Chapter One: Summons

 

The Underworld--Land of the Dead

 

            Walking down the silent and lonely hallways of eternal damnation, a boy of eighteen human years approached the room where his mistress waited.  The cries of pain and ultimate suffering could be heard from all around him.  Fallen men and women, their past dark deeds sending them literally into the fiery pits of hell, begged for mercy and an end to their torture.  It was dark and hot, but it was something Ryoushi Akki had gotten used to.

            He had been shot in a back alley twenty years past and was now spending the rest of his eternal life in the demonic Underworld.  One good thing was that no one aged in hell.  Another good thing, to Akki anyway, was that the dark and foreboding nature of hell gave him all the solitude he could ever dream of.  No one bothered him, and he never bothered with anyone else.  Just the way he liked it.

            His mistress, the goddess of death, had summoned Akki to her chamber.  It probably wasn’t because of his dark brown hair or his amazing brown eyes.  No, the reason was probably much more ... devilish than that.

            He entered the lair of his mistress, and kneeling in trained respect, he said, “You summoned me?”

            Izanami smiled as she turned toward her visitor.  “Ah, so my retriever arrives.”  It pleased her to appear as a twenty-eight-year-old woman currently wearing a black leather knee-length skirt with a two-inch strap midriff.  Her hair was long and colored a dark black.  Her yellow-red eyes reflected the torches on either side of her throne.  A black cape with a crimson lining finished the outfit, connecting to two red stones on her fingers.  She could drop any mortal man dead just by her looks.

            Akki raised his head.  “Retriever?”

            She stood up and summoned her large fire staff, which was black and had an impressive red stone on the tip that matched her ring stones perfectly.  “Yes, it seems three of my demons have found a way to Earth without passing through the boulder that separates Earth and the Underworld.”

            Akki frowned.  “A little boulder keeps you from taking over and killing everyone on Earth?”

            Izanami sighed.  “So little you know, dear Akki.  Your place is not to question, but to obey.  Now, these demons have either found a way to move the boulder, which even I can’t move, or they’ve found another way which, whether I like it or not, has to be sealed up.  I can’t have my demons and the undead finding their way back to Earth and causing damage that I did not decree.”

            Akki raised an eyebrow.  “I would think a goddess like yourself would love to have several people die due to ‘renegade’ demons that you had no connection with at all, now wouldn’t you?”

            “And why wouldn’t I?” she admitted.  “It’d be the perfect alibi.  Alas, I can’t have that happen.  There are mortals protected by other gods that I am not allowed to touch ... unfortunately.”  She mumbled the last word, but Akki heard.

            “Where’s my job in all this?”  Akki wanted to get to the point and get out of there.

            “Your job, Ryoushi Akki--hunter of demons--is to retrieve the renegade demons, as you call them, and get them back to the Underworld, where I can punish them as I see fit.”

            “Earth?  As in the place I left twenty years ago?”  Upon saying this, Akki stood up.  “First, I can’t get out, and second, I don’t even have a body anymore.  It’s buried six feet under, or worse--” He shivered.  “--dedicated to science and cut up into two-hundred little pieces.”

            Izanami smiled.  “I can help, of course.  I’m able to send people to Earth to do my bidding, and I can give you another identical body so long as you do as you’re told.  The only thing is that I can’t go, because I’ve already eaten the food of the Underworld.”

            “And if I don’t do as I’m told?  Say I stray off my so-called mission?  What can you do from down here?” Akki challenged.

            Izanami placed a hand on her hip, holding her staff to the side.  “So bold now, are we?”

            “What are you going to do?  Kill me?”

            Izanami laughed.  “I have a lot more power than you know, hunter of demons.”  She winked, unmoved by his naïve act of courage.

            “Alright, alright.  Say I go to Earth and retrieve your pets...”

            “You want something in return.”

            “Give me my second chance at life on Earth.  Allow me to stay on Earth for another life span, without taking control of my body and dragging it back down here.”

            “Another chance?  That’s asking a lot.”

            “And finding three demons isn’t?” he asked.  “Why are you so worried about getting them back, anyway?”

            “That’s none of your concern.”  She sighed.  “It’ll be as you wish.  Retrieve the demons, and I will allow you to stay on Earth, though you’ll no doubt end up back here after another twenty years anyway.”

            Akki shrugged.  “I can handle it.”  He brought up his hand.  “You got yourself a deal.”  He held out his hand to shake Izanami’s, but instead, she smiled and lowered her staff.

