Daughters of Darkness I: Ayame (4/4)

The figure loomed over the better part of the elevated highway, its ill- defined shadow reflecting against the lake surface. It had the vaguest shape of a man, yet its extremities were sharp and talon-like; its head held very few facial features aside from a gleaming pair of lime green eyes and a fanged grin. The faint outline of the moon, reaching its nearly invisible new phase, glistened just over his right shoulder. As Cye walked towards it, it seemed to grow for reasons other than his nearing proximity. He stared up at it, meeting its inhuman gaze; he mustered the best poker face he could as its grin spread, revealing more fangs. A flicker of anxiety entered Cye’s gaze; how would he manage this alone?

“Cye Mouri,” the figure said, his voice echoing through the empty streets. Cye stopped in his tracks, the figure now in unobstructed view. “What the hell is that?”

“I deserve a fighting chance,” Cye said as he stood ready in full armor, tightening his grip on his trident. “I only want to even the odds.”

“Really.” The figure leaned in close, sending Cye on alert. “Here. Ask them if they ever had a FIGHTING CHANCE.”

A column of opaque darkness materialized in between the two. It reached up into the infinite expanse of the sky and gave off a chilling cold aura. As Cye studied it, figures emerged. Sage was limp, his face a mask of dulled pain; he struggled to open his eyes, only to give up with a whimper. Ryo wasn’t much better, barely awake; he tried to speak, producing raspy sounds of pain and pleading. Kento fought through his pain to stare straight at his friend; he gritted his teeth, keeping his screams silent. Cye stepped back slightly before charging towards it, trying to break through the darkness; his hands passed clear through it as though it were a tangible breeze. It suddenly shrank back into the ground, the figure laughing.

“You didn’t honestly think I’d let them out, did you?” it taunted. “They’re in here, in me. Soon, they’ll be part of me, which I hope you will, too. How about you all say something nice to your little friend?” Cye held his breath, awaiting whatever new attack was planned. “C’mon, you little rodents, say something!!” The screaming started again, along with pleas for mercy. The echoes of their agony tore through Cye’s mind, drowning out all sensation. The screams died abruptly, leaving Cye trembling. “If you just give up now, I’ll let them free to rest peacefully. They won’t suffer anymore.”

“I don’t believe you!” A wisp of noise behind him caught Cye’s attention, and he spun around in time to trip Eshe with the end of his trident. She fell, dropping her dagger near his feet; before she could retrieve it, he kicked it as far as he could. A faint splash echoed as it fell into the lake.

“Meet my wife,” the figure hissed. “Your friends know her very well already.” Cye kept his eye on Eshe, her every move speaking a readiness to strike. “I suppose you know my daughter already.”

Cye spun around. “Ayame....” The blow from Eshe’s elbow against his face sufficiently sent him staggering back. As he opened his eyes, her grin sent a shudder through his body.

“Eshe, if you want to do the honors...”

Cye raised his arms over his face, preparing for whatever blow awaited him. Instead, he heard an angry cry and opened his eyes to find Eshe holding her shoulder, an arrow jutting from the joint. Behind her stood Rowen, his compound bow leveled at Eshe’s ever-changing position. A look of wounded relief decorated Cye’s face. It quickly melted away; Rowen came alone.

“Where’s Ayame?” Cye said aloud, hoping anyone who heard would give him an answer.

“Ayame’s here,” the figure said. “Do you really want to see her?”

“Cye, don’t listen!” Rowen yelled as he started to pull him away. “It’s a trick. C’mon, we hafta run!”

“But....” Cye glanced back at the figure, letting his intense fear show for the first time. The two vanished into the labyrinth of the city, the figure watching its every move.

“Eshe, lick your wounds and find them,” the figure said.

“But Nen--” Eshe argued.

“Take the other one. Once we have him, that little idiot will readily surrender. It’s either live with nothing or die as nothing.”

Cye rubbed his face, only increasing the pain. The swelling had become unbearably painful, and he had slight trouble breathing. Something had to be broken badly. He removed his helmet, the edges around his face only irritating the injury more. Rowen placed a hand on his shoulder, a look of profound pity on his face; all he received was a completely wounded and horrified look.

“Where’s Ayame?” Cye asked, a tiny cut on his lip trickling blood down his chin. “She was supposed to be with you.”

