Running through the morning streets of the coastal Japanese town of Kamogawa, Meg Momozono turned a corner, swearing under her breath as she came dangerously close to tripping over her own feet, and continued on her way.
A few birds twittered in the skeletal cherry blossoms lining the road, the smell of fresh bread from a nearby bakery filling Meg’s nostrils as her breath misted the crisp March air. Soon, the trees would blossom for a brief but indelible few weeks, but for now they stood in stark contrast to the otherwise springtime greenery.
She came to a stop at a junction, glancing up at the crossing lights, currently red. Standing idly, unaware of anything much beyond how quiet everything seemed, she waited patiently for the green light. Something felt… off, strange, unusual. Even at seven in the morning, it shouldn’t be this silent.
Nearby cars had stalled. There were no obvious people. Even the birds had ceased their incessant chirping. And a hint of something filled her nostrils, something acrid… sulphur, perhaps? Her gaze came to rest on a young woman collapsed near a red post box.
Meg ran across. “Hey! Are you all right?”
She crouched, gently shaking the unconscious figure. Placing a finger to the woman’s neck, she checked for a pulse; steady and strong, so Meg relaxed a little. She dug around in her rucksack and produced her phone. Feverishly tapping the screen, she placed a call to 119, the Japanese emergency services. An unwelcome flat tone greeted her ears. No cell service? She frantically looked about for a phone box.
Before she could process anything else, a roar like a volcano erupting assaulted her ears. She collapsed onto her behind, legs splayed to her sides as the ground shook beneath her. Doing her best to shield the defenceless woman on the pavement, she muttered, “What the hell was that?” A second later she had her answer.
A black creature, biomechanical and bipedal in nature – almost Giger-esque to Meg’s eyes – and as tall as a two-storey house lumbered out from a side street and strode towards her. Steam escaped from fissures in its skin and an oily substance oozed from claw-like hands, splashing the asphalt and melting it like acid eating its way through polystyrene.
Breath as foul as the bottom of a thousand ponds escaped its perpetually grinning maw. It appeared to sniff the air, locating via smell rather than sight, its face smooth, head elongated like one of those balloon animals Meg had loved as a child. And it had a distinct lack of eyes, the sheer blankness of its non-stare more horrifying than if it had eyes.
Meg laughed – mostly in terror – as the creature appeared to wait for the traffic lights to change red before crossing the road. She was rooted to the spot, unable to move despite her body’s urgent signals to run as though all the demons of Hell chased her. She managed to force herself upright, awkwardly pulling the prone woman along.
“Now might be a good time to work, legs…” she muttered, hoping the appendages in question would listen. They didn’t, steadfastly remaining as jelly while the monster closed the distance. Meg blinked, her heart beating faster and faster, cold chills running down her spine as she stared in abject terror at the creature towering over her …
… the creature that had been towering over her? She did a double take, attempting to figure out what the hell had just happened. Replaying the scene slowly, frame by frame in her mind, she was simply aware of a black and purple blur impacting the creature and flattening it some hundred metres up the road, fortunately missing several waiting cars, their occupants as unconscious as the lady Meg protected.
A girl unconcernedly stood in the middle of the road. She seemed roughly of an age with Meg, late teens, maybe her first year or two into twenty. Short, athletic, lithe, and dressed in… Meg wasn’t quite certain, it seemed to be something similar to those magical girl shows she had watched as a child.
Black and frilly, trimmed in purple with a cute little skirt and spats worn underneath for modesty, plus black knee boots over thigh-length socks. Ribbons adorned the outfit at her neck, several around the waist, and one on each boot at the knee.
Her hair’s colour was reminiscent of classical representations of a black hole; deep purple verging on black, perfectly straight and glowing with a halo of hazy purple, worn loose. It reached to her thighs and billowed out behind her like a cape. The girl’s skin was a deep russet with warm undertones of red and orange.
Meg’s fears melted away, to be replaced by confusion. She blinked a few times, wondering if maybe the terror was making her hallucinate.
