Quarantine Cats

18

All fours.

Go in a circle.

Arch your back.

Chest out.

Flatten your ears.

Curl your tail.

A daily walk to reinforce her training. All simple commands that coalesced to form a greater image of an ideal body. An ideal kind of shape, and movement. Mami had never seen a real cat, and yet she followed the word of her master like scripture. The cat lay in the fog of childish preconception. A notion handed down to her, of course, but it never dawned on her to ask what a cat was, or even, if such a thing truly existed. There seemed to her, a strange flaw in this reasoning: If she was a cat, what else could she possibly act like?

A thought she kept well to herself; That would get her a shock. Don't ask big questions, he would say. And she never did. Don't stand up in the presence of a master, unless he leads you somewhere. Even then, she should fall back to all fours the moment they arrived somewhere. Her knees hurt all the time. Her wrists and shoulders ached; Worse still, the places in which all her masters took the greatest level of interest. But no pain was worse than the black stick. She could never cry, even when taking the stick. The more she cried, the more he gave her, until Mami finally learned to ignore the pain.

"Put it in your mouth," he said, his voice muffled by the industrial mask. Mami wrapped her lips around the tip of the baton. "Do you want me to punish you?" he asked. Saying no was a shock. Likewise, saying yes, but not for sake of asking for it. It wasn't a question of what she wanted; She wasn't supposed to ask for anything. Mami didn't answer, though to ignore a master was as much offense as anything. He pulled the trigger. Pain shot through the nerves in her teeth. Her tongue. Her muscles twitched. Her eyes teared up. "Are you crying?" he calmly asked.

"Mm-mm!" Mami denied. He shocked her again, longer and harder this time. Her claws scratched against the concrete floor as her fingers tensed and curled, a pained little mewl escaping her.

Master pulled the baton from her mouth. He asked again: "Are you crying?"

"No master, I love when you play with me!" She gave an eager, sunny little smile, despite the little tears that stained her cheeks. Wiping them away would only have signified that she acknowledged their presence.

Her master gazed down at her skeptically. Wiped the stick on his white, blood-stained apron. "Good girl," he said, patting her head. Mami, beaming at his touch. The pain would only continue if he didn't think she was happy to receive such a benevolent gesture. She knew the difference between appearance and truth. More importantly, Mami knew that her masters couldn't tell the difference. Perhaps they didn't care, but asking came with a hefty price; Mami was rich with pain.

They hosed her down and led her back to her cell. An exchange of hands, from one faceless tormentor to the next. A cold collar clasped around her neck, graced with a chain to keep her from getting too close to her only cellmate. Mami gazed up at her master, sadness in her eyes.

"What's wrong?" the master inquired.

"Master don't go, Mami's so sad without you!"

He extended his hand; She dare not flinch. "Good Mami." Again, he pet her, that wet, rubber glove tugging uncomfortably at her hair. And then he left. The door slammed. The bolt clicked. Mami's ears twitched, as the master's footsteps faded down the hall. Silence gave way to distant, echoing screams.

She sat there, shivering in the darkness. "It's cold," she said. Mami's eyes drifted to her cellmate. A long chain ran from the opposite wall, down into a bundled blanket piled on a vaguely human shape. "Inke-kuchi-ku-chaaan… It's cooold…" She pouted. Huffed and wrapped her arms around herself, still shaking and wet. "Kuchikuchaaan!" Mami yowled.

"Hrm?" Inke rose from her bedding. The blanket fell away from her, revealing a skinny, pale creature with long, black hair, dark eyes, and a cream-colored tail. Mami had a great deal more weight on her. Her chest was cumbersome. Garish, bright orange hair. Shimmering green eyes, and dark skin spotted with freckles. "Mami?"

"I'm cold! Throw the blanket over!"

"Sorry…" Inke murmured with a yawn, her voice cracking as she stretched her arms in the air. She tossed the edge of the blanket to Mami. They moved closer. Their chains gave them just enough room to both lay under the blanket. Just enough length so they could hold hands. It took a while, but their body heat overtook the chilling, concrete floor, so that it no longer sapped the life on contact. A sharp sensation. Like the flat of a clean knife. But together, they warmed away the biting cold.

"I'm happy now," Inke said, squeezing Mami's hand. "Don't ever go away."

It should have been that simple. Mami remembered her last cellmate. How they came back one day without an eye. The next day, they were missing a leg. They chopped him to pieces in the span of a month, though time was of no concern to Mami. It didn't even factor. Like the image of a cat, or the questions she asked herself when a scrap of peace and silence was thrown her way. Mami should have been happy that Inke was here, but…

"I don't know how much more I can take, Inke. It's the same thing every day. I hate the masks. They hurt. It doesn't matter what I do. I wish someone would buy me. I just want out of here. I'd do anything if they would just buy me. I wish they'd just… take me away from here."

"They'd have to buy us both."

"I cut myself on my claw, Inke," Mami whispered. "I cut myself, and I wondered… if I could cut them too…"

"Don't, Mami! You'll get in trouble," hissed Inke.

