Jaycee and Aiko were spending the early part of their day off perusing the many aisles of their local super market. Jaycee was trying frantically to keep up with Aiko, who was eagerly snatching up the necessary ingredients she needed for the delectable banquet she was planning on preparing for Sage and his mother.
“I’m going to need some of this and a little bit of this,” said Aiko, pulling items off the shelf. “I don’t really need this but I’ll take some anyway.”
As she shopped, Aiko noticed Jaycee had wandered off to inspect vegetables. “Ever since James returned, Jaycee’s been happier than I’ve ever seen her,” said Aiko. “I hope she’s not setting herself up to get hurt again.”
An older man wearing a trench-coat buttoned all the way to the top appeared from around the corner of the aisle in which Aiko was browsing. “I agree wholeheartedly with you,” he said, looking Aiko over from head to toe.
“Pervert!” exclaimed Aiko, who immediately began pulling cans off the shelves and throwing them at the man, who was sent scurrying away.
On their way to Sage’s apartment, Jaycee and Aiko came upon a photo booth. Being one to never let opportunity slip through her fingers, Aiko grabbed Jaycee and yanked her in before her friend knew what was being done to her.
“Hey,” gasped Jaycee. “Aiko, what are you doing?”
Aiko inserted a few coins into the machine. “Smile for the camera, Jaycee,” she said. An instant after Aiko spoke those words, a picture was taken. Aiko then took to several poses for the ensuing three photos, while Jaycee remained relatively unchanged.
Once the pictures were developed, Aiko eagerly snatched them. “What the,” she said after getting her first look.
“What is it?” asked Jaycee, who was promptly shown the pictures. An incredibly bright golden glow was in every picture, rendering them unworthy as mementos.
“Stupid machine,” said Aiko, kicking the photo booth. “I’m going to give you one last chance before I order you to be taken apart.” And with that, Aiko inserted more money and yanked Jaycee inside again.
Like in her previous attempt at the perfect picture, Aiko took to several different playful poses. Jaycee, on the other hand, once again remained the same.
This time the pictures came out flawless. Each one contained Aiko and her lively smile and Jaycee, whose smile was far less enthusiastic. Aiko then ripped the sheet of pictures in half so that each girl would have two.
Sage was busying himself by watching television when the door bell rang. It rang not once, but three times, showing that whomever it was on the other side was quite eager to get someone on the inside to open up. Sage answered the door, presenting himself with a most unexpected surprise.
“Surprise,” exclaimed Aiko, presenting her bag of groceries.
“Uh, hello,” said Jaycee, who failed to show the same enthusiasm as Aiko.
“What are you doing here?” asked Sage.
“We’re here to cook for you,” said Aiko, showing her politeness by taking off her shoes. Jaycee followed suit and also removed her shoes.
“Cook for me?” asked Sage.
“That’s right,” said Aiko. “Doesn’t it make you feel good to know that someone cares for you enough to do something this nice for you?”
“Who was that at the door?” asked Sage’s mother, entering the room. Sage’s mother was a woman of great beauty, with flowing black hair and piercing green eyes. “Oh, I see,” she said, getting her first look at her son’s visitors.
“I’m Aiko,” said Aiko. “And this is Jaycee. But you probably already know that since Sage has already told you all about us.”
“Not really,” said Sage’s mother.
“You didn’t tell your mom about us?” asked Aiko.
Sage cautiously backed away from Aiko. “I’ve been . . . busy,” he replied.
“So, what brings you girls here?” asked Sage’s mother.
“We came to cook for you and Sage,” replied Aiko, holding up her bag of groceries. “We’re going to cook the most tasty meal you’ve ever eaten.”
“That’s very nice of you,” said Sage’s mother. “My son’s a very lucky boy.”
“He sure is,” said Aiko.
After the introductions had been made and Sage’s mother had given her blessing, the girls took to the kitchen. Sage and his mother sat at the table and waited for their meal. They had been given strict orders by Aiko not to enter the kitchen, though that would be difficult, seeing as there was no wall separating it from the dining room.
“I never knew my son had such a healthy appetite,” said Sage’s mother. “Two girlfriends. I hope the kids at school haven’t found out about this.”
“It’s not like that,” said Sage.
