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Shift - Chapter 26 - The Echoes of Nothing

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The top of the hill that the Tsuji Shrine sat on suddenly was darkened by passing clouds covering up the sun. A silent breeze wheeled through the ground holding off the tension that was coming to a slow boil. It left the two old friends staring at each other with a knowing look that was weighing and sorting through thoughts.

Seiji took a step forward breaking the standoff that was between them. He had a long pensive expression that seemed to be unnatural for him. It was that aura that was making it easy for Yuki to read him. Seiji resumed walking in front of him towards the stairs of the main shrine. The wood of the shrine was well polished with a reflection of the surroundings bouncing in it as Seiji stepped on the old boards. He was followed up by Yuki not long after and made their way to the back of the shrine around the outside. A small groan from the back steps was let go as Seiji took a seat. Yuki leaned up against the supporting pillar of wood looking down. “So… Yuki… The past year?”

Chapter 26 – The Echoes of Nothing

“Huh?” Yuki said looking up a little trying to understand where Seiji was headed. There were still no answers for Yuki to the reason of Seiji’s appearance or purpose. It was making him increasingly curious, especially since he did not remember Seiji acting like this before when they were close friends.

Silence poured in again for a moment as Seiji searched for his words that continued to slip through his fingers. “What I mean… How has the year been for you?” Seiji tried to paint a friendly and happy face on, but failed in the attempt.

Yuki slipped from the pillar in surprise, but eventually righted himself back up. “Wha?!”

“Well I haven’t seen you in a while. What have you been doing?” Seiji was starting to act like Yuki was being the strange one for acting so off balanced by the question as though it was an unbelievable thing to consider.

The near matter-of-fact attitude continued to puzzle Yuki as he stared at his friend. He slowly pulled himself back and blinked once to smooth out his disjointed feeling. “Well I’ve been going to school and started high school.”

Seiji lowered his eyes a little annoyed by the easy answer. “Yeah, I know that. Besides school.”

“I uh…” Yuki tried to think about what he had been doing, but found it all pretty ordinary and uneventful, besides one thing. ‘I can’t tell him that I’m an heir to some strange land that I’ve never seen and have powers that defy reality. And that I’m being hunted by an evil group of people trying to take control forcibly from the rightful ruler.’ The gears turned in Yuki’s head trying to come up with anything that worked no matter how small. “I ate Takuyaki!”

It was Seiji this time that lost his grip and fell down the stairs landing on his back upside down staring in disbelief and utter confusion at the response. Seiji recovered quickly and leapt up to the stairs glaring back at Yuki for giving such a ridiculous answer to him. “What sort of answer is that?! I didn’t ask about what you ate!”

“Well I did!” Yuki said leaning in trying to re-enforce that he was being honest, even though it was a random answer.

Seiji grabbed Yuki up by the collar of his uniform and stared at him for a minute without words. Then when he seemed like he was going to punch Yuki he let him down and changed his expression. “If it was a year ago you’d never would have even said a word. Guess that’ll do.” Seiji stepped down off the stairs into the grounds behind the shrine leaving a foot on one stone tile each.

Yuki pulled down his jacket to straighten it out and made it down a couple steps. “You know that I’m not the same, right? I’ve put the past behind me. Was this a test or something, Seiji?”

“A test? No, I know without a test… I guess I—“

“Yuki!” Shoji yelled from the shrine as he threw open the doors on their skids without concern. The young boy leapt on Yuki’s back hugging him tightly as Yuki had early to Seiji. “I’m all finished with my training. So we can play, Yuki!”

“Shoji! You’re going to hurt, Yuki!” Seiji said rushing to Yuki’s aid to pull off his hyper-active little brother. He struggled with Shoji a little, but eventually managed to pull him off sharply with a fist to his head.

Shoji looked up at Seiji rubbing his head holding back a tear in his eye. “What you do that for? Yuki’s strong.”

“Well I…”

“Its fine,” said Yuki patting Shoji on the head. ‘Seiji’s acting strange. I wonder what is eating him?’ He wanted to go over to Seiji and talk straight with him, but that seemed to be impossible. It was rare for them to talk serious from what he could remember and there seemed to be something in front of Seiji holding him back. He had not seen his friend in a while, but he was not like the friend that he remembered.

A creaking of the boards signaled another visitor to the back of the shrine. It was the grandfather of Shoji and Seiji and the head of the Tsuji family. He was the one that taught the ways of the priesthood and held the line of tradition before him. As to be expected, he wore the standard vestments of the Shinto priests without compromising for any of the modernism that was slowly trying to seep into their world. In his age, he was almost completely bald with only a ring of hair around the base of his head that hung close to his very wrinkled and dotted head. However, in spite of his appearances, he had the fierceness of anyone half his age and refused to acknowledge age as a weakness. “Seiji, you missed your training again. At this rate, your brother will pass you.”

