The Heart Chooses
Jaycee and Aiko were in between classes discussing their plans for the upcoming weekend. On Jaycee’s insistence, there was to be no mention of her magic or its consequences, so such lighthearted topics were a welcome distraction.
“What do you mean you can’t play with me?” asked Aiko. “Don’t tell me you’ve found a new best friend. Is that it? Are you tired of me?”
“That’s not it,” said Jaycee. “I’m going to be helping out at my church. They offered me some part time work.”
“You need money? I’ll give you money. How much do you need?”
“I can’t take your money.”
“Of course you can,” said Aiko. She then pulled out a handful of bills and tried forcing them into Jaycee’s hand. “Here you go. If you want more then come with me this weekend. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
“Stop that,” said Jaycee, fending off Aiko and her money. Jaycee was given a reprieve from Aiko’s generosity when Sage arrived.
“Sage, convince Jaycee to come have fun with us this weekend. She would rather do hard work than play.”
“Well, that makes two of us that have to work,” said Sage.
“What?” gasped Aiko. “You too?”
“Vice Principal Takagi got me to agree to organize the sports equipment this weekend,” said Sage. “I wanted to say no but she . . . manipulated me. It was like she had some kind of control over me. As hard as I tried I couldn’t say no to her.”
“I know what kind of control she has over you,” said Aiko. “It’s the allure of an older woman. You’re in love with her, aren’t you? Yes, the vice principal is pretty, in a mean, power hungry sort of way. But I have youth on my side.”
“Please don’t start an argument over this.”
“Fine, if neither of you wants to be with me this weekend, then I’ll just use that time to train,” said Aiko. She then threw a practice punch at Sage that stopped just short of his face. “That way the next time you refuse to come with me, I’ll force you.”
Vice Principal Takagi had called upon another eager follower to join her in her darkened office. “Those three are soon going to be losing the power of their numbers,” she said. “And I want to exploit that fact as much as possible.”
“A taste of their own medicine,” said the demon who went by the name Mika. “A plan worthy of such a brilliant mind as yours, my queen.”
“I know I can count on you. For your choosing was done very carefully. For you bring much more to a fight than any of the others.”
“My queen,” said a now bowing Mika, “we shan’t disappoint you.”
The weekend came and Jaycee, Sage and Aiko found themselves in opposite parts of the city. Aiko was uptown at her dojo. Just thinking about how Jaycee and Sage had turned her down made her train all the more vigorously.
Sage was at school sorting through various articles of sports equipment strewn across the equipment shed floor. A part of him was starting to believe that such a messy shed had to have been made that way on purpose, but believing there was no good reason for anyone to do such a thing, Sage dismissed the feeling.
Jaycee was at her church speaking with her pastor. In her hand was a bucket filled with cleaning supplies. “I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity,” she said.
“It was the least that we could do for one of our most faithful parishioners,” said Jaycee’s pastor. “Considering your situation and how much you’ve done for our church, we should have come up with an arrangement like this a long time ago.”
“Thank you,” said Jaycee.
“Well, I’ll be on my way now,” said Jaycee’s pastor. “There’s much to do for the both of us. Are you sure there’s nothing you need?”
“I have everything I need.”
Jaycee was then left all alone. Before getting to work she took a long look at the wooden rendition of Christ on the cross behind the pulpit. Though she knew she had to get to work Jaycee was unable to bring herself from moving away from the sight set before her.
On such a beautiful day the local park was as good a place as any to waste away the afternoon. And that was what James was doing. He had found a bench in the shade and was spending the day watching people pass by his way.
A dove landed on the branch of a nearby tree. After it landed it began staring at James, who stared back. It was shortly thereafter when a crow landed on the sidewalk and also began staring at James. “How cliché can you get?” mumbled James.
Unlike the many training sessions that had come before, Aiko was exhausting her energy at a far more accelerated pace. “Leave me alone, will you?” she said, throwing a barrage of punches. “Turn down the opportunity to spend time with me,” she said between kicks. “Who needs those two? I can do just fine on my own.”
