Tokyo Demons Book 1: Chapter 8
Emi shivered. The inside of the large cabin was barely warmer than outside, though she was grateful to be out of the blanketing Hokkaido snow. She tucked her hands into the sleeves of her jacket and watched the chubby young woman start a fire in the fireplace.
“Sorry,” Shouri muttered as she threw more kindling on the small flames. “We were so busy covering the solar panels that we didn’t have time to warm this place up. You must be freezing your ass off.”
Emi let her eyes trail over the cabin. There were a few rooms branching off the central room–one was a bathroom, obviously, and another one seemed to hold a few futons. A third room was too dark to see inside, but thick wires snaked out of it to disappear under the rugs below Emi’s feet.
“Solar panels?” Emi asked absently. “Is that how you get power here?”
“Yeah, but my equipment needs a lot more juice than we can squeeze out of a few panels. We’ve got some small generators to help out, including one you rev up by hand, but that one’s really a last resort–it blisters my hands like hell.” She smiled over her shoulder and wiggled one gloved hand. “And I’ve gotta be gentle on the money-makers.”
The door opened behind Emi, letting in a whoose of cold air and snowflakes. A man in bulky winter gear kicked the doorframe a few times, shaking off excess snow from his boots. He smiled down at Emi as he stepped inside and pushed the door shut.
“Hello,” he said in English.
Emi bowed politely. Shouri called over to him that Emi didn’t speak much English, but Emi knew enough to understand that. The man shrugged before rubbing snow out of his beard and mustache.
“That’s Adam,” Shouri explained in Japanese. “He’s the muscle around here.” She pulled off her hat to reveal hair dyed a shocking pink, drawn back into a messy ponytail. She poked her growing flames. “C’mere so you can take off that coat.”
Emi joined Shouri by the fire. The room had started to warm up, so Emi unwrapped her scarf as she sat on the floor. Adam started rummaging through the bulky bags she’d left by the door.
He cried out triumphantly and pulled out a brightly colored snack bag. She barely understood his English, but it sounded like he called them “those cheese things he liked.”
Shouri smiled at Emi. “Thanks for bringing us that stuff from the airport,” she said. “We can get a lot of things from the village, but not the junk food. They must lace that stuff with crack; you don’t notice until you try to go without it.”
Emi glanced back at the man, who tore through the package happily. “You’re welcome,” she murmured.
“So you’re on your way to Tokyo? Where did you fly out from again?”
“France,” Emi replied. “And yes, I’m returning to Tokyo. I’ve been gone almost seven years.”
Shouri whistled and jammed her poker. “Why would you leave Tokyo for that long?” she asked. “I’d kill to be in Tokyo!”
Emi swallowed. “I…needed some time away from my parents,” she said awkwardly.
Emi hated explaining. The words sounded pathetic every time she said them–like the whims of some spoiled princess who didn’t recognize her own privileges. But the truth, as complicated as it was, didn’t actually amount to much more than leaving her parents. She couldn’t deny it anymore. And she’d vowed to stop lying about it, if only to force herself to own any shame that came with her decision.
Surprisingly, Shouri nodded. “I hear that,” she said breezily. “It’s the same reason I left San Francisco. Sometimes you can love and hate your parents at the same time; getting out makes life easier for everyone.”
Emi felt a bit of her guilt lessen its grip on her heart. Hearing those words out of a pink-haired woman felt…strangely comforting.
“I-I’m glad the Vatican needs people in Tokyo right now,” Emi continued. “It’s a good excuse to go back. I want to apologize to my parents and…see my little brother.” She trailed off at the end, always unsure of that last part.
“You have a little brother?”
“Yes, but he was only eight or nine when I left. He may not remember me.”
Shouri looked up from the fire. “Why would you say that?” she asked. “I remember plenty from when I was eight.”
Emi twisted the scarf in her hands. “I just…don’t think I left much of an impression,” she said. “The last few years I was there, I was preoccupied with my problems and didn’t spend much time with him. And it’s selfish of me to expect him to start a new relationship after so long.” She shook her head quickly. “He’ll be a young man now. I’m sure he has his own life…which probably doesn’t have room for me.”
