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Tokyo Demons Book 1: Chapter 7

It was movie night. About a dozen of Zayd’s siblings had come–most of the ones who were local and unmarried, although Nadia, who had a husband, joined them since her husband was away. She brought her two young children.

They had gathered at Khalid’s house. His television screen stretched across an entire wall, the other walls lined with shelves of DVDs or plastered with movie posters. He had a list of movie suggestions. He read it to the room, and the siblings who were closest argued loudly with his choices.

But Zayd’s mind was elsewhere. He sat in a chair in the back of the room, his eyes locked on nothingness as he replayed a conversation in his head.

“People are starting to talk,” his older sister had said. “Are you really sneaking off with Aisha unattended? You’re already sixteen, Zayd. It’s not appropriate to be alone with her, even if she’s your teacher.”

He’d argued that they weren’t doing anything unIslamic. His sister didn’t care. She’d lectured him on propriety, on his reputation. On Aisha’s reputation, which was even more fragile. She was a Koranic teacher and in medical school–she was expected to be a pillar of morality.

Zayd let out an angry breath. Aisha was a pillar of morality. And he was in love with her.

The argument over the movie grew more heated. One sister wanted an action movie but another wanted a comedy. Khalid interjected, saying both choices were bad. One of the sisters squealed and threw a DVD box at him.

Zayd had told his sister of his feelings for Aisha. But she had simply brushed him off.

“She’s too old for you,” her sister had said. “When you’re ready to be married, she’ll be too old to have children. We’ll find you a wife who’s a better age.”

Zayd ground his teeth together. He didn’t want his family to find him a wife. He wanted Aisha.

Khalid and his sisters were screaming at each other now. One of the other brothers angrily intervened; several other siblings yelled at everyone for being too loud. The toddlers grew antsy and one of them started whining. Nadia picked up her child and shouted for everyone to stop.

Zayd’s fingers buried into the armrest of his chair. His family had no idea what he was going through. They didn’t know about the terrible power God had given him and how it threatened to destroy his life. Aisha was the only one who knew–without her, he would go mad.

But they didn’t care. Aisha was too old, her family was working-class. Their time together was inappropriate, even if his intentions were pure. She wasn’t “right for him.”

They didn’t know him at all.

A scream snapped Zayd out of his thoughts. One of his brothers had tackled another; they grappled on the floor as another brother tried to pull them apart. Sisters screamed and cried as the child in Nadia’s arms started slapping at her flustered mother with chubby little fists.

Zayd suddenly realized what he’d done. He fumbled in his pocket, desperate for his bottle of pills. He popped the top and angrily jammed a pill under his tongue. He prayed as it dissolved.

The sedative hit his bloodstream, draining his anger away. Sleepiness tugged at the corners of his eyes. He blinked a few times and took a long breath.

He dismissed the thoughts of his family and Aisha. His body had relaxed enough–at least at the moment–for him to stop caring.

His brothers sheepishly ended their fight. The voices in the room quieted, turning apologetic. Khalid sighed and hugged his sister. Nadia’s toddler calmed down, sniffling as he sucked his thumb.

They decided on a movie the children would like. Khalid set up the DVD player and dimmed the lights. As everyone spread through the room, Khalid went to join Zayd in the back.

“Hi,” he said as he sat down. “I forgot you came, Zayd.”

Zayd shrugged. He slumped in his chair, chemical relaxation snaking through his veins.

Khalid watched Zayd for a minute. He finally frowned and pushed on his remote; a managerie of animals appeared on the screen.

“You’re always so serious,” Khalid muttered. “What are you doing, sitting quietly in the back while we all try to kill each other? Didn’t you have an opinion on the movie?”

Zayd licked his teeth. He shook his head.

Khalid clicked his tongue. “Sometimes I wonder about you,” he said dryly. “You need to learn to let loose, Zayd. Show us a little emotion so we know you’re not dead.”

Zayd blinked once, slowly. Then he stared at Khalid through blurry eyes.

Somewhere on the floor, a toddler started to cry.

 

“I need a team. No more than four.”

Ayase couldn’t get any new information from Kiyoshi–he was going through the security checkpoints again. She opened her eyes as Nick barked his orders.

