Copyright 2000, Stefan Gagne
Civilization depends on light. If you can't see what you're doing, how can you expect to invent the wheel? Thus, fire was invented. Torches, bonfires, signal lights, that sort of thing. Of course, fire is not the safest light source, nor is it the easiest to keep alight due to constant demands for fuel. Eventually, mankind migrated onto electrical power for street lamps, flashlights, spotlights, reading lamps and so on. And civilization flourished.
The only bright spot in the Yami-gaia, the distorted and cracked reflection of Tokyo, is the Royal Palace. Or the Dark Palace or the Palace of Sin or whatever you want to call it. There, magical light of varying shades flows throughout the building, making sure the rooms of screaming victims are dim, making sure the portraits of Dark Generals present and past are well lit. The building, ten stories high and resembling some mutation of a spiralling seashell growing straight out of the ground where Tokyo Tower should stand, is a glittering gem in the city. And the rest is dark.
Except for a small cluster of city blocks. This is where Cobalt is trying to restore the city. Palace denizens generally ignore his efforts and ignore the stray Yamiko who wander the dark streets of the Yami-gaia looking for things and people to break. The only Yamiko out here are ones who want to restore the Yami-gaia to golden brilliance, as per the Queen's orders. More or less want to restore, that is.
"No, you can't go to Earth," Cobalt said for the second time, as he ran down the checklist of safety precautions, studying Generator Two. "I need you here. I have a feeling this thing will break down after the first few hours, and I want you on hand to patch it up and get it running as soon as it does. Maybe in a few weeks, when we're stable--"
"I don't WANT to go in a few weeks, I want to go NOW," the lead engineer emphasized, grinding his teeth quietly. "The system is fine. It's fixed. It will work. I have unfinished--"
"You interrupted me, so I'll interrupt you. You don't have unfinished business up on Earth, Kenichi. I don't care how much you want to skin your coworkers alive, you don't NEED to. There is a difference between need and want, and that's what separates men from animals. I understand young Yamiko feel that urge to go cause problems, and I want you to resist it. You're a brilliant engineer with a promising future here. Don't blow it by caving into that stupidity."
"You don't understand, sir, I.. I must go. I don't have a choice. Everything in me is screaming out to go!"
Cobalt checked off the last item, and tucked the clipboard under one arm. "No, I do understand. I had a choice when I was a young Yamiko. I felt the same urge. And you know what? I said 'Fuck them. I'm not going back. I left that behind and I don't want any part of it, not even revenge.' It's just not worth it. You're going to have to learn to live with this, because I'm not having my top guy and the only one who knows how to operate the generators getting killed up there. Are we square now?"
Kenichi scowled at the notion... but nodded his head to the project director. "Fine," he bit off, turning around and marching off.
If it wasn't for the fact that Yamiko make terrible morale officers, he'd appoint one. Not that Cobalt understood the purpose of morale; he felt that once given a job, you should do the job. It was simple, yes? No muss, no fuss. Of course, the Yamiko were like children... short attention spans, prone to impulse. Kenichi was one of the most mature ones he had. This didn't bode well...
That boded less well.
"Fuck off," Cobalt politely greeted, walking out of the generator room and into the open air of the Yami-gaia.
Dark General Argon followed... in a showy way, floating along using his powers instead of walking like a common pedestrian. He floated just ahead of Cobalt, to talk to him face to face as he moved. "You're chipper today, aren't you?" he asked, amused. "You should have come to the party last night. Xenon found a set of triplets up on Earth! He wanted to exterminate them all at the same time, but Neon pointed out the fear would compound like interest if we did them one at a--"
"What part of 'fuck off' didn't you grasp, the fucking or the offing? No, wait, you guys are experts in both! I had somehow forgotten," Cobalt quipped. "You know I'm tired of your wonderful tales of palace opulence and blah sadism."
"Yes, I know. You're no fun, Cobalt. Well, if not the party, what about the gallery?" Argon asked. "I added two new pieces I've been working on for the last week. Some of the finest living sculpture I've ever done; even you have to see some artistic merit in the symbolism and the design."
Cobalt grasped the doorknob to the gutted first floor dry cleaning office that had been transformed into his office. "I may not know art, but I know what I like," he explained. "And I'd like for you to leave me to my work. Thank you. Goodbye." Slam, went the door as a nice punctuation mark for his request.
Argon raised one eyebrow despite nobody being around to see it.
Cobalt tossed the clipboard at a wall... levitating it in place to hang neatly on a hook. He didn't like messes, even if his work orders and progress reports and such inevitably settled into messy clumps.
In a dark flash, Argon teleported into the room and caught the clipboard before it could reach that hook. He glanced over the checklist, amusing himself with Cobalt's antics. "My my. Safety first, it seems. I don't understand half of what this means but you seems so thorough! If only we could get you to apply that work ethic to leisurely pursuits."
Cobalt prepared another witty comeback... and flat out gave up, shaking his head and returning to his desk. "Look, Argon, I REALLY am busy here. Too busy even to swap barbs with you. So please, have a little decency and just go away, okay? Unless you're on official business?"
"What official business could I possibly be up to here?" Argon asked, tossing the clipboard aside onto the floor. "The Queen asks me to bring her little girls and old men and small dogs and other nearly random things to amuse herself with. That's the sum total of any 'official' business I've been up to lately. Otherwise, I work on my gallery, play with the others... but you know all about that. You're the only one among us doing any 'official business' worth note."
"Glad someone's doing something constructive around here," Cobalt grumbled. "If you ever get bored with, you know, the maimings and the tortures and stuff, let me know. I could use a sane and capable pair of hands. Think of it as the kind of arts and crafts that doesn't involve bodily fluids."
"Oh, my hands are far too delicate for such rough work," Argon spoke, studying his manicure. "You know, Cobalt... I've never understood your work. I've never understood WHY you're doing this. Why would our Queen care about this ruined city when she has her lovely palace crafted with her own will? It's not like she ever leaves it, either."
"Oh, really?" Cobalt asked, deciding maybe he DID have enough time to show up the Dark General before he got back to his work. "For your information, Argon, she came out here personally to give me this assignment long ago. The very same day she made me a Dark General, in fact. Obviously she does leave the palace now and then, yes? It's only houseboys like you and the WhateverOns that don't go outside often enough."
