Tokyo Demons Book 2: Chapter 1
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Add a Little Chaos
Ayase didn’t know where to put herself. The half of her that felt compelled to help fought with the half that felt invasive and cruel. So she stood there, frozen, one foot out the sick room door as she stared at the unfolding nightmare.
Kiyoshi whined on the hospital bed, clutching at himself while his shaking feet dragged across the sheets. Emi leaned over him, her gloved hands slipping on his sweaty wrists while she tried to rub gauze against his hand.
“Kiyoshi,” she told him, her voice tight. “You have to hold still.”
He visibly convulsed. “I c-can’t,” he gasped as his feet kicked. “I can’t…”
Kiyoshi suddenly grabbed his mouth and choked, curling into the fetal position. Daniel dragged Kiyoshi to the edge of the bed. Kiyoshi hung his head off the mattress to vomit into Daniel’s waiting basin.
Emi bit her lip and clutched Kiyoshi’s wrist again. While he gasped and spat, she rubbed the gauze over his hand and tried to slip in a needle.
The needle barely pricked skin when Kiyoshi suddenly jerked his hand back. His dilated pupils whipped to her. He grabbed his hand while a few drops of blood dripped down his wrist.
“Don’t!” he shouted, his voice suddenly aggressive. “No more needles!”
Emi pulled back the offending needle. “But you need an I.V.,” she argued weakly.
Ayase jumped. Kiyoshi’s roar tore through the air, echoing against the walls. The room dropped hard into silence as everyone stared at Kiyoshi.
Then he clutched his bleeding hand and curled into a ball.
Ayase swallowed. For a moment, the man behind Kiyoshi’s teenage mannerisms had come out in full force. A strange man, alien and dangerous. Her heart pounded in sudden panic.
They changed him.
Ayase had known that since Kiyoshi’s first night in Core headquarters. But now, as he whimpered and clutched his knees, she saw the physical evidence clearer than ever. And it wasn’t just his body that was different.
Daniel let out a breath. He untangled a wire from a small machine by the bedside.
“Kiyoshi-kun, may I see your finger?” he asked gently. “I promise not to prick you.”
Kiyoshi tentatively unclenched a hand. Daniel snapped a plastic clip onto Kiyoshi’s index finger, sending the machine jumping to life. Green numbers lit up and released a rhythmic beep.
Ayase turned. Sachi, his arms wrapped around a water bucket and a folded robe, slowed his hurried pace in the hallway. Zayd clapped shut a mobile phone behind him. Ayase scrambled out of the way to let them through.
Sachi frowned at her. He leaned in as he passed into the room.
“Are you sure you want to be here?” he whispered.
Ayase’s stomach sank. She opened her mouth to answer–If I can help, she meant to say–but Sachi had already rushed toward Emi with his things. Emi thanked him and flapped out the robe.
“Help me undress him,” she said.
Blood rushed to Ayase’s face. She abruptly turned to the wall.
Zayd’s voice carried over Kiyoshi’s whines and rustling fabric. “Nick thinks it is too dangerous to come here,” he said. “Core saw him near the rescue and they may be watching the church.”
“Did he have any advice?”
“He said to give Kiyoshi the receptor antagonist.”
Emi sighed audibly. “I already gave it to him,” she explained. “He’s a bit…high right now.”
“That is all he can suggest. He is a chemist, not a doctor.”
Emi and Daniel went silent. Kiyoshi’s cries took on a higher edge; Daniel murmured something soothing as the bed creaked. Ayase could hear Kiyoshi vomiting again.
There was a long pause. Something splashed in the water bucket.
“Zayd-san,” Emi said quietly. “Please call your wife.”
The rustling of clothing had stopped. Ayase peeked over her shoulder to see Kiyoshi in the robe, gasping off the edge of the bed.
Zayd flipped open his mobile phone. “She is waiting,” he said over the beeps of his keypad. “But I have trouble translating medical words into Japanese…I will try to be clear.”
Sachi gently reached out to Kiyoshi. “Kiyoshi,” he whispered, “you’re gonna be okay.” He rested a hand on Kiyoshi’s shoulder blade.
And then jerked his hand back, his eyes wide with shock. All the blood drained from Sachi’s face.
Daniel caught eyes with Sachi and shook his head. Sachi took a step back and swallowed hard.
Kiyoshi started to sob. He buried his face in a pillow, his body trembling as he squirmed.
