The night of October 31st was business as usual for the Weiss assassins...or so they thought.
It was a dark night, moonless, black as the inside of the Devil's boot. It was perfect cover for an assassin, but as Hidaka Ken approached his designated entry point he couldn't still a feeling of unease as he looked up at the silent block of the neuropharmacological facility. Despite the tame mission briefing, the video and the thin, hungry face of Nishida Daisuke had reminded him of Takatori Masafumi.
His imagination crept with hideously mutated creatures, splaying tentacles grasping for flesh to rend, saw-toothed muzzles dripping with blood.
Something poked him in the ribs, and he jumped.
"Siberian," hissed his teammate, "pay attention to what you're doing."
"Sorry, Bombay," Ken whispered back in penitence. But he couldn't dampen his disquiet. There was something awry with the night itself.
Omi would just tell him he was being overly superstitious.
He thought back to the mission briefing, wondering what had changed. He'd been irreverent enough then, after all...
Manx's slender figure bent as she hit the 'play' button on the VCR, and she revealed a lush amount of decolletage. It provoked a low wolf whistle from Youji, to which she responded with a frown.
A series of still-photos flickered on the TV screen; the face of the man portrayed on it was ascetic, lean-featured. He had dark hair cropped short, and predatory black eyes.
The voice of Persia overlaid the photographs. "Weiss...this is your target: Nishida Daisuke, head of neuropharmacology at Nippon Biotech. His associate, Koichiro Shizuo, disappeared on October 16th after she found out about Nishida's research -- human testing of mind-altering and mutagenic drugs."
The video paused on a picture of a young woman, young, not pretty but with a certain fine-boned elegance that might have translated to strong character when viewed live or in motion. Her black hair was pinned neatly at the nape save for two pieces of hair that fell forward of her ears.
Ken leaned forward, ignoring a twinge of unease. The scenario provoked a sense of vague recognition, then he remembered...Takatori Masafumi had been experimenting with mutagenic drugs. He hoped that didn't mean more plant-monsters in store for them.
Persia continued. "We have reason to believe that Nishida killed her and hid her with the bodies of his test subjects that had rejected the treatment. Your mission is to infiltrate Nippon Biotech and find the victims' bodies." The photo montage continued, showing a black cube of a boxy building, and various angles of a gleaming interior honeycombed with white corridors and stainless steel labs.
"Once you have done this, you will receive official orders to eliminate Nishida. White Hunters...deny this dark beast his tomorrow."
"He always says that...but we're not doing the mission tomorrow, are we." Ken flipped through his file folder.
Manx blinked, leaning again to turn off the tape. "Well, no..." She moved to seat herself in the remaining chair of their ready room.
"So wouldn't we be denying him his Halloween, then?"
"Ken-kun..." Omi scowled, and Aya glared at Youji, who had begun to snicker.
"Manx...is there anything else you can tell us?" Aya was already spreading out the laboratory floor plans.
Manx crossed her legs primly, feathers ruffled by Siberian's infantile humor. "Nishida broke into Shizuo's house and stole a suitcase and assorted belongings of hers. He wanted to stage her sudden and inexplicable departure...Shizuo's only relatives are some aging grandparents --they couldn't give any contrary testimony against Shizuo running away. They were fairly distant."
"So the police are just willing to leave this alone?" Youji had regained his interest, and was actually beginning to show a germ of concern.
"There were no police. Shizuo was a solitary, overworked woman...Nishida made sure to emphasize that when he answered questions. They just decided she couldn't take the stress anymore.
"All the information on Nishida's project is in his own private files. Very few people at the company actually *know* about it, and they have no idea he's been doing human testing. We're certain he's hidden the bodies in the lab...Areas we've already cleared are marked on the blueprints in your folders, namely the first and second upper floors. However, there are areas of the building we haven't been able to obtain schematics for...the basement level, for instance, has many closed-off and unused areas. There have been several instances lately of commonplace accidents at the lab...electrical shorts, security system malfunctions, chemical fires. Nishida's starting to get paranoid...we want to find the bodies before he does something drastic. The offices should be empty except for security on Friday night."
