Tokyo Demons Book 2: Chapter 7, Part 1
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #006 back issue.
Ochi stared out the window of the car, his temple and cheek resting against the dense fuzz of the passenger seat. The streetlights and faint glow of electric signs blurred into thick streaks against the predawn darkness. The car rolled to a stop at a corner, humming in place as opposing traffic made a faint rumble outside his steel-and-glass prison.
His eyes focused on the sidewalk in his vision. It was empty, of course–no pedestrians at 3 am.
But he still saw the ghosts of figures walk along the blocks of concrete. Pale outlines of men and women materialized in the darkness, growing more solid the longer he kept his eyes in one place. They began to crowd the thin space, walking or jogging at uneven paces and in opposing directions, growing so thick that they overlapped into bulky, smeared shapes. A small outline–a child, apparently–ran until she stumbled, her pale figure sprawling under the knees of the layers of pedestrians. She started to cry, and Ochi could hear the echoing, whispery wail through the glass.
He closed his eyes.
He didn’t want to be here. He wanted to be somewhere dark and alone. He wanted to be in his 10th story apartment, constructed so recently that no one but construction workers had ever set foot in his room. A quiet, private sanctuary free of images from the past.
The car rolled into movement again. He heard the click of a turn signal before the car shifted left.
“Ochi,” Nakajima said from his side. “We’re almost there.”
Ochi didn’t answer.
“Don’t fall asleep.”
He let out a breath. “I’m tired,” he murmured, hating the effort of pushing sound up his throat.
“I watched you drink that coffee.” Her voice was even, but he heard a lick of frustration behind it. She was usually so good at hiding that. “This may be our only opportunity to go undercover. I need you for every site of Core’s attacks.” She paused. “And I…need you alert, in case someone recognizes us.”
He didn’t bother responding. What was the worst that could happen? If they bumped into some Core operative, would he shoot them on sight?
Ochi couldn’t muster up the strength to care if he died. Unless it meant he had to get up and do something, he didn’t care. He just wanted to be left alone. She’d leave him alone if he were dead.
The car finally turned into a parking lot. Nakajima rolled into a space, turned the car off, and stepped outside. She walked around the vehicle and opened his door. A slight chill from the early morning rushed in; he shivered against the cold.
“We’re here.” She held out her hand. “Come on.”
He stared up at her for a moment. The longer he focused on her, the less he saw the ghosts of others in the corners of his eyes. The shapes blurred into a thin, gray haze, like a mist behind her. She stood in sharp relief–an anchor to the present.
He looked into her gaze, half-hidden behind horn-rimmed glasses and the bangs of a tea-colored wig. That was a young person’s disguise. She looked like an old woman trying to cling to her youth.
He felt the edges of his lips curl upward.
She sighed in irritation and grabbed the rimmed cap from his lap. She slung it over his head, tugging his chin toward his chest.
He felt a little better. He let her pull him to his feet, close the door behind him. She gripped his arm like a lover and marched him through the parking lot.
A multi-story restaurant loomed ahead. The structure seemed new, with all the hard lines and sharp corners of modern architecture, but adorned with classical wood paneling and fabric flaps along the overhangs. They stepped through the garden that led to the front door and its massive painting of a rainbow-colored fish; Ochi heard the telltale thunk of bamboo from a souzu fountain.
The restaurant was still open. The hostess seemed tired, although her smile was bright. Ochi heard the laughter of drunk men from behind her.
“Honored guests,” she greeted. “Two? Right this way.”
They followed the hostess through the dim lighting and sparsely populated tables. When Nakajima threw him a look, Ochi sighed and pulled his arm from her grip.
“Where’s your bathroom?” he asked tiredly.
The woman gestured with a long-nailed hand.
Ochi murmured his thanks and followed her direction. He picked past the empty tables and private rooms shut off with paper doors. He found a hallway with a stairwell going up, a stairwell going down, an entrance to the kitchen…and what looked like a branch-off to an exit in the back. A nexus for the massive building.
He stopped. He took a long breath and unfocused his eyes on the empty hallway.
The spirits from his periphery began to materialize in his stable vision. He refocused his eyes, abruptly narrowing his gaze through time.
The past clarified before him–a dazzling, dizzying overlay of people and objects that had passed through this place. His eyes tunneled through the layered relief and traveled backward from the present. Layers of life zoomed past his vision: the kitchen staff at roll call before opening that day, customers arguing the day before, workmen carrying a new stove the day before that. The images clarified from the layers before rushing past his vision and revealing the layer underneath. He traveled through a sliced continuum of time, the isolated quantum moments rushing by like the blur of streetlights outside his car window.
But before he reached the night of the Motoi attack, something caught his attention. He pulled back abruptly, suspending his vision on the replay of a more recent night.
Touya Kamishita walked up the hallway, tugging fastidiously on a sleeve. Waitstaff rushed by him; someone bumped into the leather bookbag he held in one gloved hand, jostling his arm. The man apologized, and Touya’s brush-off echoed in Ochi’s head.
“Sorry to be in your way,” Touya said smoothly. “I’m just looking for someone.”
Touya swept past Ochi, and Ochi had to lock down his vision as he twisted his body to follow. The past trembled like a flickering flame.
Touya stopped by a table and turned to face the rest of the restaurant. He delicately placed two fingers of his right hand–his index and middle fingers–on the fabric of the tablecloth. Then he slowly dragged them in a line while he stared into nothingness.
Ochi watched, confused, as Touya gazed at a fixed point past the people bustling around him. Like Ochi stared now, at a fixed point empty in the present.
Touya’s eyes slowly rolled to Ochi.
People of the past rushed by Touya, but the teenager ignored them. He stared into Ochi’s eyes, cutting through space and time.
