S-CRY-ed Fan Fiction ❯ Evolution of the Lost Ground ❯ Quaking ( Chapter 6 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Disclaimer: ::sighs, rolls eyes:: must we do this every time? Fine. You caught me. I, MiraResQNU, own S-CRY-Ed. All characters and premises are the products of my brilliant mind. And in addition, I'm filthy stinking rich, too. Loads of money and the worst legal representation ever. Lawyers? What lawyers? I'll represent myself in court because I've seen lots of episodes of Law and Order. So yeah, sue me- I dare you.
A/N: I borrowed the name Hideki from another anime, not remembering that there was a guy named Hideki in the first couple of episodes of S-CRY-Ed. ::punches self in head:: Stupid memory! Oh well, too late to change it now- just know that they are different Hidekis.
I'm learning that writing fanfiction is going out on a limb and asking perfect strangers to follow you. You guys wanna come with? ^_^
Chapter 6- quaking
Kanami rocks gently back and forth in Cammy's lap, taunted by the lure of sleep despite the roaring typhoon outside and the protesting livestock in the barn. Her legs are thrown lazily over the older girl's outstretched ones and her oversized-looking red boots are buried in the hay scattered around the barn loft. She is content to wait patiently in the safety of the teen's maternal embrace, extending only enough consciousness around her to assure that nothing has changed. However, the startling warning that jerks her to wakefulness is the last thing she ever expects.
Cammy's entire body seizes beneath Kanami's curled form. Green eyes shoot open as she realizes that it is not just Cammy- the entire barn is quaking beneath them, around them, blurring the lines in her vision into hazy clouds of unfocused colors. Realization filters the fog of her thoughts- The earth is shaking!
With her Alter power Kanami can mentally sense the panic escalating in the people around her as she physically feels Cammy's arms tighten around her body, lifting her into the air. She's never been able to sense so many people's emotions at one time. She is pulled into the older girl's chest and wrapped up in her arms like a fragile treasure. Head tucked under the teen's chin, Kanami feels the rapid pounding of Cammy's heart against her cheek and reflexively shuts her eyes tightly to ward off her own growing anxiety.
She can feel every one of Cammy's steps, especially those that falter, and she hears the creaking and cracking of the wooden beams and boards underfoot. Screams of the farm hands echo around them; they are voices of young men and old women that she recognizes. A long, agonizing cry resounds as someone falls a great distance from just beside them and she tightens her fists in the material of her friend's shirt.
However, soon her protector and the loft are falling beneath her. A hard jerk on her back yanks her out of Cammy's arms despite her vise grip and suddenly she is falling- falling forever.
Somebody help! She knows that even though she is screaming unintelligible syllables, the words that she cannot verbally express materialize in her mind, bouncing and crashing around inside her head like bumper cars. She calls forth more words, grasping onto them as tightly as if they could somehow stop her fall. Somebody please! Falling!… Hurting!… Lost!… Alone!… Please!
Then there is nothing.
The loud crackling of fire pulls Mimori back to consciousness and her nose is immediately assaulted by the acrid smell of smoke. Gripped by panic, she tries to move but finds she is pinned to the floor by some long, heavy object that is crushing her raised arms, pelvis and legs.
Her temple screams and her forearms splinter with pain from the weight on top of her. Mimori wills herself to fight against the rising nausea and pours all of her energy into pushing the solid wood off. She manages to inch it sideways, sandwiching herself between it and the wall under the now fractured window. The fire devouring the scattered piles of papers littering the office becomes visible.
Memories of the precipitating events rush to the front of her memory. That giant branch! The candles on the desk and around the office! The fire licks across the room at an unbelievable pace, obscuring the rest of the room.
“Hideki!” Mimori strains her voice to call out for the man, immediately choking on the smoke that rushes maliciously into her lungs. A fit of coughing wracks her chest and she dry-heaves all of the air out of her lungs. She pitches herself forward on her hands and knees, bringing a hand up to cover her nose and mouth; it's a futile attempt.
“Hideki!” Mimori shouts through her fingers as loud as she can despite the protest of her raw throat. Trying to breathe is like trying to suck air through a fistful of packed cotton. However, the only response to her cries is the sound of the spreading fire as it roars and kindles on new fuel.
