People ITT arguing about Rika...
It's like she's really a real character. ;_;
Here's the new update, ending in a story branch. I'm writing both outcomes in an order of my choosing, so again, not a CYOA.
Note also the use of tasteful phrases such as "reproductive organs"
and "Rika swallows."
Scene 8: Channeling
The narrow path back to the campsite chokes the five of us into a single-file formation as we return. Rika’s silhouette, surrounded by a faint greenish-yellow glow, walks a few paces ahead of me, not so quickly that I can’t keep up. I wonder what time it is, but not enough to make me want to ask Takashi.
Takashi and Miki can be heard chattering up ahead of us. Takashi’s voice is too faint for me to hear what he’s saying, and the only explanation for this is that they’re pretty far ahead of us. I feel like I should ask Rika whether she knows where we’re going, but her steady, unrelenting gait is all the reassurance I need.
Funny enough, I don’t even feel ill anymore. The fact that I ever did might have been more a matter of expectation and general anxiety over going without my pills than anything else. The problem with my condition is that it’s hard to tell whether any particular feeling is the onset of a heart attack or just something perfectly ordinary. What Rika said earlier this morning had more of an impact than I think she intended. I was fine before Iwanako came along. I never had the faintest inkling there was anything wrong before that.
Lists of side-effects crowd my thoughts. The ones Rika had mentioned this morning. The ones we used to kid around about. I once joked to her that for every side effect on the bottles, there was another one that did pretty much the opposite, so I was breaking even.
How do I feel now? What’s the word for it? Exhilarated? Is it just because, perhaps for the first time this whole trip, I’m free from the anxiety that had been gripping me all day? Or was that even anxiety? Am I getting better?
Nervousness. Light-headedness. Dry mouth.
The leaves in the trees start to rustle. But not in any particular place. All around us.
Rika wordlessly breaks into a jog and I chase after her. Before I can wonder what’s chasing us, it hits me.
For once I’m not the only foolish one in our company. It doesn’t seem like anyone had the presence of mind to bring an umbrella along, even though the increasingly dense cloud cover should have made it patently obvious that we were about to get rained on. The wetness of the water starts to soak my clothes, but it’s a welcome relief from the otherwise hot night air.
Back at the campsite, the five of us scatter like roaches into our respective tents. After setting down her firefly jar, Rika quickly strips out of her wet clothes as I kneel on the mattress, dripping, waiting for my heart rate to diminish and catching my breath.
She hits me in the chest with a towel as she hands it to me.
“If you’re not going to change, at least dry yourself off. I don’t want to sleep in a puddle.”
The rain clatters against the fabric of the tent ceiling. I take another calming breath before lifting the towel to my hair, and I behold Rika from behind, wearing nothing but her relatively dry underpants, as she kneels, sitting on her heels and looking through her belongings. Her skin glows luminously in the faint green-yellow light. The sight of her nudity makes my task of coming down from my runner’s high considerably more difficult.
I strip out of my clothes and proceed to dry off my limbs. The sound of thunder booms overhead, catching us both by surprise. Rika straightens up and looks at me over her shoulder. Her face takes on a look of concentration, her eyes searching the ceiling of the tent as there’s anything she could see. A few seconds later, she raises her left hand and snaps her fingers, and a bright flash of lightning illuminates the orange tent for a split second. It’s so bright that it takes a second for my eyes to adjust again as I look at Rika, whose glow now appears muted by comparison.
“Impressive,” I say, and she chuckles before turning around to face me.
She furrows her brow for a second and puckers her lips, and I can see her tongue moving around in her mouth. Then her lips curl in a mischievous smile. She narrows her eyelids and beckons me with her finger.
I crawl towards her, across our air mattress, and she puts an arm around my shoulders, pulling me in for a kiss. My hands instinctively go to her waist, and her tongue parts my lips. She pulls away, and I feel something powdery on my tongue.
“You made it, Hisao,” she says in her most cryptic voice. She lifts a few more capsules to her mouth, splitting them with her front teeth and handing me the remainders, like tiny decapitated bodies. As she does so a seductive look overcomes her. It’s just silly enough to put a smile on my face.
With slight difficulty I swallow the dose, swishing my tongue around to get the powdery feeling out of my mouth.
“So you're trying to make medicine sexy?” I ask her.
She giggles. “It's just one of those things. Like cartoon vitamins, or flavoured condoms.” Rika swallows a few of her split pills and then looks down at her hand, where she seems to have more. We’ve discussed our pills enough times that it’s not surprising she has a good grasp of which ones we have in common. It didn’t occur to me this morning to ask her whether she had brought any extras for me. Come to think of it, I’m surprised she even brought some for herself.