Argon studied Cobalt's smug expression, rubbing at his chin. "Really, now..."
"Yes, really now. Don't look so shocked, it'll give your perfect beauty wrinkles."
"And has she spoken to you about your assignment since?" he asked. "I haven't heard her mention it at our parties. Not that she does a lot of talking in general about anything. Perhaps she's just toying with you, setting you on a fool's errand? That would be more her style..."
"Thank you Dark General Argon, Morale Officer," Cobalt mocked. "I oughtta hire you to pep up my workers. FYI, just because she trusts me to carry out the mission without constant attention doesn't mean it's a fool's errand. I won't let her down. I owe her everything."
"You owe her..? I suppose we all owe her for granting us freedom to have our fun, but you don't have our fun, do you? What could you owe her?"
"I really gotta get back to work..."
"Indulge me, please," Argon asked, waving a hand nonchalantly. "Notice I haven't gone out of my way to insult you in the last few minutes, despite your childish retorts. I don't quite know how you were selected to join our ranks; color me curious. Why do you owe her as much as you feel you do?"
With a groan, Cobalt gave his desk a quick lookover. A few forms. Some reports. They could wait, actually. And Argon HAD been treating him with something close to but not entirely near the level of personal respect...
"...fine. When.. wait, who spawned me, Xenon or Neon?"
"I'm afraid I don't recall."
"Me either," Cobalt said. "They both look alike to me. Anyway, when I was spawned, I was dragged here to the Yami-gaia and pretty much left to fend for myself with the other Yamiko out in the darkness of the city. I didn't want to stay on Earth, but WhateverOn didn't have any particular plans for me. Typical of you guys to spawn like rabbits without any practical reason."
"You wound me," Argon gasped, clutching at his heart. "But please, do continue."
"So I was scrabbling around the ruins, trying to hide from the others. Stupid Yamiko were so obsessed with finding victims that they kept mistaking me for a human since I wasn't a particularly powerful Yamiko. I probably wouldn't have survived if not for the Queen's intervention. I have that to thank her for. End of story."
"YES, really now. She saved me," Cobalt repeated. "The Queen told me she had special plans for me, a special mission. She wanted the city of the Yamiko restored and civilized, and she made me a Dark General so I'd have the power needed to carry out the task. The stray Yamiko left me alone after that. I was sent by her to the palace to meet the rest of the generals, and well... you know the rest."
"Yes yes, and I saw the Queen call you Dark General Cobalt that day," Argon recalled. "A Dark General crowned from out of the 'blue,' to coin a pun... tell me, Cobalt, what's your real name? Your human name."
"I'm not a human anymore," Cobalt dismissed. "I've taken the name she gave me and I wear it with pride. I wasn't anybody important anyway, so my old name is meaningless."
"Yes yes, I see. I see quite a bit now," Argon confirmed, smiling away. "Very well. You filled your end of our deal, I will fill mine and leave you alone--"
A bell on a pull-rope rang next to the office door. Sound doesn't carry very well in the Yami-gaia, so Cobalt had that installed to avoid missing knocks. He flicked the door open with his power, since Argon would have made fun of him for walking over and opening it.
A Yamiko wearing ordinary human clothes peered in. "Boss?"
"What is it, Ohta?" Cobalt asked, toying with a pencil to look businesslike.
"You said we should fetch someone from upstairs for you, well... we got someone," Ohta said, standing aside and letting another Yamiko wheel in the delivery...
A human. A young man in his twenties, apparently plucked from his bed given the sleepwear, strapped Hannibal Lecter style to a two-wheeled crate moving rack. He was awake, pale as a sheet, and quite terrified. Thankfully, he was also gagged, but his muffled yells could be heard quietly in the stillness of the Yami-gaia.
"Ah, great!" Cobalt exclaimed, pleased that things were looking up for a change. "If you'll excuse me, Argon..."
Argon was over and examining the human before Cobalt's expression had even changed. "Oh ho! A human victim? So you DO like to have some fun--"
"Work, Argon, Work," Cobalt spoke, deciding to adopt a more serious expression. "Actually, stay here, I want you to see this. I've been working on it off and on for some time now, and I think it's ready for prime time."
"Oh, don't tease me, Cobalt! What's your surprise?"
Cobalt stepped around his desk, rubbing his hands together to warm them. To prepare. "What's the problem with the Yamiko we spawn, Argon? Why do they fall to the Sailors so easily? Aside from them being feebleminded idiots, of course."
"Mmm," Argon hummed, trying to put his finger on it. "I'd say power. A newly spawned Yamiko is little stronger than a human. It takes time for their powers to emerge..."
"Right. Which means the Sailors cherry-pick the poor bastards before they can defend themselves. We end up bringing home only one in, oh, twelve of the spawns we create; I'd call that a piss-poor ratio. But what if we could spawn one with powerful Yamiko traits right away?"
"A cute notion, but impossible. Such powers were lost hundreds of years ago--"
"This is when my workaholic attitude pays off and makes you other Generals look like slackers," Cobalt spoke, as he rooted through a filing cabinet... and came back with a dog-eared black composition notebook. He flipped through page after page of crossed-out words, until he came to the most recent entry. "I put my best scientists at work reverse engineering the turning process, and this spell is the result. The energies we use may be otherworldly, but the ritual itself was easy to decompile..."
"Now, this IS interesting!" Argon spoke, floating over to join Cobalt's side. The two Yamiko handlers stepped away from the human as well. "Color me even curiousier. Let's see if this works-- I do wish the human would shut up. SIR! You're being an invaluable research aid! Please relax and comply. Thank you."
"Shaddup," Cobalt added to Argon's request, before looking down to read his notes. "Okay..."
He begun to cast the spell.
Of course, 'spell' is not an appropriate word. The powers of the Yamiko are powers of the will, as they are creatures of pure will. Whatever effects they cause in the world around them are extensions of that rather than magical processes that shape existing forces. However, some techniques such as spawning a Yamiko from a human host are common ones with familiar methods, handed down from Dark General to Dark General. They could be viewed like rituals as a result.