“The leather chick took her,” Rowen explained. He sat down on the pavement next to his friend, hoping the parking garage would provide adequate cover. “I’m sorry. She was trying to guard me.” Rowen sighed and fidgeted with his fingers. “Where’re the guys?” Cye’s head drooped, the sound of agonized screaming returning. “Cye?”

“They’re gone.... Everyone’s gone.....”

“Why is that thing after you?”

“I don’t know. Ayame said he needs perfect souls to feed on, but I don’t really understand..... What is he doing to them?”

“Cye, don’t worry. I’ll look out for you as long as I can.”

“What’s the use? Maybe if I give myself up, then all of you can live and never hafta think about me again.”

“Don’t start with that again!” Rowen shouted, standing up. Cye looked up pathetically. “We’re gonna go out there, trash that thing, and get the guys back.”

“You can if you want. I’d just be deadweight.”

Rowen shook his head and walked away. He reached the stairs when he heard the sound of motion behind him. Cye was standing up, carefully replacing his helmet. “What’s this?”

“I just wanna look out for you, just to make sure he can’t hurt you until I surrender.”

“You’re not surrendering,” Rowen said with disbelief. He opened the door to the staircase and took one step forward. Suddenly he froze, his free hand gesturing to his throat. The compound bow fell to the ground, then he followed; his eyes stared forward, devoid of light. Cye picked him up before he could completely collapse. One last, gasping breath escaped his body before he chilled over and slumped in his friend’s cradling embrace. Cye let his tears fall, rolling over the swollen wound and off his face onto Rowen’s expired form. The screams returned, Rowen’s wailing now among them. He carefully lowered his friend onto the pavement, then stood up to exit.

Eshe gloated in the doorway, her left arm dangling limp at her side. Her look of supreme satisfaction met Sai’s grief and growing anger. “So, about that surrender...” she mused.

Cye stepped back and readied himself for battle. “I changed my mind.” He dove at Eshe, catching her in the mancatcher of his trident. Any guilt from his actions was beaten back by the sense of grief and loss. “SUPER WAVE SMASHER!!” The blunt force of a concentrated jet of water hit Eshe dead on, and she shrieked as she dissolved to a pile of wet ash. Only the ruined leather remained intact. Cye just stared and listened to the screaming of his friends. The pain was offset by a sense of hope; so long as he could hear them, he could help them. He knelt down by Rowen and gently pushed his eyelids shut.

Then the screaming stopped.

Nen watched as the lone figure approached him again. A look of serious ire had replaced his cruel glee. Perhaps he had made the wrong choice this year; this was not as easy as he was accustomed to. Still, he had yet to lose a single perfect one, and this boy would be no different. Cye stood where he had before, in the middle of the lake overpass, his face stained with tears and swollen with pain. The two stared in silence, trying to size each other up.

“You have nerve coming back here, murderer,” Nen said; Cye ignored him. “Are you ready to surrender?”

“What have you done to my friends?” Cye demanded.

“Nothing. They don’t exist anymore. There’s just me.”

Cye cinched his eyes shut, trying to avoid the deluge of tears. “SUPER WAVE SMASHER!!” He waited patiently, hoping to hear the death wails of that twisted demon or the reviving cries of his friends. Instead, he heard a shriek, a female voice screaming in piercing agony. “Ayame!”

Nen held Ayame’s limp, bound form in front of him. She was a dripping twist of blood, wire, and rags. For a moment, she managed to open her eyes and met Cye’s horrified stare; a light of withering misery traveled between the two before she drifted away. “Well done. I couldn’t do worse myself.” He tossed Ayame into the lake with a carefree flick of the wrist. She fell into the deep blue with a ripple; an eruption of smoke appeared for a moment, engulfing the lake surface.