Shouri brushed the comment off with her hand. “You’re still his sister,” she replied. “Don’t worry so much. Nothing’s stronger than blood.”
Emi bit the inside of her cheek. As Shouri translated their conversation for Adam, Emi pulled her wallet from her coat and flipped it open. Her one photograph of Kiyoshi, snugly sheathed in plastic, stared back at her. He was in his elementary school uniform, splattered with paint and leaning over an art project on family day. He smiled shyly and made a “V” with his fingers.
Adam dropped to sit beside Emi. He leaned over as his hand crackled inside his snack bag.
“Brother?” he asked in English.
Adam pushed a handful of corn snacks into his mouth. “Kawaii,” he crunched.
Emi hiccuped. “Right,” she breathed as she blinked away tears. “Cute.”
The tiny dark eyes on the picture, half-hidden behind a mess of hair, stared at her. Emi still remembered that day. After telling Kiyoshi she was leaving home, he had gotten strangely quiet. She was worried he was upset but didn’t know how to talk to him about it. She had been on the other side of the camera lens, asking if she could take a last picture of him before she left for Europe.
And he had smiled at her and flashed the sign for peace.
Jo, on an average night, slept like a rock. He could sleep on the subway or at his desk, so a bed wasn’t strictly necessary; the thin futon Priest Daniel laid out on the floor seemed more than good enough. The priest offered Jo a pillow. As Nick and that dark-skinned guy dragged an unconscious Sachi onto another futon, Jo dug his fingers into the scratchy pillowcase.
“Are you sure you don’t want to eat first?” the priest asked. “You haven’t touched anything since you got here.”
Jo threw the pillow on his futon. “I’ll eat in the morning.”
“And you don’t want me to look for a robe that fits you better?”
Jo irritably tucked the ends of his giant robe more tightly into the belt. “It’s fine,” he said as he dropped to the futon. “Thank you. Good night.”
The priest still frowned at him. Jo ignored the man and feigned sleep.
A few minutes later, the three men left. The light snapped off. Jo could hear muffled talking behind the closed door and Sachi breathing, but again–more than good enough. Jo took a long breath and adjusted his neck in the pillow.
But this wasn’t an average night. And Jo was plagued with nightmares.
The first time he was startled awake, he noticed several more futons filling the floor. Someone on the far side of the room was sobbing softly. Jo swallowed hard and buried his face in his pillow, pointedly ignoring the quiet crying.
The second time Jo woke, someone was standing in the corner of the room and whispering. Jo clutched at his futon, terrified and disoriented. After a few seconds, the figure carefully folded himself to his knees and pressed his forehead to the floor in a dogeza. Then he sat up, paused, and performed the dogeza again. Jo blinked in the dark, finally recognizing the figure as the dark-skinned foreigner. Confused and alarmed, Jo forced himself to close his eyes and steady his breathing. He could sleep. He would sleep.
He kept seeing the stairwell to Kiseki’s basement. Screams wafted out from the pit, punctuated by manic laughter. Something glowed bright orange from deeper within. Someone was pushing him at the stairwell while Jo dug his feet into the floor. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to go. Flames erupted from the stairwell and Jo started to panic. He struggled against whoever pushed him forward.
It was Adam. He calmly argued with alien words as he locked his thick arms around Jo and lifted. Jo desperately kicked his dangling feet as he was carried toward the stairs.
“Fight,” Adam said in English. His voice was eerily calm. “Okay? Fight, Jo. Fight and die.”
The stairwell disappeared, leaving the entrance to the basement a gaping hole. It widened in slow motion, allowing flames to shoot up from the explosions inside. Jo clawed at Adam’s face, desperate to get free. Adam smiled under Jo’s raking fingernails.
Seiya suddenly appeared, a baseball bat resting on his shoulder. He giggled and playfully tapped Jo with the bat.
“What’s the matter?” he cooed. “People fight for what they love, Jo. Unless you don’t love anything?”
Adam threw Jo at the pit. Jo reached out in a panic, his fingers clawing for any handhold as he fell toward the flames.
