Prologue: The Boy with the White Hair

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     The sky was a clear blue without a cloud in sight. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and rolled down my face and neck as the early autumn sun beat down on me. The heat was blistering. It was as if the sun was laughing at how miserable it was making my walk home.

I let a self-deprecating smirk lift the right side of my face. At least my white hair is good for more than just stares from strangers. If I had dark hair, my head would probably burst into flames.

Long rows of maple trees lined the sides of the trail and offered decent coverage. I shuffled down the dirt path with my hands shoved deep into my jean pockets and shifted decaying leaves out of the way with my sneakers. Behind me someone shouted in the distance.

"Soul!" The voice bellowed through the stale air.

With a lazy turn of my feet, I looked back in the direction of the disturbance. There, bounding out from the dense foliage of the trees, came Black*Star. Further behind him, running at a break-neck-pace just to keep up, was his weapon partner, Tsubaki. I breathed in deeply and pushed out a tired sigh. So much for my leisurely walk. Black*Star bounced over with a humongous smile, showing all of his bleached teeth. As he got closer, he leapt into the air and came down, skidding through the dirt in his platform sneakers before coming to a complete stop in front of me.

"Hey, Black*Star," I said in a calm voice. We each raised an arm and bumped them together in greeting. Black*Star closed his eyes and flashed another exaggerated grin. The smile lifted his whole face and caused his small nose to scrunch up.

"Hurry up, Tsubaki!" Black*Star swiveled around and screamed down the path. He'd lifted his hands to form a makeshift megaphone around his mouth before yelling again. "You can't keep a big guy like me waiting for a slowpoke in a time like this!"

My own hands shot up to cover my ears in an attempt to block out the splitting cries.

At Black*Star's command, Tsubaki came racing toward us, like the bottoms of her shoes had been ignited. As her slender form came into focus, beads of sweat became visible on her ivory skin. The droplets fell from her face and sailed through the air behind her as she ran.

I'll admit, she was a pretty girl. Her black hair was long and swayed loosely behind her in its usual high ponytail and her breasts were large, bouncing up and down under her clothes with every step. Once she made a steady stop, she left a few paces between her and I – probably trying to make up for the fact that at that point Black*Star had basically taken my bubble of personal space and bunted it across the city limit.

Tsubaki and I made eye contact. She gave a sweet smile, put her hands behind her back and tilted her head to the side. "Hi, Soul," she muttered. Her voice was soft and a little out of breath. Even though her breathing was clearly labored, it was extremely controlled, showing off the endurance and physical stamina she had built up through her training.

I smiled and lifted my chin. "Hey." I could tell by the way Tsubaki's body tensed that this wasn't going to be just a casual talk with friends. My smile faded and I set my stare on Black*Star. "So," I breathed. "What are you guys doing here?" I felt wary, and I was sure I didn't actually want an answer to that.

"To talk to you, of course! Why else would we be out in the middle of nowhere?" Black*Star said in a raised voice.

"I don't know," I said with a shrug. "There's not much going on, so I can't think of anything in particular."

"What?! Nothing going on? Have you been living under a rock? How could you even say that?!" He knocked on my head as if he were pounding on a wooden door.

My eyebrows furrowed and twitched. It's not cool getting used as your personal set of bongo drums, dude. My hands had formed fists at my sides. I was doing my best to control myself, but when Black*Star got like this it was hard to keep my cool, and my deep breathing exercises were not having as much of a calming effect as I'd hoped.

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