Mami shot up and threw the blanket back. "You think they'll buy us both?!" she snapped. "We'll be stuck here forever. I heard you're used! And no one pays to keep used things!"

Inke looked as though she'd been struck by those words. She cast her eyes to the door, where the master's voice echoed from down the hallway, footsteps hurrying toward their cell. Inke tugged at her chain trying to move close enough to calm her friend. "Mami, stop! They're coming!"

"Why? They're always coming!" She balled her hands up. "They'll never stop! This won't ever stop!" she screamed, impotently pounding her fists against the smooth floor. The sound of thunder split the concrete.

Everything went black…

Kabushiki%20Kawaii%20Neon.png

Hokkaido, 1993

The southwest-off Hokkaidō earthquake occurred at 13:17:12 UTC on 12 July 1993 in the Sea of Japan near the island of Hokkaidō. It had a magnitude of 7.7 on the moment magnitude scale, triggering a major tsunami that caused deaths on Hokkaidō and in southeastern Russia…

___

"That's the official story?"

"Approximately 1:00 pm today we detected an anomalous disturbance centered around the XNMA building. Publicly, it's a joint stock company catering to niche entertainment."

"Niche entertainment?"

"Animated pornography."

"Some Heavy Metal shit?"

"I may be at liberty to answer that, but I don't have to; Use your imagination, Vaske."

"Right."

The director set a stack of dossiers on the table. "Their official documentation checks out. We've seen production managers in transit, cels and scripts exchange hands. On the surface it seems legitimate, but the entire company's an ouroboros. Funds go in, they don't come out. Kabushiki Kawaii1 employs various Yakuza families as the holders of their money-laundering operations, but we managed to catch them, this time."

"Yeah, only took an earthquake, no big deal."

"This isn't a joke. Tectonic disturbance aside, if this escalates it could potentially go down on record as the largest occult phenomena breach in Japan. Whatever Kawaii was doing in XNMA, it cracked the building open." The director began dropping one photo on top of another. "Now we've got neck bites. Unexplained mauling. Psychic disturbance. Animated limbs independent of bodies." A writhing mass of tentacles finished the stack. "We have RPC operatives all over the city, most working containment, or redirecting rescue groups. Your job-"

"You're keeping rescue workers from doing their jobs?"

"Not your concern. Anything they can do, we've got in spades; We'll be helping. Your job will be to sniff out the scraps that fall through the net. Kawaii has confirmed occult ties, so you'll be dealing with demons and anomalous apparitions. Payphones are down periodically, so you'll need a cell and pager. You're to report only; No pursuit. And leave the rescue operations to the designated teams…"

___

Mami's limbs felt heavy. She groaned as the pain pushed her back to reality. The mental fog cleared, but she barely heard herself scream. "Mami!" she heard from the edge of her senses. "Mami wake up!" She opened her eyes, bleary and dazed. Something wet dripped down the side of her cheek. Eyes open. Inke was shaking. Dust choked the air. "Oh, you really did it, now," Inke said. "They're gonna be so mad…"

Mami yelped and shot up, clutching the back of her head. "Oooww! What happened!?"

"You broke everything!" Inke cried.

Blood on her hand as it drew away. "How?!" Mami examined her surroundings. The once familiar room had been warped to a surreal state of disrepair she didn't even think was possible. The barren cell was cracked down the middle. Light poured in from above. Mami tried to stand, ears perking up at the sounds of rubble settling around her. Screams rang out from the hall. "They're gonna hurt me so bad for this…"

Clank.

"Mami… your chain."

Mami gasped and wound it in her hands until she found the end. Bolts rattling loosely in the steel plate, the mount had come free off the wall. The concrete, cracked and split. Another scream from the hall. She scrambled into the corner of the cell, opposite Inke, wrapping her arms around her knees, eyes cast frantically toward the door, where it hung at a slant, the frame squashed, the hinges busted. She could have remained there forever if Inke didn't break her from her trance.

"Something's wrong. I don't think they're coming."

Mami sniffed, wiping the dust from her eyes. The smell of blood hung thick in the air. "I can't stay," she said, picking herself up. She wound her chain around her neck and shoulders and started for the door.

"Mami…" Inke tugged on the chain anchoring her to the wall, still. "Mami don't leave me!" Inke bolted up, jerking her chain and nearly choking herself. "MAMI!"

"I won't!" Mami snapped. "Just-! …just wait. I'll see what happened…"

The thing clung to master's lifeless form, in the hall. All tails, Mami thought. Slimy tails and gurgling noises. It slithered up around his neck, coiling tight around his face befocre slipping under the mask. Crack. His jaw snapped. Chest expanding. The corpse sucked in air as the creature forced its way in. Mami crept toward the body. Key, she thought; I have to get the key.

CRACK!

The door fell away on her return. Inke squeaked in surprise as Mami stumbled over the wreckage, pausing curiously as the ceiling shuddered and creaked above her. "Here, I got the key."

"What happened?"

"I don't…" Mami paused as she fumbled with the key. She'd seen it done a thousand times, and yet the object felt cursed in her hands. Like some heretical artifact. "I don't know," she sighed. "The- there's blood. Coming out of the mask, and this… thing."

