Tokyo Demons Book 2: Chapter 5, Part 1
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #001 back issue.
Aisha was no stranger to tragedy. The congenital heart defect in her family was lethal; by the time she graduated high school, she’d buried her father and both sisters. Her mother died in a car accident, and her only brother was killed in a fight while studying abroad. By the time that final phone call came, telling her the last of her family was dead, Aisha couldn’t even cry. She just hung up the phone, washed herself, and performed her series of mourning prayers. Like she’d done so many times before.
Being born without the heart defect defined her life. She went into medicine so she could specialize in cardiology. Still early in her training, she specifically sought out the sickest patients when her colleagues burned out. She assisted in heart surgeries on children, held the hands of terminal patients who had no family.
The more tragedy she witnessed, the more numb she became to it. At first she thought it an asset, especially when her colleagues and patients commended her for being stable and supportive. But over time, she started to wonder why nothing upset her anymore. She sought down sicker patients, more hopeless cases. She knew, deep down, that the empty vacuum of her emotion drove her to more misery. She felt like she was prodding a scar, hoping it would open up and bleed again.
She prayed to God for guidance, since her early days of despair had been soothed by her faith. She didn’t know if her coldness in the face of suffering was an asset or a sin. She prayed for a sign.
Her faith, at least, still sparked something inside her. It always bubbled to the surface when she taught the Koran to children in her community. Whenever she stepped into that room, something welled up inside her. Sometimes she felt intimidation with all those young eyes on her, or even a dip, without warning, into a sadness she couldn’t define. But mostly she felt affection, and focus, and a bloom of relief in her heart. As time went on, that relief turned into passionate determination and hope for the future. The three hours a week she taught those children were the three hours she felt the most human.
One of her students, a wealthy boy named Zayd seven years her junior, had a particularly strong effect on her. She watched him turn from a quiet, unhappy child into a fervently faithful teenager. As the light in his eyes grew, Aisha felt precious emotion flare up inside her.
When Zayd turned fifteen, he’d grown too old to have a woman outside his family teach him. Aisha was surprised at how upset she was. Zayd came to her after his final class with his eyes turned downward.
“Doctor,” he murmured, as he always did. “May I speak with you in private?”
Aisha hesitated. “If you’re a man now,” she told him, “we can’t be alone together.”
He looked up, his green gaze serious. Aisha felt a strange desperation as she looked into those eyes.
“Please,” he begged. “I think Islam would permit me.”
The alien desperation in Aisha compelled her. She sighed and glanced at her final student leaving the room.
“All right.” She brushed out her abaya. “Is something wrong?”
Zayd took a long breath, clenched his fists, and told her about his power.
And she…she could feel his despair as he spoke about it. A deep, miserable despair that crushed down on her chest until she couldn’t breathe. She stared at him, shocked, as his power unrolled inside her.
“I-I have trouble controlling it,” he explained, his voice cracking on the words. “But I’ve learned how to amplify it a bit. If I need someone to agree with me, or if someone’s angry and I want them to stop…” He gripped the shirt over his chest. “God is testing me with a curse and I’ve used it on other people. I’ve used it on you.”
It took Aisha a moment to find her voice. “You were…born with this?” she whispered.
“Yes. I didn’t recognize it for years, but it grew stronger as I aged. And I…I was too scared to tell anyone.” Zayd clenched his teeth. “I know it’s hard to believe–”
“I believe you,” Aisha said automatically.
Aisha, as a doctor and a person of faith, believed in miracles. Even if she hadn’t, the waves of pain and humiliation that flooded her as he spoke proved his point, in an eerie way.
She nodded. “I believe you,” she repeated, firmer this time. “I do.”
Zayd stared at her for a long moment, his mouth slightly open. Then he closed his lips and turned his head.
“I always pray to God for forgiveness,” he murmured. “But I…I also want your forgiveness.” His eyes filled with tears. “Your teachings and guidance saved me in my darkest hours. I know I don’t deserve your mercy, but please–forgive me?”
Aisha clutched herself. Under the terror his power fed into her, she felt something new. A true, powerful hope deep in her heart.
Like propelling a drowned flame from the ocean depths, Zayd’s pain pushed that fiery hope to bob along the surface. That hope was truer, stronger, than the passing emotions she’d felt in her classes. The emotions that may not have been hers, even as she clung to them to prove that she still had a working heart.
