Tokyo Demons Book 3: Chapter 2, Part 2
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #018 back issue.
Ayase woke up hot.
It was a strange sensation–and after drifting in and out of dreams for so long, she wasn’t convinced she was awake. Her heart thudded in her chest, sending warm flushes of blood to tingle across her skin. She panted, confused, and blinked her fogged eyes.
She stared at a dark, unfamiliar ceiling and felt…love and longing.
The guttural breath hadn’t erupted from her own throat. She blearily turned her head to the soft sounds nearby–to the rustling of fabric, the heavy breathing and shifting bodies. Her eyes struggled to make out the shapes in the corner of the room.
It was…Zayd and Aisha. They were sitting together on the floor, although Zayd had risen to his knees and barely kept his balance as he kissed her. One of Aisha’s arms had snaked around his shoulders, and Zayd’s hands trailed through her dark, uncovered hair as his mouth moved over hers.
Zayd half-moaned again, sending a new wave of heat through Ayase’s body. She suddenly realized what was happening.
She swallowed down the sensations and tried to sit up. To her relief, she didn’t have to call out to them; Aisha twitched and pulled away the second Ayase moved.
“Ayase.” The woman twisted on the floor, rubbing her mouth and turning her flushed face to Ayase. “You are awake?”
The heat immediately vanished in Ayase, overcome with a flood of icy embarrassment. Zayd didn’t even look at her as he shrank back.
The feeling faded quickly–like the foreign emotion was being actively drained from her veins. Aisha crawled over to Ayase’s futon, brushed down the mussed strands of her long hair, and pressed a hand to Ayase’s forehead.
“How are feeling?” she asked, releasing Ayase’s forehead to check the pulse on her wrist. “Pain?”
Ayase no longer felt the persistent ache of her wounds, but she rolled up her sleeve to double-check. Sure enough, the patches of pink were gone; her arm was unbroken peach.
She carefully pinched the collar of her shirt and looked down. Sachi’s hickey had also vanished, although she could barely make out a faint ring where it had been.
It was an injury to my human body, she thought vaguely. So maybe…it doesn’t heal as fast? It reforms in the same place after the swarm unless I force it to move?
Her brain was still trying to wake up, but her body was ahead of it. A wash of regret at that fading kiss mark twisted into a pang of determination. And that didn’t come from Zayd.
“How long was I asleep?” she asked quickly. “Did we find Touya?”
Zayd finally joined them to help Aisha through the Japanese. “A few days,” he murmured, his eyes still lowered in embarrassment. “And we do not know where Touya is. Shouri is searching, and Nakajima is making plans.”
Ayase’s chest tightened. She pushed the blanket off her legs.
“Tell me what I can do to help.”
“Shouri said she wants you to help with her computer work. Kiyoshi is also helping. And Nakajima said she will check in with me soon…”
Aisha reached over and clicked on a bedside lamp; the sudden flash of light made Ayase cover her eyes. As she blinked to adjust, she finally noticed where they were.
It looked like a simple, barely furnished room in an apartment. There were no windows on the walls, and a few stacked futons bulged from a small, open closet. Ayase saw what looked like a pile of her things in a corner.
“Where are we?” she asked. “Is this…that safe house you’ve been in?”
Zayd hesitated. “Yes,” he said. “My bodyguard is not here, but…we are protected if we stay in this apartment. He is guarding it.”
“I thought you had two bodyguards.”
Zayd stopped. Ayase felt a tendril of worry snake into her heart.
It took her a second to realize it was coming from Zayd.
He quickly shook his head, the feeling vanishing as he did so. “Yes,” he agreed. “Two bodyguards. I was not sure you knew that much.”
Was I not supposed to know that much?
Ayase furrowed her brow, but didn’t push it. If their safety was dependent on the weird bodyguard system Zayd was running, maybe it was better to not ask.
Zayd seemed a little more ragged than usual. As Aisha wrapped a blood pressure cuff around Ayase’s arm, Zayd got to his feet; as the woman quickly took Ayase’s vitals, Zayd paced. He ran his hands through his hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last from across the room. “For, eh…my actions. I should not have kissed her in front of you.”
