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Chapter 5

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April 25

My crew clears the trees for a new logging road up a steep hillside. We try to keep the swath narrow to minimize the impact on the surrounding forest.

Sweeping in off the Sea of Japan, a strong storm pelts the mountains. While we hunker in our trucks to wait it out, Dad asks, “How’s it going with the Shibasaki girl?”

Odd. He doesn’t ask things like that unless something’s wrong. “N-nothing to talk about.”

He chuckles. “Got the cold shoulder?”

“I th-think we were used for the balm.”

“Likely. Their kindness dried up after we refused to share the recipe.”

“T-tanaka said his mother heard the g-girl turned down another candidate after the second meeting. Sh-she’s hunting for some daydream.”

That brings a laugh from him. “So you were interested in her. Good thing you escaped.”

“Wh-why do you say it like that?”

“Her dad asked for your omiai portfolio. Something didn’t seem right, but your mother made one in record time. We’ve heard nothing since.”

With a raised eyebrow, I list off the faults. “W-we’re not rich and we have n-no college education.” My speech impediment can be assumed too.

“Exactly. They should already be aware of that.”

Cracking echoes from up the hill, though it’s not thunder as the rain torrent continues. “You get the truck behind us, I’ll get Uehara’s.” Time for the Ohno men to earn the hazard pay Dad negotiated in secret with the boss.

Turning in the seat, I focus on my target, gathering ki as the sound of the trees breaking resembles cannons firing. When the trunks near us collapse, a magical shield forms around the Kusakabe’s cab. My co-worker’s eyes go wide, seeing the magic for the first time. Then I protect myself. There’s not energy enough to spare for our cab, because this’ll likely take several applications.

The old cedars crash down, sending a shudder through me as a tree hits the rear of our truck, bouncing me into the roof and dissipating my protection. Re-establishing my shield costs precious energy. Mud covers the base of the trucks while we sink into the melting ground, becoming part of the flow. The unsettled ground tosses the logger, forcing us to expend as much ki to protect ourselves as we do for our friends. In the landslide branches sheer off the once beautiful trees, leaving the trunks as rams battering everything in their way. Kusakabe screams something out his window I can’t hear over the mad flood’s roar. But he points out the path of least resistance.

“Shit. Cliff!” Dad doesn’t often swear, but his expression mirrors my thoughts. “We’re the stopgap, Son.”

“I kn-know.”

All three logging trucks enter free fall. Rotating, the cab drags along our floating bodies. Just as we spend our available ki to reinforce the protection, our truck slams down. Using up one of my shields, my spine hits the steering wheel. The avalanche of debris covers us, while my dad slaps my leg, sending ki flowing into my reservoir.

Don’t you dare give me your last ki! I try to reject it, but his will is stronger. Then his grip slackens. Grappling to avoid crushing him jerks my arm out of the socket. I only know because my shoulder doesn’t react as it should.

Two pops of the shields in my periphery senses tell me the others are unprotected. But, I can’t find them. I curl around Dad, using my body as a buffer while I raise one last magical barrier.

Smashing through our cab’s windshield, a tree spear narrowly misses us, forcing me to expand the shield. That should give us a little more oxygen as the mud floods in. Despite knowing the necessity to breathe slow, my pulse races, and my breaths come ragged.

We’ve stopped moving, but I’ve already got a headache. Not good. Utilizing painful circus contortions to turn in the crowded space, I start digging. We need fresh air soon. When the window handle is revealed, I roll it down. Bless Dad’s foresight to insist on manual windows for the loggers. They provide the opening we need. With pain kicking in, I wince as I grab Dad’s hand. Forcing myself to hold on with my bad arm, I use my good one to pull against the remainder of the cab, hoisting us out.

Then I spot two lumps in the valley’s basin--our co-workers’ trucks. Within moments, the other loggers tunnel their way out. The joy is short-lived because the look on Uehara’s face makes my head hang. We weren’t enough.

If Kusakabe hadn’t radioed when we slid down the hill, the company wouldn’t know our emergency. Dad’s in rough shape with a weak pulse. Pouring ki into him, I hope to keep his temperature up in the downpour. My shoulder aches with every shiver.

It takes the rescue crew an hour to reach us in the driving rain. Never have I been so glad to see the teams in their multi-colored waterproof gear.

From the hospital, I make the dreaded call. “M-mom?”

“Yasu? What’s wrong?”

“Th-there was a mudslide.” As she sobs, words have to be pushed from my numb mouth. “H-he’s alive but in bad shape.” I hear a thunk on the floor, her sniffling assures she didn’t faint. “W-we’re at the university hospital. C-can you meet us?”

Her choked, “Yes,” makes my throat tighten too. She asks, “Are you ok?”

Instead of answering, I request one more favor. “W-will you make sure someone is th-there for Kobayashi-san?”

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