The boy wakes up with a shout, leaping to his feet as he feels cold spreading over his clothes and skin.
He's soaked with water, it's all over him.
He brushes off his clothes as best he can, and then it hits him.
He is standing on water in clothes that aren't his, in a place that is not his room, under a blazing sun.
He's not in the water, he's on top of it, he can see the sand and grass just inches beneath the surface, but his feet won't go down.
He's dressed in rough brown clothes, like a peasant's tunic and breeches, but somehow it seems normal, as though he's worn them all his life.
In fact, this entire place seems strangely familiar, an endless expanse of blank water under the burning sun.
He starts to walk, it feels right to not stand still, even if the water on his bare feet is freezing cold and the sun on his neck is painfully hot.
He starts to stumble from fatigue after a couple of hours, the air is sapping him of strength, it's heavy, like breathing fog.
There's nothing in any direction, he has no way to orient himself, if he gets lost out here, it's all over.
And then, in the distance, he sees a glimmer of light, the reflection of the sun on metal.
He gathers what's left of himself and limps towards the light, his footsteps weak and faltering from the hours of walking he's done.
Another half-hour passes before he finally drags his shivering body up next to what appears to be a shanty made of scrap metal, one of many such ramshackle huts stacked side by side or one atop another in endless rows as far as the eye can see.
But there's no one inside, its single door stands open on an empty house.
He sags against the wall, warmed by the sun's rays on the metal.
And then a thin, reedy voice reaches his ear from around the corner.
"...twice that much at least, Kedya-San, for one such as she."
He's heard a voice like that before, not the tone, but the feeling behind it, the cold greed and callous exploitation, the man talking is a slaver.
He leans out around the corner and walks through an alley between two shanties, his strength somewhat restored by the brief rest.
He slips through an empty house silently, his dripping clothing sloshing slightly before he stops to wring the water out.
"But you must understand my situation, Kedya-San," comes the wheedling, cracked voice again, "I must support myself in my old age, I must ask more of you."
The boy hears no response from the presumed other party, but he can feel a sort of coldness creep into the air and the reedy voice falls silent for now.
He creeps out the back door of the shack, his bare feet splashing quietly on the odd water beneath them as he gets his first glimpse of the source of the voice from his vantage behind a warehouse.
An old Japanese man with thick spectacles and wrinkled skin is standing hunched over a large notepad, a pen grasped firmly in his gnarled fingers as he scribbles furiously on the paper.
The old man is wearing clothes similar to the boy's, but perhaps a bit better made and more well cared for.
In front of the old man is a large row of bleachers, cheaply constructed and obviously of shoddy craftsmanship. And on the bleachers are people, dozens of them chained together by the wrists and ankles.
The boy's eyes widen in terror, he knows these people. They are his friends.
They look broken, dispirited and forlorn, their clothes are almost identical to the boy's, rough brown skirts and breeches along with the obligatory homespun tunic.
He almost shouts, but manages to bite his tongue in time to quell his outburst.
And then his eyes shift to the man beside the slaver.
He is very pale, his skin is almost blue as though he's never seen the light of day.
His eyes are yellow, not naturally but like a corpse that has been strangled, yellow from lack of oxygen with black streaks in the cornea.
His hair is long and black, caught up in a metal clasp at the base of his skull.
He's dressed in clothes of the same color, a suit far more elegant than that of the peasant slaver who's trying to hawk his human wares to him.
At his waist hangs a katana in a black leather sheath, its pommel of burnished brass glinting in the sun.
"Come come, Kedya-sama," pleads the old man ingratiatingly, sinking into a kind of half-bow, "your patronage to an old man would mean so much."
The corpse-like face of the taller man turned to the slaver, distaste written on his wasted features, "Bring me the one in front, the pretty one," he snarled, pointing with a gloved hand at one of the girls standing with tears on her face in the front row of the bleachers.
"Ah Kedya-sama," crows the old man, swooping down on the girl with a set of rusty keys in his gnarled fingers, "you make old Yoshi very happy."