Cye stared out at the water, watching the smoke dissolve as his tears reemerged. He was alone; he had nothing. There was nothing to be lost in surrender now. But why should he? Give himself over to feed this condescending sadist? This sick beast who would slaughter total strangers and kill his own children? Even if he failed in the end, he would fight back. He owed it everyone he’d wronged and disappointed, a chance to see that he wasn’t a total waste. Slowly, he gathered himself together and stared straight at Nen. The massive, taloned hand of his opponent swiped down at him, but he raised his arms over his face; a shield of intangible energy formed a barrier and kept him covered from the demon’s touch. The talons withdrew, and Cye closed his eyes, standing almost at attention as a gentle aura of light began to radiate from him. Nen backed away slightly as the lake became rough, then rose in an aerial whirlpool; the heavy pavement of the overpass broke and joined the whirlpool in its approach towards the demon. It swirled and washed over Nen, prompting an echoing shriek of agony. Slowly, the demon started to tear apart; a final cry heralded a massive wave of energy blowing out in every direction. Cye’s barrier gave way, and he staggered back as his armor dissolved into his common clothes. Debris buffeted his body, yet he remained standing. Cries of relief seemed to ring in his ears, the voices familiar. A weak smile crossed his face, just before he let his eyes roll back and his body fall--too exhausted to remain aware. It was over; all his pain was over.

Sage sat up and rubbed his aching head; wasn’t he outside before.....whatever had happened? Now he was in his room, stretched out on his bed. He swung his legs around and started out of the room. Ryo sat in the hall, just as dazed but tended to by White Blaze. Both looked at each other wearily and tried to shake away the confusion.

“What happened?” Sage finally asked, his throat dry.

“I don’t really remember,” Ryo moaned, petting his tiger. “You died, and then it’s a blank.”

“I didn’t die.”

“Yes, you did. You just dropped dead in the woods.”

“That’s not possible. The--”

“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MY CLOTHES?!” Kento’s voice bellowed from the living room. Ryo stood up and ran out into the living room to find Kento sitting behind the sofa, his waiter’s uniform shredded on his figure. “Mama’s gonna kill me!” He glanced up and gave his friend a relieved grin. “You’re alive!”

“Was I dead?” Ryo asked.

“Yeah.” Kento paused as he stood up, failing to notice Ryo’s wince of disgust. “Did I die, too?”

“I dunno...J--....Just put something on!”

The phone in the den started to ring, and Sage, eager to escape the spectacle in the living room, raced to pick it up as best he could. “Hello?”

“Sage?” Rowen’s weary voice asked. “Are you okay?”

“I guess,” Sage responded. “Where are you?”

“You know that parking garage near the downtown? I’m there.”

“How’d you get there?”

“I don’t really kn--.... Wait, where’s Cye?”

A distant voice, sweetly familiar, was calling him.

“Cye? Cye, can you hear me?”

Cye forced his heavy eyes open and moaned; he seemed to be witnessing a brilliant supernova.


“Mum....?” he whimpered.

“No, Cye, it’s me.” Cye focused his eyes and lifted his head. The ache in his face and head was crippling, but he struggled past it. A gentle hand helped him sit up, and he finally found the source of the voice. A surprised smile brightened him. “How do you feel?”

“Sayoko?” Cye moaned as his sister rearranged the blankets around him. “Why are you here?”

“Shh... You’ve been out for four days. Don’t strain yourself.” She held his limp hand between hers, her warmth almost burning. “Do you remember what happened?” Cye looked at her, trying to remember anything. Once he could, he blanched into near-white. “Cye?”

“Oh, no......Oh, no, they’re gone.....”

“Cye, who’s gone? Who?” Cye started to whimper vaguely. “Are you talking about your friends? They’re fine. They should stop by today. It’s okay.” She gently hugged her brother, letting him stay reclining in the bed. “Can I talk to you about something, or would you like to rest?”

“I’m okay to talk.”

“I just wanted to apologize. I didn’t realize how upset you were all this time.” Cye’s head drooped, hitting the pillow. “Your friends told me everything, and there really isn’t any excuse for my treatment. I just didn’t want to accept Mum could go so quickly and suddenly. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”

“Thank you so much. I didn’t think I had anything left.” Sayoko let her little brother weep into her arms, carefully avoiding the intravenous tubes that nurtured him. “Is everyone okay?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Even Ayame?”


The downtown was always most alive in spring. The weather was finally warm enough to promote strolling down the streets window shopping--which usually led to commercial shopping. A massive crowd flowed down the hilly streets and into the shops, making it easy to lose someone in the sea of bodies or get oneself lost. That was exactly what Cye had planned as he ducked into the pet shop. Slowly, he strolled by the aquariums, studying the multitudes of fish as they darted to return his inquiry. A particular tank on the second-to-last shelf caught his attention, and he knelt down to inspect the fish a bit further. The perfect fish, a tiny pale blue denizen of the deep, came up to its side of the glass and gave its own affirmation that it was ready to go home with him. He barely noticed as Kento knelt next to him, feigning interest in the tank.