“A team?” Emi repeated quickly. “So it’s time to save Kiyoshi?!”

Daniel rushed back into the room, lugging a large duffle bag. Nick lifted it like it was weightless and unzipped it.

“We’re gonna try,” he said as he dumped the bag’s contents on the table. Random gear spilled onto the tabletop; he pulled a heavy belt from the pile and wrapped it around his hips.

“Zayd,” he ordered as he buckled the belt. “You’re driving.”

Zayd slid a hand into his pocket. He pulled out a pair of keys without a word.

Nick grabbed another belt contraption–this one with clear holsters–and buckled it around his shoulders. He flicked hazel eyes to Ayase. “And I want Ayase there.”

Ayase froze. Before she could think of a response, Sachi spoke for her.

“Y-you want her to go on the rescue mission?” he asked. “Don’t we need her to keep her attention on Kiyoshi?”

“Exactly. She’ll lead us there.”

“But she can do that from here,” Daniel argued. “We’ll keep in touch with our cell phones.”

Nick shook his head. “Her directions were too vague last time. I need her to see landmarks in person–she can match them with whatever she sees through the bugs.” Nick grabbed a few knife-shaped sheaths and strapped them to his belts. “I’ll keep her in the car the whole time, if I can. Zayd hasn’t been in Japan long and his car’s brand new–Core won’t be looking for it.”

Sachi’s forehead creased as he clenched his fists. “But…that’s still really dangerous!”

“So is she!” Nick snapped in response. “You’ve never seen her when she’s a full swarm, Sachi!”

Sachi shrunk back. He bit his lip and looked away.

Ayase swallowed. She knew the church didn’t have a full rescue plan worked out–they didn’t know when, or if, they could locate the Core building and breach its security. But they were out of time. They had to intercept Kiyoshi before Core forced him to kill.

It could come down to a fight. And Ayase had to be there.

It doesn’t matter, she told herself. I have to do this for Kiyoshi.

She repeated the lines in her head a few times. It helped her from deliberating on what sort of danger she was walking into.

Emi suddenly rushed over to Nick. She grabbed one of his huge arms with both hands.

“Y-you said you can bring four people,” she blurted. “Let the fourth one be me.”

Nick shook his head. “I need you here for when we get back.”

Emi choked and pulled at Nick’s arm. “Bring me!” she begged. “Please, Nick-san! I don’t care how dangerous it is!” She started to shake, tears beading in her eyes. “If anyone has to risk her life for this mission, it should be me! He’s my baby brother!”

Nick angrily shook her off. “And you didn’t tell us because you didn’t want to compromise the mission,” he said coldly. “Don’t compromise us now.”

“But–”

Nick grabbed Emi by the shoulders. “Listen to me,” he hissed. “I need you here for when we get back. You’re the only one with a medical background and I don’t know what shape he’ll be in. They could be timing this mission so he’s close to detoxing.”

Emi swallowed a whine and covered her mouth. “I…I can take care of him when we get back! And you might need medical attention there!”

“If Core takes you out, we’re up shit creek. You’re staying here.” Nick released her and muttered something in English. “Only an idiot brings his medic to the front line.”

Emi tried to retort, but Daniel gently pulled her away. “We should start setting up a sick room,” he told her. “He’s right, Emi. You’re needed here.”

Ayase closed her eyes and focused her attention on Kiyoshi. He was being marched back to the elevator–she flew her observation bug in behind them. Two floors up. They led him out onto another floor of the parking lot as lights blinked on around them. They opened up a small, locked area of the garage; Ayase’s perception lit up somewhere else.

The bug on the car.

Relief flooded through her, followed immediately by adrenaline. “They’re using the same car as last time,” she called out to the room. “So I can use the bug I left there.”

She heard Nick laugh without humor. “And we know about the new plates they put on it,” he said. “Some good luck for once.”

One guard took the cases holding Kiyoshi’s sniper rifle and loaded them into the trunk. Another guard blindfolded Kiyoshi and pushed his head down, guiding him into the car. Ayase flew an insect in behind them.