But this hope was hers. And his invading feelings cradled it like a guiding hand.
Aisha’s vision blurred. Zayd straightened in shock.
“Doctor,” he pleaded. “I’m sorry! Please don’t cry!” He wailed and grabbed at his head. “You’ve done so much for me and this is how I repay you? I should have never let my curse touch you!”
Aisha prayed under her breath and shook her head. She thanked God for the sign she had desperately prayed for.
“I forgive you,” she breathed. “And it’s not a curse, Zayd.”
As Zayd broke down into sobs, his relief flooded her body. She felt his desperation, his love, rush through her from head to toe.
This boy needed her. She could help him. And in exchange, by God’s limitless mercy…
She’d been sent the one person who could make her feel again.
Jo rammed his gun into the temple of the final guard. The man cursed as Zayd quickly bound his hands.
“Do you have a death wish?” Jo snapped, his gun hand trembling. “You’re lucky I didn’t kill you!”
The man spat at him. “I bet that thing isn’t even loaded.”
Jo resisted the urge to pistol-whip the guy. But once Zayd was done, Jo kicked the man onto the floor. It didn’t make him feel better.
Jo tenderly touched the wound in his side. The guard’s knife hadn’t cut deep, but Jo was left with a slash as long as his hand. He hated that he’d hesitated long enough for the man to attack him.
“Are you all right?” Zayd asked, barely audible under the alarm. “Should I have Aisha come?”
“No–it can wait.” Jo wiped his bloody fingers on his pants. “Are we clear to move?!” he shouted at the hallway.
In response, someone cried out before the blam of a gunshot. Jo heard thudding bodies.
There was a brief stretch of silence under the screeching alarm. Then, Mitsuko whistled.
“We’re good!” she called.
Jo let out a breath. Kado rushed past him and disappeared into the hall.
Jo was about to follow when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He unflipped it; Shouri had sent everyone a text message.
“Five minutes?” he blurted. “We can’t clean this place out that fast!”
Wei glanced back from the front door. “Five minutes until what?”
“The cops! We thought we’d have at least ten before…” Jo trailed off as he waved Zayd into the hallway. “We need back-up. Call more guys to help in the lab!”
“You call ’em,” Wei growled. “I’m trying to cover your ass.”
The blaring alarm snapped off. Jo was grateful, but wished Mitsuko hadn’t spent her time on that. He typed frantically into his phone.
Need more hands–
The sound of screeching tires stopped him. Jo jerked his head up as Wei cursed.
“Around the corner,” Wei hissed, tilting back on his fake leg. “No sirens, so it’s not the cops. Bring the gun!”
Jo texted the word HELP and crammed his phone back into his pocket. He ran to join Wei.
BLAM BLAM BLAM
Jo ducked as bullets exploded plaster off the walls. He and Wei hid behind the doorframe as the car swooped past the clinic, blasting a few more rounds into the building. The car screeched and turned at the end of the street.
“Fuck,” Jo breathed. “Are they trying to snipe us?”
“They’ll eat up our time,” Wei muttered. “So much for back-up.”
As the car raced back for the clinic, Jo crouched into as tiny a target as possible. A chorus of blasts sent bullets whizzing past him–through the crushed doorway, bursting plaster and stone, lodging in the front desk. He heard the squeal of tires as the car turned around again.
The dull burning by Jo’s ribs grew too strong to ignore. He gripped his side and felt his fingers slip in blood; he hissed and adjusted his crouch so his body wasn’t pulling at the knife wound.
Jo’s ears pricked. He heard a low, creaking rumble below the growling car engine. He peeked around the doorframe; a giant square shadow moved in the alley where the away team was supposed to be.
“What the fuck are they doing?” Wei murmured.
The car zoomed down the street. When it was seconds from the clinic, a full plastic dumpster on wheels burst from the alley and barreled into the road.
The Core car hit it at full force, crunching into the dumpster in a screech of breaks and cracking plastic. The car swerved to a stop, knocking the toppled dumpster to spill mounds of garbage into the street.
Somebody whooped from the alley. Half a dozen Core ops spilled out of the car, pointing to the alley and shouting at each other.
Somebody from the car cried out and dropped to one knee. Another man fired his gun at the alley; Jo heard the crack and rumble of a bullet smashing stone.
The man with the gun screamed and dropped his weapon, an arrow buried clean through his arm. The light of the moon caught on the bright yellow tail feathers.
