2. The Element of Wind
Travel through the void was more an art than a science. The destination was never exactly clear, and even in the best of cases aiming at anything more than a general area was impossible. You were lucky if you wound up in walking distance of your target.
Which is why Arthur was not surprised when he found himself in the middle of a busy street. A white car’s brakes squealed as it stopped inches from the magically appearing pedestrian. Arthur glanced around at the tall buildings that rose up on either side of him. He had not been in a proper city since he was a little boy. Excitement mixed with his nerves at the thought of exploring this slice of civilization. If he had time after saving the world, of course.
The driver of the white car honked his horn. A chorus of honks from the cars behind echoed after.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing, asshole!?” the driver of the white car yelled, leaning out his window. “This ain’t a crosswalk!”
Arthur shrugged. “I’m looking for the high school. Do you know which way it is?”
“Fariman! Hold up!”
Sam Fariman looked up from his Gameboy to see his best friend, Peter Lins, pushing his way through the crowded hallway towards him. He was easy to spot, being a full head taller than anyone else in the crowd.
“Isn’t your next class on the other side of the school?” Sam asked.
Peter was grinning wide. “I’m blowing it off. Teacher never takes attendance, and I got something I really need to show you.”
Sam quickly glanced around to see if any of the faculty was in earshot. Not that they would be able to hear anything with the roar of teenagers rushing between classes. “Can’t it wait until lunch?”
“Way too excited about it,” Peter said. His grin was telling. Whatever it was, it was going to be good. Plus Sam was always eager for an excuse to skip gym.
“The usual spot?”
Without waiting for an answer, Sam put his nose back into his game and began walking. He was familiar enough with the hallways of the school that he could navigate without watching where he was going. Well, mostly. But the shoulder-slam into a locker or face-plant after tripping over an unattended backpack was a small price to pay. With the volume in the hall he could not make out any sound from the Gameboy, but he could imagine every beep, chime, and bell that made up the fast and upbeat soundtrack of Kirby’s Dreamland.
“Jeez, are you still doing that?” Peter asked. “I don’t know how you can waste your time with that ancient shit.”
“It’s not ancient, it’s retro.”
“That’s just what hipsters call old junk.” He pulled out his phone, an iPhone that had cost him a little over a grand that he had picked out specifically for its power to run gaming might. “We live in a golden age of mobile gaming. You’re wasting your time trying to impress a bunch of idiots online.”
“Like you do with your vlogs?”
“That’s just attention seeking. Not some stupid gaming marathon.”
Peter was talking about a challenge posted on the Gaming For Life message boards. The members were tasked with completing the entire classic Gameboy collection in just thirty days. It was a deceptively tough challenge. Even after the forum agreed on a definition of ‘classic’ the list was over 200 games large. While a game like Kirby’s Dream Land would take less than an hour, the three Pokemon games could easily be an all day affair. The reward was a dumb Gameboy icon to use on the boards. Sam wanted it.
“I’m over halfway done,” Sam argued. “I can’t quit now.”
“Uh-huh.” Peter knew the argument was pointless. Once Sam had his mind set on something he was impossible to shake. Like how he dressed. Peter had tried many times to get Sam to develop a sense of style. He might not be able to afford the kind of designer brands Peter wore, but he could certainly do better than the gaming paraphernalia he always wore. Today he wore a shirt that said “I Rule These Streets,” with the characters from Streets of Rage underneath.
Their dress was not the only way they were mismatched. Fariman was short and scrawny, with red hair and freckles that made him seem younger. He was frequently confused for a freshman despite also being a junior. Peter on the other hand was tall, tanned, and had a toned build that reflected his hours of commitment to the varsity baseball team.
But though they looked different and came from two different worlds, the two had become best friends through their mutual love of video games, comic books, and technology. They were the founding (and only) members of the school’s ‘Classical Foreign Movie’ appreciation club, which was the weak excuse they had come up with to be able to borrow the school’s television equipment. Their clubroom was once an empty storage room on the third and no one thought to bother them there. They ducked inside just as the bell for the next period rang.
Sam put his Gameboy down. “This better be good, Lins.”
Peter just grinned as he opened up his backpack. He pulled out a black box slightly bigger than his cell phone. A Japanese insignia ran along it in neon green. He held it up like a trophy. “This, dear Fariman, is the latest in portable gaming. Instant uplink to to an HPC cloud, built and optimized for PC gaming, and massive library of games. Just plug this in anywhere and enjoy some high-definition gaming. It is not supposed to come out in the west for months, but I got my hands on one.”
