Daughters of Darkness II: Shina (2/4)

Rowen sat beside Sage, watching over his serene rest. He hadn’t even so much as twitched in three days, and there was no real reason for this slow recovery. A blister had started to form on his right hand, but that did nothing to snap him out of his coma. Rowen checked the bandages again. The blister seemed to get larger and larger, but no real blood ever appeared. The whole situation just seemed wrong. Kento’s silence didn’t help; every attempt to get an answer met with the same confused apology. All anyone could do was wait, but this had been too much. Three doctors said let him rest, and one said commit him as a catatonic. Someone had to stay home with him constantly, but between work, school, and other matters, it was hard. Something had to give and soon.

“Sage,” Rowen whispered, trying to wake his friend yet again. “Sage, I don’t know what to tell you. You’ve heard everything else. You’ve always been able to let us in on everything, but why can’t you do it this time? It’s getting bad. No one can stand it anymore. Why can’t you wake up?” Rowen picked up Sage’s uninjured hand and held it between his; the chill of his friend’s flesh was horrifying. “You’re never gonna wake up, are you? You’re gonna stay like this until....” Warm tears started to flood his vision. “Sage, you can’t do this...” He closed his eyes, letting the cascading tears burn down his cheeks. Slowly, he released Sage’s hand and quietly wept. Only the knock on the doorway frame managed to draw his attention away.

“Can I come in?” Ayame asked, still in her pale yellow work clothes. Rowen swept away his tears and nodded. “Is he any better?”

“No,” Rowen whispered. “His hand’s worse, too.”

Ayame stepped into the room and knelt alongside the bed. “What’s wrong with his hand?”

“Here. Sorry, Sage.” Rowen picked up Sage’s right hand and peeled away the bandages. A welt the size of a kiwi had formed, but a membrane of flesh covered it. “See? It doesn’t bleed, but it’s bigger every day.”

“Can I...” Ayame leaned forward and barely touched it with her fingertips. The skin separated into an eyelid, and a eye of the clearest, coldest blue stared at her. As it opened, Sage’s eyes shot open. Ayame staggered back and raised her hand to her mouth; a look of gaping, uncontrollable horror spread on her face. “Oh.......”

Sage glanced around at the room, understandably dazed. “What did she do to me?” he moaned. Rowen shot an accusing glance at Ayame, who began shaking her head in denial.

“Don’t move,” Rowen commanded. He stood up and stared straight into Ayame with an ire that made her blood run cold. “Don’t you dare move.” He slammed the door shut, trapping her in with him. “What did you DO to him?!”

“I didn’t do anything, Rowen, I swear,” Ayame pleaded.

Sage sat up and walked towards the confrontation, resting his hand on Rowen’s shoulder. “Rowen, leave her alone,” he said. “She didn’t do this.”

“But she knows what’s going on, right?” Rowen countered, glaring at Ayame. “Good, then you can tell everyone.”

Ayame shook her head. “I can’t. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt.”

“Get hurt?! If you tell us, we can guard ourselves against it. You want us all to die, ‘cuz that’s what’s gonna happen!”

“Rowen, calm down. She DIDN’T do anything,” Sage repeated. Rowen withdrew his advance with a sigh and stepped aside; Sage reached forward and opened the door. “Why don’t you two leave for a while? I need to rest.” The two left; Ayame, in her haste to get upstairs as fast as possible, failed to notice Rowen following her. “Leave her alone,” Sage demanded, catching both of their attention. “I’ll talk about this later.”

Cye carefully handed Sparkle over to the sobbing girl and sat on the bed, watching Ayame hug the giant plush dolphin to her chest. He stroked her hair, even though he knew it would do nothing to assuage her distress. She peered up into his eyes, her gaze riddled with fear and confusion. It galvanized him, and he swallowed hard, unsure what could possibly leave her so shaken. He ever so carefully wrapped his arms around her and let her cry against him; her tears soaked through his shirt in no time.

A knock echoed at the door. Cye half glared at it, still cradling the weeping girl. “Not now,” he sighed.

Sage opened the door, his right hand now heavily bandaged. “Can I talk to Ayame?” Upon hearing her name, Ayame peeked up and sniffled in Sage’s direction.

