Chapter 6: Akari Takeo
Two days later, Makoto received a lead from Chester, who told her that Angelika Heilner had left a portion of her belongings in what is now Stitches Wildlife Park.
He’d given little indication as to where she had left it, except that it would be on the coastline. She assumed it would be marked somehow, even if the marker was exceptionally subtle. Who would leave their belongings somewhere with no assurance that they would be able to find their way back to it?
So there she was, hiking through Stitches Wildlife Park, becoming extremely familiar with a lot of trees, moss that dripped rainwater down her back, and stones that rolled beneath her feet in various attempts to kill her.
It had been raining all day, and she was no less soaked than when she had been taken prisoner underwater.
Chester was following another possible lead in a naval museum across town, after learning that there was an exhibit on Angelika there.
She was taken by surprise when her phone rang, blasting a loud Japanese song throughout the otherwise silent forest. Hoping it was Chester with some light to shed, she hunched over her phone to protect it from the rain.
But it wasn’t Chester, it was her father. She almost didn’t answer it, but she decided that it would be better to be compliant in every possible area of her life for the sake of avoiding as many fights as she could.
And as long as he didn’t blatantly forbid her from being a detective, she shouldn’t have too much trouble with that.
So she hit accept and pressed the freezing-cold phone to her ear. “Hello?” She asked, and odd warble in her voice as she tried to speak past the chill that just ran down her spine from the cold.
“Makoto? Where are you? How are you?” Her father asked in a voice that almost sounded genuinely concerned and fatherly.
Makoto kicked a tree in self-punishment. Of course it was genuinely concerned and fatherly. He did love her. He loved her a lot more than he sometimes chose to show her. She knew that.
“I’m alright, Dad. I’m at the wildlife park. Why? What’s the matter?” She asked, meeting his kindness with equal sincerity.
“I don’t really want to tell you over the phone, Makoto, but I don’t have time to come to you and you don’t deserve to have it kept from you for as long as I’ll be gone.” Hiroshida said gently, somehow sounding heartbroken.
Makoto hadn’t heard him sound that distraught since Takeo disappeared and resurfaced as a soldier.
“Gone? Where are you going? What’s wrong, Dad?” Makoto demanded, stopping by a tree and glaring up at a cluster of moss that kept dripping on her head.
“It’s Takeo, Makoto.” Hiroshida said haltingly. “He’s been declared killed in action.”
Makoto’s heart stopped. She felt her mouth fall open and her eyes fill with tears as her chest clenched. “Confirmed?” She whispered fearfully.
“They saw it happen. They have his body. It’s confirmed.” Hiroshida responded softly.
As much as it killed her, as much as Makoto felt herself being torn apart piece by piece, she knew that Hiroshida must have taken it harder. He had been on bad terms with Takeo for years, which was hard on everyone. And after losing his wife and now his son, too, Hiroshida had lost more than any man should.
“I’m so sorry, Dad. Are you going to be alright?” She asked quietly, her own voice shaking uncontrollably as she tried to hold back her tears.
“I...I have to return to Japan for two days for a meeting. I’m leaving you here with Sakuza, but I’ll be back in just under a week.” He said evasively. “I’m sorry to leave like this, Makoto, but I can’t avoid it. I’ve tried.”
“It’s okay.” Makoto said forgivingly. “Dad, I—I have to go.” She hung up so quickly that the phone dropped out of her hands and plummeted to the moss blanket below.
He was gone? How could he be gone? How could he be dead?
He’d been gone from her for years, but now she was, truly, alone.
Makoto fell against the tree and wept.
Makoto concluded her search for the day and somehow managed to drive herself home, where she made dinner for Sakuza, ate none of it, and collapsed in her bedroom and didn’t wake up until the next day.
As she walked down the college hallway, she felt eyes following her, like they all knew that something horrible was wrong. She may be able to hide injuries, but that didn’t mean she could hide her pain.
Her eyes were red, her face was splotchy, her shoulders sagged and her feet dragged. She felt hollow; empty. How many times did she think about Takeo every day? How many times did she long for his return and mourn his absence? How many times did she reminisce in the good times they had?
She turned the corner, only to run directly into the path of Tadashi. Her expression became downright livid as she beheld someone on whom she could express her anger without feeling regret.
His face, upon seeing her, went from his usual lazy smirk to wary confusion.
“You wanna go, Kido? Let’s go. Right now. You and me.” She let her backpack slide from her shoulders and crash to the ground carelessly.