"This is Abyssinian," Aya spoke into his micro-headset. "Are we green?" By that he was asking if Ken and Omi had succeeded: for he and Youji to proceed, the guards were to be tranked by Omi and his darts, and the cameras had to be looped so that they could enter as they liked into the darkened, empty building.
"Bombay here," responded Omi's youthful voice in his ear. "Green light."
"I don't like this," Youji muttered beside him as they approached their entry point. "There's something rotten about this building...about this whole damned night."
"It's too late to back out now," Aya said more sharply than he'd intended.
"I know, I know..." Youji waved a hand at him and finessed the door open, wincing as the hinges squealed. "That's odd...it's a new building."
"Substandard building materials," Aya commented in a monotone, following with one hand on his sword. The guards were supposed to be out, but there was always the one you didn't plan for...
"It's cold in here!" Youji exclaimed, rubbing his arms. "Freezing..."
"They must have left the air on," Aya said, already exasperated.
"All right, all right...what's our first target for search?"
"Let's go, already..."
The lights were supposed to be on. It was part of the system specifications for Nippon Biotech's security, due to recent malfunctions in several of the surveillance cameras, which Omi had already set onto a continuous footage loop supplied by Kritiker's mole.
Ken meditated on this observation as he stood in the dark, glancing around at the clotted, inky black shadows gathering in the corners of Nishida's office, phantoms lurking behind file cabinets and in the wastepaperbasket by the door. "Omi..."
"Yes, *Siberian*, I know the lights are out." Omi tapped irritably at the keyboard in front of him, furrowing his brows at the screen. "I know because you've told me already. So just stand there and keep watch." He typed in a command line, and frowned.
Ken sighed. It was most likely the same electrical system glitch that had caused the camera bug, but it was still damned disconcerting standing here in the dark. It was cold, too...Ken wouldn't have been surprised to see his breath hanging in the air -- if the damned lights hadn't been out.
The radio in his ear came to life with a sudden, shocking crackle. "Siberian. Bombay. What's your status?"
"Abyssinian..." Ken responded weakly, knees gone to jelly as he braced one hand on the edge of the desk. "You scared the living hell out of me..."
"Just pay attention." Aya sounded irritated. "Did you find anything?"
"Negative," Omi chimed in, putting the computer back into hibernation. He turned off the monitor and rubbed his eyes...the now-black screen ticked with static. "There's not a single file here with any of the keywords for the project. Nishida must have them all with him, wherever he is."
"Fine. Just........own here........us." Another ripple of static surged across the channel.
"Say that again, Abyssinian?" Omi was pressing his fingers to his headset. "We've got some interference."
"I said, get down here and meet us. We're still in the first basement."
Ken blinked. "Was there that much to check out?"
"The plans weren't to scale..." Youji's voice came across the radio, sounding for once as irritated as Aya. "The hallways down here are longer than the building itself. There are some.............."
Ken let out a startled exclamation, pulling his headset off as static erupted gunshot-loud in his ear. "Man...did they check the wiring before they gave us these things?"
"They always do," Omi answered hesitantly. "How strange...Balinese? Repeat?"
"Something wrong with your units?"
"We're getting a lot of static up here. We'll come meet you on the second sub-level. Bombay out."
Ken adjusted his gloves, pulling them high up on his wrists. "Let's go."
They headed into the hallway, lit only by the cold blue of security lights hanging every several yards along the corridor ceiling. It was getting colder. Was the electrical problem affecting the thermostat, too? Omi pulled down the night-vision lenses he had brought for the mission -- in case it had been this dark in the sub-basement -- and the blackness sprang to luminous green life. Walls, floor tiles, fire extinguishers, and the heavy metal double doors to the stairwell landing.
Omi shook his head...It had to be a mistake.
The strange flare hovering on the other side of the safety glass windows couldn't be anything *real*.
