S-CRY-ed Fan Fiction ❯ Evolution of the Lost Ground ❯ Rescuing ( Chapter 8 )

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

Disclaimer: Don't own sCRYed, but added a few more characters to advance the story- NOT a Mary Sue!! (Hate them with a passion)
Warning: Reference and indirect use of illicit drugs. This chapter in particular gets a little violent and suggestive but does not, in my opinion, cross the line (or even toe it, really). So no flames for the adult language, please.
Chapter 8- rescuing
In a seedy little seaside motel on the southeastern shore, a large, well muscled man lies on a bed entirely too short for him. Large, white-socked feet hang over the mattress from the ankle down as his empty black combat boots stand at attention against the bed. Long, thick legs are barely outlined by oversized, baggy cargo pants, but the curves of his well developed torso strain the confines of his drab tank top. His arms are thrown behind his neck, cradling the shaved dome of his head, presently covered by a tied kerchief. In anticipation of his orders, the Mercenary had already made his way to the Lost Ground two days ago. Having just received the details of his mission, now Zondo Demos need only wait out the storm engineered by his employers as he formulates his strategy and plan of attack.
At 37, Zondo has cultivated over two decades of experience in the arts of stealth, assassination, and war. Though none of his work with this faction has yet to be straightforward, the job he's just received in the double-encoded message is disappointingly simple. He knew from previous talks with Commander Makafushi that his job would eventually involve ghosting some upstart little organization that had gotten too big for its britches and had unknowingly stepped on his employer's toes.
However, the official mission arrived with greater urgency and priority than first indicated, meaning that the newest developments had escalated sooner than expected. Not just a dismantling, but a complete annihilation of the organization and the end of two key members had been requested. He received names, photos and extensive bios on the two `offenders' and had openly chuckled at his newest information. They were children- 17 and 19 years old- a male and a female.
The girl, it turned out, was an heiress from the Mainland. Some prissy little rich teenager who thought she knew everything and assumed she could use her influence to bend others to her whim. No doubt it was her fame rather than her talents that had his Commander worried over her presence. He hated girls like her.
And the photo of the guy accompanying her- what a joke. Some young pretty boy who thought he was the shit because he was an Alter User. They had somehow managed to get Zondo a thorough report on the male's Alter power- something to do with `treasure balls'- and he had to admit that the kid likely had some skills. But up against him? The mercenary Zondo Demos? Well, there was no comparison.
In order to see to the complete destruction of the target organization known as `AIMED' Zondo would have to glean the rest of his information from his primary targets, which meant a live capture for one of them- he doubted he could stomach messing around with both when it would be so easy to kill one to make the other talk. Perhaps he'd delight in a bit of stalking in order to find out which would be more pliant from torture.
Having formulated his plan of attack, the mercenary silently climbs into and laces his boots and rises from the bed. He places his intel in his knapsack along with his few personal items- mostly weapons. Their great number exudes an air of overkill, but that's precisely the way he likes it. He can be ready to leave within a two minute window at any given time, and now is no exception. Taking a final lap around the motel room, he is sure to wipe down any lingering fingerprints and flashes a portable UV light over all surfaces to again check for any traces of his presence. Satisfied with his cleanup he shoulders his pack, exits the room and drives off in a recently purchased, inconspicuous and untraceable van.
As Hiro carries a woozy and injured Mimori into the darkened theater she is at first too stunned to react. Her dulled senses struggle to make sense of the unusual transformation her rescuer has undergone before her eyes. Just moments ago he had been kind, amicable, even solicitous; but now, on his home turf and in the company of a running buddy Hiro is icy, crude and arrogant. It suddenly dawns on her that he had manipulated her- had played on her vulnerability- probably from the very beginning. Probably when he had first laid eyes on her. And she had fallen for his game- had in turn played right into his hands. She had told him she was alone, that she was from far outside the city, that her transportation was trashed, that she had no way to contact any of her friends… In her traumatized state she had hardly exercised any sort of caution- worrying more about the discovery of AIMED than for her own personal safety. How stupid!
As they emerge through a set of double doors into the large auditorium, Mimori is jolted back to her somewhat muddled senses. She finds herself surrounded by rows of low seats and staring up at a towering, ornate ceiling overhead. Easily toting her against his chest, Hiro cuts through the orchestra section and climbs a set of stairs leading up to the side of the stage. As they ascended Mimori can hear and then see a rowdy bunch of thugs spread out around the stage, lounging on mismatched and cast-off furniture, food wrappers and bottles littering the stage. Mimori can feel eyes roving over her as Hiro strides purposefully upstage towards a gigantic and gaudy piece of gold furniture. The little rat-looking guy leading the way obstructs her view but she can hear him exclaim excitedly, “Boss! You're not going to believe what Hiro brought!”
The voice that replies is deep and resonant, “This ought to be good. He's been gone the longest; I don't like waiting so it better be worth it. He knows better than to waste my time.”
Hiro's chilling smirk returns, “No worries, Genso. One look and you'll see she was well worth the wait.”
A chuckle more closely resembling a rumble of thunder rises to her ears, “Hmm, `she' is it?”
