Tokyo Demons: Book 3, Chapter 7, Part 1
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #032 back issue.
Darkness was closing in, and Touya couldn’t stop it. It was beyond him now–beyond his mind and its broken dams that struggled to stay the crashing tides. This wasn’t the sputtering havoc of a psychic power warped by Pitch and then denied it; it wasn’t even the swelling madness in a brain haunted by ghosts of time and death.
His body was failing. He staggered on the sidewalk, his legs shaking with the effort.
He heard the sound of voices around him, layered through time, deafening as they mingled with the ringing in his ears. It no longer mattered who saw him or followed him or wanted him dead–he was already on the verge of collapse, and every one of his desperate survival plans hinged on his consciousness. Without his last, lingering advantage–the Malum strength laced through his DNA that kept him awake while the world slept–he was truly a helpless target for his enemies to tear apart.
His weakening heart fought to pump blood, desperate to get him to the last place that could hold his salvation. He ignored the clash of whispers and echoes in his ears and swung his head up, the glare of the sun searing his eyes.
The hospital loomed over him, gray against the burning blue of the sky.
The edge of one mud-caked shoe caught on a seam in the pavement. He pitched forward; one knee banged against concrete and exploded pain up through his hips, fire burned the flesh of his hands as sidewalk scraped through the thinning layer of leather. His teeth rattled with the impact, pain throbbing behind his eyes.
He curled against the sidewalk for three bleary seconds.
Then he began to crawl.
The voices started again, howling through his ears, chased by the ghostly brush of hands that he did and didn’t think were real. He squeezed his eyes shut against the crowding visions and reached out with a splayed hand; slightly raised concrete pressed up coolly through the shredded leather of his gloves. He dug shaking fingers against that first step and dragged his knees up behind him; he flopped his body onto the short stone stairwell that led to the entrance. His shoes scraped behind him as he tried to push his sagging body up, up, up those jagged stairs.
“Call a nurse!” someone yelled through the thick sludge in his ears.
Now he knew he was being touched. Hands in the present clamped under his arms, around his belt. Forces dragged him up those last few stairs, onto his back, spreading out his shaking limbs and gripping his head against the hard scrape of concrete.
“Hold him still!” someone else yelled.
“How old is he? Check for a medical bracelet!”
Touya felt a surge roll up his stomach, spilling out of his throat as a rasping growl against teeth he couldn’t unclench. Someone forced open his eyelids, pouring in the fire of the sun and the crowding ghosts framed by tunnel vision in a screaming world.
He thrashed, his clawing hands closing on someone–something. Fabric, hair. He clenched down with his fingers and heard a scream.
He tried to speak, but he hadn’t spoken a word in days; his throat was a ragged, bloody mess. He choked on foul breath and old vomit between his teeth.
“Stop struggling!” someone ordered. “We’re trying to help you!”
The world dimmed. Touya gasped against the pavement, his heart sputtering like a dying engine. The strength drained from his limbs, sucked away by the weakening thuds in his ribcage and the crushing weight on his chest.
He realized, with sudden clarity, that he wasn’t fainting. This was the end.
He was going to die here.
A lightness ripped up his thoughts, then scattered them in dark humor. Of course he was going to die on dirty concrete steps, in the center of a crowd, wet with his own sick. No, he didn’t have those last few, precious days he’d been counting on…because his timeline had been wrong.
Because he’d lost control of time.
Something white and red appeared in the corner of his vision–the outline of paddles, like a defibrillator. Hands tore open his shirt as someone gasped at what they saw.
“Unbelievable!” blurted a voice. “I’ve never seen track marks like that. Some kind of intravenous drug abuse? Starting overdose protocol.”
Touya’s jaw fell open, his tongue heavy as lead. A mask suddenly pressed down over his nose and mouth and he tried to shake it off, suddenly too helpless to fight even the soft hands that cradled his head. He groaned, the strange pitch of it echoing in the plastic mask.
“Bri…ng…” he choked.
An apparition, an ear, tilted closer to his muffled mouth.
“Can you tell us what happened?” someone asked. “What drugs did you take, son?”
Touya fought to breathe against the pressure crushing his chest. Saliva rolled down his chin as his mouth gaped.
“Br…ing m-me…” He weakly sucked in air, dragging ghosts down his throat. “…to…Doc…tor…”
The world went black.
“Does the name ‘Yui Takahashi’ ring a bell?”
Ayase, leaning heavily on Adam’s arm, rubbed her eyes and looked up.
Jo didn’t even glance up from his phone. “That’s the woman who owned that apartment,” he read aloud. “According to the records Daniel was able to look up.”
