Tokyo Demons Book 2: Chapter 8, Part 2
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #010 back issue.
“Are you okay?”
Ayase was back at Fukuhashi, slumped at her desk. In a chaotic classroom of society’s rejects, her nerves ate at her body–a perpetual, sickening paranoia that eroded her flesh. She couldn’t enjoy her life. What was there to enjoy? Her energy was sucked away by the anxiety, leaving her an edgy, exhausted impersonation of a human girl. She felt the patchwork shell of her skin wasting away.
She looked up. A tall classmate stood there–his book bag slung over his shoulder, thick spikes of hair pushed back from his forehead. He smiled at her, his eyes bright behind his contacts.
He leaned over the desk and kissed her.
Blood surged from her core, racing along the pathways that split and branched through her system. Frantic, alien desire pulled the pieces of her body together. She kissed him back hungrily, felt him gasp a laugh against her lips as her fingers tangled in his necktie.
“Can you hear me?”
Kadoyuki was curled in a ball, his back against the wall of the church, his hands clapped over his ears. He nodded, tears running down his face. His robe had slipped from his emaciated shoulders.
Another wave of powerful, unfamiliar sentiment rushed through her veins. She felt the cells of her hands sharpen into feminine fingers, long and warm and solid. She bunched up a woolen blanket, the fabric scratchy against her delicate nerve endings; she draped the blanket around Kadoyuki like a shield. He whimpered and looked up, a million emotions dancing in his dark eyes.
He gripped her hand. He squeezed a pulse of heat under her skin to race through her, a binding that leaked into her cracks like hot glue.
Her human body wasn’t a cage. It was a home. It wrapped around her like Sachi’s arms, suddenly warm and welcoming. She heard Sachi laugh in her ear, and the sound melted her last, fragmented pieces into blood and flesh and love.
“Miss, do you want to be here?”
Yes. Yes. She gasped breath into her lungs, felt the heat of the sun on her skin. She tasted Sachi’s sweet tongue against hers, heard Kadoyuki’s whispers in her ear. Her body swelled with things she’d forgotten and things she’d never known.
This was her. This could be her.
Fire burst up Ayase’s back. She jolted awake, her body rigid, her hands clawing around her. Her fragmented consciousness was suddenly singular–encased in the human brain she’d always known. Her default state. The real her.
She was terrified that she’d forgotten.
She blinked the red film from her eyes.
She was in a car. The fistful of hair she’d gripped was Jo’s; she’d dragged his head to slam into the door window. Her other hand was clenched violently around the front of Kiyoshi’s shirt, having hauled his face so close that she could feel his hot breath on her mouth. Kiyoshi swallowed, his eyes softening.
“Uh…” One of Kiyoshi’s hands closed over hers. “The…the driver won’t go unless you tell him to, Ayase.”
Ayase tore herself from Kiyoshi’s eyes to glance at the front seat. A wary-looking cab driver furrowed his eyebrows.
“Do you know these boys, miss?”
Jo cursed, his cheek still crammed up against the glass. Ayase abruptly released the boys, blood draining from her face.
“I…yes,” she croaked, her voice strangely hoarse. The inside of her throat burned. “They’re my…friends. What’s going on?”
“Your friends?” He jerked a thumb at Jo. “This one says he’s your brother.”
“Huh? Oh, right…sure. I mean…” She rubbed at her eyes. She couldn’t keep up with Jo’s cover stories on normal days. “What he said.”
The driver didn’t look convinced. “They want to take you to a karaoke parlor,” he muttered. “Are you sure you don’t need to go home? To your parents?” His voice darkened. “I wasn’t about to let teenage boys cart around an unconscious girl.”
Reality dawned on Ayase. She took a deep breath and tried to collect the thoughts pinging around her brain.
“I don’t…no, I’m okay.” She looked out the window at the still-gray sky. “What time is it?”
Then she hadn’t been out long. Maybe an hour since…
Misery seeped into her chest in a thick, hot sludge. She swallowed down bile and curled back into the seat.
Since I lost everything.
Her back touched the seat, and fire rushed up her flesh. She jerked up as nerve endings screamed along her skin.