At this the guy ahead steps aside and Mimori gets a full view of a large figure filling the seat and arms of what she now sees is a massive `throne', likely salvaged from some play produced in the historic theater. Though his clothes are somewhat stained and rumpled, the giant man nevertheless looks the part of royalty, with chiseled features and an air of cool entitlement- his mien somehow reminds her of Zigmarl. Though sitting, he still appears massive, with broad shoulders, thick arms and wrists, and large yet articulate hands. He wears his black hair long and shaggy and his face is bordered by a couple of day's worth of beard. He looks older than Hiro, perhaps thirty or so.
Hiro halts right in front of him and drops Mimori's feet to make her stand. He keeps an arm around her back to support her so that his leader can inspect, but she instinctively cocoons in on herself, hugging her arms and tucking her chin into her chest; she doesn't want this man touching her.
Before even pausing to give her a real appraisal, Genso sighs disapprovingly, “She looks awfully pitiful. She can't even stand up by herself.”
A frown ghosts over Hiro's face but the rat guy interjects, “I bet Hiro dusted her; she looks totally stoned!”
Genso's black eyebrows shoot up in interest. “Really? Did you?”
Hiro renews his confident smirk triumphantly. “Oh yeah! It was brilliant, too. I shook it up in a bottle of water- she gulped down the whole damn thing! It was hilarious! I thought for sure she was gonna pass out before we made it back here.”
Genso's lip curls up slightly, “I see.”
Hiro continues, “I found her outside some collapsed building. She was just sitting there, passed out. It was too easy! I had her eatin' outta the palm of my hand in a couple seconds. The best part is she's from outside the wall- no connections to speak of. And check her out…”
With his free hand, Hiro reaches in his back pocket for the damp rag he had wiped her face with before and proceeds to finish the job. Mimori wiggles in protest, throwing up her hands, but Hiro still manages to paw at the grit on her face. “Past the dirt she's a real knockout.” The rag removes the majority of the grime obscuring Mimori's delicate features, his harsh rubbing leaving behind a pink glow to her skin. Then he untangles her arms, pulling one wide out by the wrist to show off her figure. “Long legs, great rack and a pretty face- are you seeing this?”
The stoic leader nods in increasing approval and Hiro laps it up like a puppy. Genso continues his questions, looking her up and down with renewed interest, “And you're sure no one's looking for her?”
“Definitely. And if anyone did come lookin' they'd think her building fell on her. Killed another guy before I got there.”
Through her thickening fog which she now recognizes to be drug-induced, Mimori remembers Mr. Hideki. Even through her confusion she mourns him before her thoughts can turn back to wondering what will become of her. When she looks up to take new stock in her surroundings she is startled to see that many of the other gang members have stood from their reclined positions and surrounded Hiro to get a better look at her. As they close in Mimori gasps and flinches out of Hiro's grasp, falling to the floor in a heap. Laughter erupts all around her and she can hear some of the men mocking her helplessness. Too weak to stand, she just lays there, drawing her knees in and hiding her face.
Genso's voice carries over the small crowd, “Pick her up.” He stands from his throne and everyone takes a step back except Hiro, who reaches down and hauls Mimori up harshly by the arm. In her drugged state the jerking action causes her head to whip back painfully and she sees their leader stands before her at his full height. Indeed, he is massive- nearly seven feet tall; he looks twice the size of Hiro and Mimori's legs turn to jelly again.
Genso palms her chin and draws her face up, locking her eyes with his. An ominous communication jumps between their eyes: he reads her fear and confusion, while she recognizes his mounting desire. He grabs her other arm, practically hoisting her on her tiptoes, and rakes a long, critical gaze over her entire body from head to toe. The others look on with a mix of jealousy and curiosity.
After a long silence, Genso finally speaks, “Good job, Hiro. She'll do nicely. Put her in my `suite' while I decide what to do with her. I'll be along shortly. Make sure she's ready.”
At this half of the men howl their approval with whistles and cat-calls, while the other half groan in protest. Genso shouts above them all, “Shut your whining! You bastards will have plenty of time to play with her all you want, but you know the rules- I get the first go. Got a problem with that?”
His challenge is met by immediate silence and Hiro hoists Mimori up again, whisking her off-stage.
She is carried up a set of dark metal stairs and down another hallway until Hiro finally stops in front of a large door. Using the hand over which her knees are slung, he turns the worn knob and hauls her inside, kicking the door behind them with his foot. The dimly lit room is filled with what must be the nicest things the gang had scavenged, so that it almost resembles a normal-looking bedroom. He crosses to the bed and drops her on the edge of the mattress, the poor girl landing with an ungraceful bounce. Shocked and overwhelmed by the drugs in her system and the entire kidnapping situation, Mimori can only lay there as Hiro disappears for a moment, then reappears with a wet cloth.
“Gotta make you look presentable. He's right; you do look a bit of a mess.” He pulls her legs over the edge of the bed and hoists her into a sitting position. Straddling her knees, he stands over her, running the rag over the spots he missed on her face and attempts to wipe the dirt off her hands and forearms, too. Mimori neither protests nor complies.