Ayase shrugged vaguely. “You guys are married.”
“By contract, yes. But we have not had a wedding, so…” He squirmed. “It does not feel proper yet. And we should not do these things in front of others…”
Aisha seemed to recognize some of the Japanese, because she turned her head and responded in Arabic. Zayd clipped back with something, his face flushing slightly.
Ayase watched as they continued to…argue? She wasn’t sure what they were talking about in their native tongue, but some of the words sounded heated. More tellingly, she started to feel the slow, steady build of frustration and defensive anger inside her–and she knew it wasn’t hers.
“It’s okay,” she offered at last, cutting them off louder than she meant to as the seeping anger chased her words. “You thought I was asleep. I don’t care.”
A muffled voice blurted in surprise from behind the closed door.
“Is that Ayase?” she heard Kiyoshi call from the hallway. “Is she awake?!”
The sliding door flew open, but Zayd slammed it shut in Kiyoshi’s face. His face turned red as Aisha scrambled for something.
“One minute,” Zayd ordered through the door. “Yes, she is awake.”
Aisha finally untangled her discarded head covering and wrapped it around her long hair. Once she tucked the scarf neatly around her face, she nodded at Zayd.
Zayd closed his eyes and took a long breath. Ayase saw him murmur something, and the tension in the room slowly dissipated. He finally slid open the door.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Aisha was not dressed.”
Kiyoshi half-mumbled an apology as he brushed past him and into the room. To Ayase’s surprise, he dropped to his knees in front of her futon, his eyes bright.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. “I’m glad you’re up!”
The cheerfulness threw her a bit as she pushed aside the last of Zayd’s lingering emotions. “Fine,” she answered. “Just…I want to get to work.”
“Finding Sachi and Kado, right?” Kiyoshi jerked his thumb at the open door behind him. “Shouri-san has a bunch of laptops set up, and she keeps giving me all this stuff to go through. She said she wants you to join us.”
Something to do! The promise of productivity drove Ayase to her feet. But her legs were weaker than expected, and she stumbled.
Kiyoshi’s strong hand gripped her elbow. “Careful!” he warned her. “You haven’t, like, walked in days.”
She clutched at his arm as her legs shook beneath her. “Can you help me?” she asked through gritted teeth.
Kiyoshi slung her arm around his shoulder and wrapped his own arm around her waist. A distant pang of something struck her with the sensation of his broad body pressed up against hers, but she ignored it. She was over that about him. She was over it. And as he helped her limp through the hallway, she was grateful she could finally appreciate him without angst.
The apartment had a second bedroom, but Shouri’s work center was in the small living room. She was hunched over on the couch, leaning over two adjacent laptops on a low table covered in notebooks and empty snack packaging. She barely glanced up as she clicked her mouse and typed rapidly with one hand.
“Welcome back,” she called. “All better now?”
Ayase nodded as Kiyoshi slowly lowered her to the couch. Shouri scooted over to make room.
“My wounds are gone, at least,” Ayase conceded.
“Damn. I can’t believe you regenerate with a little binging and a three-day nap.” Shouri shook her head. “Rapid healing sounds like a Malum trait. Except you also get to be bees. That’s the beauty of uncategorized supernatural mutations for you.”
Ayase pointed to the nearest laptop. “Can I do something?”
“I already set a workstation up for you over there,” Shouri answered, gesturing to the kitchen. “But I’ll walk you through some stuff first. I should warn you–it’s pretty boring.”
“I don’t care,” Ayase said shortly.
Kiyoshi brushed aside some of the garbage on the table until he found a Styrofoam bowl of instant noodles under a notebook. “Can Ayase have this one?” he asked. “I’ll put the water on.”
Ayase’s stomach growled. She angrily slapped it.
“There are hard-boiled eggs in the fridge, Kiyoshi–heat up a few to throw in there.”
