use your powers if… Watch out!”

Ran grabbed the black cat and quickly jumped out of the way. She was astonished at her own speed, she had jumped a good five meters high from a standing position with little effort.

“Wow! What a jump!”

“Stay sharp!” The cat chided her, “for now think of the feeling when you were holding that branch, it will call forth your powers when you need them.”

“Sounds easy!”

“Concentrate! The feeling!”

Yikes!

“Yes, yes black cat-sama!”

She was still in the air when the monster turned and, with a sweep of its arm, threw a series of energy shots at Ran.

I can’t dodge! Oh no, what do I do! What… No, no, concentrate… Concentrate… Don’t give up!

Her left bracer started glowing, and when she saw it she quickly changed the arm she was holding the cat with, and put the bracer in front of her. With a flash, it transformed into a glowing round shield, with concentric wave patterns and a large bright red jewel in the centre. The energy shots impacted on it and exploded, sending her flying back onto the wall of the school, but otherwise unharmed.

When she landed on her feet, she was only short of breath.

“Nostrum, you have to finish this now. Use the branch!”

“Eh? But black cat-sama…”

“It is your weapon, and the charm of your powers. Use it now! You can do it!”

She left the cat on the ground and took two steps towards the monster.

Don’t give up, don’t give up. Something will happen, don’t give up!

She suddenly remembered the woman that was fighting the monsters before. She had a branch too, and when she looked that second time it was a spear.

It must have transformed! That’s it!

She raised the branch and thought of her resolve. Never give up. The branch glowed, and started to grow longer, and as it did, Ran turned it on the palm of her hand. One, two, three full circles before grasping it firmly and lowering it, grabbing the end with her left hand and the middle with her right, and pointing at the monster decisively.

“In the name of the Earth, by the spear of Gaia, I will kick your fucking ass!”

=O_O=;;

“Language!” The cat shouted.

“Shut up and watch, I’m on a roll here!”

She felt absolutely hyper, the power was incredible. Without hesitation, she rushed forward, and as the monster tried to swat her with its arm, she jumped up high and right above its false head. There was definitely something under that glass, controlling the monster. It didn’t matter. She turned mid-air, pointed the spear down, and as the power in her exploded, she descended in a spiral of light, tearing through the flesh of the monster and cleaving it clean in half. She landed on the ground with a loud crash and throwing pieces of concrete all around her.

She felt really proud of herself as she walked out, with half her dress covered in the monster’s blood.

“Well done, Nostrum.”

“Thank you, black c… What is your name?”

“Hmph, you can simply call me Lord Kitteh.”

“Yay, kitteh!” She rushed and grabbed him, giving him a big hug.

“Oi oi, take it easy girl.”

They were interrupted by a sudden roar not far from where they were. The second monster, missing a leg and looking worse for wear, had suddenly taken flight with some sort of jetpack attached to its back.

“Shit! We have to stop it or it’s over!” Kitteh shouted.

“What? How? Can I fly? How…”

Her answer came when a bolt of lightning suddenly shot from the ground and crashed on the back of the monster. The ensuing explosion was massive, and sent little bloody pieces of the monster all over the city, none of them bigger than a thumb.

Ran kept looking up at the spot where the explosion had happened with a shocked expression.

“Nostrum, heads down.”

“Kitteh?”

“LORD Kitteh dammit! Look.”

The woman had returned, and Ran realized it had been her who had destroyed the monster in such spectacular fashion. She was breathing heavily, both of them were. Ran’s legs felt suddenly wobbly, but even struggling she managed to stay upright.

“What are you doing?” The woman asked.

“What? The same as you! I think…”

Ran looked at the woman’s hand, and saw she was holding a branch, exactly like the one Ran herself was holding. She, however, had her eyes fixated on Ran. It was such an intense gaze Ran thought she’d suffocate.

“Why did you have to do this?”

Is she talking to me?

Ran could no longer see the face of the woman. Her legs were giving way, and the world was spinning all around her. She would have fallen down on her face if the woman hadn’t grabbed her.

“I thought I told you… Why did you do this?!”

No answer. Ran was unconscious.

“Why did you have to do this…”

Her voice faltered, and she fell down on her knees holding Ran, while two timid tears made their way down her face. She put her arms protectively around Ran, and hugged her tightly, stifling her crying.

3 Comments