When he's finished scrubbing at her face again, he turns his attention to her attire. “You've got on too much clothes, little girl. Gotta take care of that.” He smirks knowingly at her, reaching in his back pocket and producing a butterfly knife. He expertly flips it open and leans over her, tauntingly waving the blade under her chin. Mimori is so frightened by the knife that she freezes, fighting the urge to slide off the bed to escape him. Hiro suddenly yanks her sweater collar and roughly slices down the center to the hem; he peels the garment back at the shoulders, revealing a t-shirt underneath.
“Another shirt?! What are you, one of those good girls?” He shoots her a feral grin, chuckling at her wide and frightened stare, and then goes to work with the blade again. Mimori squeezes her eyes shut but can't block out the sounds of fabric ripping or the feel of repeated tugging on her clothes. When she finally opens her eyes, her shirt and sweater lie in a heap behind her, leaving her torso clad in only her bra. Hiro then turns his attention to her lower half, eyes sparking with mischief. He waves the glinting knife in her face again and then places the flat of the blade on her thigh, running it slowly down the length of her still-damp jeans to her sneakers. Without even looking down he slices the laces of her sneakers, and then yanks them off followed by her socks. Mimori can't think about her suddenly aching feet because his attention has returned to her jeans, which finally seem to puzzle him. He pouts, musing, “Guess I'd better leave you in something; Genso likes to unwrap his gifts.” Then he raises his gaze to her bra.
Even through the haze of drugs, Mimori can see the heavy lust in Hiro's eyes. Speaking to himself, he rationalizes, “Of course, boss could hardly deny me my finder's fee. Might as well get a little taste right now- Whadya say, Mimi?” Before Mimori can even think to protest he closes in on her, raising a knee up onto the mattress and forcing her down on her back. Trapping her beneath him with hands on either side of her head, Hiro crashes his mouth down onto Mimori's, crushing her lips in a bruising kiss. She gasps in surprise and he takes the opportunity to force his tongue in her mouth and suck on hers in return. He then drops himself down onto her, wrapping one hand around the back of her neck and grabbing a handful of her backside in the other.
Mimori fights against the force of his assaulting kiss and the weight of him smothering her. Suddenly realizing their position, she bites down hard on his tongue causing him to spring off of her like a cat. He yelps in surprise and smacks her reflexively. The force hits her so hard that it rolls her over onto her belly. He jumps on her again, flipping her back over and grabbing a handful of hair, pulling her face into his, “You little bitch!!” His teeth are tinted with blood and he looks enraged, as though he's about to kill her, Genso be damned.
However, all too suddenly he settles into an eerie calm, smirking ruefully down at her and relaxing his hold on her hair. He runs his tongue across his teeth, tasting the blood and staring at Mimori the entire time, “Well, aren't you full of fire, Mimi? Genso'll show you a real good time, but I hope you'll save some of that feistiness for me a bit later. Maybe there'll be enough to go around for all the guys. What do you think?” He shoots her a cruel smile before releasing his grip and backing away from her. He checks her out one last time- clad in only jeans and a tiny bra, she's spread out on the bed like an enticing buffet. Her chest heaves from their little `tussle' and her face and neck are flushed a rosy shade of pink. He can barely wait his turn.
As Hiro turns around to leave he calls out over his shoulder, “Make yourself comfortable; Genso will be along shortly. Try not to disappoint him- he has a serious temper. Not gentle like me. And remember, you've got to make the rounds so try not to wear yourself out, little girl.” With that he slams the door behind him. Mimori hears the distinct click of the lock and knows she's trapped inside.
Suddenly weary, she collapses heavily on the bed, using entirely too much effort to roll over in order to muffle her sobs in the blankets. What has she gotten herself into? What would they do to her? A bitterness rises in her throat as she recalls what Hiro had been hinting at: she was going to be passed around like a cigarette lighter and the first to take his turn with her would be that giant mountain of a man, their leader. Then, who knows what they had in store for her.
Back at the Dairy Farm, Dr. Juro finally begins examining Kanami. As soon as he had arrived he'd begun triaging patients into the main house. Despite Kazuma's fierce protests Kanami had to wait to be seen, because after a cursory examination her vital signs were stable and she didn't appear to be in any acute distress. The doctor had to tend to some stitching and bone setting before he finally made it to the unconscious little girl. Now finally able to see her, the doctor gives her a more thorough examination, opening her eyes and listening to her chest and stomach. He works silently and with practiced efficiency, only allowing a small `hmm' every once in a while. Everyone watching is reminded of Mimori when she had performed similar sorts of exams.
Kazuma's impatience finally gets the best of him, “Do you know what's wrong with her, doc? Is she gonna be alright?”
Pausing to consider his answer, Dr. Juro calmly replies, “I'm unable to find anything physically wrong with her, to be perfectly honest. I'm assuming she's an Alter user?”
Everyone nods in confirmation and Tachibana offers, “She's an empath. She's still getting used to it- she only tapped into her powers a few months ago.”
The doctor nods with a pensive look on his face, “I suspect that her persistent unconsciousness is somehow related to her Alter ability and her struggle to master it. It seems to have been precipitated by the disaster; perhaps an overload of some sort or perhaps her fear caused a withdrawal into herself into a dream-like state. I really couldn't say. The fields of medicine and Alter ability have yet to be thoroughly explored in conjunction and I'm afraid I have reached the limits of my knowledge. There's not much I can do for her at this point except reassure you that she will eventually wake up. I couldn't say when that would be, but as her friends you should keep trying to talk to her and keep her comfortable. She should probably remain under the care of a doctor or nurse, but all we would really be doing is waiting.”