None of which mattered to the screaming young man, as he felt something outside his brain pull something from inside his brain which caused intense pain, pain unlike he'd ever felt before. So painful that he blacked out immediately, and forgot what had happened to him.
To those on the outside, the man went from screaming to unconscious near instantly... as a shadow pulled away from his flesh. The darkness sank forwards onto its shadow knees, quickly taking a shape... a shape identical to the sleeping man, pajamas and all. The Yamiko looked at his hands in horror, emotions running wild across his face but mostly showing confusion...
"Well, that looked rather standard issue," Argon said. "When does--"
And then the Yamiko screamed. Even in the dulled world of the Yami-gaia, it was a scream that echoed beyond the building. He stood bolt askew, as if a puppetmaster had jerked on only half of his strings... and with an unpleasant crunching sound, his head split open from the force of the scream, dividing further and further down his body as rows of jagged teeth emerged, a body like a giant, devouring mouth...
Ohta dove for cover behind the desk, being no fool. The Yamiko flunky who wheeled the human in backed up against the wall... some things even a monster can be afraid of.
"Bra-VO!" Argon applauded, as the inhuman monster howled and thrashed.
Cobalt even allowed himself a moment of delight, pumping a fist into the air. "FINALLY!" he shouted. "After weeks of backfires and failed attempts, I've got... I was thinking of calling them 'Super Yamiko'. What do you think?"
"Mmm. It lacks a certain panache, but--"
The six emerging eyes in the 'skull' of the Super Yamiko turned to face the flunky up against the wall. With a gurgling howl, the beast pounced... and the giant mouth gnawed off the flunky's arm up to the shoulder, pausing only to bite the head off next. The flunky's body hit the ground, bleeding onto the discarded clipboard...
Cobalt, being no fool, dove for cover with Ohta. However, Argon was more displeased than afraid... he swept his hand across the air in a gesture, fingers spread, left to right.
The Super Yamiko fell apart into five vertical slices, each one sliding apart in a different direction. The only thing left standing in the room was the portable rack with the miraculously unharmed sleeping man, and Argon himself.
"Rather uncontrollable, aren't they?" Argon spoke, shaking his hand loose. "You can thank me for saving you later, Cobalt. Looks like you still have work to do. I can't see them being much use to a civic projects engineer."
Cobalt quickly got back to his feet, tugging Ohta up with him. He adjusted his uniform and tried to make it look like his heart hadn't just skipped nine beats. "...I didn't design them to build things. This was still a successful test, Argon, even if the thing was uncontrollable. I figure such a monster has one purpose and one purpose only."
"To kill Sailors."
Argon frowned a bit at the idea. "Sailor hunters? I don't know... they're rather blunt, Cobalt. Blunt yet dangerous. I doubt they could carry out their work in secret--"
"Then screw secrecy," Cobalt suggested. "The Queen doesn't care about secrecy. The only ones who do are Dark Generals who don't want attention, so they can freely enjoy the Earth. I don't care about that. Argon... the Sailors have mangled my efforts from day one. If I'm going to finish this mission, I need them dead. If a few dozen other humans get killed and the big scary monsters make a media stir, so what? I'm done fighting from shadows. I want to realize my Queen's dream--"
He was interrupted by the human's muffled screams.
Argon turned to face the rack, smiling widely. "Looks like our friend is awake. Shame I had to destroy your pet so soon, it might have been fun to see what it would do with--"
The human promptly fell asleep again. Argon turned to see Cobalt's upraised hand, tracing the line of will from the smaller Dark General to the strapped-in body. Cobalt had put him to sleep.
"Ohta, have someone deliver the test human back to Earth," Cobalt ordered. "Make it someone with good self control, please. Odds are the fool will wake up and assume it was all a simple nightmare."
"...what?" Argon asked, ignoring the underling as he hurried to do the task. "Why in blazes do you want to send him back?"
"Isn't it obvious? I'm done with him. Nobody can spawn Yamiko off the same person twice, so what good is he to me now? He'll probably think this was all a bad dream and go on with his life."
"He could be killed in an entertaining-- ah, but that's not your style, is it?" Argon asked, choosing to be amused by this decision. "How kind of you."
Cobalt shrugged his shoulders, not making a big deal of it. "Call it kind all you want, but you're wrong. I don't care who I have to kill to finish my mission. Unlike you single-minded fools, however, I don't kill just to kill."
Argon frowned. "You think you're better than us, don't you, Cobalt? I should warn you, that's a dangerous attitude to hold. The only thing keeping you from being slaughtered by Xenon and Neon is the Queen's ban on infighting..."
"Spare me, Argon," Cobalt spoke, opening his filing cabinet of potential human spawners. He selected a file nearly at random, and made a mental note to cancel his meetings for the day. "You'll change your tune when I bring you the head of Sailor Nothing... tonight."
It wasn't a date, of course. All her friends would be there. She ate lunch with them sometimes, so dinner wouldn't be any different.
It wasn't in a good area of town but it wasn't in a bad one, either. Just an average commercial district. There was nothing to fear walking there from her house. Although she was considering getting a bike soon.
There was no reason to be worried, or nervous, or afraid, or even giddy. There wasn't any reason to hesitate. She had nothing else of importance to do that could hold her back.
Nevertheless, Himei arrived about fifteen minutes late. It was to much relief that she saw the combined gang of Aki, Shin, and Kotashi already at a table near the window. And to much more relief that nobody else was in the small restaurant, especially nobody else from school. And Seiki wasn't there, so she had some buffer time...
Aki came out to meet her. Himei hadn't realized she was staring in the window so long.
"Himei! Where have you been?" her friend asked. "We were worried that you..." Her voice trailed off, as her eyes widened.
"What?" Himei said, shrinking a bit under that stare. "What's wrong?"
"You're... you're wearing makeup, aren't you?" Aki asked, with no small amount of shock.
Himei hadn't added any blush, which meant some was naturally supplied. "Um.. just a little," she said. "Err, just some lipstick. Just a little. I borrowed it from mom's room when she wasn't looking. Did I do it wrong? I could wipe it off, I don't want to look stupid--"
"No no, it's fine!" Aki said quickly, declining to critique her technique or color shade selection. (The fact that she did decline to do so felt a bit like a personal victory, considering how Emi used to do exactly that to her whenever she tried to look nice.) "Come on, Seiki's about to get off his work shift and we're gonna have salads! House specialty ones!"