Tadashi glanced at it, a single eyebrow raised. “You should have chosen a punching bag, Makoto. Don’t try to take out your anger on someone who can mop the floor with you.” He said arrogantly.
It was enough to make her snap. Her fist went flying but he clearly expected it, catching her wrist and spraining it with a simple twist of his elbow.
She hissed and jerked back, tears brimming in her eyes. “Come on, then.” She growled, giving him a shove. “Hit me. Hit me!”
Tadashi took a step away from her. “What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me,” She seethed, reaching down and snatching up her backpack with vicious wrath. “Is I am alone in a world of people who don’t care if I live or die.”
It wasn’t true. She had Chester. She had her father.
But she felt more alone than ever.
She slung it haphazardly across her shoulders and stormed away from him, her face becoming wet with her anguish.
“Hime,” Tadashi called after a long minute.
She whipped around, her long, tangled hair smacking some poor unsuspecting student in the face as he walked by. “What?” She snapped.
Makoto was sure that being kidnapped nine times was not a third as surprising as what happened next. The rude, coarse, jerk of a man who had contributed to making her life utterly miserable reached out to her and pulled her into a firm embrace. “I’m sorry about your brother, Makoto.”
As quickly as it had begun, it was over, and he was walking in the opposite direction, the smell of Vortex cologne lingering in his wake.
Makoto stared after him, her anger dissipating into emptiness.
It was Takeo who was taken from her. But the things he did and the things he taught would live on. His death did not change who he had wanted her to be.
Makoto lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. She turned gracefully and bore her pain proudly with strength.
Chester caught up with her after her third class, his eyes panicked and his body language urgent. “Makoto, I need to talk to you.” He said quietly, catching her by the elbow.
She turned to him slowly, questioningly. “How do you know? Chess, how does everyone know?”
He grimaced. “It’s on the news, Makoto. Your dad’s not exactly a nobody.” He nodded towards an empty classroom and then disappeared inside of it.
Makoto could have screamed. She was so tired of people finding things out before she was ready for them to. Would it kill the world to respect a little bit of privacy?
Nevertheless, she followed Chester into the classroom and sat down when he gestured to a chair.
“But what’s on the news isn’t true.” He continued, almost shamefully. “Not completely. He didn’t die in the way that they imply.” He met her eyes fearfully.
Makoto remained absolutely calm. She didn’t ask him to explain himself—she already knew that he would without prompting. She just folded her hands across her lap and focused on keeping herself together.
“Remember in the library, when you met my team?” He asked leadingly.
“You said there was one more member who couldn’t make it.” She recalled flatly. “It was Takeo, wasn’t it?”
Chester nodded, unsurprised at her quickness. “He was stationed with us six months ago after he had an encounter with a dinosaur and handled the situation exceptionally. Apparently he’d been involved in the defensive against dinosaurs since long before we were. Even in Japan he protected people from them. We weren’t allowed to tell anybody, I’m sorry.”
Makoto nodded carefully, her eyes watering disobediently. “So how did he die?” Her voice was shaky, and her eyes were focused on the floor.
Chester sat on the chair beside her, watching his own fingers rub against each other. “We were attacked by a giganotosaurus. It was the day after you went to Shipwreck. It got him before we could stop it—he died just after he managed to kill it.”
A ragged sob burst past Makoto’s throat as she saw it happen without Chester ever needing to describe it. Her brother was killed by a creature. He died after killing the creatures, which meant that he was first injured.
Which meant that he was in pain.
“I’m sorry, Makoto. We weren’t allowed to tell you.” Chester whispered, lifting his eyes slowly to watch her clap her hand to her mouth and hunch over, weeping into her palm.
She could feel her heart being ripped in two, as though she were the one to experience an animal attack.
“He was a good man, Makoto. He was good with the animals. He was a good soldier.” When his words did nothing to calm her, Chester chose a different path. “He talked about you a lot.”
Eyes ridden with pain, Makoto looked up at him through her hair. Did he say why he left me? She wanted to ask. She wanted to be angry at her brother. She wanted to blame him for her every heartache and curse him for leaving her behind.
But how could she? As a child she’d thought he were getting mixed up with the wrong people. She’d thought he were a criminal. She’d even suspected that he was yakuza.
But he’d been protecting people from dinosaurs the whole time? He’d been saving lives and putting his life at risk to stand up for people he didn’t even know?
How could she hate him for that?
He never abandoned her. He pushed her out of the line of fire. He may have left her in a warzone, but the battlefield that he protected her from was far worse.