            Black lightning lanced out and struck Akki’s hand.  Without an actual body, Akki felt no pain and simply pulled his hand back to carefully look at the back of it.  It was Shi, the Japanese symbol for death.  “A tattoo?”

            Izanami nodded.  “It represents me and gives you the demonic powers which will be needed to apprehend the renegades.  If you run across anyone who recognizes it, be wary.  They might be one of my followers, or they might be one of my husband Izanagi’s.”

            He nodded.  “Got it.  Now hand over my body and teleport me out of here.”

            Izanami walked up to him and leaned forward to whisper in his ear.  “So strong are you when faced with death, but when you face other challenges, let’s see how well you fare.”  She backed up and peered into his eyes.  “And don’t forget, I may not be able to get to you physically, but I will contact you for an update.  Be ready.”

            “Always have been.”  He gave a mock salute and closed his eyes.

            Izanami held her staff in both hands and lowered it down toward Akki.  His body began to disappear and became a hollow, red-hued bubble that floated up through the ceiling and out toward Earth.

            After the bubble disappeared, Izanami looked toward the heavens from her home in the Underworld.  “Well, dear husband, once my hunter returns with my demons, you will truly be sorry for defying me.  And if you plan to send any of your precious angels down, I will have them killed as well.  We were in love, if you remember.  I know how you think, and you, no doubt, are doing the same thing I did just now....”

* * * *

Plain of the High Heavens

 

            You’d think the afterlife would be more ... interesting.  But despite this, seventeen-year-old Sarena still felt like something was missing.  She had lived in solitude for the greater part of her human life, until her death a couple of years ago, but couldn’t help but feel a need for something more.  Being around too many people here made her feel uncomfortable.  Though her name now was Sarena, her birth name was Hato Sabishii.  It had been something she’d discarded around the same time the only one she’d ever loved had been taken away.

            How she’d gotten into heaven was beyond her, but she didn’t care either way.  The gods pretty much had their way with the mortals of Earth, and she’d given up trying to fight it.  Adapting to it was much easier.  In her new low of self-esteem, Sarena put out her hand, and a bow of purple light formed in it.  She pulled back the bowstring, and an arrow of a similar hue formed.  She narrowed her violet eyes and her black hair flew when the arrow was released.  It hit a tree about a hundred feet in front of her, disappearing in a puff of smoke.

            “The master isn’t going to like the fact you’re destroying his life trees,” a voice said from behind Sarena.

            Sarena turned around, her white robe swaying around her, and lowered her weapon down at her side.  She sighed in exasperation when she saw the ever-smiling face of Sora.  The girl had long, blond hair and blue eyes.

            Sora was the master’s messenger.  She was the most energetic, happy person in heaven’s history.  And the most annoying girl Sarena had ever had the curse of meeting.

            “If the Lord of Life has a problem, he can call me and tell me about it,” Sarena said gruffly, while she pulled back another arrow and let it fly, destroying another life tree.

            “Um ... I got news for you,” Sora said, biting her bottom lip.  “He’s summoned you.”

            Sarena’s eyes widened, and she looked at Sora in shock.  “Tell me this is one of your jokes.”

            Sora looked away.  “He said it was kinda urgent, so you might want to hurry.”  She then turned and flew off out of sight.

            “Sora!  Don’t you dare leave me here!” Sarena shouted after the flying girl.  She growled in frustration and started toward Izanagi’s chambers.  “Stupid kiss-up.”

            She didn’t count Sora as a friend.  In fact, Sarena didn’t have any friends, but Sora was as close to one as she had, only because the girl was so damn persistent in making Sarena her friend.  I never needed one before, and I sure as hell don’t need one now.

            As Sarena came closer to where Izanagi was waiting for her, her heart began to beat faster.  You always knew your actions would land you in hell.  Seems that time’s come.  She was at the front door, when it suddenly flew open, making her squeak in surprise and take a step back.

            “Come in, dove of loneliness,” Izanagi, the Lord of Life, welcomed.

            Sarena swallowed a growl and walked in, glaring with frustration.  He always had to point out her stupid birth name.  She’d never liked the meaning of her name, though it fit her personality perfectly.  “You rang?” she said, kind of rudely.

            “Indeed I did.”  He turned around to face her.  Izanagi was dressed in elegant white robes, lined with gold.  He had long, black hair pulled back into a ponytail and gentle, light-brown eyes.  “Have fun with your archery practice?” he asked casually.

            “Oh.”  Sarena played with her pinky as she tried to think up an excuse.  “About that--”

            “Your aim has gotten impressively accurate lately,” he interrupted her.

            His statement caught Sarena off guard.  “I-I guess.”  Where is he going with this?