Himei found herself pulled into Le Chapeau, half against her will.
Store space is at a premium in the crowded streets of Tokyo. Le Chapeau was no exception; the seating area was technically not much larger than an apartment. Four tables, only one of which was large enough to accommodate their little group... the others empty. Himei was ushered into a waiting chair, and got a look around at her friends.
She called them her friends... even if she had never really met Kotashi before and she only saw Shin a few times since they first met and technically all three girls had only been a 'team' for a brief period of time in which they only met together as a group once before now. They were talking about something, but Himei only heard muffled something or other... too gripped with a fear to really pay much attention. Friends. She had a BUNCH of friends now. And it was so normal, just sitting down at dinner and chatting and--
"Yes?" she replied automatically.
"What do you think?"
"...I don't know," she said truthfully.
"That's what I'm saying," Shin agreed, nodding. "I don't think it's right. We're supposed to be setting people free here, not pulling the wool over their eyes. Of course, my hated enemy here and Aki feel otherwise."
"But Himei, you agree with me, right?" Aki asked. (With nobody else around, it was safe to talk about such things.) "We've gotta fight the Yamiko quietly. I don't think people want to know about these monsters... if they did, they'd live in fear of them. You did promise not to reveal anything, Shin..."
Shin groaned, leaning back in her wooden chair. "Yeah yeah, I know. Timing's all off. Besides, his editorial highness wants a nice thick book out of it rather than inches of newsprint."
"It'd be better for your career," Kotashi said, folding his hands in front of his mouth. "Of course, I still think it'll end up on the fiction list next to Primary Colors or something similar, but success is success. Assuming you stop randomly capitalizing words just because you feel they need emphasis--"
"Oh, do NOT start on that now. I'm here to have fun tonight, dammit. And so are you, so shut up and drink your tea."
Tea? Himei looked down. Cup. Tea. Oh. She hadn't noticed...
"Himei, are you okay?" one of the girls asked, her mind too distant to figure out which was speaking.
I'm dreaming, she decided. Normal Himei, the Normal Himei she kept having nightmares about, would be sitting at a table laughing and joking with her friends. Normal Himei would happily fall into that and chat away, be a social butterfly, be at ease around her friends and...
And wouldn't be talking about the Yamiko. No, this was really happening.
"Nobody else has to be hurt," she spoke, in indirect reply. "That's why we're doing it quietly. Victims usually write it off as a bad dream, both the ones who are spawned and the ones they attack. We clean up quietly so they can lead their normal lives without sadness. We get hurt so they don't have to, and that's why we keep the war silent. It's not because we want to trick people or lie to them, it's because we're saving them. That's all we can do. You could die tomorrow before you can finish your book, Shin. Don't worry about the book. Worry about the war and think about when you'll eventually die. What kind of dressing are we having on our salad tonight, by the way?"
The deafening silence and stares she was getting were further proof that she wasn't dreaming. Normal Himei wouldn't screw up like that.
Aki actually jumped a full two inches from her chair when the door to the kitchen squealed, pushed open by Seiki.
"The food has arrived!" he cheerfully announced, balancing a pair of trays, one per hand with superior coordination. He strolled over to the table of shocked schoolkids, and started distributing salad. "Henry's finest, of course. That's the head chef, see. He's American but he figured places with French names get more visitors, but we haven't had many so truthfully you guys are making him a REAL happy camper tonight. But don't worry, it's on me, okay? Nothing but the best! Why's everybody so quiet?"
"No reason, Seiki-kun," Kotashi smoothly spoke, gliding right back to normality as he accepted his salad. He took a deep breath... and smiled. "This smells pretty good. What's the dressing? Himei was wondering."
"Oh!" Seiki exclaimed. He turned to Himei, not noticing the fierce blush she developed. "It's one of Henry's family recipes, actually, I can't give out the secret formula. It's sorta like ranch and blue cheese but more watery but not in a bad way, and there's a LITTLE bit of rice wine in it but it won't get you drunk. And it's really low cal and low fat, so eat all you like, Himei!"
"Th-thank you," she said, bowing her head a little (and trying to cover her mouth without making it look like she was covering something up). "Ah... thanks. I can pay, it's okay--"
"Don't worry, money's not a problem for me," Seiki dismissed. "Aaaand... that ends my shift. Mind if I sit with you guys?"
Shin swallowed a forkful of salad, and nudged the only free chair out with her foot. It was was right next to Himei, naturally. "Have a seat, Van Der Beek. And I'll quite gladly let you pick up the bill. This is damn good stuff."
Kotashi tugged an eyelid to taunt Shin for the quip, but in a playful way. He took his seat, not bothering to remove his apron. "You know, I'm glad I could meet all of you guys," he said. "I'm surprised I hadn't bumped into you before, Himei. I mean, I've been friends with Kotashi for awhile and knew Shin in passing and I jog by you and Aki each morning, but I didn't know she knew Aki who knew you and so on. Does that make sense? Oh, but don't let me stop you from eating, sorry. I tend to ramble a bit when I'm enjoying myself. Kotashi can back me up on that, right? So, Himei, you feeling any--"
Her chair scraped badly against the cheap wooden flooring.
"Excuse me, I have to usetherestroom," she spoke quickly, and left just as quickly. The door to Le Chapeau's only restroom swung shut behind her half a moment later.
Seiki blinked a few times, his brain trying to catch up with what just happened. "Err... did I... offend her or anything?"
Aki turned to look at the door, worrying about something other than the calorie content of her food and if it would raise her dress size. "She... isn't really used to things like this," Aki tried to explain. "I guess it's just too much at once... I mean, not that there's anything wrong but--"
"She's not good with crowds," Shin summarized, feeling the blunt approach would be better as she picked her next forkful. "I've actually only known her a few days, Boy Wonder. She's shy as hell. People spook her."
Aki gaped in alarm. "Shin!"
"Hey, I'm not trying to put the bad mouth on her," Shin noted. "Don't worry, Seiki, she'll be fine. Give her a moment. You SURE you can't reveal the ingredients? This is some damn good salad dressing."