"Mami, what did you do…"

___

Agent Vaske pulled the industrial mask from his face and let it hang around his neck. "Aw! Smells like shit." He coughed. "Just a cloud of…"

It is shit. Corpses voiding bowels. Must be a lot down here.

"No shit…" Vaske's footing slipped as the rubble shifted under his feet. He clicked on the flashlight. "Creon, go look ahead."2

The director said no rescue missions…

"We're six blocks from the XNMA building, think they'd wanna know this was here?" Vaske pointed out. "Could be a good hiding place for the creeps."

You want to see one… don't you?

"That's my job. Seein', yeah? So let's go and see what's down there."

Vaske%20small.png

Hallway unstable. Blood on the walls. Moves in lurching arcs. Pulled in. Slammed up and down. Body flailing. Trail ends in violated corpse.

Vaske carefully made his way down, dust and stone scraping underfoot. "Violated?"

Stomach distended. Jaw's unhinged. His- HAH! His keychain looks so gay. It's this pink- white- kitty thing!

"Stop fuckin' around." Vaske paused, considering the recreation that played out in his mind.

You're thinking you should call this in now.

"Like that's some kind of revelation."

But you don't wanna miss the opportunity to see it up close for yourself.

"Know me like a book…"

Maybe you're just into that kinda thing.

"Fuck you."

Fuck you

The halo of the flashlight bobbed along the hallway, a sparse patch of light drifting and falling, darting around, illuminating mostly on collapsed concrete and jutting rebar. There was blood, alright. Smeared along the wall, the floor, and writhing trails imprinted in the mess, sliding along in the direction of the blood trail.

Jon… there's something in here.

Carnage strewn about the room. A scattering of human parts, torn from their intended places. Past a thick trail of viscous, pink and red fluid, something lay huddled in the corner. A swollen mass of melting, rippling flesh3. Strange limbs and appendages spawned from her body. The skin of her breasts peeled back to reveal two heaving, bloodshot eyes that hung in loose, red sockets, each one rolled to meet his gaze, as Vaske entered. "Oh Christ…"

00P-RPC-880.png

Did you get your wish?

"Creon."

Her face rose to the surface of her flesh, like a corpse bobbing up on a still, winter pond. Pale skin, and dark, pleading eyes. A mouth appeared, almost where one should be. Creon translated: "Who are you?"

"Jon. My name is… Jon." The agent approached the quivering mass in the corner. "You uh… you friendly?"

"Kill me." The mangled appropriation of a woman rose to face him. "Please. Kill me."

Mallory4 reached out to him. Put a hand on his cheek. "Jon, please. I'm suffering. I don't want to live like this."

"MAL!?" Jon stumbled backward and tripped.

It's not real. She says this happens sometimes. You see things you want to see.

Heston%20small.png

Vaske blinked rapidly. He sat up and rubbed his face, his eyes. "Get out. Get out!" he hissed, forcing the image from his mind.

You really miss her.

"Shut up! Shut the fuck up, Creon!"

"Kill me," the mass begged him.

Put your mask on. I can't keep her out and work at the same time.

Jon pulled the heavy breather over his face and approached the wretch. After a moment of silence, he laid his palm gently on her head. "Doubt a gunshot's gonna do anything. Can this- can she die?"

I wouldn't know where to start.

"Fire," said the mass; "Burn me…"

___

The key broke off in Inke's collar. And while she was free, Mami had surrendered to wear the chains. She was used to them. Besides, searching another dead mask felt taboo. She already felt sick to her stomach. Head spinning, Mami staggered heavily through the halls, avoiding a corridor strewn with bodies, punctuated by muffled screams at the end. Mami trudged on. But Inke's movements were lighter, now. They both felt like they were flying. Equally, both feared the inevitable plummet, though neither exchanged a word. Mami donned a heavy, yellow raincoat over her mantle of chains, rolling and shifting her shoulders uncomfortably. "I've never seen sky like this. Not without glass in front of it," Mami said, gazing upwards.

Mami%20small.png

"Do you think there's a ceiling up there?" asked Inke, clinging to Mami's side.

"I dunno…" Mami looked out over the alley. The walls slanted, one building leaning heavily against the other. All around the sounds of settling rubble. The dusty skyline glowed with distant, orange fires, and rang with the sound of emergency vehicles; Shrieking sirens and rumbling engines. Maybe she was wrong to leave. Mami compared the relative safety of knowing what was to come the next day to this loud, crumbling hell around her. Maybe the masks had done a kindness, if this was all she had to look forward to.

Her ears perked up."Inke, hide!" Mami scrambled up the wall, her claws tearing into the concrete as she scratched her way to a fire escape and crouched low; She reached out to pull Inke up as she followed after her. A gaggle of masters turned into the alley. Garbed in bulky vests, they all carried black sticks. Much larger than the one she was used to; That meant a bigger punishment, if they caught her. "Masks…" Mami whispered fearfully.

"They might be good," Inke said, "Everyone can't all be masters, can they?"

"Shh!" Mami pushed Inke down against the walk way, next to her.

"…can't see shit in all this smoke."

"Vaske's last report was here, couldn't have gone far."