A gloved hand grabbed his own. Jo swung in freefall, choking and digging his fingers in as he dangled over the precipe. He looked up.
Touya smiled at him. “You and I have a lot in common,” he said calmly. “Why won’t you let me help you?”
Jo grabbed at Touya with his free hand, desperately clutching at the upperclassman’s forearm. Touya placed his other hand over Jo’s…and then slowly ran a gloved finger down Jo’s wrist. A chill crackled from the touch and raced down Jo’s spine.
“This is my final offer,” Touya said quietly, a razor’s edge under the silk. “If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume you passed.”
Someone tugged at Jo’s ankles from the pit below. His terrified gaze flew downward.
Kenta dragged at Jo’s legs. His empty, filmed eyes bugged out from his dangling head.
Jo dropped back into reality as his eyes snapped open. He panted, his fingers digging into his pillow, and stared at the floor for several paralyzing seconds.
Jo couldn’t think straight. He blinked hard, trying to remember where he was. Light bounced off the hardwood beneath his futon.
“Jo?” the voice asked again. “Are you okay?” A hand rested on his shoulder.
Jo’s mind finally began to clear. He looked up, his heart pounding.
Kiyoshi frowned. He brushed thick bangs behind his ear, revealing his furrowed brow. The bangs broke free and hid his eyes once more.
“Did you have a bad dream?” Kiyoshi asked quietly. “You’re all…sweaty.”
Jo swallowed. He ran a sleeve over his face and felt warm sweat soak into the fabric.
“Wh-what time is it?” Jo finally croaked.
“I dunno. Maybe eight? I just woke up.”
Jo pushed himself to a sitting position. His giant robe had fallen open during the night; he pulled it back over his shoulders. He glanced at the rest of the room to see that most of the other futons were gone, save for one under Kiyoshi and one against the opposite wall. Based on the length of the hair on the pillow, he guessed the occupant was Ayase.
Jo sighed. His clothes and belongings, including a box of cigarettes and his lighter, had been piled beside his futon. Had he left them there? He grabbed the tip of a cigarette and slid it between his lips.
Jo lit up and took a long drag. He blinked away the last vestiges of sleep as warm smoke filled his lungs. He refocused his eyes on his roommate.
Kiyoshi looked…tired. He was a little bruised and cut up, but his color wasn’t bad. His bangs hid it now, but Jo had noticed a red tinge to his eyes.
“You can’t tell me you slept through the night,” Jo murmured at Kiyoshi through tumbling smoke. He snapped away the flame. “Not after yesterday. Not after the last ten days.”
Kiyoshi sat back on his futon and let out a breath. “Not really,” he admitted. “They kept me up pretty late in the sick room. It was freaking me out. I thought maybe I could sleep if I moved out here with everyone else, but…” He trailed off. He scratched at a bandage draped over his chin, his mouth curved downward.
Sick room. Jo’s eyes fell to the wide sleeves of Kiyoshi’s robe. Even through the awkward angle of his arms, Jo could see black veins peeking out against his skin.
Jo hesitated. “Are you gonna be okay?” he asked after a moment. “You don’t look like you’re in…withdrawal or anything.”
Kiyoshi stopped. He swallowed.
“I feel okay,” he mumbled. “Nick-san thinks it hasn’t hit me yet. He has a plan for when it happens, so I’m supposed to tell him the minute I start feeling funny.”
Kiyoshi shrugged, but it wasn’t casual. “Nauseous, I guess. Or jittery. He’s not sure, especially after I took those pills he hid in my teeth.”
Jo took another drag. He’s not sure, he repeated silently. So Nick, for all his fancy science talk, didn’t actually know what would happen to Kiyoshi. Even with Kiyoshi’s long-lost sister on his side–who was a pretty good nurse, according to the priest. But Nick had used one word many times the last few weeks. A word Jo knew well.
Over the course of his life, Jo had met people who used more than their fair share of street drugs. One of his foster brothers had been addicted to heroin. Jo had been pretty young at the time, but he still remembered being brought to the hospital to visit him while he was getting clean. Jo had never seen someone vomit that many times during a conversation.