Suddenly, Urizane enters the group and addresses the doctor, “Can we take her with us? We have to get back; there's some important business we have to take care of.”
Somewhat confused, Tachibana asks, “What's going on? Did you hear from Elian?”
“Yeah, just sent me a message. They stumbled onto something big- some kind of secret transmission meant for the guys responsible for this whole mess. He said we all need to see it. He and Cougar are heading to your place right now and we have to meet them. If we can take the girl, I'll teleport us all back to your house.”
Cammy turns to Dr. Juro, “Can we take Kanami with us to our house? We have a friend there who's practically a doctor. Mimori will be able to look after her.”
Kazuma and Tachibana shoot each other uneasy glances but remain silent.
Dr. Juro replies, “Do you mean Miss Kiryu? I've worked with her before- she's very knowledgeable. I have so many patients here to look after… I suppose it would be for the best-”
Without even waiting for the doctor to finish his sentence, Kazuma gingerly scoops Kanami into his arms and heads for the door, “Thanks doc. We owe you one.”
Urizane leads the party out of the house, “Let's get movin' people. This watermelon's leaving for Tachibana's!” A giant green striped orb erupts from the dirt in front of the house and all of the farmhands stare in awe.
As the truck splashes through the rain down the long road to Tachibana's house, Elian fights the sickening familiarity settling on him. Cougar is now driving instead of lying lifeless in the truck bed. There's no reason to panic this time. He ignores flashbacks of a similar trip to instead concentrate on his Alter, which he has modified somewhat to fit in the cab. It hovers just inches from his skin, but still glows with a muted gold luminescence. Concentrating is difficult, however, because Cougar keeps interjecting.
“-Are you sure my Alter will interfere with yours or are you just making that up to keep me from using mine like Ms. Minori instructed?”
“Her name is Mimori. And yes, using your Alter so close will skew my accuracy. Not to mention Urizane would kill us both if you altered his truck at all. He's already going to have kittens when he finds out you were driving it.”
“I resent your implications- I take excellent care of all the vehicles that I drive! And really, I could only improve this thing. It's a real heap; it's a wonder it even started up.”
Slightly stung, Elian shoots back, “It was reliable enough to get you to Tachibana's in time to save your ungrateful butt.”
“Oh, come now. There's no need to get defensive or sentimental. I promised I'd leave the truck alone. Now, did you send Urizane a message yet?”
“Yes, I just finished. I gave him a bit of an idea of what we discovered. He found Kanami and he's bringing back Kazuma, Tachibana and his girlfriend; he knows to meet us back at Tachibana's as soon as possible. With any luck they'll get there when we do.”
“Well, we're practically here so let's hope they hurry. What about Ryuho and Ms. Minori?”
“It's Mimori, and apparently Ryuho went to the city to get her.”
Suddenly the car skids sideways to a stop, nearly sending Elian into the dashboard. Immediately he's yelling at Cougar, “What the heck are you doing? Why'd you stop?”
“Why is Ms. Minori in the city and not at the market? And why is Ryuho going after her; is she in danger?”
“I don't know. That's all I got from Urizane. Why, are you planning on doing something stupid?”
“Going to help Ms. Minori is not stupid! Didn't you say that the storm was centered over the city? And wasn't the earthquake's epicenter located there, too?”
“I guess, but you don't even know where in the city she is! And we have to meet up with the others- this message means that we're all in trouble unless we find a way to stop this mystery `Commander' and his soldiers. Once we put together a plan to stop him then you can go after Ms. Mimori, okay?”
“Why do you need me there? Can't you just play back the transmission for the others?”
Elian is getting impatient. “Yes, I can. But I know that everyone will have questions that you can answer much better than I can. Lord knows how you find out some of your information but you've got more connections than any of the rest of us combined. And besides…” Elian suddenly gets a sheepish grin on his face and lowers his eyes in embarrassment, “I still have to get there. I'm too young to drive this thing.”
Cougar looks over at the boy and then busts out in a fit of bellowing laughter, soon joined by Elian's hesitant, boyish chuckles. “Fine. First things first. But if Ms. Minori isn't back soon I'm going after her.”
Elian rolls his eyes at the forgetful yet well meaning driver. “Who knows, Ryuho and Ms. Mimori might be at the house waiting for everyone to return. So let's just get there before anyone does anything rash.”
Cougar nods, pulls his trademark shades down over his eyes, flips his errant bang with one finger and, with screeching tires, pulls the truck back onto the road, heading towards Tachibana's at full speed.
She can't do it, just can't go through with it. Mimori doesn't care if she hasn't been given any other choice- she'd make one. Shutting her eyes and choking back her wails, she wills up an uncommon amount of strength to push aside the pervasive fog in her head. The determined woman pulls herself up off of the bed onto her aching feet, immediately falling forward. Undeterred, she rolls over into a sitting position and looks around the room, frantically searching for an exit. Seeing a pair of large windows, she pulls herself cautiously back up, careful to balance this time, and crosses the room to check them out. To her dismay they appear locked and barred from the outside. Two more windows on another wall appear in the same condition.