"People spook her...?" Seiki repeated, casting a longer glance at the door.
In the bathroom.
STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID
Himei curled up tighter, sitting on the toilet, behind the closed door, on the other side a bunch of people who probably though she was weird now.
Stupid. Why couldn't she just talk? Seiki talks so easily. He talks a lot, he always has something to say. Himei never had anything to say. Nothing normal. When she opens her mouth, death and war and hurt pours out and scares people...
The lipstick was stupid. Did she think that would magically make her normal and social, just like her black heart pendant magically made her a soldier? She was embarrassed just to admit she was wearing the sticky red stuff. Aki looked so happy at the sight, but Himei could tell she just wanted to be supportive. Maybe she hated it. Maybe Seiki hated it.
All those people... her friends. She barely knew them. Shin forced her way into her life, was she a friend? She was acting friendly, she didn't seem angry and she was trying to be nice. Social. Aki was her friend. Kotashi she didn't know. It was too much, too many people looking at her, too cramped in the tiny little restaurant...
Which she'd have to return to. The bathroom had no other way out. She'd have to go out there and it would be even MORE awkward since she ran away, now they'd all think she was strange and... and her thinking wrapped right around to where it began.
If a monster would just burst in right now and kill her, she might not have had any serious objections. It would be easier to face than her new friends.
In the kitchen.
The pun had not gone unnoticed.
"I picked you out of a hat," Cobalt admitted. "Le Chapeau. Cute. Anyway, hopefully the Sailors are nearby. But if they aren't... feel free to trash stuff and run wild. Let's shake these human bastards out of their safe little world. Got it, Henry?"
The demon who nearly filled the kitchen by itself, coated in slimy blue-green tendrils, burbled at Cobalt. A thick ooze poured from its many mouths. "YYRHGhghGKLlll," it gargled.
"I'll take that as a yes and get the hell out of here," Cobalt said more or less to himself, recalling what the last Super Yamiko did. He dove for a shadow to flee; he could return later to watch a news report.
Which is a shame, because if he hadn't left, he might've seen the thing spill Sailor blood.
Despite his best efforts to play host, things remained tense at Seiki's table.
He tried a few jokes to break the ice. Aki laughed at them, but it was an obligatory sort of laugh. Kotashi wasn't the laugh out loud sort, and Shin was too busy stuffing her face to comment on the humor.
Now and then he'd glance at the bathroom door, wondering when Himei would be back. One time when he glanced, he glanced back and found the girls clutching their heads in pain and groaning.
Then things got weird.
"What's wrong?" he asked, trying to recall if Henry had headache medicine back there. "Aki? Shin?"
"It's... it's close... it's REALLY close," Aki said, pushing her chair out (knocking it over) and getting to her feet. "I think it's in here with us!"
"What is?" Seiki asked, before finding out.
The kitchen door was slammed open so hard that the top hinge shattered, and an abomination oozed out. Three of its eyes turned to Seiki, and the bottom fell out of Seiki's world.
Looks a bit like the thing on last night's midnight horror movie, his mind casually noticed as it fell into a state of confused shock. It slowly moved from the door, shoving a table aside with a massive tentacle-loaded appendage as it approached...
"WHOA!" Kotashi shouted over the thing's horrible groaning wail, as he grabbed Seiki's arm, the girls already having bailed out the door. "C'mon! We're going!"
Of course, you're supposed to run away from monsters. That's also what the movies say. Seiki was very good at running, his mind continued. That's why he won so many trophies. But movies also said something else. They said guys like him were the hero.
"We can't, Himei's in the bathroom!" Seiki replied, yanking his arm away from Kotashi's grip. "I can't just leave her in there!"
And so, the hero stood up to the horrible monster. Not that the hero was armed or had the slightest idea what to do, but he felt he had to do something for her...
Kotashi made a dive to grab his friend's arm again. "CHRIST, Seiki, don't argue--"
His friend wasn't there. The monster had yanked Seiki's left leg out from under him with a slimy tendril, and was holding the boy upside down... studying him with all twelve eyes.
"Seeekkkkkkkka," it glarbed at him. "prtthhhattic, weeeek lttlpssy, sooo deppendint, yoooooooalwwwws madd msooo siiiik..."
One good swing at the wall, and Seiki's world was rocked hard enough to forget all about the movies and just go to sleep.
In the bathroom.
The blast to her mind was strong. Stronger than she had ever felt before from a Yamiko spawning... it was close. It was powerful. It was so overwhelming...
Himei knew she had to swing into action, but she couldn't. Already stricken with fear from her earlier social blunder, this new attack from the Yamiko-sense was too much. Her balance was knocked askew, and she actually slumped off the toilet, leaning awkwardly against the wall of the small bathroom as she fought to breathe.
Pulling herself up by the small washroom sink, she struggled to get her footing. She struggled to get her bearings in general. Fumbling for the doorknob, her sweat-slick hand finally grasped it, and twisted it hard--
Himei staggered out into the main room of Le Chapeau just in time for the fight.
There was Sailor Beauty, and the newly hired (and thankfully instructed in her recent absence) Sailor Truth. Kotashi was hiding just outside the restaurant. And there was a Yamiko -- a Yamiko unlike any Himei had ever seen before, an inhuman monster not just on the inside, but on the outside as well.
"AMAZING GRACE!" Sailor Beauty shouted, projecting the rainbow of light into the chest of the thing...
...where the light burned a hole through it, the hole promptly closed back up. That's impossible, Himei thought. Freshly spawned Yamiko aren't strong enough to resist their attacks like that.
"Well... shit," the ever eloquent Sailor Truth said. She noticed Himei's arrival. "Himei! Grab Seiki and drag him this way! Hurry, before it notices you--"
Yes, Seiki was here. Slumped against a wall, unconscious, and with his leg bent behind himself at a painful angle.
The monster hurt Seiki.
At least it didn't kill Seiki... but for some reason, that was no relief to Himei. Not that she had sadness to relieve. No, she had something else. Anger. Pure, absolute anger strong enough to be felt through the emptiness of Sailor Nothing...
She'd seen pain, she'd seen death. Nothing got through to Sailor Nothing. It took something very resonant, very specific to make Himei angry, genuinely angry and not just cynically disappointed.