Ayase’s stomach twisted. “Can’t you sedate him or something?” she asked. “Or is that what the I.V. is for?”
“The receptor antagonist is a depressant–another depressant could interfere with his breathing. And we don’t have a ventilator here.” Emi paused, her gaze hesitating on Ayase. She leaned in to Kiyoshi.
“Kiyoshi,” she said quietly. “I’m going to ask your friends to leave.”
Ayase’s guilt crushed her. She nudged halfway out the door.
Kiyoshi hiccupped and clutched the pillow tighter. “J-Jo?” he blurted.
In the shadow of the corner, a figure moved. He’d been so quiet that Ayase had forgotten he existed.
“…Yeah,” Jo called, his voice unreadable. “I’m here.”
Kiyoshi clutched his mouth. “Can you stay?” he whined through his fingers.
For a long moment, Jo just stood there. He’d gone pale at some point, although the look on his face was so blank that Ayase couldn’t interpret it. He’d been so frantic with Takeshi, so weirdly hopeful when they’d talked about staying…but now all emotion had vanished from Jo’s face. He just stared at Kiyoshi, his eyes steady, his mouth a tight line.
He let out a breath. Then he slowly walked to the bedside like a man on death row.
Zayd murmured some foreign words into his phone. He gestured to Sachi, who nodded.
Ayase didn’t wait for Sachi to join her. She walked stiffly into the hall and forced herself not to look back.
It had to be a hospital bed. It fucking had to be a fucking hospital bed.
Jo tried not to deliberate. Kiyoshi just didn’t know the adults that well; he’d said the sick room freaked him out. He obviously wanted a familiar face if he was going to be stuck there.
Fine, Jo thought. He’d half-expected this, with how affectionate Kiyoshi had gotten after the rescue. Jo had decided to stay with the Church, and that came with responsibilities, right? So Jo would stay. Fine. It could be his first step on his roundabout path to human decency.
But damn it if it wasn’t cruel.
The room was like a severed chunk of hospital. The metal bed creaked under Kiyoshi’s writhing body, accentuating the high-pitched beeps of Kiyoshi’s heart meter. The room reeked of vomit, a sour overtone to the musky scent of sweat and latex. And Kiyoshi was the color of ash, sweat glistening around his sunken eyes as every muscle trembled.
For one brief, terrible moment, Jo imagined Kiyoshi slowing to stillness. The creases around his face softening as his eyes slowly opened…and stayed that way.
Jo snapped to attention, the image shattering into a thousand pieces. He forced himself to breathe as he jerked his head to Daniel.
Daniel scraped a chair to Kiyoshi’s bedside. He picked up the vomit basin with gloved hands and gestured for Jo to sit.
Jo swallowed hard. He lowered himself into the chair as Daniel mercifully left to dump the vomit.
Emi draped a wet towel over Kiyoshi’s forehead. Somewhere behind her, Zayd spoke quickly but quietly into his mobile. Emi flicked her dark eyes up at Jo.
“Sachi-kun says you were Kiyoshi’s roommate,” she murmured. “At Fukuhashi.”
Jo nodded. He’d never really seen Emi up close. Now that she sat across from him, he saw the subtle resemblance to Kiyoshi around the forehead and jaw. It made Jo uncomfortable, for some reason.
She sighed. “Thank you,” she said as she pulled Kiyoshi’s bangs from under the towel. “For helping him the night he was kidnapped.”
Jo’s fingers twitched for a phantom cigarette. “You’re welcome,” he answered awkwardly. “He, um…would’ve done the same for me.”
“I take it you two are friends.”
Jo scratched the back of his neck. “Sure,” he replied.
Kiyoshi clutched his mouth and choked again. Emi grabbed a kidney-shaped plastic dish and pushed it beside Kiyoshi’s face.
“In here,” she said gently.
Kiyoshi grabbed the dish and retched into it. Not much was left in him, but his body still convulsed in an attempt to reject the air in his stomach. He coughed and gasped, fighting to breathe as he spasmed.
Emi pulled the damp hair out of his face. “It’s okay,” she breathed. “Just let it happen, Kiyoshi.”
His body eventually stopped convulsing, and he slumped back to the bed. He broke down into sobs.
“I can’t do this,” he wailed.
Emi clenched her jaw, her eyes glassy as she replaced the towel. When she said nothing, Jo fought through the crushing weight that pressed against his chest.
Say something, he ordered himself. Anything.