He turned to stare at Ken, wide-eyed. The other young man was looking at him, one eyebrow raised. "Ken-kun..."
"C'mon, let's go." Ken pushed past him, catching the opening door and starting out onto the landing. His footsteps echoed harshly in the cavernous vertical shaft. The door swung closed with a heavy metallic *thud*. His earpiece crackled again, this time with a low, electrical hum beneath the cellophane static. "Hey, did your radio......" He paused, glancing over his shoulder. "...Omi?"
Omi was gone.
"Shit..." Ken reached for the door handle to check the hallway, but the heavy latch only rattled in his hand. "Oh, shit...Omi? Omi!" His voice echoed, harsh and unanswered, and he let out a shuddering breath. It escaped him in a puff of vapor, slowly evaporating...but not slow enough.
The radio crackled again, and Ken was sure he heard a new sound beneath the static...a rhythm. Footsteps. The volume swelled. And the footsteps grew louder...they were coming down the stairs....And then -- "He's coming."
Ken felt sick. "Wh-what?"
The voice was murmuring, on his radio. "He's coming!"
"Who's coming? Who are you?!"
Electrical feedback exploded in his ears, and his vision went black.
Ken jumped a mile as a light hand gripped his shoulder. "What?!"
"You're blocking the door." Omi sidled past him and tripped nimbly down the stairs.
"What the hell..." Rubbing his arms, Youji pushed away from the wall he had been lounging against. His brow furrowed as he paid closer heed to the device attached to the wall, then approached. A shiver was prickling along his spine; he attributed it to the cold. "Aya, come look at this."
"Busy, *Balinese,*" Aya said pointedly, tapping on his headset with two fingers. He, too, was frowning.
Youji scowled at him briefly, then turned his attention back to the thermostat. "That's odd." He inspected the casing. It seemed intact, didn't look as if it had been tampered with in any way.
The air conditioning wasn't on. In fact, it was set to circulate heat throughout the building, adjusted to a comfortable room temperature. Youji rubbed at his arms some more, sighed, and resolutely turned his back on the thing.
"Must be malfunctioning," he muttered, adopting Aya's practical standpoint. It was chased by lingering unease.
Kudou Youji was not a superstitious man, but he *was* in touch with his animal side -- and that side was urging him to back the hell out of this one.
"Bombay," Aya was saying, then tapped his headset again. "Bombay! We'll meet you on the next level, copy? There's nothing further to investigate down here. Bombay, come in."
A sputter of static rolled through Youji's headset, like a sudden shower of rain on a thin tin roof. Youji cursed and refrained from jerking it off by a narrow margin. "What the--"
"New headgear," Aya muttered. "Never trust new equipment." He turned, trench coat flaring around him, and stalked up the hall.
"Abyss--" Youji started, cut himself off, and raked a hand through his hair. "Geez. So impatient."
He started forward, too, and froze.
Pooled near the toe of his right boot was a single drop of crimson. Blood. His stomach clenched.
Youji looked up. The ceiling was a pristine, perfect white. He looked down again, half-expecting it to be a mirage or something, a trick of the eye.
"A-Aya..." His voice was a cracked whisper.
The blood was still there. He looked at his hands, feeling suspended in slow-motion as if he had entered into a dream...or a nightmare. For once, his hands were clean.
On the pure white floor, a single drop of blood had seeped. Youji stared at it again, disbelief rising in him, mingling with incredulity. He was sure it hadn't been there a moment before.
The shout halted Aya in his tracks. He slewed around, irritation boiling over. This mission had, thus far, been a string of frustrations and he was freezing his balls off.
"What!?" Aya snapped, prepared to give his partner a thorough chewing out.
Youji was gone.
Static crackled through the headphones, hissing, white noise crowding in.
"Dammit," Ken said, jerking off his micro-headset and stuffing it in his pocket.
"Siberian," Omi said reproachfully, "we might need that later."
"Yeah, well, they're damned useless right now," Ken countered.
