1 Summer Vacation

I will always love you, may you be free from evil and live a happy life.

I will always love you.

Akira woke up with the words lingering in his head.

He had been having this blurry dream since he was young; a blurry image of a woman caressing his face softly, uttering those words with utmost affection.

He yawned and rubbed his eyes, trying to clear his mind from the blurry dream.

He got off his bed, went over to the window and pulled the curtains apart.

Warm sunshine shone into his window and on to his face, washing away the last bit of tiredness on his face and mind.

The sun of summer wasn't just bright and warm, it has the ability to energize people in some situations, especially during one's morning.

"Today will be another good day!" he said.

It was the first day of summer vacation, although he had graduated from high school a few years ago, Akira still celebrated it like he was a student.

It was a good day indeed because Akira was going on a summer trip with his friends.

After changing into some fresh new clothes and washed his face, Akira stormed down the stairs as fast as a lightning bolt, ready to get some breakfast.

At the corridor of the backyard, Shinzo, Akira's grandfather was reading the newspaper with a cup of morning tea and a plate of onigiris beside him.

The scene of an elderly reading a newspaper with tea beside him proved to be peaceful but not in this instance. Shinzo wasn't reading the newspaper like anyone else though because Shinzo had no arms, the newspapers were laid on the floor and he would have to flip it with his nimble feet.

"Morning gramps! What's for breakfast today?" Akira greeted his grandfather the moment he stepped into the corridor like a hungry child.

"You are up early today. What's the occasion?" Shinzo asked without even looking at his grandson.

"Didn't I tell you? I am going on a trip with Taka today! He's finally back from his studies!"

Akira excitedly explained his plans for the day and asked for a solution to cure his morning hunger. "Where's breakfast?"

"Mako made some onigiri today." Shinzo said as he flipped the newspaper with his foot.

"Oooh, sweet! Mako's onigiri are the best!" Akira saw the plate of onigiri, he grabbed one and stuffed it in his mouth. Few munches later, "Speaking of Mako, where's she?"

"She's helping her grandfather at the shrine. It's the start of summer vacation and a large crowd is expected. I've told her to go help after making breakfast." Shinzo answered as another page of the newspaper went by.

"Mmmmm, m-kay, I'll go talk to her when I go out, mmm." Akira stuffed a second onigiri into his mouth.

"Are you still having that dream?" Shinzo slightly looked up to his grandson with a curious gaze.

"Yeah, I actually just woke up from it. I still can't see the face of the person though, but the words are getting clearer. It sounds like it's calling me a 'child'? I'm not too sure."

Akira sucked on his fingers after a quick meal, he tried his best in describing the dream but all he could make out were blurry words.

"Well I'm sure you get a clear picture one day." Shinzo returned his gaze to the article under 'Today's Special'.

"Let's hope so… Oh shoot, I'm going to be late!"

Akira saw the time on his watch while he was sucking on his finger.

It was almost 8.30 a.m.

"Don't forget to pray to your mother before you leave." Shinzo added.

"Okay gramps! Bye!" Akira smiled and dashed away.

After Akira left, Shinzo looked at the last remaining onigiri on the plate. A sharp glance later, the onigiri started to float up.

Akira went into the living room, where his mother's altar was.

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His mother wasn't around since he was born, his grandfather told him limited stories about his mother, stating that his mother was a strong woman and fought death until her very last breath. Akira, a hopeful and cheerful soul, did not complain or feel sad about not having any parents throughout his life, but if he has a chance, he would really want to get to know her mother, or father, properly. For all his life, his grandfather had been taking great care of him, so there was nothing sour in his life at all.

Akira would obediently pray in front of the altar everyday, even without his grandfather's reminder. Even though he basically had no memories about his mother, he knew his duty as someone's son.

The altar was a small black cabinet with a memorial tablet in it. Not a single picture of his mother was shown to Akira for as long as he could remember, even the memorial tablet only had her name etched on it: Kaguya Amaki.