A low rumble, like underground thunder, finally drowns out the sound of the raging fire. Before Mimori can identify the source the ground vibrates violently beneath her, causing her to collapse in a heap atop the back of the fallen bookcase. Bricks and plaster crack deafeningly around her as she fights to push herself back up.
“HIDEKI!!!” She has to get out, but she doesn't know where he is. The building groans its protest over the violent shaking, threatening imminent collapse. The fire licks closer to her position even as the earth continues to seize beneath her and she retreats back toward the shattered window. Mimori manages to pull herself into the frame and then roll her protesting body over the side. She splashes into a foot of water just beyond the restaurant. Thankfully it somewhat buffers her from the concrete sidewalk below.
She rolls onto her hands and knees and calls one last time into the flaming space of the office, “HIDEKIIIII!!!!!” She spends her last bit of voice screaming out to him, but the building responds by collapsing in slow motion. Mimori scuttles backwards into the street as fast as her battered arms and legs will carry her.
She lands with a rough splash on her butt in the middle of the street and watches the slow destruction of AIMED headquarters. The structure caves, falling inward upon itself, as the fire rises amidst the pounding rain. Beneath her, the ground still quakes, defeating each attempt to right herself.
Tears that had been held at bay by adrenaline finally break against their barrier and spill freely down her face. Her body is soon overcome by wracking sobs that shake her as thoroughly as the ground beneath. As she is about to surrender to despair a large green metal object in her peripheral vision catches her attention. She turns her head in time to see the grill of Tachibana's car racing towards her.
Elian is in the pantry of their house pulling batteries off of a high shelf when a familiar feeling bullies its way to the front of his senses. He halts mid-extension, shutting his eyes in concentration, and reaches out to it with his Alter. His abilities allow him to intercept a giant wave of power that washes over his body, giving him barely enough time to shout to his friends, “It's coming!! And it's BIG!! Hold on to something!!!”
No sooner does the warning leave his mouth do the walls begin rumbling around him and a loud buzz, like a low-flying jet, fills the house. Cans and containers jump on every shelf until they spill over the edge onto Elian's head and the floor. Glass shatters and the splintered pieces chatter across the seizing floorboards. Amidst a hail of foodstuffs he pushes his way out of the confined space in search of his comrades, hoping his alert had reached them in time.
From opposite ends of the house, Cougar and Urizane rush back to the large living room just in time to see Elian enter from the kitchen area. The walls vibrate around them and the furniture shuffles across the floor, skewing the orderly balance of the room. All three occupants pause and then retreat back to the doorways, remembering the ridiculous emergency drills from grade school.
Urizane shouts above the cacophonous clamor, “Elian! Is this what you meant by `something is coming'?”
The boy answers by shooting an incredulous look at the man as if he had just been asked to smell a fart. Urizane, after losing his balance and falling backwards, catches the sour look on the kid's face. “What?!” Cougar rolls his eyes at them both; in the middle of chaos they are still acting like smart-ass roommates.
Several torturous minutes pass before the shaking finally ceases. The three allow a few additional moments of silence to settle around the domicile before everyone trusts that the event has truly passed. His eyes still darting around their surroundings, Cougar tentatively asks, “Is everyone alright? Elian? Urizane?”
Without missing a beat, Urizane complains, “No I'm not alright! My ass is killing me! And was that or was that not a friggin' earthquake?!”
Elian forms his mouth to offer a smart retort but is suddenly jerked by an inner spasm. He halts in place as if frozen in a single moment of time. A look of pain and fear twists his young features and he drops to his hands and knees. All jokes forgotten, Urizane rushes to Elian's side and wraps a protective arm around the boy's shoulders. “Elian, are you okay? What's wrong?”
Behind tightly shut eyes Elian quietly gasps, “falling… hurt… scared… alone…”
Cougar joins them, kneeling close by. His voice is gentle and comforting, “Who is? Who's hurt and alone, Elian?”
“That girl… Kanami…” still barely a whisper.
“Is she at the dairy farm?” Cougar prompts.
“I guess so- it's not Tachibana's house.” He shakes his head, as if the action will somehow bring order to the convoluted input blitzing his mind. “She needs help. I… I can't hear her anymore… I can't… reach her.” He sighs helplessly and finally opens his eyes, deepening the weary and dejected look on his face.