“Now really isn’t goo--” Cye started before Ayame pushed him away and wiped away her tears. “Ayame, you don’t have to. Sage, she really shouldn’t....”

“It’s okay,” Ayame whimpered. “He’ll understand.” She slipped her hand around Cye’s and weaved her fingers between his; he tightened his grasp with his free hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think she’d ever show up again.” She sighed heavily, her breath shaking. “Shina’s my big sister. She’s all demon ‘cuz she doesn’t wanna be human. She enslaves people and uses them to get her fodder and then takes them as fodder. And there’s really no way to fight her or anything...”

“But what about this?” Sage asked, unraveling his bandages.

Ayame slammed her free hand over Cye’s eyes. “Don’t!” She stared at the eye, studying it. Slowly, her hand pulled away from Cye’s face. “Wait... That’s not Shina’s mark. It’s on the wrong hand.” The eye blinked, but nothing happened. Sage studied it again, still confused. “That’s the strangest thing.....It’s not Shina’s.” She gave Sage a slightly relieved smile. “You’re safe, I-I guess. But how’d you.....when did you.....get that?”

Sage paused for a moment in thought, then looked right at the two. “Let me think....Kento came back from his date, then......he got scared about something, so I went to talk to him, and then.......I woke up in my room and heard you and Rowen fighting. Huh. There’s a blank somewhere, isn’t there?”

“You were out cold for three days,” Cye emphatically explained. “We thought you were dying.”

“That’s not possible,” Sage protested. “Are you saying I was in some kind of limbo and never knew it?”

“I don’t know what happened. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Ayame said, her fear giving way to confusion.

Sage scowled, hit with an odd inspiration. “Ayame, how old are you?” Ayame stared at him, almost wounded by the inquiry. “If you’re only sixteen, there’s no way you could know all this.”

“Ayame, how long have you been human?” Cye asked, drilling his stare into hers.

Ayame sighed and tightened her grip on Cye’s hand. “I don’t really know. I’m only as old as I’m human, so I really don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Cye caressed her face, receiving a weak smile. “It’s nothing you can help,” he consoled.

Sage sighed and did something no one ever saw him do before--run his hands through his hair. “This seems benign enough. Maybe if we find Kento we can get some answers.”

Kento sat in the breakroom, picking at his soup. Normally, all those fresh veggies and tender pieces of chicken and that warm stock would be gone in under a minute. For the past few days, everything seemed to rot at his touch. He was too confused and frightened to seek help; if he did anything, that nagging voice would return to dog him. He could hardly stand it anymore; that voice was about to drive him to madness. So help him, he would do anything to silence it at this point.

“Kento?” Ryo asked as he closed the door. Kento looked up at his friend, who was holding his empty tray against his waiter’s uniform. “Your mom sent me back. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, same as always,” Kento lied, forcing a laugh.

“Then how come there’s still soup?” Ryo placed his tray on the table and sat next to his friend.

::Take him. He’s good.::

“Stop it,” Kento hissed under his breath.

“Stop what?”

::What are you waiting for?::

“I won’t do it, I won’t!” Kento’s voice grew louder.

“Kento! Who are you talking to?”

::If you don’t take him, I’ll take you instead.:: A surge of pain ran up his arm and into his body. He doubled over, gritting his teeth.

“Ryo...run,” Kento moaned, tucking his left hand into the fold of his elbow. “Just look away and run....” Ryo stood up and staggered away, watching his friend’s growing agony. His left hand started to pull away, now devoid of its dressing. “Ryo, run!” Ryo sprinted from the room and hurried out the door, giving Kento a final glance as he heard him topple from his chair. He slammed the door and listened, a scream of misery and rage clearly audible through the wood. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?!”

The gathering at the kitchen was noticeably tense. Mia found herself ready to play mediator to the bickering and accusations of the others, something she was regrettably good at. The table was divided on the sides of the argument: Cye, Ayame, and Sage sat along the right of the table, while Rowen, Kento, and Ryo countered them on the left. White Blaze had opted to hide in the living room, using the sofa as a barrier; even if he was only a domesticated tiger, he knew enough to avoid the impending argument.