Sam was not impressed. “Gaming over the cloud isn’t exactly new tech.”
“You don’t get it. Look at how small this thing is. PC gaming has never been this portable.”
“Still got to carry around a keyboard and mouse, or controllers, and whatever else you need to actually play.” Sam picked his Gameboy back up. “You’re never going to outdo a handheld in portable gaming.”
Peter was about to the argue the point when suddenly the sole window at the back of the room slammed open and a powerful rush of wind accosted them, sending the papers in Peter’s bag flying through the air and nearly smacking Sam with an empty Coca-Cola bottle.
“The hell?!” Sam yelled, covering his face with his arm against the wind. “A storm?”
“Who cares what it is!” Peter shouted. He was trying to shield the more expensive parts in his bag with his body. “Close the damn window!”
Sam fought his way through the wind towards the window. In the back of his mind he noted how strange it was that the sun was brightly shining in this sudden storm, but right now all he could focus on was getting that window closed. He reached it and was about the push the window down when the wind abruptly stopped. Curiosity took hold and Sam decided to peek his head out the window.
He saw a woman. She was beautiful, statuesque, with flowing auburn hair that brushed a serious yet fair face. Her dress was odd, seeming like multiple robes overlapping one another and tied tightly around her form. The robes and her hair rustled as if she was facing a strong breeze.
Oh, and she was floating. It took Sam a moment to realize that, as stunned as he was by the sudden appearance of this pretty woman staring right at him, but when he remembered that he was on the third floor he looked down. Gravity had somehow forgotten about her.
Sam’s mouth hung open as the woman slowly drifted towards him. “There you are,” she said in a whisper that seemed to be meant only for him. It felt like she was beside him, tickling his ears with her breath. “You need to come with me.” She held out a hand towards him, her eyes beckoning him to take it.
If this was a video game, this would be the opening level. Here was a woman who could somehow float in the air offering him his call to adventure. If he had a controller in his hand, Sam would have immediately hit the button to make his character leap out the window towards the next act. Real life was no game, however, and he hesitated.
And then he was moving forward, but not by his will. He could feel wind pick up around him, surging underneath him and lifting him from the ground, pushing against his back and carrying him out the window. He cried out in surprise and fear and grabbed the edges of the windowsill in a death grip and tried to pull himself back inside.
“What the hell are you doing, Fariman?!” Peter shouted. He grabbed Sam around the shoulders and began pulling him back through the window. Only then did he get a look past Sam at the strange floating woman. Raised by video games and comic books, Peter accepted the only explanation that came to his mind as he struggled against the howling wind now trying to pull both of them out of the window. “Let him go!” he shouted at the crazy, somehow magical woman.
The woman frowned. “This would be so much easier if you just came willingly, but time is short. I’ll take you by force.”
Her arm turned from outstretched hand to open palm facing the two in the window. A gale of wind came howling through the open window window, shattering the glass and sending the boys flying back into the room. A scream like a passing train assaulted their ears as the wind pressed them against the inner wall. Sam watched in horror as the wall near the windowsill began crack against the forces applied against it.
And then it all came crashing apart.
Arthur nervously adjusted his hat as he entered the school. The place made him a little uneasy, and not just because he was here to convince one of the students they were in grave danger. Arthur had not attended school since Ryu took him in when he was six. The only person around his own age he had grown up around was Ai. He was only a few years older than students in the classrooms he now passed but he had no idea how he would interact with them. What would he say? Talk about his favorite arcade and burger joint?
He walked slowly, taking his time to peek through the windows of each classroom and try to find someone who matched Ryu’s description. The students here were so diverse compared to what he was used to, both in ethnicity and dress. He felt even more out of place in the simple white vest and khaki pants that comprised his usual outfit.
“Excuse me, sir,” a man wearing a white shirt with polka-dotted tie called out to him. “Are you lost? Are you looking for one of the teachers?”
The man was eyeing Arthur suspiciously. One of the faculty, Arthur assumed, concerned with the stranger wandering the school’s halls.
“A student, actually,” Arthur replied, trying on his most friendly smile and hoping to disarm the man. “A boy, probably a freshman, with red hair and freckles. Do you know a student like that?”
This was apparently the worst thing Arthur could have said, as the faculty member’s eyes narrowed and he pulled out his phone. “Why don’t you just stay here for a moment -”
He was cut off by the sudden screeching of wind outside. As he glanced over at the window to see what was going on there was a loud crash, like thunder, and the whole school shook. “An explosion?”
