The New Year. An exciting time for any teenager, mostly for the parties that were thrown and the promise of at least a few more days off from school to laze around. Hanazawa Teruki would, by principle, be invited to at least five high-end parties, where his presence would be praised like a blessing on every individual in the house.
Somehow, however, he ended up at a small party around a bonfire on a mountain where he sat, hand clutched around a bottle of beer, listening to students mutter quietly about him.
“How in the world did you even manage to get him here?” one student muttered.
“I throw excellent parties, that’s how,” a much snarkier voice responded. Teruki knew that was the voice of the host of the party. He had no idea what her name was, though. “Also, I promised alcohol.”
“Just don’t question it, Inukawa.”
“So why’s he just sitting there?”
Teruki sighed, finishing off his drink with a single swig. A faint buzz hung at the back of his head. How the hell did he end up here?
Because every other party sounded boring as hell, that was why. At least this one promised something weird.
Gently, he set down his glass, and lifted himself to his feet. His steps carried him to the small, whispering crowd, who had no idea he could hear them. They nearly jumped when he walked right up to the host of the party, a somewhat shorter, older student with hair that fell to her shoulders and a denim jacket covered in patches. She flashed him a confident grin as he neared - something Teruki almost never saw from other students.
“Ah, hello! Teru! Are you enjoying the party?”
He shrugged casually. “Isn’t this supposed to be a UFO party? I haven’t seen anything yet.”
A younger boy, his hair an uncombed mess of ebony locks, snorted. “I didn’t take the famous Hanazawa Teruki for someone interested in aliens.”
The host elbowed him harshly in the ribs. “Ritsu, shut it.” The she turned back to him, her smile a little more desperate this time. “Well, uh, nothing’s ever happened at the last few parties we threw here. But even if there’s no UFO there’s still a party.”
“You chose a terrible night for UFO hunting, Tome,” Inukawa stated frankly, pointing up at the sky. It wasn’t overcast, but clouds circled darkly against the starless sky, the full moon reflecting light onto the clouds with an incredibly eerie effect. If anything strange was going to happen, this night seemed to be the best time for it. But if they were just looking for moving lights, they wouldn’t have much chance.
“It has to be New Years,” she retorted, her attention entirely dragged away from Teruki. Another surprise. He was never ignored at parties. She continued to yell at Inukawa about the history of the mountain, and something in Teruki’s gut told him to yell at her, to demand her attention and threaten to leave. But he let it slide. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe he was tired of being the star child, at least for that night. Maybe he just wanted to be a regular 16 year old outcast, for once. These kids seemed to enjoy it.
Instead, he tuned out their voice, turning his attention to the band that was just leaving. It made sense. Most parties would be ending by now, the fireworks having already finished and the hour nearing 2 AM. But the energy of the party -- a group of about six or seven kids who wouldn’t leave Tome’s direct vicinity -- made no move to leave. Teruki sighed, deciding he had no other way to spend the night, ad returned to the cooler for the third time that night. He opened it with little regard for the empty cans on top, which rattled against the gravelly earth as they fell. There was half a six-pack left, four bottles of something stronger, and a largely untouched pack of water bottles. He should take the water. Getting shit-faced at a party like this could destroy his reputation.
He grabbed a beer instead, and shut the cooler aggressively. He easily ignored a distant whistling as he palmed his bottle opener, snapping the bottle cap off with a single motion. The next sound was less easy to ignore, because it was the sound of something hitting the ground incredibly powerfully, shaking the earth around him. It was followed immediately by a wave of force that sent gravel flying and shattered the bottle in his hands. His ears rung and his knees threatened to buckle, but instead he turned to the last remaining party-goers, who seemed just as shocked as he was.
And then, suddenly, it was just as quiet before. More quiet, in fact, because the boombox Tome had turned on before the band left was now silent, the fire extinguished, and the chattering had come to a full stop.
“What the fuck was that,” Ritsu said finally, his voice shattering the silence.
“Aliens!” Tome yelled. “It has to be! Did anyone see where it landed?”
“A-aliens?” Teruki breathed, glancing down at his left hand. Two shards of glass were stuck in the palm, and blood was already welling up around them.
“I think it was down the steep side of the mountain,” Inukawa said, moving closer to the cliff they’d been sitting by. “I can see a small column of smoke.”
