For my other sisterheart Andrea Baldwin (Eozarth). Thanks for spotting the HTML crap surprises in Covet for me. This one is extra good to make up for that not so good story (IMHO). And yes, the title is also a song by The Prodigy.
Have you ever hated yourself after so many failures that you just wanted to destroy yourself?
"To lock yourself in a room, no food, no water, no clothes, no warmth, no cold, no feeling, no windows, no air. Numb with one big mirror. Watch yourself waste away, either by food or air. Maybe you'll tear yourself apart with your bare hands, glaring and hissing at the reflection of one big fuck-up.
"Or you could huddle in a corner, weeping and sobbing, remembering all the times you've tried to be happy, all the people you've wanted to please, all the feeling you've faked, all the delusions of loving yourself. Drive yourself mad with regret and sorrow. Drown in tears and piss and bitterness.
"Oh those lovely times. When you smiled with teeth you felt were yellow and the eyes that were hollow. You said things that you wished you truly meant and could never take back. You kept on dreaming that one day you'd be sharing some Italian dish and a bottle of wine with your lover at the kitchen table, candle-lit for seduction, happy, full, alive. So damn alive.
"Then, when you realized that you could never love nor feel, you'd turn mean and ugly, like you've always known yourself to be. You realized that life was not Hollywood, with tears that could be kissed away, with some beautiful person that would love you until you got the next movie gig. You realize that you've been blinded, you've been fucked over. You realize that you've fucked yourself by wanting. You've fucked yourself over with... who you are.
"Sorry and being human isn't good enough. Driven to have it all, be the best, damn everyone else, has made you so cold you burn the people who try and touch you. You need to burn them. That's all you know how to do. You were made for hurting and heartache.
"So you lock yourself in your room, punish yourself with pills, blades, tears, damnations. It doesn't help. You're so fucking weak you can't end it. So you give up. Like you gave up happiness with yourself, with others, with one other. Just one other for you to make happy. One other to make you happy. An equal you find better who finds you better. Love, damnit.
"Crying and hiding it in your pillow, you ask yourself like a simple child. Why can't I be happy? Why do I fuck up so much?
"You wait for an answer that's honest, that loves you, that follows some sort of logic. It doesn't come. It never has, it never will. It's only the fact.
"You are a complete... and utter... failure.
"So you shudder and sigh, sleep, wake up, and start your deconstruction again."
The soft clack of the stop button on the tape recorder crashed through the spell the calm and reflective voice cast on her audience. Sitting still with glazed eyes as if they had just emerged from a movie theater, the clinical meeting room was silent.
The doctor slowly reclined back in his seat, remembering the room where the patient had sat alone in the crowd of fellow inmates. The room had been black, dark as only a cat could locate a sliver of light. Whispered among the bound patients was one single female voice. Her words were coherent if only for herself as she had rocked and stared at nothing.
A yard away on a cold plastic chair welded together tight so that patients could not rip parts off and beat each other with them, the doctor had merely sat there, recording her words as the minuscule spool of tape cycled delicately with a low electronic buzz. Not moving, just listening in the room full of ghosts, he had sat patiently with his elbows on his thighs and chin in his palms.
Remembering that time, he now felt distanced from the professionals who would use her perception of her world for making excuses for the rest of society. He had respected her and admired her even after they had found her hanging from her bedpost topless, with strips of her shirt bound around her neck. There was no smile on her face, no sign of impetuous actions. The room had been immaculate, the strip of cloth precise. Obviously premeditated, he wondered for how long.
Maybe if he had truly helped her instead of taking the passive role as a healer, she could have still been alive. He had watched her materialize her visions with words spoken and written and had wanted to see what she saw. He hadn't wanted her to remain and, on a level, was hurt that she would leave him. But she had been too pure for this world, she needed to set herself free. Now she was free and maybe someday, he could join her where she was.
But that explanation for his ward's suicide would not wash in his superiors' eyes.
"She constantly maintained these sociopathic thoughts," he addressed the board, watching as they struggled out of their own prisons of past dreams and hopes. "Her Harvard education was applied to justify her reasons, but did not restrain her depression. She was from upper class society, with pressures for over-achievement. Her father abused her with his belt when her grades were not up to par and her mother tapped into cocaine more often than the family supper.
"She escaped to Boston and stayed there after the education of sororities and substance abuse from the early 80's." He stripped away any emotion from his monotone delivery, knowing how cold facts hid unrelieved truths. "For a time during her education and after, the subject believed herself to be a vampire and frequently displayed violent behavior. She carried a straight razor on her person at all times and would strike people at random. She hid among nightclubs and dressed in eccentric clothing to differentiate herself from what she had been. She conformed to her mother's pattern of narcotics abuse, which led to many incidents involving group intercourse and drug related deaths.
"She was admitted into this institution after attempting to kill her lover at that time. She attacked the police officers that arrested her with a kitchen knife and the straight razor duct taped to her forearms. They subdued her with considerable force, breaking two ribs and a collarbone, then pressed charges on her of assault with a deadly weapon. The court found her guilty of attempted murder and obstruction of justice. Her defense lawyer, however, established the high level of her insanity and she was placed under the care of this institution, wherein she was assigned to my evaluation."
He shuffled thin folders of medical reports in front of him and looked to the sterile white wall behind the rectangular conference table, past the faces that had cautioned him about the woman doll. "Establishing a rapport with her merely meant being allowed to sit next to her for an hour or less. She only allowed a handful of people to get close to her; otherwise she had to be sedated ahead of time. This procedure went into effect after she had crushed a guard's nose with her forehead."
He cleared his throat perfunctorily. "I had not arrived at a prognosis before her death, yet concluded with the data I had gathered during the two month study that she suffered from remnant hallucinations from LSD years before and previously overlooked paranoia with a mild case of schizophrenia. Drug treatment was used against my better judgment and did little to rectify her erratic behavior. I had been in the process of psychotherapy when she committed suicide by asphyxiation."
The man sitting at the end of the rectangular conference table with a distinguished lab coat and sparsely penciled breast pocket integrated his fingers together on top of the briefing folder. "Regardless of her history of disparagement and evident unbalance, you were responsible for her welfare, Dr. Edwards. We had not received any reported sign of her condition, which had obviously been escalating for a considerable period of time." He glanced down at the photograph stapled onto the manila folder of her medical records. There was a list of the treatments, the medications, and the number of violent outbursts during her short stay. There was no mistake she would be remembered.
He raised an eyebrow to the woman with white and tawny hair over to his left. "Would you excuse us for a moment, Doctor Edwards?"
He knew what had come next. He has seen it many times in the five years he had been stationed at that asylum. It was amazing the number of psychologists who became unhinged themselves. He sat outside the boardroom on a patent leather seatee. No patient had seen this area of the building, the top floor where the doctors hid from the world where they practiced. The smell of cigarette smoke wafted in from the open sliding window from the large balcony. The cushion beneath him was plush, the seat itself having been installed only a month before. Before him, the door to the staff snack room stood open and he could see the red light on the coffee brewer flick off on the countertop. Brightly lit, it reassured the observer that they were safe in the soft light.