An empty bottle sailed through the air and smashed against the car. Within seconds a wave of projectiles assaulted the Core ops, forcing them to duck behind their vehicle. They returned fire, badly, through the wave of flying garbage.
One of the armed Core men broke off and ran toward the clinic. He dove behind a line of parked cars to avoid a zipping arrow. He scrambled to his feet and ran, hunched over, down the sidewalk and toward Jo.
“Shit,” Jo hissed as he scrambled to a better squat position.
“Oda!” Wei gestured violently at the man. “Shoot him!”
Jo raised his gun. The Core operative jerked up his own weapon.
Jo dove back into the room, away from the door. The man’s bullet lodged itself in the doorframe.
The angle was bad, especially in the dark. Jo’s side screamed in pain as he frantically ran behind the front desk, hoping for cover once the man reached the door. Wei pulled back from the doorway but stayed on his side of the room, scrambling on hands and knees against the wall.
“Get back here with me!” Jo called.
Wei scraped his artificial leg against the floor. “I’ll never make it,” he snapped.
The Core op from outside twisted around the broken doorway. Jo duck as a bullet whizzed past his head and buried in the wall.
His heart thundering in his ears, Jo gripped his weapon and peeked over the desk. The Core op had noticed Wei, defenseless in the corner.
“SHOOT HIM!” Wei roared.
Jo squeezed the trigger.
The hammer exploded in a burst of gunpowder. The sharp smell filled Jo’s nostrils as the recoil of the hot gun snapped his wrist.
The bullet lodged itself in the wall at least a meter from the Core operative. The man flinched, then aimed for Jo.
Jo ducked again, but the next bullet never came. Jo blinked sweat from his eyes and peered over the desk.
The Core operative was on the floor near the door, grappling with someone in a black hoodie. Jo thought it was Wei before noticing Wei had crawled behind a chair. Wei flipped Jo the angriest middle finger in creation.
The new figure in black, who dressed like Byakko, slammed the Core op’s head against the floor. The man went still. Then the Byakko guy tugged his sleeve down, gripped the Core gun with the fabric, and slid it over to Wei.
Jo swallowed. “Thanks,” he called.
The guy flashed a “V” with his fingers, revealing a white tie on his left wrist. Then he ran off.
Wei finally pushed to his feet, cursing fluidly. He limped over to Jo behind the desk.
“You almost got me killed!” he hissed. “And were your fucking eyes closed when you aimed that?!” He grabbed the goth gun from Jo, giving himself one pistol per hand. “You’re off gun duty, dipshit.”
Jo felt a sudden rush of powerful, unexpected relief flood through him. He nodded as his knees shook.
“And was that one of yours? We said we weren’t wearing the Byakko ties on this mission.”
Jo gripped the wound beside his ribs. Now he could feel his heartbeat in the throbbing, burning cut, and blood dripped down to dampen the waistband of his pants.
“Th-that guy who tackled the Core thug?” he gasped as he gently dabbed at the wound with his shirt. “I didn’t recognize him.”
“Neither did I.” Wei checked the new Core pistol. “If he’s Byakko, he didn’t come with us.”
“Wait, so someone just showed up?”
More gunshots outside broke Jo’s train of thought. Wei gestured to the lab.
“I can cover us here. Go help in the back!”
The Core men outside seemed busy enough with the away team. Jo snuck across the room, pressing his shirt firmly against his cut, before bolting down the hallway.
Kado, Zayd, and the one Byakko tough they’d brought were packing up anything they could get their hands on. Mitsuko was picking one of the locked filing cabinets; she looked up when Jo ran in.
“Is everything okay out there?” she asked.
“For now, but the cops are coming.” He ran over to her. “I can help you with the locks.”
“We found a narcotics safe. Are you any good with safes?”
Jo grimaced. “No. Can we smash it open?”
Mitsuko abandoned the filing cabinet to bring Jo to the safe. It was low and squat, half-hidden under a lab bench. Jo saw a combination lock, but it didn’t have one big wheel–it had horizontal numbers on individual wheels. Like the lock on a bike or a briefcase.
“Dammit.” Jo winced as he squatted, his wound throbbing in protest. He ran his fingers over the safe door. “This thing looks thick.”
“I’m bad with combo locks,” Mitsuko admitted. “And this one’s got six numbers.”