Pushing words through his throat felt like rolling a boulder up a hill. “Kiyoshi,” Jo finally managed, the syllables burning on his tongue. “You…uh…you’re gonna get through this.”
Kiyoshi buried his face in his trembling hands. “I’m gonna die!” he sobbed.
“You’re not going to die.” Emi’s tone took on an unusually hard edge. “You had the antagonists when you were injected. You’re young and healthy. And we have Pitch, remember? We can wean you if we need to.” Her fingers curled over his shoulder. “We won’t let you die, Kiyoshi. We just want to get you through the worst of it as soon as possible.”
Kiyoshi sniffed. “Th-this is the worst?”
Jo jumped on that. “The worst part was escaping,” he pointed out. “You fought off armed guards, remember? You took down four guys.” He smiled weakly. “If you can get through that, you can get through a night of puking.”
Fresh tears welled up in Kiyoshi’s eyes. “I-I’m sorry I shot those guys,” he suddenly sobbed.
Jo stopped. He exchanged glances with Emi.
“You didn’t have a choice,” Emi offered as she gently stroked his shoulder.
“I didn’t mean…I was just scared and…” Kiyoshi grabbed at the sheets. “I shot that guy on the roof at close range. Blood exploded out of him! That stupid otaku told me about hitting an artery…”
Emi said nothing. Her forehead creased.
Jo shook his head. “They would’ve killed you,” he said evenly. “They brought you there to kill Nakajima. They were murderers. It was you or them, Kiyoshi.”
Kiyoshi buried his face in a pillow. “Do you…” He trembled harder, his feet kicking against the sheets. “Do you think I killed them?”
“No,” Jo answered automatically.
Kiyoshi hiccupped. Emi squeezed his shoulder.
“Don’t think about it,” she murmured. “There’s nothing you can do. But you’ll never have to do it again.”
Kiyoshi sobbed and kicked against the sheets. Emi took his hand and squeezed it tightly.
“You’ll never have to touch a gun again, Kiyoshi.”
Zayd suddenly said something in Japanese. Jo looked up as Emi glanced over her shoulder.
He rested the open mobile against his chest. “Aisha has been researching,” he said quietly. “She said the antagonist Nick is using, it has a short…half of a life? It is used quickly in the body. So you may need to give it to Kiyoshi many times.”
“How frequently?” Emi asked.
“Every two hours. But it will slow his heart and breathing, so no more than that.” Zayd checked a scribbled note in his hand. “Watch his heart, blood pressure, breathing. Make sure he has liquid because of all the vomiting. And be prepared for, ah…” Zayd frowned. He glanced at Kiyoshi, who was turned away, then mimicked his hands shaking. He rolled his eyes to the back of his head.
Emi paled. Seizure, she mouthed.
Zayd lowered his voice. “The drugs pass into his brain, so that is a risk. But maybe not. Aisha is more worried about the heart.”
Jo swallowed. Kiyoshi moaned and gripped his mouth, his eyes squeezing shut. “P-puke,” he gasped.
Jo brought back the kidney dish. As he watched Kiyoshi dry heave, the heels of his palms digging into the creaking mattress, Jo forced his mind on the moment at hand.
Kiyoshi wouldn’t die. They had Pitch if they needed it.
Memories pounded on the door of Jo’s brain–but they weren’t relevant. He wouldn’t go there. He barricaded the doors, keeping the paralyzing fear outside of his consciousness. He was here.
Be here, he ordered furiously.
Jo forced himself to ignore the incessant beeping of the heart monitor. He forced himself to run the wet towel over Kiyoshi’s forehead. When Kiyoshi’s retching turned to gasps and the boy fell against the bed, Jo watched one hand dangle over the edge.
Jo grabbed it. He squeezed Kiyoshi’s fingers.
Kiyoshi’s head rose. He furrowed his brow over dilated pupils.
“I-I’m here,” Jo said, as much to Kiyoshi as to himself. “And you’re gonna get through this.”
Kiyoshi hiccupped. He weakly squeezed back.
Jo focused on that sweaty palm and repeated the mantra in his head. Jo wasn’t a little boy anymore. He could handle this.
Kiyoshi would live.
This wasn’t a hospital.
And Kiyoshi wasn’t Jo’s second-to-last foster mother.