Together, they turned the corner.
"Well, this is just great."
They had run up against a blocked-off section of hallway. Heavy equipment, computer desks, chairs, and hefty-size boxes formed a solid barricade that stood between them and ready stairwell access.
"This wasn't on the plans," Omi said, holding his laptop before him like a shield.
"Well, no, it wouldn't be," Ken returned somewhat tartly.
Omi elbowed him. "I knew that...I just..."
"I know," Ken cut him off. "It's frustrating." That pretty much described the whole mission...especially if you threw 'creepy' on top of that. With a wordless grumble, Ken began shoving aside columns of cardboard boxes and plastic totes. "Help me out, here."
Dutifully, Omi slid through the narrow gap Ken had created, and began to nudge his way between the boxes. "Siberian, give me a hand?"
Ken climbed atop a steel file cabinet, catching Omi behind the knees as he began to climb over what looked like an x-ray machine. "Watch it..." There was a faint groan of metal against metal, but nothing moved beneath them. "What do you see?"
"I've got a door." Omi slid himself into the small space between the high stacks of boxes and the paneled ceiling. "Stay there...I think I can get down okay from here." He disappeared, and Ken smiled faintly at the disembodied string of grunts and shuffles and muttered oaths as Omi clambered down whatever detritus occupied the other side of the barricade. Finally, he heard the *thud* of rubber-soled sneakers hitting the linoleum floor.
"This stack of gray totes goes all the way through, Siberian. They're light enough to move. You should be able to get through by the time I get the door open."
Switching on a small penlight in the dark, Omi ran his hands across the latch panel. "Electronic...give me a minute or so."
"Right-o." Ken turned back to the hallway, checking around the corner. The corridor was empty, as vacant and harmless as it had been when they walked it the first time. And yet, he couldn't suppress the faint shiver of unease that trembled coldly along his spine. It was almost as if...no...surely not. But Ken thought for a moment he could hear whispers...as if there were people hidden behind the far bend, in the small alcove by the lavatory doors.
A shadow rushed past the edges of his vision, and Ken spun around, throat clamping down on an instinctive cry of horror.
Nothing...nothing at all to be frightened of. Only empty air lurked behind him. "Get a grip...for fuck's sake..." Ken rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand.
"Yatta..." From the other side of the barricade of boxes, Omi's lock clicked open, and the door swung open on rusty hinges. "Siberian, come on. Abyssinian and Balinese are waiting."
Ken needed no further prodding, and rather than moving the crates simply followed Omi's course up and over. Breath coming short and fast, he pulled himself across the top of the blockage, pulling his feet close lest some imaginary presence grab them and pull him back down.
Omi was holding the door open as Ken jumped down, and the younger assassin gave him a concerned once-over as he passed through. "Are you okay?"
Ken nodded vaguely. "Omi, were you ever afraid of the dark when you were little?"
"Not really...why?" Omi pulled the door shut, and turned on his light again. "Get your headset on."
Ken pulled out the tiny earbud and microphone, and set to arranging them in his right ear. "Just thinking, I guess. When I was six, the bathroom was on the far end of the hallway from my bedroom. Whenever I had to get up in the middle of the night, I'd have to walk down the hall, past the open doorway to the living room. It was just a big black cavern, in the dark like that. I'd always run past it with my eyes closed." He could remember it so vividly...holding up his hand to shield himself from what he might see --from what might be there if he just turned his head to the right, the urge to scream rising from the pit of his stomach.
It was the same damn feeling he'd had all night.
"Ken-kun..." Omi was smiling at him, and he placed a warm hand bracingly on Ken's shoulder. "There's no such thing as ghosts."
Ken smiled back, weakly, and they started down the stairs to the second basement level.
It was as dark as the first -- darker, in fact, with even the safety lights out. Ken switched on his flashlight, and Omi slid his night-vision goggles back on. "They should be on this level...Call Abyssinian."
Omi reached up to touch the transmitter of his radio, then made a face. "I'm all static. How about you?"