"He's a jackass. Lanky retard prob'ly got himself stuck…"

They disappeared around the corner in cautious formation. Mami rose. Her head swam, forcing her back to her knees on the harsh metal grating. "Inke, I'm gonna-!" She retched. Threw up. The pale, viscous contents dripping through the walkway. "Uh…"

Inke rubbed Mami's shoulder. "We should find someone to help. There's others besides the masks, Mami.

"No-!" Mami gagged, fighting to control her churning stomach. "I'm not going back to the masks!" She pulled herself to her feet, legs shaking, clinging to the railing of the fire escape. "I'll never go back there," she said, as Inke held close to her. Mami clambered through a broken window, cutting her leg on a jutting shard of glass. She hissed in pain, flopping to the floor to briefly lick her wound.

"Who will feed us?" Inke asked, "Who's gonna take care of us, now? We have to find someone."

Inke%20small.png

Mami sat up. The smell of cooked flesh wafted through the window from across the alleyway; Rising from the collapsed basement they'd escaped from, as if beckoning alongside Inke's murmuring concerns. Mami's eyes adjusted to the dim light of the apartment. Her mouth watered. "We'll just have to feed ourselves," she uttered, licking her lips. "I smell food around here. We'll have to eat whenever we can. The masters…" Mami grimaced, averting her eyes from some invisible judgement she could not name. "…have meat in them," she said, her stomach grumbling, her head swimming. "There's meat in them, Inke." She lifted her gaze, a tense, fearful weight on her brow. "We might have to…"

Inke settled next to Mami and wrapped her arms around her. "I always wanted to do this," she murmured, pressing her cheek against her breast. The raincoat rustled noisily as she squeezed her with her little arms.

Even Mami felt safer, though she didn't want to admit it. Loving something meant losing it. "I guess… we could just stay here."

"Won't they come looking?" Inke asked.

"They'll smell the blood. If they don't just see us. It's so bright out here. So… big." Mami picked up a broken picture frame. Bits of glass fell away as she stared at the family in the photo. "I wish we could go in the picture, instead. They'd never find us there."

Inke licked the blood from Mami's hair and crawled to the television set. "I always wanted to go in the TV. Master said it wouldn't work. It's not real." She clicked the buttons, but nothing worked. "We could wait until night and go farther away," she suggested, turning to find Mami cautiously creeping toward the bedroom.

Mami paused to look back at her. "Night?"

"It's when the sun goes down. Master said it's hard to see at night…"

"Inke, come here!" Mami gasped. Inke scampered after her, into the other room, where it lay on the bed, staring at them, tail swaying with anticipation. They both sat in the doorway, wary of crossing. "What is it?"

"It's a cat."

"But he doesn't look like us."

"No," Inke shook her head, clambering over Mami to get a closer look. Mami made a feeble attempt to stop her, but the smaller girl shrugged it off, creeping softly toward the housecat. "Sometimes masters use the same word for different things. But he's not like us, no. We're supposed to be like him."

The cat hissed at them and leapt off the bed, bounding over the nightstand and out the window, prompting the girls to scamper after it. They both poked their heads out the window, just enough to see him hop to a nearby tree and eye them from the safety of the branches. It may as well have been a creature of myth and legend, for sake of Mami's inexperience. She dare not climb after the creature. Not out into the open where she might be spotted. "Come back," she whispered, longingly. "Please…"

"Don't worry, they won't hurt him," Inke said, crawling onto the bed. She rubbed the blanket, beckoning for her. "C'mere!" Mami sighed in disappointment and crawled over to her- Soft! It was so soft! Mami hadn't felt such a thing in her life! Like sleep was reaching out to steal her away. She could barely keep her eyes open to eat, when Inke brought Mami the bowl of dry food, offering most of it to her friend before curling up next to her. "I'm scared. I don't wanna go back. We need a master who can keep us safe."

Mami pulled the blanket over them. "I don't want a master," she huffed. "I've had enough of masters. They're all bad…"

___

"Did you touch anything in there?"

Vaske didn't answer. A cigarette clenched in his teeth. A curling tail of ash growing as he sat there, motionless.

"Vaske."

The ashes fell between Jon's feet. "No."

"We got fire," the radio crackled, "Looks like they were trying to burn something; Evidence maybe?"

"It'll be your ass, if you tampered with anything."

Vaske rose and stamped out the cigarette. "Yeah, anything but that. God forbid it's my ass. Just be another one on the pile of violated asses and fucking rubble, and we wouldn't want that, would we?"

Falstav grabbed him and shoved him against the wall. "Little too old to be acting like a punk, don't you think? Heston's not covering for you anymore, faggot." He scoffed at Vaske's impotent glare. "What? What, you think you because you got some bad voodoo no one's gonna check you? Well? Wanna throw some my way, fucker?"

Jon. Look. Vaske's eyes darted briefly where Creon's shadow fell. Footprints. Claw marks. Blood. Someone's in that building.

"Check me, then," Vaske muttered. "I don't care."

