this is not a grave

'vainglorious defenders'

Saiko swings her legs as she sits with her hands tucked beneath her thighs. She is tired because she stayed up late the night before, gaming with her online friends until the shadows began to creep up on her. Or was it until they had stopped creeping, finally subsided and stayed put, like shadows were supposed to? Anyway, she is tired and wishes she is back at the Château, sleeping, rolled up in her blanket cocoon with snacks in easy reach. Where it's warm and cosy, not cold and bare like it is in Cochlea. Saiko feels sorry for Maman. She would hate it here if she were him.

She tries to convey that with her eyes (albeit heavy-lidded) as Mucchan and Maman chit-chat, with Shirazu interjecting occasionally. Mucchan holds books up to the glass so Maman can read the covers, and they exclaim a bit over them. Mucchan promises to hand the bag over to the prison warden to give to Maman, because there isn't a gap where he can slot the parcel through. Saiko doesn't get it; she doesn't get why anyone would be interested in thick, heavy tomes with lots of confusing kanji nobody even uses anymore, instead of light novels where things actually happen. Or visual novels, or sims, or RPGS... But then, anything is better than reality.

If reality is a story, then it's a really bad one created by sleep-deprived mangakas surviving on caffeine and bento boxes from convenience stores. Who were probably on crack at the time. And they may have finished the whole thing in seven days. It's got ink smudges in the corners and tragic scenes trying to be Maeda-Jun-tearjerkers but failing miserably. Its vulgar and oppressive and boring, boring, boring.

Saiko wishes she had something to occupy her hands and keep her busy, but she doesn't have anything with her today. Because last time, the first time they had tried to visit Sassan, she had her PSP with her. And the clear slot at the top of his cell door was way above her eye level. She had put it down (Mucchan's hands were full) so that she could cling to Shirazu while he boosted her up (he gave up after about twenty seconds). And then she had left it behind.

It was really bad, because Mucchan and Shiragin said they were in a hurry to get to something that she didn't care about. Shiragin was especially twitchy and nervous. They didn't want to go back inside. She didn't see why she should leave her beloved handheld behind in such a creepy place, and when she ran inside, they either didn't follow her or something stopped them.

In the now, Saiko watches her feet swinging, back and forth, back and forth. She had hunted down the stairs and corridors, gone in looping circles around the gallery levels, back the way they came. She scurried from wall to wall, like a professional assassin or a trained shinobi, a spy with specs so high that she was like a phantom. She imagined that she probably had a special title all to herself. It didn't matter that she technically had permission to be there; she was a ghoul investigator, and a Quinx. But she didn't want to be seen, and she didn't want someone to ask her if she needed help. Blegh. Gross.

But maybe that would've been better, because she got all the way back to Maman's cell where they all had had a peek to check in on him, and she saw her handheld lying in front of the door. A partially open door, and Saiko knew that that was a bad sign.

Saiko didn't usually ignore bad signs. Usually, she avoided doing things regardless of whether or not they were prefaced with bad signs. It was like a flag saying, 'Here be a traumatic experience.' Only, she could see her goal right in front of her, and she had expended so much energy to get here. She had practically taken damage to get to this point; how could she walk away empty handed?

Bad sign, bad sign. She walked towards the cracked door on autopilot. It was like a dream, one of those dreams that everyone has, where their footsteps are as slow as if their feet are mired in mud. She wanted to turn back and run, but she couldn't. It was like accidentally dropping food and watching it fall in slow motion without being able to catch it. It was her high school experience, steamrolling past. It was a mother signing away her daughter's humanity without her consent.

She looked into the cell through the half-open door, craning her neck slightly. Maman was alone inside, and Saiko felt the bands constricting her chest relax. Her feet moved easily again.

'Maman?' she said, edging her way inside. She bumped the door by mistake in the process.

Maman's eyes snapped towards her, alive with ferocity and something else, something sharp and tender at the same time. His kakugan wasn't activated, but his gaze was so intense that Saiko shrank back with a little cry. She saw that the reason Maman hadn't turned his head was because he couldn't - sometime between when they had last seen the cell and where she was, then and there, they had wheeled in something like a hospital gurney and strapped him to it. Except, unlike a real hospital gurney, it didn't have a mattress and instead made up for it with a lot of straps that went all the way around, metal bands built into the hard surface, locks, clasps and hasps. It all congealed into a mess in Saiko's mind.

'Maman!' She ran to him, PSP forgotten. Red claws raked down her throat, hot tears spilled. Her nose got snotty in a matter of minutes. 'Maman.' She went to take one of his hands in her own, but some of his fingers were bent the wrong way. Mangled, twisted. She tried not to look too hard, but some of his nails seemed to be missing. She looked up at his face, horrified, and his eyes fluttered shut.

'Maman, don't die!'

''m not dying,' he mumbled. 'It's okay.'

There was blood all over. Saiko thought that ghouls didn't bleed unless you hit them with something really sharp, really hard, like a quinque or a kagune or a real, live Arima. But Maman was strong and brave; invincible. How could they hurt him? How could anyone hurt him?

'You should go,' he told her. He peered at her through slitted eyes, pupils like dark pools behind his lashes. He was scaring her. She was scared for him.

'But what about-'

'They'll be coming back soon.' Maman sort of sagged back onto the gruesome table, at least, as much as he was able to, breathing through his mouth. The sound was laboured, wheezing. Saiko focused on it instead of looking at him, his body bound in wounds, but in a way that was equally terrifying.

Footsteps in the hallway reached the periphery of Saiko's enhanced hearing, and a violent shiver wracked her frame. 'Why won't you fight back?' she wailed.

He replied in staccato bursts: 'Can't. Don't worry, it'll be fine. Don't want you to get hurt.'

Saiko's feet itched to run, to take her away from the danger. What could she do there? Nothing.

In the now, Saiko looks up from those feet, still swinging. Maman isn't exactly the picture of health, but he is smiling, and there's no blood, and he isn't being strapped down anymore. It's a little scary how much he seems to have recovered, but mostly, Saiko is just relieved. She wishes she is back at the Château, but she wishes they could take Maman back with them too. It sucks when there's no one home who can actually cook.

Maman behind the glass is almost like an illusion, a mirage, existing only in reflections. She doesn't think it's possible to pick up and carry one of those.

It had been difficult to hear clearly over the cacophony of her own heart, slamming against her ribcage, and the scuffing of her shoes on concrete as she stumbled away. But the last thing she thought she had heard him say was, 'Thank you.'

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.