“I don’t have any hallucinations for you,” she says. “And I don’t think you take any of these.”
“I’ll be okay,” I say. “Do you have any extra erectile dysfunctions, by any chance?”
She covers her mouth as she starts to laugh, retaining eye contact with me.
“You really are turning into a little boy, aren’t you Nakai?”
The two of us repose mostly nude on top of our unzippered sleeping bag. It’s much too warm for us to want to get cover at this point, so we just lay in the humid night air, staring at the faintly illuminated ceiling of our tent as it is lit up with flashes of lightning. I put my hands behind my head, and Rika takes it as an invitation to get closer, putting her arm on my chest. With her toe she traces circles on the top of my foot.
Her breathing slows and I wonder if she might be drifting off. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. The soothing sounds of rain play upon my eardrums, and the thunder crawls back to a delicate rumble. Rika rests her head on my chest and I put my arm around her narrow shoulders, clutching her body against mine. Her skin is still damp, a nice contrast to the hot night air. Full of peace, sleep starts to overtake me.
I’m roused from my slumber with a start as a crash of thunder is heard, then another, followed by two flashes of lightning. For however long I’d been sleeping, I instantly realize that Rika is still awake. Watching me sleep. Her fingers open and her nails start to walk across my chest towards my shoulder. She starts to tease my feet with hers.
Another loud crash of thunder descends, louder than the previous ones, and she grips my shoulder. Almost instantly a flash of lightning illuminates us, and in the momentarily bright light I see Rika ascending, her magnificent nude body pinning me against the mattress. My heart jumps in my chest. Just as I’m about to say something to her, she lunges forward, clutching the back of my head with one hand and pressing her lips against mine. She seethes sensuality and my body defies me. Thunder and lightning flare up in enormous bursts and my retinas can barely adjust to the sight of her as she flickers in and out of existence. Only the pressure of her body against mine assures me that this is no dream, no apparition of the woods. Just a girl.
I place my hands on her waist. Her skin is still damp, but hot. Is she sweating? Am I?
The sounds of the thunderstorm monopolize my ears. My eyes frantically search the darkness for hints of what’s happening. Gone is the gentle glow of the firefly, Rika’s aura, and everywhere is the noisy clatter of the sky as it pounds the forest with its torrential downpour. I know what she must be thinking. Nobody can hear us.
The excitement gives me little option but to comply with her. It’s becoming difficult to count the seconds, or tell which lightning flashes correspond to which sounds. The fire in her eyes glitters as another flash of lightning hits. They remain unclosed, focused on me, as though impervious to the intermittent darkness.
I’m overwhelmed with her. A hot moist sensation pervades the atmosphere, crawls across our skin, and grips me as we join together for the second time. Her image flickers like a flip book animation, and I catch glimpses of the intense passion on her face – the raised eyebrows, the mouth that gapes open, the unblinking eyes. Sounds of ecstasy emanate from her, challenging the noise of the storm, and the gusty wind strikes the tent in reply.
My hands roam up the sides of her body, caressing her shoulders, her back, delighting in her oppressive beauty. A feeling like a pleasant sickness floods my abdomen. I gasp for air.
As the light hits, I see both sets of our hands caressing her body, hers almost tracing a path for where mine ought to go. I chase them. The dark skin of my hands almost looks black against hers.
Thunder, louder this time, booms through the air with a sound like the sky being shredded into pieces. I gasp frantically as my pulse quickens, and my temples begin to throb.
Rika’s eyes light up with a bright flash that seems almost to linger. The image burns into me and I can’t shake it. This time the light dwindles but the red of her eyes remains, cutting the dark.
The eyes that linger no longer seem to be hers.
Something foreign but familiar.
The unflinching stare takes hold of me, gripping and squeezing my wrists and pinning me against the air mattress below. My insides scramble to satisfy an unfamiliar urge. Something is about to happen. But what?
The external and the internal pressure animate me beyond my will. Her hands grip me with the intensity of a person who fears falling to her death.
Then she relents. She goes stiff. And she descends on me, curling and crying out in pain. She suffers.
I push her back, and as the light on her flickers one more time I see perfect terror on her face.
I try to reach out to her, but I’m immobilized. The light stops, the sounds flee and even the sensation of her hands on me is no longer there.
Invisible, inaudible, intangible, Rika pulls me into the abyss.