Falstav let him go. "Sick of you shit. Walk around, feelin' sorry for yourself-"

"I don't. I really don't. I feel sorry for the dozen amputees on the bloody mattress." Vaske jabbed a thumb toward the basement. "I'm sorry that this shit went on as long as it did and nothing was done."

"Welcome to RPC, Vaske; Shit happens."

"I should've put 'em outta their fuckin' misery before calling it in."

"That is NOT your call. You want out? Go find a nice cozy containment cell for you and your friend to curl up in it. You think you're special? No one needs you. I-," he hammered in, "-do not need you…"

___

Pupils dilated. Her jaw clenched.

"The eye makeup?"

Squeezed. Little fangs pierced soft flesh.

"It's pigmentation."

Blood filled her mouth. Hunger.

"I don't think I've seen ears like these before."

A scream rang in her ears.

"We drew on the big cats to recreate ancient DNA; What we think might bring out these features. She required a lot of tinkering. I will warn you, despite her size, she can be dangerous. Training aside, there's always the danger of the product regressing to primal behavior. Cost of using wild cats. You're in charge. Never forget that. Don't let her, either. If she does…"

___

Inke woke to find herself clinging to Mami. The room seemed darker, now. Her gray sight adjusting to the diminished light. She closed her eyes again. Just a bad dream, she thought. This was all she wanted. She could die happy, having touched Mami. After so many years being chained and dragged about, she could finally touch her friend. She licked the blood from Mami's forehead and crept quietly away, tiptoeing across the cluttered floor to drink water from the sink. The faucet worked like the ones she'd seen before. Inke greedily lapped up the remains before the pipe sputtered emptily.

"Radio says she's close."

Inke's eyes widened at the sound of a door crashing in, down the hallway.

"Why didn't the boss just save her sequence? Save us a lot of trouble finding her."

Mami slipped up behind Inke and quickly put a hand over her mouth. "Stay quiet."

"He did. Problem is all our records are fucking missing since those goons showed up. Cleaned the whole place out."

"Who are these guys anyway?"

"Let's go," Mami said, creeping out onto the fire escape.

"Government spooks. We really have to search every room?"

They clambered down the fire escape. Claws tapping gently against metal.

"I got something, she's moving!" he shouted, kicking the door in.

The girls froze, gripping the railing as the building lurched suddenly.

"Forget it, we need to get out of here!"

"Fire escape's the fastest way down, you moron!"

Mami scooped Inke up in her arms, wind in their ears as they plunged the length of the final floor, the bigger girl landing nimbly in the leaning alley. Her knees cracked, coaxing a cry of pain from her. The apartment complex groaned above them.

"How did they find us?!" Inke yelped.

"I don't know, we need to run!"

A helicopter whirled into view, overhead, thundering loud. A spotlight fell on the two as they sprinted for the mouth of the alley.

"I- I don't wanna go back!" Inke gasped.

Concrete and steel whipped by as they shot through the crumbling, city ruins, like roaches scurrying for cover. Gunfire erupted behind them. Mami vaulted over a shattered display window into a shopping center. "Inke!"

"I can't keep- going-!" she gasped, tripping over the glass, a gash tearing across her thigh. She cried out in pain, spilling to the floor at Mami's feet. "Mami- don't leave-!"

Mami darted back, pulling Inke up in her arms again. "Come on!"

"They'll catch us! It's all my fault!"

"They won't!" Mami growled, ducking behind a store counter. Setting Inke down, she peered around the corner, just in time to see the building sink below the cramped and broken skyline. Smoke billowed out of the mouth of the alley, rolling into the storefront. Mami ducked back behind the counter, coughing.

"I'm sorry," Inke whimpered, "They'll smell the blood! They'll find us now! I-!"

"Shh!" Mami pulled Inke tightly to her, risking another look. The helicopter loomed above the street, a pale, blinding light sweeping the dust below for any sign of the escapees. "Inke, can you walk?"

"It hurts…"

Mami lapped at the blood. "There's gotta be a way out," she muttered, picking her up and carrying her deeper into the arcade.

"Don't leave me," Inke begged, clinging to Mami as she tried to set her down in a record store.

"I'll be right back. It's safe here, I-" Mami squirmed away from her. "I promise." She didn't really know. Even she could see the doubt reflected in Inke's eyes. "I promise…"

Inke's hand clung to her sleeve, arm dropping limp as Mami pulled away. She disappeared, leaving only her lingering scent. When the bleeding had clotted some, Inke limped to her feet and strolled the pitch-black innards of the record store. She remembered music, before the endless days of that concrete cell. Remembered how, it was loud, at first. Confusing, and frightening. Just a memory was almost too much to bear. The thought of life beyond the cell was like a vice grip slowly tightening around her heart. Tears in her eyes, Inke nearly collapsed in the aisle. But something pined within her to keep exploring.

Batteries.

How did the tape go in?

It didn't fit, this way.

No…

It clicked.5

Inke struggled to fit the headphones over her ears. Even faintly muffled, the song was still a shock to her. For years, she heard nothing but screams. The silence of the empty cell. Mami's breathing. The patter of tears on concrete floors. On her hands, clutching the tape player.

