Ken Aoki’s world is shattered with the loss of his mother. All that is left is two strange objects she willed to him. If the doomsayers all over the media are right, and everything is soon to end, then at least the apocalypse will end his pain.
When he stumbles onto his best friend’s corpse and is attacked by a powerful stranger that leaves him for dead, he wakes to find himself mixed up with cave dwellers whose hopes rest on the mysterious artifacts in his possession.
The beautiful and aloof Rin Uchida helps Ken discover there’s more to himself than he ever knew. As the planet is bombarded by natural disasters, Ken and Rin race against time to stop a dangerous adversary that will do anything to complete his objective – destroy humanity at any cost.
Rin followed the raucous sound of the juusha of Rhychard as they gathered into the large anteroom. At its highest point, the galley rose about fifteen feet in the air. Whether by design or not, a cluster of stalagmites ranging in various sizes rested in the center. It formed into something that resembled a chandelier made of earth.
Rin strode forward until she stood under it. As a child, she’d feared the day the rock chandelier would come crashing onto her skull. The dire thoughts of that event had faded over time however, and she saw the edifice as a sign of community. Soon the Elder and his son Alderic would come and stand with her. A sizable fire blazed and crackled nearby and she stepped closer to it to feel its warmth, although she doubted it would have the ability to melt the icy dread inside her chest.
“Uchida-san, is it true? Has Ludovicus awakened?”
Rin turned toward the voice and saw one of the older women before her, eyes wide. “Hai, Obaasan.”
The woman’s fingers clutched at her throat. “What will the Elder do?”
Rin reached out and clasped the woman on the shoulder. “Do not worry, Obaasan. Ludovicus will not defeat us.”
I hope. She hugged the woman, feeling the slight tremors rake through the diminutive frame. After some more words of comfort, the woman left and Rin sighed. The story had been passed down for so long that the reality of it seemed a distant thing. On the one hand, she wanted to ensure she would never forget why she and the others lived in caves, waiting for this day. On the other hand, that day had arrived. Stories had transformed into reality. That reality struck the juusha of Rhychard in the hearts.
“Uchida-san, where is Tambo?” a young child called out to her in the throng.
Rin smiled, thinking of her companion, and glad for the diversion of her morose thoughts. “He’s probably on the hunt. He’ll return when he’s ready.”
At that moment, the Elder, fenced in by both Callen and Michel, with Alderic bringing up the rear, entered the room. Rhychard’s juusha dropped to their knees and bowed as they passed. Rin followed suit and stood once more. The Elder, old and bent over by age, still had the mental agility of his youth. Swathed in a silvery robe embroidered with dark thread, he made an impressive sight among the juusha. His dark eyes had a rich, otherworldly gleam in them, bright like the stars in the heavens. The reflection of firelight danced in their depths.
She focused on his son, Alderic, the pompous but likable giant and the self-proclaimed future leader of the people as he strutted about. A massive man with coal-black hair that hung about his head in a shaggy style, he exuded an aura of vitality felt by all. When he folded his arms, they bulged in an almost grotesque way, with veins interrupting their smoothness. Skin baked by the sun gave him a swarthy appearance. Alderic winked at a couple of young ones who giggled.
Alderic caught her eyes roving over him and waggled his eyebrows in a comical way. Rin laughed and shook her head. The Elder’s son desired her for his wife, but their friendship made that impossible. Rin would never see any of the men she’d grown up with as more than childhood companions. As she developed into a woman, she’d seen their interest in her but thwarted it. For a reason unfathomable to her, she distanced herself from relationships. Perhaps it was because of her destiny. The Elder stated she would be the one to bring Ludovicus’ end. The thought tied knots of tension in her stomach again. Did she truly have the strength to bring about the end of such a great evil?
The Elder came and stood under the rock chandelier while Callen and Michel faded into the background. He raised his hand to quiet the murmurings of the people, and a hush fell.
“It is true. Ludovicus has awakened.” The Elder’s voice boomed, a striking contrast to the look of frailty he had on him. “We have prepared for this day. We will not allow Ludovicus to touch the Descendant. We will withhold his gain on what is precious to us. Do not be afraid.”
Rin swallowed a sudden lump in her throat as the Elder turned. The black orbs locked onto her, the force of the gaze strong enough to render her immobile. For a long while, the silence lingered in the anteroom as the people waited to hear what was next. Rin wanted to know, too. Why did the Elder stare at her so? Was there some hidden secret he needed to relate to her? A command?
As if he heard her, he nodded and lifted his hand in a gesture for her to come to him.
“Our next move is to find the Descendant before Ludovicus can. This will require an individual agile in mind and body to undertake this task.”
Alderic cleared his throat meaningfully and puffed out his chest. Rin barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes.
“Will Alderic-san be enough to stop Ludovicus?” a voice called out. Others murmured alongside the query.
“It is not my son who will go to fetch the Descendant, but Uchida-chan.”
Alderic whirled to the Elder. “Otousan!”
“Be still, Alderic.”
“Otousan! I am more than capable of retrieving the Descendant. I have trained for this moment for as long as I can remember.”
“Yet this mission is not for you. Uchida-san is best suited. It is not through my preference, but the will of the Creator.” The old man then turned to Rin. “Will you accept this task, Uchida-san?”
The words hung in the air like a mist and settled over her with a chill. A part of her screamed that she could not do this. Retrieval of the Descendant would put her life at risk. Ludovicus’ power would only grow the longer time passed. She was but a child.
“Let us just say I am more confident in your child-like weakness than my son’s adult strength.”
Rin released a pent-up sigh. If Senpai believed in her, then she had to believe in herself.
Rin knelt to the ground before her leader, head bowed. “As the Creator wills, so I will do.”
A harsh gush of air erupted from Alderic. Rin’s lips twisted at the irony of their situation. She, the reluctant chosen to fetch the Descendant, and Alderic, the rejected eager one. She stood once more as the Elder said, “Uchida-san will choose of you those to accompany her. That is all.”
The crowd disbursed with a flick of his hand and the juusha walked out of the anteroom with a few who remained behind. Of those left, Rin knew they anticipated the opportunity of traveling with her.
How do you choose your companions on a pathway to hell?