From the 2017 Christmas Collection…
Angel Hunt | Streifen
The teahouse is reminiscent of Meiji-era Japan, replete with shoji doors, decorative screens, tatami mats, and wood paneled walls. In the private dining room reserved for the restaurant’s elite, a low, rectangular table is bordered by zabuton on each side. The merry trickling of water comes from the small bamboo fountain in one corner, and the air is rich with the scents of what remains on the two daily trayed sets – miso broiled fish, tofu and seaweed salad, seven grain rice, and various accompanying vegetables. Beside the trays a pot of gyokuro sits on a warmer, the expensive tea brought by the hostess herself.
That hostess is the restaurant’s most valued patron, Megumi Takashi of the prestigious Osaka Takashis. She is a heavy investor in the teahouse, her family’s connections enabling the most elusive and highest quality ingredients to be imported directly from Japan, or rather, directly from other business ventures of the Takashis, ensuring that they make money on all sides of the deal. Seated on a pale green zabuton, today Megumi wears one of her trademark black ruffled dresses with a wide collar and white cuffs and a matching headband over her pin-straight black hair. Slightly blank ocean blue eyes stare across the table, the gaze sliding straight through her guest and to the far wall.
Her guest, of course, is me. Dark haired, grey-eyed, chainsmoking, grumpy outcast to the rest of his race. We’re not exactly a pairing that a lot of people would put together, yet we sit here once a month eating Japanese delicacies and drinking expensive tea and have done so for almost two years. Two years of me grousing about having to be anywhere in public for any length of time and Megumi ignoring me and the restaurant staff falling over themselves like she’s the Queen of England all while whispering to one another about her bad tempered friend. Two years of her arriving at my apartment and me closing the door in her face out of what is practically habit by now only to open it a minute later, resigned to the fact that she will not leave until I consent to our outing. Not that I would say no, of course, in spite of my grumbling protests. Even if our brothers weren’t dating, making us practically family by human-Angel-Selestarri-whatever standards, I would not deny her because the fact is: I owe her.
Two years ago I was drowning in my own magic, desperate to keep it within and therefore keep others safe even if it killed me to do so. It systematically ate at me from within, trapped like a tiger prowling a cage, constantly testing the barriers that kept it locked down. It was a bad idea and I knew it, knew that with the strength of the magic I carried, it needed to be periodically dumped. I also knew what it was capable of and how many would die if it was let free. I was new to the Dark, only a little over a year and a half or so, and I’d had yet to learn how to fully control the sudden intensity of my magic. I’d always been strong, stronger than any other Selestarri, Bright or Dark, but this was a whole new level, one I was unprepared to manage.
At my lowest point, when surely the magic would eat me alive, Megumi appeared with her servants in tow and whisked me away to the mansion where I was provided the opportunity to safely dump my magic and to fully recover. I likely owe her my life.
The other fact is: I actually like her. Megumi will sit in silence without getting weirded out like most people, which is extremely rare. People like to talk and will fill in quiet times with inane chatter that drives me mad. In a world full of people I generally dislike, she’s one of the few I bother with. So when she fetches me for these outings, I may complain and I may slam the door in her face, but I always comply.
So here we sit, my body bruised and sore from the holiday on Nova returned from just yesterday, with my emotional space totally in the shitter, as it usually is after a visit to the floating island. Not that a trip there is needed to achieve that feat, not when it’s practically the norm all day every day. [Yes,] I reply, my attention pulled into focus when she asks if I’ve seen our siblings recently. Glancing toward the doorway the waitstaff uses, I switch back to speaking aloud even though we both prefer telepathy. It seems to weird the staff out when we sit in a private room and appear to say nothing for the duration of our meal. “I saw my brother while we were at home, and he says your brother is well.” Why she doesn’t drop in on her brother like she drops in on me, I have no idea. Certainly she knows where he and Zeph live, and her chauffeurs would whisk her over there in a heartbeat. Jun’s avoidance of the mansion is understandable, and truthfully, who could blame him? That place and the one who commands it are both–well, overwhelming is an understatement when it comes to the Demon, but most human languages seem to lack a clear word that can describe what being in Jenova’s presence is like, so overwhelming will have to do.
“I’m sure he’ll make a point to see you the next time he’s there for one of the family check-ins.” Or I assume he will, at least. Megumi and Jun’s relationship seems to be a lot more complicated than my relationship with Zeph. It’s clear that they’re not truly related or even the same race, but that shouldn’t stop them if they want to consider themselves siblings. There are plenty of Selestarri who act like siblings and don’t share an ounce of blood. It’s really a state of mind and not so reliant on actual kinship, so if they want to be brother and sister then they should just declare it and move forward.
“They’re good for each other,” the words are slightly distracted as a cigarette is pulled from the box on the table beside my teacup. “Jun makes Zeph really happy, and someone should get to have the fairy tale.” The universe has made it clear that it won’t be me, so at least my brother will get to reap the benefits of a long term boyfriend who loves him in return.
The waitress appears, a tiny woman with streaks of light brown in her hair who chatters away in Japanese, asking which specialty dessert we’d prefer so the kitchen can begin preparing it. “Whichever, it doesn’t matter.” The tip of the cigarette is sparked with a tiny bit of magic as she’s making her way out of the room, and I grumble under my breath, “Nothing matters.”