“He’s a pretty one,” Kento said. Cye nodded unconsciously, still fascinated by his fish. “Bet he’s tasty, too.” Cye looked over at him with an expression of utter distaste before hurrying out of the store. "Cye, I was kidding!”

Cye slipped into the crowd and started towards the nearest bus stop. He had come there to be alone, and he wasn’t even given that luxury. No one really understood how devastated he was. He had succeeded and saved everyone--except the one person who needed saving the most. Ayame would’ve given anything to be here in a world where she didn’t have to worry, but his weakness didn’t give her that chance. His friends could only provide so much solace; however, he never could express his feelings to the point where they could understand. Their attempts to cheer him up or help him out were becoming annoying, and anymore he went out of his way to avoid them.

Kento slammed his hand down on Cye’s shoulder, drawing a surprised look as he spun around. “Cye, I’m sorry about your fish, okay?” he said. “You wanna get that one before someone buys him or do you just wanna go home?”

Cye smiled a little and looked away to the bus stop. “I might as well go home now. It’s getting busy.” The two headed for the protruding blue sign over the crowded bench. “Do you need any help tonight?”

“Nah. Ryo’s been filling in for you, and Mama said if he wants, he can get a regular job as a waiter---er, when you feel up to working again.”

“Oh, okay.” The two boarded the bus, sitting on the first seats. “Did you get your new uniform?”

“Oh, yeah. Mama was so angry about the old one. I just wish I knew what happened.”

“Yeah,” Cye nervously laughed. “Guess we’ll never know, huh?”

“Yeah.” The bus hissed to a stop just in front of the restaurant. “Here we are.” The two stepped off the bus and headed for the rear of the building. Kento approached a back door, while Cye started up the stairs to their apartment. “See ya later.”

“Have fun at work!” Cye called as he climbed.

“Yeah, right!” Kento laughed as he disappeared into the restaurant.

Cye fumbled in his pockets, searching for his keys. A search of every pocket turned up nothing, but Cye failed to panic. There was no address on his keychain, and besides, he could always rely on his roommate’s forgetfulness as he opened the unlocked door. He walked straight to his room to break the bad news to the rest of the fishtank. He knelt down and saw....the blue fish, gleefully exploring its new surroundings. He laughed and started to make his best fishy face, catching its attention. Maybe Kento had made up for his impromptu snack.

“You’ll like it here, Holly III,” Cye said to his new pet.

He sat down on his bed to admire the aquarium, jostling Sparkle off his pillow. A tiny box revealed itself, and Cye picked it up. The label identified it as an item from “Edible Eden”, a nice but bizarre little store specializing in sugared flowers. He carefully pulled off the blue bow and opened the box. Frosted petals were stacked carefully upon one another in a fragile pile. Cye pulled one petal free, holding it between his fingertips out of the fear it would shatter. They were iris petals. A jingle of keys from the kitchen sparked his curiosity further; he carefully replaced the box of petals, walked into the kitchen, and caught his breath.

Ayame sat at the table, his keys jangling in her hand. She looked different. She was slightly paler, and the scratches had scarred her face; her hair was shorter, requiring that the scarf be worn as a high headband. She was wearing the same khaki skirt and lavender blouse, but the heavy bandage on her right foot and ankle necessitated sneakers. She met his gaze and stood up, giving him a meek smile. Cye ran towards her and gave her a tight hug, running his hands over her hair. Both wept and laughed, overwhelmed by a sense of relief and joy.

“I was so sure you were gone.....” Cye whispered. He wiped away a few of Ayame’s tears ever so tenderly. “How did you survive?” Ayame shook her head and shrugged, reaching to dry his tears. Both giggled nervously, not quite sure what to make of the moment. He tightened his embrace and began to sway with her, enjoying the warm silence.

“You were right,” Ayame quietly said. “You could take care of yourself.”

Cye pulled away to meet Ayame’s gaze with a serene smile. “I’ll take care of you, too. I promise.”

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