The Seeds of Doubt
Vice Principal Takagi was paying a visit to the local botanical garden on this most perfect of mornings. The scent of all the different species of plants inside would be intoxicating to even the least refined senses of smell.
A pink flower the size of a small tree soon became the focal point of the vice principal’s icy glare. “Isn’t it about time you woke up?” she asked.
The petals opened to display a most beautiful sight. Resting within was a woman with hair as golden as the sun. Her outfit was made of a large palm leaf slit wide down the middle, forming a V shape that exposed much of her chest.
The woman let out a yawn. “You called for me, my queen?” she asked, stretching her arms high above her head.
“I have a favor to ask of you, Hana,” said Vice Principal Takagi.
“Say no more, my queen,” said Hana. “Just find a way to lure those bothersome little pests to me and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“I knew I could count on you,” said the vice principal.
“But tell me something, my queen,” said Hana. “If I do a favor for you, will you do a favor for me? It’s only fair.”
“What is it you had in mind?” asked the vice principal.
Hana moved so close to her queen that the two were nearly touching. “You have to promise to come back here and sample my special flowers,” said Hana. Just then a nearby batch of lilies began quivering and sending a delightful aroma toward the two.
Vice Principal Takagi’s body shook ever so slightly. “Let’s just say we’ll cross that bridge once we get to it,” she said.
“Then I will do everything in my power to bring an end to our enemies,” whispered Hana into her queen’s ear. “I shan’t disappoint you.”
Aiko was staring out one of the school’s second story windows. Beside her was Jaycee, who was unsure how to handle the situation. She had never been in a position to comfort someone and had no idea as to what to say to lift her best friend’s spirits.
“I can’t believe Sage would say something like that to me,” said Aiko in a voice just loud enough for Jaycee to hear.
“I’m sure it’s because Sage hasn’t awoken like we have,” said Jaycee. “He probably doesn’t remember who you are. But once he regains his memories, I’m sure things will go back to the way they were. You just have to believe things will work out.”
“It doesn’t matter if he remembers me or not,” said Aiko. “Nothing can erase what he said. The look he had in his eyes. It’s clear he doesn’t want to be with me.”
“You don’t really mean that,” said Jaycee. “You just need some time to think about how you really feel about Sage.”
“I’ve had about a thousand years to think about it,” said Aiko. “But if Sage doesn’t feel the same way about me, then what’s the point?”
Before Jaycee could say another word, she noticed a pair of boys staring at her and Aiko from down the hall. “Aiko,” she said to her unresponsive friend. “Those boys over there are staring at us. Aiko, help me. What am I supposed to do?”
Having been given no advice other than what sounded like a grunt, Jaycee would soon be left to fend for herself when the two boys began their approach.
“Aiko, they’re coming this way,” said Jaycee.
“Hey, girls,” said the blonde one. “We were just wondering if you two weren’t busy after school, maybe you’d like to get together and do something.”
“Uh . . . well,” said Jaycee.
“You don’t have boyfriends, do you?” asked the one with brown hair. “We never see you two with any guys. You’re always just with each other.”
“You want to do something after school?” asked Jaycee.
“Sure,” said the blonde one. “We can get something to eat. You two don’t already have plans, do you?”
“You two are on the baseball team, right?” asked Aiko, still staring out the window. “You both play in the outfield.”
“That’s right,” said the one with brown hair. “Do you know much about baseball?”
“I know enough,” replied Aiko.
“So, how about it?” asked the blonde one. “Are you free?”
“We’re free,” replied Aiko, who surprisingly had a smile on her face when she turned to face the two. “Your treat, of course.”
“Then it’s a date,” said the blonde one. “We’ll see you girls after school.” And with that, the two departed down the hall, leaving the girls as they were.
“A date,” said a blushing Jaycee, who had never before been on one. “Are you sure about this? What about Sage?”