He could just hear their whispering voices on the periphery of his imagination. They would rummage through their memory for inconsistent performance from half-remembered encounters. Speculation would turn to suspicion here. Later, when they sent him away, the theories would slowly evolve into his damnation. The cogs of office politics would receive a nice coat of oil from that point on. He would never be allowed to return.
The door clicked open and an overgrown man-child extended his torso into the hallway. He nodded curtly to the young doctor sitting calmly with his hands on his lap. He faded back into the warmly lit boardroom as the doctor stood up and returned to his seat without a word.
The chairman inhaled ponderously, seeming to assemble his words, the same words that he used in each instance. "Your career in this establishment has been extremely satisfactory, Dr. Edwards. Your previous success rate with patient counseling extended the normal statistics. Yet, due to your ineptitude on this case, the board has unfortunately decided that your license will be suspended until further notice. You will be compensated for a month only, after that you may do as you wish. You will be approached when this counsel agrees to allow you to practice again."
Dr. Edwards was not at all surprised as he was escorted to his office to gather his belongings before being handed his hat at the gates. He lovingly touched his briefcase weighted with his last patient's tapes as he walked to his sedan.
Matthias was having trouble making up his mind.
He watched her with tender eyes as she was curled up cutely in front of him on the bed. Her mysterious face was reposed and the true quality of her features shone forth. Her eyelashes fluttered on her high cheekbones as she dreamed and Matthias wanted to be there with her. His gaze followed the line of her jaw into the arm that cradled her head under his pillow. Her other hand rested near her side and the arm crossed her chest. His gaze instinctively rested there.
She was a professed sadist. She teased him in her wakefulness with light kisses and whispering caresses. Even unconscious, she seemed to taunt him as the blanket's edge rode over her shoulder, affording him the perfect view of the shadowed line of her cleavage above her cotton tank top. Matthias debated on tracing the line of sight he had followed with his mouth. Some maneuvering would be involved, but the taste of her skin would be reward enough.
She had encouraged him to wake her up when he was amorous, but Matthias could never bring himself to wake her. She needed her sleep as much as he did, yet he felt that she used her days far better than he did. Her art classes were as long as five hours per class and the few night classes she took at the junior college drained her to the point of exhaustion. She chose projects that took much of her free time and he noted a new silence about her.
Recently, she came by his place after her classes without much spoken reason why. Matthias knew she was afraid of being alone. So was he after the running in Old Town, but Langley could never be truly alone regardless of her tough talk. She needed to be in a group of friends and talk among them as an equal. She would, on occasion, test herself by staying in her apartment for a whole week without venturing out with friends. Matthias would receive a call from her every other day. Then and now, he was honored that she always came to him.
None of her friends would believe what she had recently seen, though. They all wondered at the mysterious death of a schoolmate so close to home, yet brushed it off after a week of watching the news media make a circus out of every tragedy. Langley, on the other hand, had been paranoid since the event. She looked behind her when she walked with Matthias; she would sit stiffly in restaurants and was less animated. She feared that they would come after her like they did Victoria, yet obtusely ignored the fact that if they had wanted her, they would have already gotten her.
He seemed unflappable. He was quite relieved that the ordeal was over. The coven had tracked their culprit and no sign had indicated that they needed either Matt or Langley again. Perhaps, just perhaps, things could get back to normal. If he had the chance to disregard his condition, then he'd take it with both hands. In the meantime, he would take things as they came to him.
Langley had come to him ever since that night. He reached his hand out carefully slow and brushed a stray lock of her bangs away from her eyes. She wiggled her nose as it tickled her cheeks and shifted languorously under the covers. Her cheek emerged from the pillow and her face tilted away from him. He leaned over and brushed her lips with his.
Instantly, she opened her eyes and, after a moment of surprise, kissed him back. Softly at first, then melding into something deeper within him. He groaned and cupped her jaw with the palm of his hand, brushing her cheek with a callused thumb. Amorously, he applied more pressure onto her lips and the tip of her tongue darted out experimentally.
He groaned, aroused, and she accepted his invading tongue as it licked around her mouth and teeth. She attempted to pry herself gently from the kiss, all too conscious of her bitter morning breath, but he never seemed to mind too much. The worry, though, dispelled her excitement and she laid passively beneath him.
It took him moments to realize her inactivity and he raised is head in query. He stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers, gazing into her eyes that hid her emotions so well. Simultaneously, the force of her beauty and the sharpness of the ache struck him in his chest. Her mystery was often a challenge to his mind, but her evasiveness was never a pleasure to contend with.
He pushed it down and grinned brightly. "Morning!"
In her self-consciousness, she had missed the shadow in his eyes. She gave him a kiss on the neck as her own personal apology. "How did you sleep?"
He effected a forlorn pout and rested his head on her breasts. "Lonely and cold without you."
His sweetness always made her smile. Nevermind the looks he noticed from others as they walked together, an Asian woman with a pale white man. Nevermind how her family had admonished her for dating someone that didn't have a drop of oriental heritage. He loved her, he didn't play around with other girls, he didn't abuse her. He made her feel like the most special individual in the world.
She pressed kisses into his eyes, his cheeks, his brow, hoping they would tell him what she couldn't express. "So what are we doing for the day?"
He adjusted quickly to her change of body signals, laying his head on her chest gently after placing a light kiss to her neck. He made a note to remember to ask her about it later. "I don't know. I thought we'd just lay around my place and make out."
The joke had her smiling above his head, but it didn't quite warm her insides. The conscience just wouldn't go away. "You'll never get tired of doing that, will you?"
He turned his face and nuzzled her breasts hidden beneath comforters and flannel pajamas. He shook his head negatively and grunted, "Uh-uh!"
"But what if I get bored?" There was a pout in her voice. He was relieved that she wasn't going to start a serious discussion about their relationship that morning. She had had a habit of doing that at the most inopportune times in the beginning of their relationship. He had learned to fear her moods.
"Then... we'll do something else." He climbed over her and onto the bed. He inched the covers away and snuck his body beneath the warm sheets.
She looked at him with inquiring eyes while admonishing her own stiff, uneasy posture. "Like what?" She tried to bolster the conversation to contend with the conscious touch of the length of his lean body on the bed.
He wiggled next to her, the cold of the room had permeated through his thin T-shirt and jean shorts. That her sleeping body had deliciously warmed the blankets sent a contented delight into him. "Anything you want to do."
She was verbally stumped as he snuggled next to her. She raised her arm and he embraced her ribs, his head lying securing on her breast. She stared at the corner of the wall where it met the ceiling. She had not used to receiving the option of planning out a day with another person until she had been with Matt. The responsibility of entertaining instead of being entertained unsettled her.