“Smoke,” Teruki repeated. His thoughts didn’t make sense. He had no idea what was going on.
He didn’t like it.
“We have to go! This is what we’ve been waiting for!”
“How are we going to get down? That’s like, a 90 degree drop.”
“There’s a path over there. Come on!”
Teruki ripped the glass from his palm and shoved them into his windbreaker. He forced himself to compose himself. Weakness was not one of his established character traits.
But rushing dangerously into dangerous situations was also not one of them.
“Okay, does anyone else not see how dumb an idea this is?” he found himself muttering. “Who knows what just happened, but it was obviously very destructive, and you guys want to just run towards it unarmed?”
Ritsu pulled a pocketknife from the back of his jeans, flicking it open without a word.
“Okay. Mostly unarmed. Still a dumb idea.”
“Oh, man! Is the great Hanazawa Teruki actually scared?” Tome laughed, leaning towards him with a face of mockery.
Something burned in his gut. “I’m not scared, I’m smart.”
“Well, if you wanna chicken out, it’s up to you,” added another girl who Teruki hadn’t even bothered to take notice of. “But the whole school will know of it.” A bright flash followed her words, causing Teruki to flinch. She pulled her Nikon back down with a grin.
Right. That was Mezato Ichi. Probably the only person Teruki should’ve recognized at this party. The president of the Newspaper Club and the main source of the rumor mill.
Staying back here could ruin him.
He groaned. “I will destroy you for this eventually, Ichi.” Her grin in response only stoked the flames within him. Tome gripped his elbow aggressively, dragging him back into the woods. She knew this place well, clearly, because she found the path easily. It was more like a gravel slide, and that was how they travelled it. Teruki’s one uninjured hand was scraped up by the time they tumbled to the bottom.
They were closer now to the impact. He could feel it. A sound of numb static filled his ears, and despite there being no clear source of light, the woods were brighter in a way that he could pull out details of his surrounding but also in a way that didn’t feel bright at all.
“Don’t like this,” Inukawa muttered.
Tome rolled her eyes. “You don’t like fun things, Inukawa.”
Teruki held his voice, but started forward in some strange instinct. A smell of smoke was the only reminder of the reality that had every other sense tainted by this new presence. The rest of the group started to follow him, but he didn’t need them to guide him.
Whatever this was, it wasn’t trying to hide itself.
He saw the fires first, small things that looked like they wouldn’t grow into much. They burned in bushes and the destroyed branches of trees that had been decimated by whatever had caused the massive crater that they ringed. Teruki hesitated at the edge. A tree had fallen across the length of it, obscuring whatever was waiting for them in the center.
“Was it a meteor?” Ritsu asked, walking up next to Teruki. “I mean. That would make the most sense. I know you guys were thinking aliens, but…”
“No, a meteor doesn’t make sense.” Mezato responded. “Can’t you feel it, Kageyama? It feels alive.”
“Well, what’re you guys waiting for?” Tome asked, skidding down the side of the crater. Teruki followed her when Mezato pushed him to, his hands grating uncomfortably against the splintered wood that littered the burnt earth. He pulled himself over the massive trunk, Tome by his side.
“What the hell? It’s just some dude!” Tome’s voice seemed distant as he tried to register what he was looking at. It did, indeed, look like just some guy. He might be Teruki’s age, but he couldn’t really tell. Tall and yet still small, he was sprawled painfully in the center of the crater. Dressed incredibly plainly with his eyes forced shut under a carefully trimmed bowlcut. He looked… pathetic.
But that didn’t make sense, with all the destruction around him.
“Is he alright?” Ritsu asked, clamboring over the tree to land next to the kid.
Teruki climbed down next to him. He was hesitant to touch him, but he held a hand over the boys partly opened mouth, and waited.
“He’s breathing, I think. Kinda weirdly. Shallow.” A drop of blood landed on the boy's lip, and he pulled his hand back. If Ritsu noticed, he didn’t say anything.
“I’m going to check his pulse,” the other boy said, reaching carefully to the hand closest to them. The moment his hand took the pale wrist, the boys form clouded over with darkness, that shuddered and then burst into the earth, sending lines like veins of darkness under their feet.
The boy’s eyes shot open.