Ayase leaned over to read one of the Shouri’s laptop screens. There were a dizzying number of overlapping windows on the screen; Ayase saw websites, some running video footage, and a few black screens with lines of white English text in rigid rows. Shouri clicked between them and rapidly typed notes in an open text document.
“I have some stuff that needs a lot of eyes to parse through,” Shouri explained. “Long reels of security footage, a few names to investigate online… The U.S. has way more online databases than Japan, so there’s not as much I can break into here, but I’m trying.” Shouri clicked on another box. “Oh, and I need your voice on the phone.”
“So you can call customer service lines and say you forgot your password. Sometimes that’s the best way to break into email.” Click click click went her rapid fingers on the keyboard. “Kiyoshi’s been doing it, but I need a female voice to alternate with, and my Japanese doesn’t sound native enough.”
“Has this found you anything yet?” Ayase pressed. “Do you have a lead on where we can find Touya?”
Shouri sucked her teeth. “I thought our best bet was tracking down whatever car he switched to after ditching Ochi’s…but Nakajima can’t find the missing police car in the first place. For all we know, Touya dumped it into Sumida River or something.
“And as much as I’d like to try and find him digitally, that guy is super analogue–he was literally writing his visions in shorthand on index cards. We went through his wallet with Nakajima, and there were a few vague leads there, but nothing that’s produced anything yet. She’s going to lift fingerprints and DNA off the wallet to check against police databases, but Touya always wears gloves and seems like a neat freak–I doubt he’s ever left physical evidence of himself at a crime scene. And that still doesn’t help me find him now.”
Shouri shook her head. “No, most of the stuff I’m putting you on has to do with penetrating Core. Those guys are careful as hell, but they’re still a network–which means there has to be a weak link somewhere. And now that Touya left them, their chain of command is probably a mess, so this is the perfect time for us to strike–”
“Wait, wait.” Ayase’s stomach squeezed in frustration. “You can’t give up on finding Touya yet! I know we still have to fight Core, but–”
“I’m not giving up on finding Touya. I’m just putting you on something else.” Shouri dug a free hand into a nearby snack bag with a loud crinkling noise. “And I’m switching tactics with him. If I can’t physically find him…I wanna get into his head. I wanna try to guess where he might’ve planned to go.”
Ayase opened her mouth, then slowly closed it. Her stomach churned.
“The only one of us who really knows him,” she said quietly, “is Kadoyuki.”
Shouri brushed the comment off with a wave of her hand, which incited a pang of anger in Ayase.
“You’re not thinking far enough back. They met a few years ago, right? When Touya was already in Core?” She pushed a few chips into her mouth and crunched as she continued. “I can’t ask Nick because he’s in a coma, but–”
“Nick’s in a coma?!” Ayase interrupted.
“Oh sorry, yeah. They’re taking care of him in T. Hospital. Like I was saying–”
Ayase reared back on the couch, suddenly repulsed. “Stop talking so I can think!” she snapped.
Shouri stopped her breathless speech. She furrowed her brow, clearly annoyed.
“You just woke up,” she said defensively. “You don’t have to think yet. I’m explaining all the thinking I’ve done for you.”
Ayase wanted to retort, but didn’t know what to say. She just swallowed the acid in her throat and ran her hands through her hair as Shouri sat in sullen silence.
The teakettle whistled from the kitchen. Ayase heard the snap of the gas stove being turned off.
“Um… Touya shot Nick-san when he went to kill Wipe. But he already went through surgery, and the doctors say he’s getting better.” Kiyoshi caught Ayase’s eyes as he left the kitchen, the teakettle in one hand and a bowl of peeled eggs in the other. “Maybe we can visit Nick-san, if you want. You were always talking to him, so if you guys were close…”
Shouri sighed. “We don’t have time to visit the hospital, Kiyoshi.”
“Oh. Uh…” He poured hot water into Ayase’s bowl of uncooked noodles and replaced the paper lid. He carefully rested a pair of chopsticks on the bowl of eggs. “Here.”