It took a violation of what little hope she had left in a happy ending. Like hurting someone she cared about.
"This shouldn't be happening," she found herself saying. A familiar thought, an alley, a young girl, a Yamiko, the night she split from Magnificent Kamen, what she did, what she FELT. "This shouldn't be happening. This should NOT be happening..."
Eyes rotated in their sockets to face Himei, as the Yamiko took notice of her. Her friends were screaming something. Transformation? They said she should transform.
Okay. She'd do that.
Himei grasped the black heart pendant worn around her neck, and the rare anger exploded.
"Is it over?" Kotashi asked, peeking back into the door of the restaurant. "I heard scream....."
Nobody said anything for at least another 17 seconds. Himei blinked once, wiping the blood off her face, and glanced over at them.
"Sorry," she said quietly. "I got a little carried away. It happens sometimes..."
Then she flopped forward slowly, sprawled in the puddle and unconscious from an exhaustion of the soul. Sailor Nothing's costume vanished as her satiated rage went away, replaced by Himei's ordinary civilian clothes and a deep sleep.
Aki's mouth opened and closed and opened again without saying anything. Her eyes never closed. Her companions were a bit more businesslike about it... Kotashi quickly entered and shut the door behind him, turning the sign to CLOSED. Shin yanked on the window blinds to pull them down as far as they could go, then ran over to check Himei's vitals.
"She's got a pulse," Shin replied. "I think she's just unconscious. Unless this is some weird paranormal sleep, but we'll worry about that later when we get her back to Dusty. Aki, get a mop."
"Your powers can vaporize Yamiko, right?" Kotashi asked, stepping across the carnage to check on Seiki's vitals much as Shin did. "Maybe they can clean up the mess. But I think Himei got a few cuts, so--"
Aki screamed out loud, the pent up fear finally releasing itself. (Shin closed her eyes, and waited for Aki to stop... better to get that sort of thing out of your system than shush it up.) When she got some control over herself, she tried to speak. "Hi.. Himei just... she just..."
"She tore the thing apart with her bare hands, yes," Shin replied. "You didn't see it, Kotashi, but she turned into Sailor Nothing and then just flat out went for the jugular. I take it you've never seen her do that before, Aki? She said 'it happens sometimes--'"
"How can you be so calm about this??" Aki shouted at her. "It was a monster! A GIANT MONSTER, and Himei... Himei just... oh, god... how, HOW can you be so calm?!"
Shin stood up... and turned to face her. "I can be calm because right now, we need to be calm," she spoke in a level tone. "Aki, I'm just as scared as you are right now. This is freaking me out. But I HAVE to be calm; we need to take care of this, fast. Henry's likely asleep in the back room and Seiki might wake up at any minute. Now, do you want to use Amazing Grace to clean up the mess or should I? We will have time to be afraid later. Damned if I'm gonna get any sleep tonight, but please, just... go with it for now. Please?"
In that instant... Aki felt humbled. She'd been worried and nervous and afraid for days and days, even without Yamiko attacks. Here the worst Yamiko she'd ever seen was just destroyed in a horrifying way... and Shin could force herself to be calm. To be a soldier, while Aki was a panicky, useless bystander...
In that instant, also she found a new respect for Shin. The other girl had exactly the strength Aki wished she had herself. Aki nodded quickly, and despite her trembling hands, used Amazing Grace to flood the room with colored light... not hurting any of her human friends, but the corpse of the beast was turned into a whiff of foul smelling air. Even its blood which had coated the walls was gone.
"Thank you," Shin said in reply. "Now, let's change back before any of them wake up. What's our cover story?"
Kotashi wiped sweat from his brow, and stood up. "It's pretty lame, but... maybe Seiki heard a noise from the kitchen, tripped over his chair and fell. That'd explain his ankle; it looks it'll be sore after that landing. And it could explain Henry falling asleep if he got hurt and caused a noise..."
"Terrific," Shin said, with a distaste for the explanation. She squeezed her transformation pen (what else would Sailor Truth use?) and shifted back to her normal clothes, as did Aki. "'I fell down some stairs,' the old standby of wifebeater victims. Great. Whatever; we'll go with it. Nobody say jack about any monsters, and hopefully he'll forget about that part. Kotashi, call a taxi. We're leaving."
"I'll call for one, Shin," Aki said, pulling out her cellphone. With an even and controlled voice, she gave the address to the restaurant, trying to sound as strong as possible. But in truth, she was more than ready to get out of there.
IN FRONT OF...
Himei woke up as the taxi rolled to a stop.
"...coach is gonna be upset about my ankle," Seiki was saying. "This could be a sprain. I'll have to see my family doctor tomorrow. If I'm out this season..."
Aki turned Himei's head, to look in her eyes. "Himei... you okay? You must have been Very Tired." (With Extra Emphasis for certain people who shouldn't know why she was really asleep.)
"I'm fine, I think," she replied, trying to get her
bearings. "Where are we...?"
Kotashi passed over what money he had left to the cab driver. "We're at the end of the line," he explained. "We'll have to walk home from here. Fortunately Seiki doesn't live too far away from the rest of us. C'mon, Seiki, I'll give you a hand."
Bewildered, Himei got out of the taxi. She was on the street in front of a very expensive looking house... much larger than her own family's place. How did she get from There to Here? Where was There, again?
There was a monster. And then there was Sailor Nothing, and she lost control. It had happened the night in the alley, when she saw the little girl's body and thought, this shouldn't be happening. And tonight...
As if the happy social dinner party wasn't disorienting enough, now she had lost a gap of time. All her friends seemed to have a good grasp on what was going on. The logic was there to figure it out; they had made up a cover story to get Seiki home and were now bailing out of the fight however they could. She would go with it. Then when she got home she'd crawl under the covers and try to forget this night.
"I.. I'm gonna head home myself," Aki told the group. "I wasn't supposed to be out this late anyway, so I gotta hurry but I WILL see you all at school tomorrow. Himei... everything's going to be okay. Okay?"
Himei wasn't sure if the somewhat subtle comforting was helping. "Okay," she replied, since it's what Aki wanted to hear.
