Chapter 12: Closet Skeletons

It is not safe to write of Them. For They are all around and prefer to live in private existence. Their histories are recounted from one of the living to the next; in groups, around campfires. There's safety in numbers. Mentally, at least; Distraction is our mind's shield. When we concentrate on the signs They send us and use our senses to try to seek Them out, They're provided a welcome entrance.

Humans, living, beware of the signs They send; take refuge in accusing the still bush of rustling, the silent wind of howling, the flightless birds of casting shadows. Busy yourselves in your own existences to excuse Their secret beckonings.

Hush, children, and set this story to memory. In time, you will be given opportunity to pass down this burden to your descendants. Around this very fire that the God of the Sun, the Deity of Grasses and the Spirit of Rocks gave collective birth to. As the circle of life, from seed to sprout to plant, continues, so shall this story be passed. Steady yourself, until you are ready to let go. Your heart will bear the weight of knowledge, your left eye the burden of truth. On your wrists run the only paths to the blessed afterlife, do not let blades obstruct them.

Those of you who have been awarded the Power, take heed: On the base of your neck, dips a hidden shrine. Their eyes can see what your eyes cannot. Safety lies in remaining unconscious about the nakedness of your neck. And if your mind will not permit this, you must hang ruby or red onyx from it and fear will divert Them. The burden has been passed.

Great Spirits, forgive me for not holding Your secret alone. My mind is only human and the burden, above and beyond.
Lend my descendants strength, as You have lent me.

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Darren Shika couldn't recall the last time he had said a bedside prayer at night. But here he was, dreading tomorrow and hoping his pleading would reach the ears of Jesus or Allah or Buddha... - or any of the many other Gods other people confided in with their problems. He pictured a high school girl kneeling on the side of the bed, praying to God that some boy she was crushing on would notice her.

Oh God, Mr. Shika thought, ignoring the irony of the expression, this is not going to help.
He grabbed the book Evan had filled with sketches of everything he remembered seeing Monday night. Evan had scratched in Castle Gray as the title of the building.

'Gray'? Their side has developed fake identities too, huh? Wonder if it's giving them as much trouble as its giving us... That reminds me!

He leafed through the contents of the manila folder that he had left sitting on top of his bedside table. Oriole Onimori had been quite public with her family history.

Mr. Shika took it upon himself to make certain files go mysteriously missing, before anyone could research the missing links. He had been aware of how Toriko had felt that day after school, and as he had planned, she had signed over her personal history to his safekeeping without a question.

In fact, the only thing Oriole had done right to insure her daughter's safety was changing Toriko's last name back to her own. The only copy of the rest of the information was right here. Unless Tray had procrastinated completing his current technological assignment, the information would already have been altered on the school database.

Toriko Onimori, the file read, Female. DOB: November 19, 1993. Parent(s): Oriole Onimori; sole child care provider. Child custody gained: 2001.

"Damn," Mr. Shika thought aloud, "It was all right here... What if they'd checked earlier?"

He sighed, flipping through a few pages of academic reports. The photocopy of a hand-written report by an elementary school counselor caught his attention.

Student exhibited abnormal thought process in written work, which teacher Amy Briggs brought to counselor's attention; Admits to having attended child therapy sessions on an infrequent basis, continuing to present day; Date set to February 4th for emotional assessment.

"What the hell?" Mr. Shika asked himself, flipping through more papers for the results of the assessment with no luck. The rest of the folder turned up nothing but academic achievement and attendance reports. He searched her attendance record for September of 2007, two years ago.

Perfect attendance... Mr. Shika thought, Wow, Oriole, that's pretty harsh custody; No grieving period at all for her father... Well, the bastard didn't deserve to be grieved over anyways.

By the end of the thought, Mr. Shika's hands were trembling; His body replaying a memory he didn't let infect his mind. He pulled his cell phone out of the pocket of his jeans, needing something to busy his hands with. He punched in the first number that came to mind.

"Hallo?" Tasuke's half-asleep voice answered after a few rings. Mr. Shika looked at the radio alarm clock by his bed, 1:00 AM. Whoops.