“Oh, now I understand,” said Sage’s mother. “I think the one with short hair is a bit too pushy. It’s like she has to be the center of attention. And she doesn’t have much of a figure on her, either. I definitely think you should choose the other one.”
“They’re not here to compete for me,” said Sage. “The choice has already been made. You could say it was made a long time ago.”
“Say no more,” said Sage’s mother, looking into the kitchen. “I think I know my son well enough to figure this one out. And let me just say that you’ve made a very wise choice. She’s very pretty. I especially like that cute little ponytail of hers. It makes her seem so innocent, which is what I’m sure she is, isn’t that right, Sage?”
“What?” gasped Sage.
“She’s very soft spoken,” added Sage’s mother. “I like that in a prospective wife. Plus, she has a body most girls would kill for. She reminds me a lot of myself when I was her age. I guess that’s why you chose her. Because deep down inside you want to marry a girl just like mommy, don’t you? You’re such a good boy.”
“Jaycee’s just my friend,” said Sage. “Aiko’s my girlfriend.”
“Oops,” said Sage’s mother before letting out a small laugh. “I guess you won’t be speaking to me for a while, will you?”
Aiko was cooking up a storm, while Jaycee was relegated to standing by and being nothing more than a spectator. She wanted to help but this was clearly Aiko’s project, and Aiko was acting like it, as she was monopolizing the area around the stove.
“I must say,” said Aiko, “for someone who’s never cooked this before, I think I’m doing a pretty good job.” She then opened a pouch of curry mix and dumped it into the pot. Not wanting to be wasteful, she made sure to use all of it. Aiko followed this up by adding a few more spices she thought would go well with curry.
Jaycee leaned in and inhaled the aroma of the simmering dish. So strong was the smell that Jaycee’s eyes began to water. “Is this going to be spicy?” she asked.
“Just a little,” said Aiko. “Why?”
“I can’t eat spicy foods,” said Jaycee. “It upsets my stomach.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier, Jaycee?” asked Aiko. “I could have picked up something different to make.”
“I didn’t know you were getting the spicy kind,” said Jaycee.
“Don’t you know there’s no other kind of curry other than the spicy kind?” asked Aiko, who was having difficulty stirring her concoction, which had grown quite thick. “I guess you can have just rice. That’s the only part of the meal that won’t be spicy.”
“Rice will be fine,” said Jaycee.
“I almost forgot,” said Aiko. “Could you take some spoons and plates to Sage and his mom? They can’t eat curry with their hands. Though when they smell how good this is, they might be so eager they just might try.”
“Okay,” said Jaycee.
“Oh, Jaycee,” said Aiko with a most grim look upon her face. “Don’t tell them what I’m making. I want them to be surprised.”
“Uh, okay,” replied Jaycee, a nervous smile on her face.
When Jaycee arrived at the table, she made sure not to make eye contact with Sage or his mother. “Drink lots of water,” she said quietly, placing the plates and spoons on the table. “And apologize to your taste buds in advance.”
Sage and his mother looked to have been frightened by the warning.
The big moment came a short time later. Jaycee and Aiko arrived at the table carrying a pot filled with a bubbling brown substance. They then dished out the meals, though it was evident that Jaycee’s was different.
“How come Jaycee doesn’t have to, I mean, why doesn’t Jaycee get to eat the same thing we’re eating?” asked Sage.
“Because Jaycee can’t eat spicy foods,” replied Aiko.
“Damn,” whispered Sage. “That excuse only works for one person. Why couldn’t I have thought of it first?”
“What was that?” asked Aiko, taking her seat.
“I said it looks good,” said Sage. “Let’s eat.”
Sage and his mother scooped up portions of their meals and filled their mouths. They chewed slowly, then swallowed long and hard.
“They eat exactly the same,” said Aiko. “They really are mother and son.”
“It’s very good,” said Sage’s mother, eyes beginning to water. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.”
“Yeah,” said Sage. “I’ve never tasted anything like this.”
“I almost forget,” said Aiko, rising from her chair to make her way back to the kitchen. “I’ll be right back, so keep eating.”
“Quick, Sage,” said his mother. “If you eat this as fast as you can, it won’t be as bad. Most of the taste will be lost that way. So don’t think, just do it.”