“It's okay. We'll handle it.” Urizane slips effortlessly into his role as guardian, fussing paternally over the youth. He half steers, half carries Elian over to the off-centered couch and the boy reflexively cocoons into the cushions on his side. “Take five, little man.”
After fetching a couple of aspirin for the boy, Urizane tucks an old throw around Elian and, with a large paw, gently smoothes the midnight blue hair peeking out of the blanket's edge. He then crosses to the other side of the room to confer with a somewhat bewildered Cougar.
“Is he okay?” the speedster asks.
“Yeah, he'll be alright. But he'll have a mother of a migraine for the next couple of hours, I'd guess. The scanning he was doing earlier tired him a bit, but what really did it was that girl.”
Cougar quirks a curious eyebrow. “What do you mean? What did she do?”
“Well, you've seen her. She's real young and not so practiced with her Alter. I'm sure when she concentrates she can control it better, but it looks like she panicked and probably projected everything she had.”
“…and since Elian's Alter is so strong and receptive he took the full brunt of her projection,” Cougar guesses, piecing things together.
“Right. He basically inadvertently `downloaded' all of the emotions the girl was feeling when she sent the message. If she was really hurt and scared like Elian said, then he felt it all,” the large man concludes.
“I see. No wonder he's wiped,” Cougar laments, casting a sideways glance at the blanketed form on the sofa. “What did he mean when he said he couldn't reach her?”
“He was probably trying to follow her signal back to her to get more info. If he couldn't get her, that means she's either knocked out or…” Urizane lets his words trail off. “If we want to know if she's okay we'll have to find her.”
“Are we even certain she's at the dairy farm? What if she's somewhere else?”
“Elian was only sure that she wasn't at Tachibana's house. But she and Cammy both work there don't they? Where else would she be?”
“I don't know. Do you think anyone else got her signal? Maybe Kazuya?”
“As thick as those two are, I'd imagine he'd get it if he was close enough. Maybe even Ryuho or Tachibana.”
“Or Miss Minori…,” Cougar adds.
“Yeah, her too. I don't know. It all depends on the development of the girl's Alter. She might not have even meant for Elian to get it.”
“But how do we know if anyone else is going to help her?” Cougar wonders.
Urizane's features are serious. “We don't.”
Cougar grasps for the big picture. “So we know she was in trouble and in pain several moments ago. But right now we don't know her condition, her location, who is with her, or who else knows she needs help. We aren't sure where to get help for her. We don't even know for sure if she's still alive…”
“Umm… yeah. That about sums it up. I know. Not much to go on.”
Cougar sighs in exasperation. “So what do we do?”
“I have no friggin' idea.”
As the earthquake vibrates around them, Kazuma, Ryuho and Tachibana search for cover. Tachibana snakes through his kitchen chairs on hands and knees to maneuver to a spot under the table. Ryuho dashes for the open doorway between the living room and kitchen and braces himself against the frame. Kazuma awkwardly dives over the couch and scrunches in front of it, pulling down some cushions for good measure.
After the house trembles for a few excruciating minutes, a comparative silence settles around it. Soon all that is heard is the torrent of the storm outside. Following another minute, they all emerge from their respective havens to investigate.
Ryuho watches curiously as Tachibana crawls out from under the table looking totally confused. Over by the couch an arm is thrown up onto the seat cushions, gloved fingers clutched tightly around a fluffy pillow. Kazuma's spiky head appears soon after.
“What the hell kinda shit was that!” growls Kazuma.
Ryuho sighs impatiently. “Are you a complete moron? I said it was an earthquake!”
Kazuma jumps to his feet and turns an indignant look on Ryuho. He gestures wildly at him with a handful of pillow. “Listen, you fucking prick. What'd I tell you about trying to pull that elitist shit with me, huh? Quake or no quake, I'll kick your prissy ass if you don't shut it!”
“Quiet!!” Tachibana interrupts. “Can we please figure out what the hell just happened? We're in the middle of a record-breaking typhoon and we get hit by an earthquake? If that isn't the mother of all unfortunate coincidences…”
Ryuho ignores Kazuma's death-glare to agree, “You're right. Our luck can't be that horrendous.”
Kazuma rolls his eyes, muttering, “Speak for yourself.”
Tachibana endeavors to steer them back on topic. “So everyone's alright? Is everything-?”
