It was a dark and rainy night, the kind of dark and rainy that drives happy thoughts from the mind and leaves the heart feeling heavy, almost like the Dementors in Harry Potter. It was a cold rain, making the depression it brought all the more noticeable as it soaked clothes, freezing the skin it touched. The night sky was full of clouds, turning it black. No lightning flashed to light the darkness, though the boom of thunder could be heard. The pedestrians in the city were few and far between. So were the cars that passed, threatening to spray any walkers with cold water from the road.
I was one of those few who trudged over the sidewalks of the city, sloshing through puddles and grime. My reasons for being out on that unholy night were simple enough: I was returning home from a tri-weekly martial arts class. The dojo was within a mile of my apartment, easy walking distance, and pretty convenient. Especially since I didn't own a car. I did have a bicycle that I took to work, however, biking while carrying a bag of martial arts equipment isn't the best idea. I'd learned that the hard way when I'd attempted to do so and ended up wrecking. I'd taken to walking after that, especially when there was a weapons class, like this night.
Sensei Wu had been my martial arts instructor for the past six years, and my weapons instructor since I had turned eighteen, four years earlier, and begun to live on my own. My foster parents had not been too keen on my having a sharpened katana in their home, though, they were perfectly happy to help me find an apartment with a living room large enough for me to practice in. I guess the thought behind it was that, if I wrecked something during practice in my own apartment, I was the one who would pay for it. I had achieved my black belt three years into my training and had continued to add degrees since then. In the past four years, I had become pretty adept at both the katana, my first weapon, and the bo staff, which I picked up later. This night had been the night for kata practice. With the upcoming competition moving closer, and having signed up for performance with both weapons, I had taken both with me in order to practice under Sensei's watchful eye.
It was during class that the storm had come on. Though the sky had been gray on my way to the dojo, the storm itself had come seemingly out of nowhere. I was glad that I had purchased a cover for my staff, as the rain would have quite possibly damaged the wood, even lacquered as it was. I hugged close to the buildings, hoping that they would give some protection from the some. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, as the rain came down in straight sheets, but, I did feel a bit better having something covering my side as I trudged along. My hair stuck to my face, plastered by the same water that obscured my vision. My sports bag was too heavy to lift over my head and use as a shield, though, I desperately wished it was not. Sensei always said that the first rule of self-defense was awareness of one's surroundings. My vision was obscured by the water that ran over my face and clung to my eyelashes, restricting my use of one sense. With the rain pouring down and thunder booming overhead, my hearing was unable to make up for my limited visibility. My two main detecting senses were out of commission.
I hunched further, wishing I'd thought to bring a jacket to cover my tee-shirt. The material was soaked through and sticking to me uncomfortably, giving no protection from the cold. My muscles tensed in reaction, shivering setting in. This frustrated me. I could not react to a possible attack with my muscles being so stiff and preoccupied with shivering. I gritted my teeth to stop them from chattering, gripping my staff all the tighter. Even in this nicer side of the neighborhood, there had been a few muggings and, once, a report of an assault. Though I walked this way often and nothing had happened as of yet, I refused to be the next victim reported in the local news.
I was only a block away from home, my apartment building, a big, ugly, brick thing, standing at the corner, when the sound of the heavy rain suddenly dulled.
"It is time…"
I couldn't help it. I turned quickly, staff raised, half-expecting an attack. For a moment, I was sure I was about to face someone who was taking advantage of the weather to try and catch me off-guard. Upon seeing no one around me, I frowned. I could've sworn I heard a voice. I was still for a moment, looking around. Though I felt stupid just standing there, my paranoia kept me from relaxing.
"I am sorry…"
I turned in a different direction, becoming confused. I was sure I heard a voice, a faint murmur. But, I didn't see how someone was speaking so softly yet clearly in the rain, and without being close enough for me to see them. I glanced around, checking again to make sure I was alone. When I didn't see anyone, I relaxed a bit, blaming my overactive imagination. Too much fantasy and anime, I guess. After a pause, I continued on my way.
I was only a few yards from the door this time.
"You seem happy there…"
The voice was louder now, as if coming from a person who was standing right next to me. Instinctively, I looked over. Again, there was no one.
"I'm going crazy…" I muttered to myself, moving more quickly towards the door.
Hearing voices must be a sure sign of exhaustion from training or, I was getting sick from the rain. I thought I'd better get inside quickly and drink some hot tea, either way.
I reached the front door of the building, fumbling for the key, flipping my wet hair from my eyes to see better. However, my actions were cut short when what appeared to be a glowing, white bird fluttered between me and the door. I stared at it, startled and, well, entranced.
A bird in this rain? Is it even a bird? What…?
It was quickly followed by another, and then another, until I was standing on the front stoop of my apartment building, surrounded by the strange creatures. They flew about me in a tight circle, so that all I could see was a mass of white, glowing wings. The rain and city faded away, leaving me trapped in a small, private space all of my own. In my confusion and surprise, I could do nothing but stand in that space, staring at the birds that whirled steadily faster around me in a cyclone of light until they blurred into an unbroken barrier. The wind brought on by their spinning dried out my soaked hair, bringing it up to whip about.
The light spread inward, touching and then surrounding me. I felt oddly weightless.
"It's time to wake up…"
The weightless feeling grew until I was sure I was floating even though my feet stayed on the ground. With the same suddenness they had moved with before, the birds rushed inward. I flinched, half expecting a burning because of their brightness. However, instead, there were only feather light touches, as though numerous people were gently taking my hands, my arms, and whatever other part they could reach. This was followed by a tugging sensation, as if I was being pulled along.
My vision began to fade, whether this was because of the birds or shock, I don't know. As the tugging sensation grew, and darkness slowly spread across my vision, the voice spoke one last time.
"It's time to come home."