Consent Preferences
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Chapter 2: Error

Chapter Two Fainted

Kei leaned back on his hands with a stifled groan. Pain coursed through his side, pooling hotly beneath his rib and descending like fire to his gut. As he rode out the sensations in quiet agony, he wondered whether his suffering was a repercussion of his job or his age.

If anyone asked, he’d always say it was the former. It was easier to blame his current state to the hazards of his profession. Besides, he kept up a rigorous training regimen and cared for his diet with intense paranoia.

He knew since swallowing the last bite of the convenience store food earlier that it would come back to haunt him. For hours, he pictured the buns and the granolas deteriorating in his stomach and poisoning his organs. He could not be too careful now that he was in his thirties.

It took him an entire year of misery after his thirtieth birthday to admit that he was slowing down. He was no longer as sturdy and agile as he had been five years ago, when adrenaline sufficed to keep him running another mile despite a stab wound. Now, the most meager of injuries knocked the wind out of him.

Lifting his shirt, he frowned at the blood caking the many cuts that crisscrossed his old scars. The new ones were split and tinged with bright red like puckered lips. He could already hear the scolding he’d get from Kazuki.

The girl stirred on the asphalt, her left leg twitching as though attempting to push herself upright. Then she stopped. Strands of her hair fluttered in the wind. Other than that, nothing. Kei had to hover his hand above her mouth to make sure that she was still breathing.

It was probably the gunshot that scared the poor thing to fainting. Kei did not favor guns in situations like this, but he had no idea how close the professor was to the girl. He had already harmed his wife. No doubt he’d have bitten the girl to death.

“Fuck it.” He unsheathed one of his push daggers and held it an inch away from her throat.

Killing her now would be a mercy. It was one thing to witness a murder and another to be related to the victim. He had lost count of how many witnesses he’d saved in the past, only for them to fall prey to debilitating PTSD or suicide.

Kei breathed hard through his nose. The girl’s eyes remained slightly open, her pupils seemingly focused on him even though she was unconscious.

“It would be a mercy,” he muttered to himself. It would be against company policy, but it was the most humane choice.

Beside him, Anzu whined. Kei dropped the knife and held his chest in fright. For a second there, he thought his heart would explode. “Goddamnit, what do you want, dog?”

Anzu lowered herself to the ground and pushed his bag towards him. Kei glared at her. He produced a fat roll of duct tape from his bag and covered his wounds.

She had recently developed a habit of bringing him his bag, especially when he was injured. He had not trained her for the task, but after three years of these high-risk encounters in Kanagawa, he supposed Pavlovian conditioning would’ve been inevitable.

Anzu smelled his blood, and in response, she brought him his bag.

Screeching tires drowned out the ambient noises of the night. Headlights flashed in the distance. The black van stopped where the convenience store started, and a man stepped out, bobbing his head to the tune of the pop song leaking from his stereo.

Kei could not see his face, but he could imagine Hanzo’s pout as he took in the mess on the road.

“You injured, Kei?” He dialled on his phone with one hand as he approached the professor’s corpse. “Oh, this isn’t you.”

“You calling Aftercare?” he asked. This was one of the things he liked about working with Hanzo. The man hated this part of the job, and he insisted that his weekends were sacred, but he always showed up when Kei needed him.

“I’m not going to clean up two dead bodies.”

“One.” Kei snuck his dagger back to its sheath.

“What?” Hanzo put his phone away and limped over to him, squinting.

Kei tipped his head toward the girl. “She’s not dead.”

“So she’s…dying?”

“Fainted. Uninjured. I put her to sleep,” he said. “I think she knows the professor and his wife personally. She was working in the store when the professor lost it.”

“The wife?”

“Okay, two corpses. One witness. Mrs Kaede is probably in the house.”

Hanzo raised both of his eyebrows. “Have you checked?”

Kei motioned to his body. “Do I look like I can hike up there in this state? Also, she won’t make it anyway.”

