Chapter Twelve
The Monster

Meanwhile, news of the Whites for a Better World seemed to get worse and worse. Attacks upon civilians were turning into a daily event, and although the police were actively hunting down Mark Masterson, anyone who actually found him were either killed or injured awfully. Once, while flipping through a copy of the Jukyuu Times, I came across a picture of the aftermath of an especially brutal murder from East Jukyuu. Feeling numb, I tossed the paper out and resolved not to read the Jukyuu Times until the Whites for a Better World left the city.
But it was too late. The newspaper article had already gotten to me. And the spectre nightmares, which I thought had disappeared for good, came back in full force. Fueled by the images I had seen in the Jukyuu Times, the spectre had become more vivid - more terrifying.
Dead people were strewn all across the Ketsumu green. There must have been hundreds. I wasn't there myself, but watching with disembodied eyes. A line of young, maniacal teenagers stood over them. Their blond hair was speckled with blood, blue eyes cool and steady.
There was my mother on the ground, dead as in any other dream. My best friends laid beside her. Blood was gushing from a gunshot wound in Yusuke's chest; Mai and Kohei's bodies were tangled together so I couldn't see their faces; Sakura's limbs were broken and in pieces. Flies clouded around Ken'ichi, and Akira's face had dead laughter etched across it.
The spectre was there. A wig of yellow curls sat upon its usually bald head. It was patting the heads of the teenagers, and I heard it whisper, 'Good job, very good job,' over and over again.
The scene haunted me every night. I would fall asleep in class and it would suddenly reappear. The same one each time. And it had only been two or three days since I had seen the article.
Then one morning, the nightmare kept me so frozen from fright that I missed my first three classes of the day. Groggily, I realized that I had to hand in the extra credit assignments that I had been working painstakingly on for Professor Daiwa.
I didn't bother putting on my uniform, settling on a worn-out pair of jeans and a T-shirt from my Yukina Kido days. Shaking from a sleepy chill, I gathered up Daiwa's papers and left my dorm. Since I had already missed three classes, I didn't mind missing the last two. What was really important to me was turning in my extra credit. Beside the fact that math was the class I took most seriously, I didn't want to think of the look Daiwa would give me if I turned in my work late.
Since it was the middle of the school day, I figured that he would still be teaching. But when I heard voices outside of his office door, I came to a complete and silent stop.
"But he's so young, isn't he?" said a woman's voice. I knew that it was rude to listen in, but I was too curious to move away. "He's a first year, so what? He's fourteen?"
"Fifteen, actually," replied Professor Daiwa. "His birthday was in late January."
My birthday was in late January - January 20th. I had just turned fifteen years old. Could it be that they were talking about me?
"And I've told you, Aizawa, he's exceptionally talented." Daiwa again. "You should see how he does in my class. He's first rank. Mind you, he's taking class with the third years. Just wait until he's in your class next year."
"It will be interesting, definitely," said Aizawa. "Didn't another student just get sent to my detention for fighting with him? I remember a boy telling me about Jyaki. Saying that Jyaki should have gotten detention, not him." Now I was sure that they were talking about me.
"Yes," said Daiwa. "That happened about a week ago. I'll admit, Jyaki seems to attract trouble. He's got a hot temper, but I think that it's only because he takes things so seriously."
Hot temper? I couldn't believe that Daiwa was talking about me like that. But when I felt anger rise up inside of me, I almost had to laugh.
"But I've never seen him in detention," said Aizawa. "At least, not that I can remember."
"Sometimes, I can't bring myself to punish him," Daiwa remarked thoughtfully. "I have a soft spot for the kid - you've heard his story, haven't you? It's not as if he hasn't done anything bad. He's done things that are terrible. Things that I don't think he realizes I know about."
I held in my breath until I started to feel dizzy. What did he know about?
"Well, then he's violent," was Aizawa's matter-of-fact reply. "It's no wonder Mark Masterson wants him so badly."