Someday, I won't be alone anymore…

___

"You're a long way from hell," he said. Inke scrambled back against shelf, the tape player falling to the floor and popping open. The boy's eyes glowed like embers beneath his hood, casting a faint light on a devious smirk. Inke's ear's twitched, as she eyed the boy. Garbed head-to-toe in black, only his pale face lay visible, a veil bunched around his neck. He brushed a stray lock of pale, shimmering hair, tucking it behind his ear; She swore something moved beneath that hood.

"Wh-who are you?!"

"Call me, mm-" He tilted his head. "Ishmael? I am just as much monster as you, no? Seems we are in the same boat."

Inke scooped up the tape player. "Are- are you a cat?"

Ishmael giggled. "No. Did you see my wings?" Inke cradled the tape player in her hands. "You like music?" Inke only nodded. Ishmael scooted next to her, taking her hand, a thin layer of soft leather separating their skin. "Is dangerous to stay here. Come-"

"Get away from her!" Mami growled, springing from the shadows to Inke's aid. She kicked the boy away with surprising strength, sending him sprawling in the aisle.

The boy sat up. Raised his hands defensively as Mami dropped the bag next to Inke and pounced on him. "I am just as much in danger, madam, please!"

"I don't trust you! You smell wrong!"

"I know," Ishmael said, "I know what you smell. Animals do not like me. But you are more than beast. You are not an animal."

Mami sniffed, lips pursed in fear and anger as she shoved him back down and backed away. "Go away," she huffed.

"Madame, I stand to fare much better than you do, alone. But I am willing to help. I must. I know a place safe from the world you are familiar with, but you won't find it by yourself. I daresay-" Ishmael sighed. "you will die."

"We're not gonna die," Mami growled, dropping a bag. She slipped a long t-shirt over Inke's head, prompting her to lift her arms.

"I-!" Her head popped through. "I dunno if we can make it by ourselves, Mami. Maybe we should go with him?"

"Your girl speaks sense!" the boy hissed, creeping closer. "It so happens I need you," he said. "The Yakuza hound my flank. Worse still the men in black. And you two stop to rest while they comb the ruins trying to kill each other? Come with me. I will bring you to safety. But you must help me dispose of a kannushi6 in the process. He bars the way for us both, now…"

___

Jon crouched to examine the body. "Blood's drained…"

You are aware falling rocks tend to have that effect on people.

"Sure, but where's the blood?" Vaske sniffed the air. "Smells… sweet?"

I don't see any bite marks, or signs of a struggle.

"That means they didn't." Vaske lifted his gaze; The sun had set. "Things get braver at night."

Ideal time to feed.

Vaske fished the cell from his pocket. "Calling in. There's a demon on the loose."

___

They fled several blocks, to a little cafe on the boundary of the quarantine zone, nestled in a series of low rooftops, cordoned alleys, and barricades. Inke to curled up on the couch in stunned silence. Even with the memories of her master, the world was much bigger than she'd envisioned. If they could even escape, she thought; Such a prospect seemed equally daunting.

"We are far from the target of their concern, now. Not with RPC engaged in fighting. Your masters will be full of bullets. And I will have what I came for." He turned to see Mami glaring at him. "And you will be free, of course!"

"I'm not going back to that cell," Mami said.

"No. Of course," he whispered, lowering his gaze. "I remember my cell. A cloistered room in an abbey. Mary's sweet embrace. My own hands. My own mind." He lifted his eyes to hers. "Do you have it in yourself to die to escape that cell?"

"No…"

"I envy you. You could, you know. Die?" He shook his head. "The only thing waiting for me in death is hellfire. Even your suffering can end, Mami." She was silent, pondering the notion of believing in some unseen thing. Hope was a foreign entity to her. "Ah. I am just as faithless. There is no greater power to the human mind than merciful insanity. It is how a man of God could relegate us to shadows, while still praying to the light from whence they are cast."

"I don't understand anything you're saying," Mami sighed.

"He's saying… they don't believe in us," Inke ventured, "Because if they did, they would be scared."

Mami clenched her fists. "Is that why I had to suffer."

"Oh, fuck them. Let them burn." The cambion cast his red eyes toward the window. "I too know what it is like to be forgotten; Unknown." They waited for the helicopter and search teams to pass before Ishmael spoke again. "We need only make a single hole in their defenses. The priest will be under guard, but he need not die. Merely distracted. I'll be as close as I can without crossing the holy ground, but you'll need to interrupt the ritual," he explained. "Once the barrier is gone, I will come to your aid like lightning. Faith, Mami. Believe in me. And I will reward you. I won't let you die…"

"Inke," Mami was there in a heartbeat, hands on her cheeks, kissing her forehead. "Stay here. Stay hidden."

"You're leaving me, again?"

"I'll always come back, Inke. Don't worry."

"I'm so hungry…"

"I know," Mami said. "We'll be back, Inke. It'll be over soon. Just stay quiet…"

Crouching behind the counter, she slipped her headphones on and hid herself in the music.

Someday, something will be found…

___

"Can't believe I found you," he said; Inke yelped in surprise. Vaske raised his hands defensively. "Easy! Easy? I'm not gonna hurt you." Vaske knelt before her. "You came from that basement, right? Lucky the building didn't come down on top of you. I saw the collapse. Almost got me, too."