The plane of insects she’d peeled off. She’d sent them after Touya…and all of them were dead.
She blinked back angry tears and slumped over her knees. “I-I’ll go wherever they’re going,” she grunted, her voice devolving into a rasp. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”
Kiyoshi’s brow creased. Jo rubbed at the bruise on his jaw and said nothing.
The driver finally sighed. He turned back to the road and shifted gears.
As their cab rolled into the street, Ayase clutched the sweater someone had dressed her in. She shifted her legs and felt no underwear to match her lack of a bra.
Jo settled back into his seat on Ayase’s left. He carefully dug into his back pocket while balancing something small and leather in his lap.
He motioned for her to stay quiet. He pulled a pair of crumpled latex gloves from his pocket.
“Don’t freak out on me,” he whispered as he snapped them on. “But I robbed Touya back there.”
Ayase stopped. She straightened.
“What do you mean?”
She suddenly realized the thing in his lap was a wallet–leather and long, like the ones she’d seen salarymen carry. Jo carefully unfolded it, his gloved fingers as delicate as a surgeon’s.
He grunted. “Touya’s the one who told us to build a case with the police,” he muttered. “If he’s got his fingerprints on this thing, we have to try and keep that for the cops. Who the fuck knows what we’ll find in here.”
Ayase’s heart picked up speed. That was Touya’s wallet? She saw his school photo wink out from behind the clear I.D. sheath, and her blood boiled at his shit-eating grin.
“How long have you had that?!” she hissed.
He angrily gestured for her to be quiet again, flicking his head at the driver. “Kiyoshi had to grab me gloves from the hospital,” he whispered. “I had my hands full with you.”
She saw bills in the money fold, credit cards in the sheaths. She grabbed at Jo’s arm; he tensed as she squeezed without mercy.
“He…he wouldn’t be going back to Core at this point, right?” she whispered in desperation. “He said he wanted to walk away. If we have his I.D. and money…!”
“I doubt something like that’s gonna stop him at this point. It might slow him down, though.” Jo carefully wedged open the sheaths and squinted at the cards. “Maybe we can find a clue about where he’s headed.” He prodded a slight bump behind a zippered change compartment.
“That doesn’t feel like coins.” He dragged the zipper open and tipped the contents into his gloved hands.
At least a dozen snippets of paper–each half the size of Ayase’s thumb–slid out of the compartment. From the stiffness and lines on the back, they looked like they’d been cut from index cards. Jo flipped them all over; Ayase saw neat, tiny handwriting on them in a variety of colors. Ink, pencil…one of them had its kanji swallowed in the thick strokes of a marker. One smeared note looked like it was in dried blood.
“What the hell is this?” Jo murmured as he lifted the bloody one. A few flakes of brownish-red fluttered to his lap.
May 2, clinic. Guards stop Church. Replace.
Kiyoshi leaned over Ayase, his eyes wide. “Wait…is that about the night we raided those Core clinics? Was that May fifth?”
“The guards didn’t stop us, though. So what does he mean by…” Jo trailed off, the last words dying on his lips.
He looked up at Ayase. Realization dawned in his face as she heard the echo of Kadoyuki in her ears.
“Touya’s cutting off his line. When he watches the future and decides when to cut in.”
“These…these aren’t notes about the past,” Ayase breathed. “They’re notes about the future.”
Jo shifted through the tiny cards. “This one’s about your kidnapping, Kiyoshi! ‘Prick takes Honda. Leave.’That actually happened… Wait, here’s another one. ‘Church takes jewelry store with Kado. Leave.’”
Kiyoshi grunted his frustration. “He keeps saying ‘leave.’What does that mean?” He pointed to another card and whispered, “That one says ‘replace.’ ‘Yakuza hit Motoi.’ Did that happen?”
“Not if this one’s anything to go by.” Jo carefully placed the bloody note separate from the others. “The guards didn’t stop us at the clinic, so ‘replace’ probably means he interfered to change the future. And ‘leave’means he let the future happen like it was going to.” He shifted through the cards. “Here–like this. ‘Marshall found over strip club. Replace.’”
“Holy crap.” Kiyoshi swallowed. “That dude was carrying alternate timelines in his pocket.”