"Tasuke?"

"Are you coming home soon?..." Tasuke continued in the same voice.

"Uh... Tasuke... it's-"

"I know, Dad... I'm just saying!..." his voice developing an odd pitch, stumbling over certain words, "'Cause Keiko and Sabishii miss you... God, you know, it seems like it's been forever..."

Mr. Shika could almost hear the alcohol on his voice. Tasuke's lack of consciousness didn't help the guilt that the talk birthed in Mr. Shika's heart.

"I'm sorry. I want to be there with all of you," Mr. Shika responded gently, playing along with Tasuke's drunken fantasy. Taking his place for Satoshi's son was impossible, but Mr. Shika only hoped that had he found himself in this situation, someone would be kind enough to do the same for him. He wondered how many nights a week Tasuke drank himself to sleep.

"Something's holding you up...?"

"Yeah, a little..." Mr. Shika pinched the bridge of his nose, holding himself together for Tasuke's sake. A little something called death, he shook the thought out of his head and inhaled deeply, "Hey buddy?"

"Mmh?" Tasuke responded lazily, probably drifting off on the couch.

"I miss you guys. And I'll always love you... You know that, right?"

"Mmhmm... love you too, Dad..." Tasuke continued, his words becoming harder to understand, "Come back soon..."

Mr. Shika heard the phone hang up on Tasuke's end, and he followed suit. Sitting down on his bed, he dropped his face into his hands and cried for the past he couldn't change.

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Before anyone was ready, the sun seated itself on the eastern horizon and Thursday morning had come around.

Oriole Onimori woke with a start. Toriko! She pictured her daughter's face and raced out of her room and down the hallway. Her feet stumbled repeatedly over the heaviness of her own breathing before she finally reached Toriko's door. With a deep breath she swung the door open. Nothing was what she had been expecting, and for that she felt relief sink to the depths of her stomach.

It hadn't all been a dream; she had gotten the divorce, and won custody of Toriko. The past eight years of slow recovery were a reality and they had changed everything for the better, for both herself and Toriko. In the dull grey light coming in from the curtained windows, the lavender of the bedroom's walls shed a comfortable haze. Oriole let her eyes droop shut as she backed out of her daughter's room. She had personally painted Toriko's room lavender after the divorce; Moving hadn't been financially possible at the time and a new layer of paint set a good barrier for change.

Oriole climbed back into her single bed, shaking off the nightmare that had once been not far from reality; her first course of action after the divorce landed an almost new queen sized mattress in the local Salvation Army Thrift Store, along with most of their other mutual belongings. With an almost completely empty house and a debt exceeding a few thousand dollars, Oriole had finally found peace.

Now, she wrapped the blanket tightly around her shoulders, tucking her feet comfortably over the far edge of the mattress. In the tight quarters of her single bed, there was no room to miss him.

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Sabishii woke with a start. He had had another dream about his father and the last war. It was the third dream he'd had of the sort since Monday; more than he'd ever had since the accident two years ago. He rubbed the back of his head absently.

Some of his memories were starting to piece together. He was now certain that there had been a forest. And that he was with his siblings and his father. He remembered being grabbed by someone from the trees, and the sharp, burning pain in his right forearm.

Sabishii recalled gym class on Monday. Evan seemed to have known about his arm, but he wasn't sure how or why…

In the dream, Sabishii's father had said something about revenge and ran in to the trees, leaving him alone in the dark. He had soon run after his father, but the bushes erupted in to a mirror. He saw himself run out in front of him. His reflection was crying, hugging his wounded, bleeding arm to his chest. Sabishii felt his own arm at his side.

"I found you!" his reflection said in a voice not of his own, "Father! I found him!"

At that point in the dream, Sabishii remembered someone coming behind him. And a sickening feeling that felt like his brain hit the front of his skull as he felt forward into darkness.

The next part of the dream was the first thing in the whole ordeal that he could accurately recall from the past. He was gaining consciousness at a hospital he recognized from back in Calgary. The particularly annoying voice of one nurse was a vivid memory, "Cheerios or cornflakes, sweetheart? Cheerios or cornflakes? Bran muffins, anyone?"