Arthur was already running. That blast came from upstairs. He was taking the stairs two at a time as an alarm began to sound. A calm voice echoed from the loudspeaker for the students to calmly evacuate. The students did not take the voice’s advice and piled out of the classrooms in a chaotic frenzy. Arthur pushed his way through them and towards the source of the blast, hoping he was not too late.
Sam groaned as his vision cleared. He was looking down at the ground, which seemed to be getting further away from him. It was getting further away from him. He was floating. His body drifted towards the hole in the wall where the window used to be. He twisted his body around desperately, trying to escape to the swirling forces that were keeping him afloat.
Nearby, Peter was trying to pull himself to his feet. He was bleeding from cuts caused by the broken glass but fortunately seemed to have been spared getting crushed by flying chunks of wall. Being slammed around had left him dizzy and disoriented. He was aware of Sam being dragged away but couldn’t get his feet properly underneath him to help his friend.
Sam reached out, groping for anything to grab on to. His fingers found the legs of an overturned desk for only a moment before slipping away. A desperate grab found Peter’s overturned bag, still full of expensive electronics and comics, just as Sam was reaching the edge.
“Sorry, Lins,” Sam said. He twisted himself around and chucked the bag at the floating woman with all his strength. Which is to say, not particularly hard, but the projectile momentarily surprised the woman and she reflexively lowered her arms to catch it.
Sam hit the floor hard. His head hung over the edge of the building and he looked down on the faculty parking lot below. He yelped and scrambled back on his hands and knees.
“Cute,” the woman said as she casually let thousands of dollars worth of electronics drop three stories. “You’re lucky I need to take you alive, otherwise I’d -”
Her threat was cut off as the door was slammed open.
Arthur came in running and skidded to a halt when he took in the scene. One student was on his knees and bleeding. Not far was a red headed boy who matched the description Ryu had given. And floating outside a broken wall a woman whose scowl gave her away.
His enemy sized him up just as quickly. She raised her arm. Arthur’s recent training with Ryu mixed with adrenaline as Arthur conjured and raised his sword in one swift motion. No sooner than the sword was in his hands a blast of wind threatened to splatter him against the wall. He met the force with his sword.
Their elements collided. No sword cut was strong enough to turn back a gale, but this was a test of pure power. The wind force focused on his blade and he focused on keeping the sword intact and not letting it dissolve back into Light. This was the greatest trial of his control that Arthur had ever experienced.
His sword cut through. The wind parted around him for just a moment before fading completely. The whole exchange had lasted only a few seconds but to Arthur it had felt an eternity.
The woman drifted into the room and landed lightly. “Well, well,” she said in a dry tone. “I wasn’t expecting a fight right away.”
Arthur shifted nervously on his feet, sword at the ready. “That makes two of us.”
“I have taken the name Aer. And what should I say the name of the first of our enemies to fall was?”
“My name’s Arthur.” He took a step forward. “You should run now and tell your friends I’m coming for them.”
Aer laughed and the wind picked up. Papers filled the air and the chairs and desks lifted up and flew through the air at dangerous angles. Arthur had to dodge to avoid being struck in the head with a flying television.
“Run?” Aer scoffed. “And miss this chance? When I could bring back your head as a bonus?”
Arthur glanced over at the two students. The scattered projectiles came dangerously close to striking them. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to protect them and fight at the same time.
“Hey, you two!” Arthur called out. “Get out of here! Run! I’ll catch up to you later!”
Peter was helping Sam to his feet. “You heard the crazy magic-sword-guy. Let’s go!”
Aer raised her arm in their direction. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Arthur thrust his sword and focused on extending the Light flowing through him to the tip of the blade. A searing ray shot forth, slicing through a desk like butter on its way to its target. Aer quickly turned around and conjured a wall of wind in front of her. The ray shone brightly as it impacted the wall and vanished.
“Good luck, Sword-guy!” Sam called as he and Peter rushed out the door.
“You know there’s nowhere for him to run.” Aer began to lift from the floor as the wind swirled around her. “There’s nowhere he will be safe. Even if, by some fluke, I fail today. The master’s eyes see everywhere, his arms can reach anywhere. All you are doing is delaying the inevitable.”
Arthur’s hat flew off and joined the debris in the air. He had to brace himself to keep from being knocked off his feet. Despite it all, he couldn’t help feeling some excitement. Terror, for sure, but also a thrill at finally facing off against the evil he had prepared his whole life for. He raised for his sword for another strike.
“Bring it on!”