“That’s fine. I’ve told you countless times, I don’t care about any of that. Why can’t you leave me alone?!” Seiji turned away from his grandfather starting to have anger shaking his arms.

“But it’s fun!” Shoji ran from Yuki over to Seiji grabbing his hand to keep him from leaving. It was an all too common argument for them. “Please. You’re much better than I am.”

Seiji ripped free his hand and started to walk from the shrine towards the protected woods below. “I told you. I don’t want your tradition!”

“Watch your tongue, boy!” his grandfather snapped from the shrine staring down at Seiji, who only paused for a moment before he continued walking away. Seiji was out of sight before long down the stairs not wanting to be followed as everyone already knew. Their grandfather turned to Yuki looking at him through his deep set eyes and dry lips speaking coldly to the high school student. “I thought you might have changed him in the past. I thought you might drive him back to where he was meant to be, but I was wrong. You were only a negative influence that encourages his rebellious side. I see that hasn’t changed.” Once he was done berating Yuki he turned back and entered the shrine fading into the shadows.

Shoji looked down the path and up at his grandfather before to Yuki. It was painted heavy on the young kid’s face how confused he was now. He did not know who to follow and wanted to go with both while knowing that it was completely impossible. “Yuki…”

“I’m sorry, Shoji.” Yuki was beginning to feel out of place now that the only reason he was at the shrine disappeared. He wanted to leave, but he could not leave Shoji like he was. However, the words that he should say were not coming to him.

“Grandfather and brother always fight like this. Why?” Shoji collapsed to his knees on the tile with Yuki quickly rushing to his side. He pulled tightly on Yuki’s clothes in his confusion.

Yuki thought back to his family for a moment hearing the echoing of his sister yelling at him. ‘Maybe that’s why Seiji and I got along so well then. We were so similar then.’ He stared into Shoji’s face wishing to find the answers that he needed, but still coming up short. This was not something that he was very good at. “I think they’ll always fight because of who they are, Shoji. But don’t think this is your fault. If you keep trying and don’t give up… Your feelings will make it through.”

Shoji wiped away his tears, but still had an uncertain questioning look for Yuki. “My feelings will make it through if I don’t give up?”

He nodded with a smile to Shoji to assure him. “I promise.”

“Really?!” Shoji seemed to return back to his cheerful self. He jumped up and hugged Yuki quickly before running off down the stairs in the direction that Seiji had left.

The grounds were empty once more leaving Yuki standing in the wind that blew through. The silence made him awkward and knew that he had already over stayed. He slowly made his way to the front of the shrine to put him back on his path. ‘If you don’t give up huh?’ Yuki stared down at his hand still confused about his power that was locked inside him. ‘I guess I should listen to my own advice.’

Seiji sat on a rock a little off the path of stairs that sink into the forest behind the shrine. The shrine was surrounded in a modern city and the last bastion of the old ways was held trapped on all sides by the skyscrapers and highways. It was only held at bay by the small forest and hill that the shrine sat upon for protection. Most just saw it as a city park that was allowed to run wild within a boundary, but for Seiji it was his only escape from everything. ‘I finally managed to actually talk to him again after everything and I can’t say anything to him. Then grandfather has to go and screw things up, making it impossible. I bet Yuki’s already left and my chance as well. Since when was I such a coward?’

The rustling of leaves nearby went unnoticed by Seiji as he sat with his hands around his the sides of his head. Shoji was standing in front of him without saying a word for minutes just watching his brother and wondering what was going on in his thoughts. It took him that time to get up the courage to speak to his older brother and reach out his hand to touch his arm. “Seiji?”

“Shoji!” Seiji said pulling back his head and body in surprise. “How did you find me?”

Shoji smiled back at him. “You always go to the same place after you fight with grandfather, but I’ve never told him.”

“…I see…”

“Please, let’s go back!”

“Shoji…” Seiji’s face darkened a little thinking about what he would have to face back at home. It was still too early for him to return. The shaking had not stopped for him. “…sorry, Shoji, but I’m not going back yet.” He flexed his hand at his side letting it breathe, but it was still vibrating in anger.

Shoji held his head down hearing his brother’s reply, but raised his head back up hearing Yuki’s words echo through him. ‘If you keep trying and don’t give up… Your feelings will make it through.’ He narrowed his eyes a little in determination staring at his reluctant brother. “If I don’t give up… If I keep trying…” he said softly, but it pulled Seiji back towards him confused. “You said you’d show me something, Seiji!”


“Before, you said you’d show me.”