They left the hard thing unsaid. Spouses were the worst witnesses. If neither of them searched for her in these critical moments, it was likely that she’d be a corpse when Aftercare arrived.

Hanzo crouched beside the girl and felt for her pulse. He used the same two fingers to massage between his eyebrows. “This is fifteen percent off my next paycheck.”

“I thought it was ten percent per witness?”

“I thought this was supposed to be a non-violent confrontation?”

“If Yoshi had allowed me to access their private property like I requested, this would not have happened.” Kei picked her up, careful not to lean too much on his right side, which the professor had aimed for as though wanting to carve out his liver. “Also, this woman wasn’t supposed to be here. I can bring that up when Yoshi attempts to skin me alive.”

Hanzo motioned for him to hand her over. Kei suggested that he fetch the gurney instead, but Hanzo refused to make two trips when he could endure only one. Too exhausted to argue, Kei relented and lowered her on his shoulder.

Even with Hanzo’s limp on his left leg, he was still far stabler than Kei. That didn’t mean he wasn’t in pain, though. Hanzo kept his face blank, but his pallor made it obvious that the exertion hurt his leg.

“Help me with the barricades?” Hanzo asked.

“Sure. Just give me a sec.” Kei rearranged the girl on the gurney inside the van and strapped her in. When Hanzo wasn’t looking, he swiped the trickle of blood on the side of her neck. He hadn’t noticed until now that the dagger had sliced her after all.

Anzu sat outside the van door, whimpering. Hanzo put the red collar on her with the strings of talisman papers. Like a puppy revitalized, she sped back to the crime scene to do her job.

Kei knew without checking that darkness had descended over the place like a miasma, so dense that it could suffocate. His gooseflesh arms signalled the arrival of simple ghosts, and he imagined them prancing about their new playground.

He never minded the spirits except for them. Simple ghosts were often children, and it was the plasticity of their existence that let them slip through the cracks first.

Hanzo attached a spray nozzle to a Waiki premium water bottle and spritz himself all over before setting up the barricades. With Asian Kung Fu Generation blasting from his phone, he unfurled rolls of talisman papers along the convenience store to set up a spiritual parameter.

Kei lined up the physical barricade without any such ceremony. Simple ghosts were shy, and if they knew they’d been seen, they usually skipped away.

That had always been the case, so when Kei dropped the last barricade, he froze at the sight of two ghosts staring up at him. The white concaves they had for eyes bore on him, and he suffered a coughing fit until Anzu parked herself between him and the ghosts.

Meanwhile, Hanzo continued waltzing around the place, flinging the talismans like ribbons to a gymnast. He spread the stronger ones on top of the professor’s body, warding off the ghosts that were curling up beside it.

“Hanzo, follow up on Aftercare and tell them to bring a shaman quickly,” Kei yelled. The ghosts had backed off, but white dust was now precipitating from the thickening darkness. “Spores are coming in heavy.”

“That’s fast.” Hanzo pinned his phone between his ear and shoulder to make a call without stopping his work.

“Yes, this is Hanzo Mori. I sent you the address. 16781. Yes, the case is active. You should see it on your portal.” He held his phone away from his face and took a deep breath to calm himself. After a few seconds, he hung up and dialled a different number. “Akari? Sorry to bother you at this hour. Yes, yes. Well, the air has changed. Temperature is dropping fast. We need you to cleanse the place. No, Aftercare is being difficult, but there should be a cleanup team on the way. I know, right? Well, Kei will treat you to dinner. He said so himself. No? Alright, thank you. Bye.”

Kei was too tired to protest that proposition. He pointed at his neck, and Hanzo shuddered, jumping and shimmying his shoulders in a futile effort to remove the ghost that had climbed onto his shoulder.

“You weren’t lying when you said kids like you,” Kei said with a smirk.

“I like that I can’t see them, or else I would’ve quit a long time ago.”

“Do a detox. Get a glimpse before you retire.”

Hanzo sprayed more water on himself. “Yes, of course. I should sacrifice the sanity I’ve been protecting for the past two decades. What a grand idea, Mr. Kashiki.”