Suddenly Kazuma throw up an empty hand to interrupt him. “Wait! Do… do you guys feel that?”
Ryuho shoots the teen a quizzical look until he, too, pauses to note a sensation of panic wash over him. He is hit by a wave of nausea which tightens his stomach into a knot. He can tell Tachibana feels it, too.
Wrapping his arms around himself in a shiver, Tachibana asks, “What is that?”
In the back of his mind, amidst the tumult of emotions, Ryuho hears words. He speaks them aloud as they come to him, “Falling… hurting… lost… alone…”
Kazuma yells, “That's Kanami! I can hear her! She needs my help!”
Tachibana is doubtful, “Are you sure it's her?”
Ryuho silently nods his agreement as Kazuma continues, “It's definitely her. I can feel her. She's using her Alter to find me.”
“To find us,” Ryuho corrects.
Kazuma drops the remaining pillow in his grasp and quickly strides to the front door. “That's it. I'm going to the farm to get her. Tach, you coming?”
“I… wait. You said you heard the word `alone?' Where's Cammy? They're supposed to be together.” Worry creeps across the teen's face.
Kazuma answers, “I don't know- let's find out. Come on!”
Ryuho remains rooted to his spot. “What about Mimori?”
Kazuma pauses. He'd forgotten all about the young woman. Guilt tugs at him, but he redirects it in order to bait Ryuho. “What about her? She's probably safe in the city. But hey, maybe you ought to quit yakking and go find her if you're so hung up on her. I've made my decision.”
“I'm not hung up on her!” Ryuho lashes back, obviously stung. However, in an instant he has regained all composure. “But you heard the weather reports. The typhoon is devastating the city. We have to ensure her safety.” After a brief yet thoughtful pause, “I'm going to find her.”
Kazuma smirks, certain suspicions seemingly confirmed. “Whatever, man. Tach, last chance. You coming?”
Tachibana hesitates, wanting so badly to accompany Kazuma to the dairy farm. However he worries over the idea of Ryuho being the first and only person Mimori sees, especially if things are fine. She'll undoubtedly know that he revealed their involvement with AIMED. Still, if somehow things were not well… If the storm did indeed endanger her…
Even as he reasons he knows he has already made his choice. Haunted by the projected words and unsure of Cammy's safety, he won't leave her alone or trust her fate to Kazuma when the boy is so focused on Kanami.
“Kazuma, I'm coming with you.” He turns to the other teen. “Ryuho, please make sure Mimori gets back here safe and sound.” He knows he doesn't have to ask, but Ryuho still nods formally. The irony of this role reversal since their last serious discussion is not lost on him.
Ryuho simply nods yet again, eyes full of understanding. “You have my word.” An unspoken truce is extended between them.
“One moment,” Tachibana requests as he disappears into the kitchen. Rummaging sounds are heard before he reemerges with a small shoulder bag for the older teen. “For just in case.” Ryuho accepts the bag with a quiet `thank you,' swinging it onto his shoulder.
With that Kazuma pushes through the front door, the other two Alter users soon close on his heels. Once they are outside, soaking chunks of Tachibana's yard dematerialize as all three young men form their Alters.
They power off in opposing directions, Tachibana and Kazuma towards the farm and Ryuho towards the city, speeding towards the ones for whom they care the most.
After the tumbling and banging sensations stop, Cammy finally ventures to open her eyes. She must have been conscious through the whole thing, but her senses still swim from entirely too much shaking and falling and landing and hurting…
Thick yellow strands are all she can see- she must have landed and sunken into a giant bale of something. She's covered in so much wet hay that she can't figure out which way is up until she remembers that gravity should help her out with that. She raises the arm not trapped against her body and mentally curses as it drops heavily on her face. She must be on her back.
Her first unsuccessful attempt to sit up is met with serious protest from her muscles. She doesn't care what she's seen in the movies- falling into a pile of hay still hurts like hell…
She slides her hands back and braces her arms beneath her to gingerly sit herself up. As the walls of the first floor of the barn come into view Cammy realizes that she had been in the loft… with Kanami! She scours her surroundings for the girl, but all she can see are splintered boards from the loft and stupid cows lumbering around and loudly complaining of the sky falling on them. She finally catches a glimpse of a small, limp, outstretched form lying against the nearby wall. She pushes to her feet, ignoring her protesting muscles, and sprints over to it.