Ayase didn’t want to talk. Sachi was getting better at recognizing that, so he only came to ask her about necessities–did she want to eat, did she want to sleep. She turned him down for everything. Uncomfortable sitting in complete silence with anyone else, Ayase retreated to the body of the church. She sat on a central wooden pew, allowing maximum space between her and any exit. She dropped her slippers, twisted as she brought up her feet, and hugged her knees to her chest. She leaned her shoulder against the back of the pew.
It was an unexpected opportunity. Between the madcap action of the last few days and her stolen attention of the past few weeks, Ayase had gotten very little time alone. She’d almost forgotten what it was like to have her thoughts to herself. She took a long breath, inhaling the stale air of the church as her mind comfortably expanded. Her mind was the only place she felt truly safe. The only home she had ever loved.
Then she sighed, the air whooshing out of her lungs. She stared at her knees, her thoughts collecting like leaves on a pond.
She wanted to work through her feelings on Kiyoshi.
It seemed superficial after everything, but she knew it was affecting her. There was value to addressing it, and not just on an emotional level–it was distracting her. So she could work through it. She had time now.
She tried to figure out when things had changed. It hadn’t been earlier than his captivity, right? She had a particularly clear memory of that day in the abandoned dorm room–when Nick had explained Core and Pitch for the first time. She’d been worried about showing Jo and Kiyoshi her power. She remembered Kiyoshi crying, the fading scent of tobacco smoke revealing Jo’s anxiety.
“I won’t sting you,” she had said as Nick bound a plastic shield over Kiyoshi’s teeth. “That’s only if something’s really bad. Maybe I can…buzz under your ear? Is that okay?”
Kiyoshi had furrowed his eyebrows at her, then winced. Nick had apologized while uncapping his pill bottle.
…No, she hadn’t felt nervous around him at that point. She’d been focused and direct. He was a classmate in trouble and she’d helped him when nobody else could. She hadn’t even known him well at that point.
But once in captivity, her insect had remained by his side for nine days. He’d gotten dressed in front of her, although she’d mentally left him for those moments. She’d slept next to him, albeit in her insect body. She knew he murmured when he was dreaming and was slow to get up in the morning.
They’d lived together. It had been uncomfortably one-sided, but not the entire time. He’d left crumbs on his bedspread, not knowing if her insect needed to eat. Sometimes he would stare at her at night, his dark eyes peeking over the bedspread.
Ayase clutched her knees tighter. If her subconscious had started seeing him as…attractive at some point, then it was the pangs of biology. She’d had fleeting physical attraction to boys once or twice. She’d always just categorized sex as one more danger she needed to avoid, another interaction she’d given up to hide her secret.
But now people knew her secret. She was making friends…she was trusting people, a privilege she’d barely fantasized about. The boys in her life weren’t phantoms in a strange world who could make her skin grow hot from a distance–they were partners, roommates. And they could make her feel that way from up close.
When she thought about how Kiyoshi’s attitude toward her had changed, fear seized her heart. He had pulled her close in the car after his escape. He had kissed her hair. She had fevered dreams about him because she knew what his body felt like, the sensation of his hands on her skin…it was all pulled from reality, snippets of real contact and smiles.
Ayase squeezed shut her eyes. Dammit! she thought. Dammit dammit dammit!
She prayed, prayed, that Kiyoshi didn’t want her. Maybe it was just casual affection…and he was more forward, more raw, than Sachi ever was.
Ayase’s stomach twisted. Sachi.
Sachi, dammit. Sachi!
Ayase’s feelings for Sachi were more direct–she genuinely cared for him, even if she sometimes needed time apart. She could admit to herself how important he’d become to her. Kiyoshi wasn’t vital to her the way Sachi was.
And Sachi had reached her, deeply, pulling out feelings she’d never experienced. He asked for so little and deserved so much more. She wanted to give him more. She wanted him safe and in her life. While her insect had slept beside Kiyoshi, her human body had slept in the church…beside Sachi, curling up in his own futon.
Ayase gritted her teeth.
She hated this. Kiyoshi needed her now–he needed everyone to get through his detox. Sachi would understand that, right? Ayase could give Kiyoshi whatever support he needed, and once he was better, she’d pay more attention to Sachi. Well…not that she wanted to sacrifice her focus for that. She’d focus on whatever the team needed. Sometimes it would be Kiyoshi, sometimes it would be Sachi. Sometimes it would be Jo or Emi or–
Ayase shook her head to clear it. Focus! she ordered herself. She had to work out her issues with Kiyoshi. She was thinking in circles.