In unison, mother and son ate Aiko’s curry as quickly as they could. After finishing, they drank down every drop of water that was available to them, including what was in Jaycee’s glass. They then began gasping for some much needed air.
Jaycee was at a loss for words.
“What did I tell you?” asked Sage’s mother. “The faster you get things finished, the better. Now, when your girlfriend gets back, we’re going to tell her how much we enjoyed her cooking. Understand?” Sage’s mother then directed her attention toward Jaycee. “And I’m sure your friend won’t tell her the truth, will she?”
“No,” replied a smiling Jaycee.
Aiko returned. “Wow,” she said, gazing at the empty plates in front of Sage and his mother. “I was looking for something to put the leftovers in after we finished, but I guess we aren’t going to have any.” She then heaped more curry onto the empty plates.
Sage and his mother slumped in their chairs.
“This time I’ll be able to watch you enjoy my cooking,” said Aiko.
To keep from looking suspicious, Sage and his mother ate Aiko’s meal without showing any signs of discomfort. This prolonged the meal, but it eventually came to an end. And once everyone was finished, the group took to the living room.
“So, when did you meet my son?” Sage’s mother asked Aiko.
“Oh, we met a long time ago,” said Aiko. “I can’t even tell you how long we’ve known each other. It feels like forever.”
“But Sage and I moved to the area just a few years ago,” said his mother.
“What?” gasped Aiko. “You did?”
“That was when they met,” said Jaycee. “When Sage transferred to our school.”
“Aiko isn’t very good with time,” said Sage. “The truth is, Aiko and Jaycee were the first friends I made. I’m very lucky to know both of them.”
“I’m glad my son knows girls as nice as you,” said Sage’s mother.
The conversation was broken when the phone began ringing. “Excuse me,” said Sage’s mother, leaving to take the call.
“Sage, your mom’s really pretty,” said Jaycee.
“Yeah,” said Aiko. “Now I see where your good looks come from. I bet when your mom was younger, she was just like me.”
Jaycee picked up a nearby picture of a young Sage holding a soccer ball. Behind him in the picture was his mother. “Your mom looks really young in this picture,” said Jaycee. She then felt as if she had said the wrong thing. “I hope you don’t mind me saying so.”
“She was still in high school when I was born,” said Sage. “So was my father. I guess that’s why he ran out on her.”
“Typical man,” blurted out Aiko. She then felt too that she had just said the wrong thing. “I don’t mean all men are like that,” she said.
“We’re better off without him,” said Sage. “My mother wasn’t about to let some man stand in the way of our happiness. Even her family refused to help her when she chose to keep me. Rather than beg them for help, my mother worked as hard as she could to provide a life for us. She only had herself to rely on.”
“What an amazing mother you have,” said Aiko.
“To make ends meet, my mom has to work two jobs,” said Sage. “I told her I could work part time, but she told me I need to focus on my education.”
The call had lasted only a short time, giving Sage’s mother the opportunity to make it back in time to hear most of the conversation from the hall.
“It’s because of my mother that I work so hard in school,” said Sage. “That’s how I’m always able to score in the top three. I’m going to the best college there is. That way all the sacrifices she’s made for me will have been worth it.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed your name on the list,” said Jaycee. “You and I usually score about the same. But I don’t remember seeing Aiko’s name.”
Aiko lowered her head. “I always score in the top fifty,” she murmured. “Isn’t that good enough for you?”
Sage’s mother returned. “That was my boss,” she said. “Looks like I’m going to have to work the late shift tonight.”
“But you worked late last night,” said Sage.
“Worker bees don’t get to make the rules,” said Sage’s mother. She then pulled a few bills from her purse and gave them to her son. “Why don’t you three go out and have some fun. There’s no sense in staying inside all day.”
“You don’t have to give us money,” said Aiko.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Sage’s mother. She then made her way to the door. “Have fun.” And with that, Sage’s mother departed.
The three took the advice of Sage’s mother and spent the rest of the day in the city. They were out until dark visiting stores, the local game center and, as Aiko had adamantly requested, the best place in town to get frozen treats.
“I still can’t believe you ate the whole thing,” said Sage.
“If it’s sweet, then I can finish it,” said Aiko.