Seiki grimaced, as he tried to put weight on his foot. "Definitely a sprain of some kind," he said. "I'll have it looked at first thing in the morning. I can't believe I was clumsy enough to trip over a chair... look, Kotashi, can you give me a hand inside...? And upstairs?"
"No problem," Kotashi said. "Gonna need someone else to support your other side, though. Shin, could--"
"I'll help," Himei found herself saying. Her body moved over to Seiki's side, picked up his arm, and put it around her shoulders. It made a kind of sense, right? She was the sailor suited warrior who saved Seiki's life. Now she'd be the one to help save him the pain of walking on that foot. Yes, that worked. Oh, god, what was she doing, no, just go with the impulse, don't QUESTION it...
Shin waited down in the foyer of the dark and silent house, as the three made their way up the long and winding stairs.
This was as close to a mansion as Himei had ever seen. Even in the dim light of no lights on at all, she could see things never before seen. There was even a small electric chandelier in the foyer, and a deep rug of some kind of foreign craftsman to wipe your feet on. The whole thing was very western in style; so much so that she instinctively forgot to take off her shoes on entering.
There to Here, and now to Somewhere Else. Was she dreaming? The whole night was one long string of alien experiences. A dinner party. An impossible Yamiko. And now this strange house, and moving so fast now that she couldn't sit down and think about any of it. She had to just go with the flow.
Kotashi must have been here before; he knew just where to go. He led the trio along an upstairs hallway, where the only sound was the ticking of a grandfather clock. No parents or family rushed to greet them, only closed and silent doors met them as they entered. Kotashi grasped the doorknob of one of the nearly identical doors, leading them into Seiki's room.
"Sorry to hassle you two," Seiki spoke up, as they did the five legged race thing into his abode. "This really is not like me. I don't see how I could've screwed my leg up this bad off a simple chair..."
"Stranger things have happened," Kotashi replied. "You need me to get you into your PJs and hold you up in the bathroom so you can take a leak, or you got it from here, man?"
"I'll be fine, I'll be fine," Seiki replied, hopping up to sit on his bed (also western style). He swung his legs in, apparently figuring he'd just sleep in what he had on. "Thanks. Sorry the party had to end on such a down note... and we hadn't even gotten to the main course. It's not like Henry to knock himself out in his own kitchen, either. Weird... huh?"
"Real weird. I'm au here, I'll see you tomorrow," Kotashi said, giving a wave. "You gonna be late to school, right?"
Seiki adjusted himself a bit. "I've got to call my doctor and get this looked at, yeah. I'll be late. But I should be in, I'd hate to miss my classes. I'll see you then, thanks."
The other boy departed. His footsteps could be heard echoing through the empty hallway, as he walked down those stairs.
It took Seiki a moment to notice that he wasn't alone. After all, Himei was real good at staying quietly in the background while other people talked and joked and got along.
"I-I'll just go now," Himei said, realizing she had been spotted.
Seiki nodded along with her. "Ah, right, thanks for helping. Thanks, Himei. Ah... listen, could you--"
"Yes?" Himei said quickly.
"Could you turn the TV on for me?" Seiki asked. "I think I left the remote across the room, right... yeah, right there. Turn to channel 50, the latenight movie..."
Soon, the room was filled with the sounds of dramatic music and bad acting. Himei started to turn the volume down, before Seiki motioned for her not to.
"That's better, thanks," he said. "You don't have to turn it down."
"It looks like they're showing a monster movie," Himei noted, trying not to look at the screen. "You'll have trouble getting to sleep, won't you?"
"I'll be fine," Seiki said. "I'll be just fine. I'm fine. ...you know, I had this weird dream..."
Himei played damage control. "Dreams can be weird, but they don't mean anything. I'll be going now."
"I dreamt I was trying to save you from a monster," Seiki said, without a joking tone. "Felt like I was the hero of some monster movie, saving the romantic interest. You know? One of those sorts of dreams."
Himei's knees went rubbery.
"You don't know me," she said, since it was the first true thing to come to her mind. "I'm not your romantic interest. You shouldn't go to sleep watching a monster movies, you'll have wrong dreams like that."
"I always sleep with the TV on," Seiki replied quietly... seeming to begin that slide towards sleep as he thought about the idea. "It's not because I like monster movies. Any show will do. I just like the noise. Like other people being around me..."
It took him two minutes to drift off to sleep, but Himei stayed rooted to the spot the whole time. She wasn't usually very empathic to other people's feelings, but right then, right there, she felt that he wanted someone around him. Once he was asleep, she quietly closed his door and snuck out of the silent home.
ONE BLOCK AWAY FROM...
Two figures walked quietly down the sidewalk, side by side. Away from something.
Only once did Shin look over her shoulder. "I guess that's that," she said. "We came, we saw, we conquered one way or another... we did good, right? We took care of business. Didn't fold, didn't panic, we got the job done like soldiers should?"
"Yeah," Kotashi replied. "The end of another fine evening, huh?"
He felt a warm hand squeeze his. It nearly threw his stride off, but he kept walking smoothly. When he felt a head on his shoulder, he started to wonder about things. But that could wait.
The two walked off towards home.
A bright and shiny new day.
Wait one minute. Wait one extra minute. Don't rush to your feet and go get Dad's razor. Especially today.
This was likely going to be one of her last days, she thought to herself. It was getting worse every day, and last night was a prime example of it getting out of control... the darkness inside her. Himei clutched her sheets tightly, as if they could anchor her down. Squeeze your eyes shut, count backwards, let it go... wake up. The nightmare's over... except it's never really over, is it...? The very fact that she could think that was proof something was very wrong in her life...
A soft weight landed on her head, and Dusty's head appeared upside down, as he peered down at her from his landing spot. "Himei? You okay?"
"No," Himei replied truthfully.
"Okay, so maybe you lost control last night," Dusty said, hopping down to land in her lap. (A warm cat was a good thing to wake up to, she thought absently.) "It's happened before. It's no big deal. I mean, don't get worried--"
"Dusty, I know you're trying to cheer me up, but I have to face facts," Himei said... while reaching out to pet Dusty, stroking her fingers along his fur. "I know now why that happens. It's because Sailor Nothing is a Yamiko-given power. It's evil, Dusty. And when I lose control, it comes out in full. I'm going to turn into an evil creature and nothing can stop that. I've realized that now. I don't think I'm destined for a happy, normal life... Magnificent Kamen destined me to turn into a--"
"--a monst-- what?"
