Chapter 14: Lunchboxes and Magic
Nani found herself nodding off quite a few times.
After all, this was to be expected. Even trains travelling at speeds excess of two-hundred kilometres an hour took time to travel. And even though they weren’t in a bullet train, they were travelling at quite a speed. Still, she scolded herself as a bump awoke her, slouched across her book.
“Are we there yet?” she yawned to Pleakley, stretching out her arms.
“We’ve still got a bit to go,” he replied, inspecting the handbook. “We’ll have to get out at Ebs-su Station…”
“Ebisu,” 419 corrected him, reading the timetable over his shoulder.
“Right, and if I’m reading this right, we need to transfer to a subway train for the rest of the journey.”
“Don’t worry, you’re right, I think.” 419 nodded, forgetting that Pleakley couldn’t see her. “Although I’d say…”
At that moment, a screeching noise interrupted the experiment, and with a jolt, the train began to slow. As this noise disappeared, a voice rang loud over the public broadcast system of the train.
“…Ebisu Eki ni touchaku shiteru.”
Nani briefly mused about the number of times she’d heard Jumba or the experiments cut off by some kind of announcement. It was almost as if they were timed to begin at the most inopportune time.
“They said we’re arriving,” said 419, jumping down from her seat.
“Excellent! Evil genius body can finally stretch,” said Jumba heartedly, evidently anticipating the moment he could stretch his legs.
Pleakley shook his head. “Nuh-uh. We can’t stay long, not at all!” He briefly shifted his gaze from the timetable to the track ahead, and then back to the timetable. “The next train arrives in about ten minutes, so we have to be prepared!”
At that moment, the windows were plunged into absolute darkness as the train left the world of the surface and entered a tunnel to the underground.
The only light came from the LED lamps fixed into the roof of the train, illuminating some rather incomplete graffiti (which, as 419 muttered to Nani, was a good thing, considering what it was beginning to spell), painted neatly over garish concrete, and the massive bulbous incandescent lights, hovering high above the ground like looming spectres or ghostly vultures, flooding the platform before them in a silvery glow.
With a final unceremonious lurch, the train came to an abrupt halt. Nani found herself grasping the side rails to prevent herself from falling to the floor.
“Ebisu Eki,” the voice over the intercom repeated, and the doors opened quickly, revealing the shimmering platform beyond.
Through glass windows and warming metal, the early morning sun beat down on three young friends as they rode a bus past the concrete towers of Tokyo. Much to Li’s great relief, Sakura and Madison had run out of topics to talk about, and were now leaning back on the armrests, staring at the sky. Unfortunately for Li, this silence didn’t last for long.
“It’s sooo hot…” moaned Sakura, sounding rather zombie-like. Hmm, Sakura the zombie. Li thought this was an apt description.
“Why not have a drink?” Madison suggested. “Doesn’t your dad always pack you those scrumptious lunches?”
“Oh yeah! But…” Sakura glanced at the sign declaring “NO FOOD NO DRINK” at the front of the bus.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure no-one would mind! Besides, in this heat, it’s completely understandable that someone would want a drink, right?” said Madison reassuringly, winking slyly.
“I guess,” said Sakura, looking down at her pastel-yellow winged backpack.
“This is only going to end badly,” muttered Li, reflecting briefly on the last couple of times Sakura checked her bag for food. And sure enough, as she opened her satchel and pulled back some books, the first thing she saw was…
“KERO!” shouted Sakura, forgetting for a moment that she was in a crowded bus. “Er, just an appointment I’d forgotten!” she quickly stammered, hastily hiding her bag behind her back, a bead of sweat running down her face. Everyone who had looked up turned back to what they were doing, evidently content with her explanation.
“Good save,” Madison smiled, her thumbs pointing upwards. Li nodded briskly; evidently, he didn’t consider it a good save at all.
“Keroberos, what am I going to do with you?” Sakura groaned into her bag.
“Well,” replied the small yellow winged bear-like creature sitting inside her lunchbox, “you can always tell your dad to stop packing this delicious food – you know I can’t resist it.”
“I doubt he can resist any kind of treat,” Madison added. “Hey, Kero, I’ve got some coconut lamingtons in my lunchbox, would you like to try some?”