Jo flipped another card over, then froze. Ayase saw the color drain from his face.
“April 19,” he read, his voice suddenly a choked whisper. “Motoi. Oda killed.”
A chill ran down Ayase’s spine. Her eyes fell to the tiny kanji written on the bottom of the card.
The car fell into silence. Kiyoshi looked away.
The driver honked at another car, making Jo jump in his seat. He dropped the card and ran his forearm across the sweat beading on his brow.
“Whatever,” he muttered. “So he really didn’t give a shit about me once I turned him down. Everything past that was just…”
He trailed off. Ayase wasn’t sure how to finish it, either.
“He…called Motoi to warn them right before the attack, right?” Kiyoshi offered. “He said it was to keep Core off his trail, especially since we won that one, anyway, but…maybe it wasn’t. Maybe he had a change of heart and wanted to save you.”
Hearing the words heart and save made new rage bubble up in Ayase’s stomach. Jo sucked his teeth, apparently sharing the sentiment.
“I don’t care what the fuck he was thinking.” Jo angrily tipped his hand and let the cards tumble back into the change pocket. “And I don’t get half of these. Who the hell is ‘Ito’? Any locations written on here we already know or are too vague to be helpful. Hotel. Thanks, that’s gonna get us real far.”
Panicked frustration clawed at Ayase’s heart. “There has to be a clue in there!” she demanded, her voice cracking out of its whisper. “He definitely planned today! Today’s date isn’t on any of those?!”
“No. And he probably didn’t read today’s future if…getting the briefcase yesterday set him off on his little spree.”
“What about a receipt or something?” Kiyoshi offered. “Maybe he booked a hotel last night and he’s going there now.”
“Look for a receipt, Jo!”
“Calm down,” Jo hissed. “I’m trying to not ruin evidence here!” He opened the long sheath and leafed through the bills. He tugged out the only hint of anything else: a thin stack of square papers on heavy, almost reflective paper stock. Ayase’s heart jumped to her throat as he turned them over…
Then dropped to her stomach as cold, nauseating dread welled up in her.
They were photos.
Jo murmured something, but Ayase couldn’t hear it. It sounded fuzzy, like he was behind a filter. The world blurred around her, dark and distant, as all her senses narrowed into the small, white-bordered photograph on the top of the stack between Jo’s fingers.
A photo of two pale arms, tied at the wrist, the fingers scraping at a wall.
Ayase grabbed Jo’s hand without thinking. He blurted his surprise and dropped the photos; they scattered along his lap and the floor of the cab. Hints of peach skin, dark hair, white sheets peeked out in the array of tiny nightmares.
She wanted to die.
“No!” Ayase begged, slapping her hands over Jo’s eyes. “Don’t look at them!”
The cabbie grunted something from the front seat. “What’s going on back there?”
Jo’s gloved fingers gripped her wrists. “Ayase!” he hissed. “Stop it!”
She heard Kiyoshi whisper something in disbelief by her side, the seats creaking under them as he leaned toward the floor.
The cab suddenly screeched in a turn, the car jostling Ayase and knocking her hands from Jo’s face. Jo shoved her back into Kiyoshi’s unprepared arms; his hands brushed her back and she arched in pain.
“Hold her,” Jo ordered.
The driver halted the car in a parking lot, his fury radiating off him in waves. “That’s it,” he snapped. “Get out.”
Jo swiftly collected the photos; Ayase’s heart pounded fire through her veins, but he flipped the pictures backwards. He crammed the blissfully indistinct white squares back into Touya’s wallet.
“Sir,” Jo offered. “We’re sorry, she–”
“No trouble in my cab. Get out of the car.” He looked at Ayase in the rearview mirror. “Miss, I’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
Ayase’s rushed, panicked breaths were making her lightheaded. She desperately tried to slow them down as she pushed her way out of Kiyoshi’s arms.
“I…I’m fine, please take us–”
“No. Either you stay with me, or you get out with them. I want no part of this.”
Jo sucked his teeth. He clapped the wallet shut.
Ayase swallowed acid and looked up at the driver.
“We’ll leave,” she murmured.
Proceed to Chapter 8, Part 2, page 2–>