Scene 9: Parallels
The way most people talk about death, you’d think it wasn’t nearly as common as it is. But death isn’t what people make it out to be. It’s not a mysterious existential state. It’s not a faraway place where the souls of your ancestors have conversations with one another. Rika and I know better.
We’ve died, the two of us. The body that you occupy simply turns on you. The biological processes you take for granted that operate without your knowledge or intervention decide, for whatever reason, that they simply cannot perform any longer. In this regard, you are at the mercy of your body.
Death is not metaphysical. Death is not an angel or a demon.
Death is a biological phenomenon. It is the reminder that you only live in this world because of the medium that channels your will, transmits sensory data, and sometimes, but not always, obeys what you ask it to do.
You depend on your body. At the peril of death you will do what it asks.
You can be its slave. Or you can rebel. But if you choose to rebel, you do so at the peril of death.
But these thoughts aren’t mine. Laying here in the wake of my second death, the words of my forebear have been scattered in front of me like a jigsaw puzzle. I hear breathing and voices around me. Familiar voices of people whom I’d love to see. But not the one person I want to see.
If I open my eyes now, I’ll be met with an overwhelming relief at my resurrection. Loved ones will greet me and express to me how glad they are that I’m back, and how much they hope something like this never happens again. Welcome back to this life of slavery. Welcome back to your eyes and hands and ears, to your hunger and thirst, to your neurons and synapses, taste buds, reproductive organs, ribosomes, nuclei, mitochondria.
Welcome back to the expectations we all have of you.
I think of every touch from last night. How Rika pressed down on me when she touched my skin, as if there were a barrier we were trying to breach. And it was that pressure that helped me to see what she means when she says that she doesn’t want to be alone.
No matter how hard we press each other, we’re searching in the wrong place. We have no location in our organism. If you cut me down the middle, which half would I be?
If a girl loses her legs, who are the legs? Are they nobody?
Am I my brain? But the brain is just matter, tissues and atoms that are constantly being replaced and recycled. Am I the sum of my brain’s amassed data? Am I pure information? A list of things remembered? Could I possess another body by teaching it all of my memories?
All of these things I know are impossible. I exist elsewhere. Consciousness. Ghost. Whatever you want to call it.
The only way to be together is to become one another.
“Why won’t he wake up?” Emi asks, her voice full of pain. She’s been at my bedside for hours. The sound of her weeping ought to destroy me, and yet, somehow, it means so little to me. Almost a nuisance more than anything else. A distraction. I’m trying to put together a puzzle and there’s no way she can help me. I conjure a different voice instead.
“Have you ever looked in the mirror and wished you might see someone else looking back at you?”
We have now, Rika. We’ve seen our share of mirrors, and we’ve seen each other there. We’ve overcome our bodies.
It doesn’t matter if you’re alive. We’re together. We aren’t alone anymore. We’ve finally figured it out.
This isn’t resignation. It’s liberation.
“Doctor,” Emi says, “is he… laughing?”
“He may be delirious, Ms. Ibarazaki. Try talking to him.” The voice is from another woman in Emi’s company. The doctor, I’m sure.
“Hisao?” comes Emi’s voice. Trembling, desperate. Ignorant.
“Sweetheart, it’s okay. He’s stable.” A third woman’s voice. Who is she?
I clench my eyes shut as I become more aware of the bright light that glows red against my eyelids. I wish I were back in the dark.
The old questions are gone, and new ones come up. Ones with answers I don’t have. Where am I? How is it I’m still alive after what happened in the woods? Who are these women at my bedside? Am I still at the camping grounds? If so, why is Emi here? If not, how did I get where I am?
I fear what I’ll see when I open my eyes, because I already feel this lucidity, this keen understanding that I’ve reached, falling apart. The puzzle increases in size as I put it together. All around the edges there are more knobs and notches in the jigsaw pieces. And more pieces around them. I could build like this forever. Should I?
I notice pieces missing where I’ve already placed them. The whole puzzle unbuilds itself and I struggle to remember where everything was. My eyes open and I’m met with gasps.
Emi is my welcoming committee to the world of the senses. She throws her arms around my neck, crying inconsolably in my shoulder, and I return her embrace half-heartedly.
Her tears. The way she’s shaking. The way she’s repeating my name. Over her shoulder I see two middle-aged women: the doctor and another woman whom I can only imagine is Emi’s mother.
Reality shakes me out of my daze of absurdities. I stroke Emi’s back comfortingly as I look at the two women staring at me with optimistic, reassuring smiles.
“I came as soon as I heard what happened, Hisao,” Emi says. How long have I been here?