“What about him?” asked Aiko. “He’s not my boyfriend. You saw that for yourself. I can’t keep living in the past, Jaycee. It’s time for me to move on.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Jaycee noticed a bright green flyer on a bulletin board advertising a botanical garden. It seemed odd to her because she had looked in that direction not long ago and seen no flyer. “Was that there before?” she thought.
“Promise me something, Jaycee,” said Aiko.
“What is it?” asked Jaycee.
“Promise that you’ll never do to me what Sage did,” said Aiko. “Promise me that you’ll never hurt me like he did.” There was a clear sense of desperation in Aiko’s voice.
“I promise,” said Jaycee. “I would never hurt you.”
Aiko grabbed onto Jaycee’s hands, looking ready to burst into tears. “Swear to me, Jaycee,” she said. “Swear on your life that you’ll never hurt me.”
“I swear . . . on my life,” replied a frightened Jaycee. “I won’t.”
After the school day came to its end, Jaycee and Aiko were treated to a meal at their favorite café. Jaycee was seated next to the blonde and Aiko sat next to the one with brown hair. It was the boys who had decided the seating arrangements.
Not having an appetite, Aiko ordered only an orange soda, while an apprehensive Jaycee had ordered a lime soda, but was far too nervous to drink it.
“So the sun is shining so bright that I can’t see a thing,” said the blonde. “But I know the ball’s coming right at me.”
As the story was being told, Aiko had her straw in her mouth but wasn’t sipping her drink, nor was she paying any attention to what was being said. Jaycee, on the other hand, looked as stiff as a living person could be as she wore a polite smile on her face and listened to a story that she, for the life of her, could not understand.
“That’s when I came running in to save the game,” said the one with brown hair.
“That’s an interesting story,” said Jaycee. “Wasn’t it an interesting story, Aiko?” Seeing her friend’s disinterest left Jaycee feeling as if she had been left all alone on the battlefield. She desperately wanted Aiko to say something to rescue her.
“Tell them about the home runs we hit in the finals,” said the blonde.
Unable to put up with the strain of wearing a false smile, Jaycee lowered her head and prepared to endure another mundane story.
The baseball stories went on for another hour before the date finally came to an end. The group said their goodbyes, then went their separate ways.
“I could have used your help in there, Aiko,” said Jaycee. “I had to talk to both of them. I didn’t even know what they were saying half the time.”
“Sorry,” said Aiko. “It was a bad idea to go on this date in the first place. I thought I could get my mind off Sage, but he was all I could think about. I just don’t know how I should feel about him. I’m so confused.”
“It’s normal to feel that way,” said Jaycee. “You take all the time you need to figure this out. And I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
“But I don’t like this feeling,” said Aiko.
Jaycee decided at that moment that she would do everything in her power to cheer up Aiko. “Come on, the day isn’t over yet,” said Jaycee. “Let’s see if we can find something we want to do.” It was after she had spoken those words when Jaycee noticed another bright green flyer for a botanical garden taped to the café window. Jaycee squinted to make sure what she was seeing was real. “I don’t remember seeing that before,” she said to herself.
The girls separated themselves from the hustle and bustle of the city and took to the serenity of a nearby park. At the center of the park was a building the girls would be spending the rest of their day.
An attractive redhead wearing a pair of white overalls with red vertical stripes was out front trying to get people to come inside. She was carrying a tray filled with an assortment of different colored flowers.
“Would you girls like to come in?” asked the woman. “Pretty young things like you should be interested in things like flowers and . . . uh, rainbows?” It was quite clear that time had passed the woman by as she was obviously out of touch with what was popular among today’s high school girls.
“Pretty?” asked a blushing Jaycee.
“Why are you dressed like that?” asked Aiko.
“This is my uniform, sweetie,” replied the woman, who looked to be fighting back her anger by wearing an awkwardly fake smile.
“You look like you should be handing out free samples at the grocery store,” said Aiko. “You didn’t get to choose your uniform, did you?”
“Is this the place that I’ve been seeing on all those flyers?” asked Jaycee.
“Yes, it is,” replied the woman. “We’ve been putting our flyers up all around town. It looks as if they’ve done their job.”