Ken frowned, activating his own radio. "Abyssinian...Abyssininan, do you copy?" There was a hiss and a crackle, then the white-noise pop of the connection clearing. And then, there were footsteps. Ken felt sick. "A-Aya?" *Please answer me....God, I'm freaking out...*
"Ken?!" Aya's voice was harsh and hushed. The footsteps continued, and Ken realized with a sudden wash of relief that they were Aya's own boots in the background. The other man was breathing hard into his microphone. "Ken, is that you?"
"Yes, it's me -- Aya, what's wrong?" Ken met eyes with Omi, who tried his radio again, then shook his head.
"Youji...he's gone -- he disappeared!"
"What do you mean, he disappeared?!"
"He just ------peared! He shouted for me, and when I tur---around he---s gone!" Aya's voice was frantic, genuinely frightened.
"Aya, you're breaking up! Stay put -- we're coming to get you!" Ken grabbed Omi by the sleeve. "Omi, let's go."
But as they took off down the hall, Aya's voice came over the channel again. "Ken..." It was soft now, suddenly, eerily calm. "Ken...there's..."
"What, Aya? What do you see?!"
"I see blood..." Then, all at once, there was a harsh gasp, tinny and distorted over the fading radio frequency, abruptly cut off by static.
"Aya? AYA!" Ken tore off his headset again. "FUCK!"
"Ken-kun, what's happening?" Omi was staring at him, eyes wide and disturbed.
"Let's just find Aya and get the fuck out of here," Ken replied, thoroughly certain he did NOT want to be here any longer. He reached for Omi's sleeve again, and was surprised when a gloved hand caught his own and held on. "Come on."
Omi shook his head, pulling back on Ken's hand. His legs felt like lead, and for the first time he noticed how deathly cold it was in the corridor. His breath hung in a cloud, green-lit by the night-vision lenses over his eyes.
And there was something on the floor ahead of them. A different green than the rest...a splatter, glistening with a liquid reflection.
All at once, Omi was afraid of the dark.
"Ken-kun....what did Aya-kun see?"
Ken stared at Omi for a moment, then turned to follow the boy's gaze to the floor behind him. The flashlight beam swung out to survey the blank concrete.
His heartbeat was a sudden peal of thunder in his ears, beating a sickening, demonic rhythm. Red. Blood. It was blood on the floor. Ken's stomach clenched, saliva flooding his mouth as sick fear washed over him in a sudden drenching cold. And beneath the hideous tympani of his pulse came a rushing sound -- like wind, like screaming so loud its pitch was nothing but noise.
And then, he knew nothing.
Ken came to with a thick, clotted feeling in his head, and a scummy taste in the back of his mouth. ~How long have I been out?~ He squeezed his eyes tightly shut for a moment before opening them slowly, finding himself in pitch blackness before his sleep-sensitive eyes focused enough to seek out the darker shadow of his flashlight somewhere on the floor. "Bombay...you okay?"
He was midly puzzled when the reply didn't come right away. "Bombay?" And then, his hand slid through something wet. He gasped, scrambling backwards up against the wall. "Holy shit...Omi? Omi! Where are you?" His foot struck something with a metallic clank, and Ken groped for the flashlight, switching it on with fingers that trembled almost too much to use. The shivering white beam landed on the slick red splash he had seen before, now smeared with a splayed handprint. Ken looked slowly up to the ceiling, wondering if they had missed something upstairs that was now soaking through the floor, but it was only concrete above the thick lines of pipes running the length of the corridor. With a sick dread lodged beneath his ribs, Ken slid up the wall to his feet, and began to walk. He didn't want to. He wanted to go home...he wanted to curl up on the couch with a beer and a scary movie, and ignore the fact that something seriously *wrong* was happening here at Nippon Biotech, something far more bizarre than the mission they had been sent out to do.
His foot slipped in something liquid. Ken knew before he even looked down...he could smell the copper tang. He shook his head, groaning through his clenched teeth. He couldn't take this anymore...