“Oh boy, would I ever!” he excitedly exclaimed, and with those words he leapt from Sakura’s open bag to Madison’s.
“Don’t encourage him,” scolded Sakura and Li in unison
“Oh, no, it’s OK,” said Madison with a smile. “Besides, Kero won’t do it again, will you, Kero?”
“Sure, sure,” agreed Kero half-heartedly, speaking between mouthfuls of lamington.
“See?” assured Madison. Li wasn’t sure if she was being facetious or if she actually believed him.
“Besides… om-nom-nom… that’s not the… om-nom… only reason I’m… om… here,” continued Kero, finishing off the lamington. “Well, lately I’ve been picking up some unusual… readings, I guess, around your classmates recently.”
“Oh?” asked Sakura. A pain that he was, Kero’s feelings were often quite accurate. Then again, seeing that he was a magical creature, Li suspected he shouldn’t be surprised.
“Well, usually I can tell whether or not anyone possesses magical properties, but this feeling is…”
Kero paused for a moment, as if trying to think of the right description.
“Impresise, I would say. Almost like an echo, but whatever it is, it’s a strong one.”
He briefly shot a look at Li before continuing.
“I’m sure the brat would agree. Li?”
Li paused briefly to consider whether he should respond to Kero’s insult. He decided not to.
“Well, now that I think of it, I have been having this odd feeling lately. I snuck my lasenboard in to check it out once, but it couldn’t pinpoint any source. I had shook it off as me being over-suspicious, but…”
Kero shook his head. “Uh-uh, kid, always trust your instincts.”
Sakura wasn’t as complacent. “You brought your lasenboard to school? What happened to ‘being careful’?”
“Hey, no one saw!” objected Li. “I made sure I preformed the spell in the main hall – you know it’s deserted during interval.”
“And what if you had found something? How do you think you’d explain the bright beam of light pulsing through the school?”
“Easy.” He pulled out a small canister with a button at the end. “This is one of those new laser pointer thingies that they’re selling now.” He held the button down, and sure enough, a beam of light, very similar to the one his lasenboard emanated, shone out of the end.
“Well, I have to admit, the kid’s got it covered!” said Kero, smiling. “So, anyway, I wanted to get a better sense of things, scope out the area, stuff like that. Don’t worry, I’ll keep out of sight!” he added, as a very sceptical look formed on Sakura’s face.
“How do I know you won’t just go off and pig out some more?”
“Hey! While I have been… a little excessive with my consumption habits, I’ve got it under control now.”
At these words, the trio burst out laughing. This drew stares from not an insignificant number of students.
“Sakura may be one of our most athletic students…” reflected Chelsea.
“Mm-hmm,” agreed Nikki.
“And she may be one of our close friends…”
“But sometimes she and her friends can be a little weird.”
Upon hearing this, Li stopped laughing, but otherwise ignored them. Hiding the existence of magic from the world often meant looking very weird, so he was used to it by now.
The other two hadn’t heard the comments, and Li supposed he should keep it that way. He didn’t want to spoil either of their good moods, although he suspected they’d probably be good sports about it.
Li sighed. Being friends with girls was hard.
Eli cautiously listened in to the conversation the girls were having, all the while pretending to sip some juice and listen to Zachary retell one of his weird stories. Was this the one about the piano?
He smiled for a bit. Humans can go to such lengths to pretend weird things weren’t happening around them unless they were directly confronted with it. Of course, it had been partially his fault that the piano had tumbled to its doom, but no-one suspected him in the least.
Except for that Li guy.
Well, he didn’t suspect that he had anything to do with the piano. He just suspected something about him. Vague as that was, it still represented a threat.
But he was only annoying, nothing more, and Eli more than suspected that Sakura thought him as paranoid in that regard.
His eyes widened slightly when he’d heard a voice so unmistakeable, he’d swear he could pick it out of a group of any number of people, no matter how large.
Keroberos. Drat, this’d be more difficult than he’d thought.
He took another swig of his bottle. He could still do this, he just needed to distract Keroberos when the time came to act. With him out of the way, this would be easy.
And young Sakura wouldn’t suspect a thing.