“Let’s go shopping, Jaycee,” exclaimed Aiko, throwing a jab to the area where her friend’s chest would be. “Let’s go to the Game Center, Sage,” shouted Aiko, unleashing a kick to the area where her boyfriend’s groin would be. “Let’s get something to eat!” Aiko then let loose with a barrage of punches and kicks.
After her impressive display of martial arts had come to an end, Aiko dropped to a knee and attempted to catch her breath. “Why do you need to be alone, Jaycee?” she whispered. “At a time like this you need me more than ever.”
Someone began clapping, prompting Aiko to turn around.
“I would say that I was impressed by that little display of yours,” said Mika. “But your skills are only amateur at best.”
“Who the hell are you to talk to me like that?” asked Aiko, whose already volatile rage had only been fueled further by the insult.
“It’s an introduction you want? Well, since you asked so nicely. My name is Mika, and I think you know why I’m here.”
“You were sent by Alenia.”
“Once again you’ve neglected to introduce me,” said a woman whose voice similar to Mika’s. “You do this every time.”
“Quiet,” said Mika. “You’ll get your introduction.”
“Who’s that?” asked Aiko, looking around for the source. “Is that another one of Alenia’s dogs? Are you planning on fighting two against one?”
“Why, yes, that’s exactly what we plan to do,” replied Mika, crouching down to present her identical partner standing behind her. “Allow me to introduce you to my sister Mina. But don’t let her looks fool you, she might look identical to me, but her fighting skills are nowhere near as refined as mine. Though she does have the stronger temper.”
“Sister,” said Mina. “You promised you would stop bringing that up.”
“I don’t care if there are two of you,” said Aiko, taking to a readied stance. “I can handle the both of you myself. I don’t need anyone’s help.”
“Shall we teach her a lesson?” asked Mina.
“I think we should,” said Mika.
Mina charged but her sister stayed right where she was. When Mina reached Aiko she threw a series of furious strikes at her opponent’s face. Even with depleted energy Aiko was still up to the task of avoiding each frantic attack. She then countered with a strike to her opponent’s jaw that sent Mina crashing to the floor.
Mika let out a boisterous laugh.
“Sister, how could you?” asked Mina, shakily getting to her feet.
“You didn’t think I would pass up such a perfect opportunity to make you look bad, did you? Besides, it’s not like this is the first time this has happened.”
“If you don’t rectify this I’ll tell the queen what you did. She’ll see to it that you never do anything like that again.”
“What a baby,” said Mika before charging. When she met Aiko Mika threw a number of jabs at her face, many finding their target.
Aiko leapt out of harm’s way. “You’re pretty good,” she said.
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” said Mika. When Mina got to her sister’s side they both charged. The number of blows Aiko was able to avoid was equal to the number she could not. And by taking so many direct hits Aiko was sent crashing to the floor.
“Sister, let me finish her,” said Mina. “After what she did to me she deserves everything that’s coming to her. Let me make her regret ever laying a finger on me.”
“She’s all yours. But remember what the queen told us. Try to leave a little something left of her. If not then her plan will go to waste.”
“I’ll try,” said Mina, making her way to her battered opponent, “but I can’t really promise anything.” She then tried to kick Aiko in the ribs but Aiko caught her foot. “What is this? How are you still able to fight?”
“Let’s just say I’ve had lots of practice against your kind,” said Aiko, pushing Mina away. After pouncing back to her feet Aiko delivered a series of strikes to Mina’s face, sending her opponent falling to the floor.
“And I suppose you plan on doing the same to me,” said Mika.
“That was the plan,” replied Aiko.
“Then show me what you’ve got,” exclaimed a charging Mika.
When the combatants met they let loose a barrage of attacks, all of which were either dodged or blocked. Finding the smallest of openings Aiko was able to kick Mika in the stomach, sending her foe crashing into the wall.