Ayase stared at the steam that escaped from the lip of the Styrofoam. Kiyoshi stood by the couch for a long moment and awkwardly tugged at his sleeves.
Ayase’s stomach growled again. Her nerves were making her a little nauseous, but the urge to eat was stronger. She picked up an egg and felt the lingering, uneven heat of the microwave along the white flesh.
“Thank you, Kiyoshi.”
He smiled. He sat on the floor by the couch as she bit into the egg.
She turned back to Shouri as she chewed. “You can keep going,” she mumbled.
Shouri’s wandering eyes–flicking between Ayase and her computer screens–finally settled back on the computers in clear relief.
“Nick told us that Zero adopted Touya four or five years ago,” she continued, her fingers clacking on the keys again. “He found Touya on the streets–he was a middle school runaway. What I want to know,” she said, her lips curling in a dark smile, “is what Touya was running away from.”
Ayase thought on that a moment. “Could’ve been bad foster care,” she offered.
“Maybe. But with the crazy shit running through Touya’s genes, I’m not convinced that guy was the standard ‘given up for adoption when a few straights hooked up without protection.’ I doubt he was given up willingly–his family would’ve known he was powerful, and were probably powerful themselves.”
“Like Kado?” Kiyoshi asked. “And how his mom is psychic?”
“Yeah, but psychic powers seemed to be based on recessive genes, so it doesn’t show up in every generation. Do you know what isn’t recessive, and causes a strong pheromone bond at birth that reduces the likelihood of giving up a kid to the foster system?” Shouri didn’t wait for an answer. “A Malum trait.”
Malum again. Ayase had never been told much about the people the Church called “Evil.” The ones who are part superhuman or something. She swallowed the end of her egg and reached for her noodles.
“But…Jo’s Malum,” Kiyoshi pointed out. “And he doesn’t have parents.”
“There’s an exception to everything, and I’m just speculating,” Shouri admitted. “The Church’s Malum research is skewed and outdated, but they still have some baseline stats. They say Malum know their parents at a higher rate than the general population. And it’s more than that.” She brushed a strand of her feathered, short-cropped hair from her forehead, which she’d apparently given pink highlights during Ayase’s recuperation. “I keep thinking about what Touya told Jo back at the love hotel. He’s not interested in Malum who ‘know what they are.’ Do you know what that sounds like to me?”
Ayase grimaced. “Just tell us.”
“Malum ‘know what they are’ when they sense another Malum,” Shouri explained. “So maybe Touya was looking for Malum who don’t know any other Malum. And that sounds to me…like Touya has something to fear from a Malum community.”
Ayase paused. “Are…you part of a Malum community?”
Shouri lit up, clearly excited by Ayase’s connection. “No–and that’s exactly my point! I was a pretty isolated Malum to begin with, and joining the Church has mostly cut me off from the Evil stuff they think is unholy. I’m not shy about being Malum, so maybe Touya found that out and sent Core to kidnap me as…well, for a lot of reasons. But in the same way he ‘gave’ us Wipe and was so interested in my detox, I think Touya was partially using us as test subjects–to see if we could detox a psychic and a Malum from Pitch, since Touya is both.” She gestured to Kiyoshi. “And a teenager who took Pitch while still going through adolescence. That’s basically all of Touya’s bases, right? If the Church could keep us alive, our Pitch treatment would work on him.
“Anyway! My point is–Touya, a self-aware Malum, has probably interacted with a Malum community…and is avoiding Malum who could possibly be a part of that community.” She tugged her snack bag straight and triumphantly shook a shower of crumbs into her mouth.
“I think Touya was running from Malum. Maybe even his own family.”
Kiyoshi took a long breath. He tucked a knee to his chest and rested his chin against it.
“Hunh. I guess that makes sense.”
“It’s just a theory of mine,” Shouri said quickly, her finger zipping and clicking her mouse. “But it’s a lead I’m trying to follow right now. We know Zero tried to completely rewrite Touya’s records, and this will give me something to cross-reference. Well–kinda. Like psychics, Malum are pretty damn underground. But it might not be as bad here, since Japan doesn’t have much of a connection to the Church, and the Church’s discriminatory practices are part of what drive Malum underground.”