A hand slapped her aside. Her insect went careening into the car door and crashed to the concrete. Ayase felt a twinge of pain.

“What’s with all the bugs lately?” she heard a guard grunt. “Do we need to spray this place?”

Ayase’s heart pounded. She waited until the guard stepped into the car before zooming from the floor and into the car by their feet. The door slammed shut behind her.

Ayase let out the breath she’d held.

I have to be more careful, she thought as she opened a human eye. They’re starting to notice me.

Nick had finished packing his gear and now helped Sachi shrug into a vest. Once it was on, Nick pulled the vest open and gestured to each item strapped inside.

“That’s pepper spray,” he told Sachi. “Ayase already has her own. That’s a taser; I’ll show you how to use it in the car. In case you get in a bind, this keychain lets off an alarm that’s loud as hell.”

Realization dawned on Ayase. Sachi’s eyes caught her own; he smiled weakly.

“I’ll feel better if I come, Ayase. It’s not right to let you do this alone.”

Worry dropped Ayase’s stomach like an anchor. Now she was nervous…and she was a little surprised at how badly.

“I-I’m not alone,” she said. “I’ll have Nick and…” Ayase frowned at Nick. “Does Sachi really have to come?”

“Zayd and I are gonna be busy. Sachi can watch over you while your attention’s with Kiyoshi.” He grabbed a large sheath and shoved it into Sachi’s hands. “He can handle it.”

Sachi unsheathed the weapon a few centimeters. A long, thick hunting knife with serrated edges caught the light. He blinked a few times, then quickly sheathed it again.

Nick took the weapon from Sachi’s hands and crammed it into the vest. He slapped Sachi on the back so hard that Sachi’s glasses were knocked askew.

“Ready to be a man?” Nick asked.

Sachi laughed nervously. He pushed the frames back up his nose.

Ayase squeezed shut her eyes. For the first time yet, she was relieved to switch her attention to anywhere but the church.

****************

For a few seconds, Jo couldn’t move–fear rooted him to the ground beneath his feet. He couldn’t think as his wide eyes locked on the men who rushed Kiseki.

“Nngh!”

Jo barely registered Kado struggling in his grip. Jo’s fingers lost their strength and Kado pulled free.

Kado took the chance to rush toward the fray.

That managed to snap Jo out of his daze. He leapt forward and grabbed Kado’s arm before the slight boy got away.

“Let go!” Kadoyuki whined, his voice strangely determined. He pulled at Jo’s fingers. “I need to…!”

Jo gritted his teeth and dug his fingers into Kado’s jacket. He dragged Kado deeper into the safety of the alley.

Jo pulled backward on Kado’s arm–hard. Kado cried out as he was spun to face Jo.

Jo growled. “What the hell is wrong with you?!” he snarled. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?!”

Kado squirmed in a panic. “I-I have to get to the car!” he begged.

“The car those thugs just came in? They’ll crack your head open, you fucking idiot! If they’re just here for Byakko–” Jo suddenly cut himself off. A thought struck him; he dug his fingers into Kado’s arm again, this time as more of a warning.

“Do you know what’s going on here, Kado?” asked lowly.

Kado froze. He opened his mouth as beads of sweat rolled down his temples.

“No,” he breathed. “N-no, I swear I don’t…I just…” Kado trailed off. He stopped fighting Jo’s grip, although Jo could feel him trembling.

Jo didn’t buy it. He pulled Kado close enough that he could lean in threateningly.

“If you have anything to do with this,” Jo hissed, “you’d better tell me this second. Unless you want me to beat the shit out of you.”

Kado cringed back. A small whine escaped him.

But he said nothing. Frustrated, Jo let Kado go. He didn’t have time to try and communicate with the whimpering classmate.

“Find a phone and call 110,” Jo ordered. “And stay hidden here. Unless you want to prove you’re with these guys.”

Kado trembled and clenched his hands.

Jo spun around and ran to the door connecting the bar and the alley. His heart thundering in his chest, he carefully turned the knob and opened the door a crack.

He could hear yelling and pounding from under the floor. The small sliver of the bar he could see was trashed–a stool was knocked over and glass and ceramic shards littered the floor. Not sensing any movement, Jo opened the door a little wider.