“What do you have to say for yourself now?” asked Aiko. It was immediately after she had asked her question when Aiko was kicked in the back of the head by Mina. The blow dazed Aiko and sent her to her knees. There was now more than enough of an opening for Mika, who finished her opponent with a kick to the face.
“Did you really think you could get away with striking my sister?” asked Mina. “No one has ever done that. It’s a shame that you were the first.”
“You should consider yourself the luckiest little brat on the face of the earth,” said Mika. “If not for our queen’s orders we wouldn’t hesitate to kill you on the spot.”
“Why don’t we just get it over with and kill her now?” asked Mina.
“We can’t. Disobeying the queen’s orders would surely result in our demise. Besides, her plan is one that I’m very much looking forward to.”
Mika crouched down and grabbed Aiko by the hair, forcing the beaten girl to look into her eyes. “Now that my sister and I are finished with you, we’re going to visit your friends. We’ve learned they’re all on their own.”
“But we don’t plan on visiting them together,” added Mina.
“One of us is going after that buxom little friend of yours, while the other is going after your boyfriend. And just to make the decision as to which one you’re going to help easier, we’re going to tell you which one of us is going after which of your friends.”
“I, the less talented fighter but far more beautiful sister, plan to introduce myself to that stuck up friend of yours,” said Mina.
“And I’m going to get up close and very personal with your boyfriend,” said Mika before letting go of Aiko’s hair, allowing her helpless opponent’s head to fall to the floor. “So, what’s it going to be? Are you going to save your boyfriend?”
“Or will you save your best friend?”
“The choice is completely up to you,” said Mika. “And for your friends’ sake I hope you make the right one, because either way, one of them is going to die. So you should ask yourself which one of them is the one you can live without.”
Mika made her way to the exit, but Mina stayed near Aiko. When the defeated girl tried to get back to her feet Mina kicked her in the face, sending Aiko crashing back down to the floor. “Arrogant little bitch,” said Mina before spitting on her.
“I did tell you that she had a temper, didn’t I?” asked Mika.
Even with the chair he was standing on Sage was unable to reach the top shelf in the equipment shed. “Why do they have to put things so far out of reach?” he asked. As he reached his arm as far as it would go Sage heard someone enter. He looked to the door and found a woman smiling at him.
“Hi,” said the waving twin who would soon be Sage’s opponent.
Sage knew immediately what the woman wanted.
Jaycee was in a back room of the church when someone entered. She turned to address the visitor but the lack of light made it difficult to see who it was. All Jaycee could make out from the form was that it was a woman.
“Are you here to see the pastor?” asked Jaycee, who was given no reply from the newcomer. “He’s not in right now, but he’ll be back soon.” There was once again no reply. “If you’d like you can wait for him out front.”
“Oh, I didn’t come here to see some pastor,” said the mysterious woman, making her way deeper into the room. She then stopped in the brief area of light penetrating through the window. “I came here to see you, my dear little Jaycee,” said the other twin.
Aiko ran frantically down the street, pushing through anyone who got in her way. She knew she could help only one of her friends, but Aiko had no idea as to which friend she was going to help. Part of her believed Jaycee could handle the weaker of the twins on her own, but another part believed Jaycee might not be up to the task.
Coming to the intersecting streets that would eventually lead to either Jaycee or Sage, Aiko came to a halt. If she continued east Aiko would find Jaycee and Mina, but if she ventured south Aiko would find Sage and Mika, the stronger twin.
“Which way am I supposed to go?” thought Aiko. “I can’t make a decision like this on my own. Why do I have to make this choice?”
Aiko then noticed a coin on the ground. She picked it up and looked it over. “I don’t think I have much of a choice,” she said. “Heads, I help Jaycee, tails, I help Sage.” Aiko then flipped the coin into the air. It landed with tails facing up.
Jaycee had just been kicked into a wall. The impact was so great that Jaycee was left unable to stand, leaving her slumped on the floor.
