A cloak of glass, p.1

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A Cloak of Glass
 

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A Cloak of Glass


  A Cloak of Glass

  Connor Cadellin McKee

  Copyright 2014 by Connor Cadellin McKee

 

  A Cloak of Glass

  A short prequel to Children of the Crater, by Connor Cadellin McKee

  Dark muttering scurried amidst the crowded streets of Tankenkuro. Stooped figures hurried past in thick knots, shielding themselves as best they could from the seeping rainwater that dripped from every gantry.

  I breathed deeply. The harsh neon lights cast grim, distorted colours across my face. Those rancid beams cut through the low mist that clung to my skin, sweat-like in its clammy embrace. I glanced at the signs briefly; the large kanji advertised everything imaginable. Guns, drugs, women… this was a place without rules. Without morality.

  I heard that the worst scum of the earth all eventually end up in Tankenkuro. They are the cancer of the world- the sick criminal minds that drip down from the black city high above. They might slide around, leech on to the brighter streets of Tokyo, but eventually they all end up here. Thieves, arsonists, murderers…

  And then there is us, of course. A voice echoed in my head, spoken directly into my mind.

  ‘Are you alright, Shaaya?’

  I turned to my twin sister; she looked concerned. I whispered back to her with thought alone, the most personal form of communication on earth. It was the only privacy to be had, in those days.

  ‘I’m fine.’

  Understanding flashing between us, we stepped forwards into the tumultuous mix of vagabonds and criminals. We strolled lazily down the street, barely glancing at the jostling faces. Home. Striding along through the slimy warren of filth and banditry, we fit right in.

  I did it without even thinking those days. Not a soul noticed the two figures join the crowd, but then again why should they? Surely, they must all have very important business elsewhere- what interest were two small girls to them? It was so easy to control their minds; the poor fools couldn’t even see we were doing it. The slight tweak of a memory, the sudden desire to look at their watches or check their phones, and they missed us completely. I almost felt sorry for them. Almost. The human mind could be danced like a puppet.

  There was a great deal of money to be made in a place like Tankenkuro, if you had the talent. And we did.

  ‘Stay focused. You are letting the shield slide.’ Saga warned telepathically, staring straight ahead as we delved deeper into the broiling crowd. She was right; the odd person was slipping glances at us.

  ‘Sorry.’

  We tightened our mental net over the street. Soon they would not come within six feet of us unless we allowed them to do so. The psychic web touched the minds of all those who came too close, a mantle that hid us from all. The oblivious crowd parted in front and merged in behind us, their blank faces staring on into the distance. As long as the shield held, we had nothing to worry about.

  Lightning crashed overhead, thunder rolling in deep waves across the squalid dementia of the street below. The rain intensified, ghostly fingers that drummed thickly upon our shoulders.

  Without even thinking, I reached out my hand. A random man handed me his umbrella with a puzzled expression, swept away by the crowd almost immediately. I allowed myself the most fleeting of grins- one gesture from me and any memory of his umbrella was gone. I glanced up at it. The drops bounced harmlessly off the tight black material, but the neon glare of the brothels and bars beyond sliced through the transparent fabric. I shook the water from my white hair, holding it close.

  It scared me sometimes. So easy to remove an umbrella from a man’s memory. What was to stop us from removing his wife? His child? Sanity was such a fragile thing. A personality could be scattered like seeds on the breeze.

  ‘An umbrella? Good thinking,’ Saga thought to me, ‘It’s a long way to the Ryu no Kakurega.’

  I gripped the umbrella tighter, barely glancing up as we made our way down the familiar streets. I was glad of the mental shield that night; it was getting rowdy out there. The crowd grew ever thicker and constricted inwards, festering into a dense forest of blank faced humans.

  ‘It’s getting a little tight down here.’ Saga uttered quietly, her voice barely a whisper in my mind.

  The shield wavered; I frowned and bit my lip. Without it we would be defenseless to the hordes beyond… two small, unaccompanied sixteen year old girls in Tankenkuro? It didn’t require much imagination.

  ‘This way.’

