The Darkness: Mother Night (1/3)

Rowen Hashiba sat by the bed, holding Sage Date’s stiff, osseous hand. A month was a long time for a person to remain untreated and catatonic without damage, but what could they do? They couldn’t go to his family and tell them he was in a demon’s womb; no one would believe them. Besides, he was showing signs of life every now and then--a twitch, a vocal noise, a few tears, and occasionally a blink. He never seemed to lose that dead expression, though, and he never moved on his own. It had been a long time since Rowen had heard Sage’s voice, and he had come to miss its gentle seriousness. Sage was just a shell, a whisper of his former handsome self: His skin had jaundiced into a yellowy cream; his well-tended flaxen hair had become unwashed and unkempt; his earnest icy eyes now looked like two orbs of lifeless metal staring blankly. When the rare, unconscious tears would roll down his spiritless face, they would show the briefest glimmers of life, but it would fade as soon as it had appeared. It was death-in-life, and Rowen couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. His best friend was suffering unimaginable pain, but there was no way to liberate him from this torture except....... No, he could never do that. Sage was the closest thing he had ever had to a brother, and he could never kill him, even out of mercy. All he could do was wait; maybe time was all he needed to recover. Rowen wrapped the thin blankets around Sage’s shoulders and smiled at him sadly as he left, shutting the door.

As Rowen walked down the stairs, he scanned the living room for life. The only activity was centered by the main door, where a relocated fishtank gurgled quietly. Kento Rei Fuan paced around it with an open book in one hand, hurrying to keep up with one of the occupants. Rowen smiled; just the thought of Kento trying to bond with a creature he would normally gulp down without a note of guilt was enough to cheer him up temporarily.

“Hold still,” Kento whispered to the fish as he tried to track it and research it in the book. “I’m trying to HELP you, ya stupid fish. Geez, how could Cye LIKE you?”

“The fish probably say the same thing ‘bout you,” Rowen offered. Kento looked up as Rowen joined the fish study. “They’re probably scared-- ‘Look, it’s the guy that ate Walter!’”

“Very funny,” Kento replied with his highest level of sarcasm.

“Have you heard from him at all?” Kento just stared blankly. “CYE. Have you heard anything at all?”

Kento just shook his head, returning his gaze to the fish. “Nothing. I don’t even know where he’s staying. He hasn’t been in school or anything. I’m just afraid he’s living on the streets or forced to do something he doesn’t wanna do or something.” He put his hand on the glass, and the fish began to congregate around it; in a few seconds, however, they dissipated and returned to their dull lives. “They miss him, too.”

“I guess I sorta miss him,” Rowen mused, letting his fingertips touch the aquarium glass; even that was warmer than Sage. “It’s a little hard after all that’s happened, but he was still a good friend.” He scowled slightly. “What did you mean by ‘do something he doesn’t wanna do’?”

“Well, y’know it’s hard to survive alone on the streets, and I’m just afraid that some sicko’ll strong-arm him into.... maybe.... well--..... you know.”

“Cye’s stronger than that.”

“But he’s not well! He just LEFT and didn’t tell anyone! He left a lot of his really personal stuff. I mean, I found his journal and his scrapbook and his Sparkle an--”

“His Sparkle?”

“It’s his stuffed dolphin. He can’t sleep without it.”

“I’m sure he slept fine without it when he was with the hellspawn.”

Kento turned around with a look of appalled shock; given the subject at hand, Rowen was more than surprised by this reaction. “You didn’t hear?” Rowen shook his head. “They found half her body on the tracks last week. It was so ruined they had to use dental records. It was disgusting.... Th-they showed it on TV. Then, ‘cuz no one knew who it was, I-I went in to tell ‘em. It was horrible.....”

“You’re kidding.”

“It was old, too. And y’know Cye heard about it--I dunno why he didn’t go.........I was just thinking we never mention her again, EVER.”

“Sounds good.” Rowen walked over to the coatrack on the other side by the door and grabbed both his slick navy windbreaker and the keys to his new car. “I’m gonna stop in on Ryo. Anything you want me to say?”

“Nah..... Have a good time.” Kento gave him a waving farewell before returning to the tank, trailing an ornate yellow fish with his gaze and wildly flipping through the book. “Now, lessee what YOU are......”