The radio crackled in his jacket pocket, and Ken pulled it out with clumsy haste, jamming the bud in his ear with breathless desperation. "Omi? Omi, is that you? Aya? Youji?"
There was only soft, white noise. And then, a voice. "He's coming."
"No....nonono....leave me the fuck ALONE!" Ken screamed into the headset, hands going to his head, digging the heels of his gloved hands into his eyes.
"I DON'T CARE! LEAVE ME ALONE!" A rush of freezing air hit him like a physical blast, knocking him back, and Ken's eyes flew open in automatic shock. There was nothing...no source of the sudden wind. And then...........at the far end of the hallway, he saw it.
The figure was trudging slowly, stumbling slightly, hands hanging limply at its sides. Ken took a step back, shaking his head slowly. It was dressed in white, a lurid spill of brownish black trailing down its front, and every trip of its pigeontoed gait caused some of the gore to drip to the floor, leaving a bloody trail behind it. And as it lifted its head, Ken saw its face.
He couldn't suppress the visceral instinct to run, but the ghost was upon him as soon as he tried, bearing down on him as he tripped over his own feet, icy cold radiating from its eldritch body as it tried to pin him down. Blood-crusted hands swiped at his face, groped at his neck.....and somehow, they were repelled. "Find me!" The voice was no longer radio static...it was real, issuing breathlessly from frost-rimmed, bloody lips.
And then, Ken blinked, and stared up into the dead face before his own. "Shizuo..."
She stared down at him, soft black tendrils of hair falling to the sides of her face. Tears were frozen to her cheeks, forming chunky mounds of crystalline ice in the corners of her eyes. Her lab coat was unbuttoned, whatever clothing was underneath torn and soaked through with rusty, frost-burned, clotted blood. "...find me..." She reached for Ken again, her hands brushing his face like a frozen breath before she withdrew, and began to retreat down the hallway again. "He's coming..."
As if entranced, Ken got to his feet, moving to follow her. Shizuo turned to glance over her shoulder.............then vanished.
"N-no! Shizuo!" Ken broke into a run, his fingers snatching at disappearing traces of white vapor, before he was left alone again. "Shit.....Shit, how do I..." He paused. Then, slowly, Ken began to follow the trail Shizuo had left for him -- cherry-bright pools of blood, glistening along the floor...one after another.
Ken put one foot in front of the next, following the trail of a dead woman. He didn't stop, didn't allow himself time to think, because if he did the horror would congeal him in place sure as Shizuo's frozen touch. He didn't dare think about what had happened to his teammates.
The blood led him in teardrop-shaped clots up the hall.
His radio hissed with white noise, no more ghostly whispers. Ken pulled the earpiece from his ear with remarkably steady fingers and jammed it in his pocket, clenching his fists. *He's coming.* That meant he had to move, and move fast.
There was a single drop of blood pooled in the hallway, now, and Ken stopped, looking to his left. The door was locked and his patience was gone. Ken stepped back, braced himself, and *kicked.*
The door busted free of the frame and metal clattered to the floor. Ken ignored it, stepping through and flicking the light on.
Silent sterility greeted him, an empty lab gleaming with stainless steel and swept-clean white surfaces.
Squaring his shoulders, Ken went to the next door. And the next. The drips and pools of blood that he followed were getting larger, thick with gore, and he knew he was getting close even as he shrank back from the prospect. Part of himself, the rational voice in the back of his head, was yelling and gibbering at him to get out, to ignore the impossibilities, for heaven's sake just to *pinch* himself.
Ken ignored it. He had a feeling that his comrades wouldn't be returned to him until he'd done what the ghost wanted.
He turned a corner and hauled himself short, cursing.
Gingerly, Ken edged around the biggest pool of gore yet, averting his eyes. If he looked at it too long, the things within it began to resolve into recognizable bits, things even someone untrained in anatomy could recognize. His hand slapped the doorknob of the next door and he tried it.