  She tugged my hand, leading us up a fire escape. It was one of our old routes for when the crowds got bad, up along the corrugated roof of the jagged slums. We clung low to the metal, skirting along drain pipes and vents, ducking under the myriad of cables and pipes that crisscrossed the air. It was slippery with rain, but we padded along on sure feet. We had been along there countless times. Iron grates protruded from the dank walls, dripping a scant black liquid that could barely be called water. We clambered up them easily, scaling yet higher in the complex narrative of the roof.

  Saga had been right; it was an unusual crowd today. Laughter and shouting echoed in every direction, the crowd surging this way and that. Fights were common, but they rarely drew spectators. Something felt wrong.

  ’Hold on,’ I muttered, ‘I want to know what’s going on.’

  Far below, the figures jostled in a circle, calling bets and waving their money. I leaned out further, clinging to a rusty valve as best I could. Just a little closer.

  Two men fought in the centre of the crowd, but these were no ordinary men. The moment I looked in their direction, an unusual sensation ran down my spine, shivers racing along my pale skin. The first was large, thick muscles knotting underneath his bare chest as he lunged forwards.

  His slim opponent, a much smaller figure in a grey hood, watched carefully. He reeled away from the clumsy blow, sliding back elegantly and precisely. He blocked a second hit, leaping sideways and rolling to his feet with a grin. His jacket parted for a moment, revealing tanned skin splattered with blood. Their eyes locked as they circled. Jeers shouted out across the square as the crowd roared and heaved in a tumultuous tide, but those two did not glance aside even for a second. In an instant, they met in a visceral clash once more, grappling back and forth across the black pavement.

  ‘What the…’ I muttered mentally. He couldn’t have been much older than fifteen, but the one in the hood was strong. He was a lot smaller physically, but he felt… different somehow. Strike after strike came from the larger man, powerful punches and blows that should have floored that small frame of his. But yet, he was always just out of reach, or in just the wrong place. The big guy never even came near him. I couldn’t help but feel that this young fighter- practically still a boy- was toying with him.

  The hooded teenager leapt away from the fray, rolling his shoulders as he drew inwards. He pulled himself upright, flinging his hands outwards in a sweeping gesture. His eyes closed. I shuddered as the hairs stood on my neck, an invisible wind pulling at my core. I could not shake the feeling that what I saw before me was only a fragment of a greater whole, that I was seeing the candle but not the flame. It was unnatural and yet familiar; the sensation chilled me.

  I gasped as rainwater began to coalesce, spiraling towards him in fractal curves of twisted symmetry. An orb of the purest, most brilliant ice shimmered into view, floating there against the black of night. The crowd stared. Droplets of water orbited it smoothly as it began to spin, hesitant at first but accelerating with an ever-growing macabre screech.

  The ice now floating above one hand, his hood fell back enough to reveal a menacing grin.

  ‘Catch.’

  He flicked his fingers, and the orb leapt at the man of its own accord. There was nothing he could do. The sphere took him straight
in the gut, hurling him along the sodden pavement. He bounced once, sliding into a gutter twenty yards away.

  ‘LLYRIAN WINS!’ someone called, shouting out over the cheers. The hooded figure raised his arms triumphantly, smug satisfaction evident on his face. I had no idea what on earth I had just seen… and yet it felt oddly tantalizing, comforting and yet simultaneously alien. The other fighter pulled himself upright, grumbling as he staggered away.

  I reached out with a tendril of thought, probing towards this… Llyrian. Saga gripped my arm firmly.

  ‘No. We steer well clear of that man.’

  ‘Huh?’ I gasped audibly, ‘What if he is like us? What if…’

  ‘No-one is like us.’

  I furrowed my brow in disagreement, but said nothing. Saga never listened. There was something familiar about this Llyrian; something that reminded me of my younger brother. It couldn’t be him; Llyrian was several years too old and a westerner besides, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something larger was afoot. I hugged the umbrella closer; the rain was getting heavier.

  I gazed after the man, deep in thought. He took his winnings from the bookkeeper silently, turning to leave. For the briefest of heartbeats, those blue eyes glanced at me. It was impossible; no-one could see us with our mental shield in place, our iron defence against all who would harm us. It had to be chance, or at least that is
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