“Let’s go inside,” suggested Jaycee. “I bet seeing all those pretty flowers will help cheer you up.” She then took Aiko by the hand and led her into the building.
The woman waved at the girls until they had entered the building. She then allowed her rage to take over. “What the hell’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?” she exclaimed. “I thought this was how girls dressed these days. I saw it in a magazine!”
The fury that had built up inside the woman quickly disappeared. And after it did, a cloud of black smoke consumed her. When the smoke cleared, what was left behind was Vice Principal Takagi, who promptly tossed her tray into a nearby bush.
“You girls should thank me for what I’ve done,” she said. “Not many people get the chance to die while surrounded by such beauty.”
After entering the garden, the girls were hit immediately with a barrage of vibrant colors and invigorating aromas.
“This place is amazing,” said Jaycee, looking in every direction.
“It’s okay,” said a far less enthused Aiko.
Hana, now dressed far more appropriately than she was that morning, arrived to greet her visitors. “It’s a pleasure to welcome you girls to my garden,” she said. “My name is Hana. Can I interest you in a guided tour?”
“That would be nice,” said Jaycee. “Thank you.”
Hana first led the girls to a patch of leafy green plants about a foot tall. “These are called basil plants,” said Hana.
Jaycee leaned in and inhaled deeply the fragrance of the plants. “Go ahead, Aiko,” she said. “They smell really good.”
Aiko took a whiff. “They smell weird,” she said.
“To the ancient Greeks, the basil plant was a symbol of hatred,” said Hana. “I don’t know why, but the basil plant has always been one of my favorites.” Hana then led the girls to a nearby gathering of fetching white flowers. “These are called Japanese windflowers.”
“Is there a special meaning to these?” asked Jaycee.
“I’m glad you asked that question,” said Hana. “The Japanese windflower is a symbol of abandonment. Many girls your age have been found holding onto these after they’ve killed themselves after being hurt by someone they thought cared about them.”
Aiko’s head hung down after the latest piece of information had been given. Seeing this, Jaycee tried frantically to change the subject. “What are those over there?” she asked, pointing at a group of green plants with thick leaves.
“Those are aloe plants,” answered Hana. “They symbolize bitterness and pain.”
Knowing she had to lighten the mood, and quickly, Jaycee pointed to another plant. “How about that one over there,” said Jaycee.
“That plant is called a Sweet William,” answered Hana.
“Oh, that sounds nice,” said Jaycee.
“It symbolizes scorn,” explained Hana, smiling as she answered.
Once again hoping to find a plant not associated with something horribly negative, Jaycee pointed to one that was purple and bushy. “Oh, that one over there looks pretty,” she said. “What do you call it?”
“That one?” asked Hana. “Why, that one is called a Sage.”
Aiko let out a loud groan.
With the way things were playing out, Jaycee was beginning to wonder if she could have subconsciously been asking such questions to worsen the situation. “Uh . . . look, Aiko,” said Jaycee, taking her friend by the hand. She then led Aiko to a patch of roses of a rich crimson. “I know what roses symbolize. Love and beauty.”
“I’ve never been a big fan of those flowers,” said Hana.
A flower of a deep shade of purple caught Jaycee’s eye. It had somehow made its way into the batch of roses. Despite the incredible beauty surrounding it, the purple flower stood out, making it the most exquisite of all.
“What kind of flower is this?” asked Jaycee. “It’s beautiful.”
Hana hurried to the flower in question and plucked it. She then crushed it within her grasp. “Worthless weed,” she said. “How did you get mixed in with these roses?”
Jaycee watched as Hana tossed the flower into a trashcan. She then found Aiko admiring a batch of nearby lilies, so she went to her.
“I don’t know why,” said Aiko, gazing into Jaycee’s eyes, “but I really like these flowers.” A gentle breeze then sent the sweet aroma flooding into both girls’ senses.
“I like them, too,” said Jaycee, gazing at Aiko.
“I’ve never noticed how nicely you fit into your school uniform,” said Aiko. “It really shows off your figure.”