“No one told me how easy this was going to be,” said the twin who had introduced herself as Mina. With Jaycee in such a weakened state Mina took her time approaching her. She then jerked her foe up and propped her against the wall. “Tell me something. Why haven’t you been fighting back? Do you want me to kill you?”
“I refuse to fight you here.”
“Well, that’s too bad, because I don’t intend to take this outside,” said Mina before thrusting her knee into Jaycee’s stomach, sending her back to the floor. “I’ll give you one last chance. So get up and fight back now!”
Rather than obeying the order Jaycee reached into her shirt and pulled out her crucifix. She then began rubbing it and reciting a silent prayer.
“What are you saying? Speak up! I can’t hear you!” The lack of a reply only made Mina angrier. “How dare you ignore me!” She then ripped the crucifix from Jaycee’s neck. “Don’t you think if your God was going to save you, He would have done it by now?” Mina then threw the crucifix away.
Jaycee immediately began scanning the room in hopes of finding where her crucifix had been thrown. But doing so left her extremely vulnerable.
“Maybe this will get your attention, you little bitch,” exclaimed Mina. She then kicked Jaycee in the face with nearly enough force to knock her unconscious.
The doors flew open and in rushed Aiko. “Jaycee!” she shouted. Seeing her friend lying motionless on the floor, Aiko feared the worst.
“What the hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be helping your boyfriend! This isn’t what he had planned!”
Aiko charged, prompting Mina to do the same. They met between the long rows of pews and immediately began a heated battle.
“Why aren’t you helping your boyfriend?” asked Mina, frantically dodging and blocking Aiko’s attacks.
“I don’t have to explain myself to you,” said Aiko.
“It makes no difference to me. As long as somebody dies then this mission will have been a complete success.”
As Aiko and Mina continued their battle something startling occurred to Aiko. “You’re Mika,” she exclaimed, backing away to catch her breath.
“What?” gasped Mika. “How did you figure it out?” She and Mina were identical to each other, so it was virtually impossible to discern one from the other, which made Mika’s question one that warranted an answer.
“Your fighting techniques are completely different,” said Aiko. “It wasn’t really that hard for me to figure out.”
“You’re not as big a fool as I thought.”
“So now your real plan comes out,” said Aiko. “You wanted me to think the stronger twin was going after Sage so I would help him, leaving Jaycee to fend for herself against the real stronger sister. But since the weaker sister has gone after Sage it’s probably safe to assume the fight’s already over and Sage is on his way here as we speak.”
“You’re probably right. But why should I care if Mina lost? I never really cared for her. She was always getting in my way. Wherever I went, I was forced to bring her along. But now I’m free to do as I please.”
“You shouldn’t talk that way about your sister,” said Aiko.
“Shut up,” exclaimed Mika. “You don’t know what it’s like. A twin is just spare parts. If not for them, the first born would be twice as powerful. That little wretch has already cost me so much that I hope she did lose her life. That way I’ll be the only one.”
“As if I didn’t already have a good enough reason to do this,” said Aiko before charging and striking Mika with a series of blows to the face. She then caught her foe across the chin with a jarring kick. Mika fell to the floor and disappeared within a cloud of black smoke.
“Jaycee,” gasped Aiko, who had been so focused on the fight that she had forgotten all about her best friend’s well-being.
When Aiko turned to Jaycee she found her crawling along the floor. Aiko hurried to her just as Jaycee was taking hold of her crucifix that had so callously been ripped from around her neck. Aiko then held Jaycee in her arms, though it seemed Jaycee was unaware of her presence as her full attention was on her crucifix.
“Mother,” whispered Jaycee in a voice too silent to be heard.
The doors flew open and in entered Sage. What he found waiting for him was Aiko holding Jaycee within a thin beam of light shining in through a stained glass window. This was set before the wooden rendition of Christ hanging on the cross.
With another battle behind them Jaycee, Sage and Aiko made their way home. But they would soon find their day not yet done. A pulsating red light became visible from the roof of a nearby building. Jaycee caught her friends completely by surprise by sprinting away.
“Jaycee, wait,” said Aiko.
