A particular emptiness filled the professor’s cabin, an oppressive vacuum left by a sudden departure. A solitary light still flickered on the desk, illuminating a cache of notebooks haphazardly strewn about. On closer inspection, some had pages ripped out, and the chair that seemed to have fallen harmlessly on the floor as its occupant rushed to leave it had splintered where the wood of the back rest hit the floor. Odd, but the professor had been experiencing some irritable spells of late. Maybe some snag in his findings had him frustrated.
After a quick check of the outhouse, Ryou decided to investigate their latest site. He took the jeep as far as it could go in the dense brush, but was loathe to go any farther on foot in the debilitating night with his pathetic diurnal eyes, so he waited for any sign.
The occasional rustle of leaves kept him in his place, wary, in case it was and in case it wasn’t him. The noises seemed too deliberate to be a wild animal, yet too scattered to be human, and in the absence of anything but faint moonlight the uncertainty kept Ryou’s hand near his pistol.
He covered one of his eyes before he checked the light-up face of his watch, to keep it at least somewhat used to the darkness. It was offensively late, and if the professor didn’t show up anytime soon, Ryou would simply return without him.
It’s that brief moment he was distracted that the creature in the bushes leaped at him. The moon reflected off the blade in its hand, aimed at Ryou’s throat.
Ryou threw his body aside on instinct and with a practiced movement, drew his pistol and fired - one, two shots. One hit his assailant in the chest, the other in the arm with which it wielded its weapon, but neither took it down. It merely stumbled a few paces, then drew back in again. It gurgled a low growl, and Ryou thought he saw rows of sharp teeth that split its head from one end to the other in the dim light, but the vision disappeared in a blink.
And when the creature stepped in front of the jeep’s headlights, revealed was the curiously naked, emaciated form of professor Fikira himself. With sunken, empty eyes, he shambled past Ryou, seeming not to even notice the holes in his chest and arm. He hadn’t even dropped his weapon, which turned out to be a pickaxe, now covered in blood.
With shuddering movements, as if he were a marionette held up by strings, he lifted the pick and dropped it into the jerrycan in the car, dragging it back and on top of himself, getting soaked in its fuel.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
The man lifted his head and craned his neck with a crack to face Ryou, his eyes devoid of life. Gasoline dripped down his face, slicked his hair to his skin and ran down his body like he was taking a shower, but the chemical smell was unmistakable.
“I can’t... keep it down,” he whispered through ragged breaths, seeming unable to control his mouth or voice the way he had before. “I must die while I’m still human...”
Fikira shuddered, and stabbed into the gas tank with his own limb - no longer a hand or an arm, it was a claw, or a talon; something no longer human, and swore in Russian.
Suddenly his body froze up, twitching intermittently. The only movement came from the arm Ryou hadn’t shot, which rose slowly with a notable stutter, and had a lighter in the hand. It opened with a flick of the professor’s thumb.
Ryou’s heart beat in his ears as he took a step in place, unable to move closer or farther away. “Stop that, you’ll explode!”
An unearthly growling made its way past Fikira’s gritted teeth, a rumble that could have been like a laugh if it had any mirth to it, and when he next spoke, it was in Japanese - a language Ryou was certain Fikira never learned: “A shame, since I came all this way to know more about you...”
And then he lit ablaze.
Despite the chilling scene, Ryou felt oddly nostalgic. As if suddenly, every random action in the world had converged to course a predetermined path. He watched the professor’s skin blacken and shrivel, keeping his ice blue eyes on the dancing flames with a cold yet intense fascination. He had to stop himself from reaching out, desperate to get his hands on the corpse.
In its death throes, the body had undergone a miraculous metamorphosis: an increase of mass bubbling from under popping boils that did not align with the laws of entropy; a row of teeth larger and sharper than recorded in humans, ripping their way through spreading lacerations across his torso in ways conventional physics couldn’t explain. The more the professor burned, the less his body resembled that of a human. It stretched uncomfortably, bones creaking as they extended and burned, split apart and grew spikes that burst through the skin with sickening slick noises, becoming a mangled easel upon which a grotesque canvas of human skin inlaid with teeth was displayed.