“I can’t believe I never noticed how full your lips are,” said Jaycee.
Hana rushed to the scene and ushered Jaycee and Aiko away from each other. “Girls, girls,” she exclaimed. “You don’t want to waste your time on those boring old flowers. I have something far more interesting to show you.”
The girls shook out of their aroused states once they were separated from the lilies. They were then led to an immense leafy green plant brimming with long, thick vines.
“What kind of plant is this?” asked Aiko.
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough,” said Hana under her breath.
The image of the purple flower was consuming Jaycee’s every thought. And before long she remembered its significance. “Aiko, I remember what that purple flower means,” she said. It was immediately after Jaycee had uttered those words when a vine from the plant shot out and wrapped tightly around her throat.
“Jaycee!” screamed Aiko. She immediately grabbed the vine and tried to tear it but she was nowhere near strong enough to do so.
Hana let loose with a boisterous fit of laughter. She then tore off her clothes, revealing the leafy outfit underneath. “I guess I don’t need to tell you girls that our tour has come to an end,” she exclaimed.
Rather than continuing her futile attempt to break the vine with her hands, Aiko sunk her teeth into it, severing the fleshy green appendage. The vine recoiled, showing that the action taken against it had brought about a great amount of pain.
“Are you alright?” asked Aiko, removing the vine from Jaycee’s throat.
“Yeah,” answered Jaycee.
“What have you done to my baby?” exclaimed Hana, who was rubbing her monstrous plant’s wounded vine.
“Who are you?” asked Aiko. “Why are you doing this?”
“I’ve already told you who I am,” replied Hana. “And the reason I’m doing this is because my queen ordered me to. Does that answer your question?”
“Your queen?” asked Aiko.
“You don’t have to worry about that,” said Hana. “Because you’re not going to live long enough to find out who she is!”
A plethora of vines then thrust from Hana’s pet plant and wrapped tightly around Aiko’s arms, legs, and throat, giving no hope for escape.
“Aiko,” exclaimed Jaycee, who immediately attempted to free her friend.
“Forget about me,” said Aiko. “Get out of here!”
“No, I won’t leave you,” said Jaycee, still trying to free Aiko.
“Oh, you’re not going anywhere,” exclaimed Hana, who now held a vine whip. She wasted no time in flinging it at Jaycee, catching her by the arm. “Now I’ve got you both!”
“Let her go,” demanded Aiko.
“If that’s what you really want,” said Hana. She then pulled on her whip, sending Jaycee into a wall and leaving the girl in a near unconscious state. “That was what you meant, wasn’t it? You weren’t really clear.”
“Jaycee!” screamed Aiko, whose face was now turning red from the tightening of the vine around her throat. “Damn you, bitch.”
“Just for that,” said Hana, prompting the plant grasping Aiko to spread apart its leaves to expose its ghastly head. Its head consisted of nothing more than a gaping mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, all dripping with a thick, transparent liquid. “You took a bite out of my plant,” said Hana. “So now it gets to take a bite out of you.”
Unable to negate the plant’s overpowering pull, Aiko was drawn ever closer to her demise with each second that passed. She dug her feet into the ground but could only delay ever so shortly the fate that awaited her.
“What the hell are you doing here?” asked Hana.
From the corner of her eye, Aiko spotted Sage standing a few yards away. “Sage,” she whispered. Aiko then watched as Sage extended his right arm and conjured up a blinding white light. From the light emerged a sword.
“That sword,” groaned Jaycee. “Could it be?”
Sage wasted no time in charging and slashing the vines ensnaring Aiko. The freed girl fell to the ground and gasped desperately for the air she had been craving. Sage then cut the monstrous plant down with one powerful swing of his sword.
“You bastard!” shouted Hana, hurling her whip at Sage. With incredible quickness, Sage sliced through it.
“Enough of this!” shouted Hana. “Kill him!”
Vines covered with thorns and much larger than the ones used to snare Aiko came crashing down toward Sage. He avoided them all, leaving them to break only the ground. Though Sage had been able to avoid the vines, he was far from being out of danger. Nearby flowers began shooting poisonous needles at him. His agility and stealth aided Sage in avoiding each projectile.