Akari Amemiya arrived ten minutes later, around the same time the first Aftercare van pulled up beside theirs. She stepped out in a dress shirt and tie, her focus zeroing in on the crime scene at once.

Kei wasn’t surprised to see that she was the only one in the Aftercare team who actually looked awake enough for the job. From the first time they worked in the field together, she had always arrived at the scene presentable and alert, even outside her shaman vestments.

It was because of her that Kei had changed his wardrobe, switching the prints and loud colors of his youth for blacks and greys and making sure each one reeked of cologne to high heaven. If he knew she’d be the shaman working on his mess, he’d change into clean clothes to make up for the grime and blood on his skin.

Kei plucked at his hiking shirt and dusted his hiking pants.

They may have broken up two years ago, but old urges nagged at him with the same ferocity. He wished he had given in and changed. The clothes were tucked neatly in his pack, after all.

Shuto leapt out of her car, startling some of the Aftercare officers with his size and thick, silver fur. Akari clipped on his red collar with the strings of talisman papers and whistled to send him off.

Anzu rolled on her stomach at the sight of Shuto, and the two dogs sniffed each other before running in circles within the barricade to enforce the spiritual perimeter.

“Kei!” Akari spotted him in between the passing Aftercare officers in talisman-covered hazmat suits. “Is this your doing?”

Kei, hunched low and pitiful on the step of the van, waved his hand dismissively. “Just deal with it, please? Hanzo’s overexposed as it is. I’ll explain later.”

She coughed into her fist. “These spores are insane.”

“If something happens, I won’t be able to do anything to help you.” Kei straightened up to watch the scene with her. “My talent will only widen the cracks of this liminal space.”

“Ms. Amemiya.” Taisei appeared beside her with her work bag. He nodded at Kei as she rummaged through it.

Kei nodded back, genuinely pleased to see him again. In the five years he was in a relationship with Akari, they had never progressed from this and the occasional small talk while Akari performed her job. Still, he knew the big guy had softened up on him. The once suspecting scowl that came with these nods had melted into cordial eyebrow raises and small smiles. Kei knew better than to ask for more than that. For an aging bodyguard, he still had the physique and skills to snap Kei’s neck into two.

Akari rotated her head once, exhaled sharply, and marched past the barricade. She dropped to her knees in the middle of the crime scene and began chanting. Hanzo and the Aftercare officers skittered out of her way like panicking ants.

None of them could see it, but they could surely feel the change in the atmosphere. To people like Kei and Akari, the darkness was a cloud growing denser and denser by the minute. Hairline cracks marred its surface, from which human-shaped silhouettes squeezed out to join the growing number of ghosts on the road.

They all saw it differently. To Kei, the cracks appeared like tears in a photograph where sunrays attempted to slip through. Except what lay beyond was nothing bright nor useful. He had been there once, and he was certain that death was better than one second in that place.

Akaris’ chanting turned into primal vocalizations. He recognized the guttural noises she made, intermixed with whistling and exaggerated exhales as a plea to the elements. She would need to override the natural forces of this physical space with her talent to drive out the anomaly that had appeared.

Anzu and Shuto chased the simple ghosts, nipping at their heels to send them back to the cracks so Akari to focus on the bigger task.

Kei approached the barricade and pressed his forearm over his nose. The spores had tripled in size. From specks of dust, they were now like cotton balls suspended in the air. He told Akari he wouldn’t be able to help her, but he had to be on standby anyway.

Never in his career had he seen liminal spaces manifest this quickly. He supposed the professor’s deteriorating condition and latent talent had something to do with this. After all, nature was the first to feel the impact of these dimensional trespasses. That the vegetation surrounding Waiki Mart had wilted meant this had been building up for a while now.

Akari rolled up her sleeves and sliced her arms. She stood slowly, her head bowed and her arms limp to let the blood trickle to her fingertips.

“Kei?” Hanzo raised two katanas in the air.

