For Pat Morrissey--one of the few people in this universe who’d find the beauty in anything, even purple chickens; I’ll miss you.
Anymore, Cye Mouri found his own room the most comfortable place in the house. Before, he could hang around downstairs with his friends and spend hours on end in the kitchen; now, he usually got a few strange or downright hostile looks whenever he entered the room. He knew the reason, but he didn’t care. He loved Ayame no matter what they thought of her or what they thought of him for defending her. At least his fish didn’t judge him. He leaned down near the tank, his fish gathering to greet his smiling visage. He slid his hand along the glass, fish trailing his fingers as they swept, dove, and spiraled in a random pattern. It was so serene he knew it couldn’t last. His fears were confirmed when a knock at the door sent his aquatic acquaintances fleeing to the farthest regions of the tank. He sighed and turned around, finding Ayame Sudoh’s slight figure in the doorway. His disappointment turned to delight, and he walked towards her, greeting her with a kiss on the cheek and an arm around the waist to guide her in.
“Are you ready to go?” Cye asked as he led her to a seat on his bed. Ayame sat down, settling between the stuffed duffel bags and the ever present vigil of Sparkle.
“I guess,” Ayame timidly responded. “I’m all packed and everything, but I..... I don’t know. I guess I’m just nervous.” She heaved a massive sigh and stared at her sandaled feet.
“Why? Sayoko can’t wait to meet you,” Cye soothingly said as he sat beside her, putting his arm around her again.
“It’s....I’m afraid that your family will treat me like your friends do.” Ayame stared into him, her eyes awash with tears. “Would you mind if I moved out after this? I’ll visit every day, I promise.”
Cye tried to mask his shock, but he clearly failed. “You can’t leave,” he whined. “You belong here--”
“No, I don’t,” Ayame sharply argued. “I don’t even belong AMONG you. You know that. After this trip, I should just vanish again.” She looked away from him, trying to mask her emerging tears. “I know YOU won’t miss me...” she whispered mostly to herself. Cye rested his hands on her shoulders, and she shuddered with the first stifled sob.
“Ayame, I really don’t care what anyone else says, you know that,” he said, slowly spinning her around to meet her gaze. He gently reached up and wiped away her continuous flow of tears. “How about this--if this trip goes smoothly, you’ll give this another chance. If not, we’ll, uhm....” Cye sighed and let his expression fall into masked melancholy. “We’ll go our separate ways.” Ayame sniffled and nodded; her hand began to numbly stroke at Sparkle’s artificial fuzz. “You think you’d like to learn how to swim on this trip?” he eagerly asked, trying to liven up the room again.
“Nah, I-....I’m still not good with water.”
“Oh. Still hurts, huh?”
“You’ve heard me in the shower. I can hardly keep from screaming.”
“But you’ll let me teach you eventually.”
“Yeah, of course. How much longer do we have?”
Cye checked his watch and grew a little anxious. “Not much. I’d better tell Kento to warm up his van.” He sprinted for the doorway, taking one duffel bag hastily tossed over his shoulder with him. Midstep, he paused and spun around. “Do you have the gifts for everyone?”
Ayame nodded. “They’re on my bed in a box,” she told him, following him at a slower pace that he had opted for. She watched as he grabbed a small square box and hurried downstairs.
“Be right back!” Cye called as he glanced up at her over his shoulders before vanishing.
Ayame sighed and returned to her room. All she had was a half-filled duffel bag, and it held most of her worldly possessions. She could hear the protests downstairs from nearly everyone. They wanted nothing to do with her, the wretched, evil hellspawn that ruined their lives. She really had ruined their lives, even Cye’s--he just wouldn’t say anything to her. At least she had a safe harbor; not a one of them would go into the billiard hall for fear of the bartender. She never understood why. He seemed nice enough, and the guy who was there to hang out with him every night was pleasant. Only Cye ventured in, and he tried so hard to mask his unease it was painful. Cye.....what had she done to earn such devotion from him? A shudder coursed through her body; the demon half, it had to have gotten to him. As much as she tried to deny it, she was still hellspawn, and it was probably the hellspawn that had rendered a sweet, caring, fragile human being into her devoted slave. The others knew it for a while now, and she had just realized it herself. She half-hoped Cye would realize his plight soon; even if it meant losing his affection, it would make her disappearance so much easier. She picked up her duffel bag and headed down the stairs, passing Kento Rei Fuan as she walked. Another dirty look. Hopefully it would be the last for a long time.