Jo himself had tried to quit smoking before the beginning of high school. The restlessness, the anxiety, and the desperate need felt like something was trying to rip his heart out through his chest. He’d scraped at his walls for days before finally giving up. And that had just been nicotine.
But Jo wasn’t about to go into details. After a long stretch of silence, Kiyoshi looked away. Jo took another slow, long drag and blew out a trail of smoke.
In his thin sleeping robe, Kiyoshi’s physical changes were especially obvious; Jo was still getting used to it. When Kiyoshi had jumped out of that car the day before, Jo had barely recognized him. He’d gone from a gangly teenage jock to a broad, developed adult over the course of a week. His hair was longer, his voice was lower, and Jo swore his jaw was more square than it had been.
Jo was finally starting to believe that Pitch was as powerful as Nick warned. If it could essentially force Kiyoshi’s body through adolescence in nine days, then there was no telling how deeply it was fucking with his system. Or what would happen when he suddenly stopped taking it.
Jo sighed. He pulled the portable ashtray from his pile of things and ground out his cigarette inside. After snapping it shut, he leaned over and clapped Kiyoshi on the shoulder.
“No matter what happens,” Jo said evenly, “at least you can deal with it here. Everyone’s got your back, Kiyoshi.”
Kiyoshi smiled sadly. “Yeah,” he agreed.
The door suddenly creaked open. Jo and Kiyoshi turned; the woman in the doorway froze in place.
It was what’s-her-name. Emi. She held a tray piled with onigiri, but she looked as if she’d forgotten it existed. Her wide eyes locked on Kiyoshi.
“I…I heard talking,” she said quickly. “I didn’t…you’re awake?”
She and Kiyoshi stared at each other for a few seconds. He shifted on his futon and nodded at her.
“Yeah,” he replied. “You wanna, um…come in?”
Emi swallowed. The tray shook in her hands.
Jo resisted the urge to wince. The awkwardness in the air was palpable.
The long-lost sister walked rigidly into the room. She placed the tray on the floor in front of Kiyoshi before stepping back, like an offering to a new pet. Her eyes flicked briefly to Jo and she gave a quick nod, but it was only a formality; her gaze snapped back to Kiyoshi and stayed there.
Kiyoshi looked down at the tray. “Can we eat these?” he asked.
She nodded curtly. “I-I know you kids must be hungry. Everyone else ate when they got up. I don’t know what you like to eat now, so I thought…I put pickles in a few and tuna in a few.” She absently pointed to the onigiri. “And there are a few plain ones, in case you don’t like pickles or tuna.”
Kiyoshi picked one of the onigiri. “I like pickles and tuna.”
“Do you?” Emi’s lips twitched, like a smile that couldn’t quite form. “Good. Er…good.”
Kiyoshi waited. When Emi said nothing more, he bit into the onigiri. He grabbed another one and handed it to Jo. Jo, noticing how empty his stomach was, accepted it and took a bite. He watched in lurid fascination as Emi watched Kiyoshi eat.
Kiyoshi swallowed and smiled politely at her. “It’s good,” he said. “Thank you.”
Emi nodded but said nothing. She was twisting her hands together now. As Kiyoshi ate, the fingers on her hands started to twitch, like she tapped on invisible piano keys. Some severe emotion lit up her eyes. Kiyoshi’s face fell as he watched her fingers wave their frantic voodoo near him.
Jo had no idea what she was trying to do. If he didn’t know better, it looked like she was trying not to do something that her fingers desperately wanted to.
Kiyoshi swallowed and wiped rice from his chin. “Uh…” he murmured. “Nee-san…are you okay?”
Emi snapped out of her trance. She dropped her hands to her side, her fingers motionless.
“H-how are you feeling?” she stuttered. “Any new symptoms? Do you feel differently from yesterday?”
Kiyoshi shook his head. “About the same. I’ll tell you if anything changes.”
Emi opened her mouth, then closed it again. She let out a breath. She bowed, once again giving Jo a token glance, before turning on her heels and marching for the door. She disappeared behind it, leaving it open a crack in her wake.