Shoji grabbed on to Seiji’s arm pulling at his shoulder with him to get him to stand up. “I won’t give up!” said Shoji staring unwavering at Seiji as he tried to pull away. Whether it was his words or his little brother neither mattered at that moment when he stood up and walked away with Shoji back up the stairs.

The restaurant had become busy and they had spent their time talking for long enough. Hiroshi and his friends left at the door to go home or whatever they normally did after school. Saki and Ayumi cautiously looked at each other in front of the building as though they were acting like strangers figuring their way home. After several minutes of almost blank stares they turned towards the street seeing the busy evening traffic.

“So… Ready to go?” said Saki deciding to start up the conversation.


Saki turned in the direction that they needed to go and began walking knowing that Ayumi would catch up on her own pace. Her mind was filled with worries still thinking about Yuki and Seiji being together. She knew that she should trust Yuki to be alright and that he would not get into any fights, but knowing their history she could not help herself. Most of the thoughts were started anew after they left the restaurant where they had managed to be suppressed through the chatting. However, Saki was now bombarded with every fear that she had. She wanted to know what Seiji’s motive was for suddenly appearing after school after leaving with hardly a goodbye last time. They had little in common besides fighting leaving Saki to return to her fears repeatedly. ‘Wish I knew what they were doing now.’

While they walked in silence Ayumi watched Saki’s reaction and gears visibly turning. The way that Saki was acting made it pretty clear to Ayumi that she was concerned for Yuki (anyone passing by could tell). Ayumi kept her cheerful persona on the busy street, but spoke with her deeper voice towards Saki. “What sort of person is this Seiji?”

It took a moment for the words to sink into Saki and even longer for it to even connect with her. There had to be further prodding from Ayumi before Saki looked towards her to make contact. “Seiji? Well like I said before Yuki and him would get into fights a lot.”

“You mentioned being a Shinto priest-in-training, I assume that supposed to mean something. I’m not versed in all of your culture yet.” There was a lot that Ayumi was still studying about the world outside of her homeland, since it was generally ignored and not taught in schools. She had been learning as much as she could, but her cover story of being from America helped to smooth out most of her mistakes.

“Oh right, I forgot you aren’t from around here. Let’s see, I guess in a simple way Shinto priests are sort like umm…really…good people? I guess that isn’t clear either. Um… They are divine practitioners that follow some sort of code or guidelines I guess. Does that help any?”

Saki was sweating a little from her stumbling through her explanation, but it ended up getting the point across to her. “I see. Hmm…”

“Why you ask?” Saki said finding Ayumi’s curiosity in Seiji to be a little sudden if not strange. Ayumi struck her as a person that did not do anything without purpose and if it was concerning Seiji she wanted to know.

Ayumi paused in her response leaving Saki staring her until it started to bother her. “I’ve seen him before today I’m fairly certain. I think I’ve seen him watching us from the edge of the school.” They turned into their neighborhood taking to the road now rather than the sidewalk that was soon to end.

“What?!” Saki came to an immediate stop in the road after she finished speaking. Whether Ayumi meant it or not increased fears were blazing through her mind trying to understand what he was up to watching them. “For how long?”

“Since I’ve been attending your school and I suspect even longer. At first I thought he was an assassin, but he never made a move so I waited. I guess he was waiting for a chance to meet with Yuki.” Ayumi could see that Saki was spinning into overload on thoughts and hoped that she might be able to temper some of it with more rational logic. Unfortunately, it did not seem to be working on Saki as she walked ahead of Ayumi beginning to ignore Ayumi lost in her world of growing concerns.

Saki did not remember walking the rest of the way home or even opening the door to her room. She just simply ended up there when she finally snapped out of her trance. ‘He’s been watching us, Yuki… Has he been planning this the entire time? What’s he up to? This wasn’t random… Yuki…’ Saki collapsed on her bed rolling over on her side dropping her arm over her pillow that she drew in against her.

Seiji made good on his promise with Shoji to show him something, which was a Shinto technique that Shoji had been interested in, but their grandfather refused to teach him yet. When their grandfather found them in the back practicing Shoji got scolded as well as Seiji. However, Seiji had managed to smooth things over with his grandfather a little due to Shoji pressuring, but it was not going to be something that was fixed over night. He knew how his grandfather was about tradition and Seiji hated the whole idea. Those opposites were not going to be changed, but he could at least put on a good face for his little brother. It made dinner go a little better without being ganged up by his father too about his lack of progress in his training.

The shrine was huge, but walking the halls Seiji always felt like he was being choked at each step. He walked out onto the back porch around the shrine leaning at the wood railing looking up at the stars that began to appear in the sky through the heavy city lights. ‘Yuki… I’ll try again tomorrow… I can’t just keep watching you from a distance…’

To be continued…

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