Kento was practically dancing as he reentered the house. He jangled his car keys proudly and grinned a Cheshire grin that revealed every tooth in his broad mouth. “We are officially hellspawn-free for the next week!!” he cried in triumph, hanging his car keys back on the little peg on the wall. He wandered into the living room and plopped the whole of his weight down onto the sofa, disturbing the comfortable solitude Rowen Hashiba had been enjoying.
“You mind?” Rowen sniped. He had been on a bit of an edge for a while, and his reactions to the slightest annoyances were often curt and rude. He realized his mistake in etiquette and smiled apologetically at Kento. “Sorry, just tired.”
“Why are you so depressed, man? Hellspawn’s gone. There won’t be any weirdness for a week!”
“How can you be sure?”
Kento’s happiness slipped away into confused concern. “Well, hey, yeah....I mean, what did she give us before she left, anyway? It could be some sorta demon breeding thing or--”
Rowen opened one of the boxes that rested on the coffee table. “It’s flower petals,” he quickly answered. He dipped his finger into the box, breaking some of the fragile petals, and licked it. “Sugared flower petals....mmm.” The lust for his vices won out, and Rowen began to down the sweet petals by the hearty pinch. Kento just watched in silent horror; he knew this little binge could only result in another destructive sugar high, followed by a weekend-spanning sugar coma. Already the little twitches were showing, the first evidence of overloaded synapses. “Try some.”
“No thanks.” Kento edged away from him; he knew this would be ugly later.
**Is this the location, Mother?....... Wow, what a gathering...... Which one am I after, again?...... So many? How?...... Oh..... That sounds fun.....**
The chosen vessel hardly put up any struggle; she always found it amusing how much these humans needed to rest daily. It left them so vulnerable..... This vessel didn’t even realize anything until she had claimed it as hers, and of course by then it couldn’t fight back. Mother had her point; this was going to be fun AND easy.
Mia Koji walked wordlessly into the living room. The two gentlemen on the sofa hardly noticed. Rowen was off in HyperLand, a bundle of unwarranted laughter and spastic twitching; Kento was on the far opposite end, trying to watch a nature documentary and pretend he wasn’t scared of his overloaded friend. Any moment now, Rowen would vanish, leaving only a tuft of electric blue hair to dart around the house in a wordless campaign of petty pranks and fiendish giggles. Maybe, just maybe, if he concentrated on the blithe exploits of the common barnyard chicken as the Discovery Channel demanded, he would be safe. The first sharp, unwelcome pinch in the ankle underscored by a fit of maniacal snickering shattered this hope, and Kento slunk over to the recliner, still watching the benign brown chickens on the screen. Mia rested a hand on his shoulder and distracted him as he looked up at her; there was something a tad off about her sky blue gaze today--it didn’t seem as sisterly as he always thought it. Ah, well, maybe it was just the headcold.
“Hi, Mia,” Kento said, trying to keep half an eye on Rowen. “How was your nap?”
Mia smiled an unfamiliar little grin. “Fine,” she said pleasantly. “It was just what I needed.” She peered over at the television. “Are those chickens?”
“Yeah.” Kento jumped slightly; he swore he had seen a sudden streak of blue zip by him.
“You like chickens?”
“Are you kidding? I LOVE chickens!! Especially with curry sauce!” The two laughed, although Kento knew that Mia was REALLY forcing it. “They’re nice enough an--Hey!” Rowen vanished into the wilds of the living room; Kento sneered as he inspected his sneakers. Despite their whimsical name, Shoe Wedgies hurt. “Dammit, Rowen, you better fix this!” He pulled off his shoes and hurled them in the newest location of the sapphire streak, eliciting a loud cry of pained protest before the shoes came flying back. Kento managed to catch one, but the second shoe flew past his face and straight into Mia’s stomach.
“OW!!” Mia yelped between her teeth as she doubled over. A half-snarl appeared on her face, drawing an odd stare from both Kento and Rowen from his hiding place. She hid a cold glare from the target of her anger as she retreated back to the bedroom. “Enjoy your chickens.”