Kei pointed at the one with the blue scabbard, and Hanzo tossed it at him. Unsheathing the sword, Kei slipped past the barricade and positioned himself a few feet behind Akari, ready to lunge should the need arise.

Hanzo had asked him to describe it once. What did he see whenever she did that? What did the cracks look like whenever she sprinkled her blood on them?

Kei had told him exactly what he saw now. The cracks closed all at once, shutting off access to the liminal spaces briefly, before snapping open again to reveal blood-red eyes with rectangular pupils. These rectangles with golden specks in the center darted about like balls in a pachinko machine, erratic and dizzying. All at once, they snapped into focus with Akari as the object of their fury.

Akari sprinkled her blood over the darkness. It landed on the black sphere as bright red dots and branched out like veins. They spread around the eyes and forced the seams together, sewing them close like sutures to a wound.

That was what these paranormal phenomena were in the first place.

Wounds.

As the cracks closed, Akari glanced over her shoulder at him. He knew that look.

Chapter Two Ghost Hand

Kei had just opened his mouth to speak when a scaled hand shot out of the last crack. Akari’s blood sutures ripped apart, and the fingers clawed at Akari, missing her only by a hair’s breadth.

A second of heart-wrenching stillness passed, and then Akari stepped back to sprinkle more blood on the hand. The blood sutures reappeared to close the cracks, and the hand slithered backwards, its nails dragging along the sphere’s surface until the seam closed over it completely.

Kei gasped for breath. The oxygen level had returned to normal. He touched his rib and swallowed back a sob. Breathing was not supposed to hurt.

“That’s a lot of oxygen all at once.” Akari rubbed her knuckles on her chest. “You hanging in there?”

He had intended to ask after her wounds, as she had used up a lot of blood for this purification, but the metallic scent hit him with a startling blow. The euphoria of being exposed to her blood made him stammer. It was a hundred times worse than smelling cigarette smoke while battling an addiction.

Fortunately, Taisei stepped in at that moment to patch her up. Akari understood Kei’s predicament and said nothing as he marched to the van. Hanzu took the katana from him, and he dropped on the seat behind the gurney in a daze. He rubbed his face until it felt hot and raw.

Anzu propped her face on his lap to comfort him. When that didn’t help, she dragged his bag to him. He thanked her and downed two bottles of Waiki water.

“We’ve got a witness,” Hanzo said from the driver’s seat, probably to Akari. “Kei put her to sleep. Mind making sure she’s neutral? We don’t want to haul her into the office with ghost crumbs.”

Akari stepped into the van with her arms bandaged and covered with compression sleeves. “I saw the memo. Kei, are you hydrated?”

Kei raised the empty water bottle in the air.

“That’s fifteen percent shaved off my net income, but Kei’s reimbursing me.” Hanzo shifted on his seat to wink at him.

“I’m not.” Kei regretted speaking. He sounded too angry, too strained. The water wasn’t doing its job.

“Did you check for injuries?” Akari pulled up a stool next to the gurney and slipped on latex gloves.

“I didn’t notice anything serious. She wasn’t caught in the fight. But I didn’t really pat her down and all that. You know I feel awkward about these things,” he said.

“You’re checking for injuries, not groping her.”

“I’m not a doctor. I’ll check a male witness, but not a woman. The last thing I need is for Aftercare to sneak a photo of me doing my job and spread a rumor in HQ.” It had happened before to a senior recruiter like him. His assignment produced a female witness—a teenager still in her high school uniform—and she was doused in so much blood that the recruiter had to hose down her unconscious body and check her over to make sure none of it was hers. Aftercare thought he was molesting her and sent a quick snap in their group chat, and it got spread around until it finally reached someone in HR.

Kei was not taking risks.

The convenience store woman lay still on the stretcher, her mouth agape and her eyes half-open. Akari took down the medical bag on the wall. She performed perfunctory tests and cleaned the grazes on the woman’s exposed skin.

Hanzo snooped around the clear plastic bag of the girl’s belongings and produced an ID. He held it up to them like a prize.