He saw the end of someone’s limp leg. Jo sucked in a breath and stuck his head past the door.

It was Kenta. He was sprawled on the floor behind the bar, his shoulders and head propped awkwardly against the wall. His head was slumped away from Jo, but Jo could tell that the man was unconscious.

Shit. Jo quickly crawled into Kiseki, keeping himself low and behind the bar. Kenta’s phone lay in the shelves against the wall; Jo reached up to grab the receiver and bring it down to his level. He dialed 110 with shaking fingers.

Jo waited the few seconds for the operator to pick up. He pushed the receiver close to his mouth and rattled off Kiseki’s address.

“Sir?” the phone operator asked. “What’s the emergency?”

Jo didn’t have time. “Armed burglary,” he offered before sliding the receiver onto a lower shelf. He left it off the hook so the cops could trace their location. Jo ignored the tiny, muffled questions echoing from the receiver as he crawled over to Kenta.

Jo couldn’t tell how badly the man was hurt. “Kenta-san?” he whispered as he reached out. He gripped Kenta’s shoulder and gently shook him.

Kenta’s head flopped awkwardly toward Jo, his eyes open and unblinking.

Jo’s heart seized. He fell back on his tailbone, covering his blurted cry with a hand.

What the fuck?!

Someone screamed from downstairs, but Jo barely heard it over the blood rushing in his ears. From that position, Jo could see Kenta’s head was lolling at an unnatural position. It looked like his neck was broken. There was a thin, murky film over Kenta’s pupils.

He was dead. Jo tried not to puke as he dug his fingers into own his face. He swallowed hard behind his palm and grabbed at the phone.

The operator was still trying to talk to him. “Please answer the phone,” came the even voice from the other end of the line.

“I’m still here!” Jo gasped. “But I can’t talk! Just send the cops–the owner’s already dead!”

The operator mumbled some sort of affirmative. “Units are on their way,” she assured him. “Leave the phone off the hook and get to safety.”

Amidst the thumping and yelling downstairs, something creaked much closer to the surface. Jo whipped his head around as a man in a black ski mask ran up the stairs from the basement.

Shit! Jo scrambled backward toward the door, but the man noticed him. He ran at Jo, flipping out a switchblade.

“F-fuck!” Jo blurted as he struggled to his feet. He reached desperately along the shelves for a weapon; his hand closed on a whiskey bottle. He smashed it against the bar and brandished the broken, dripping end at the charging thug.

The man halted a few steps from Jo. He snarled and kicked outward, his foot landing squarely on Jo’s chest.

The force knocked Jo against the shelves, sending pain screaming up his back as bottles toppled to smash on the floor. Struggling to breathe, he strengthened the grip on his weapon before it slid out of his hand. The thug grabbed Jo’s collar.

Jo slashed his broken bottle across the man’s arm.

“Shit!”

The man cursed as he retracted his arm. A dark stain spread across the black fabric around his elbow.

Jo didn’t waste any time. He kicked the man in the groin as hard as he could.

The man choked and doubled over. Jo grabbed the back of the man’s shirt and rammed him, face-first, into the shelves behind the bar. The man crumpled to the floor, gurgling as his switchblade fell from his fingers. Jo kicked the weapon away.

The stretch of floor beside them was littered with small bits of broken glass. Jo heaved the huge man onto his back against the floor; the thug cursed and arched away from the shards. Jo stepped down on the man’s chest, forcing him against the glass. The man screamed.

“Who the hell are you?!” Jo demanded. His voice shook, but he couldn’t steady it.

The man spluttered obscenities and struggled under Jo’s leg. “Seiryuu!” he hissed. “We’re here to fuck up Byakko!”

Jo stopped. The man below him looked much too old and much too tough to be with Seiryuu. Jo’s eyes flew to the man’s waist; sure enough, the end of a blue bandanna peeked out from behind his right hip. That was the genuine symbol for Seiryuu.

Jo frantically looked to the man’s slashed sleeve. The inside of the man’s forearm was streaked with blood, but there were no dark veins lacing across the skin. The man wasn’t on Pitch.