“Kanami! Oh, Kanami…” Cammy sinks to her banged-up knees practically on top of the girl, but hesitates to touch her, overwhelmed by the little girl's condition. She lays crumpled on her side, hair from her ponytail spilled haphazardly across her face and limbs twisted at uncomfortable-looking angles beneath her. She isn't moving at all.
No! Oh God, what do I do? Cammy fights back the surge of panic threatening to crash over her in favor of helping her friend. She needs Asuka. Or better yet, she needs Mimori. What would Mimori do?
That question brings back flashbacks of a lifeless Cougar lying on her kitchen table, but the memories serve their purpose. Breathing and heartbeat are the most important things to ascertain in a situation like this. Cammy carefully reaches over and pulls hair away from her patient's face. She's all crumpled up- should I roll her over?
Deciding that's what Mimori would do, Cammy pulls Kanami over onto her back as gently as she can. She tilts the girls head back just as she had seen the researcher do, and then stares intently at the girl's mouth awaiting any stir of air. Was that a breath? She tentatively holds her palm just centimeters over the girl's open lips and after a moment, feels her own skin warm and moisten from the girl's breathing. In relief she finally exhales the air she had been unconsciously holding in.
Heartbeat. Cammy places her fingers on Kanami's neck the way she had seen Mimori do it for Cougar, but isn't sure what she should be feeling. A pulse, I should feel a pulse. However, the echo of the pumping of her own blood pounds in her ears, blocking out any other input she might get. Anxious and frustrated, she allows herself one of Kazuma's brash vulgarities. After shifting her fingers around for a while Cammy gives up, reasoning that someone who is breathing must have a heartbeat, even if she can't find it. That decided, she sets about straightening the girl's limbs and checking for obvious blood.
After giving the girl her own version of a head-to-toe, Cammy can't think of anything else to search for. Noticing the chill from the wet barn, Cammy unzips her pink hoodie and lays it on Kanami, tucking the edges under the girl's body. The sleeves are wet and the rest of the garment is damp in places, but it should be better than nothing at all. Cammy shivers in her tank top, but refuses to think of the cold.
A groan over her shoulder reminds her that she and Kanami were not the only ones in the loft when it fell. She brushes loving fingers across Kanami's face and looks her over one more time before she moves off to do what she can for the other farm hands.
The last of Mimori's strength and breath are spent hurling herself out of the path of her own fast-drifting car. Still, the careening machine deflects painfully off her hip before floating down the street. A sickening metallic crunch signals that it has collided with the only other car on the block.
She wades on hands and knees to the curb and then to the phone pole on the opposite side of the street and sinks against it. There is less water on this side- she finds it runs only about four inches up the pole. She plunks down very ungracefully and leans her back heavily against the weathered wood, making sure her head won't drop into the water if she succumbs to the fatigue currently weighing on her like a lead-impregnated blanket.
Her eyelids droop against the falling rain. However, pain awakens the clinician in her and she forces her senses to alertness long enough to do a thorough, full-body inventory to assess her condition.
Head- hurts like it's been kicked around the park all day by hyperactive kindergarteners. Searching fingers find crusted blood covering a laceration along her hairline. Scratches are present on her cheeks and face, which feels gritty and smells of carbon, particularly under her nose and around her mouth.
Throat- parched and coated in a fine layer of soot, like the rest of her. Larynx is raw and scorched like the building she just escaped from. However, breathing is coming easier, meaning she must not have inhaled enough smoke to severely damage her lungs.
Chest- heaving and burning, but otherwise okay.
Arms- upper arms are sore and bruised- probably from Ryuho's gripping hands this morning. Don't think about him! Forearms are screaming, particularly the left. Pain shoots through what feel like splinters, and runs from her pinky and ring finger to her outer elbow- Ulnar nerve distribution Skin is covered in cuts and she knows bruises will form after a while. Of course, what else would you expect after being crushed under a giant toppling bookcase?
Abdomen- muscles are sore from dry-retching and pushing off the bookcase. Stomach is empty and achy. Hmm, I could actually eat something; what a time to be hungry.