Jo swallowed what he was eating. He raised an eyebrow at Kiyoshi.
“So,” Jo said. “How’s that reunion going for you guys?”
Kiyoshi visibly wilted. His hesitant fear from earlier was gone, now replaced with clear, unexciting confusion.
He crammed the end of his onigiri in his mouth. “Weird,” he mumbled through the rice. “It’s really weird, Jo.”
Jo waited. Kiyoshi picked up another onigiri as he swallowed.
“I mean, I was really surprised to see her yesterday–I had no idea she knew these church guys. But I recognized her. And now that I’ve seen her, I’m starting to remember things about her.” He bit into rice. “I haven’t thought about it in years, but there’s definitely some stuff I wanna talk about. But every time I try…”
Jo leaned back onto a free elbow. “She acts like a psycho?” he offered.
Kiyoshi frowned. “So I’m not the only one seeing it.”
Jo licked a bit of salt off his fingers. “I think it’s pretty obvious why she’s freaking out around you,” he said. “You became an orphan while she was gone.”
Kiyoshi pulled his onigiri from his mouth. Slowly, he lowered his hands to drape on his lap.
“I guess,” he said quietly.
Jo pushed the last of his nori into his mouth. “She’s probably processing,” he crunched. “And you’re still processing, right? Just give it some time.”
Kiyoshi stared at the floor. He took another bite and said nothing.
Jo decided, at that point, not to voice any more theories. He knew next to nothing about Kiyoshi’s sister. Maybe she wanted to reconnect with Kiyoshi and was having trouble sorting her feelings, like Jo had implied. Maybe more time was all they needed to heal their relationship.
Or maybe she hadn’t wanted to reconnect and was guilted into it after this whole mess. Maybe the awkwardness between them was the invisible wall in a family without love. Jo had lived in a foster home with an invisible wall in every room.
As if reading Jo’s thoughts, Kiyoshi furrowed his eyebrows.
Jo licked his teeth. He hoped, for Kiyoshi’s sake, that his second theory was the wrong one.
The half-open door suddenly flew forward on its hinges. Jo blinked as Nick burst into the room; the man slammed the door shut behind him and narrowed his eyes at Jo.
“So,” he said thinly. “You’re up at last, Oda”
Jo felt his defense mechanisms clench his stomach. He cringed back as the giant foreigner stomped across the room.
“Wh-what?” Jo snapped. “I was sleeping, what the hell do you…”
As the man neared, alarm bells rang in Jo’s head. Jo stumbled to his feet as Kiyoshi tried to ask Nick what was wrong. Nick ignored him as he marched forward and Jo stepped back until he hit the wall. Nick loomed over Jo, his jaw tight.
Jo pulled up his slipping robe. “What the hell is your problem?!” he cried out as he recoiled against the wall. “Get out of my face!”
“I will. As soon as you answer my question.” Nick slipped a small piece of cardstock out from his belt. He flipped it at Jo, both an offer and an accusation. “Where did you get this?”
Jo pushed down the panic he felt welling in his stomach. He looked down at whatever Nick was holding out.
It was a business card.
Jo froze. He snatched the card from Nick and flipped it over. Jo’s list of phone numbers was scrawled out on the back.
This is mine.
Jo’s eyes flew to the pile of his things by his futon. Then he hadn’t left his stuff there the night before.
A combination of rage and panic bubbled up inside Jo. “You went through my wallet?” he hissed.
“Had to. You didn’t say more than a dozen words to us before hitting the sack last night.” Nick grunted. “If you wanna play coy, we’ll stop being polite. We were trying to sort out yesterday’s mess while you kids slept. That fight was a scuffle in the sandbox compared to what we’ll have to deal with now.”
Jo’s heart started to pound. “If it was so goddamn important,” he snarled, “you could’ve woken me up. Or does staying in this shitty place mean you can go through my pants when I sleep?” His voice was shaking; he tried to steady it. “Do you put a magnifying glass to the girls’ underwear, too?”
Nick snorted. “I don’t give a flying fuck about your fake I.D. If that’s why you’ve been so dodgy, that shit ends now.” Nick pointedly rigidly at the business card. “Did Touya Kamishita give you that? Do you know that guy?”