Finally, the young scientist's eyes settle on what must be the bathroom door. At the very least she can buy herself some time in there. She bends down carefully over her pile of clothes and retrieves her shoes and the sliced sweater, then hobbles over to the door. Once inside Mimori locks the door behind her and drops the top on the toilet, plopping heavily down on the seat. She pulls her sweater back on like a jacket, tugging it across her body as best she can. She pushes her bare feet into her lace-less sneakers, all the while eyeing the walls. To her salvation she finds an old AC vent near the ceiling opposite the toilet; Mimori figures it will be her best bet.
Standing on the toilet, she yanks on a corner of the cover panel and is relieved to have it come away from the wall easily. With a hand on the shower rod, she places her foot gingerly onto the towel bar below the panel and finds that it supports at least some of her weight. Figuring she'll only get one shot, Mimori balances some of her weight on the corner of the towel bar and pushes off of the toilet into the vent. She feels the bar snap beneath her foot, but uses her arm on the shower rod to push herself all the way up until her top half rests in the vent. She toes the wall and kicks her feet until she's all the way in, then collapses from fatigue inside the dusty vent. After a minute of panting and mental encouragement she begins pulling herself forward. The vent space is narrow, but Mimori finds she can wiggle forward on her forearms and thighs like a snake.
After crawling several hundred feet and passing what she guesses are two or three rooms she spies light illuminating a turn up ahead. Reaching it and peering around, she sees a defunct fan unit blocking a panel to the outside. Yes! She crawls up to the fan and tries to pry its frame out of the way, but with no success. Tired, yet too close to freedom to give up, she grips one of the fan petals with her fingertips and pulls with all her might. To her elation it bends back, and she repeats the procedure with two more blades. Hoping yet doubting it's really enough room, she pulls her arms and head through to the fresh air outside.
Rain drops hit Mimori's hands and face; it's still drizzling, but the storm has finally wound down. She looks below her and finds what she estimates to be a ten to twelve foot drop to some discarded garbage bags. There is no room to turn around, but she's not about to go back the way she came. She wriggles her torso through the space; her hips and butt getting stuck, slowing her progress a bit. She holds on until she is sure she will clear the frame and then let's go, letting gravity finish freeing her. She lands in the bags with a `scrunch', but the fall is mercifully easy compared to possibly landing on the cement. Taking a couple of seconds to catch her breath, she finally sits up and looks around the alley. Freedom!! I've done it!
Unsure of where she is, Mimori nevertheless wants to put as much distance between her and Hiro, Genso and their whole gang as she can. Using the wall, she pulls herself up on unsteady feet and then hobbles off at the fastest pace she can muster.
However, despite her valiant efforts, after only a few minutes and a few streets and alleys Mimori's adrenaline finally depletes. In no time she's panting and breathless, and her injuries coupled with the drugs in her system leave her doubled over and leaning against a brick building.
I'm so nauseous and dizzy; I have to stop myself from passing out… Even as she thinks it her pupils begin to retract behind her closing eyelids, and she begins to slide down the wall. Her head becomes light and a familiar numbness tries to reclaim her body…
The shouting of distant voices jolts her back to consciousness, replenishing her adrenaline. The pursuing gang is much closer than she cares for them to be, and she renews her progress down the alleys. As she moves she tries to guess the number of hunters. From the voices alone it sounds like three. However the ruckus they're making doubles that number. If the young girl had been thinking clearly she would have reasoned that the entire stage full of thugs probably emptied on Genso's orders once her disappearance had been discovered. Perhaps she also would have reasoned that they would have split up. Perhaps she would have figured that Hiro, with his skills regarding psychological manipulation, would also be fairly good at tracking and wouldn't be so foolish as to make so much noise during a hunt.
This is precisely how, in her flight in the direction opposite the noise, Mimori runs straight into Hiro's brick-hard chest. Bouncing off of him with a jarring thud, a low scream erupts from her lips before she can stifle it. She lands hard on her butt but ignores any pain, instead looking up at Hiro, trying to gauge his anger at her flight.
“Gotcha!” Hiro wholeheartedly chuckles down at her, then motions to his rat-looking friend, “Nezumi. Go tell Genso we found her and that we're bringing her back right now.”
As the little guy runs off, Hiro circles back around on Mimori, taunting her in a patronizingly gentle voice, “Aw… Tsk, tsk, Mimi. Why'd you run? Didja really think you could get away from us? Ya better hope Genso's in a forgiving mood; I bet he's fuckin' pissed at you right now, Mimi. What do you think?” He gives her that icy smirk of his as he crouches down and advances on her.
