Chapter 19

“A New Dawn”

It was another chilly morning when Sugi walked up the stairs of one of the many identical apartment buildings. She knocked at the door, and after a few seconds Miya opened.

“Oh, good morning Sugi-chan.”

“Good morning Shimizu oba-san, is Ran ready?”

“Sugi-chaaaaan! Good morning!” Ran’s answer came from inside the apartment.

“Almost, as you can see,” Miya smiled. “Do come in, please, don’t just stand there.”

Sugi nodded and, taking her shoes off, stepped inside. “Sorry for the intrusion. Oh, good morning!”

She bowed slightly as Taizo waved at her with a smile and a mouthful of toast. Ran was cleaning up her plate and, taking a pair of crutches, stood up with some difficulty. A voluminous bandage covered most of her left tight, and she completely avoided leaning on it.

“Where’s your bag?” Sugi asked.

“Aw, it’s in my room!”

“Well, hurry up then,” Miya prodded her, “you’ll be late if you don’t leave soon, unless you’re planning on running there.”

“Ah, hahaha, no, not at all,” Ran laughed, making her way back to her room. Sugi followed, and picked up the schoolbag from the desk in her room, hanging her own from its strap over her shoulder.

Ran looked around and was reminded of the aftermath of the giant beetle attack. Her mother rushing towards her in tears at the hospital, the nonsensical explanations that she, nevertheless, accepted without question…

“When I saw the room, and you weren’t there, I thought… I thought…” Miya hadn’t been able to finish that phrase, choking back her tears.

Ran had claimed she didn’t remember anything, only that something had come crashing through the window. There was plenty of evidence in her room, at least.

Seventeen stitches had been the result. Ran passed her hand distractedly over the bandage, it still hurt, but it had been a few days and she was feeling better already.

Yet she couldn’t help be a little disappointed by the lack of magical healing powers.

“Come on Ran-chan, let’s go!”

Ran woke up from her reverie, and saw Sugi standing in front of her, with a big smile and carrying the bags. “Sure! Thanks for carrying my stuff Sugi-chan.”

“Ah? What are you saying? It can’t be helped! You’re hurt, and I’m your friend!”

The way to school was, quite naturally, slower than usual. Ran was in good spirits, enjoying talking with her best friend and the fresh air of the morning under the dome. They stopped at the top of the usual hill to look down at the farms.

“I still can’t believe what happened. I’m so glad you’re okay, Ran-chan…”

Ran looked at Sugi with some surprise, because her voice had faltered slightly when she had spoken. She let a few minutes pass before talking again, trying to sound as upbeat as she could.

“I told you we’d be fine, didn’t I? ”

“But…”

“Really, all that happened and just a few people wounded, it’s not a big deal!”

Sugi looked at Ran’s bandaged leg and sighed.

“Does it hurt?”

“Not anymore. But really, losing three days of school because of this, did I miss anything?”

“I’ll lend you my notes. I’ve been taking duplicates for you, and Fujihara-san has been taking them for Nagataka-kun.”

Ran stopped walking, and Sugi didn’t realize until she had gone a few steps forward. She turned to Ran, but didn’t look at her directly.

“Nagataka-kun?”

“Yes, he’s been gone since the attacks too. I went to his house the day after, and every day since, but I haven’t seen him or his dad. I know Kokawa-sensei has been trying to find out too, she…”

Sugi talked fast, letting her voice falter in her worry, until it just died out. She hadn’t stopped walking, forcing Ran to follow, but when she finished talking, Ran immediately turned and started walking away.

“Ran-chan? Where are you going?” Sugi asked, turning towards her friend.

“Where do you think? To find Nagataka-kun!”

“Ah… But…”

Sugi looked back towards the school, then at Ran, and after just the slightest hesitation, took off and caught up with her.

“Sugi-chan, you don’t have to come with me, I’ll be fine.”

“It can’t be helped, Ran-chan and I are best friends! If you get in trouble, then so do I!”

Sugi talked excitedly, holding her right hand in a fist and pointing towards the sky with it. Ran looked at her, then giggled.

“How much trouble can we possibly get in? At worst we’ll be late and have to stand in the hall,” she looked down at her leg, “and I can probably talk our way out of it too. But… Nothing from Nagataka-kun or Kokawa-san?”

“N-No…” Sugi looked away, “I’m sorry Ran-chan.”

Ran didn’t say anything. She had heard nobody had been killed during the attack, but Not having heard from him at all seemed strange to her.

Despite her words, she was worried.

It wasn’t long before they arrived at Nagataka’s apartment block. Without hesitation, Ran made it to the first floor and knocked at the door.

“Nagataka-kuuuun!”

No answer.

“This is weird,” Sugi looked away and her voice came out low and hesitant, “I know they said nobody was killed in the attack… But… Should we check the hospital? Ran-chan?”

Ran didn’t answer, she was knocking on the door almost frantically.

This can’t be. He wasn’t in any danger. And where is his father?

“Ran-chan!”

“Ah! What is it?” She blurted and jumped in surprise when Sugi grabbed her arm.