As the three continued on their excursion, Jaycee noticed something up ahead. She had to stop to get a better look at it, and when she did, Sage and Aiko stopped as well. So focused was Jaycee that she continued to stare even though Sage and Aiko had begun looking at her to see if something was wrong with her.
“Hey, Jaycee, are you alright?” asked Aiko.
“Don’t you two see the light?” asked Jaycee
After being told about the light, Sage and Aiko turned their gaze upward and found what it was that Jaycee had been staring at so intently. A pulsing red light was emanating from the roof of a nearby building.
“What could that be?” asked Sage. He then looked around and noticed something that struck him as odd. “I don’t think anyone else can see it.”
“I think this is something we have to check out,” said Aiko, whose determination was evident in both her face and tone of voice.
The three wasted no time in making their way to the roof of the eighth tallest building in the city. Waiting for the newcomers at the top was a woman with flowing blonde hair whose back was turned to them.
“Who are you?” asked Aiko. “What was that light we saw?”
The woman turned around to show herself. Her lips were as red as rubies, her eyes, an icy blue, and her figure was devilishly exquisite. The smile she wore, however, was more threatening than it was inviting. “It took you long enough to get here,” she said.
“Look at the moon,” said Sage.
Jaycee, Sage and Aiko watched as the moon changed from a pristine white to a faded shade of red. Though the new moon was a marvel to behold, it was unsettling to see. It almost seemed to be hanging in the empty night sky only for those four.
“Ah, the cherry moon,” said the woman, turning back around to face it. She then spread her arms, as if to embrace the newest arrival. “The harbinger of doom, as some would call it. For whenever it makes an appearance, something dreadful tends to transpire. But why should we let that spoil our fun? Bad things will just have to wait for another time.”
“Who is this woman?” asked Sage.
“It’s so good to see you again . . . my dear little Jaycee,” said the woman, staring intently at her. “It feels like it’s been centuries since we last spent any quality time together. I do hope that you’re just as excited to see me as I am to see you.”
“You know her?” asked Aiko.
“I have no idea who this woman is,” said Jaycee.
“How could she know your name?” asked Sage.
“You’re probably wondering who I am, aren’t you?” asked the woman. “Well, I’m the one who’s been sending demons after you.”
“You’re the one they’ve been calling their queen,” exclaimed Aiko. “Do you know how much trouble you’ve put us through? Why have you been sending demons to attack us? What have we done to you?”
“Do I really need a reason?” asked the woman.
“You’d better have a damn good one,” said Sage.
“Very well,” said the woman. “The reason I’ve been coming after you is, you’re standing in my way. There’s something that I have to do, and you three are the only ones who can stop me. So I really have no other choice but to destroy you.”
“Accomplish what?” asked Aiko. “What are you talking about?”
“There’s something, rather, there’s someone that I have to take back with me,” said the woman. “This person could very well shift the balance of power in our favor.”
“What person are you talking about?” asked Sage.
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough,” said the woman.
“Tell me,” said Jaycee. “How do you know who I am? Why are you acting like you’re so familiar with me?”
“It’s about time you asked me that question,” said the woman. A frigid wind then began to howl, sending a collective chill through Jaycee and the others. A heavy mist then appeared, making it impossible for anyone to see the mysterious woman.
“Well, Jaycee, does this answer your question?” asked the woman. The wind died down and the mist evaporated, leaving behind a most horrifying sight.
“It can’t be,” said Jaycee.
Standing before the group was a woman of pale blue skin, radiant white hair, and piercing blue eyes. Her silken white outfit was angelic in appearance, but there was nothing else divine about the woman.
“Alenia,” said Jaycee, timidly backing away.
“I’m so flattered that you remember me,” said Alenia, running her fingers through her hair. “It makes me feel so good to know that I’ve left such a lasting impression on you. I don’t know how I would have felt had you forgotten who I was.”
“How do you know this woman, Jaycee?” asked Aiko. “What have you two been through together? What happened?”
“A thousand years ago,” said Jaycee, “. . . I killed her.”
“What?” gasped Aiko, who immediately turned to Sage, who was just as shocked as Aiko was to hear that Jaycee could commit such an act.
“That’s right, my dear little Jaycee,” said Alenia, another frigid wind blowing across the rooftop. “You killed me.” A most ominous look then appeared on the ice demon’s face. “And I’m not going to rest until I do to you what you did to me.”