"What about staying in and playing video games?" She knew he loved playing video games. "Maybe catching a movie later?" There was a new remake of a movie about werewolves that she felt like seeing after he had mentioned it the other night.
He nuzzled his face into her neck, breathing deeply while kissing the sensitive skin. "Mm-hmm, sure."
She struggled to grasp her fading sense of reason. "Matt... are you horny?"
He smiled and flicked her earlobe with his tongue. "Aren't I always in the morning?"
She moaned and fought a quick battle between her senses and her conscience. "C'mon, Matt... I wanna do something today..." Yes, press him with your own wants. Stop being such a pushover.
"Can't we neck all day?" He was moving his weight more on top of her, bringing his leg up to straddle her own.
She gave into her desire for him for a moment, kissing him back and holding him closer. She loved the feel of his weight on her, the sinking sensation of the blankets and her conscience. She didn't allow anything to enter into moments like this for she feared moments when she wouldn't have him, wouldn't have anyone.
Their breathing became more ragged as she shifted her hands from his neck, down his sides, and under his short to touch his velvety skin over lean muscles. At times, she could swear that she loved him, even though she wasn't clear on what love was or what it meant to her. The emotions he swirled within her weren't entirely wholesome, but the wickedness felt good. It felt natural, the heady pleasure cleared away her anxiety. At least most of it. The worries and doubts would return after, curiously as the voice of her mother in her head.
At the moment, though, she didn't care.
It wasn't as if they hadn't set limits for themselves, however. Both of them were adamant about not having sex before marriage. Langley was very comfortable in the knowledge that she wasn't going to be pressured into anything as she had heard her classmates talk about their experiences. She even had to ask Matthias to take a firmer grip on her. But it was true that she loved to push Matt's self-control to its limits.
Which turned out to be more prolonged than expected. Moments later, he sought out her sensuous hands with his and stopped their exploration. "Hold on, hold on... I have to take a breather for a second."
She smiled languorously, stretched out beneath him wantonly with her clothes half-removed and askew on her body. He dropped his head to the pillow above her shoulder, his breathing fast and shallow on its way to steady. It feels good to be loved, she thought as she felt the shivers run their course on her spine. Her hands fell gently to his hair, running through its long, soft length.
As if in response to her happiness, she felt her heart sink back into her dark musings. It hurt to know that she didn't love him back.
If a person were to see her, they would execute a double take and hastily quicken their steps away. She didn't have to move a hair for a person to know she was watching them.
The chill in the air had increased its annoyance to commuters. Cars had to warm up in the morning before their owners started them down the drive way or else the engine would chug along with draconic vibrations. Men and women yawned over steaming cups of coffee and fiddle with radio stations in annoyance. Children crossed busy streets in herds after only a cursory glance at oncoming traffic, eliciting bellows from various horns and aggravated adults cursing behind the anonymity their windshields.
She was leaning against the driver side door of the dark sedan, face turned towards the ticking numbers on the gas pump in front of her. Black sunglasses hid her eyes while a black and olive green pants suit cut the angular lines of her body. Her spine was relaxed and her arms were crossed over her chest, but didn't stir as she breathed in the putrid gas fumes evenly through her nose.
The old fashioned counter of painted black numbers on a roll of white plastic slowed to a stop and the hand pump jumped in the gas valve. Gracefully, she walked to the rear of the car and extracted the pump out of the mouth of the valve with a purposeful jerk of her arm. Kusinagi glanced disinterestedly at the gas gauge reading a perfect twenty-dollar pump and replaced the nozzle onto its elaborate hook.
She started out of the gas station at an expeditious clip, remaining in her lane only when the speed suited her. Tactically she would dart around in traffic, startling the sluggish commuters on surface streets. On the freeway, she was a demon, self-assured in her skills and in the contingency of the possibilities of actions.
There were patterns to everyone's behavior. The way they handled the wheel, how they stayed in their lanes, how attentive they were to the flow of traffic. It all told a story of their pattern of driving and their attitude about the road. To her right was a teenager blasting her stereo far too loudly to be attentive, behind her was an intimidated old lady, probably messing in her pants from the freeway's brisk pace. She breezed past the two and stared down potential road rage victims behind her black sunglasses. Her stillness was enough to intimidate the most aggressive coward.
The directions she took were imprinted in her mind from years past. She had followed the way once every year, each time needing to reacquaint herself with landmark buildings that had changed or shifted in appearance. She didn't mind the travel. In fact, she didn't mind anything. The traveling outside her choice of occupation was a pre-planned, annual change of routine.
The purpose of the trip was not her, but for her superior. One could call him lover, father, master, boss, or anything else, but superior seemed to be the umbrella term for Trevor. She saw him as her god and worshipped him as such. He could never make a mistake and was omniscient about the world around them. She was merely his disciple, doing only what he deemed worthy of her time.
Pausing for a moment to turn right into a wide, elaborate driveway, she sped into the courtyard with a bubbling stone fountain of marble and cherubs. A large mansion sat at the turn of the driveway, flanked with shining, brand new German luxury sports cars and sedans. Thrumming over the gentle lull of the fountain were the loud, wild calls of peacocks perched in the oak trees beside the house.
Tall, ornate Corinthian white marble columns gleamed wetly in the sunlight as it burst through the clouds supported the expansive porch. People in respective black and dark hues milled around holding shallow glasses of chilled wine. The chattered in hushed tones, but their attitude was not of mourning. They were packs of socialites, taking any and all opportunity to build on their network of contacts to make it to the top. Sharks, each and every one of them, but they were unaware of the demon shark amongst them.
Kusinagi turned her gaze to the scrub-faced youth in a cheesy red tuxedo jacket standing outside her car door. She stepped out smoothly, the short fitted black skirt hitched only slightly around her hips. He stared, but made no comment as her eyes fixed on the top of his head coldly. Not worth her time.
The freshly cut grass bowed under her high heeled shoes, daring to spring up only after she had passed. The babble of mourners faded gradually, the soft patter of raindrops falling from leaf to leaf masking the obscene noise. She glided serenely past stone replicas of classic Greek nudes and frozen drapery. Still, cold wings spread over glistening markers of death, everything coated with the ethereal sparkle of post-rain dew.
Another fountain sat still in the middle of a circular rose garden, the blooms already faded sickly and brown. She turned and walked to a weeping willow, its soft branches bushing against a tall black marker. She stopped her steps and gazed down upon the simple inscribed name and two years in thin block script. She had never known this woman, yet the woman was a dominant force in Kusinagi's life.
Her eyes traced the lettering carefully, taking in the clear droplets that flowed downwards from the top to the earth. The marker appeared to be the purest obsidian, absorbing all ambient light into the rectangular black hole. The grass beneath the stone grew tall and trimmed, the lengths unmarred by presents of flowers or affection. Around it rose various sized markers of other dead souls touched by familiar hands. The marker Kusinagi stood in front of was alone in being barren.