“It will,” Megumi replies in her slightly detached way of speaking as I exhale a cloud of smoke. “In the future there is one who will need you.”
Stopping the derisive chuckle that rises in me is as impossible as stopping the sarcasm from leaking into my words. “I won’t hold my breath.”
If I were an optimistic person, then perhaps I would take comfort in what she says. It’s true that she seems to know things that have never been thought, let alone uttered, yet often turn out to be true. However, some things are just known deep down, and for me, this is one of them. Even if I could be persuaded differently and there was even a shadow of hope that I could have what Jun and Zeph have, who would ever consent to being with me? Fucking is one thing, a night or two here or there are fun, but not the same as investing your heart into another person. I’m a monster, someone who eventually destroys all he touches, someone that no one else will ever see fit to love. I know this in my bones, just as I know there is no fairytale romance for me, no one who will ever say he loves me without it being some kind of cruel joke meant to hurt me in the worst of ways.
Megumi merely stares at me for a long moment as the cloud of smoke between us continues to grow, her expression characteristically blank. “No, Sashi-san,”she finally says, “it’s too far in the future yet to do that.” Taking the pot of tea from the warmer, she begins to pour us each a fresh cup. “When they see fit, your journeys will collide. Only then will it be right…”
Breaking through the gray cobwebs is like surfacing in a very still pond, what was muted and cloudy one moment sliding into an almost painful over clarity the next. The vestiges of the drugs fall away like streams of water, each drop taking the numbness and blessed unawareness that are the only true peace. Senses snap from slumber a heartbeat later like the rush of an adrenaline shot to the heart, and the hell that is this place can no longer be masked.
The table slams into existence beneath my broken body, a slab of unyielding iciness meant in no way for the fragility of bones and muscle. This is no featherbed nor even the meanest cot, it is utilitarian only, the easiest way to inspect a specimen for whom no concern is rendered. When was the last time softness was felt, the touch of something that didn’t shove with pointed corners and hard edges? Did it ever exist or is it only a dream of something imagined, something longed for?
Eyes blink slowly open once, twice, the focus blurred like an old, fuzzy television set. Indistinguishable blurs of white, black, gray, and silver flicker, blend, separate until shapes gradually work themselves out of a coalesced lump and into something more discernible. A white, uniform row of closed cabinets. A tray on a rolling table filled with gleaming metal instruments, each sharper than the last. Overhead a fluorescent light on a hinged arm. Thick nylon straps securing wrists and ankles. Bare walls devoid of so much as a crack to tell one from the next. Not a window, never a window. I miss color, I yearn for it, see it in the rare dreams I’m permitted, shades of green, orange, and crimson… so much crimson that overtakes all else.
The smell of the humans rides the air before they arrive: sweat, chemicals, and death. Always death. The stench of it trails like a pale specter in their wake, overtaking the caustic constancy of cleaning chemical smell. It hangs on them like a stink, something no amount of showers or clean suits will ever dissipate, as if it has permeated their very souls. Do their families smell it? Strangers on the street? Would they recognize what it meant even if they did?
They arrive in their uniforms of pure white smocks, caps obscuring hair and masks hiding all but their eyes. Cold eyes that look down as if at something less, undeserving of any emotion, an object to be used and eventually discarded. A series of clicks come from behind, the whir of machinery filling the silence. Cruel hands shove at my exposed body, prodding the areas injected and embedded with various substances, seeking the reaction that will tell them if any of this is worth it. Maybe it will tell me too, why this must be endured, what the reasoning behind it all is, when the end will finally come. I long for it, wanting nothing more than darkness and peace for the rest of my days. Maybe if they get the result they seek, they’ll finally let me die. There’s so little left, what more can be stripped away? What can they hope to find in this shell that remains? I want to ask them, but can’t find the strength. I used to try, begging, pleading, screaming, but no answers were ever forthcoming. Objects do not need explanations or reasons, so why waste breath?
They grunt to one another in an unknown language and silver flashes brightly before rough fingers seize a fistful of hair, yanking to the side. The needle bites deep just beneath the jawline, punching through battered skin as if it were aged parchment. The drug within flows like liquid lava, deposited straight into veins that rapidly send it soaring throughout. Pain blossoms in starbursts that explode behind my eyes, fire racing over every inch, skin instantly coated with sweat. The room is filled with terrified wheezing and shrieking, the sounds taking a moment to register as coming from my own throat. Seconds spin into hours, body burning from within, fingers clawing at the tabletop, voice torn from screaming. It’s mercy when the familiar haze of drug induced sleep begins to cloud the senses, taking with it the glaring white and silver, the cold, calculating eyes of my tormentors, but not the agony. It chases me down even as the room begins to spiral out of existence.
Maybe this time I won’t rise to the surface, maybe I’ll finally be given a respite from this torture. I’ve prayed to every god I know, the ancient ones and those of the humans, but just like those who abuse me, the gods are silent. I used to hope desperately for mercy although I knew even then that it would not be granted. Now even hope grows dim, and what will be left to sustain me when it’s gone?
[Lan and Megumi belong to Nezumi. Sashi belongs to me.]