            “In fact, many of your skills have gotten better, haven’t they?”  She nodded, unsure what to say.  “Glad to hear it.”  He walked toward her.  “I have a request to make of you.”

            Sarena blinked at his words, and her glare disappeared, replaced by a frown.  “Me?”

            Izanagi nodded.  “I need you to go back down to Earth and see what my wife is up to.  It seems three of her demons have been released.  I don’t know what she plans by this, but I need you to vanquish them and return them to her before they can cause damage to Earth.”

            “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on there, Iza.  I’m no bounty hunter.  I don’t go chasing after the undead just to keep your revenge-seeking wife in check.”

            “Even you have a heart.  I should know, I put it there.”  He laughed shortly.  “If these demons are allowed to live on Earth and do as they please, they will kill relentlessly--men, women, even children.  You have to care about that,” he persuaded.  “They have powers no mortal can withstand and can take on any form they please.”

            Sarena crossed her arms and sighed.  “And just what can I do once I’m down there?”

            “You will have the same abilities you have now, and I will give you your body back for the use of this mission only.  There is no one else better fit for this, and if all goes wrong, at least you got to stay on Earth for a while, right?”

            Sarena smiled at his tone, and for once, she and the Lord of Life agreed on something.  “Alright, I’ll do it.”

            “You have my gratitude.”  He bowed and snapped his fingers.  A staff appeared in his hands.  It resembled his wife’s, but this one was white, and it had a pearl on its tip.  He lowered it, and Sarena faded from sight.  “I wish you luck.”

            She winked.  “If I’ve got the devil’s luck, I’ll be fine.”  Then she was gone.

            Izanami sighed and sat down at his throne with a grave expression on his face.  “If you meet my wife or the one she sent to retrieve her minions, you’ll need all the luck you can get...”

* * * *

Tokyo--Present Day

 

            Being back on Earth was a strange feeling for Akki.  Japan had always been a quiet country, but it sure had changed a lot during his stay in the Underworld.  No one would recognize him anymore, because even in his past life he had been a nobody.

            He walked down the streets about dusk, thinking about his next move.  He probably needed to get a job, since Izanami hadn’t been good enough to give him any funds.  Then again, she wasn’t good to anybody.

            Any knowledge he’d acquired would be out-of-date, so what was there for him to do that paid well?  Thievery was always an option or any other type of criminal injustice.  Besides, he was already condemned to hell, so why not?  Then again, that would attract unwanted attention, and this was mainly a covert operation, meaning he wasn’t supposed to get caught.

            Akki passed a small diner and noticed there were only a few workers inside.  He could always try working as a waiter.  They probably got better tips nowadays, anyway.  He strode in casually and took a seat in one of the booths in the corner.  It wasn’t too long before a waiter stopped at the table and handed him a menu.  Akki noticed his name badge said “Manager.”

            “What can I get you today, sir?” the man asked, pulling out a pen and paper to write down the order.

            “Um ... can I just have a glass of water?”

            The man raised an eyebrow.  “Water?  You came in here for water?”

            Well, that was rude.  “Actually, I came here to see if you have any job openings,” he said, cutting to the chase.

            The man nodded understandingly and put his notepad away.  “You see that girl over there behind the counter?”  He pointed to a woman who was dressed in the uniform of the diner, her black hair pulled up into a ponytail.

            Akki nodded with a frown.  “Yeah, I see her.  So what?”

            “She started this morning.  She beat you to it, boy.”  The man walked away to serve another customer.

            Well, this is just great.  My first day on Earth, and I’m already turned down.  Akki gave a glare to the girl for beating him to it, and she uneasily frowned back. 

Akki stuck his hands deep in his jeans’ pockets and walked out of the diner and back onto the streets.  I had better find a job soon and get an apartment before nightfall, he thought to himself.  Otherwise I might have to live on the streets where those demon pets of hers will be waiting to kill an “innocent boy” like me.

            When Akki walked by a car repair shop, he heard a man yelling, “What do you mean, you can’t fix it?”  Akki slowed his steps so he could listen in.

            Another man, probably the mechanic, replied, “I-It’s a really o-old car d-design that I’m not r-really familiar w-with.”  The mechanic went on to describe the problem.  Akki scoffed at its simplicity.

            “Well, then, get familiar with it and see that it’s fixed!” said the boss.  “This customer is paying us a lot of money to fix that car, money that I pay you with, so either fix it, or you won’t be getting any money this next week!”

            “Try turning the engine over,” Akki interrupted.