Jo’s mind raced. He’d only picked one combination lock in his life, and he’d gone through the master keyhole in the bottom. As he stared at the safe, wondering if they could tear it from the wall and carry it home, he suddenly noticed something. Of those six numbers in the lock, only one was off-center. The numbers lined up neatly until the final number, which was stuck halfway between 4 and 5.
“Hang on,” Jo murmured as he rolled the number to 4. The handle to the safe wouldn’t open; he tried again on 5. When that didn’t work, he quickly tried 6, 7, 8…
Mitsuko brightened. “If the techs are lazy,” she offered aloud, “they might only change the last number when they close it?”
Jo finally got to 1. The door swung open.
Mitsuko laughed. “Guess so,” she cooed as she opened her bag. She scraped her forearm across the inside of the safe, spilling the tiny bottles into the leather.
Jo dug his lockpicks out of his pocket and got to work on a nearby locked drawer. Zayd called over about another lock and Mitsuko ran to help him.
It was a minute–maybe less–before the faint wail of sirens bled in from outside. Jo cursed and jerked his tension wrench, sticky with his own blood. The drawer’s lock popped open. He grabbed the paperwork and empty pill bottles from inside.
“We must leave,” Zayd called from the other side of the lab. “The police will arrest us if they find us here.”
“I know!” Jo snapped back as he ran to Mitsuko. He dumped his things in her bag. “Are we clear up front?”
Zayd and the Byakko enforcer disappeared down the hallway. Jo saw Kado hunched over a lab bench, taking pictures of…a textbook?
“Honey,” Mitsuko called. “It’s time to go.”
Kado shook his head and flipped through the textbook. “Thirty seconds,” he begged. “Somebody bookmarked some chapters.”
The sirens grew louder outside. Jo started to panic.
“It’s a textbook!” he shouted. “Who cares?!”
“I-it’s stuff on hormones. And brain chemistry. I don’t understand it, but it could be important.”
Jo growled. He ran over and grabbed at Kado’s arm; Kado recoiled automatically, snatching his limb away from Jo.
“We’ll lose everything if the cops catch us! Move your ass!”
Kado finally nodded. He dropped the camera in his bag.
Jo angrily took the bag from Kado and slung the strap over his shoulder. When he whipped around, the heavy bag swung with him and scraped hard against his side.
White pain screamed through Jo’s body. He choked and fell to his knees, the blazing pain beside his ribs shooting fire to his brain.
“Jo?!” Mitsuko dropped to a squat beside him. “What’s wrong?!”
Jo gasped and dumped the bag off his shoulder. His shaking hand reached for his wound.
Mitsuko got to it first. She gently peeled the fabric back from his burning skin.
She sucked at her teeth. “Somebody cut you?” she breathed. “This is soaking.”
“From the…hold-up,” Jo croaked. “It wasn’t bad.”
“Then you made it bad. You’re tearing yourself open.”
Kado rummaged through the bag and pulled out a med kit. He ripped open a sticky medical pad.
Jo gritted his teeth and pushed to his feet. “Later, Kado!”
Kado hesitated, so Mitsuko snatched the pad from him. She lifted Jo’s shirt and slapped it against the injury.
“Fuck!” Jo hissed as he recoiled in pain. Mitsuko gestured to Kado, who handed her another pad. She pressed it more gently against the rest of Jo’s injury.
“FREEZE!” someone shouted from the front. “THIS IS THE POLICE!”
Jo went rigid. As he jerked his head up, Zayd ran back into the lab.
“It’s too late!” he cried. “We must hide!”
Jo didn’t believe, for one second, that they could hide from a police raid. As Mitsuko shoved him toward the back, Jo frantically looked for another exit. There was no door out, but…what about a window? He saw two high windows in the lab–they could reach those if they climbed.
Zayd helped Kado duck under a lab bench and gestured for Mitsuko to do the same. For a second, he caught eyes with Jo.
“I will use my power if I must,” he said quietly. “So do not be rash.”
Jo desperately needed details, but Mitsuko was already below a bench. She tugged violently at Jo until he ducked down with her.
Footsteps pounded from the hallway. Jo swallowed as he heard the scratchy buzz of a police radio.
“We know you’re in there,” a familiar voice snapped. “And we’re armed. Come out with your hands up.”
Jo’s eyes widened.
It was Nakajima.
Proceed to Chapter 5, page 2–>