Ryo Sanada glanced at the doorway and smiled. He couldn’t give expression to how happy he was to NOT be part of that commotion. He was content to hide away in his room, struggling valiantly against White Blaze in his efforts to claim a spare old sock with a knot in it. It was a nice, relaxing way to spend the afternoon, except when White Blaze would try to push off of his legs with his massive milky paws; denim provoked poor protection from a tiger’s claws, even if only in jest. After a sharp yank, he reclaimed his damp, shredded sock and dangled it playfully in front of his defeated pet, laughing the entire time. His laughter died as he saw Mia skulk by, giving him a sour look in passing. She didn’t really like him to play “rough” games with White Blaze indoors. He handed the sock to his tiger and stood up, trying to catch up with his agitated hostess.
“Mia, I’m sorry,” Ryo called down the hall as she started to enter her room. She glared at him, only increasing his sudden sense of guilt. “I just sorta forgot. I won’t play in the house again.” Mia just maintained her glare. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Mia flatly answered. She turned away, but Ryo gently seized her arm. “Is there a problem?”
Ryo hesitated with his words; this intense cold in Mia’s voice was eerily foreign. “Mia, if there’s anything wrong, you can tel--”
“Everything’s fine,” Mia snapped before slipping into the bedroom and slamming the door. Ryo stared for a moment, completely bewildered, before retreating back to the safety of his room. What had he done this time?
The phone’s irritating electronic ringing thankfully stopped with the push of a single button. “Hello?” Kento asked as he stared out the window.
“Kento?” Cye’s voice greeted him. “How’s everything?”
“Mia’s still sick, but that’s it,” Kento answered, still staring into the thicket of trees in the yard. “How’s things on your end?”
“Wonderful! Sayoko absolutely loves Ayame!” Kento stifled a groan. “Tomorrow we’ve got a special night planned.”
“Really?” he asked almost lasciviously.
“She’s gonna tell me how old she is, and I’m gonna tell her about my armor! We’re gonna go down to the beach and just have a nice heart-to-heart.”
Kento tried to hide his mixed sensation of derision and disappointment. “That’s your big evening? Dude, do something fun!! Go to a movie or a club or something!”
“Kento, this is important. Try to show some support.”
“Okay,” Kento sighed with a slightly soured smile.
“So, what’s everyone else up to?”
“Sage is busy at rehearsals with school, so he’s never around, and those damn flowers you got Rowen made him so hyper I can’t stand ‘im!! Ryo’s just hanging around, if you wanna talk to him..”
“Nah, I’d better go. Phone card’s running out. I’ll call again about tomorrow, okay?”
“Sure. Cye? Just be careful, please.”
“Don’t worry, Kento, I’ll--”
“The HELL?!” Kento stared out the window in a combination of total confusion and total hilarity. “Is that what it looks like?.....”
“....Never mind. I’ll talk to ya later. Bye!”
Kento quickly hung up the phone and dashed out to the deck. That couldn’t be what it looked like out there; it had to be some sort of illusion. His left-eye-Dais twitch kicked in, signaling the height of his confusion capabilities. There it was, a ten-foot purple chicken, standing in the forest. From the shadows emerged a couple more nearly identical chickens; Kento stepped back slightly, yet his hands remained cinched around the banister. Those chickens were looking at him with shining red eyes; they seemed to be growling.
“Get the curry...........” they snarled, approaching Kento.
For gigantic poultry, they were FAST; Kento hardly had time to sprint off of the deck and towards the long driveway. Speed was always his weakpoint, and right now, boy, did he know it. He barely managed to dodge the diving beaks as they nipped at his legs, receiving mouthfuls of gravel for their troubles. One flew in front of him, trapping him between the vicious pack of chickens. A sense of panic overwhelmed him.
“ARMOR OF HA--OWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!” One of the chickens seized his right arm in its sharp black beak and dangled him over the ground, jerking him up and down in a cruel game. “Stop it! Stop it!!” The chicken tossed him down into the driveway, letting him flop face down into the pulverized rock. He groaned; everywhere he looked, there was little else but purple feathers. He tried to move his right arm; it was numb--not broken, but numb. “Oh God,.....” He turned over his shoulder as an open beak speedily approached his terrified face. “OH GOD, NOOOOOOOOO--!!”