Ryo Sanada hurried to the rear of the crowded restaurant, tucking his empty tray under his arm. For once, he was happy to be clad in the long black waiter’s apron; people cleared a path for him out of respect, lest he decide to hurt their food. He hastily pulled a notepad and small pencil out of the apron pocket as he halted at the farthest rear table. A young couple, probably no more than a year older than his sixteen, looked up patiently as he settled and rested his notepad on his arm. He closed his copen eyes for the briefest of rests and greeted the couple with a laughing sigh. It was a hectic night so far, and it would only get busier as his first hour led into the fifth.

“Hi, sorry for the wait. Can I get you anything to drink?” Ryo offered with a genuine smile tainted only by his slight exhaustion.

“No need to apologize. A couple of Cokes would be nice,” the young man said happily.

Ryo scribbled down the drink request and looked up again. “Are you ready to order, or do you need more time?”

“I’m fine, but... honey?”

The young woman looked up from the menu and smiled meekly. “Do you have any curry dishes?” she asked.

“Yeah, all of these are curries,” Ryo offered, indicating a section of the menu.

“Oohh.... thanks. I’ll have number fifty-three, please.”

“Okay....,” Ryo said as he wrote on the notepad again. “And for you, sir?”

“I’ll have thirty-six, please.”

“Okay, I’ll have those out soon.” Ryo ran back into the kitchen and handed over the notepad page to the chef; as soon as he entered, he left and returned to the crowd. All his tables were busy, either eating or waiting; he wanted to check on some of them, but he hated catching people with a mouthful of food. Instead, he found another distaction waiting by the host’s vacant podium. Rowen leaned on it, doodling on the empty reservation register. Ryo approached him with a smile. “Here for the job?”

Rowen smiled up; he’d escaped this trap before. “I need to mull it over. Can I have another couple o’ weeks?”

“I don’t know if I can last. Saturdays are brutal. I’m doing walk-ins, reserves, and tables, AND if the people at the bar want food, I gotta work that....” He sighed and smiled slyly. “Besides, you look very natural behind that podium.”

“I just don’t know...”

“All you gotta do is keep up your appearance and stay awake. You won’t have to work over six hours, you get a break with a meal, you get good pay with tips, and you’ll always be working with either me or Kento.”

“If I take it, will you stop bugging me?”

“Ya think?”

“Go tell Mrs. Rei Fuan I’ll take it,” Rowen reluctantly said, resigning his resistance. He sighed and mussed up his hair. “It’s just.... Will someone be around to look after Sage? Mia’s night classes and you guys at work.... I-I’m just afraid he’ll get worse, and no one will be there to help him.”

“Don’t worry. Someone will always be there for him.” Ryo checked his watch. “Look, I gotta go take my break. I’ll see ya tonight.”

Rowen started for the door, looking over his shoulder as he walked away. “See ya later.” He pulled the collar of his windbreaker up as the cool evening air hit him. Even though a steady stream of people found their way from the street to the restaurant, his trek home was a lonely one; few fellow pedestrians passed him as he walked back to the parking lot. One familiar face, however, calmly passed him. He stopped and turned around. “Cye...?” he whispered to himself before raising his voice. “Hey, Cye! Cye!!” The figure kept walking wordlessly down the street and past the restaurant into the shadows. Rowen just stared at this refusal to acknowledge the calls. That made two friends so far he had lost.

*You know you’re lost, child. You know you’re scared and pained and hungry. Come back to me, bring us both fodder. You have more around you than you know. Bring one to me, child, we’ll share him. You can be strong and active again.*

^... Can I have my life back?.... Let me have it back.....^

*Bring me fodder, the first one you approach. If you deny me, I’ll use you.*

Rowen shut and locked the door. It was too late to keep the door open for any and all to pass through, and he just felt safer. He carefully replaced both his keys and his windbreaker by the door before continuing towards the living room. Kento had fallen asleep on the sofa, the book on fish spread open and face down on his snoring chest; he hardly stirred as Rowen slipped past him, moving only with the occasional muscle twitch or smack of the lips. He smiled at his slumbering friend and slipped upstairs to the bedrooms. He slowly opened Sage’s door; if he didn’t check now, he’d never sleep soundly.

“Sage, I did a stupid, stupid thing,” Rowen began, addressed his catatonic friend with his attention given to the door. “I know I told you I didn’t like wo--” Rowen spun around and froze, eyes wide. Sage was standing at a small mirror on his bureau, his hands numbly touching the reflection. Rowen’s shock quickly gave way to outright joy. “You’re up!” He hurried to celebrate, to give his friend an elated hug, but the expression on Sage’s face halted him. It was a look of absolute terror, his face colored only by the taint of tears.