Desperate to escape him, Mimori crabwalks backwards until her shoulders hit a dumpster behind her. It shifts a bit and she flips over and lunges behind it. Crawling further back, her fingers close over a thin steel pipe. As she wraps both hands around it, her ankle is grabbed and Hiro's voice scolds her, “Now, now. Quit foolin' around, Mimi. You've got work to do…”
As her body is pulled clear of the dumpster, Mimori whips the steel rod around, catching Hiro square in the forehead. He drops instantly and his friends gasp in surprise. She gets to her feet and looks each of her remaining three attackers in the eyes. The one furthest back yells, “Get her!” and the fat guy to her left charges forward. With a strength surprising herself Mimori lunges to meet him, swinging the pipe wide to purposefully miss him so she can sweep it up between his legs. With an `Oomph' he falls to his knees and she takes a strong shot at his head, sending him down harder than Hiro. The last two back away uncertainly, casting their eyes around for an exit or for reinforcements.
Mimori pulls herself up to her full height and raises the pipe over her shoulder menacingly, only to have it jerked harshly from behind, spinning her around. When she stops she is met by Hiro, whose head is covered in blood and who is practically seething with an anger he's never shown her before. The enraged man yanks the pipe out of her grasp and throws it down carelessly behind him, uncaring that it lands atop his unconscious man.
Hiro snatches Mimori by the shoulders and pulls her face into his, shouting, “You stupid, fucking BITCH!!” He shakes her so violently that her teeth snap in her head and then he backhands her across the face, this time drawing blood from her lip. He throws her down on the ground and straddles her, sinking down atop her thighs. Mimori throws her arms up in front of her face as a shield, but he grabs her wrists and squeezes them. “You fuckin' bitch!! YOU fuckin' hit ME?! Oh no, you're about to learn your place right now,” then yanking her arms above her head, he traps Mimori's wrist with one hand and begins hastily unzipping her jeans with the other.
“No! Stop it! Please! I'm sorry!!” she cries as she squirms beneath him.
Behind them the two watching start jeering and egging Hiro on, “Do it, man! Give it to her!”
“Yeah, show her who's the man! Then I call next!”
Hiro smiles through his rage and pain as the blood from his head wound drips onto Mimori's chest; his bugging eyes and bloody face make him look absolutely insane. As he starts to yank down her pants, her struggling increases, seemingly fueling his pleasure. “Yeah, that's right, honey, fight me! All this thrashing, you're makin' me so hard! I'm gonna fuck you inside out!”
Still fighting and kicking, the young woman resolutely shuts her eyes, knowing the futility of her meager efforts in a deserted alley with three ruthless gangsters surrounding her, the worst of whom is trying his damnedest to violate her. She refuses to give Hiro or the others the satisfaction of seeing the fear in her eyes and squeezes them shut. Whatever happens, Mimori convinces herself that she must stay alive.
Ryuho plods purposefully `upstream', just as Sheris suggested. He never stops, but does slow down at every corner and alley to look down its distance and listen for any noises- for any sight or sound of Mimori. Though he's covered a lot of ground, he still feels as though the entire process is taking too long. Still, without even a huff or a mutter he continues on his path, working his way down the road.
Feeling his frustration, Sheris takes the opportunity to jump to the forefront of his consciousness, `You're really quiet and you're trying to suppress a lot of strong emotions. It might help if you tell-'
Ryuho rolls his eyes at her nosy invasion, “I don't want to talk about it. Why must women always `talk' about things? Why can't they just do a job without discussing or analyzing everything?”
Her response is prickly, `Because we have to constantly reevaluate our direction to ensure that it's the right one, smart-ass. The responsibility of staying the course falls to us because we know that no matter how turned around they may get, men will never ask for directions! So excuse me for trying to help.'
“Well, your aid is unnecessary.”
`Jeez, is this how you were planning on driving that poor girl back to the Mainland? With your snappy and impatient retorts?'
His step falters- that last comment of hers hit home. Still his reply is cool, “Among other things.” After a long pause, he finally throws her a bone. “You know, it's not easy having a… girl… privy to my every thought and emotion. You must understand that, while not entirely unwelcome, your presence is nevertheless… unsettling.”
Taking it as a roundabout apology, she accedes, `Yeah, I guess it can't be easy for `Mr. Stoic' to suddenly have a giggling fifteen year old girl in his noggin. This must be hard for you.'
“I'm coping.”
`So anyway you might as well accept the fact that she's not going home. Right now it has everything and nothing to do with you.”
“That doesn't make any sense.”
`Didn't we just hash out the male/female thing? I doubt you'd understand even if I tried to explain it.'
“I doubt I could pay attention through such a convoluted conversation.”
`Yeah, well, I'm just as clueless about boys as you are about girls. For instance, you're such a cold fish most of the time- how did Mimori make you care for her so much? I mean, what makes her so special to you? What have you two shared that creates such a strange and strong bond?'
He can sense the wistful curiosity behind her question, but also notes the slightest hint of regret. Ryuho would rather not answer her, however he somehow feels obligated to explain himself. Maybe she'll finally understand why, despite being partners, he had never let it get any farther. “I guess there's no sense in trying to hide my feelings from you, is there? Well, to be honest I don't think I know myself- I surely can't explain it. We were very good friends when we were children. Best friends, actually. She met me at a very… lonely and… awkward time in my life. She was unlike anyone else I'd ever met- much different than anyone else our own age. She was… I found that I always wanted to be around her. I was so young and naïve back then; I guess I thought that I could really be carefree. We spent a lot of time together and grew very attached to one another.”