The girl turned to her and spoke in a high-pitched yet soft voice. “You okay over there?”
Well, if it was an hallucination, it was a pretty convincing one. Meg called back, “I think so!”
Apparently satisfied, the purple girl launched herself at the creature as it stood, knocking it back a second time. She raised a hand, around which formed a black and purple ball of energy, lobbing it towards the creature. The ball expanded to the size of a small house, spherical with coruscating white lightning crawling over its pulsating surface. It dropped to the creature, pressing it into the asphalt, crushing, breaking, pulverising.
With a wailing cry of pain and rage, the creature exploded under the pressure, splashing the nearby buildings with black slime. The gravity ball shrunk to nothing and disappeared with an amusing pop! sound, like a bubble in the bathtub of the gods.
Letting out a brief sigh of relief, the purple girl nodded with an awkward smile in Meg’s direction, asked her to please avoid mentioning this little incident to anyone, and jumped up into the sky. A pair of glowing purple wings materialised at the rear of her waist, and she was gone.
“What was that all about…” Meg said in a flat tone.
Her brain had fused into a sodden lump, unable to comprehend the level of sheer craziness she had just witnessed. She glanced over to where the creature… had been, as it turned out. It was gone; no monster, no destroyed road or buildings, no black goo. The woman resting in her lap made a vague noise and the cars in the vicinity growled back to life. They were real, at least, so Meg helped the woman to her feet.
“What happened…?” the lady murmured, swaying back and forth.
“Um, I think you passed out?” Meg said. She couldn’t really tell her the world had gone absolutely insane with faintings and crazy monsters.
Other people she hadn’t initially noticed in the general vicinity were coming to and standing, and several of the people in cars had wound their windows down, angrily asking why no one was moving, several of them rubbing their foreheads as though wondering why they suddenly had no memory of the last few minutes.
Meg decided being somewhere else might be wise. Confirming the young woman was okay, she trotted towards her university campus, her mind filled with questions she was unsure she would ever receive answers to…
Entering the campus grounds via the imposing black metal gates, Meg strolled to the cafeteria as casually as she could manage, hoping her wobbly legs would hold out. She made her way around the crisp and modern buildings – all angles and curves and exciting metalwork – and headed for the cafeteria, a tall glass-fronted structure to one side of the grounds.
Inside, she grabbed a polystyrene cup of really-not-very-nice-at-all tea and sat at a table near the windows. Dropping her rucksack under the table, she tried to relax, sipping her tea in an absentminded fashion, and staring vacantly out at the university’s elderly groundskeeper as he struggled to pull a particularly recalcitrant weed from a flower bed.
A gentle old soul most of the time, Kurohama – or Old Man Kuro as he was largely known – could be an unholy terror if a student damaged any of his precious plants. Meg had the misfortune of discovering this first-hand during her first week at the university a year prior. Fortunately he was also a very forgiving person, so she had been let off with a mere week of icy cold stares.
The terror had subsided a little by now at least, her jelly-like legs regaining some of their strength. Surrounding herself with ordinary everyday comforts like the cafeteria’s awful tea and Old Man Kuro helped, made her feel safer, more secure.
She tugged her hair down from its ponytail and shook it out, letting the mass of chestnut settle around her shoulders. Massaging her scalp a few times, hoping this might settle her aching brain down, she tied her hair back up.
An hour slipped slowly past as several cups of awful tea slipped down. Meg often left home an hour early in order to wander the streets and take some fresh air before a morning lecture. But after the events of that morning, perhaps there was something to be said for lying in…
As she was about to head to her first lecture of the day, a voice stayed her. “Mornin’.”
The comforting sound of a friend taking the same art and design course as her. Reassuring to hear after the events of barely half an hour ago. Meg waved, pulling the next chair out for her friend. “Morning, Asuka.”
“Rare to see you looking quite so pasty, Megu-chan,” Asuka said. She sat in the proffered chair and leaned back, idly toying with strands of her long black hair.
Due to the limited number of phonetic sounds available in the Japanese language, most of Meg’s friends pronounced her name as ‘Megu’, this being the closest approximation possible. She didn’t mind this in the slightest, however.