“Suzu Sakurai. 1995.” He wriggled his fingers as he did the math in his brain. “Only twenty-four.”

“Can you run her in the system now?” Kei asked.

“The portal’s acting up on mobile devices. IT’s shit as usual.”

Akari patted Kei’s knee. He leaned forward, and she presented Suzu’s forearm to her with her sleeves rolled up to the elbow. Beneath smudges of flesh-colored makeup on her skin was a strip of tattoo that stretched along the expanse of her arm.

“It seems like a solid block of color at first, but if you look closer, it’s actually made up of tiny texts.” Akari aimed her phone camera on top of the tattoo and zoomed in. Once the lens adjusted, the tiny texts went into focus.

“What do they mean?” He tapped the circle at the bottom of the screen to take photos.

“I have no idea. These aren’t shaman-related as far as I know, but they are Japanese, and they look ancient.” She pulled down the girl’s collar. After scrubbing the side of her neck with a wet wipe, they saw that the tattoo extended to her jawline. “Hey, I thought she was supposed to be a convenience store employee?”

Hanzo checked the new notification on his phone. “Ana and Kazuki are on their way to the office with Niri. Better get going. Does she look like Yakuza or something?”

“It’ll be an odd design for a Yakuza.” Akari poked her head out of the van and ordered Taisei to follow them to the office and wash Shuto with Waiki water. To Hanzo, she said: “Drive. I’m going with you in case these tattoos mean something.”

Kei bit his fist to keep from gagging. He could still smell Akari’s blood through the compression sleeve. If they were still together, he would ask nicely, but even then, it would’ve been a bad idea. Anzu wasn’t nudging him, so this surely had nothing to do with dehydration.

He ran his fingers through his hair and hunched over his knees to compose himself.

Akari scooted closer to him and removed the compression sleeve on her right arm. The bandages fell to their feet, and Kei couldn’t stop himself from inhaling the scent.

“It’s fine, Kei. I’ll get a shot from Kazuki later,” she whispered. “You have an above-average exposure to liminal spores. Your body’s seeking a stronger suppressant.”

“I can take pills in the office.”

“You’re in a lot of pain already.”

Chapter Two Drinking Blood

Kei shook his head. Sweat rolled down his scalp to his cheeks. His shirt collar was drenched, his palms clammy. He flicked his eyes to the rearview mirror and met Hanzo’s gaze.

Hanzo connected his phone to the van’s speakers and turned up the volume on Sambomaster‘s older songs.

Gingerly, Kei raised Akari’s arm to his mouth. Through lidded eyes, he studied the outline of her fresh wound and the clotted blood that covered its length. He pressed his tongue over it, relishing in the sensation of the blood melting on his taste buds, before giving in and sucking on her wound.

He was a sick, sick man. So was the professor. So was everybody like them.

White Divider Line

All three cars pulled into the basement parking lot at the same time, with Hanzo racing Kazuki to the space nearest to the elevator. They exchanged honks until Ana, peering out of her red sedan, yelled at them to stop.

Akari had napped on the way there, and as she was blinking herself awake, she noticed Kei pressing his hand over his stomach. Without thinking, she ripped his hand away and pulled up his shirt. Blood caked the outside of the duct tape he had slapped on his wound like a Band-Aid.

The sight pissed her off, but she was not surprised. Kei would solve anything and everything with duct tape. He believed it was the only reason he had survived this long and reached the ripe old age of thirty-one.

Kei pushed his shirt down and shuffled forward, shutting the argument before it could start. He opened the van door and worked with Hanzo on carrying the gurney down, extending the legs and kicking the wheels as they went.

Akari rubbed her eyes to get rid of her drowsiness. Kei was old enough to look after himself, and she was no longer in any position to worry for him, but she couldn’t help it. The greed with which he lapped at her blood had alarmed her. Addiction was a by-product of his Waiki water consumption, but she knew fear played a role in it as well.

As far as she understood, the assignment concerning the professor was not supposed to be violent. Immunity to Waiki water was extremely rare, and it was even rarer for a professor with a latent talent to manifest a liminal space to the degree that he did.