After a quick prayer, Akira dashed out of the room to the entryway to put on his shoes.

Akira lived in a very traditional Japanese style house. It was fairly small but had two-storey, a tiny front yard and a backyard, it was also located beside his family shrine, the popular and famous Tenjou Shrine.

Akira ran out the door and headed to the shrine.

The day was sunny and bird's chirps could be heard occasionally. Since it was fairly early, it wasn't that hot despite the sun was rising high.

Even though it was around 8.30 a.m. in the morning, Tenjou Shrine, one of the most popular shrines in Tokyo, was already flooded with locals and tourists.

From the torii to the grand hall for prayers, everywhere was filled with people.

Water could hardly flow through the seams of the immense crowd, yet no one felt and discomfort even with the warm weather for their hearts were at peace during prayers.

Akira had to shuttled through the crowd like a little fish swimming in rough waters to reach inside.

All the working priests and priestess greeted Akira when they saw him, Akira would return a friendly smile.

Mako—despite being younger than Akira—was his guardian and caretaker.

She would help around the shrine, from guiding worshippers to arranging souvenirs for sales, she practically involved herself in every type of work around the shrine.

As a priestess in-training, she tempered herself with all sorts of work that she could get her hands with, even though her surface identity wasn't her true job in the shrine.

Due to the expected influx of visitors, Mako was helping around the storeroom, counting stocks and arranging boxes; there were two more priestess in the room helping her with the new souvenir stocks.

Akira had to ride through some rough human waves in order to get to the storeroom on the right side of the grand prayer hall, the other priests and priestess on duty told him where Mako was when he greeted them.

"Hey Mako, I'm going off to meet Taka and Mayuri." Akira said by popping his head over the door.

"What? This early? I thought you were supposed to go around 10?" said Mako in a fairly surprised tone.

"That's when the train departs. I have to meet them at the train station before 9!" Akira said with a smile.

"Fine, remember to bring your talisman charm with you and be careful out there. Since you aren't bringing your staff, don't cause any trouble just because I am too busy to go with you this time." Mako looked at Akira with a pouting face and voiced her reminder.

If it wasn't for the expected increase of visitors in the shrine, Mako would have followed Akira on this little trip since she was his guardian.

"Yeah, yeah, you've said it a thousand times now. Look, I carry the talisman charm everywhere I go. And don't be such a paranoid, nothing will happen." Akira smiled.

"You better hope so, or I'll have to clean up your mess like every other time…"

"Wow, look at the time, I better be going! Bye!"

"Hey I haven't finish… damn it! That brat!"

Before Mako started to nag, Akira was smart enough to run off with an excuse, leaving Mako with furrowed brows as he returned to her chores.

The other two priestess chuckled after the little scene between them two.

Mako noticed the attention, she got slightly embarrassed and she covered it by burying herself into her work.

Akira was eager to get away from Mako as soon as possible because he had been looking forward to this trip for a few weeks now. It was also the few chances that he could get away from that 'nagging old lady'.

Akira swiftly left the shrine and boarded the bus to the train station.

Other than finally getting away from his nagging guardian, Akira also looked forward to the trip because he hasn't seen his friend, Taka, for a few years now. Taka was his childhood friend who he met during elementary school, both of them separated after graduation from high school and Taka moved the other side of the country to further his studies as a doctor.

Although both of them were in different places, their relationship was like a rubber, stretched out but never broken. They would contact each other through messaging or phone calls all the time.

Still, Akira was quite excited to see his friend in person.

After Akira got off the bus at the train station, he finally saw his friend.

Taka, together with two other girls, was waving at Akira at the entrance to the train station.

"Hey Akira! Over here!" Taka called out loudly.

"Hey! Taka! Coming right over!" Akira ran towards the entrance.

Both friends, closed as brothers, did a series of complicated handshake when they met, truly displaying their friendship.

"Hi, Akira! Finally you are here."