Meg hadn’t realised she looked quite as white as she apparently did, even taking into account her regular skin tone; a pale pink inherited from her British mother. She waved a hand in hopes of setting her friend’s mind at ease. “Just had a bit of a scare this morning, turned out to be nothing, though.”
Much as she might want desperately to talk to someone, Asuka probably wasn’t the right choice. They were close enough, but not best buddies or anything.
Asuka’s face split into a grin. “There’s few problems in life that can’t be solved by painting them.”
“I’m not sure I’d want to paint that thing…” Meg muttered, a vision of the hulking black monster floating briefly before her eyes. She found H.R. Giger’s works disturbing and fascinating in equal measure, but the idea of something similar to his creations actually existing…
“Something bad, was it? Well, think of it like this. Painting something bad cuts it down to size, right? Puts it in your control. Makes it less scary.”
Meg stopped with her cup halfway to her lips. “That’s… an interesting way to deal with problems.”
Asuka gave an indifferent shrug. “I’ve had problems in life, same as anyone. Always found that painting the worries away worked really well.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever thought to try that. Thanks, I’ll give it a shot!”
“Any time. Speaking of which, time we were at class.” Asuka stood and made her way around the various shiny wooden tables and to the exit.
Meg grabbed her rucksack and followed. An hour-long lecture was the last thing she wanted to deal with right now, but she also figured it might take her mind off less pleasant problems.
Studying art and design at Momohime Academy of the Arts, Meg enjoyed virtually every aspect of her university life. Lectures were interesting and informative, practical classes and the various projects were always hugely fun and enlivening, and she had a bunch of great friends. All in all, she figured she couldn’t be anywhere better right now.
Exiting the cafeteria, they darted around the lawn, giving Old Man Kuro a greeting on the way past, and made their way towards the main academy building. Situated dead centre in the campus grounds, this building had resulted in Meg’s jaw more or less literally hitting the floor upon first seeing it in person; pictures online or in the official materials she received didn’t do it justice.
A central structure towered over them, all glossy black glass and metals. Fronting this was a silver arched façade, constructed from metal and inlaid with many windows, including the entrance doors and foyer. And to either side of this enormous structure, two wings similar to the cafeteria’s design with tall colonnaded glass frontages curving slightly forward to create a shallow crescent shape, three storeys high.
Jogging through the elegant and immaculately manicured gardens at the front of the building, they entered and strolled through to their lecture room in the right wing.
Asuka paused before the black door into the room. “You sure you’re okay?”
Meg forced herself to smile. “I’m fine! Come on, we can’t be late.”
She grasped her friend’s hand and tugged her inside the room. Sliding along one of the concentric rows of seats – sloping down to the front of the room, naturally – she dropped into the one closest the windows at the side of the room.
Asuka plopped down next to her and resumed fiddling with her hair, an unconscious habit of hers. “He’s talking about self-portraits today, right?”
Meg had been idly staring out of the window at the nearby trees, but came back to reality with a start. “Eh? Oh… yeah.”
The ‘he’ in question was their lecturer for this morning, one Hiroko Sanada—known as Sanada-sensei to the students. Meg liked him, he was young and enthusiastic, and could put even relatively dry subjects across with a degree of fervour she found it easy to relate to; her father had similar zeal in his own fields of interest and expertise.
“I’ve never really been that into self-portrait,” Asuka added, apropos of nothing much.
Meg gave a low laugh, not wanting to annoy the other students around her. “Feels a bit narcissistic, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose it’s no different to selfie culture? Though it takes a bit more skill!” Asuka laughed.
“Hah, yeah.” Meg had never got into the craze of snapping pictures of herself at every opportunity, though she also understood she was very much in the minority there.
Other students in the room fidgeted and talked quietly, a few stragglers turning up just as the bell chimed, and soon Sanada entered the room to begin their lecture. Meg therefore settled back into her seat, clicked a length of lead out of her mechanical pencil, and did her best to focus.