Shouri frowned at her own phone. “Doesn’t sound familiar to me, but what about you guys?”
Sachi murmured a negative; Kiyoshi shook his head. “No,” Adam said in Japanese.
“Great!” Shouri muttered sarcastically. “And we’ve been digging through Core files for weeks. So it’s either someone off our radar, or that’s a fake name she rented the apartment under.”
“Bought the apartment under,” Jo clarified.
“Right. Possibly with Core’s limitless cash.” Shouri rapidly typed into her phone, her thumbs punching the tiny keys. “I’ll tell Daniel to keep digging. Jo, tell Zayd to poke Nakajima.”
“Already on it.”
Ayase took a long breath, trying to will herself awake. Her missing arm burned at the stub and she was fading–fast. She needed to get back into bed…but her need to hear more about this mystery woman was like a slow-drip of adrenaline.
The elevator door rolled open on their floor. Adam wrapped a strong arm around her and hefted her up, her feet dragging along the carpeting as he helped her into the hallway.
Ayase could hear a faint banging at the end of the hall. She blinked her bleary eyes and looked up; a man who seemed vaguely familiar stood outside their door, knocking with clear frustration and more than a little force.
Shouri straightened. “Oh,” she said in surprise. “The concierge.”
The man’s head snapped to them. “There you are!” He walked rigidly down the hall, meeting them halfway. “Ma’am, you weren’t answering your mobile phone.”
“We were busy,” Shouri answered. “If you need me to sign some paperwork or something–”
“Perhaps you forgot you ordered our entire menu before you left the premises? I sent up a dozen servers with a dozen carts more than an hour ago.”
To Ayase’s embarrassment, her stomach rumbled in response. She ducked her head to hide her burning face.
“Oh, man.” Shouri laughed. “That’s right! Good–because we’re starving.”
The man went silent for a moment. Ayase glanced up to see him staring at her, his brow furrowed slightly.
“I’m sorry to pry, but…is this the young lady in the wheelchair?” he asked. His eyes trailed from her missing arm down to her wobbly legs.
“No,” Jo answered before Shouri could open her mouth. “That girl didn’t have legs.”
Sachi cleared his throat. “May we please have the food brought up now, then?”
“I’m afraid much of it has gone cold, sir. It might take some time to reheat it.”
“Just bring us the stuff that’s supposed to be cold now and the reheated stuff when it’s done. You can get the sushi trays up here pretty fast, right?” Shouri grinned at the concierge as she passed him, fishing her keycard out of her pocket. “Please and thank you!”
Ayase avoided eye contact with the man as Adam helped her down the hall.
There actually were a few carts already waiting in his room–and clearly, someone at the hotel had tidied up the garbage and scattered books and games. Arranged artfully on the carts were rows of bottles, melting ice buckets, and an elaborate fruit platter.
“Is that booze?” Jo blurted in surprise.
“I guess the whole menu included the wine list.” Shouri hummed as she grabbed a bottle. “Wow, this shit is nice. Zayd’s gonna be pissed that I bought expensive alcohol on his dime, ha ha!”
By the time Adam deposited Ayase on his newly made bed, Kiyoshi had a few pieces of fruit in his mouth and had brought her a chunk of pineapple. Without thinking, she leaned up and wrenched it out of his fingers with her teeth.
Kiyoshi blinked as she blearily chewed. “Uh… Sachi, maybe grab the whole tray.”
For the next few minutes, Ayase couldn’t think past using her only hand to shovel more calories into her body; her sagging jaw couldn’t chew the chunks of fruit fast enough. Sachi’s gentle rubs on her back occasionally turned to firm pats as she choked.
She felt some of her strength return, although the digestive drag of her stomach made her eyelids droop. The tiny buzzes of mobile phones grew hypnotic in her ears.
Shouri sucked her teeth. “Daniel says he’s having trouble using his Church phone. Mobile reception’s gotten bad in the hospital and they don’t want to let him step out–I guess some of those Yakuza firefights are nearby.”
“Are they in lockdown?”
“I don’t think so, but I can call the hospital’s front desk.” Shouri tapped into her phone and held it to her ear, heading for the door connecting their rooms. “Yeah, hello?” she said as she disappeared into her empty room. “Is this T. Hospital Information? I have a question…”
Jo ran a hand through his hair. “Zayd says looking into this might take a few hours. They’re following another lead and Nakajima’s caught up in the Mob havoc, too.”
Sachi sighed in frustration. “Can we do anything until then?”
“Zayd told us to eat and sleep.” Jo threw up a hand, clearly annoyed. “At one in the afternoon. How productive of us.”
As if to underline his point, someone knocked on the door to the hallway. “Room service,” a voice chirped.