“He loved you, Makoto. More than anything. And more than anything he regretted leaving you with your own family. He tried for months to get leave, but they wouldn’t let us. They didn’t trust us.”
“What, they thought you’d just run out and tell someone that you fight dinosaurs?” Makoto asked dryly.
Chester smirked wryly. “Something like that.”
When she stared blankly at the table, wishing she’d never known that he’d been mauled by an overgrown reptile, Chester leaned towards her.
“I’m so, so sorry, Makoto.” He said, his voice heavy with emotion. “You’re not supposed to know any of this, but you deserve to.”
“I’m okay, Chess.” Makoto said softly. She was lying, but she could pretend. She brushed her tears away and tucked her hair behind her ears. “My whole life I’ve been afraid I’d have to drag my brother’s body away from the street after he’d been shot by a shady character. Knowing that he went out fighting for something good—knowing that he left to do good work—it kind of puts me at peace.”
Chester’s eyebrows rose slowly. “You’re lying, Makoto.”
“Let me live this lie, Chess. I have to be okay.” She responded, standing.
“You really don’t.” He argued, following her as she crossed to the front of the room.
It was time. He’d revealed more to her than she’d ever expected, and it was time for her to return the act of trust. She had to.
“Close the blinds, would you, Chess?” She asked, rolling up her sleeves. “And then shut the door and turn off the lights.”
“What? Why?” He gave her a confused look, trying to determine what on earth she was doing.
She gave him a serious look. “Just do it, Chester.”
He raised a shoulder in a defensive shrug and crossed the room to quickly do as she said. As soon as he switched off the lights, Makoto closed her eyes.
“Look at me.” She ordered through the darkness, and heard a slight shuffle as he turned around.
She knew what was happening. She knew from the pain that she felt that various parts of her body were glowing. The only ones that he was able to see were a long line down her forehead where a gash should be. She assumed she had gotten it at some point underwater.
There was another one, a spider web of broken veins on her cheek, and a selection of them spread across her throat. Those were from Sakuza’s harsh hands.
Her left wrist would be glowing where Tadashi had just sprained it. Her right forearm and fingers would be bruised from her nails up to her elbow from the last time Hybrid had rescued her.
“Makoto, what’s going on?” Chester asked slowly.
“You told me your secret. This is mine.” She opened her eyes and ran a finger down her sprained wrist. “I have a stupid freakish ability to hide injuries in daylight. That’s why you’ll see blood on me, but no wound to go with it. But when there’s no light, the injuries glow. These—” She brushed her hands over the broken veins in her throat and face. “These broken veins are bruises.”
Chester’s silhouette moved closer.
She brought her hand to the angry red line across her forehead. “This is a gash. Skin-deep. Those are more bruises. They glow in the dark.”
“How long have you been like this?” Chester asked, touching her wrist lightly.
“Forever. And as far as I can tell, it goes deep. Doctors have never reported a single thing wrong with me, even when I’ve been in the middle of the flu, a cold, and pneumonia.”
There were light footsteps, and then the lights flicked back on. Makoto blinked blindly against the brightness before her vision cleared and she found Chester with his hand on the switch, staring at her.
“So that’s why I’ve never seen you hurt.” He muttered.
“Yeah.” She responded, pushing her sleeves down glumly. “Anyway, that’s my secret. I’d prefer if you didn’t tell anyone about it, considering the rest of my life is kind of public knowledge.”
Chester nodded quietly. “Of course.”
It wasn’t an enormous surprise. There were people all over the place with some kind of supernatural ability—and it wasn’t like she had some incredible power.
Everyone was wearing black. From their scarves and ties to their shoelaces. Black clothes had never bothered her before, but this was different.
There were soldiers lined up on one side, rifles in their hands. She didn’t flinch at the shots. She didn’t hear the words spoken or the prayer prayed.
She only had eyes for her brother. He was in his best uniform, lying softly in a beautifully gleaming box. An American flag was spread like a blanket over the top.
Her father’s arm gripped her waist. Her younger brother showed no emotion but stood close enough that his arm was pressed into hers.
It didn’t rain.
She half expected it to.
It always rained, didn’t it?
It was supposed to rain at funerals.
It wasn’t supposed to be beautiful. You weren’t supposed to be able to hear birdsong. You weren’t supposed to feel a warm, fresh breeze wrap around you.
Out of the corner of her eye, Makoto was aware of her father accepting a folded flag in shaking hands.