"Have I shown you the new messages I've intercepted from him?"
"You mean that there's even more?"
"Of course there's more," said Daiwa. "Masterson doesn't give up so easily."
"That makes how many messages to the boy? Eight?"
"Ten now, actually. I can only assume that Masterson knows someone is keeping the messages from Jyaki. I worry that he'll come to the school just to get him."
"He probably just wants the poor boy as a follower," Aizawa said. "He wouldn't come to Ketsumu just for that."
"Masterson would not be so persistent if Jyaki were just a normal boy that he wanted as a follower," Daiwa said. "I know there's something special about him."
"Remember that student, Yanagisawa, that he recruited from Edona University?" Daiwa asked.
"Of course I remember that," Aizawa exclaimed. "Yanagisawa is nearly as bad as Masterson these days."
"Well, if Masterson got a hold of Jyaki, it would be Yanagisawa all over again. Except that it would be ten times worse."
I didn't want to hear any more. As inconspicuously as I could, I slipped my extra credit work under Daiwa's door, and sprinted back towards my dorm.

The next few weeks came and went without event, and eventually Yusuke and I were on friendlier terms. Since I had come out of the Health Center, Yusuke avoided speaking to me about both Sakura and Akira, and soon my fears that he was trying to compete with me for her melted away.
It wasn't just Yusuke who wanted to avoid Sakura and Akira. After seeing the two of them kissing over dinner, I found myself staying almost exclusively in the North Building. It was enough to watch her walk Akira to history class every day, and almost unbearable to see her pretend not to notice me waving 'hello.'
Sakura was changing. At first, I hardly noticed. But as the end of the school year approached, it was becoming blatantly obvious. Although I had always known her to keep her long hair down, lately she had been tying it up in a tight bun atop her head. On Sundays, she used to wear some sort of flowery blouse and a pair of jeans, but each time I happened to catch a glimpse of her on an off-day, she would be done up in a sweater set and mini-skirt. Even her voice, which was naturally high-pitched, had become so squeaky that she sounded like a dog's toy.
And although I had been successful in keeping myself from seeing her, for the most part, the end-of-year celebration was coming closer. I was afraid that I was going to run into her there. But apart from that, the party promised to be fun.
At nine o'clock that evening, I went down the elevator and met my friends in the North Building's lobby. As opposed to the Holiday Ball, Yusuke, Kohei, and I were not required to wear suits. Instead, we were in t-shirts and loose sweaters. Yusuke even decided to wear sweatpants for the occasion; "We don't have to wear our uniforms, so why not go all out?" he had said.
However, Mai took the opportunity to wear what seemed to be her fanciest dress. It was bright orange, and came to a princess-like pouf at the bottom. This time, her outfit did glow in the dark a bit. She was wearing an fuzzy, overlarge coat as well. And for good reason, since the party was going to be held outside, and there was still a thick layer of snow on the ground.
There was a line of poles outside that had been linked together by stings of colored lights. They glittered against the sheet of snow beneath them, and it was a dazzling effect. All of the students were out on the grounds by now, enjoying themselves. Even the professors were letting loose, drinking Sapporo beers and talking amongst themselves.
"This is amazing," said Kohei, to whom snow was still a novelty. "Wanna go have a snowball fight?"
"Yes," said Mai emphatically. "Let's go!"
Yusuke and I looked at each other for one brief moment, laughing awkwardly. Kohei and Mai dashed across the lawn, scooping up handfuls of snow and lobbing them towards each other. After watching a couple of tosses, we ran towards them, joining in.
"You know, I think Kohei's gonna ask her out tonight," Yusuke told me out of the corner of his mouth.
"Kohei has a crush on Mai?" I whispered. But looking at the two of them, I should have realized it. Covered head to toe in snow, they were on the ground, making snow angels. I wondered whether he liked her only because she was a novelty, just like the weather in Yukigo.