Kiyoshi had gotten to his feet at some point. “Kamishita?” he asked. “Is that Touya-senpai’s last name?”
Confusion and panic clenched all the muscles in Jo’s body. His dreams of the night before rushed back to him. Touya’s smile, his gloved hand gripping Jo as he dangled over doom. A line from their last encounter in the café rang in Jo’s head.
“This isn’t an offer for your friends, Jo-kun. This is an offer for you, and I expect you to keep it private.”
“Wait!” Jo blurted as he pushed against the wall. “It’s not…what the hell do you care?!”
Kiyoshi’s eyes widened. “I didn’t tell you?” he asked.
“Sleeping beauty was in bed during debriefing, Kiyoshi.” Nick rudely flicked at Jo’s chin. “He didn’t hear the part where your senpai was ordering around Core operatives and then helped you get away.”
Jo went rigid. Nick pulled back, his tone turning authoritative.
“That’s right, Jo. Touya Kamishita is in Core. I don’t know if you have any kind of relationship with him, but that guy is fucking dangerous. And based on that business card, I think I figured out who he really is.”
Jo opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Something shriveled up in his stomach.
Touya. In Core.
Jo couldn’t think straight. Instead of waiting for a response, Nick continued.
“Five years ago,” he said lowly, “I was living with the man who founded Core. After he invented Pitch, he started gathering people to join him. Everything was secret–he told me almost nothing about the other members, no matter how much I asked. But he did tell me about one person.” Nick looked away. “I’d forgotten about it until now because I left before he finalized things. He wanted…to take in a kid he’d found. Some middle school runaway hustling gamblers outside a club.“
Nick took a breath. “He said the kid had an incredible ability. Something amazing enough that it was too good for Core. He had ‘special plans’ for this kid, plans that only started–started–with making mountains of money.”
Jo dumbly looked down at the business card.
Investment advisor, it read below Touya’s name. Kamishita Holdings.
Nick gestured to the card. “Kamishita Holdings,” he recited. “The founder of Core has a mountain of aliases, but Kamishita is one of the oldest. It’s also his richest. That company is the most powerful Core front that we’ve discovered since we started looking.” He shook his head. “And since Touya’s using that name…I assumed the worst. We ran a background check last night. We couldn’t find much, but we pieced together enough.”
Jo swallowed. Touya’s ghost-like words floated back to haunt him.
“I can protect you from these people,” Touya had said.
These people. These people.
“Jo,” Nick said carefully. “Touya is the adopted son of the man who runs Core.”
Kiyoshi blurted his surprise. “What?!” he exclaimed. “The leader of Core is his dad? Then…why did he help me get away?”
Nick crossed his arms. “That’s what we can’t figure out,” he muttered. His hazel eyes flicked back to Jo. “Nobody knows anything about this guy, Jo. He helped Kiyoshi escape, but not in front of his men. He might be a double agent–it’s too early to tell. And he mentioned the church, which has officially scared us shitless.” He furrowed his brow. “Do you have any idea if this guy could be working for someone outside of Core? Someone he could be getting information from? Or why he would let Kiyoshi go when Core risked so much kidnapping Kiyoshi in the first place?”
Jo swallowed bile. He stared at the card, overlapping conversations replaying in his head. Touya’s words of the past few weeks blurred into a sea of foreboding. It grew louder in his head, churning as Touya’s chuckles punctuated his whispered promises.
The card grew fuzzy in his vision. Jo looked up, his eyes rising to Kiyoshi.
Kiyoshi frowned, worry written across his face. “Jo?” he asked through the din in Jo’s ears. “Are you okay?”
One crisp line suddenly rose to the top of Jo’s memory.
“In a week or two, I’ll send you a gift. To show you how serious I am.”
Jo’s fingers went numb. The business card tipped out of his grip to flutter to the floor.
Kiyoshi said something else, but Jo didn’t hear it. His hearing dropped entirely as eerie silence blanketed the world.
Touya’s gift to Jo had been Kiyoshi’s freedom.
Proceed to Chapter 8, page 2–>