She stood there, unconsciously mirroring a nearby statue of an angel bowing her head. Kusinagi's eyes were open however, looking at the slab of stone intently while her mind worked internally. Her brain registered what her eyes saw through a film of blue interference. Sound became muffled and even the air did not smell as crisp it had been. He was in.
Look all around the marker, now.
She walked around slowly, making sure to absorb all that she could about the scenery. The clouds that were starting to break in the sky, revealing the shining promise of a blue day. A sudden breeze picked up and ran it's cold hands through her bluntly cut hair and stroked her scalp. She breathed in deeper than usual, taking in as much freshness as she can. She closed her eyes for a moment to listen to the sound of grass growing underfoot. He rarely received access to fresh air.
She halted again in front of the tombstone, staring at the disembodied name. She wondered often who this woman was, what she looked like, how her voice resonated. Had she been entrancingly beautiful, an American, an African, an Asian? Had her eyes constantly wide and eager for help or had they been sightless with apathy? Had her body fit and supple or had she been a fat, burned out drug addict? Was she a loud and violent patient or had she been docile and tamed with chemical substances?
There was a slight digging needle of pain at the base of her neck, but she ignored it for the moment. Like a snowball rolling downhill on a white packed slope, her musings became more elaborate and urgent as they progressed in her mind. Crystallized. What had made her so attractive to Trevor? Had it been her mind, her words, or her outer shell? Had he spoken to her first or had she? What did they talk about? How did she think? Had she laughed and had it been with him or at him? Had she liked him? Loved him?
In her mind she pictured the two. She had been given images of Trevor when he had been a youth, handsome with a charming smile. His raven black hair fell back from his face to hug his temples, the hue almost matching his keen midnight blue eyes. Constantly well groomed and confident, he had held his stubborn chin into the air as he walked with an innate grace. He talked easily with people, yet was committed to his work. He had wanted to help people back then. He had been idealistic.
Had she met him idealistically? Had she been his classmate? His friend? His teacher? His lover? Had she run her finger through his hair while kissing the life out of him? Had he enjoyed it? Did she lick his skin and whispered her pleasure into his ear? Had he reciprocated her enjoyment? Had his arms ached to hold her when they were apart?
In the corner of her mind huddled the beaten mentality of a woman. That woman mind wanted to know all about the occupant of this grave and damn her memory. It was a well-known saying that the dead influenced the living, but Kusinagi did not like this dead person influencing her god. Jealousy took the high throne shamefully, feeling guilty at betraying Trevor's orders and cursing this grave that he treasured more than this earth. Yet, she could not halt herself from the hot flash of envy that impacted compacted itself into her mid-section.
The pain hesitated for a brief moment before exploding into a fiery napalm grenade of a migraine. Kusinagi flinched outwardly, a grimace creeping its way to her tightly pressed lips. A normal person would have doubled over and fainted, but Kusinagi had been trained from birth to be numbed by average levels of pain. She planted her feet more firmly into the semi-soft soil and braced her legs straight. By then, the pain had reached to her temples and cheeks, so painful that if felt as if her face had just disappeared and ice had formed around her bones.
Unnoticed, a probe had been sent to contact the surface of her mind. It penetrated her untrained shields neatly, gaining its bearings in the imaginary cul-de-sac of her sensory perception and continuing on its destined course. It milled past her autonomous body functions and curved into the pathway of her memories.
The mortuary was still fresh in her memory storage, giving the probe a third person point of view to events. Flashing at an ungodly speed, it started replaying her thoughts in a jumble of images, guttural sounds, and a barrage of long repressed emotions. It was a mental chaotic wave of heat in the middle of a cold, black jungle. The probe gathered itself into a sharp narrow focus and delved straight into the heart of the thought cluster.
Kusinagi blinked in front of the grave marker, startled that it had suddenly turned into a cool yet sunny day. She raised her arm and glanced down at her wristwatch. It was time to depart. There were other tasks to accomplish that day.
As she began walking away, her thick black eyebrows came together in a frown. What had she been thinking before? There was that small niggling feeling of having forgotten something teasing her consciousness. It must have not been pressing since she could not recall and she moved on.
"Why is it that even the most incompetent fool wins a corporate job interview just because he wore the right matching shirt and a stylish tie? And even then, the most brilliant and creative entrepreneur can't get funding just because he wore sneakers to the same interview."
Angela eased back from the romance book she had been reading intently and perked an eyebrow knowingly at the petulant Sky. Her fingers played with a thick braid in her raven-wing hair. "I take it that you didn't get the job."
He shot her a recalcitrant look, simmering from his sudden burst of a small rant after several minutes of silence, and trying his best not to pout even a fraction. He realized that his arms were crossed peevishly over his gaunt chest and hastily tugged them apart. "Shut up."
She shrugged it off with an indifferent smirk and glanced at the door as a cluster of bells hanging from above the lintel chimed overhead. "Hey, Langley. Are you going to hang around with the rejects tonight?"
"Not only am I going to hang around..." she grinned at her friend and stepped across the threshold and into the homely smell of the deli. "But I brought in my own adorable little loser."
Matthias looked affronted as he stepped into the small café and allowed the windowed door to swing slowly shut behind him. "Love you too, Langley," he replied sarcastically. "What do you mean by little?"
She smiled up at him impishly before leaning down to glance at the title of Angela's side interest over her shoulder. "That author's really good."
Sky raised his eyes heavenward and leaned back into the well-worn, L-shaped couch in the corner near the food counter. He crossed his arms unconsciously on his chest again and frowned at the two women chuckling over average sized paperback with the busty woman in a billowing, low-cut ball gown in the arms of a strapping, bare-chested hero.
It was Matthias who voiced the typical male thoughts. "Those books are only for people without love lives," he stated deliberately.
Both the ladies swung their heads up at him and glared simultaneously. He staggered towards the large glass display counter of cookies and muffins under the cash register. "Oh! A deadly double assault!" He placed a melodramatic hand on his chest.
Angela dispatched a quick chuckle. "You damn gamers. Just in it for the fantasy of beating someone into a bloody pulp."
"Better than road rage," Matt retorted. "Besides, Langley loves those kinds of games."
"You traitor." Angela nudged Langley's leg as she climbed the back of the couch to sit on the cushions. Langley grinned and settled into the familiar surroundings.
The scent of a small bakery with breads and cakes mingled with the appetizing aroma of Marinara sauce and cheese. It imbued the moderately sized café with a lived-in character and invited its customers to stay for a while and relax. The small, bell-shaped lights hung from the ceiling on a thin wire encased in a small pipe. A jumbled mix of padded and unpadded seats gathered around small tables of sturdy wood. Admittedly, the owner had looked around in swamp meets for the furnishings. A Santa shaped salt shaker rubbed elbows with a pepper dispenser in the form of a cartoonish hippo.