"Yeah, so let's mess with 'em," said Yusuke mischievously. He rolled up a snowball that was the size of three, and hurled it at the could-be couple. It was more like a snow bomb, and it splattered the two of them
Soon, everyone was getting in on it - third years were throwing them at us first years, second years throwing them at everyone. I even saw Professor Daiwa hurl one between Professors Isono and Aizawa. It was such a good time, so carefree, that I was sure that something was about to go wrong.
And, of course, I was right. As usual.
The way it started was with a girl shouting, running out to the grounds. She was wearing a Ketsumu uniform, but she looked to be about five years older than any of us first years. And none of the rest of us were wearing our uniforms.
"Fire!" she screamed. "There's a fire!"
Most everyone scattered. Some ran past the girl, and some ran well behind us, towards the wooded area off campus. This gave me a chance to look at the girl. Did no one else notice that she never mentioned where the fire actually was? What about the shape of her eyes and nose, which must have been part-way American.
"Everyone, calm down," yelled Headmaster Sakai. "File up behind me in a calm fashion." But his voice was old and feeble, no match for the din of the panicking students.
"Guys, don't move. I think this is a trap," I said to my friends. But looking around me, the only one of my friends that was left was Yusuke.
He nodded towards me. "I know. Saw a picture of this girl in the newspaper once. Whites for a Better World, isn't she?"
"Everyone head to the woods, and wait there until a professor gets you," roared Professor Daiwa in that intimidating voice of his. This was when the rest of the students began to listen, and many of them sprinted and disappeared behind the broad-backed trees.
"Hana Yanagisawa," Daiwa muttered, walking up to the girl. "Why did he send you here?"
I shot Yusuke a 'we knew it' sort of look. But since he hadn't been with me to overhear Daiwa and Aizawa's conversation, I don't think he understood it.
"Mark Masterson is coming," she said, and though her eyes were crazed, her tone was sane.
"Right now?" wheezed Sakai.
"A few of us came up in the first car," Yanagisawa explained. "He was behind us. Probably pulling up to campus right now. You were right to send your students into hiding, but he'll get them anyway."
A couple of other non-Ketsumu students joined Yanagisawa. Most were blonde and tall, looking like gilded ghosts. They shouted 'He's coming! He's coming!' over and over again in English. And then we heard the engine roar, and watched the flashing headlights cast shadows behind us.
"Can we attack them now, Mark?" Yanagisawa called around her shoulder. A man emerged from the car - a shining silver thing emblazoned with the words 'Ford Mustang.'
"Leave them," Mark Masterson called back, walking towards those of us who remained in the clearing. He was tall and thin, with cinnamon-brown hair that sat stick straight from his head and down to his shoulders. His face was tan but still very white, and his eyes were blue and horrible. What did I expect, the spectre in disguise? "I'm here for only one thing."
"Your Japanese is improving," said Professor Daiwa. The look in his eyes was pure hatred, but his speech was soft and casual. "I thought, on principle, that you would not speak anything besides English."
"Who are you?" asked Masterson. Glowering, he was no match for Daiwa's calm.
"A professor to these students," he said.
"I asked for your name," Masterson shouted. If I wasn't so scared by him, I would have laughed at how poor his Japanese was.
"Hiroyuki Daiwa," he answered. And though I thought it wasn't possible, Daiwa's stance became taller and more rigid than before. Looking down at Masterson, he held his chin up high.
"And I know there's no need for me to introduce myself. You've all heard of Mark Masterson, right?"
Some of the professors nodded, while others (including Daiwa) remained silent. Shaking, Headmaster Sakai seemed to shrink into the snow. Isono and Aizawa both looked ready to fight. But Masterson didn't give them as much as a glance, setting his wide eyes on me. Without giving it a thought, I balled up my fists and glared at him, as if that alone would make him go away.
"You," he beckoned, and gave a short laugh. It was deeper than that of my spectre, but just as frigid. "Come here."
I backed away, and suddenly began to feel the spectre's presence emerge inside of me. I knew it would come. It was getting excited; I felt it pound against my chest. But, and I think it was for my fear, I fought it.