“I don’t believe you,” was all Jo could think to say. He stepped down again and the man cried out in pain; Jo took the opportunity to reach down and pull off the ski mask.

The man was Japanese, and at least in his mid-20s. Jo didn’t recognize him.

“Get off me!” the man shouted. “If you hand over Miki, we won’t kill you little shits!”

Miki?

Not Jo? Not Ban, the actual leader of Byakko?

What the hell is going on?

The man managed to grab Jo’s leg. He heaved Jo off him, which sent Jo stumbling to keep his balance. The man pushed himself to a crouch, leaving thin ribbons of blood dripping from his cut back.

Jo kicked the man in the chin. The man’s head snapped to the side, and he let out a soft groan as he crumbled forward to the floor. In a strange panic, Jo dropped to his knees and checked to see if the man was still breathing.

His chest moved, albeit shallowly. Jo kicked some of the glass shards away before shoving the unconscious body against the wall. He glanced back at Kenta, whose sagging head now faced the other direction. Jo swallowed hard.

Jo heard footsteps pound through the front door. His heart in his throat, he grabbed the man’s switchblade and jumped to his feet.

Seiya and a pair of Byakko members screeched to a halt. Seiya’s wide eyes met Jo’s.

Jo choked out a breath. He lowered the knife.

“Jo!” Seiya shouted as he ran behind the bar. “What the hell is happening?!”

Jo didn’t know how to explain. “They said they’re Seiryuu,” he managed to croak. “But I don’t…I mean…”

Seiya’s eyes fell on the unconscious thug behind the bar. Jo saw him deliberate on the blue bandanna. Abruptly, Seiya’s gaze jerked to Kenta.

“Kenta-san!” he shouted. Seiya lunged forward, but Jo grabbed him by the shoulders. He pushed Seiya back.

“He’s…he’s dead, Seiya.”

Seiya froze. The two other Byakko members leaned over the bar, cursing quietly.

“They killed Kenta-san?” one whispered unbelievably.

“When the hell did Seiryuu get those guys?”

Seiya stared at Jo a moment, his eyes wide with shock. Then he scowled darkly, his brow furrowing low.

“Fuck this.” Seiya whipped his head around. He ran a few steps away and picked up an abandoned baseball bat. He gripped it with both hands.

Jo’s stomach dropped. “Wait,” he called, his voice breaking slightly. “These guys are too serious to be Seiryuu, Seiya. I called the cops–”

Seiya gave the bat a test swing, silencing Jo. He rested the bat against his shoulder, anger twisting his usually relaxed features.

“I don’t care who they are,” he spat. “I’m not waiting for the cops to bail us out. Byakko can handle its own shit.”

One of the other boys pumped a fist and grunted his agreement. The other one snatched the switchblade from Jo and ran for the back room.

Jo felt fear clench every muscle in his body. He grabbed Seiya by the arm before he could reach the stairs.

Jo dug in his fingertips. “Don’t,” he pleaded. “This is out of your league. They threatened to kill everyone if we don’t hand over Miki.”

“Is Miki down there?”

Jo searched his memory. “I think so,” he said after a second.

Seiya shook himself free. “Then I’m definitely not waiting for the cops. I’d rather die than let those fuckers take our boss.”

“Seiya–”

Seiya suddenly smiled. The words died in Jo’s throat.

Seiya slapped Jo on the shoulder as he flashed his crooked teeth. “Jo,” he said evenly, “I love Byakko. And sometimes you’ve gotta fight for what you love, right?”

Jo didn’t know what to say. Seiya just whooped and ran down the stairs, his orange head disappearing into the brawl below.

Jo’s stomach twisted into knots. He growled in frustration and turned toward the front door.

He hadn’t thought much of it, but he’d been unconsciously planning to leave before the police arrived. He changed his mind. He ran to the door, determined to at least guide them when they showed up.

He looked down the street. There were no police officers yet, but the navy blue car was still parked a few buildings down.

Kado was behind it, fiddling near the license plate.

Jo’s fear and anger roiled in his stomach. His suspicions of Kado lit the powder keg inside him.