"Mami… Mami didn't mean to. Don't hurt her. She didn't…"

"Mami?" He looked around. "Is there someone else here?" She silently shook her head. "You don't have to be afraid."

"She didn't mean to break everything…"

"Break everything?" Vaske shook his head. "You mean the earthquake? I don't think your friend has anything to do with that. You're not in trouble." Inke's eyes drifted to the mask hanging around his neck. "What, this?" he asked; "It's just in case there's a gas leak, or something. I'm not gonna hurt you. You won't hurt me, right?"

Inke teared up. "No…"

Jon if you even knew, Creon muttered.

"Don't… don't cry," Jon awkwardly stated.

"Okay," she managed to choke out.

"Looks like you took a few spills. Can I come closer?" Inke thought a moment before offering a shy nod. Jon took the first aid kit from his bag and gently cleaned the wounds with peroxide, hoping not to startle her. "You're very lucky. I didn't think you'd turn up. Not alive, anyway." He applied bandages to the bigger cuts. "There."

Should've called it in.

"And let MST chase her down?" Jon tried to smile. It was unnatural, pressing little creases into the weary corners of his eyes. "If I call some friends, will you promise not to run?"

"Mami says all the masters are bad…"

"We're not masters. We're trying to stop them. They're not supposed to be keeping you like this."

"I- I won't go without Mami!"

"That's alright. We'll wait for her, yeah? " Jon nervously rubbed the back of his head. "You're safe now. We'll take you to a safe place, and… no one will ever hurt you." He sighed. "I'm not good at this, but… all I can tell you is you have to believe me. No one's gonna hurt you, where we're going. The- eh, masters? Won't find you. You'll never have to worry about getting hurt again. You'll be happy, I know it, but… I don't know what else I can say to convince-"

Without warning, Inke threw herself at him. Jon fell back, dropping the bag, half propped on one arm as she clung to him, purring and nuzzling at his neck. "Uh-?!"

Looks like she likes you.

"Okay, not what I was expecting…"

I know. Someone liking you? That's just weird

"Not helping," he sighed. "Okay, calm down." He placed a hand on the back of her head, trying to comfort her.

But Inke was inconsolable. If it was possible, the relief she now felt only made her weep more for the past. She dug her claws into his back, breaking the skin. Wiping her tears on his shirt. Jon flinched, but didn't immediately pry her off. The genuine gratitude was alien. He remembered feeling guilt, when Heston saved his life. There was always this numb, emptiness in his heart. Jon knew he should be grateful. And on some cold, detached level, he was. Or at least, knew that was the normal response. But this busted hydrant of emotion had rendered him speechless, as she kissed his cheek, and buried her face in the crook of his neck…

___

The priest rang the bell. Water condensed on the window, like the breath of some unseen presence. The bell rang out again, two tones entwined with each other, writhing, pulsing outward from the ritual point. Stoic, black-clad soldiers stood guard at the window, when Mami crashed through the glass, pausing only to kick off the sill and lunge toward the priest. Gunfire ripped through her as she flew through the air, burying her claws into the man's chest, sinking her fangs into his throat. Faith, she thought, frantically screaming the word from the confines of thought. Believe, she thought, ignoring the pain. It was nothing, faced with the thought of returning to that cell. Her master had given her more pain than these men could summon against her. Even if she died, it would at least be the end, Mami thought, as she ripped the priest's throat open, and her vision dimmed…

"I am the resurrection and the life," whispered Ishmael. "The one who believes in me shall live, even should they die…"

She shot up, gasping, hands falling to where the bullets struck her. Covered in blood, surrounded by death, Mami found that her wounds had mysteriously vanished. "I- I'm not-!"

"Ahh, Mami. You are so obedient," the boy giggled. He picked up a pistol and tucked it into his belt. "And strong. But do not ever trust another soul like this again. For your sake?" Mami scrambled to her feet. Tried to hug him. The demon pushed her away, quickly. "Ah-tch-tch! Do not touch me! I am dangerous. To touch. Come! They'll be on their way soon."

___

Vaske clutched Inke by the hair, a pained, choking sound escaping him. Blood washed over her tongue, running down the sides of her mouth and staining her shirt. Her eyes widened. She pulled away, leaving a deep gash in Jon's throat. "Oh no," she whimpered, as he sank back against the wall clutching his wound. She reached out. "No…"

Jon forced a smile. Tried to speak. Lifted one hand toward hers. Stay, he said. It almost seemed to echo from some darkness before memory. His fingertips barely graced hers before his arm fell limp, leaving Inke alone, once more.

___

I hurt my master.

But I didn't mean to.
I was just playing.
The way we always played.

He made me so happy.
I loved him so much.
So much I could cry.

Please forgive me.
Every day is sad here.
No one hugs me anymore.
I'm so sorry, master.
Say you'll take me back.