Her heart yearned for her brother, even as he lay several feet away. She wished to touch his coffin and pretend he was just sleeping.
Takeo used to help her with the dishes. They’d end up getting water all over the place, because it was more entertaining to get each other wet than actually get dishes clean.
It got them in trouble on numerous occasions, and then they’d both be on their hands and knees, mopping up water. And as soon as Hiroshida left the room, Takeo would take his sopping wet towel and chase her around the kitchen, snapping it at her.
She remembered him protecting her from a dog that had tackled her and bitten her in the shoulder.
But the last time she had seen him, they had been angry at each other. There had been a fight between him and Hiroshida—one of many. But that time, when Makoto went after him to cool him down, she found him packing his bags.
She’d begged and she’d pleaded, but it had done no good.
He hadn’t accused her of anything. He handed out no blame. He just walked past her and disappeared.
She realized it must be over a while later when her father’s arm fell from her waist and her arm grew cold and she found that she was alone.
Her empty gaze lifted from her brother to see two people standing across from her. The woman was wearing black, but the man was in uniform. He was considerably taller than the woman, who had blood-red hair and multiple knives hidden on her person.
Makoto would never have noticed the knives had the woman not pulled her sleeve tightly across her forearm, showing the long, flat shape of a blade.
The two moved toward her in unison, both their expressions solemn and sorrowful.
Makoto lifted her chin as they moved closer, their footsteps thudding softly in the grass. The three of them were the only ones left around the coffin.
The young detective stepped forward, smoothing her hand over the side of the box. It was cold and offered her no comfort.
She didn’t know what she expected.
Her heart crumbled.
“Miss Akari,” The man’s gentle voice commanded her attention.
Makoto turned to face, feeling small and alone and not at all sure what to do. She met the eyes of the man’s wife, and flinched. The woman wasn’t used to being a comforting presence, which was evident by the straightness of her back and shoulders and the firmness in her gaze.
She was obviously making an effort, if the sudden gentleness in her jaw and the way she blinked softly with a small grimace were any indication.
If the man hadn’t been in uniform, Makoto would have guessed that it was the woman who was in the military.
With a gloved hand, the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a letter, crisp and white against the darkness of their clothes.
“Your brother wanted you to have this after the funeral.” He said, drawing Makoto’s gaze back to him.
She gingerly took the letter, ignoring how her hands were shaking. She wanted to ask how they knew him. She wanted to ask what exactly Takeo had told them.
But then the man saluted her and she could only look away. As they were walking away, she saw them pass by Chester and the two men nodded in greeting.
Makoto tucked the letter into her pocket. She couldn’t even think about reading it.
Chester stood beside her, somehow looking even taller in uniform. It was strange to see after finding out only recently that he was a soldier.
“I’m okay.” She murmured listlessly.
He didn’t answer.
Makoto’s chin sunk lower to her chest the longer she stared at the coffin. Her brother lie less than a foot from her, but he couldn’t have been any farther away.
Her face felt hot as she began to cry silently.
“Is he gone?” She whispered.
“Yeah.” Chester responded in a breath.
She turned to him, her heart heavier than she had the strength to carry. “I don’t know how to say goodbye.” She muttered weakly.
Chester’s lips were pursed as he folded her into his arms and tried his best to keep her from breaking.
Makoto returned to Stitches Wildlife Park with Chester to continue her sweep of the area. They worked in silence among the trees and birdsong.
Makoto tried to remain collected throughout, but she found it increasingly difficult to keep it together. She could feel Chester’s concerned eyes on her. They both knew she was bound to have a breakdown at any moment.
That was part of why Makoto insisted that Chester come with her—she had to work on the case, but she couldn’t be alone in the middle of the forest, paralyzed by emotion.
“Makoto.” Chester was suddenly hovering close to her elbow, blocking her from moving forward. “Listen.”
Makoto stilled, not even breathing as she listened. She heard leaves rustling and rain dripping, but nothing unusual. She glanced at Chester in confusion, but he raised a finger to his lips.
She kept listening.
And then she heard a growl. Deep thuds sounded, like bodies ramming into each other. And then there was a choked, high-pitched shriek.
Makoto felt her heart clench at the noise. It was awful—a terrible, vicious sound that did not bode well. “What is it?” She whispered.
“I’m not sure,” Chester responded, creeping forward. He pulled a long knife from his belt and gestured for her to stay behind him.
Makoto allowed him to lead her through bushes and under trees until they were hiding just on the edge of a clearing. She saw a glint of gunmetal, and then there was a gun in Chester’s hand.