“KADO!” Jo exploded. “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!”

Kado jerked back from the car, his terrified eyes flicking up. The car trunk popped open a few centimeters.

And then flew up on its hinges as a foot kicked it from inside.

Jo’s blood turned to ice. A hand reached out from the trunk and grabbed Kado by the jacket. Kado’s head lolled back as he crumpled to the ground.

What the–

Feet pounded up the stairs. Jo turned to see another masked thug climbing up from the basement. He held a cell phone against his ear.

Jo’s resolve hardened. He grabbed a nearby stool and charged at the man. The man cursed and barely dove out of Jo’s lunge.

“You little shit!” the man snarled. He regained his balance quickly and spun back at Jo. He closed his free fist and rammed it into Jo’s kidney.

The pain resonated through Jo’s body, paralyzing him for a moment. The man punched Jo directly in his exposed stomach.

The breath whooshed out of Jo’s throat, along with a splatter of blood. Jo collapsed to the floor, curling around his stomach and struggling to breathe.

The man muttered something. His shoes shifted in Jo’s low vision.

“Sorry. No, just a straggler. What were you saying?”

The man was talking into his cell phone. Jo thanked the phone for possibly saving his life.

“We found Miki,” the man said. “But he’s not talking. We can’t tell if he’s lying or if he really doesn’t know anything.”

Jo coughed up blood and tried to regain his breath. His eyes flew over the floor around him, searching desperately for a weapon. All he saw was the toppled stool, and that was out of reach.

“I guess. But how many can we kill before the public starts getting suspicious?”

Terror seared through Jo’s veins. He clenched his trembling fists, gearing himself for one last, desperate lunge at the man standing over him.

Which never came. The man suddenly cried out in surprise and shifted his feet toward the door.

“Oh, shit!” he yelled. “How the hell did he get out?!”

Something large shot through the room. Jo looked up just in time to see a stranger with no ski mask slam into Jo’s attacker with the force of a battering ram. The two men smashed into a wall while the cell phone skidded across the floor.

Jo watched, dumbfounded, as the new arrival grabbed the masked man’s head and jammed it against the wall. The masked thug cursed and fought against the hand gripping his jaw.

The new guy’s fists moved in a blur. He punched the masked man half a dozen times in the gut before taking a few steps back and delivering a roundhouse kick to his head.

Jo’s attacker slid to the floor, unconscious. The new guy picked up the cell phone from the floor and put it to his ear. The phone emitted a few blurry words before abruptly cutting itself off; the man angrily slammed it down on the bar.

He turned to Jo.

Jo swallowed. Now that they were face-to-face, Jo could see that the guy was mixed race–he looked partially Japanese, but there was definitely foreign blood in there. He was tall and heavily muscled, dressed in a white tee-shirt and what looked like badly mangled track pants. His clothes were torn and streaked with blood. Old blood was caked on any exposed skin, including down one cheek to disappear in some scruffy facial hair. He was barefoot.

Whoever he was, he definitely didn’t fit in with the men who had swarmed Kiseki.

The man growled. Before Jo could react, the man reached down and grabbed the front of Jo’s shirt. Jo croaked as the man lifted him so high that Jo’s feet dangled over the floor.

Tokyo Demons Book 1: Chapter 7
 

“Shouri!” the man barked.

Jo choked and struggled against the man’s grip. The fist was iron; he shook Jo until Jo’s teeth rattled. He started rambling off words in a foreign language.

Jo grabbed the man’s arm. Is that English? he managed to think as his mind spun. Jo couldn’t focus long enough to remember any English he’d learned in school. The man shook him again.

“I-I don’t speak English!” Jo cried out in Japanese, desperate to get the man to stop.

The man scowled. He paused for a moment, mouthing something silently.

“Where?” he said at last in a very thick accent. “Where is…Shouri!”

Jo kicked his dangling feet. “Who’s Shouri?!” he cried.

The man grew angrier. He started rattling off something in English again–Jo recognized one or two words, but nothing that made sense. Some of the words sounded like proper names. One or two were even familiar.

“Nick!” the man said at last. “Nick Marshall!”