"Hey, Mayuri. I know right, I had to escape the 'nagging old lady' back at the shrine."

Mayuri was one of the two girls waiting with Taka. She was also a friend of Akira and Taka from high school. Mayuri was quite a cute looking girl but rather shy, she was labeled as the 'unlucky girl' by her schoolmates since young and the title plagued her even after graduation.

"You look a little bit tired. Didn't get enough sleep I suppose?" Akira asked after a proper look at his friend.

"You know it's rude to tell a girl that she looks tired… I guess I'm excited for this trip, so excited that I barely slept last night." Mayuri pouted before she explained.

"Well, you can have a nap on the train later. It's quite a journey to our destination." Taka said, trying to give some assurance to the poor girl.

"Oh, and let me introduce you to someone. Akira, this is Carly, my girlfriend from med school."

"Carly, this is Akira, my best friend." Taka introduced the other girl, Carly, to Akira.

"Hi Carly, nice to meet you. I've heard a lot about you from Taka." Akira said.

"Nice to meet you too, Akira, I've also heard a lot about you, Taka always said you guys had the best school days together."

Carly, Taka's girlfriend, was a half: her father was Canadian and her mother was Japanese. She inherited the blue eyes from her father that made her stand out from the common, making her a sapphire among the topazes.

"Okay then, since everyone is here, let's go." said Taka.

The group then walked into the train station, but before Akira stepped through the gate, something caught his attention; the talisman charm that he was carrying with him buzzed a little.

His sensed something unusual behind his back. He turned around, trying to find out what triggered the feeling.

A left and right glance later, he spotted a long hair woman in a red trench coat standing opposite the road.

Akira raised a brow at the woman.

"Who wears trench coat in summer? Is she crazy?." he said to himself.

The woman's hair was messy, somewhat wet, her head was slightly lowered and her eyes were sort of gloomy as she grudgefully gazed at the group.

Akira sized up the woman until a bus sped through his sight, carrying the woman's figure away; he lost sight of her right after the bus passed.

He slightly frowned.

"Akira, what are you doing, standing at the entrance? Come on." Taka's call woke Akira.

"Yeah, coming." Akira said. He couldn't help but give up on the woman and went after the group.

The group ventured into the train station, purchased their tickets and grabbed snacks so that their journey to their destination could be filled with glutinous treat.

The two guys would joke and laughs while the two girls spoke softly and tried to befriend each other while they waited in line.

After the tickets and snacks were taken care off, they boarded the train.

Taka, Carly and Mayuri boarded the train and Akira was the last in line.

Again, before he stepped into the train, the same scene repeated.

The talisman charm around his neck buzzed a little and he sensed the unusual presence around him for a second time.

He looked left and right, attempting to figure out what was causing the unsettling feeling but this time, he didn't spot anything. He thought he was looking for the lady in red, but his quick search returned fruitless.

"Hmmm, am I overthinking?"

Doubts lingered in his heart, but he couldn't help it at the moment, thus he stepped in before the door of the carriage closed.

Akira quickly got to his seat, which was the aisle seat beside Mayuri; Taka and Carly was sitting in front of the duo.

As Akira sat down, his eyes glance through the window and saw the scenery started to move.

But…

Amid the accelerating bullet train, he caught a glimpse of the lady in red again!

It was a split second, but Akira was sure he saw the same person again.

The bullet train sped off and the scenery outside the window swiftly blurred out like an abstract painting.

Akira lost sight of the lady in red. He was confused, but not surprised, he lifted his mouth corner into a mischievous smile.

"What's wrong Akira? What are you smiling at? Don't tell me it's my face again!" Mayuri noticed the little grin on Akira's face and asked out of curiosity.

"No no, I'm just happy about the trip. Here, have a can of orange juice."

Akira widened his smile and took out a can of orange juice that they bought from the station.

The four of them happily chatted and joked along the journey.

However, something had followed them on the train, something unclean, impure and it latched itself onto one of the four like glue.

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