It turned under his hand.
Clutching at his arms, rubbing them convulsively for warmth, Ken entered the next lab. This one didn't look so spotless: in fact, some stations within had been scrubbed perfunctorily and blood smears remained on white counters. His eye ran along the shelving to his immediate left and he gasped, jerking back, heel slipping on something slick. Ken foundered and grasped at the doorframe, then collected himself and moved further into the room.
To his left, row upon row of specimen jars were lined up on the metal shelving that lined the wall. Suspended in yellow-green brine, each jar labeled "TEST SUBJECT" with a number appended, were bits and pieces...some were recognizably brain tissue. Some were eyes, hideously altered, dilated pupils or abnormal irises or enlarged optic nerves. The middle row, on a level with his gaze, contained a small severed head.
It was a child's head. The face was turned in his direction, lidless eyes gaping emptily at him.
Ken fought down his sense of rising panic again and scanned the rest of the lab. There was a station on the far end that had been hastily cleaned up...as he moved toward the back, glass crunched underfoot. A Kritiker forensics team would probably be happy to sample that later, to determine what kind of drugs Nishida had been messing with.
"He couldn't have done this alone," Ken said aloud, rubbing at his arms again. Even though he was wearing a jacket, this was the deepest cold yet. His breath plumed in the air before him.
Against the far wall, a stainless steel door was inset. It looked like the door to a meat locker. As Ken looked it over, the bottom edge congealed, turned red; rivulets of blood spilled out from beneath it and formed a pool that widened the longer he looked at it.
"Here, then," Ken croaked, reaching forward with one gloved hand. He steeled himself.
In a blast of arctic air and a shuddering moan, the figure shot out at him again, the ghostly specter of Shizuo slamming through and past him. Ken shouted, lifting his hands to protect his face, and something hard and unyielding fell against him.
He shouted again, hoarse with fear, when he got a good look at the corpse's open, frost-rimmed eyes. The wailing in his ears rose to a shriek.
His hands, slippery and sticky at once with cold sweat, fumbled for the keyring in his pocket; his fingertips snarled in fabric -- the pants were too loose...he'd lost weight over the past two weeks. He hadn't slept...he'd barely eaten. But that would all change, now.
Tonight, he would clean up his mess.
Tonight, he would end it.
A loud metallic *thunk* sounded somewhere in the structure of the basement, and Daisuke Nishida dove into a shallow alcove in the wall, a pipe valve junction digging into his hip as he waited in the ensuing silence...
"Idiot..." he told himself aloud, creeping cautiously into the open. It could very well have been the heating valves, or the electricity trying to come back on, or any number of things that wouldn't result in him getting caught. He was the only one here, and the security guards he'd encountered had all been asleep at their posts.
With a heavy breath, he reached for his keys again, rehearsing in his mind the excuses he had prepared in case he should be discovered...he had forgotten something...he had specimens to check...neither was precisely a lie.
Nishida rounded the corner...Why the hell was it so *cold* down here?
The laboratory door was open. He broke into a half-shuffle, half-run, a sick, sour taste spreading in the back of his mouth. Whatever idiot of a janitor had found his way down here was going to end up keeping his other little secret company........
The figure that emerged from the open doorway was not a janitor. Stepping into the hallway, body half-crouched with anxious energy, it turned its head...and saw him.
"Daisuke....." Shizuo's frostbitten lips moved, cracking and tearing, sending black blood dribbling down her chin to join the spreading clot of gore at the base of her throat.
Nishida was sure he screamed, though no sound registered in his ears. He turned to run, and stopped short.
Three figures were blocking his way...One tall, looming ominously behind the second, who crouched with an unsheathed katana in his hands. Their faces were terrible...blank and pale, but with an otherworldly sort of rage in their glazed eyes.
The third was smaller...Nishida angled his flight toward the slight form, angling his shoulder to impact the narrow chest, and experienced a strangely lucid moment of shock when he was neatly sidestepped, and a clenched fist drove itself upward into his sternum. He fell...