As usual, the gears in Ryou’s brain turned at breakneck speed, looking to understand what had happened and formulating a hypothesis on what it could mean. It had to do with the professor’s research subject; that much was clear. He must have found them. He must have become one with them. It could be done. They’d found rituals describing how as well. The real question was when. Ryou would have to pore over his notes in detail once he was done here, but for now every cell in his body was eager to investigate. No, eager wasn’t the right word. The right word was hungry.
Ryou chuckled over the desk on which he’d spread out the professor’s notes in as close to chronological order as he could manage based on logic and induction.
The notes Fikira had ripped out of his notebook had been found in hiding spots all over the cabin: stuck in gaps in the wall; in other books; under his mattress; in the lamp; even stuffed in the carcasses of some of the birds he’d killed. Mostly they contained the same information as the notes he left if in a somewhat less steady hand, but they all had similar marks somewhere on the page. Reddish-brown smudges: pre-Mayan runes written in blood. They offered no insight on the texts; rather proving Ryou’s theory on the cohabitor of Fikira’s body, and that it’s been with him since before they even arrived, as they appeared in even the oldest files.
It was the contents that gave him pause. Over and over again, the same commands were scrawled, in increasing intensity as time went on: Just “Kill” at first, soon expanded to “Kill him”. The amount of different orders went up as well: “Eat him”, “Sacrifice him”, “Fuck him”, then “Kill for him”. From then, over time the words broke down, commands being phased out gradually until the most recent page, coated thickly in freshly dried blood, read just ”Him him him him him him” ad nauseam.
It was absurd.
He needed to know more.
Ryou woke from a fitful sleep to his every nerve blaring the alarms, as if fire ants had crawled into his veins. His long tank top was made of thicker material than the professor’s airy explorer shirt and it normally made no difference to him, even with the stifling heat of the Amazonian rainforest, but now it felt like his skin was being baked in an oven powered by the sun itself; his sweat already having formed a puddle around the contours of his body. The images evoked by the professor’s notes and transformation still swam before his closed eyes, along with a face he hadn’t seen anywhere but in his dreams for a long time. A face so inconceivably unconnected, Ryou could swear God was showing it specifically to torment him. Because as always when that face haunted his nights, he found himself fully, painfully hard.
He let the name roll off his lips in a moan as he took care of himself.
That bastard Akira still hadn’t gotten himself a phone, so Ryou had to make do with hacking the Makimura girl’s GPS and betting he was somewhere nearby, something he’d wager his entire fortune on without a second thought. And even if it turned out he was wrong, he’d invite himself for dinner and get to Akira that way. The party wouldn’t be until late anyway.
He sighed as he glanced at his phone to make sure he was still going the right way before focusing on the road again. Damn Akira, always making things more difficult for him. Still, he wouldn’t have it any other way. His face split in a fond grin all on its own as he relished finally having an excuse to see his old friend again. He was already going past the speed limit, but he pushed his food down on the pedal just that little more anyway. God did he want to just be there already.
Next time he saw him, he’d make sure Akira had a damn phone.
The stink of the trash both on the pierside and in the river itself hit his nose at the same time as a gust of wind whipped up underneath his coat. After so long around the equator, Japan even in the summer felt cold on his skin. Ah well, he couldn’t complain too much. The bulky coat that kept him warm proved a good way to keep the cops from easily spotting his self defense measure too. When dealing with demons, one could never be too sure, after all.
But Akira. Sweet, gentle Akira still hadn’t learned to keep out of trouble. That much was obvious, watching him being pelted with boards by a gang of punks. Ryou certainly wasn’t going to go through the trouble of teaching him.
“Akira!” he called, extending his arm over the wooden pier stair supports.