Hips and pelvis- both hips hurt, especially the left, which caught the fender of Tachibana's car. Mental note: always put on the parking brake. Even though it probably wouldn't have made a difference. Then again some of the pain she feels could be from all her rolling around, although her jeans were good protection from the glass and concrete that might have otherwise ravaged her skin. Still, she can expect more bruises when she can finally get her pants off.
Butt- very, very sore. If she had another body part to sit on, she would have given it a try, but that probably would have hurt like hell, too.
Legs- very close to the consistency of jello. She knew the bones were there but also knew they weren't going to work to move her anywhere in the immediate future. Can I walk? Probably. But, God, I'm so sore and tired! Thighs to calves will probably be peppered in more bruises.
Ankles and feet- swollen and rickety, like the bones are rearranging themselves in her socks. Do I still have my shoes? Yep. Two sneakers still on, currently full or water. Much too heavy to lift with her noodly legs at present. But she should keep them on to protect her feet; who knows what all this water is hiding, and it would keep her ankles from swelling up too badly.
She guesses that she's only a few breaths away from going into shock, but for now she's satisfied that she isn't going to die in the next hour. Overcome by grief and pain, she leans her head back against the pole, knowing that she doesn't even have energy left to cry. Instead she surrenders to her heavy eyelids by letting them slide shut to shield against the falling raindrops. She is helpless to stop the depths of unconsciousness from consuming her.
As Elian sleeps, Urizane and Straight Cougar whisper conspiratorially amidst the echo of the tempest, debating over their next course of action. After some arguing it has been decided that Urizane will teleport to the dairy farm to find and retrieve Kanami while Cougar stays with Elian. They both agree that neither wants to leave the weakened boy vulnerable in the midst of such a severe squall and in the wake of an artificially generated earthquake.
However, Cougar still has some reservations about what to do next. “Once you find the girl will you bring her here or take her to Tachibana's house?”
“Tachibana's, I guess. Mimori will most likely be there, and if not, the others will know where to find her,” Urizane reasons.
“What if the others got the girl's message and went to the farm, too?” Cougar inquires, searching for holes in their plan.
“Then I'll meet up with them, or they'll give up and go back home. Either way, everyone ends up back at Tachibana's house- like always.” Urizane casts a concerned look over to the boy sleeping on the sofa. “When Elian wakes up bring him to the house, too. I'll feel better if everyone's under one roof. If something goes wrong I'll come back here, okay?”
Cougar shoots the rotund man an annoyed look, “And I just twiddle my thumbs while you do all the running around?”
Urizane sighs in exasperation. “Look, you can race around all over the Lost Ground after you're back to 100 percent. Right now my way is faster,” he gets an obligatory eye roll from Cougar, “and less likely to have you doin' your own freakish impersonation of `Night of the Living Dead.' We've already saved your butt once and I am NOT doin' mouth-to-mouth on you. Got it?”
Cougar shoots him a wry smile, but agrees with reluctance. “Fine.”
“Good. See you after awhile.” With his final words Urizane's body glows with the light of his Alter, surrounding himself in a giant watermelon-skinned orb. The humongous fruit pulses with light and then vanishes, bound for the dairy farm and the little girl in dire need of help.
Mimori is being chased by a heavily bandaged and mummified Kazuma through the halls of HOLY. She is running at full speed, panting and tripping, while her zombie-resembling hunter clomps behind in movie-style slow motion. Despite the stark contrast of their paces he somehow manages to stay just on her heels, snatching at her with thickly wrapped fingers. Throughout this pursuit she has been assailed with every curse word she's ever heard, as well as some she hasn't.
Suddenly the door to her former quarters jumps into view and she hastens toward it. However, as her fingers grasp for the doorknob strong hands wrap roughly around her upper arms and whip her around. Mimori cowers and shuts her eyes, but no attack comes. Hesitantly she hazards a peek at the person in front of her and is surprised to find herself in Ryuho's embrace. He smiles down at her lovingly and then scoops her up into his arms. The door to her apartment automatically opens and he carries her across the threshold.
He totes her through the living room, heading straight for her bedroom. Mimori gasps her surprise but her handler seems oblivious, simply gazing down at her with the warmest expression she has ever seen grace his face. He stops right up against the side of her bed and then leans his head down to place a devouring kiss on her lips. She accepts his mouth with her own, splaying her fingers flush on his chest.