...and was caught. A gloved hand caught him by the back of the collar, twisting it mercilessly tight, hauling him up to the tips of his toes. The man's green eyes stared into him, boring to the back of his skull. He *knew*...Nishida could tell. He could see it there, right inside his head. "You killed them all." The deep voice was hollow, and in a terrible moment the scientist knew that it was her.
"You turned them into twisted *things*." The second man was speaking, an icy chill radiating from the ice-silvered eyes glinting from beneath his fringe of blood-colored hair.
"And you killed me." It could have been Shizuo's own voice, but for the faint masculine hoarseness, the low-pitched slur as the smallest of the three spoke. "You killed me, because I knew."
"N-no.....no, please! You don't understand!"
"YOU KILLED ME!" Hard hands held him fast, turning him to face the abberation waiting there at the other end of the hall. She was bleeding...bleeding like she had that night, when he had cut her throat. She took a step forward, as if still frozen, her joints sticking and creaking as she came forward...came for him. Her face was twisted, contorted with the corrosion of decay and an otherworldly rage.
"Sh-Shizuo...You can't touch me...You're dead!"
"So are you." The voice behind him was quiet, and cold as the grave. The ghost before him gave a shriek, torn lips stretching impossibly wide to reveal blood-crusted teeth. It was horrifying -- like nails on a blackboard, like a knife against open nerves.
"No! You're dead! YOU'RE DEAD!"
And then she was upon him.
Ken stumbled into the hallway, skin still shuddering and crawling with the psychosomatic aftereffects of touching dead skin. He noted that the pool of gore had vanished as if it had never been. *Got to get out...got to get out of here...find the others and get OUT...* Whatever else Shizuo wanted from him, he wasn't playing. That was *it.*
He skidded around the corner and came to a stop, staring.
"O-Omi?" Ken blinked, as if that would clear his vision. "Aya, Youji...what's going on?" His three teammates had appeared out of nowhere, and they stood now over the still body of a man in street clothes. Ken's stomach bottomed out as he approached.
The corpse's face was frozen in an expression of terror. It was Nishida Daisuke.
"Omi...Omi, come on, snap out of it," Ken said, shaking his friend's shoulders.
The young man stared past him vacantly for a moment, then sense began to return to his eyes. "K-Ken-kun? What's going on?" He gasped and looked around wildly. "I--something hit me, I...how did I get here?"
"Never mind," Ken said grimly, pointing to the body. "What I'd really like to know is what happened to him.*"
Aya and Youji were coming around with dazed expressions, muttering softly to each other. Aya put a hand to Youji's shoulder in a brief gesture, as if to reassure himself the other man was there, then snatched his hand away as if it had been scalded. "What just happened here?" the redhead demanded peremptorily.
"Shizuo--" Ken gulped, then continued "--happened to Nishida, here."
"Don't be ridiculous--" Aya began, then paused, putting a gloved hand to his forehead. He scowled.
"Can we please get out of here?" Ken asked plaintively, tugging at Omi's elbow. "I found enough in the lab to make Kritiker go into spasms over the orgy of evidence. I want to go home."
Omi resisted being drawn, examining Nishida's corpse with a detached look. "It looks like he died of a massive coronary," he observed clinically. "And Shizuo?"
Ken grimaced. "Her throat was cut." He averted his eyes but did not squeeze them shut; if he did, he knew, visions from the cold-storage unit would dance in the darkness. Shizuo's corpse was not the only one that had been in there. "Whatever blade Nishida used, it wasn't enough to sever her arteries and windpipe...only open them. She bled to death in the cold and the dark, unable to make a single noise."
At that detail, Youji shuddered. "Let's get out of here," he agreed, and nudged the corpse with his toe. "We can leave this for Kritiker to explain."
"I don't think anyone can explain it," Ken said softly, knowing as Omi took his hand and squeezed it sympathetically that he would never be able to say what happened here, not to anyone.
None of them remembered. None would understand.