Sage and Aiko followed Jaycee to the roof of the third tallest building in the city. When they got there they found James.
“Jaycee,” whispered Aiko.
“What are you doing here?” asked James. It was clear that the question had been posed only to Jaycee, not the group. “How did you know I would be here?”
Jaycee tried to speak but nothing could escape through her quivering lips. She then made her way closer to James but stopped herself before getting too close.
“If you have nothing to say then leave,” demanded James. “I don’t have time to waste on the likes of you. Can’t you see that I want to be alone?”
“Jaycee, let’s go,” said Aiko.
“No,” replied Jaycee.
“It’s clear that you’re afraid of me,” said James, making his way to Jaycee. “So why don’t you do what you always do? Run away like the coward that you are. Show me how weak you really are by fleeing before saying a single word to me.”
“Watch what you say to her,” said Aiko.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” said James. “Why don’t you let Jaycee fight her own battle for once? Or don’t you think she can handle a confrontation? Then again, if not for you two, she wouldn’t even be here. She would have lost her life long ago.”
“She’s been through a hell of a lot more than you have,” exclaimed Aiko.
“Has she? Then why isn’t she defending herself? Why is she just standing there and taking it? Is it because if she did talk back to me, then her little fantasy world would come crumbling down? Her perfect vision of me forever tainted?”
Jaycee lowered her head.
“People like you disgust me,” said James. “You refuse to wake up and see the truth. You would rather live in your fantasies. And why do you do it? Because you’re weak.”
“Shut up!” shouted Aiko.
“Why don’t you make me?” asked James.
“Son of a bitch,” said Sage, extending his arm in preparation of summoning his weapon. But even though rage was coursing through him, Sage was unable to bring himself to call upon his sword. He knew, for Jaycee’s sake, it would be best to restrain himself.
“Do everyone a favor and just disappear,” said James.
To everyone’s surprise Jaycee summoned her staff. She then began her charge toward James, who did nothing but wait.
“Jaycee!” screamed Aiko. There would be no chance for Aiko to stop Jaycee as Sage had taken a firm grip on her arm. When Aiko turned to plead with Sage to let go of her she found his attention focused on Jaycee, not on her.
When Jaycee had reached a suitable distance from which to strike, James allowed it, taking the full impact of Jaycee’s fury across his face.
“She really hit him,” said Aiko.
Jaycee took another swing at James, but he caught her staff and ripped it away from her. He then threw her weapon away. If he so desired James could easily vanquish Jaycee on the spot for what she had just done to him.
Even more unexpected than her impromptu attack, Jaycee fell into James and began sobbing. “Why can’t you see things the way I see them?” she asked. Jaycee then began pounding her fist into James’ chest. “Why do you have to be like this? Can’t you see there are people who care about you?” Jaycee then fell to her knees.
Out of curiosity more than anything else, James crouched to Jaycee’s level.
“I thought if you just gave me the chance,” said Jaycee, “then I could make you feel the same way about me. I can’t believe how stupid I was to believe that.” Jaycee then stood but kept her head lowered as she did.
“I just need to know,” said Jaycee. “How you feel about me. Even if you hate me. I don’t care. I just need to know. I can’t stand not knowing.”
James said nothing.
“That silence says it all,” said Jaycee. “If you want me to go, then I’ll go.” Much to her surprise, when Jaycee began her departure James grabbed her by the arm. He then spun her around and looked deep into her eyes. Unable to stop herself Jaycee kissed James full on the lips. The sensation left Jaycee so numb that she fell into James’ chest.
Seeing this, Aiko’s eyes began to water.
James and Jaycee were then consumed by a stunning white light.
“What’s happening?” asked Sage.
So bright was the light that Sage and Aiko were unable to look upon it, leaving them unaware of the well-being of their friend.
“Jaycee!” shouted Aiko.
The display was brief, and when the light faded away James was still holding onto Jaycee. But now spread in all their glory upon James’ back was a pair of wings a shade of white more pristine than any other.