"Wrong," Dusty said. He had taken on his 'lecturing' tone of voice... a rare thing, usually reserved for when he felt soothing sympathy wouldn't get through to her. "I think it's time for a serious talk, Himei. Because I'm not letting you out of this house in this shape. I care about you too much. Maybe your friends were too spooked to talk about this, but they'd do the same for you, I guarantee it."
Himei sighed. "Dusty, please, it's first thing in the morning. Can't this wait--"
"I know you've been harboring this theory for a few days... but I think you're wrong," he cat continued, locking his eyes on hers. "You know why? Because I can talk, that's why. The same power that makes you Sailor Nothing is what makes me talk, and I don't think I'm an evil cat. Evil cats have black fur and hiss more and ride broomsticks. I'll accept that maybe Magnificent Kamen is a Yamiko or something... but I'm not one, and neither are you. Remember when you thought you were turning into a monster? You just had the flu. You were wrong then, so you can be wrong now."
"How can you know that for certain?" Himei asked. "How do you know that we're not really tainted deep down? I can feel it, Dusty! Each time I'm Sailor Nothing it feels like I'm becoming something awful. And when I lost control--"
"Everybody loses control sometimes," Dusty said. "Even normal people snap when they get mad enough. The difference is you can tap into that anger in a way they can't. But that doesn't make you a Yamiko in any way! Until recently, you were Sailor Salvation -- goodness and purity and a warrior of good. What was powering that doesn't matter. Then... I don't know, your mood changed, and you started being Sailor Nothing instead. But YOU changed that, right?"
Himei hung her head. "...it just happened, Dusty. It felt like what I was supposed to be when he cut me loose..."
"There's too many unknowns and inconsistencies here. I don't think you're evil, I don't think you're turning evil," Dusty reinforced. "So stop worrying about it. You can worry, but worry about the right things. You have school today, right? A quiz in English class?"
Her heart sank. "I forgot to study..."
"Sounds like a better thing to worry about to me," Dusty responded. "Himei... what do you think will happen if you keep assuming that you're going to turn into a monster? What would a monster do?"
Her father's razor.
"Something bad," Himei spoke softly.
"Then take things as they come instead of fearing it. That's the best you can do, and that's all your very own Philosophy Cat has to say," Dusty replied, shaking his whiskers a bit. "We need to talk more often, you know. It's good that you have friends now, but I keep worrying about you..."
Himei found herself hugging her beloved pet and companion.
"Thank you, Dusty," she whispered.
"Mphmh," he responded, ears twitching.
"I just... after last night, I felt so strange. Like I was walking through a dream. Everything kept happening all at once, and when I lost it, I just... I couldn't feel what was real anymore. You're right. I have to stop dreading things. I just... I have to live. I don't know what's going to happen to me but I have to live, go to school, and do what I can. Right? It's never going to be easy, but I have to try. I want to live, Dusty. I made up my mind about that already. I want to LIVE..."
Himei quickly released him, mumbling an apology. Dusty hopped to the floor, shaking out his crumpled fur a bit.
"I have to get to school," she replied quickly, getting to her feet to rush around the room gathering her things. "I'll be back right after school, I promise."
Dammit. Dammit dammit dammit DAMMIT.
It wasn't possible. Not a blip, not a word, not a peep in the mortal world regarding the gleefully malevolent beast he cut loose. No reports in the morning paper, no morning news items about horrible massacres at the tentacles of an otherworldly beast.
What's more, Dark General Cobalt even went upstairs to have a bagel at Le Chapeau, and was greeted by an enthusiastic Henry sporting a dandy bandage from a head bump he never took. Monster, what monster? Oh, that crazy dream! Funny thing, dreams.
What a nightmare. The Sailors had likely dispatched the bastard mere moments after he left. Just his luck that they would be wandering around the neighborhood right near his spawning point, wasn't it? Cherry pickers, the whole stinking lot of them. Adorable little sailor suited bloodlust raging psychotics DETERMINED to bring down his day...
On returning to the Yami-gaia, Cobalt realized that he was aiming too low. Yes, the chef had an inner darkness that manifested in the form of the big sloppy whatever the hell that was. Very amusing. However, he needed some better fodder if his Super Yamiko debut was going to have any impact whatsoever.
Thank god Argon slept in until noon, or he'd be here mocking Cobalt this very minute. Cobalt ignored Ohta's morning reports, breezing into his office and heading right for the candidates filing cabinet.
He chucked a few unlikely ones. Sure, they had some repressed dark side, but so what? He needed something huge. Something guaranteed to spawn the most evil, freakish beast mankind had ever seen... a quiet person. A quiet and reserved person who never spoke up, never said anything, kept it all inside no matter how much others beat on and picked on that person, that silent darkness building and building... but withheld by human morality.
There. One of the files near the bottom, the folders he hadn't reached yet in his quest to supplement his ranks. Admittedly, an unimpressive specimen... mocked and hated by others, but never fighting back, always quietly submitting to the bullying. Nothing special.
But if he was playing his psychological cards right, this little girl was a Super Yamiko just waiting to kick the next generation of Columbine into action right in Wazaru High. Perhaps the final solution to those damned Sailors lied in this one girl: Shoutan Himei.
PREVIEW OF NEXT EPISODE
WHAT?! That's where this episode is ending!? You've got to be kidding me! HIMEI, RUN!
Himei... you're not a monster, right? I mean, not that I think you are, but last night... what you did... is that going to happen to me?
Christ, Himei, when it rains around you, it POURS. Didn't we just get done dealing with some messed up shit last night, and now we've got to deal with THIS? I like to think I'm a well adjusted person, but... Kotashi, I don't know if I can adjust to it this fast...
Next time on Sailor Nothing, Himei becomes enlightened the hard way. Why does it always have to be the hard way?!
Light will always cast a shadow, but a shadow by itself is abomination.
TO BE CONTINUED
nothing copyright 2000 stefan gagne
unauthorized use prohibited