“There’s nothing there.....,” Sage whimpered, tapping the glass. “Rowen, there’s nothing there....” He wept aloud, walking slowly towards Rowen. His hands reached forward and lightly caressed Rowen’s arms before seizing them in a grip strong enough to scare. “Rowen, help me, please....”

“L-l-leggo!!!” Rowen cried, starting to struggle. Sage’s normally soothing touch had become acidic and wracked Rowen’s body with pain to the deepest physical points. He tried to scream out, to alert someone to his distress, but he failed to find his voice; his knees gave out, and he stared up, pleading, at Sage. The terror was replaced with a sadistic glee, his eyes glowing with twisted joy as Rowen fought against the pain. A black swirl appeared around them both, stroking Sage and choking Rowen. The darkness swallowed them both, plunging both into an endless expanse of unlit numbness.

*Well done, child....* an inhuman voice hissed. Rowen fought to see through the darkness. Sage was standing in the middle of a black void, caresses of shadow petting his expressionless form; he was the only scenery, everything wrapped in a tangible darkness that hung on Rowen’s every inch. *You served me well.....* The shadows craned Sage’s head up. *Have you given up on this desire for human life....?*

Sage’s voice echoed sadly in the expanse. ^No....... I want my life back....^

*Ah, well......* The darkness engulfed them both, but only Rowen reacted to the pulling, adhesive cocoon as it slid across his body. His escalating cry for help was choked by the clinging shadows; his eyes quickly followed, blinded and pained by the tenacious black. *Fine soul you are......... I’ll enjoy you..... as will Sage......*

Rowen felt his tears begin even in his shadowed tomb. The faint, pathetic voice of Sage rang plaintively around him. ^..... I’m sorry............^

The new apartment was small, and the silverfish problem was more than noticeable. Still, no one knew where it was or how to reach it--that was as big a bonus as he could hope for. Cye Mouri wordlessly poked at his simple dinner, staring out into the starry night around him. He had his new life--a new job, a new school, and a nice, new routine. It was his only wish for so long, to sever every tie he ever had and get a fresh start. So, why was he letting his fresh start be adulterated by such longing for the life he was so eager to leave? He missed the stupidest things--Kento’s thundrous snoring, the thrilling trials of awakening Rowen, Ryo babying his beloved White Blaze, Mia restraining her obvious frustration over sharing her beautiful house with such rough company, and Sage eternally tending to his ornate coif. He missed his fish. He missed Ayame. All he had left was a collection of faded photographs secured in a wallet and a newspaper obituary; for someone truly starting over, this would be more than enough. The meeting on the street was what tore him apart the most out of all; Rowen sounded so glad to see him, yet he had no choice but to walk by, ignoring someone who genuinely wanted to see him. It seemed like forever since someone wanted to see him. He was hardly into his new existence, and he was ready to give it up. Who knew the solitude could be such agony?

“Can you hear me?” a familiar female voice asked Rowen, her unseen hands caressing his face. He opened his eyes, if they were even still eyes, and found himself staring at a most familiar face. He jerked his face away from her gentle touch. “Same old Rowen. Still hate me, huh?”

“Shut up, ‘Yame,” Rowen groused.

“Ayame died, remember?” she mused flatly. “You said so yourself. I’m the non-human Ayame, Venefica. Call me V.”

“So you’re pure hellspawn now. Great.” Rowen looked away from her, trying his best to ignore her; his curiosity, however, got the better of him. “Venefica?”

“It means ‘witch’. I picked it out of one of my favorite languages. It’s pretty accurate.”

“If it was ‘bitch,’ maybe. What have you done to Sage now?”

“Nothing! If anything, I’m trying to HELP him! Hey, I gave up my humanity to keep you safe!”

“From what?! YOU brought all this onto us, so why should I believe YOU want to PROTECT us from some phantom threat?!”

“I’m protecting you from my mother, okay?! Mother Night, she’ll kill you! She’s Sage’s mother now, and it’s her that’s hurting him!!”

Rowen scanned his surroundings as he glared at V. He was nude, and she was nearly naked, with only a filmy gauze wrapped around her from her chest to the top of her thighs. A pulsating swirl of grays, silvers, charcoals, and blacks encircled them; it was constantly changing around them, although they had a place to sit with a degree of certainty. There was a rhythm to the area’s movement, almost like a heartbeat. He shuddered, understandably uneasy in the location and not exactly soothed by V’s ease with it. “What’s going on?”