Although she knew better than to show it, she worried that this was all getting to Kei.

Akari swallowed hard and pursed her lips. Like a teenager hung up on love, she felt the urge to cry. She wanted to summon Kei back into the van and promise him safety and security, but neither was in her power to give. She couldn’t even fight for him when her family demanded the end of their relationship.

Akari stepped out of the van just in time to follow the team into the elevator. Ana pulled her in a one-arm embrace and kissed her cheek in greeting. Kazuki smiled at her before slipping on his latex gloves to inspect Suzu.

Under the harsh, white light of the elevator, the girl appeared washed out, especially with her bleached hair. Still, Akari thought Suzu looked like one of those girls. The type who had always been pretty and knew it. She would wake up with more color to her face and use her charm to try and disarm them. Ana wouldn’t be swayed, but Kazuki and Kei shared the same brain cell when it came to women.

“Where’s Niri?” Kei asked as he clipped on Anzu’s blue collar.

Ana raised her phone to her ear. “Calling her for the billionth time. She said she was supposed to be with her friends doing a school project, but one of her classmates posted a blurry snap on Instagram that makes me think they’re not doing schoolwork. Kazuki, have you given her phone a ring?”

“She’s ignoring me too.” Kazuki noticed the piece of duct tape dangling from under Kei’s shirt and motioned for him to pull it up.

Kei did, begrudgingly, and all of them exclaimed in disgust. He had wrapped his torso in so many layers of duct tape that it was a surprise he could still breathe.

The elevator door closed. A second passed, and it opened again. Hanzo punched the close button repeatedly while cursing the building.

Kazuki unwrapped the duct tape quickly, slowing down only once he reached the final layer. He peeled it bit by bit, the residual glue clinging to Kei’s skin like leech until the slender strips snapped. Kazuki wiped the area clean and covered it with gauze. He pointed his monotonous scolding to Hanzo, whose job description involved performing first aid on Kei, but both men weren’t listening.

Kei was watching the elevator door in a daze, and Hanzo was still punching the button to get it to close for good.

“Akari, is there an elevator ghost?” Hanzo asked.

“This building is shit,” Kei muttered.

They shuffled out and tried the other elevator.

“Niri’s not picking up?” Akari asked. Ana was now texting furiously on her phone, her long fingernails making elegant tapping noises on the screen.

“Kazuki, give her a call please,” Ana said.

Kazuki took out his phone. Akari made eye contact with him and tapped her neck in the guise of brushing her hair over her shoulder. Kei picked up on it and noticed the hickeys on Kazuki’s neck, too. He rearranged Kazuki’s collar to shield the mark.

They all knew Kazuki slept around, even more so now that he was separated from Ana, but it was still awkward.

“I’ve already seen it,” Ana said. She had not even looked up from her phone.

“It’s for Niri,” Kei whispered, apologetic.

Kazuki resorted to texting Niri as well. “She’s too young to know what it is.”

“She’ll know it’s a hickey. Young people these days grow up fast.”

“She’s fourteen.”

“Fourteen and possibly out with boyfriends, that’s why she’s not answering her parents,” Hanzo offered.

Ana sneered, but her features were too soft for it to be scathing. “She doesn’t know what a hickey is. I didn’t know what it was until Kazuki got me pregnant.”

“That’s because you’re a prude, and you were Catholic.” Kazuki nodded at Kei. “How old were you when you learned about hickeys?”

Hanzo wagged his forefinger at him. “We’re guys. We learn early. Ask Akari.”

Kei punched Hanzo’s arm. Instead of alleviating the situation, Ana and Kazuki burst into laughter. Akari pretended to busy herself with her phone. If only Kei were not so reactive, then their history would not be hovering over them like a joke.

“What’s with the tattoo? Is she a rebel? No wonder she can’t get a proper job. A tattoo like that for a woman.” Kazuki pulled aside Suzu’s collar. “It goes all the way to her neck. What do we know about her?”