The uninformed knickknacks in the café suited the varied array of students that set foot into the Catalyst Coffee Shop and Deli. The art students frequently patroned the little bistro, lauding attention to amassing an assortment of objects in the center of a table, sit around it, and stare or draw the objects with intense expressions. Groups of the in-crowd student body would park themselves at the table closest to the large front window and wave at passing acquaintances. There were music and poetry nights on Thursdays and Fridays, which attracted a moderate crowd of students with bands or writing aspirations. Occasional faculty members would order a sandwich and sit down to grade student papers. The Catalyst was by no means the heart of the campus body, but a hub of activity nonetheless.
"Hey, Mac," Matthias greeted the owner of the establishment. The lone man behind the counter raised his tousled red head and recognized a regular. He smiled and dusted off the coating of flour that had accumulated on his hands and arms from the fresh bread dough he had been making.
"Hey, Matt, haven’t seen you here lately." He looked over his shoulder and waved at Langley. She glanced up from talking to Sky and waved back with a "Yo!" "What can I get you? How have you been?"
"A plate of chips and chili and I’ve been great." He braced his elbows on the thick glass counter and leaned over to watch Mac prepare the snack. "How’s business been? And that new cut I gave you the last time?"
"Business is busy as usual." Mac looked around the back shelves for an open bag of chips, found none, and pulled open a fresh bag from the lower shelf. "The music people at night really liked the band. They asked for the name and I told them to write or call your studio."
Matthias nodded, smiling. "That’s the way we know that a local band can be successful. I just hope the audience wasn’t too lazy to write down the address."
Mac poured a large helping of chips onto an average sized platter with painted grapes on the bottom. "I was thinking," he began as he deftly snagged a bowl from a cupboard and flipped open a lid to a small vat of heated chili. "I should probably get a petition started on bands that people like. You know, ‘If you like band-so-and-such, sign your name here’. It’d be really effective if there was a contest for their CD with it."
Matthias blinked as the platter and bowl slid in front of him. "Mac… you are a genius."
The other man shrugged his powerful shoulders. "I’ve just seen that kind of thing work for cars on campus. Why not for a band, right?"
Matt nodded. "I’ll tell that to my boss, see if he can do something with the contest. Meanwhile, a piece of paper with names wouldn’t hurt. I’ll get another demo tape to you ASAP."
"No problem. Whenever you can." Mac lifted a panel of the countertop and stepped out from behind the register. The place had one other customer besides Matt’s group of friends. He picked up the bowl of chili while Matthias retrieved the platter of potato chips. "I could use a break."
"Well," Langley had started to say, her eyes downcast onto the scatter of comic books on the coffee table in front of the couch. "I didn’t go to school either…"
"What happened?" Angela leaned forward, sensing that the news was not the usual cheer." "Are you okay?"
Langley licked her lips and frowned. "No. No, I’m not okay. And they say I won’t ever be okay again." She looked up at her old high school friend with sorrow. "I was in the hospital since the last I saw you. The HIV that had been in my system had suddenly erupted into AIDS and they kept me under observation for days."
Sky flinched backward and Angela caught her breath sharply in her throat. Mac had stopped mid-stride and almost dropped the ceramic bowl. Matthias hurriedly set the plate on the coffee table and sat on the stuffed armrest of the couch, reaching over to put a supporting hand on Langley’s shoulder. Her head bowed lower, her eyes covered with her hair.
"How? When did they find out?" Sky reached over and put his hands on hers on her lap. "You wouldn’t be here if…"
"Yeah, it went into remission." Her voice had remained on that same, strong thread, but her emotions showed themselves on her nervous gestures. Beneath Sky’s palms, she squeezed the tips of her fingers on one hand with the other. "Back into HIV. I was discharged less than a week ago. They never did find out how I got it."
Angela glanced at Matthias, faltered. "Matt isn’t a…?"
"I am a virgin," he replied almost angrily, glaring at her. She shrank a bit back in her seat slightly, looking guiltily at Langley. Matthias pulled her closer to him, letting her lean against his side.
"I’m taking drugs," she said into the silence where no one could say much. "They gave me some drugs. I just wonder how I’m going to pay for them… for the rest of my life."
"Who cares about money as long as you can be well?" Sky said more than questioned. He was angry and he held onto Langley’s hands tightly. "Well, kind of well, at least…"
Mac stepped around the back of the couch and sat heavily besides Sky. The sound of a stiff piece of paper crinkling made him blink and he got back up on his feet. He reached a hand behind his pants and pulled out a small folded piece of paper.
"I… um… almost forgot." He held the piece of paper out to Matthias. "A guy came over yesterday looking for you by name. He said he was a friend and told me to give this to you when I saw you."
Matthias accepted the paper with a pinch of his index and middle finger. Langley watched him unfold it and pale immediately as his eyes read the note in a glance. He stared at her ponderously and put the note into her hands. Hastily, she read.
Langley rose her fearful eyes at Matthias. He turned abruptly and walked out into the afternoon brilliance. She blinked mutely for a moment, then followed him out the door. The chime of the small bell grated snidely in her ears.
He shuddered in front of her and she dropped her eyelids briefly at the echo of the rush that washed over her.
"I'll be ready for you in just a moment."
She nodded slowly at his words, the phrase she had heard before over and over again. She calmly bowed her head in respect for him before serenely gathering up the empty syringe and various paraphernalia of preparing cocaine for injection. She pragmatically cleaned the objects in a nearby bowl of distilled water. She spread an embroidered silk cloth on the wooden floor and wrapped the objects carefully.
She could tell he was already there, waiting for her to join him. She set aside the tools that opened the way and collected her kimono around her as she bent to kneel in front of him. She didn’t touch him, instead placing her hands calmly on her lap and closed her eyes. Her breathing soon tapered to a shallow rhythm and her heartbeat dropped to a frighteningly low speed. The cold air from the vents on the ceiling soon lost their hold on her skin senses and she looked for the path inward.
A replica of the teahouse complex stood underneath an orange-red sky. A constant wind picked up the wispy clouds and whisked them away, only to reappear again. A fountain bubbled softly outside the paper walls and a bell chime hanging from the lintel of the door tinkled in the breeze. A bamboo plant grew neatly in the corner, sitting alone on the bare floor. A mat rested beneath them, a small table with two cups of green tea on top.
The walls themselves were barren, but deep, black cabinets sat before them like gruff grandfathers waiting for their meal. The wooden panels had been swung open, revealing racks of glistening blades and sheathes. There were rows of katanas, short katanas, and throwing daggers arranged by size at the rear of the cabinet. Shuriken gleamed brightly from their pegs on the inside of the swinging door, the light flowing from tip to tip. Chains were draped artistically on the red velvet padding, hanging from their respective blade handles. At least one wide cabinet stood at each of the four walls, two flanked the sliding paper doorway.