            The boss looked up and glared at Akki.  “Who asked you?”

            Akki shrugged.  “Nobody, but if you want to fix this car, you’ll take my advice.” He turned around and began to walk away.  One ... two ... three...

            “Hey, you!  Wait!” the boss shouted.

            Akki stopped in his tracks.  “Yes?”

            The boss turned to the worker he had just been yelling at.  “You!  You’re fired!”  Then he pointed at Akki.  “You!  You’re hired!”

            Bingo.  “I’m on it.”

* * * *

Tokyo--Lavender Café

 

            It was nine o’clock before the diner finally closed.  Sarena sighed and took off her apron.  “Man, I forgot how tired actual work makes you feel.  It’s a good thing he got me this job early and a place to stay, or else I might have had to stay out on the streets.”

            The image of one of the customers from earlier in the night came back to her, and she was once again grateful for her second sight.  His aura had immediately told her what he truly was, but since he wasn’t an Original, it didn’t matter.  Suppressing her own heavenly aura upon her descent to this realm was essential if she was going to find and capture the demons.  Then again, had she been alive she would’ve found him kind of cute actually.

            She picked up her small satchel of belongings and closed her locker with an amused shake of the head.  “I’m leaving!” she called out.

            “Be back in the morning to open, you hear!” the boss shouted.

            Sarena growled in annoyance.  “I’ll be here!” she called back, then added under her breath, “No need to run up your blood pressure.”

            She walked out the back and started toward her apartment.  I don’t really have a time limit to find these demons, but the question is how?  It’s not like they will just jump out and tell me who they are.

            She was so wrapped up in her thoughts, she ran into someone.  “Oh, excuse me.”

            “You’d better watch yourself, girl,” the man replied.

            She looked up and saw a man with black hair and eerie green eyes glaring back at her.  His other two friends also had mean expressions.  Not the kind of people I’d want to run into in the middle of an alley, were I still alive.

            She swallowed a growl and walked away.

            The man, Hebi, brushed off the girl’s touch and kept walking.  “If I have to touch one more human’s body, I’m gonna get sick.”

            “Just cool it,” his friend, Shuhan, said.  “We’ll get to have some fun later.  If you want, you can be the one to kill her when we destroy this world.”

            “Really? Alright!”  Hebi rubbed his hands together.  “Human flesh is best raw.”

            “I agree,” said Kanja.  “I don’t know why they cook their food.”

            Shuhan sighed at what he had been given to work with.  “We have to be cautious, though.  Remember, we may have hunters from either side, or both, after us.  They won’t recognize us in our stolen human forms, but they will try to stop us.  Once we find what we’re looking for, the rest will be a breeze.  First, we cause havoc, get the people scared, then we go in for the kill.”

            “Right,” Kanja agreed.  “Then our mission will be done with.”

            “Now,” Shuhan said, narrowing his eyes.  “I’m in the mood for a little mischief to get things rolling.  Let’s do some damage.”

* * * *

Tokyo’s Slum District--Crimson Motel--Akki’s Room

 

            Akki had been able to get a motel room, just for the night, with the wages his boss had given him in advance.  For a fat, dirty old man, he was pretty nice--which made Akki hate him even more, but it made it easier to stand.

            He threw his backpack on a chair and plopped himself on the bed.  “Man, I didn’t think so many cars would come in today.  It’s a good thing I took car shop back in high school.  Seems no one these days knows what they’re doing.”  He smirked.  “Now I can get onto more important things, like finding these demons.”

            Though she had been a hindrance, the image of the girl at the café suddenly resurfaced in his mind’s eye.  During his day, he wouldn’t have hesitated to get her number.  Now, romance was but a far-off dream.  Any romancing he might try to do now would be interrupted by his current mission.

            Suddenly, though, he started smelling smoke.  “What?”

            He ran to his window and had to shy back from the heat.  The building right next to his was on fire!  He could hear the fire engines, but they were too far away to get here in time.  If Akki didn’t do something soon, his room was going to be next.  Why’d they have to build these damn buildings so close, anyway?

            Just then, a movement caught his eye, and Akki looked down three floors and saw some guys laughing and pointing at the blaze.  The abilities given him by Izanami revealed a red glow about their bodies that was invisible to the naked eye, and Akki immediately knew who they were--better yet, what they were.  Without a second thought, he jumped down from his window, using his demonic powers to soften his landing, and stopped a few feet in front of them.

            “Arson.  A good pick, but lame.  You call yourselves demons?  This is human work compared to what you guys are capable of,” Akki teased.

            “And what’s it to you, chalk face?” Hebi growled. 