But perhaps she should have wrapped her arms around his neck because the next moment he unceremoniously drops her onto the bed. Rather than bouncing off the mattress, Mimori instead continues to tumble through the frame, tangling in sheets as she falls and falls. Before she can scream, however, a large hand grasps hers in a firm hold and she tightens her grip in response. Her body jerks to a stop and she looks up to see that a supernaturally floating Cougar has easily caught her hand in one of his own.
The physical bond of their hands allows Mimori to hover cloud-like, ceasing her rapid descent. The fingers of the man's free hand are threaded through the handles of a pair of large scissors. The front of Cougar's clothing is roughly cut open, revealing his well-muscled torso, and he wears a Cheshire cat grin that nearly reaches his ears. He wiggles his eyebrows at her in a `wanna-cut-off-my-shirt?' kind of way. She readies herself to scold him when his expression suddenly changes to a somber one.
He turns mournful eyes on her and begins to vanish, growing more and more transparent with every second. Soon he is no longer corporeal enough to grasp and his hand disappears from hers. She begins to fall again, now even faster than before. Between her feet she can see bright orange lights that waver and flash in a trance-inducing rhythm. Fire. She is falling into fire. The air around her grows hotter, making it nearly impossible to take a breath. All too soon the details of the licking flames come into view and she picks up even more speed, as if she is being forcibly hurled towards the pyre. She plummets faster and faster until the dancing inferno swallows her.
Mimori awakens to a rough cloth wiping across her face. Instinctively her arms and legs flail out in defense, right hand smacking awkwardly against a human face and neck. Strong fingers wrap solidly around her wrists, pushing her arms firmly back down towards her body. Her eyes open wide with surprise and settle on the features of an unfamiliar twenty-something year-old man.
Mimori stares, a bit too shocked and disoriented to speak. The stranger, still clutching her wrists in front of her chest, offers her a warm smile. “Wow! That's a hell of a swing you have there, Missy! Calm down; no one's here to hurt you. Are you okay?”
Mimori looks down at his fingers still wrapped firmly around her wrists and relaxes her arms in his grip. He finally releases her and sits back on his heels, cupping his stinging cheek in his hand. She remembers striking him and immediately floods with guilt. “I'm sorry… I'm… what… who…?” She turns inquisitive eyes on him.
He chuckles, “How many questions is that? You wanna try that again?”
She flushes in embarrassment, not used to being so inarticulate. She forms her mouth to say something but is instead wracked by a fit of barking coughs.
The stranger frowns, “Whoa, you'd better not try to talk until you've drank something.” Instantly a plastic bottle hovers just under her nose. Mimori's eyes snap to it hungrily. However, when she doesn't immediately take it he places it gently in her open hands and closes her palms around it. She looks at the water in the bottle and then at the man. Overcome by thirst she lifts the bottle to her lips to take some tentative sips. Instead she ends up gulping the liquid and draining the container before she can realize what she's done. The water feels so soothing on the back of her throat and leaves behind a mild tang reminiscent of a thirst not entirely quenched. She instantly longs for a couple hundred more satisfying swallows.
She pants for air and then looks down at the now empty plastic container. Her gaze falls back on the man, eyes attempting to express gratitude and apology simultaneously. He seems to understand. “No worries, you definitely needed it. And I've got more back at my place. It looks like you've been in a fire. Do you know how long you were knocked out?”
At that she finally looks around to take in her surroundings and is immediately smacked by the reality of her recent experiences. “The office… caught fire… A bookcase fell on me. I had to crawl out through the broken window…” Her halting words mimic her mental struggle to piece together the events that brought her out to the flooded streets. Suddenly she remembers the middle-aged man who had been in the office with her. “Hideki! He was in the back… I couldn't warn him. Where is he? Did he make it out?”
“You were in that building over there?” The stranger's gaze falls on the rubble that was formerly the restaurant, disbelief evident in his shocked features. When he finally turns back to her she can read the reluctance in his eyes. His long pause effectively confirms her suspicions before he speaks. “I don't know how to tell you this. I heard that building fall about 20 minutes ago. I don't think anybody other than you made it out.”
His words are a jab to her gut. The worst has happened. Hideki is crushed or asphyxiated or burned or drowned or… Oh, God… This isn't happening…
The stranger's voice snaps her out of her pained reverie. “Look, you can't stay out here. This weather is brutal. Is there someone you can call?”