Jo twitched slightly, then opened the door. Several neatly dressed hotel employees in the hallway bowed at him, then wheeled more carts into the swiftly filling room.
Ayase could barely believe the sheer volume of food. There were four giant sushi trays, each more ridiculous than the last, and plates of cheeses, meats, and olives that she’d never seen outside of books on Europe. Rice crackers and nori were spun out like pinwheels, near a small mountain of almost comically fancy rice balls. Even the pickle tray looked like something fit for a king.
“We’ll be back shortly with the second half of your order!” beamed the woman in charge. She and her men bowed, then vanished into the hallway.
For a long moment, everyone just stared at the lavish carts in the center of the room. “Holy crap,” Kiyoshi breathed.
Finally, slowly, Adam walked over. He gripped a handful of the metal chopsticks piled on top of delicate china and turned to the room, his eyebrows rising.
“Party?” he offered in English.
Sachi laughed weakly.
It didn’t take long for a stacked dish to appear in Ayase’s lap. Someone turned on the TV and found a news station covering the gun fights outside. Ayase sat propped against Adam’s headboard, scarfing the most expensive food she’d ever had in her life, and watched the Yakuza chase the dregs of Core on live television.
…I wonder if they’ll run into Touya.
The thought that some Mob thug might find Touya tightened her stomach. She didn’t know if she wanted that or not. She doubted Touya could be taken down that easily, but considering the shape he was in…
She swallowed a mouthful of rice, and it burned all the way down.
Shouri finally returned to the room, sighing as she slid her phone back into her pocket. “I think we need Nakajima for this one,” she admitted.
Jo, smoking alone in a corner, furrowed his brow at her. “You can’t look into Yui Takahashi yourself?”
“I’ll try, but that’s an incredibly common name…which is probably why she used it. Digging up the real identity of property owners is a pain in the ass–I’ve been running into walls since Touya got us that Core business list in the first place.” She shrugged. “Nakajima was mostly handling that part.”
Frustration started to claw inside Ayase. The angry edge to her focus was cutting through her groggy brain.
“None of us want to wait for Nakajima,” she snapped, her fingers digging into a hunk of cheese.
Sachi chewed his lip. “Can we find a picture of this lady?” he asked. “Just to start with?”
“Nothing’s pinging with that name and address. And it’s a private apartment with no security, so there’s no, like, video footage for me to crack.” Shouri plucked a piece of sushi from one of the trays and pushed it in her mouth. “Low-tech,” she mumbled as she chewed. “If this lady’s really connected to Core, that might give us some insight into her. She might be one of those people who hides in plain sight.”
“What about Doctor Kagome?” Ayase pressed.
“Daniel’s looking into that, too. There are over a dozen people with that name and title in the city, and none of them are crossing over with our Core research so far.” Shouri grabbed a plate and started loading it up. “Look, I think we’ll get to the bottom of this, just not this second. It might be a long day.”
Ayase grunted and crammed a few olives into her mouth. On the other side of the room, Jo grunted and puffed on his cigarette.
Shouri’s eyes fell on Ayase, then dragged to Jo.
“You…did a good job at that apartment,” the woman said after a moment, a strange tone to her voice. “You gave us a lot to work with.”
“We’ll solve this, and fast,” she said more firmly. “I promise, guys.”
Ayase grimaced and rubbed her burning eyes. Jo ground out his cigarette and shook another one out of its box.
Shouri sighed. “You have to eat, Jo.”
“Put away the damn cigs. You’re wound up enough as it is.”
He slipped the new cigarette between his lips. “They calm me down,” he retorted.
Shouri snorted and carried her loaded plate over to Jo’s place on the floor. She grabbed his arm, practically dragged him to his feet, and marched him over to Ayase. The woman pushed him to sit in the open spot on the bed beside Ayase’s legs.
“Nicotine’s a stimulant, you idiot.” Shouri plucked the cigarette from Jo’s lips and shoved the plate into his hands. “You’re gonna give yourself a stroke. Eat.”
Jo opened his mouth to protest, but Shouri cut him off. “Sit with your friends,” she ordered, “and eat this gorgeous feast like a normal fucking teenager.”
Ayase paused, her fingers curling over her plate. She watched Jo as he slowly, hesitantly, lowered his face to the pile of food in his lap.
He poked a rice ball.
Kiyoshi tossed him a bottle of tea, which he barely caught. When Adam laughed, Jo grimaced and unscrewed the bottle.
Ayase took a long breath, her stomach finally unclenching a little, as Jo started to eat beside her in silence.
Proceed to Chapter 7, Part 1, page 2–>