She swallowed. I’m attracted to him, she finally conceded. And I can work around that. Kiyoshi had his own life and his own wants, and her role in them was probably temporary. They weren’t alone in a Core compound anymore. He was back with his friends and his sister.
I need to be here as his friend, she reminded herself. They were part of a team, and they faced horrible odds. She couldn’t let hormones of all things compromise their safety.
Something slammed in the sick room.
Ayase blinked. She heard scraping sounds, movement. Slurred speech bled through the wooden walls.
Ayase slid back into her slippers and ran into the hallway. She nearly collided into Daniel, who rushed in the same direction.
“Ayase-kun!” he blurted. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
Ayase opened her mouth to retort, then noticed the clock on the wall. It was already two in the morning.
Daniel frowned. “Go to bed,” he ordered. “We need you to sleep while you can.”
A cracking, furious scream tore through the air.
The two of them froze. Daniel snapped to attention first, bursting through the sick room door. Ayase ignored his warnings and ran in after him.
Kiyoshi was out of bed, collapsed in the center of the room. Emi reeled back from him and gripped a torn sleeve. Jo struggled to his feet, his legs tangled in his toppled chair.
Kiyoshi gasped and pushed himself up. “Get away from me!” he cried, a snarl behind his voice. His arms shook beneath his weight. “I won’t…I…wh-where is she?!”
He sounded delirious. Daniel threw the door shut.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked quickly. “Did something change?”
Emi shook her head. “I thought he fell asleep!” she cried. “He was doing a little better…!”
Kiyoshi mumbled something, his voice cracking. He stumbled to his feet, then swayed so badly that he collapsed back to his knees. He raked his fingernails down his temple.
“Where is she?!” he cried. “What’d those bastards do to her?!”
Jo stumbled over, clearly shaking sleep. “She’s okay,” he mumbled. “Mai’s okay, Kiyoshi.”
The crush. Ayase’s blood ran cold.
In all her selfish deliberations about Kiyoshi’s feelings, Ayase had forgotten about the girl he was obsessed with. The girl he’d been willing to die for.
The girl Core had kidnapped to start this whole disaster.
“Did Core get to her again?!” Ayase blurted without thinking.
Kiyoshi whined and tried to push to his feet. Jo glared daggers at Ayase.
“No,” he snapped. “Nothing’s changed. She’s been fine for weeks and I’ve had Mitsuko keep an eye on her.” Jo leaned toward Kiyoshi. “Okay? We already told you that.”
Guilt dropped Ayase’s stomach like a rock. But Daniel, at least, seemed relieved by the news.
“Kiyoshi-kun,” he said gently as he walked over. “There’s nothing to–”
Daniel jumped. Kiyoshi struggled to his feet, his breathing hoarse.
“Let me see her!” he snarled. “I’ve gotta…see her!”
Kiyoshi’s dilated pupils flicked back and forth. He mumbled a few more words, but nothing that made sense.
Jo took a careful step back. “I caught him sleepwalking in the dorm once,” he called over to Emi. “Is he asleep?”
“Maybe. Or he could be hallucinating.” She clenched her jaw. “Kiyoshi, please–”
“LET ME SEE HER!” Kiyoshi roared.
Ayase’s hackles rose. The edges of her body burned, yearning to break apart.
The man was pushing through Kiyoshi again. The stranger, locked in the alien body Core had forced on him. Kiyoshi’s cloudy eyes were paranoid. Dangerous.
This wasn’t the harmless boy who’d held her in his arms.
Jo threw out his hands. “Mai’s somewhere safe,” he said evenly. “It’s too dangerous for you to see her. That’s why she’s not here.”
Kiyoshi clutched frantically at the mess of his hair. “I w-went back with Core and never saw her again!” he screamed. “Where’d they put her?!” He whipped his head around the room as he swayed on his feet. “Wh-where am I?!”
Emi released her torn sleeve. A few streaks of blood stained her skin.
“I don’t think we can reason with him. And I can’t sedate him.”
Daniel clenched his hands. “Then don’t provoke him,” he announced as he backed toward the door. “I’ll get Zayd.”
The moment Daniel’s hand fell on the doorknob, something snapped in Kiyoshi. He went rigid.
“Let me OUT!” he screamed as he ran for the door.
Daniel suddenly spread his feet, his arms locked defensively. Kiyoshi ran into him hard enough to slam the priest against the door.
A resounding CRUNCH split the air as a crack raced along the wood.