It was that annoying voice that had finally woken him more than a month after his accident. And in his dream, it had had the same effect. He now sat wondering what had happened before the dream had switched.

There weren't mirrors in the forest though… Who was that boy? Sabishii closed his eyes and tried to bring the image back in his head. The boy had looked somewhat like him, but he had grey eyes and darker hair.

Sabishii smiled, Grey eyes and dark hair, like Toriko… But he looked like me too… Ugg, what's happening? Am I dreaming about what our kids would look like or something? That's so messed up! He thought, pushing the dream to the back of his head. There was little doubt in his mind that his brain was trying to replace a memory that his mind would never revive, with nonsense.

"The real question now is," Sabishii thought aloud, getting out of bed, "Cheerios or cornflakes? Hah!"

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Evan Schmitt had been awake for hours, trying to teach himself how to breathe normally again. Today he'd find out if he was worthy of avenging his diseased parents. He absently looked over Mr. Shika's plans for the hundredth time.

It was exactly a year and a day since his father's funeral; which was barely a month before the day his mother had died in the hospital after a long struggle. The doctors had not been able to understand why she wasn't getting better. Evan knew: her organs couldn't function properly if they were half melted from the inside. But the deterioration wasn't reversible, especially considering the doctors weren't even aware of it.

Evan had been forced into hiding when the summoners had come to recruit his family for the upcoming war. He had watched, helpless from fear, hidden inside an abandoned tractor.

His parents' farm hadn't been the first on the outskirts of Saskatoon to be attacked by summoners. But in their case, the attackers hadn't known their victims to have summoning abilities as well. Evan's parents had fought off a dozen men in less than half an hour. But even that had been way too long.

"They were led by a boy your age!... Great eyes he had!... On such an evil boy. It was… almost a shame…" his university-educated mother had babbled in her last weeks on the hospital bed, "Find him, Evan… Revenge is… futile? No! Silly me! Not futile… not futile… your father would have wanted it…Mmh, he was a good man."

It hurt to see his mother like that. It was impossible to talk to her; but five days before she finally passed on, she had said something that made sense.

"A war will be fought, far west on a busy island… Find the boy with the burnt writing arm. And rip it off. I want revenge," her calm face had then scrunched up in agony as she returned to wailing, "He killed my husband! I want revenge! Someone kill him!... My husband!"

Evan wondered if Sabishii's reaction on Monday had been a coincidence. He had bright green eyes that could be considered "great". And there was something wrong with his arm: a normal person didn't flinch like Sabishii did from getting his arm grabbed.

However, Mr. Shika trusted Sabishii, and Evan trusted him. That created a problem.

Maybe his mother had been talking nonsense; getting a spirit forced out of her body had probably caused a great deal of psychological and emotional damage. Then again, here he was, on the busiest island on the western coast of Canada, like she had said; In the middle of war preparations. She had been right about that. Would she have lost her sense between sentences?

Heading out the door for school, Evan wondered who it was okay to trust when the fear of death was enough to validate betrayal. He pulled a folded sticky note out of his pocket. He had written point-form notes to make sure he remembered the key parts of the plan:

1. Find the cockroach's car.
2. Tape the deer's GPS tracker thingy behind back wheel.
3. Spend the rest of the day normally.
4. Get a ride to the castle.
5. Do whatever he says until opportunity arises.
6. Find the bear.
7. Get the hell out.

Evan sighed, in a few hours, there was a good chance he'd be dead. He promised himself to not go down without a fight.


Author's note (09/04/09):

Sorry I keep putting off the actual dungeon scene - I just need to get these details out of the way first. There's slight changes in the introduction (ie: the way Toriko reacts to Midori's bedsheet ghost) and to chapter 1 (ie a big chunk of the conversation between Mr. Shika and Sabishii in the second half of chapter 1.)

These details might help you piece together some of the stuff from this chapter, so for a greater understanding please go back and scan through those parts of the chapters. Thanks!