“We’re food.” V waited for a reaction and, receiving none, sighed in mild frustration. “Okay, your friend was told to bring you as food for Mother, and now you’re being digested. I’m here ‘cuz I was bad, and I’M being digested, too.”

“How can you be digested? You don’t have any body left. We toasted to that-- ‘To Ayame. May we never see her again’.”

“Oh, thank you. You’re no better than Mr. ‘We-Don’t-Know-Where-You’ve-Been’. This is residual flesh. I take it from every vessel I hold, and now I’m finally material.”

“Great. Now you’re material, so you could rape me.”

“How do you know that?”

“I sorta woke up while you were having your way with me. Did you do that just to hurt me, ‘cuz it’s done a LOT more than just that.”

“I’m sorry about that, Aaron. I lost control, and I, uhm, just wanted to feel you and y--”

“You called me Aaron,” Rowen said numbly. “I’m not Aaron.”

“Yeah, I sorta realized that when you called human me a bitch. I don’t blame you, really... You’re just so much like him, and when you’re as old as I am, only the special people leave an impression. I’ll probably remember y’all well into another few thousand years...”

“Why? We HATE you.”

V gave him a cock-eyed look. For the first time, Rowen noticed the changes in her appearance. Her lavender hair had faded into the palest of grays and grown out to equal her height in rippling cascades; her blue eyes took on an eerie shade of frosty green that glared oddly against her milky complexion. She was almost washing out into death as she lived. “It’s not exactly mutual. Ayame--I--wanted human acceptance, and you guys were the only real constant contact I had for a long time. I really wanted you guys to like me, but I guess the demon in me was too much to tolerate, I guess.”

“YEAH, seeing how you HURT us and drove us MAD and got us KILLED a few times and left us with lifelong SCARS and--”

“Okay, I get your point! I’M EVIL!!! Even though I’m admitting my guilt and asking for forgiveness, I’M EVIL!” The two grew quiet, the rhythm of the surroundings adulterating the silence. Finally, V sighed. “I never wanted to hurt you like that,” she meekly stated.

“Who, everyone or just me?”

“Well, all of you, but you and Cye out of everyone. And I didn’t mean to....... ATTACK you. Shina sort of goaded me into it. All I wanted was to kiss you, but she gave me some speech about humans being gross and there for our needs, and I should jus......” V started to weep, tears tainting her colorless face.

Rowen angrily seized her face and froze. There was no warmth to her flesh, her damp tears the only source of heat on her being. “You really mean it? You’re really sorry, and all you really want is a kiss?” V nodded. Rowen wordlessly wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, pressing his lips to hers; she rested her hands against his arms, bracing herself. His hands began to stroke her back and tug at the filmy dress, tearing it off; she panicked, but her protesting shoves only backed her into his arms. His kiss became more intimate, probing every aspect of her objecting mouth before pulling away to kiss her neck.

V struggled as best she could, to no avail; her tears increased as she cried in vain protest. “Stop it, please, stop......”

Rowen placed one last quick kiss on her lips before releasing her, staring with absolute ice as she hastily backed away. “Were you scared?” he asked flatly. V nodded slightly as she pulled her knees close to her exposed chest. Rowen turned away with a sad, disgusted sigh. “Then we’re even now.”

Kento locked the door as he prepared for his night on watch over Sage. It had been almost four days since he had last heard from Rowen and two days since he had to file the missing persons report with the ever-so-helpful police. He had neither slept nor eaten well in a long time, and he was starting to lose weight and look weary. There was only person he needed to speak to right now, to get all this frustration off his chest and get the vaguest sense of relief. He was right here, still seated lifelessly in bed.

“Okay, I know you can hear me, Sage,” Kento started as he sat, his tone noticeably angry. “And whoever’s doing this to him, I know YOU can, too. I want Rowen back, and I want him back NOW, unharmed. If you’ve hurt him in any way, I will find some way to hunt you done and kill you. I’m sick of you taking my friends from me, and I don’t care what it takes, I WILL stop you.”

Sage’s feeble fingers pressed lightly on Kento’s arm; a faint aura of life appeared around him. “You can’t stop this,” he weakly informed his visitor. “You can’t find perfection, and you can’t stop this.” The life disappeared as a lonely tear stroked Sage’s face. Kento sighed and swallowed hard; for the first time in his life, he was helpless.

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