“So...” Mia began, rapping her fingers on the table. “Sage, how are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Sage said, a note of sarcasm tingeing his response. “My fever’s gone, but there’s the whole third-eye thing.”

“Yeah, AYAME, the third-eye thing,” Rowen bitterly started, letting the frustration of the past few days boil up from inside him. “Why don’t you tell everyone about that?”

“I told you, I can’t!” Ayame responded, surprised at her sudden ill treatment. “I don’t want you to get hurt!”

“Yeah, you’ve done GREAT keeping us safe! Don’t you agree?!” Rowen directed his attention to Sage.

“I told you before. She’s not at fault here,” Sage calmly countered, tracing the contours of his third eye. “It’s Shina.”

Kento stared forward at his securely bandaged hand. He closed his eyes and waited for the voice again. ::Kento...:: He winced his eyes shut. ::You let him get away once. Now you have such a selection. Wow, I don’t know where you should start.::

Ayame reached across and rested a hand on Kento’s arm. “Kento, ignore her.”

“It’s so hard...” Kento whined from between his teeth.

“I don’t think you know what she does to him,” Ryo interjected. Ayame looked at him, slightly confused. “He couldn’t help it. She tortures him.”

“I know, I’ve seen it before. Stronger men than him have caved in quicker.”

::You know, I’ve had just about enough of you and your attitude, sis.::

{Leave him alone, Shina. I won’t let you hurt any of them.}

“Could you and her argue in someone else’s head?” Kento complained. He started to double over again, grimacing in agony.

“Stop it!” Rowen jumped to his feet and tried to help Kento through the pain, even though his searing gaze was on Ayame. He felt his friend’s left hand thrust into his stomach. “What the--” Ayame climbed over the table and shoved Rowen away, letting the hand and its third eye rest against her. A duet of agonized shrieks echoed through the kitchen, and both Ayame and Kento collapsed to the floor. Rowen placed a hand on Kento’s shoulder, getting his attention. “What did you do?”

Kento slowly sat up, still shaken from his attack. “I didn’t do it....... it was Shina...” he moaned. He looked over at Ayame, who was still sprawled out on the floor. “ ‘Yame?” He reached over to touch her, but her eyes shot open, glaring out in pure aureate anger.

Cye raced to the other side of the table, eyes wide in dread. “Is she okay?” he asked breathlessly. The only response was having his knees knocked out, and he fell to the floor, hitting his head against the counter. Ayame sprang to her feet and hastily ran off, heading for the front door. “Ayame...?” Cye stood up, rubbing the back of his head. A look of wounded confusion came across his face. His pathetic silent search for explanations was answered by Kento’s still recovering, sympathetic stare; he shook his head with a sigh. “Oh, no...........no............”

The search extended well into the evening, eventually spreading into the more isolated, less reputable areas of the city. Sage and Cye wandered uneasily; they knew they were the easiest of targets at this hour. Sage did little for the search, fascinated with his exposed third eye; he’d trace his finger around it, pet the closed eyelid, and gaze into it out of boredom. Cye let his anxiety overrun his efforts; every possible alley, cul de sac, or shadowy area was a possible location, and every one had to be checked. The two hardly spoke, too captivated with their own preoccupations to put any effort into a conversation. Their silence served as their greatest resource.


“Ayame?” the two spat out in unison.

Sage tore his attention away from his eye and looked at Cye. “You heard that?” Cye nodded.

{Cye, I’m scared,} Ayame said, her voice suddenly quiet and childlike. {What’s Shina doing to me?}

“It’s okay, Ayame,” Cye said out loud. “We’re gonna help you. Just tell us where you are.”

{No, I can’t. I don’t wanna hurt you.}


{If I see you, I’ll have no choice but to hurt you. Shina won’t let me...}

Sage glanced down at his third eye, then placed a hand on Cye’s shoulder. “Cye, why don’t you go home? I’ll go find Ayame.”

Cye returned with a look of confusion and just a note of jealousy. “It’s okay. I can prob--”

“Cye, look at this.” Sage held up his hand, staring into his companion with the third eye. “This is the only way anyone can defend themselves from that succubus, I know it. You’ll be helpless if--”

“WHAT did you call her?”