“When?” I ask.
“Miki texted me this morning,” she says, pulling back to wipe the tears from her face. She breathes in, then out, trying to calm herself.
“Why did Miki text you?” I ask, thinking aloud.
“I made her promise to,” she says. “If anything happened to you…”
Of course, Emi would worry about me being away from her. It’s her job to worry. Was she worried about what Rika might…
Oh no… Rika…
“Where’s Rika?” I say, startled at my own failure to ask sooner. Emi blushes and looks away. The doctor reaches forward and pats me on the knee.
“You had a heart attack, Mr. Nakai. Your friend Rika came very close to having one herself. You’re both very lucky that she didn’t.”
I let out a sigh of relief.
“As a matter of fact,” the doctor adds, “the people who came in with you are seeing her now. I can go get them if you’d like.”
The people who came in with me? Miki, Takashi and Lelouch?
“Later please, Doctor,” I say. “I already have company.”
The doctor smiles and nods at me in understanding, walking out of my room with clipboard in hand. I turn to Emi.
Emi sits on the edge of the bed, resting all her weight on her right hand, leaning towards me. Her prosthetic legs in their long, striped knee-high socks swing idly just above the floor. Her face is red, eyelids puffy, and she’s sniffling. She starts to say something but has to clear her throat. I feel as though it’s my turn to talk.
I put my hand on hers. “It’s okay, Emi.”
“No,” she says with a quavering voice. I look at her with confusion and pulls her hand away from me, straightening up.
“No,” she repeats, more firmly. “It’s not okay Hisao. You promised. You promised this wouldn’t happen again. You promised!”
She shouts the last word. Rage fills her eyes as her tiny hands clench into fists at her sides.
Her mother reaches out to her, speaking firmly but patiently. “Emi, please keep your voice down.” The woman gives me an apologetic look.
The energy leaves Emi as her rage subsides, and she slumps back onto my bedside. “I’m so angry, Hisao,” she says in a diminished, weak tone. “You were doing so well. And we were all so proud of you. I know it’s hard work, but we all have to work hard if we want to succeed. Why don’t you care anymore? Are you trying to hurt us?”
I stare at Emi wordlessly as her heart pours out to me. Her words hit a snag and she barely finishes her last sentence as tears overtake her.
“You’re going to die,” she says faintly. “You’re going to die because you don’t care. Because you stopped caring. All because of…”
I tilt my head and give her a stern look. With a glare of her own, she stands to her feet, fists clenched at her sides, resolute, towering over me as she shouts.
“All because of that… witch!”
Blood rushes to my face as my pulse quickens. The heart monitor on the table beside me accelerates slightly. Alarmed by this, Emi relents, sitting back down and looking at me with a helpless, inexpressible anger.
I shouldn’t be angry, though. She doesn’t understand. She’s just a kid.
“You just don’t get it, Hisao. I tried so hard to get through to her but I couldn’t. I failed her.” She wipes her tears with the palms of her hands.
“I failed her," she says. "And now I’m failing you.”
Emi’s mother rubs her shoulders, trying not to look at me. I wish she weren’t here, but I can’t blame her for wanting to support her daughter, after all. Emi is inconsolable. I don’t think there’s anything I could say to make things right with her at this point. She continues.
“When Rika and I started running together, I didn’t think it would be so bad. She was shy and didn’t talk much, but she never argued with me and she seemed to be improving. It wasn’t until she started dating that she started skipping workouts, skipping class… and things just got worse and worse. But she had so much promise before. So I thought, maybe you and Miki could fix her, you know?”
I swallow hard. Dry mouth. Dizziness.
Emi eyes my heart monitor and makes an effort to soften her voice. “But, then you guys started dating, and I… I didn’t know what to think. I thought maybe if I helped you, I could help her, too. And I thought it was working. Miki told me Rika was talking about you a lot and she seemed to be doing better than ever. But you just got worse and worse… and now…”
She hiccups as the tears come back.
“It’s like she’s sucking the life out of you, Hisao. I thought so at first, but now I know for sure. She won’t stop. She won’t stop until you’re gone.”
Emi sits there sobbing, her mother rubbing her shoulders with a bemused look on her face. The way she speaks of Rika, the tremor in her voice, calls to mind the superstitious air of Takashi as he warned me to be careful around Rika. Emi, however, is basing her opinions on observations, not rumours. I realize now that it’s not just girlish jealousy animating Emi’s wariness towards Rika. It’s genuine fear. Hearing it from her, of all people, chills me.