He can feel her rapt attention as he continues, “After she left and after I grew up, I learned that no matter how much you may want to, no one can exist without cares. I tried to live my life according to this realization, but then she returned. And something about her… she doesn't ascribe to this theory and though it unnerves me… Every time I see her she reminds me of my old, idealized version of life, even if it will never become a reality. I find myself unable and unwilling to sever those final ties to my past.”
`I envy her ability to make you so happy. I always wanted to be the person that made you feel that way.'
Ryuho has to swallow the lump rising in his throat. He's not sure what response he had expected from her, and feels that at the very least he owes her a bit of honesty, “I was never able to tell you how special you were to me, Sheris. I don't think I truly realized it until you were gone. Still, I guess it's hard for you to hear me say these things about her.”
`Not really. Not long before I died, she and I had a conversation- a tête-à-tête, if you will- about you. It wasn't ugly; it was civil. Maybe even compassionate. She told me she envied the time I spent with you and my ability to help you. I told her I envied the past you shared together and your repressed feelings for her. In the end we both swore to each other that we'd never stop fighting for your heart, but after that things were somehow different- more respectful. We both went to Kyoji Mujo's fortress to help you. I was able to save you, but I'm sure that, though she didn't have an Alter, she found some way to help you, too. I was finally coming to see that that's the kind of person she is.'
“It's very surprising to hear that from you, Sheris.” Ryuho offers, a bit uneasy. He's not sure how he should feel about her change in perspective regarding Mimori.
`I guess you weren't expecting that. But ever since that day that I saved you I've found that I'm not strictly ruled by my own feelings anymore, but by yours as well. I see her through your eyes now and I like her- seemingly for the very reasons that I disliked her before. I care for her- might even love her, if that makes any sense. I guess I just wanted to know why I felt this way.'
Her last admission shocks him, and he finds his automatic response somehow insufficient, “That's interesting.”
Attempting to dispel his discomfort, she takes on a teasing tone. `Yeah, well, it's been a strange afterlife.'
Ryuho allows her a smile but then hesitates for a long time before asking his next question. “Sheris…. The nightmares I've been having lately. In the end there's always this familiar, comforting presence. I didn't recognize it at first, but now…”
`I tried to take away some of your pain. It was difficult though; you hold on to it so tightly. As though you believe you deserve some sort of punishment. I made a promise that you wouldn't ever suffer like that.'
“Sheris, I… You keep leaving me speechless.”
`Something allowed me to stay with you, to bond with you, in a way I never thought possible. I'm not going to waste this opportunity; I'm going to keep my promise, to you and to myself.'
“But what if that isn't what I want? What if I don't want you trying to fight my demons for me?”
Even as he tries to frown he can feel her smiling, `Sorry, you don't get a vote. I can't make you let go, but I can help point you in a happier direction and then give you a kick in the pants. Guess you're just gonna have to get used to a more pleasant existence. Poor Ryuho…'
Ryuho can't help but laugh internally. Their banter back at HOLY had never been this humorous, but it had also never been this personal, “Is that one of the special attacks of `Eternal Devote'?”
`Oh, it's my specialty.' Ryuho can feel Sheris' giddiness at finally making a real connection with him. In truth he hadn't realized that sparring with her would be so enjoyable. It almost reminds him of younger, more carefree days…
Suddenly, their single-bodied, two-person conversation is halted by the sounds of several men yelling and laughing followed by a woman's screams.
“Mimori?” Without the slightest hesitation Ryuho hurries in the direction of the struggle. Rounding a corner and shooting down an alley, he finally comes upon the source of the voices, where he is met by a shocking scene. Though it takes Ryuho less than a second to take it all in, time seems to freeze.
Two men are standing over another, who is straddling the hips of a fighting female. Behind them another large man lays unconscious on the ground, a long thin pipe lying across his body. The man sitting on the girl has a tight hold on her wrists in one of his hands trapping them over her head, while his other hand is reaching down between their bodies. Blood drips freely from a wound on his forehead. The girl beneath him is kicking and clawing at him ineffectually, while at the same time crying and shouting, “Please! I'm sorry! Please don't!!” Even before a visual confirmation, Ryuho knows it is Mimori.
“Get off of her.” All of the men pause at the icy voice at their backs. The one on top of Mimori leans up to look at the nosy intruder, inadvertently revealing her. The remains of her sweater cling to her arms but lay open along the slice, revealing her bra and naked abdomen. The new vantage reveals the man's tight grip on the waistband of Mimori's unzipped jeans; he had been trying to yank her pants down.
Hiro doesn't even try to hide his intentions or his annoyance at being interrupted, “What the hell?! Get lost, kid! We're busy here!”
“Ryuho!” Mimori shouts in relief, her voice breathy and desperate.
Though he had tried to enter the confrontation with a cool head, Hiro's salacious perch on and handling of Mimori pushes white-hot fury through Ryuho's veins. This time his command is less controlled, “I said get off of her!”
Hiro remains nonchalant and starts taunting Ryuho as his buddies look on. “Get her off, definitely. But I ain't goin' anywhere until our `business' with her is finished. Who are you, anyways, her boyfriend? Beat it, Preppy, unless you plan on watchin'.” Mimori whimpers as Hiro settles more heavily on top of her, returning to his task.