Mimori turns puzzled eyes on the man, “You have a phone?”
He smiles, “Yeah, back at my place. And it still works despite the storm. You wanna use it?”
Mimori manages an exhausted frown. “There's no phone at my house. And I don't know any numbers to call…”
“That's okay. Do you live close by? Maybe I could help get you home?”
Her frown deepens, “I live outside of the city. I drove here in a friend's car?”
He brightens, “Where's the car?” and looks up and down the street for it.
From her sitting position Mimori limply raises a hand to gesture behind her to the two collided vehicles down the block. The man follows the line of her pointed finger and she watches his eyes bug out. Without even looking over her shoulder she blandly proclaims, “Mine's the one on top.”
He lets out an awed whisper, “Oh, shit.”
“You said it,” she offers in agreement. Her impromptu rescuer pauses in thought before finally seeming to come up with a plan. He claps his hands together as if he's about to make a deal.
“Listen, the storm has let up since the earthquake but it's still nasty as hell out here. You need to get someplace warm and dry. My place isn't far; you can lie down for a while if you want. Once the storm stops I'll help you get home, okay?”
Frazzled nerves cause a little tear of gratitude to stream down Mimori's cheek. She nods her assent and thanks until she can find her shaky voice once again. “Th-thank you. I-I don't know what to say.”
“Oh, don't worry about it. I couldn't let a pretty thing like you just huddle on the sidewalk in our worst typhoon ever. That would be all kinds of shameful.”
“Al-alright. Um, just for a bit…”
At her acquiescence, the stranger pulls Mimori to her feet. When her knees wobble under her he pulls her to him, holding her up in an awkward embrace. Once she is balanced he lifts her arm and throws it over his shoulder. The man grabs a hold of her waist a bit too firmly and familiarly, but she's in no condition to really object. With him supporting the majority of her weight they begin a slow and painstaking pace down the flooded sidewalk.
Even through her trauma-induced fog, Mimori can't help but note a certain strangeness in her rescuer's words and manner, giving her second thoughts about putting so much trust in him. In any normal situation it might have put her on edge. However, she reasons that in her current situation there simply aren't any other options that get her out of the typhoon and ultimately out of the city in one piece. Upon reflection she's actually pretty lucky to have been found by anyone, let alone someone so eager to offer her his help.
Too exhausted to ponder her fortune any longer, Mimori instead refocuses her concentration to where it is needed most, namely making her body walk in a straight line. She just can't seem to coordinate her limbs and is now ironically thankful that this man has such a strong hold on her. Hoping his `place' is not much farther away, Mimori allows her rescuer to guide her through the assaulting onslaught of the typhoon.
As Ryuho flies over the giant wall of the city he can feel fatigue nipping at his heels once again; he knows he will soon succumb to his aching muscles and the beating they are receiving from the barraging storm. Using his Alter ability to fly- using his Alter ability at all, really- is quickly draining what bit of energy he had recovered during his brief stopover at Tachibana's. He turns his gaze downward in search of a landmark only to be shocked by the ruin below him.
There is no dry ground in site- every street, alley and sidewalk is covered in at least a foot of water. The foundations of all the buildings have disappeared below a rippling liquid surface. Street signs look as if they have been chopped in half by the high water line in some areas. Few cars are scattered around the streets but all are in some state of submersion; water laps at tire-height on some vehicles, while others have roofs barely visible above the meniscus of the water. Worst of all are the sights of numerous scattered structures that have toppled over or collapsed into themselves. Smoke permeates the air, billowing from various buildings that have inevitably caught fire. The Cityscape is barely recognizable.
As he nears his destination Ryuho rapidly tires, having more and more trouble staying aloft. He eagerly searches for the side street that will lead him to the restaurant and touches down with a splash in the intersection, assuring himself that walking the rest of the way will not slow him down too much.
After releasing his Alter, Ryuho hypothesizes that he will require quite a bit of rest before reforming Zetsuei; he hopes that once he finds Mimori she won't mind waiting out the storm with him before they return to the house. Shifting Tachibana's small bag more comfortably on his shoulder, Ryuho wades in the direction of the former restaurant J'Espere in search of a certain stubborn, yet devastatingly beautiful, raven-haired, chocolate-eyed girl-genius.
To be continued…