“Calm down, they’re not here.”

“Hold this…”

“What…. Umpf…” Sugi complained, grabbing the pair of crutches Ran had almost thrown at her. “Ran-chan, what are you doing? That’s dangerous!”

Ran had climbed over the handrail, and was walking along the ledge on the wall. She reached the corner and, with some difficulty, managed to move around the drainpipe, suppressing a yelp of pain when she put some of her weight on her wounded leg.

She nearly fell off when she looked through the window and saw that the room she was looking into was in complete disarray. The desk had been overturned, spilling its contents all across the room, and the door to the room itself appeared to have been kicked open.

“What the heck?”

She tried the window and, finding it unlocked, opened it and made it inside. She hobbled to the front door and opened it, to Sugi’s surprise.

“Ran-chan! What are you doing? How did you get in?”

“Come, quickly.”

Sugi slipped inside like a thief, feeling as if a million eyes were watching her. She followed Ran to Nagataka’s room, and gasped in surprise when she saw it.

“What happened??”

“I don’t know. Look, the door’s been kicked open. Look for something.”

“What?”

“I don’t know!” She turned to Sugi, and realized the tone she had used, and that Sugi had a look of consternation on her face. “I’m sorry.”

“No, no, don’t be, it’s okay. Let’s look.”

Sugi turned the desk back upright and started piling up everything she picked up from the floor on top of it.

“Wait, that’s Nagataka-kun’s communicator!”

“Ara?”

Ran snatched the device from Sugi’s hands and examined it. Something on the screen was blinking, and after some fumbling it started playing back a recording. It started with a crashing noise and a thud, which sounded as if it was the device hitting the floor.

“Hands up!” Somebody had shouted.

“What the he-umph!” Nagataka’s voice. “What are you doing? Do you know who…?”

“Shut up!”

Sounds of struggle, crashing. Every time it sounded like someone had hit Nagataka, the two girls winced.

“My father is Kokawa Torao! You assho-“

There was a loud crack, and then nothing. The sounds of footsteps leaving and dragging something.

Ran pressed her hold on the communicator tighter, trying to suppress the trembling of her hands and closed her eyes.

Nagataka-kun…

“Ran-chan, that’s…”

Ran opened her eyes and looked straight into Sugi’s eyes. “Let’s go Sugi-chan.”

“Where?”

“School, for now. We know where Nagataka is.”

“You look so… Determined.”

Ran didn’t even smile. They left and made at good pace towards school, Ran ignoring both the protestations from her wounded leg and Sugi asking her if she was okay. The gate was already closed, but with a bit of persuasion they managed to convince the guard it was Ran’s wounded leg’s fault. It didn’t go so well at the classroom. Ran slid the door open to a crash with all her strength, and while the whole class turned to her, she had only eyes for the teacher. Hoshiko was standing in front of the blackboard, holding the chalk mid-writing; she looked at Ran for a moment, and her expression changed as she walked out.

“I’ll be right back everyone.”

Nobody stirred, but a murmur started as soon as she was out of the classroom.

“Go inside,” Hoshiko ordered Sugi.

“But…”

Hoshiko looked at the girl, and she suddenly felt her blood freezing in her veins. She had the same determined look Ran had, only a hundred times more intimidating. She gulped, nodded, and fled inside.

“What’s going on?” Hoshiko finally asked.

“Nagataka-kun has been kidnapped by the military.”

“The military?”

Ran offered the communicator to Hoshiko, and she replayed the recording, putting the device to her ear. When it finished, Hoshiko looked at Ran with narrow and penetrating eyes.

“Does Kokawa-kun know already?”

“Yes.”

“Really now…” Hoshiko sighed, “you really are moving fast, Ran.”

“Eh?”

“You realize this means trouble, right?”

“Of course! How couldn’t I?”

“No, I mean real trouble. What do you think we’ll have to do?”

“I know!” Ran replied, not losing her intense look.

“I see; you’re still determined, huh?”

“Yes!”

Hoshiko looked at Ran for several seconds, but the girl’s gaze never faltered.

“Very well,” said Hoshiko, “let’s talk about this after school, we’ll have to move at night anyway.”

“But… Sensei!”

Hoshiko put a finger on Ran’s lips.

“He’s unlikely to be in immediate danger, and we can’t just rush out now, remember? In the meantime…”

Hoshiko paused dramatically, but Ran couldn’t tell what she was getting at.

“… yes?” Ran finally asked.

“You’re incredibly late, you’ve interrupted my class, and you’ve made Sugi-chan come late with you, haven’t you?”

“Ah!” Ran gasped, and couldn’t help feeling suddenly embarrassed. “Erm… Eh-hehehe.”

“So you get to stand out here until next period.”

“Waaaah, Kokawa-senseiiii…”

Immune to Ran’s pleas, Hoshiko smirked, turned around, and walked back into the classroom with an easy and graceful step, leaving Ran to stand in the corridor with her crutches.

For only ten minutes. Hoshiko was still grinning when she invited Ran back inside.

Really now, Kokawa-sensei…

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