“Can everybody please call Niri,” Ana said. “We might need her.”

Everybody ignored Kazuki and worked on bombarding Niri’s phone. Akari was still coming up with the gentlest way to lure Niri to their office when Kei’s phone rang.

“Yeah, yeah. We’re all in the office right now.” Kei beamed at Ana to confirm that it was Niri. “We might need your talent, and your parents are both here anyway. Aren’t you scheduled for a checkup tomorrow? I mean, today. Right. Okay, Niri. See you in a bit.”

Kazuki motioned to Ana and Kei with his stethoscope. “Is he the father of our child? Why does she do that to us?”

“Has no one ever considered that there’s little to no signal in an elevator?” Akari checked the arch with the numbers at the top of the door. “Hanzo, we’ve been on the fifth floor for ages. You need to push the open button, remember? The elevators here are from the Stone Age.”

Hanzo snapped out of his trance to do as he was told. “Right, right.”

As soon as the elevator door opened, their phones burst into a cacophony of notifications. Text message after text message, all from Niri. She had responded on the group chat minutes ago, and they had been nagging her for nothing.

Kazuki took charge of the gurney. He wheeled out Suzu from the elevator with Ana walking beside him. “We’ll make her a medical chart. Pull up her profile and find out everything you can. Remember, that’s another five percent off all of our salaries if she turns out to be a problematic witness. Kei, come with us. I need to stitch you up.”

Akari slapped Kei’s arm with the back of her hand. He nodded at her, understanding, and trailed behind Kazuki with Anzu.

She went to the vending machine with Hanzo to get themselves coffee before crowding his desk. He was still ever-addicted to sticky notes, all of them in pastel colors and pinned to the walls of his cubicle like a mosaic. The notes from his colleagues varied from creative strings of expletives to cute anime drawings. Ana’s handwriting stood out from the rest. She wrote in print and had the effect of having been typewritten. All of her notes were book quotes about life.

“The two of you should really get back together,” Hanzo said as he dropped on his seat. He pulled out the neighboring swivel chair for her. “Kei was less reckless when he was with you.”

“I don’t even see the point of you saying that. You know we had no choice.”

“I just want to get my sentiments across.”

Akari crossed her legs and blew the steam off her coffee. “Besides, I think I’m going to be engaged in two months. You can’t call me for these assignments if this happens.”

“Does Kei know?”

“Don’t tell him.”

“You should. Better he hear it from you than from office gossip.” Hanzo slurped his coffee and tapped the keyboard of his laptop. The screen lit up. He typed in Suzu’s name and some of the details on her ID.

Akari checked Suzu’s wallet. She carried a few bills, no coins. Several debit and credit cards. Tucked inside, in what almost looked like a hidden pocket, was a sepia photo. The edges were worn and folded in, as though Suzu had pulled this out of its hiding place several times over the years. The middle had a permanent crescent crease that fit Akari’s thumbnail.

The image showed a young lady in a polka-dot dress seated on the bench next to a man. Their arms were looped together, mouths wide open in mid-laugh, showcasing her straight teeth and his crooked canine. It wasn’t a pretty shot by today’s standards, but it was candid, and she could almost hear the couple laughing.

Hanzo peered in. “Her and her boyfriend?”

“It doesn’t look like a filter. And their clothes are outdated.” Akari flipped it over. A faded script in blue ink read:

My Love. 1988.

She flipped it over again. “Holy cow. Are these her parents? She’s the spitting image of her mother.”

The display on the screen changed. Hanzo moved his mouse to the refresh button and Suzu’s profile reloaded. Two seconds into reading her basic information, the display changed again.

ERROR 000

PLEASE STOP SEARCHING

Hanzo and Akari exchanged a look.

He refreshed the page again, but the same error showed up. “What the hell?”

Chapter Two - Error 000 Page
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Emmyy
Emmyy
7 days ago

why is Hanzo so cute :))))) I need emojis for this comment section please! When do you update I need to know what happens next

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