Jo froze. The man seemed to notice Jo’s expression change, because he grew more insistent. “Nick!” he said again. He paused before switching to Japanese. “Nick is…friend!”

What?

Jo didn’t know how to take that. Was the man a friend of Nick’s, or was he asking if Jo was? Was it an accusation? Nick himself had said there was a bounty on his head!

Desperate for more information, Jo’s eyes trailed over the man. He stopped at the man’s collar. It had been stretched beyond its elastic and torn in several places. It sagged low over his left clavicle, exposing a small tattoo.

A cross.

Jo spluttered and gripped the man’s fist. “The church!” he said in Japanese, then repeated the word in English. He knew that one. He pointed to the tattoo. “Church! Nick!”

The man’s expression shifted to recognition. Jo started rambling all the related English he could remember.

“Christian! Jesus! Priest!” He stopped, struggling to remember the name Sachi had told him over the phone. “D-Daniel? Priest Daniel?”

The man dropped Jo. Jo fell so quickly that his knees buckled; the man grabbed Jo’s forearm and helped him stand. To Jo’s surprise, the man smiled brightly.

He clapped Jo on the back. “Priest Daniel Ozimek!” he confirmed. “Friend!”

He’s with those church guys.

Relief flooded Jo so suddenly that his legs turned to jelly. The man’s grip on him was all that kept him upright.

“Shouri,” the man repeated from earlier. “Where is Shouri?”

Shouri sounded like a Japanese name. “I don’t know who Shouri is,” Jo said in Japanese. “But yeah, I guess I’m…friends with those church guys. Who are you? How did you get here?”

The man stared at Jo dumbly. Jo tried to formulate a related sentence in English, but a horrible scream from downstairs cut him off. It echoed throughout the entire building.

Jo’s blood ran cold. It sounded like Miki.

“We found Miki–but he’s not talking.”

Jo’s heart pounded. He looked at the stairwell that led down into the basement. The panel had been torn off its hinges, leaving the once-hidden stairs open to the top floor. The crashing of bodies and screams of men echoed from below.

It gaped at Jo like a monster’s smiling mouth. Like a gateway to hell.

“I’d rather die than let those fuckers take our boss.”

Seiya’s voice echoed in his head. Jo still saw the crooked smile before Seiya had jumped into that gaping hole.

Jo felt sweat drip down his back.

Jo didn’t hold any delusions about himself. He was terrified. The thought of going down into that massacre made fear throb in the marrow of his bones. After a lifetime of robbing people and doing everything possible to avoid punishment, he realized, for the first time, that he wasn’t just scared of getting caught. He wasn’t just scared of getting hurt.

He was scared of any situation where he didn’t think he could win.

Jo was a coward.

Jo swallowed hard. Shakily, he pulled back from the man’s grip so he could stand under his own strength. Jo lifted the stool from the floor; a few of the legs were loose, so he snapped them free. He dropped everything but the two wooden posts and looked up at the man.

“I’m Jo,” Jo said quietly. He touched his chest to clarify. “Jo,” he repeated.

The man seemed to understand. He nodded and splayed a hand over his own chest.

“Adam,” the man replied.

Jo took a breath, then gestured to the stairs. He held out one of the posts.

“Help,” Jo croaked in English. “P-please.”

The man raised his eyebrows.

Jo held his own post to his chest and shook the second at Adam. “Help,” Jo repeated, his voice cracking. “Please? F-friends.”

The man stared at the post for a moment. Finally, he nodded at Jo and accepted the makeshift weapon.

“Help,” he repeated, gripping the post with purpose. “Help,” he said as he pointed down the stairs.

Jo turned to the basement. Bile swirled in his stomach, threatening to make him sick. He gathered every last shred of courage he could find in his heart.

A large hand suddenly ruffled his hair. Jo looked up in surprise.

“Okay,” Adam said in the most international word of all. He gave a small, determined smile. “Jo okay.”

Jo clenched his jaw.

He wished he could believe it.

Proceed to Chapter 7, page 2–>

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  1. Lianne Sentar

    If you’d like to comment on this chapter, please do so below. You can also see the comments from the original web publication here.