She stared out the window, her hand pressed against the glass where this first victim had so easily fallen. Normally, she had to construct an elaborate scenario and drag it out over at least a few days. But this guy--one pack of giant purple man-eating chickens, and he was down. The warmth of this one passed through her, and she shuddered slightly. Mother would enjoy this one--now which one next? The boy from earlier had sprinted out, and he was trying in vain to revive the chicken-chow sprawled out in the gravel. She couldn’t help but laugh, even as the boy tried to catch her vessel’s attention.
**Nice try, little man..... You’re next.....**
**Who are you? You’re this girl, aren’t you? Beg all ya want, sweetie, but I’m taking every last one of ‘em.**
+PLEASE DON’T HURT THEM!+
**I’ll let one slide..... That fair?........ It’s the best I’ll give you........ One can live.**
Ryo sat restlessly in the little room. He had no clue as to how he had gotten here or even where exactly here was. All he knew is that it was dark, it was small, and Kento’s body was displayed on the only piece of furniture, a bed nearly too small for his late friend. He stared down at the figure and let the tears flood his eyes; his death was so strange and sudden, and he looked so scared..... This wasn’t right at all. Kento was in perfect health, and he dropped dead with a terrified scream and hardly a scratch on him outside of marks from the gravel. A few tears started to roll down his cheeks as he stepped towards the memorial. He reached for the now lifeless hand; he couldn’t believe this until he knew it was material and real. A few more tears stained Ryo’s face as it dawned on him that he had just adopted Kento’s literal outlook.
“Kento....” Ryo whispered as he touched the cold, stiff hand. As he did, Kento’s cobalt eyes shot open and glared up unlit at him; a wicked grin stained his normally buoyant face. Ryo tried to step away, but his friend’s hand seized him by the wrist and held him in a painfully tight grip. “Hey!! HEY!! Leggo!!” Ryo shouted, his panic showing with every increasing effort to struggle free. “Kento, let me go!!” Kento’s skin began to writhe and discolor to a sickening green; slowly, his body deteriorated into a squirming pile of hissing, spitting serpents, a chain of which started to creep up Ryo’s arm. “Oh, God......” The snakes overwhelmed him, every inch of his body covered in poisonous reptiles. They twisted tighter and tighter around him, a sea of coils crushing and choking his paralyzed body; their searing teeth dug into his soft flesh, burning into him, spiraling him into total agony. He tried to scream, but the coils occupied his open mouth, reprimanding him with fanged nips on the face. The tears steadily changed from expressions of grief to expressions of pain and fear. Ryo’s knees gave out, and he stared in horror; there was hardly any flesh left on them, only a red mash of poison and destroyed muscle. A final attempt to cry out escaped his lungs, trying to alert someone, anyone, to his impending death.
A warm, wet, purring nose caressed Ryo’s cheek, and his eyes snapped open to meet White Blaze’s worried vigil at his bedside. He was in his bed, drenched in a thin film of cold sweat. He gasped heavily, his heart still pounding panicked in his chest; out of fear, he checked his legs--still covered in poison-free flesh. He hastily examined his body for any other telltale evidence that he had truly been consumed by snakes, but there was nary a fang mark nor a squeeze mark to validate this fear. He sighed in muted relief and gave his tiger a relieved hug around his solid neck. At least one of the day’s traumas was only a nightmare.
Cye managed to lower the phone receiver without tremoring too much. This had to be another false alarm; Kento had survived other times when everyone said he was dead, so now wouldn’t be any different, right? Still, he’d feel better being there to make sure this was just a joke, some mean-spirited prank. He couldn’t leave; his sister was really enjoying his visit, and Ayame was happy for the first time in an era. He walked into the guest bedroom, trying to maintain some semblance of composure around his increasingly fragile paramour. The last thing she needed to hear about was this. However, as Cye looked her in the face, he realized he was too late. Ayame was as melancholy as he was, almost on the brink of tears. She stood up and met him with a weeping hug.
“Cye, I’m sorry,” she whispered as he wrapped his arms around her. “I’m so sorry....”
“It’s nothing you could help,” Cye murmured, letting his grief show through.
“Yes, it was,” she said within her tears. “I brought this on him.”
“He died being chased by giant purple chickens, Cye. He didn’t deserve that.” Cye stared at her, now totally perplexed. “You see? This is why I wanna leave!”
“Ayame,” Cye said, pulling her face up to his with a gentle hand under her chin. “You can’t help this, you know that. If it happens again, I’ll go back, and you’ll go...wherever. Just wait this out with me. Something’ll work out.”
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