Ryuho's impatience rises at the affront and he advances on the group. He had hoped to get Mimori clear before any violence erupted, but now he judges that to be an impossibility.
Growing annoyed at the persisting presence of this newcomer, Hiro barks orders to his remaining men, “D-man! Suji! Take care of this upstart for me while I teach our little bird that it's not polite to try and leave the party early. When I'm finished I'll lend a hand.”
His request is met by the sounds of two unconscious bodies hitting the pavement and a chilling voice full of unwavering assurance. “My only concern is the safety of the woman. If you yield now I promise to only beat you senseless, instead of taking your pathetic life.”
Hiro immediately second-guesses his judgment in the stranger's abilities, but also senses his advantage in the girl beneath him. He will not be denied revenge on her for his bleeding head wound, even if the method is no longer his first choice. Without moving a muscle he addresses Ryuho while staring down at a frightened Mimori, “So that's how it's gonna be, huh, tough guy? You gonna beat me up and take my bitch?” Then Hiro reaches in his back pocket and, in a single fluid motion, whips out and flips opens his knife. “If I'da known you wanted her so badly we coulda skipped all this! You can have her back… in pieces!”
Mimori screams and squeezes her eyes shut as the blade in Hiro's hand plunges down toward her face. However, rather than feeling the knife sink into her flesh, she instead feels a `woosh' of air as Hiro's weight suddenly vanishes off of her. Her wrists are released and she is suddenly aware of wind breezing against her mostly exposed torso.
After a moment, she sits up, trying to piece together what just happened. The sound of repeated thudding reaches her from the edges of her consciousness, and it is then that she realizes that Ryuho is down the alley an appreciable distance on top of the prone form of Hiro, violently punching him again and again. He wears a mask of utter rage on his face just as chilling as the one she had seen on Hiro after hitting him with the pipe. Even as Ryuho wilts from the effort, the furious teen never stops hitting Hiro, even though the thug's body is limp beneath him.
“Ryuho…” barely a whisper, her voice nevertheless cuts through the blinders of his wrath. He freezes mid-punch and then retracts his bloodied hands as if he had touched something vile and contagious. Mimori works to put more effort behind her voice, “Ryuho.”
Heading it like a summons, he rises and follows her voice over to her sitting form. He sinks to his knees at her side and, without giving Hiro or his men another thought, asks her, “Are you okay? Mimori, are you hurt?”
He looks down and immediately blushes at the copious amounts of creamy, exposed skin before him. He reaches out to pull the remnants of her sweater closed but halts at the sight of his blood-coated hands. Pulling them back in shame, he wipes them furiously on the back of his pants, inspecting them and repeating the action several times before finally bringing them back in front of him. He looks down at the somewhat cleaner appendages and then over at Mimori, unsure what to do with them. She answers him by collapsing forward into his arms.
Grateful for the contact and out of a desire to feel her for his own assurances, he holds her closer, clasping her back and settling his cheek against the side of her face. Her whole body is shivering, perhaps from the post-storm chill in the air or perhaps because she's finally spiraling down from her harrowing ordeal. Thinking back to the collapsed building where his search began, Ryuho wonders just when her nightmare actually began today. Her panting breath puffs against the shell of his ear and she whispers, “You… found me. I didn't think…”
“I'll always come for you, Mimori. Never doubt that. I'll cross Hell and back to keep you safe.” Even as the words escape his mouth, he half-wishes he could take them back, knowing that their very nature runs counter to his crisp and impersonal image. The feel of fresh wetness against his neck, however, halts his doubts and he turns his attention back to her condition.
Her voice sounds small and muted against the material of his shirt, “I'm sorry… I just- I didn't…” Tears continue to spill freely from her eyes; she is surprised to find that she has any left to cry.
Even in the wake of so much anxiety, Ryuho can't help notice how perfectly Mimori fits in his embrace or how absolutely wonderful it feels to have her in his arms. “Shhh. Don't think about that now. All I want you to do is hold on to me, and the only thing I need you to tell me is if you really are okay. Can you do that?” Though remaining silent, she nods her head in the crook of his neck.
Ryuho is still startled by the amount of sensitivity he's able to express and wonders just how much of Sheris is permanently ingraining itself on him. Amidst his own swirling emotions, he can feel the deep compassion of the girl wrapped around his mind directed towards the girl currently wrapped in his arms. Perhaps with Sheris safe in his head and Mimori safe in his keep, things just might be alright from here on out.
A wide shadow settles over their huddled bodies and a deep, resonant voice slices through Ryuho's peacefully reflective thoughts. “Looks like there's a new player in the game. And judging from Hiro and the boys, it looks like he doesn't know whose turf he's wandered into.” Ryuho raises his gaze to look up at the tallest, burliest man he's seen in a very long time. Not betraying any fear or hesitancy, the teen gathers his precious bundle tighter in his arms.
The giant quietly observes the young man in front of him as his numerous comrades collect around them. With the ghost of a smile on his lips, Genso continues, “I'll be happy to show you how things work down here. For now, though, you've got something that belongs to me.”
To be continued…