            Akki yawned in boredom, and Hebi jumped forward.  Akki simply absorbed Hebi’s wild punch and threw the demon over his shoulder, tossing him easily over his head.  Hebi landed hard behind Akki.

            “Pathetic.  Bringing you guys in will be easier than I thought.”  He got into a balanced fighting stance.

            “You won’t be able to bring us in if we send you back to hell first!” Shuhan challenged, then created a fireball in his hands, throwing it toward Akki.

            Almost forgetting he had a human body, Akki made ready to catch the fireball and throw it back.  But instead, he dodged to the side to avoid it, and the fireball went over Hebi’s head, singeing his hair.

            “Damn you!” Hebi shouted, slapping his head to put out the fire.

            “Been there, done that, and you guys are going back!”  Akki created a fire ring in his hands, and when he threw it like a lasso, it settled over Shuhan’s and Kanja’s heads, then caught their arms by their sides as it pulled itself tight.

            “As for you...”  Akki turned around and grabbed a long pipe that was attached to the wall and easily pulled it free.  Facing Hebi, he said, “Come on.  Give me your best shot.”

            Hebi growled and returned to his true form.  His human body shed like a snake’s skin and revealed a red-skinned body, with a large lizard’s tail and scary green-yellow eyes with black slits for pupils.  His body was humanoid only in the fact that he had two arms and two legs.  His face had more of a snout than a nose, and his eyes were located a little to the sides, more similar to a reptile’s head than a human’s.  “I will beat you, then I’ll eat you alive,” Hebi hissed and sprang up to an inhuman height, coming down quickly, ready to land on Akki and crush him.

            But instead, Akki jumped and pushed off the closest wall.  He bounced back toward the demon and brought his makeshift staff up right into Hebi’s stomach.  He lifted Hebi up, and when he threw him against the wall, the demon crumpled to the ground.

            Shuhan stayed quiet, letting Akki entertain himself with Hebi, and used one of his demonic claws to cut through the fire ring to release himself and Kanja.  Kanja immediately shed his human form as well, and used his tail to lash Akki across the back.

            “Ahhhh!  Damn it!”  Akki jumped back, out of the demon’s range, not wanting to make the same mistake twice.  He’d forgotten how painful wounds could be during his time in the Underworld.

            Deciding to regroup, rather than continue to fight, Shuhan whistled.  Hebi and Kanja nodded, jumped up and disappeared into the night.

            Akki cursed as he slowly got up and groaned as he felt blood pour down his back.  “Wretched beasts.”  Then he remembered the fire.  “Shoot!  It’s almost out of control!”  He jumped back up and landed on the top of the motel roof.  The fire made a big pillar of black smoke in the sky.

            Just then he heard someone shout, “Water!  Douse the flames and extinguish the blaze!”  Immediately, water fell from out of nowhere, and the fire slowly went out.

            “Who the heck can do that?” Akki asked himself as he quickly jumped around the side of the building.  He saw a lock of hair disappear behind the corner, but it was too late.  Could there be someone else fighting these demons besides him?

* * * *

Tokyo’s Slum District--Full Moon Apartments--Sarena’s Room

 

            Sarena entered her apartment with a sigh and decided to take a shower.  Seeing that blaze on the way home was weird.  So many people could have been hurt if she hadn’t stopped it.  At least she still had her powers, like Izanagi had told her.  Without them, a lot of people could have been hurt. Now where are these thoughts coming from?  I never cared about others before.  Whatever.

            She stripped and stepped into the shower.  Turning on the warm water, she let it flow down her body.  She’d felt another presence at the site of the blaze, along with three darker ones.  She knew she had to stop the fire, no matter what else was going on, but she wondered who, or what, she’d felt earlier.

            It almost feels like the vibe I got off that guy at the diner.  Glaring at me like that.  How rude.  She washed her hair and used a sponge to lather her sore muscles.  Being on Earth is a lot harder than I remember, and things are only going to get harder from now on...

            Sarena finished her shower and dressed in a light robe.  Then she walked to her room and curled up in her bed.  “I’d better get some sleep, ‘cause I gotta open up tomorrow...” No sooner had her head hit the pillow than she was fast asleep.

 

 

 

Author's Note: Interested in more?  Want to find out how Akki and Sarena fight their fates?  E-mail me at [email protected] and I'd be happy to e-mail you the rest of the story!  There's no charge, I just want everyone to read along and learn from my character's mistakes, cry through their struggles, and raise a fist during their battles!  If I get enough positive feedback, there's a possibility for a part 2 and 3!!