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Tokyo Demons Book 3: Chapter 1

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #015 back issue.

What Goes Around

Ayase didn’t want to sleep, but they forced her. Her body forced her. She blearily grappled with Daniel back at the karaoke club, but her arms were shaking and her knees buckled. Exhaustion sucked at every muscle in her body.

“F-find them,” she blurted, the words spilling from her numb lips. “We have to…!”

Daniel said something, but she didn’t hear it over the throbbing baselines of the other private rooms. When she collapsed on one of the leather couches, he practically pinned her down with a blanket. She arched in pain, pulling her throbbing, mangled back from contact with the couch.

Tears welled in her eyes as she twisted onto her side. Gentle hands turned her onto her stomach and tucked the blanket around her shoulders.

“You have to sleep,” he insisted through the fog. “You were the swarm.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but the foul-smelling leather was crushed against her cheek. She shuddered as it brushed her fumbling lips.

She scrambled through blackness, Daniel’s words dragging on her like an anchor. The muffled baseline and off-key wails bled through the walls and into that couch. She felt the edges of herself pulse to the music.

“You were the swarm.”

Her limbs kept shifting somewhere, sending new waves of fiery pain through her consciousness. She gasped and sobbed through the sticky leather in her mouth. Her body was the anchor now. Heavy and unforgiving, weak and sore. She saw a fragmented view of Touya in the dark, split through millions of lenses, ordering her back into the prison of her skin with a twisted smile on his lips.

Her edges pulsed to the music. Her borders thinned out.

She gasped and twisted, her body suddenly lighter, the pain from her back fragmenting away. She pulsed and pulsed, her pain reforming in small bursts like fire licking across her skin. The burn twined around her legs and arms and stomach and chest. She pushed out against her clothes, suddenly stifled and trapped by the fabric against her wings.

She arched away from the world, suddenly weightless…

And slammed face-first into the floor.

Ayase woke with a jolt, the breath ripped from her lungs. She clawed against the dirty floor with her human fingers.

…?

Someone sang a piercing note in a nearby room, cutting through the fog in Ayase’s mind. To the sound of muffled laughter, Ayase blearily pushed herself from the floor and touched her aching cheekbone.

It took her a second to remember where she was. A television screen glowed from the corner of the empty karaoke room, locked on a blue background with the animated kanji room closed drifting across it. The shifting blue light bounced from the mirrored walls, sending a faintly blue sheen across the leather couches.

She sucked in deep breaths as she sat up on the floor. I fell off the couch, she thought, frustration pushing through the haze of her exhaustion. I can’t sleep on my stomach. She closed her heavy eyelids and rested her back against the couch, wincing at the little points of pain and shifting as the small burns along her legs and arms brushed against her sweater.

Her eyes snapped open.

She grabbed one of the pain sites on her arm, then hissed and loosened her grip. She carefully rolled up the sleeves; sure enough, she had new patches of thin skin along her arm, throbbing slightly as they healed. She found patches on her other arm, on her stomach, her legs. She held her breath and pressed her back against the couch’s edge again.

It didn’t…hurt as badly. She still felt pain, but it was scattered across pockets on her back and had dulled to a faint ache. That dull ache cradled her entire body, as if something had smothered the pain while spreading it like a rash across her skin.

She stumbled to her feet. The door was closed, but she drew the locking bolt across it for good measure. With trembling fingers, she pulled her sweater over her head.

She’d lost her bra in the fight, so her bare skin glowed in the faint blue light from the TV screen. The pink patches were spread across her torso and arms in uneven strokes. She looked over her shoulder, into the mirrored wall, and saw the same pattern of healed-pink-healed across her previously ravaged back.

The wound had…shifted. Over its new, broader surface area, the patches were less severe; their ache bled into her muscles, but it was nothing like the open sores of her original back injury.

She stared at her hands.

How did this happen? she wondered dumbly. She thought back to her fitful sleep on the couch and remembered the sensation of…pulsing.

I did this. She turned to the mirrored wall to look at her full torso; the sight of her bare breasts made her automatically drop her eyes. She swallowed hard.

Slowly, she dissolved her left arm into insects, the pain peeling away as her skin scattered in the air. She reformed her arm as she always did, starting from her shoulder, and watched the insects melt into healthy flesh…until she reformed her hand.