Ayase leapt at them. She grabbed one of Kiyoshi’s arms, but he shoved her like she weighed nothing, sending her spilling in another direction. Jo and Emi ran at him, pleading while he clapped his hands over his ears. He bellowed like an animal.
“MAI!” he cried, his voice cracking in despair. “WHERE ARE YOU?!”
Ayase’s chest burned. She crushed her instinct to become a swarm–it would terrify him. Her eyes fell on the water bucket by Emi’s chair.
Jo cried out behind her as she bolted for the bucket. By the time she grabbed it and turned, Jo and Daniel had been thrown in two directions. Kiyoshi grabbed Emi around the throat.
“KIYOSHI!” Ayase shouted.
Kiyoshi froze for a split second. Ayase ran at him and swung the basin, launching a glistening arc of water across the room.
Kiyoshi released Emi as he fell, the shock from the water knocking him to his knees. He spluttered and coughed as he shook like a wet cat.
Emi collapsed, her fingers inching up her reddening neck. Kiyoshi didn’t seem to notice her as he swung his head to Ayase.
Something cleared in his drugged gaze. He sobbed, once, and furrowed his eyebrows under his sopping bangs.
“Ayase,” he breathed. “But you were…”
Ayase’s heart turned to ice as tears rolled down his face. He stared at her, something loaded but hysterical behind his dark eyes.
What? she wanted to scream. But I was what?!
The door flew open, moaning loudly on its broken hinges. Zayd ran inside with a much bigger companion.
Adam. Kiyoshi recoiled at their entrance, struggling to his feet.
“No!” Kiyoshi shouted. “L-leave me alone!” His flailing arm knocked into a chair. He grabbed it and lifted it over his head, the veins throbbing like snakes along his muscled arms.
Adam coolly pushed back Zayd. “Okay,” he said in English.
Kiyoshi threw the chair. Adam deflected it with a forearm as he flew across the room; he rammed his shoulder into Kiyoshi to send the boy rocking on his feet. Adam locked Kiyoshi’s arm, then his head, and shoved his face into the hospital bed in three sudden movements. Kiyoshi cried out into the mattress as Adam forced him to his knees.
“D-don’t hurt him!” Emi cried.
“Stay back,” Zayd ordered as he ran to the bed. He said something to Adam–it sounded like English–and the larger man loosened his grip on Kiyoshi’s neck. Kiyoshi gasped and turned his head against the sheets.
“Mai!” he sobbed. “I’ll save you!”
Something broke inside Ayase, filling her chest with liquid pain. She blinked her burning eyes as Zayd pressed a hand against Kiyoshi’s temple.
“She is safe,” he said gently. “And you are safe. With friends.” He started whispering in a foreign language very different from English.
Something wafted through the room–something warm and calming. It felt strangely old, like a forgotten memory. Ayase felt the heaviness in her chest drain away as Kiyoshi’s struggling slowed. The muscles stopped straining against his skin. The creases in his face softened.
And reversed. The anger melted into depression as tears rolled down his face.
“Mom,” he blurted, his voice suddenly young again. He whined into the bed, his tears dripping into the sheets. “Mom…!”
Adam let out a breath, blinking his eyes as he released Kiyoshi.
Ayase swallowed a lump in her throat. A strange nostalgia for her Children’s Home rose up out of nowhere.
What the hell? she thought. She felt deflated, but not in a good way. She almost felt…younger. Afraid and defensive.
Zayd caught her gaze. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, both to her and the room. “I am not supposed to use sedation.” He turned to Daniel, still curled on the floor. “Are you all right?”
Emi hiccupped and wiped away tears as she scrambled over to Daniel. “Daniel-san?” she breathed. “Did you break anything?”
Daniel winced and reached for the small of his back. “Just…knocked the wind out of me,” he coughed. “It might be the Pitch, but he’s tremendously strong. And…Lord preserve me, Zayd.” He smiled weakly. “What did you do? And why do I suddenly miss Poland?”
Zayd frowned. “I thought of my youth,” he said quietly.
Kiyoshi whimpered and crawled back into the bed. He buried his face in a pillow.
Ayase rubbed a bruised elbow. She walked over to Jo, still on his knees on the floor. He didn’t look hurt, but his face was weirdly buried against his forearm.
“Jo?” she asked. “Are you okay?”
He turned away. He grunted some sort of affirmative as he brushed down his disheveled hair.
Ayase stopped. And sighed.
She pretended not to see the tears in his eyes.
Proceed to Chapter 1, page 2–>