The boy in question poked his head out from under the roof of the boat he was in, one of the boards thrown at him still in his hands. His eyes were wide with surprise and only a mild recognition, little enough that it would have had Ryou snarling with fury if he wasn’t still overcome with a feeling like pure sunlight filling him up at the sight of his childhood friend in a grown body finally in front of him in the flesh. His cheeks hurt from the maniacal grin his mouth contorted itself in. It probably only took him so long to piece things together because Ryou hadn’t told him he was coming - hadn’t been able to tell him he was coming because that technologically illiterate idiot refused to get himself a damn phone.
The molten gold rushing through his veins reached boiling point. “Come with me, Akira!” he yelled, leaning over the beam separating them as far as he could without falling over and reached out as far as he could, as if Akira could jump the ten feet straight separating them up into his arms.
“Uh... we’re in the middle of something,” one of the punks said, ignorant of his own unimportance.
Even the unwelcome interruption couldn’t dampen Ryou’s spirits however. The excitement that bubbled up at the beautiful sound of Akira’s baffled voice calling his name drowned out any other emotion. His jittering nerves couldn’t abide another second of these extras keeping him from the main event, so with an itching trigger finger, he drew the machine gun from under his coat and aimed it at the huddle of degenerates.
“You guys stay quiet.”
The rapid patter of Akira’s feet on the wooden steps, mimicked by the drumbeat of his own heart, drowned out whatever foolish objections the punks might have had. Oh, he couldn’t possibly care less about this faceless rabble when the only person who mattered was finally in front of him again. Or, behind, as the case turned out to be.
“Akira,” he said again fondly, savoring the taste of that name on his lips, as he turned around into the other boy’s open arms.
Puberty had done nothing to fill him out. Especially with the aid of centrifugal force from how he ran at Ryou, it was so easy to lift his scrawny frame in their embrace, even with only one arm, since the other still held his gun. His fingers tingled with a nervous energy that traveled up his arm and all throughout his body everywhere they touched him.
And that voice, like a chorus of angels singing just for him; that childhood affection unchanged by the time they spent apart. Akira didn’t let go, either. His arm rested on Ryou’s waist so naturally; it belonged there. And under that pressure, Ryou’s skin felt hot; hotter than his days in the jungle; he’d dare say hotter even than Fikira’s body as it burned. He wondered if Akira ever touched himself to his vlog. God, he hoped so.
A slight movement in his periphery, the thud of a rubber sole on wood, jangling chains and a low whine meant Ryou had to return to the unfortunate reality that there were a bunch of unnecessary extras in the scene. With a lazy motion, he lifted the modified Walther MPL and with a squeeze of the trigger released a spray of bullets into the boards between him and the pests. The idea of staying here any longer became more intolerable every second that passed, his only consolation being Akira’s body pressed up close against his. Maybe if they were the only ones there Ryou wouldn’t mind a more leisurely catching-up session, but as it was...
Ryou turned in Akira’s hold, facing away from the pier and all its distractions, the friction of movement sending jolts of electricity through his skin where Akira’s body brushed his.
“Akira, come with me right away.”
But of course, there had to be another interruption. “Akira-kun, who is that guy?” Oh yeah, Ryou had almost forgotten the Makimura girl was also present.
Ryou really couldn’t care less about introducing himself, but Akira, ever the sweetheart, craned his neck and did the honors with a sheepish grin. “Asuka Ryou. We’re the same age, but he’s a professor in the States!”
Really. Akira’s enthusiasm was a blessing but at that moment he really didn’t have the patience for this. Before Akira had even properly finished speaking, Ryou pulled him along to his car. “Let’s go.”
Ryou wouldn’t call it running away. Asuka Ryou did not run. He made a tactical retreat - beating the rush, so to speak, that would surely happen should the girl corner them before they got into his car. He deposited Akira in the passenger seat and slammed the door when he got in himself, only gently pacing how hard he pushed the pedal for as long as it’d take the engine not to stall, then he floored it.