He sat in front of her, his legs crossed and relaxed before him. His eyes were tranquilly closed and his hands rested loosely on his thighs. He wore a kimono as well, the minimal folds belted low on his hips. At a glance, with his head lowered, he could have been asleep.
Kusinagi watched him fixedly, her other senses cocked to the teahouse. On her own mindfield, she couldn’t hide anything from him. Even if the setting and circumstances were of her own origin, he was in control. He would always be in control. If the mindfield were of any other, it would be the same condition of dominance and submission. He was the master, the master of all games.
A small girl appeared next to her, head arrogantly high with a short wooden bo held tightly in her hand. She wore a kimono of black sprinkled with pale pink cherry blossoms. The perfect miniature of the garb made her look like a doll. Her lustrous black hair was twisted into a small bun at the nape of her neck and short bangs hung over her forehead.
A man faded into the scene before her, standing next to a black cabinet. His thin kimono was a waved white with a dark blue collar and was loosely belted at his hips. The shadow of the cabinet was cast across his features, rendering them questionable. The intention was to inspire fear and an impending sense of doom. She was all too aware of that cheap technique.
What followed was as horrifying as knowing the past was unchangeable. She was a child again, charging recklessly at the experienced swordsman, yelling out her rage and determination. The man stepped out of the darkness and instead of taking on the face of a close relative, it was he, her beloved master. She continued charging, though, and he effortlessly sidestepped her. His extended bare foot caught her toes and she was sent sprawling across the hard wood, almost slamming her head into a cabinet.
Emotions are wrong, Kusinagi, he said without moving his mouth. He stood without posing, his imitation weapon still tucked in the sash. They make you vulnerable and unclean.
Luckily, her bo had not been lost on impact and she evaded the foot that had come swinging towards her ribs. Her bare feet found their grip on the floor and she crouched up, raising her bo just in time to stop the downward swing of her master’s.
He towered above her, pushing all of his weight onto the heavy training stick in the shape of a katana. She started to buckle under him and pushed against his bo with all the might her small body could produce. The adrenaline coursing through her helped and his momentum carried his weapon to the ground as she rolled away. Both recovered quickly and proceeded with the battle, each slash of the heavy sticks connecting with a mirrored movement.
At some point in time, they paused for a moment, catching their breath and watching the other’s stance. As she watched him, Kusinagi felt the weapon in her hand grow heavier and feel thicker. She glanced down for a second and her eyes widened as the edge of the bo glistened in the dulled sunlight. Her opponent took advantage of her distraction and his bo, now transformed into a true weapon, whistled past her ear as she began to dodge. The end of her long ponytail dropped to the floor with a soft muffled tap.
Not good enough. You must never feel and lose your focus. The lone focus is everything.
The bo was a short katana now, the unadorned blade and leather grip emerging from the wood like a snake shedding its skin. The imaginary Kusinagi knew rather than saw the gleaming edge of the blade, grinning up at her like a shark for the kill. She brought her weapon up and over her head, slashing downward towards him, her lips curled into a little silent snarl. Her newly short hair fluttered around her like a black halo.
He was close to raising an eyebrow as he simply twisted around her and imbedded his full-length katana into her side. It slipped easily between two ribs, puncturing both of her immature lungs and emerging out the other side. The child Kusinagi emitted a breathless scream as the sitting Kusinagi collapsed bonelessly on her cushion. The master slid his blade out with a quick up-sweep and stood at rest. The walls of the teahouse shuddered for a second, but remained standing. Daylight dimmed to a radiant red dusk as Trevor opened his eyes, reached over from his seat, and tenderly touched Kusinagi’s hair. She didn’t even breathe.
I suppose I must to help you again.
He stood up and eased a foreign thought onto the mindfield, spreading it as a thick layer of fog over the plane. He felt it resist for a second, then give way similar to sticking a needle through skin. His attire shimmered and shifted into a casual shirt and pants that were of a color he should have recognized but didn’t. Satisfied, he raised his arms and gestured absently in wave-like motions, brushing the air with his fingertips. The red sky darkened into a bloody crimson, mottled with dark green clouds. The teahouse shrank backwards and collapsed in floating paper, the two Kusinagi’s absorbed into the floor. Trevor’s mirror image formally bowed to him and dissipated into mist.
New pale blue walls emerged from the blank floor grid like heated wax, stretching to create a long hallway that elongated out into the horizon. Doors poured out of the walls like running water, solidifying into individual wooden panels with little windows at eye level. Shadows flickered behind the transparent panes, some malevolent, some beckoning.
He was too experienced to be coerced into the maze of a mind, especially hers. He knew her mind as well as his own. Steadfast, he flicked out his fingers at the door to his right and a small, rectangular sign appeared out of the woodwork: Senses.
Not the one. Again.
She was being stubborn with him. It was not a productive development. On the third attempt, he pushed his will on the mindfield more forcefully and the hallway rippled like the surface of a pond.
He unlocked the door with a cursory glance and floated through the portal. The difference between the general mindfield and the room was staggering. Separated by an imaginary door was a chaotic maelstrom of dark colors that clutched and grasped. Individual pockets of space whipped around the storm clouds, leaving the memory of peace and tranquillity. He was taken aback, shocked at what had been undone within her mind. Perhaps she was not as weak as he had previously assumed.
He exhaled a breath between pursed lips and the maelstrom ceased its fury. It stood solid with layers like a cake and he parted the sections with his own psychic knife. At the touch of his mind, images flooded his vision, impacts of fear and lust pushed at his own mental barriers. Frowning at the impetus, he pushed back with the needle-like impression that the master showed his servants. The emotions retreated, simmering below the surface.
He chose fury as the first emotion to suppress then contradiction/stubbornness. The formations of these emotions tried to wrap around him cloyingly, but he slapped them back with harsh force. They screeched as he pressed them into the walls that he brought forth, collapsing the room to a manageable size. One by one, he pushed the emotions into the absorbent material until there was only one left: obedience/fear of authority.
That he let remain. and since it was the last thing left, he was disappointed.
At the moment she shut the door, she gasped at the amazing cold of the rain pelting down on her face.
Raising a hand to shield her eyes, she tried to cut her gaze around the rooftop. The day had turned quickly from the yellow-white glaze of sunshine to a grey, mysterious afternoon. The clouds hovered overhead, threatening and ominous with the weight of rain. It fell in a relentless curtain, no wind pushed the straight lines into moving puddles of water.
She surrendered to the rain, having located her quarry. A rush of relief and a fearful annoyance took her mind as she weaved her way across the paved roof. She cinched her trench coat tighter around her waist and flipped the collar of her thick trench coat closer to her neck. It was too late for the raindrops that had already trickled through her hair, behind her neck, and into her sweater. It was going to be a miserable winter.
She sighed deeply, smelling the cleansing scent of fresh rain. She had been sent out of her office to see to the problem of a coworker and she was eager to get home. Why she wanted to return to a lonely, empty house was a reason she kept closely guarded. The secretive aspect of her personality threw people off who were used to the caring, motherly nature she dominantly projected.