Ayase stopped in front of the vending machine, her finger dangling in space over a button. She closed her eyes.
Had she heard that right? There was soft yelling somewhere…she strained her antennae back in the church, but she couldn’t be sure. She covered her human ears to block out ambient noise in the hospital.
Someone was yelling. She heard thudding bodies. Alarmed, she zipped her insect through the room.
She nearly flew into Emi, who suddenly filled the doorway. Emi frantically shook her head.
“Stay with Kadoyuki-kun,” she whispered. “Detective Nakajima’s just…angry, or something. We can handle this!”
She slammed the door in Ayase’s face.
Ayase buzzed back, then immediately dropped to the floor. She was about to squeeze her insect under the doorway when she stopped.
She bit the inside of her human cheek. Her senses screamed with the need to find out what was going on, but she had a duty here. She couldn’t ignore it.
She couldn’t be everywhere at once. And if this was just an issue of politics…
She pulled her bug back into the room and settled it on a chair. Then she opened her human eyes and angrily punched the VEND button.
A bottle of tea clunked and rolled inside the machine. She knelt to retrieve it, cursing her own impatience.
Stop itching for a fight, she warned herself. It’s not like you.
If they didn’t need her, they didn’t need her. It wasn’t like she was strong enough to just…
Her mind kept going back to that love hotel. Watching Touya crush Kadoyuki’s leg. The lingering frustration laced through her hands, and she squeezed the bottle in her grip.
She’d been right to keep back in the hotel. Touya was dangerously close to figuring out her bugs. The connection between the insects and her was still a massive one, granted…but he knew something was off, as did the Core men who’d complained to him. Her harmless little insect spies wouldn’t slip under their collective radar anymore.
She couldn’t have saved Kadoyuki without giving herself away.
She angrily took off down the hallway. Kadoyuki had said, before the hospital, that he hadn’t read much from Touya’s mind–just that the guy was mad and wanted to scare them. So their trump card of getting into Touya’s head hadn’t even helped.
She hated staying here, wasting away in paranoia, while the evidence of her failure lay in a hospital bed. By the time Ayase returned to Kadoyuki’s private room, she was so frustrated that she wanted to punch her fist through a wall. She grabbed the doorknob and glanced around, to see if they were being watched.
“…I swear, okay? I swear! Just…please don’t hurt her!”
Ayase stopped. Kadoyuki’s panicked voice bled through the closed door.
“I can still do this. It’s not too late! Please…please don’t send them the pictures!”
The hairs rose on the back of Ayase’s neck. Was he on his phone? What was he talking about?
Kadoyuki broke into a half-sob. “The withdrawal didn’t kill her. She’s alive!”
Ayase’s eyes widened.
Her questions halted before she could even think to ask them. One connection, one simple connection, raced along the edge of Occam’s razor.
The withdrawal didn’t kill Shouri.
She heard the abrupt clack of a phone. “W-Watanabe-san?” Kadoyuki called.
Ayase jumped back from the doorknob as if burned. He’d heard her thoughts through the door.
“Watanabe-san?” he tried again.
For a long second, Ayase didn’t know what to do. She just stared, horrified, at the closed door. The wood that had failed to block his private conversation with…
With his mother?
What the hell was he telling his mother?!
Her stomach tightened as she threw open the door. She slammed it shut behind her as Kadoyuki recoiled in his bed.
“What’s going on?” she demanded.
Kadoyuki threw up his empty hands. “I wasn’t talking about Shouri-san,” he spluttered.
“But…” She ran over to him, and he flinched. She sighed angrily and stopped a half-meter from his bedside.
“I’m not gonna touch you! Look, just…” She took a long breath and tried to calm her burning nerves. He looked ready to jump out of his skin; guilt pulled at her heart.
Calm down, she ordered herself. He just said–
“I wasn’t,” he repeated, finishing the thought. “I wasn’t talking about her.” His eyes dropped to the phone in his lap. “Did you…answer my phone while I was asleep?”
A new wave of guilt rippled through her. “Your mom kept texting you,” she mumbled. “I was trying to help.”
He ran a panicked hand up his bangs. “Please don’t do that. Ever.”
“Were you just talking to her?”
“Please don’t answer my phone. I can’t protect you if…”
Ayase blinked. “Protect me? From what?”
He hiccupped. “Please let me handle this! I just need to talk to Zayd-san!”
Ayase’s frustration twisted dangerously close to anger. She clenched her hand around the bottle of tea.
“Kadoyuki,” she said evenly. “You can’t keep dodging my questions.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but…I need Zayd-san. He’s the only one who can help me now.” He rooted around the bedside table for his church mobile. “Is he at the church?”
In a fit of desperation, Ayase dropped the tea on the floor and grabbed the phone before he could reach it. He cried out as the bottle rolled against her foot.
“Stop it, Kadoyuki,” she snapped. “I mean it.”
Kadoyuki, perhaps in fear, buried his personal mobile under the sheets.
He looked so pathetic there. Clutching his phone, trapped with his broken leg still elevated in a sling… The anger melted off her. She sighed and tried to remind herself why he’d gotten hurt.
“Kadoyuki,” she said quietly, trying to keep her voice calm. “You’re hurt, and you’re my friend. I want to help you.”
He swallowed hard. “You can’t,” he said weakly.
“Is it your mother? Is this a family thing?”
He clenched his jaw. “Please,” he begged. “Let me call Zayd-san.”
“You have to tell me something,” she insisted. “Please. This is really…” The last word died in her throat.
He squeezed his eyes shut and whispered something she couldn’t hear. Then he took a long breath.
“Fine,” he murmured at last. “There’s something I can tell you.”
To her surprise, he tentatively reached out for her free hand. She placed her fingers in his palm.
He looked up into her eyes.
Proceed to Chapter 7, page 2–>