“Don’t you get it?” exclaimed Hana. “You’re not getting out of here alive! None of you are getting out of here alive! Death is the only punishment for those who dare to defy the queen! And all of you are guilty!”
Jaycee, who was coming back to her senses, noticed a vine wrapped around the bottom of Hana’s leg. She followed the length of the vine and found that it was connected to a large pink flower. By the way its petals were moving, it seemed as if the flower was breathing.
“Sage,” exclaimed Jaycee. “The vine that’s around her leg. The flower. She’s feeding off of that flower.”
“Damn you!” shouted Hana.
Sage immediately began his charge toward the source of Hana’s power. He moved with such swiftness that additional thorn covered vines and poisonous needles were unable to catch him, leaving Sage free to accomplish his goal.
“No!” screamed Hana as Sage’s sword slashed through her flower. A stream of white substance exploded from the flower and it began to flail around wildly. Hana immediately let out a horrendous scream, then fell to her knees.
Jaycee, Sage and Aiko watched as Hana shriveled up into a wilted brown husk at an incredible rate. The plants that had just been so dangerously active then reverted back to nothing more than normal greenery.
Jaycee got to her feet and immediately went to Aiko, who was on her knees. Her head, however, was lowered, making it difficult to tell her condition.
“Don’t worry about me,” said Aiko. “I’ll be alright.”
“That sword,” said Jaycee. “Is it?”
“No,” replied Sage. His sword then disappeared from his grasp. “It’s just an ordinary sword. The only thing special about it is how I’m able to summon it.”
Aiko stood. Though her head remained lowered, her emotional state was in no way a secret. The way her body was trembling revealed that she was crying.
“Aiko,” said Sage, approaching from behind. He placed his hand on her shoulder but she jerked away, removing Sage’s hand as she did.
“You knew who I was, didn’t you?” asked Aiko.
Sage hesitated before answering. “Yes,” he said.
“Then how could you?” asked Aiko. “How could you say those things to me? How could you treat me like that?”
“I . . . was afraid,” replied Sage.
“What were you afraid of?” asked Aiko. “Were you afraid of me?”
“I don’t know,” replied Sage. “Maybe I was afraid of not knowing what was going to happen to us if we remembered who we were.”
“Didn’t everything we had been through mean anything?” asked Aiko. “Was I the only one who thought it meant something? Was I the only one who cared?”
“I thought I was protecting you,” said Sage.
“That’s the best excuse you can come up with?” asked Aiko.
“You have to believe me,” said Sage. “What I did, I did it for your own good. You just saw firsthand what could happen. If we all had just stayed away from each other, then maybe none if this would have happened. Please try to understand.” Sage once again placed his hand on Aiko’s shoulder.
With the quickness of a viper, Aiko whipped around and slapped Sage across the face. The impact was so great that it echoed throughout the building.
“Aiko,” gasped Jaycee.
“You think you can just say a few words and I’ll forget what you did to me?” asked Aiko, tears streaming down her face. “You had nothing to be afraid of! Anything that was waiting for you would have been waiting for both of us! We would have faced it together! As long as we had each other, we had nothing to be afraid of!”
Too stunned to come up with a reply, Sage could only place his hand on his throbbing cheek and stare dumbfounded at Aiko.
“Just stay away from me! I never want to see you again!” shouted Aiko, who then pushed past Sage and ran out of the building.
“Aiko,” whispered Jaycee.
“Aiko, wait!” exclaimed Sage, who immediately gave chase.
Jaycee watched as Aiko and Sage ran off, but something kept her from following. Much to her surprise, Jaycee realized that every plant in the building had been replaced by flowers of the richest shade of purple.
Jaycee knelt before a patch and gently plucked one of the flowers. She then gazed longingly at it. “My life,” she whispered. Every flower then began to flutter in a non-existent breeze. “These flowers . . . are the symbol of my life.”