The figure did not move from the lotus position on the raised edge of the roof. Water ran through her like it would a saturated sponge. Minuscule rivers formed from her shoulder down to her lap, flowing with liquid urgency. The thin cloth of her wrapper clung to her body like a second skin, the dark color of it revealing no embarrassing details, only suggestions of them. Her black, efficiently trimmed hair was plastered to her head, no protection against the rain or the cold. Her back was slightly haunched, yet presented a disciplined aloofness to her surroundings. It was as if the rain did not matter.
From behind, Merielle could not see if her eyes were closed or open. She knew that Kusinagi would always be listening, though. Meditating or not, she was chronically alert and ready for a swift kill.
Merielle cleared her throat quickly. "Your visit with Trevor today seemed to be very intense for the both of you. He hasn’t come out of his rooms so I left a dinner tray outside his door. Your dinner is at the table and you can take that anywhere."
No response. No indication that she was even heard. Typical and somewhat expected.
She frowned, not wanting to back down this last time. To say that she cared for everyone was stretching the truth too thin, but she did take maternal care of those that dwelled in the building informally. She recognized every employee’s face and name and talked to them at irregular intervals to update her interpersonal information. It made her uneasy when she could not decipher what happened around her. Sometimes, the lack of knowledge made her angry.
With Trevor and Kusinagi, she was familiar the bare bones of their lives from the files she kept, but the personal things that she was ignorant of… She almost feared them, their quiet communication, their odd relationship. She couldn’t say if they were friends or lovers, couldn’t perceive what they thought about their world, and that left her blind around them. She hated it.
"I know what he can do and I can easily guess what he does to you," she continued with a soft edge in her voice she didn’t feel in her heart. "But I want to hear it from you. What happened in there?"
That was a question asked many times before and still never answered. The excuse that they were both very quiet, private people could only be valid for so long. After certain amounts of exposure, the most adamant of hermits opened up and conversed for a moment. She had never even heard Kusinagi say a word in all the time she had been living with Trevor up on the suite.
She knew she would not receive any help from Kusinagi, yet she pressed in a vain hope.
"I know the facts about your past. You were originally from Japan and you had come here with your senpai after he had adopted you from the street. He beat you many, many times until you stopped raising your hand against him."
Merielle could almost feel a sense of pity well up in her heart somewhere. "I would have said that he broke you and you hadn’t even reached the age of ten. Your level of maturity had been magnified far beyond the average rate of growth. The lack of a childhood and education of socializing skills can account for your silence and detachment around people in general. It would not explain your perpetual silence."
She kept her eyes on the resting figure, blinking against the rivulets that threatened to invade her vision. The skies had become so darkly grey that Kusinagi blended with the reflective tar on the roof. The deflection of raindrops outlined her conformation in a hazy white glow. The harder the rain fell the more ghostly opaque everything became.
"How badly were you punished back then, Kusinagi?" she asked softly, daring to inch closer to the impassive woman. "Did he cut out your tongue?"
There was a soft exhalation, the sound masked by the patter of rain. Somewhere far down below, the lid of an aluminum trash can clattered to the pavement, frightening the cat so much it gave a serrated screech.
Might as well have cut your tongue off, she thought fleetingly. For all the talking you do anyway.
The sky suddenly lit to a flash point of white, blinding in brilliance above the clouds over the mountains. The promise of thunder hung expectantly in the air for moments until the rumble sounded in the distance. Still, Kusinagi did not move from her post, reflecting as much light as a gothic gargoyle.
"I can guess what Trevor does to you," Merielle goaded. "He locks you up in the room with him while he takes his cocaine. I’ve seen the needles and all the other trash he has in his room. He’s a junkie. Do you take drugs with him, Kusinagi?"
Her voice was rising with her simmering anger. It slid below the surface of her skin, threatening to seep onto the surface. The responsible adult in her did not agree with drug or alcohol abuse and was trying to make its voice heard. Closer she inched to Kusinagi, immediate enough to discern that her eyes were indeed closed, the intimidatingly empty oculi hidden behind flaps of skin and straight black eyelashes. Nothing flickered in the downpour.
"Old shamanic religions took psychotropic drugs to enhance their religious visions. What does Trevor do in there with you? He already has an immeasurable amount of psychic power, albeit wild and slightly uncontrolled on occasion. Is he trying to control it?"
Emboldened by her lack of response, Merielle edged next to Kusinagi a few paces at her side, watching the breathing statue. "What do you get out of it? Do you share his stash of drugs? Does he fuck you?"
Her nostrils flared. Definite motion. Merielle realized she was dancing around a living chimera and staggered back a few steps. She was suddenly painfully aware of how close she was to the edge of the building, how far up in the air she was, and how quickly Kusinagi could dispatch a life
"I… that was uncalled for, I know." She had turned immediately deferential, the heated anger chilling into numbing ice. "But what else am I supposed to think? Neither of you ever talk to anyone about your relationship."
She paused a beat. "Unless you don’t care what anyone else thinks… I could understand that, I suppose. But this is not your average inter-office rumor mill. The Coven needs to be aware of most everything about you, not merely the dry facts. We’re paranoid, yes, but that’s how we are!"
Merielle stood there for a few more minutes. The rain had long since soaked through her trench coat and three layers of clothing. Her long dark blonde hair had darkened into a deep brown and hung heavily from the back of her head. The sopping layers, binding her like a straitjacket impeded every movement she made, clinging to her thighs and arms.
Thunder rumbled around the outskirts of the city, frightening children and mild-mannered adults. The downpour fell heavier, slipping off dirt from the mountainsides, creating mudslides and refreshing hidden riverbeds. Cars slowed to a careful snail’s pace on their way to respective homes, encasing disgruntled commuters in their controlled bubble of atmosphere. The city’s capacity was departing, leaving only the most desperate in its confines.
Merielle decided that watching Kusinagi was like watching something outside the realm of domestic concern. Kusinagi moved about the great city with the ease of a ghost and left the equal amount of disruption in her path. This disturbed her as she wondered how much concern would one give to a shadow or a ghost, if one would be on their best behavior without knowing someone else was about them?
Having Kusinagi around the Fader building was both a blessing and a curse. Damien and the others liked to have a free killer at their beck and call, performing their every whim with only the price of drugs submitted to her pimp for approval. She was deadly, silent, and effective, yet Merielle wondered what thoughts the weapon harbored herself. What did she think of her career, her pimp, and during her kills? Did she have any emotions at all; did she love anyone? Even worse, was there someone whom she hated and would kill for her own purpose?
Her stillness was a weapon in itself. One would never have noticed her if they had not been looking. Her lack of reaction made a person question whether she listened at all or, in fact, listening to everything and merely recording it for later use.
Merielle sighed and quietly left the rooftop. A second later, Kusinagi rose and followed her example.