“I didn’t call Ayame anything. I was talking about Shina. As far as I see it, I’m looking for Shina. I don’t know if Ayame even exists anymore.”

“Don’t say that! Ayame’s still alive, I--”

“Cye, I’m saying this for your safety. Shina could use Ayame to get you. I really don’t wanna lose two people tonight.”

“What are you saying?.....You can’t honestly think you’ll have to KILL Ayame!” Cye stared daggers through his friend, although the anger was tempered by a dammed flood of tears.

“Ayame as you knew her may already be dead. How do even know that was really her speaking to you? You can’t just blindly accept that it’s her.” Cye’s ire faded, giving way to grieving shock. “Why don’t you go home? If she’s fine, then she’s probably waiting for you.”

“Are you sure?” Sage nodded. Cye turned away with a nervous sigh and gave his friend a very forced smile. “Okay. Take care of yourself.” He walked off, vanishing into the shadows of the night. \Ayame, where are you?/ he thought, letting a solitary tear stain his cheek as no answer came.

The mud on the path to the duck pond was worse at night, especially under the dim, clouded slimmer of a moon that adorned the sky. Sage managed to keep the level of mud damage to a minimum and continued on his way towards the lovers’ usual hiding place. The scene was, as always, tranquil; nary a ripple disturbed the vacant pond. A single figure stood on the banks, staring into the expanse of the deep blue. Sleek blonde hair trailed down in a smooth cascade to her waist, ending a little above her navy blue hot pants. The night breeze jostled the blonde veil, revealing a white tank top that exposed part of her midriff. She shifted her weight from one leg to the other as she stepped, the dew dampening her thigh-high black boots. She turned around as she heard a rustle in Sage’s vacinity, scanning the foliage with her cold heliotrope gaze. Sage shuddered slightly, took a deep breath, and stepped out.

“Shina,” Sage said, addressing the figure.

The figure smiled. “You’ve come to give yourself up?”

“Sorry. I want to know what you’ve done to Kento and Ayame.”

Shina approached him, smiling cruelly; Sage swore he saw a set of tiny fangs. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I don’t give up my servants until I’m done with him--and I’m nowhere near done with that oaf.” She kept with her approach until she was practically against him. “And my sister’s in good hands. Don’t--” Poke. “--worry.” Poke. “So......surrender?”

Sage steeled his nerves, ignoring the iciness of Shina’s close presence. “You let them go. Now.”

Shina laughed. “Are you actually trying to threaten me?”

“You heard me. Let them go.”

She seized his left hand, which had clenched into a fist. “Look, you have my mark. You are MINE.” She pried his fingers apart, revealing...a perfectly normal palm. “The hell...?!”

Sage raised his right hand to Shina’s face. “Wrong hand.” Shina’s eyes widened as she saw the third eye. A strange numbness overtook Sage’s entire body, and the feeling of faintness swallowed him. The eye blinked, and everything blacked out for a moment. He staggered back slightly, hitting the trunk of a large tree. As he finally regained his bearings, he saw Shina knelt down near the banks, trying to avoid the water.

“Sonofabitch...” Shina mumbled, trying to stand up. “How the hell did YOU......” She stood up and resumed her posture as best she could. “Never mind. I don’t know what that dumb girl’s done to you, but I’ll get you back. There’s more than one way to get a surrender.” Shina vanished in a rippling burst of light, shaking Sage’s rib cage and disturbing the calm pond.

Sage tried in vain to shake away the vertigo but nothing worked; he lowered himself to the ground, paying little heed to the moisture soaking through his trousers. He was right to send Cye off. If he had heard what that succubus said, he’d be gone now. He and Ayame....and soon Kento.....and God knows who else after that. He couldn’t stop Shina by himself, even if he had to. He studied his third eye again, finding comfort in its constant presence; why did this have to fall to him? Surely there was someone else out there who was better equipped to possess this thing. Someone stronger, older, with less to lose if they failed...... There had to be. But something deep inside him told him the truth. No, there was no one else. He would have to stop Shina. Alone.

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