Open the door.
Free me from this place.
Free me from the sadness

___

They found her clinging to his lifeless body. His throat ragged, hollowed by her gnawing fangs. The bottom of her face painted red. Her tears had cut a path through his dried blood. "Damn…" Daisuke grabbed her by the arm, dragging her to her feet, another Yakuza thug cuffing her wrists. She groggily protested, her stomach full.

"Watch your balls, man. Don't want those claws getting in you," Jurou warned.

"Bitch looks completely checked out. She kill this guy?"

"Looks like it."

"Ma- Mami?! MAMI!" Jurou cut Inke's cries short with a swift back-handed slap.

"Hey, don't damage the merchandise; Boss'll have our heads."

"Nah. She's not for sale. Just need her for samples."

"Hell, in that case let's have some fun with her when we get back." Daisuke pinned her to the counter with his body weight and pulled his phone from his pocket. "Search the stiff, I'll call for pickup."

"Mami…"

"What's she saying?" Daisuke asked.

"The other one she was chained up with."

Daisuke yanked her up off the counter and yanked her head back. "You know where she is?" She didn't reply. He slammed her head down on the counter. "Answer me, bitch!"

"Hey, careful. Doesn't matter how she gets back, but she's gotta be in one fucking piece."

"I got it, relax," Daisuke assured him. "I mean, we find her friend, we get a bonus." Pinning her once again, he dialed for backup. "Yeah, we got her. Friend might be nearby, too. Bring another set just in case." Mami's shadow fell over the tiny cafe. She stood in the doorway, drenched in blood, fists clenched. "Holy shit- yeah, definitely. She's right here."

Jurou whipped out his baton. "Mami! Down," he snapped. Mami's heart sank in disbelief as she found herself dropping on all fours. Pure instinct, as the familiar voice forced her to contort to such a compromising position. Her eyes darted from him, to the man holding Inke. "Mami?" Jurou knelt by her side, placing a hand on her head. "Have you been bad?" Cut them, she thought. "You don't look like you've been a good girl." Cut them please, Mami begged from some dark corner of her mind, but her body refused to obey her. She tried to extend her claws. Tried to move, but could only muster a tremble. A puddle spread on the floor beneath her as she thought of the cell. Thought of returning. Thought of the pain. Day after day. From birth to death.

Do you have it in yourself?

"Kill me," Mami quietly uttered.

Jurou seemed surprised by that. "What?"

Would you die, to escape that cell?

"Please, kill me," Mami whimpered.

"Is that anyway to treat such a faithful kitten?" Ishmael asked, catching Daisuke off guard as he emerged from the kitchen behind him. The man spun around, swinging his baton at the boy's head, only to find a bullet to his own, dropping him at Inke's feet.

Mami screamed, wrapping her hands around Jurou's throat and burying her claws in his flesh. He shocked her. It didn't matter. He forced the baton in her mouth. She only tensed as the current rocked her nerves. She howled with terror, rage, adrenaline coursing through her veins, muscles wire-tight as she ripped bloody cords from her master's neck.

The demon rifled through the man's pockets and unlocked Inke's cuffs. "Mami! Take her and go! I'll draw off their backup!" he shouted, shoving the smaller girl past the counter. Inke fell to her knees at Mami's side, throwing herself against her, bawling furiously. Mami sat there in silence, still reeling from the shock. "They're on their way, you don't have time! RUN!"

They bolted out into the night. Red and bloody, ragged and tired. Inke's pace staggered and slowed, bending at the waist to throw up, before Mami hurried her along. "We're gonna make it!" she assured her, gasping for air as they wove through the narrow, shattered streets. The Yakuza never pursued. It was the black masks, who came. Inke grabbed onto her wrist. Mami clasped hers in turn, dragging her along as they ran through alleys, leaping over obstacles and scrambling over rubble.

A bullet ripped through Mami's leg.

She crashed onto her knees, skinning them as she tumbled onto her side near the river.

"MAMI!" Inke helped her up.

"Inkerurun…"

"I'm not leaving you!" she cried.

Another burst of rounds knocked Mami to the ground. She clutched her abdomen, blood trickling between her fingers. "It's over." She smiled, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I'm so happy it's over…"

Inke struggled to drag her along. Mami could barely crawl, as they came to rest on a battered dock. She wrapped her arms around her. "It's not over… we'll- we go in the water!"

"Inke…"

"I know somewhere we can go. He told me about it. We'll be safe." A helicopter shone down. Black vans and masks surrounding them in a shrinking semi-circle. "A place they'll never hurt us again." Inke pulled her close now, peering down into the murky river. "I love you, Mami." She dragged her over the edge, plummeting together into the water below…

___

"Did they ever find the bodies?"

"No. It's unlikely they survived. We swept the river for a good two hours."

"Doubt they teach them to swim."

"There were a lot of corpses from the tsunami. Probably lost in the pile."

"More likely Kawaii recovered their bodies. And Vaske?"

"He paged us saying he found signs of demonic activity. Wounds are consistent with an animal mauling. Recovered traces of his DNA leading to the docks."

"Rules out the demon."

"Maybe. But it's still out there, somewhere…"

___

But what has been will be —
First memory, then oblivion's swallowing sea;
Like men foregone, shall we merge into those
Whose story no one knows…

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