The old man fumbled awkwardly with the lock as the girl cried silently and allowed herself to be freed from the line and brought down from the bleachers to the water, the shackles on her ankles rattling as she hobbled along beside Yoshi.
The boy feels desperate anger well up in him, his hands start to shake and he hunkers down low to the ground, his eyes searching the sand beneath the water for any sign of a weapon to use against Kedya.
The tall, gaunt man reaches out and grasps the girl's face with one hand, turning her to each side to examine her in a different light.
She's brave, she doesn't say anything as he yanks her mouth open to inspect her teeth.
The boy's eyes fall at last on a sword, jutting improbably from the sand below the water, it's rusted hilt protruding from the icy barrier of liquid.
He reaches out for it, it's just a few feet away and his fingers close over the cold handle, but his eyes never leave Kedya and the girl.
The tall man turns to Yoshi and drops a bag into the old man's hand, "The agreed upon price, Yoshi-san," he snarled, "this one will do."
The boy yanks the sword out of the sand with a hissing sound and straightens up as Kedya turns at the noise.
"YOSHI!" Kedya snarls, hurling the girl to the water with a splash and rounding on the old man, "YOU SAID HE WOULDN'T BE HERE!"
But the old man was already beating a fast retreat to his shanty, his hobbling gate leaving ripples in the water, "Sincerest apologies, Kedya-sama!" he shouts over his shoulder, "I was not aware of his presence!"
The boy walks into the square quickly, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose as he tightens his grip on the sword and approaches Kedya.
He's very nervous, afraid for his life and for the girl's.
Kedya just snarls and wrenches his own sword from its sheath, his corpse-eyes blazing with rotted hatred.
He opens his mouth to shout at the boy, but as he does the girl kicks him in the back of his leg and he stumbles forward with a cry of pain.
The boy lunges at the gaunt man, his sword flying out to slash across Kedya's face, drawing a line of scarlet over the bridge of the man's nose.
Kedya says nothing, merely straightens up slowly and blocks the boy's next strike, his sword barely even shivering from the blow as he kicks back at the girl, knocking her unconscious onto the water.
The corpse flicks aside the boy's sword and his blade twitches across the boy's own face, mirroring the mark on Kedya's.
The boy grits his teeth in pain as hot blood draws a scarlet path over his cheek, but he raises his sword and struggles on against the corpse.
He knows he's outmatched, that he can't beat Kedya, but he has to keep trying, even though he's covered in deep cuts and slashes from the corpse's katana.
His arms, his neck, his face and hands, they're all cross-stitched with cuts, Kedya is playing with him, bleeding him out slowly for entertainment.
There's blood in his eyes, he can't see well as he tries to block Kedya from opening a gash along his cheek, but he isn't quite fast enough and a stinging pain reminds him of his failure.
But he's starting to go numb now, from all the blood loss, the pain is fading with his vision.
He takes one last swing and Kedya contemptuously flicks the sword out of his hand, sending it spinning over the water with a splash of frigid liquid.
The boy falls to his knees, clawing desperately at the hem of Kedya's trousers as the tall man turned and dispassionately raked his katana across the girl's throat.
The corpse turns and kicks the boy in the back, knocking him down beside the girl.
He felt blood running from his myriad cuts and slashes, coursing over his flayed skin and into the water beneath him where it spread like clusters of scarlet ribbons through the cold fluid.
He crawled forward slowly, his hand going to the girl's own cold fingers and squeezing tightly as their blood mingled in the water below.
And then he collapsed beside her, his face buried in her shoulder as tears mingled with his blood and he cried himself into endless night.
Kedya simply cleaned his sword on the boy's tunic and slid it back into its sheath, his face cold and impassionate as Yoshi scuttled back into the town square.
"Kedya-sama," he began pleadingly, "I don't want to hear it, Yoshi..." snarled Kedya, but the boy could not longer hear them.