Before she even looked through the leaves, she heard a cat-like yowl and a deep, modulated voice.
“Chester, wait.” She seized his wrist, and pushed a branch out of the way. “It’s not a creature.”
Before them stood Ronin. Beside him was Hybrid in the form of an enormous cat, and in front of them was a woman clothed in red. Just as Hybrid’s eyes flashed to their hiding spot, the woman lunged at him, another horrible shriek coming from her mouth.
Makoto clapped her hands over her ears. She felt bad for Hybrid—if he had all of the characteristics of cats other than just their form, it probably affected him far worse.
But then Makoto’s attention was drawn away from the fight to the area that they were in. She glanced at Ronin, who was skirting the area behind Hybrid and the woman, as though barricading them from getting to the far right corner of the clearing.
That was the direction that the woman was persistently pushing, too.
She focused in that direction, her eyes scouring the grass and trees and everything around it. She saw a shovel, a hammer, and an axe.
There was only one shovel, leading Makoto to believe that the tools belonged to the woman, not to the pair of men.
“Makoto, we should go.” Chester muttered, crawling backwards and pulling her with him.
“Wait, I think they found it.” Makoto argued, pulling back. The shovel meant that it was indeed hidden under ground, which meant that it would be harder to locate quickly.
The hammer indicated that it was in some kind of locked box that the woman intended to break open. It was probably wooden considering the backup axe that they brought in case the hammer didn’t work.
“Cover me.” With that she burst out of the bushes and darted around the fight, skidding to her knees beside the shovel.
“Makoto, what—” Chester hollered in disbelief, suddenly finding himself alone. Grumbling to himself, he left his hiding place to follow her, stopping with his back to her, ready to defend her should the fight move in their direction.
“What are you doing? Get out of here.” Ronin’s modulated voice ordered him, but he was too distracted by the fight to be entirely concentrated on putting a stop to Makoto’s efforts.
Makoto seized the shovel and studied the ground carefully, trying to identify the location of the box. Her heart pounded as time ticked away from her. Where is it? Where is it? She looked at the trees for some indication.
“Makoto.” Chester made her pause, looking over his shoulder. He pointed at a patch of moss that the woman had begun to dig at before Ronin and Hybrid stopped her.
It was worth a shot.
Makoto attacked the ground, hauling dirt load after dirt load away until she hit two feet and still nothing. With a sigh of exasperation, she focused on expanding her hole rather than deepening it.
And then, six inches to the right, her shovel struck the sharp corner of a wooden box. It was damp and rotted, but looked to be reinforced from the inside.
Hearing another loud screech and the heavy colliding of bodies, Makoto dug out the box and pulled it into her lap. It was big and heavy, and the letters AH were etched into the front, right above an iron lock.
“Chess,” She held her hand out, and quickly found him placing his lock picking kit into her open palm.
“No, get them away from that!” The woman growled, but was tackled to the ground by Hybrid, silencing her annoying wailing.
It didn’t take long for Makoto to break open the box, and shove the iron-lined lid to fall back on its hinges. She found your average pirate’s treasure chest loot—silver and brass coins with a handful of gold medallions.
Makoto really didn’t care about the phenomenal amount of money that was revealed in the chest. She turned it over and dumped the entire thing back into the hole, attracting the attention of all three Variants behind her at the sound.
“Kid, what are you doing?” Ronin demanded, but Makoto didn’t answer. She was too busy staring triumphantly at the glowing emerald coin that was at the bottom of the chest.
She scooped it up and shoved it into her boot, dropping the chest on top of the pile of money. She turned back to Chester, and was distracted momentarily by the incredibly fight.
How a woman could hold out for so long against an enormous panther was amazing.
Makoto didn’t know if the woman was there for the treasure or for the coin, but she didn’t care. “Chess, let’s go.” She said. “I’ve got the coin.”
“Great, let’s go.” He grabbed her hand and took off, only for her to be torn away when the woman tackled her to the ground.
“Give it back,” The woman snapped. “That’s mine.”
“Wanna bet?” Makoto shot back, slamming her elbow into the woman’s face and writhing under her grip. That’s when Hybrid gripped the woman’s shoulder between his teeth and hurled her off of Makoto, meeting the Asian girl’s eyes for only a moment before shooting off after the woman.
“Go!” Ronin called to them. “We’ll cover you.”
Makoto nodded a thank you and then bolted. She fell through the bushes, running after Chester as quickly as she could manage.
They’d found the third coin.