The pink flesh stretched painfully thin across her fingers, like she’d thrust her hand into a bonfire.

She winced and dissolved the arm again, relieving herself of the new ache. Taking a long breath, she closed her eyes.

She tried to visualize her left arm as flesh, the pain smearing across its surface like she felt around the rest of her body. She resisted the urge to open her eyes as she pulled back her insects.

The pieces of her melted back together, pulsing and shifting as she focused on that spread pain. She stopped focusing on building the arm from the shoulder–she forged the arm as a unit, building muscle atop bone and skin atop muscle. She streeeeeeetched that skin, finally twisting and tightening it like a glove around her arm.

She flexed her new fingers and opened her eyes.

The new patches throbbed lightly on her flesh, spread evenly across the surface.

I can move my wounds, she thought, before shuddering involuntarily.

Daniel’s ranting theories echoed in her head, overlapping from various conversations. He thought her bugs represented cells in her body. That when she lost them, her body coped, pushing the missing pieces to her skin and protecting the contents inside her.

“Your physical brain turns into bugs,” he’d pointed out. “But if any of those die, you lose skin cells instead. Like any one of your bugs can be any one of your cells. Ayase…I can’t be certain of this, but do you realize what that means?”

Ayase stared at her arm. At the new pattern of wounds she’d formed across her skin.

My insects are sentient stem cells.

She slowly lowered her arm. In the dim and empty room, cradled by muffled sound, her exhaustion stretched out her thoughts and draped them around her mind. She felt strangely calm. The new control, the new possibilities, tingled through the depressed sludge that had filled her since the hospital.

She hadn’t lost everything. Sachi and Kadoyuki were gone, and her chest still ached at the memory of them huddled in the back of that police car, but…focusing on their loss had warped her perception of reality. Dozens of people had died in this gang war, including Detective Ochi. Before it ended, dozens more would probably join them.

But Sachi and Kadoyuki were alive. She was alive.

And she was her own best chance at getting them back.

She was starting to doubt that she’d ever really known her own body. She’d embraced some aspects and fought others, not realizing the constant tug-of-war inside her own heart. It was more than just the insects. More than just her flesh.

“It’s your body.”

Ayase wished she’d listened to Emi, the only other woman in her life who had tried to explain it. As muffled music shook the room, as Ayase tried to blast the anxiety out of her head, she shrugged the last of her clothes to the floor.

She turned to the mirrored wall.

Her skin was pale in the blue light, the injured patches scarring her like scattered storm clouds. She wanted to look away from her naked body, but she forced herself to take it in. To see it. She walked to the opposite couch and stepped on top of the leather, her knees wobbling in the fear that she pointedly ignored.

The mirror reflected her whole body back, from her toes to the top of her head. There was no hiding the details that close–she saw the puckered flesh on her areolas and the scattered stubble on her legs. She saw her stomach and abdomen disappear into a curly mass of pubic hair.

And she saw a faint, fading mark at the base of her throat, nearly covered by a new wound. She gently traced the mark and remembered Sachi there, his wet mouth moving on her as he moaned in a dark hospital room.

Her stomach clenched, but she didn’t try to loosen it. She recalled the sensations of Sachi kissing her and Kadoyuki clinging to her hand and threw them into the giant stew of emotions churning at the sight of her naked body.

This was her. All of it was her. She was always naked in front of other people, so why couldn’t she get naked in front of herself? How could she grind up under Sachi but freak out at the thought of touching herself in the shower? She’d grown up seeing her body as something powerful and alien that would destroy what she thought of as “her,” whether it was through bursting into a million pieces or reacting to desire. But she’d found a way to accept the insects…so why did she need a separate fight against her insecurities about being touched? It was all the same battle–all a part of the same body.

She wanted to merge all the pieces together. She was human, and she wasn’t; the people in her life were part of her, but she was separate. Sex was in the equation, but it was just a variable–not the answer.

I didn’t lose everything, she repeated silently, regretting that she’d ever thought such a thing. She reached out and touched her reflection in the mirror.

Tokyo Demons Book 3: Chapter 1

She still had herself.

And she had no better ally in her quest to end this war.

Proceed to Chapter 1, page 2–>