Ayase lowered her chopsticks back to her Styrofoam. “This still seems like a really roundabout way to find Touya now,” she said thinly.
“I know. So when you’re done eating, I’ll set you up at another workstation–most of our other leads are flimsy, but they’re more direct, so maybe we’ll get lucky. You can try those for a while before you move to the Core-tracking stuff.”
That was good to hear. Ayase slurped her noodles, her stomach rumbling gratefully.
Over the whir of computer fans and Shouri’s clacking fingers, Ayase heard the muffled voices of Zayd and Aisha. She glanced in the direction of the closed bedroom door.
There was a strained edge to the foreign words again, and the voices rose in volume. A strange emotion seeped through the door with them; Ayase felt a touch of Zayd’s frustration and even fear.
Kiyoshi frowned. “Are they arguing again?” he murmured in disappointment. “It really…brings things down.”
“Literally,” Shouri pointed out.
Ayase furrowed her brow. “Since when does Zayd argue with anyone? And they weren’t…arguing before,” she added, remembering that kiss in the dark.
And there was something else–something she felt weird voicing aloud. Zayd had always seemed so in control of his power. He had pretty much always used it on her and other people on purpose–she even suspected that control was why the bodyguards’ tranquilizer dart had knocked out him and no one else in the Church attack. Zayd had always said he could amplify or reduce the effect his emotions had on other people.
But now it felt unintentional. Like he was leaking.
“I think it has to do with his meds. Aisha’s trying to wean him off or something.” Shouri glanced up from her laptops. “You guys know he was doping himself up like crazy, right?”
Kiyoshi blinked. “Huh? No.”
“Yeah, beta-blockers or something. Kiyoshi, you’re an archer–you never heard of those?”
Realization dawned in his eyes. “Oh, the medicine that slows down your heartbeat and stuff? I think they ban that in the Olympics now. We weren’t supposed to use it, even though it can keep you from freaking out under pressure. Keeps your hands steadier in competition.”
“In other words,” Shouri offered, “it can work as a buffer between your body and your nerves. And I guess it leveled Zayd out, making it easier for him to handle his power.” She raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have to be constantly worried about your feelings affecting everyone if you put a giant dampener on yourself.”
Ayase grimaced. She swallowed her last noodle.
She was used to feeling violated by powers–Kadoyuki was constantly in her head, and she’d learned to deal with that–but she’d never lost her freedom to feel things. The implications of that were…pretty horrifying.
“Ugh,” she murmured.
“So…Aisha-san’s trying to get him to stop taking them?”
“I think so. She speaks more English than Japanese, and she wasn’t dodgy about it when I asked her.” Shouri flashed a dry smile. “Should be fun to see what kind of effect that’ll have on us, right?”
Ayase’s stomach sank, and she didn’t know if the feeling was her own.
The bedroom door slid open, releasing a deadpan Aisha with her bulky medical bag under her arm. As she heaved it onto the kitchen counter and started rummaging through it, Zayd slowly exited the bedroom, his eyes locked on his mobile phone.
“Ah… Hm.” He scrolled through his phone, the creases deepening in his brow. “Detective Nakajima has a request.”
Ayase sat up. “What?”
“She arrested many Core members at that funeral. Most of them are on Pitch.” He paused. “She wants Kiyoshi to come look at them, to see if any are familiar from his time in Core. Jo is concerned about her intentions at the funeral, so Ayase, I would like you to please go as a safety measure. She also needs…Hatsumi and Aisha to come.”
“Hatsumi?” Ayase repeated. “Nick’s girlfriend?”
“Yes. She needs a scientist with a doctor. To, eh…” Zayd looked away, and his worry was palpable. Ayase felt it herself.
“She wants us to treat the Pitch addicts. If we don’t, they will die.”
Proceed to Chapter 2, Part 2, page 2–>