She might as well have been a shadow on the wall for all the sound she made.
Her garments were tied tightly against her skin at strategic places so they didn't whisper against each other as she moved. The sheathes where weapons were customarily stored sat empty along her thighs and waist. Thick-soled socks hid her steps on the ground and a mask buffered the sound of her breath. Like a panther, she crept into his bedroom almost effortlessly. She had been hired to jobs more physically complicated than this.
Yet, she had to maintain mental silence, which was incredibly difficult. She was nervous, frightened, and ashamed all at once, the individual emotions rising and falling like a wave from the collective ocean. She was rebelling against her lord and master, a dishonorable action to take. If she were completely committed to her profession, she would have killed herself for even considering insubordination.
She felt she had no choice, however, her hand was being pushed against her will. Consequences were not to her favor and she was not happy.
She used to be happy when he told her she was. He could comfort her in a way beyond the physical. He would console her disquiet on her mindfield, easing her roiling thoughts and body under two different trances, erasing any memories of his work. Her unquestioned trust in him never allowed her to ask what he exactly rendered in her, but she was habitually satisfied with the results.
That was before, though. Day by day, month by month, year after year, she would forget too many things. A few minutes, even an hour or two would pass by without her being aware of it. She was lacking the mental stability of time, the measurement of her life at a steady pace interrupted naturally only by sleep. It was a difficult condition to ignore when a collective of a few days had been missing from the span of a life.
She had to know, it was as simple as that. She had no intention of breaking away from Trevor; she loved him with a curious mix strange of emotions. Adoration and worship came to mind when she thought immediately of him and a life without him was simply a life without purpose or hope. She merely had to know what had been forcefully taken from her life and everything would be normal as always.
And she knew Trevor would know. He alone had the power that was needed to do what had been done to her. She did not hurt in the knowledge that he would steal moments of her life from her. Her life was his to do as he would with it. Yet, like a priest questioning his faith, she had to know that those moments were not so important as to change everything in her present life.
She passed the bare walled rooms, the pale grey-blue of a dimly lit night passed through the curtainless windows. Thirteen stories were high enough to elude the curiosity of many of the surrounding buildings and the view was unobstructed for miles to the mountains. The rain had not ceased since that afternoon and fell upon the glass as a curtain of distortion.
Merielle’s impassioned monologue had not fallen on deaf ears. In fact, it was that talk that had her questioning her condition. Everything she did was for Trevor alone and that was perfectly complimentary to her way of living. Her life was his. Yet, she mediated on his attitude towards her. She asked herself if she should care, if the situation was balanced on both sides.
The force was not balanced. It had never been. Or had it ever been meant to balance? And on who’s scale?
Such issues, however relevant, were not her interest at the moment. To first approach that pinnacle of judgment she must first have complete memories, to determine when the opposing sides were balanced. To achieve that goal, she must confront her master.
She drew near the bedroom, the sound of deep breathing emerged. Promptly, she slipped through the moderate opening of the doorway that had swung slightly ajar and snapped back behind the wooden panel. A cursory glimpse of the room left her with Trevor’s figure prone under rumpled sheets, the window racked open an inch, and his cat’s tail peeking out from the bed ruffle.
Spreading her legs wide to distributed her weight evenly, she half crawled to the side of the bed, her fingertip grazing the plush carpet for balance. She slowly measured her breathing into the same cadence as his and knelt where the bedcovers just stopped. Releasing a small sigh of relief, she closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing, taking care not to consciously control its tempo.
Soon, she fell into the meditative state and pushed a light thought towards Trevor’s essence on the bed. Due to their familiarity with each other’s mental impressions, his subconscious dreamstate allowed her presence to enter his mindfield.
Caught off guard, she stumbled in her firmness of mind and absorbed the surroundings of her mental presence. Unrelentingly clean, his mindfield was without decoration or rooms or hallways. A flat expanse of a large grid of glowing blue lines disappeared into a pure blue horizon in the black space. Without the grid, she could not differentiate up or down, the blackness swallowing everything, tempting her mind to disappear in its void. Dangerous, seductive, and it was so inviting…
Suddenly, walls arose from the floor and entrapped her. Her mental presence was so inexperienced with accepting its own form as a pure entity that it commanded Kusinagi’s bodily heart to beat faster. Hoping that the manifestations were only parts of a dream, she remained still and let the events play about her.
The walls stopped when they reached a height they agreed upon and augmented the space to a large chamber with a high, vaulted ceiling. A pattern weaved its way between the gridlines, solidifying into granite-surfaced tiles. The light dimmed into a faint orange glow and ethereal voices whispered conspiratorially around her.
Frightened, she turned around in circles, only to behold nothing but walls that throbbed with the steadiness of a heartbeat. With this deep, internal drum, the lights flickered darker, then lighter. Disintegration, loss of focus. Out of the corners of her eyes she saw faces, sallow and runny with depression and reality. The shadows of hands raised in supplication to her face only to disappear into the darkness of the throbbing.
Clamping her teeth down on a scream, she felt the floor tilting, the round apex seeming to push through the membrane of the tile. One crack, two, and the floor relented in the face of an assault by the pounding of a liberally spiked mace. A marble white hand pressed the opening in the floor wider, the other hand gripped the mace with indelicate will by the wooden handle. A helmet with stiff plums, long flowing braids of electric violet, a dress of filmy layers baring a single rounded breast.
The woman from the floor finished wedging herself from the crack, breathing harshly, giving Kusinagi an obstructed view of her profile hiding from the wild plaits. As she reached out a hand, the Athena turned to her. There was only skin stretched from hairline to chin, no eyes, no mouth, no features.
Kusinagi screamed, turned to run, but discovered a wall closer than she remembered it to be. Immediately, she turned on her heel, pressing her back to the wall and looked around for the Athena. The heat of her birth had been replaced by the cool calm of the typical museum showroom. Columns buttressed the walls, frozen statuary in motion, high domed sky-light separating the room from the black hole. Two-toned pottery in square glass cases, fragments of artifacts along the walls, the echoing squeak of sneakers somewhere past her.
The sound of breaking marble, a distortion of reality, rippling muscles. She widened her eyes as she found herself in the arms of an eight-foot, marble nude, his eye sockets hollow, a big hand raising up to the top of her head. An excruciating pressure, the horrifying crunch of bone, black all around.
… oh momma may i please? … good i prom—…
Outside, the rain has relaxed into a gentle tapping, like a dog’s fingernails on kitchen linoleum. He rolled over and came upon her still form lying across his bed. Her breathing was eccentric, her body shuddering with convulsions. The cat had long since bolted from the bedroom and the slant in the door permitted the interior draft to flow into his room.
He sighed and the door shut with an audible click of the lock. With an arm, he reached out and gathered Kusinagi against his warm, nude form, clucking his tongue in a soft reprimand. All settled, time to tuck you in.
Resting his chin on her damp hair, he fell back asleep.
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