"Stay away from me, Mark Masterson," I muttered, not knowing where my courage to speak had come from.
Masterson's lips curved upwards, but it was nothing like a smile. "Brat," he spat, in English. "You're brave, talking back to me. That's exactly what I'm looking for in a recruit."
"I'm not a recruit!"
"How brave are you?" Masterson asked to himself. "That's what I'm wondering."
And suddenly, something hit me, and I fell backwards into the snow. There was some smoking something clutched in Masterson's hand. I've been shot, I've been shot, I repeated in my head like a mantra, but in reality I was shouting in pain. Worse than anything I had endured in Jukyuu City, it felt like my left shoulder was being eaten away by flames.
"Are you alright?" I was blind. The voice beside me was muffled, as if coming from under water. "Joey, are you alright?"
"I'm okay," I said to whoever it was. And I repeated it until I could hear myself clearly again. The pain wasn't subsiding, but adrenaline was rushing through my veins. It distracted me from pounding pressure in my shoulder, and I didn't dare look towards the wound. And besides, "He's still here."
When my vision cleared again, I saw Daiwa beside me. Where was Yusuke? I couldn't see him; he must have ran.
"Get away from the boy," Masterson shouted. "He's all I want, Hee-ro-you-ki. Let me have them, and I won't do what I did at that city Prep school."
Daiwa wasn't looking at me, his eyes were straight at Masterson's. But he helped me to a seated position. I tried to stand, but couldn't bring myself to.
"There's no point in resisting, Joey," Masterson started. "If you join me, do you know how much power I can give you?"
"Why me?" I asked. Somehow, my voice was stronger than before.
"You know why," he said. "You know what you are. Now, are you coming with me? Or will I have to show you, again, what I can do to you?"
I didn't have to think about it. "I don't need you."
"Really?" he said, and I couldn't tell if he was shocked or not. "I'm disappointed. But I'm sure that I can convince you somehow." Masterson cocked the gun at me again, flashing it around my narrow field of vision. There was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized how much amusement this seemed to give him.
"I can help you get back at anyone who ever hurt you. I can give you so much power."
"I told you, I don't need you!"
Two snaps in the air, and Masterson still hadn't taken his eyes off me. I waited for the pain to resume, but the gunshots never hit me. Instead, the shells hit the ground around his feet. And since he was laughing, I assumed that he missed me on purpose. Just to torture me.
"Why are you so stubborn?" he asked, amused. "You know that I don't actually want to hurt you, do you? Let me tell you. . ."
Masterson continued to talk mindlessly. "Stay behind me," whispered Daiwa. "Try and hide yourself in the woods as soon as you can."
Obeying, I let Daiwa get in front of me. I watched around his right arm. And behind me, I could see a couple glittering pairs of eyes behind the trees. How long would it be before I could join them?
"Now really, Hee-ro-you-ki. Step away from the boy. My children could level your school in a matter of minutes. Do you want to risk that, all for this one boy?"
"Not yet," Daiwa whispered to me. "But run soon."
"I take it that you won't cooperate, then?" Masterson continued.
"You don't get him, or any of the other students," Daiwa said, a sense of fury radiating from him. Same as before.
"I don't, do I?" Masterson started.
"Go now," Daiwa said urgently.
Using my right hand to turn and pull myself to my feet, I started off at a sprint. Behind me, I heard a fourth gunshot and a groan that sounded like Daiwa's. Where had he been shot? I didn't dare look behind me. The only thing that I let into my sight were the trees that grew larger and larger with each step.
I heard Masterson's voice behind me, but I wasn't sure how far away he was since the sound was drowned out by my too-quickly beating heart. "Catherine, take some of the others with you and follow that boy."
"Yes, Mark," responded a girlish voice.
Trying to drown out everything but the sounds of my footfalls, I ran into the woods. I went in a strange direction, and didn't pass any of my classmates along the way. That's how I wanted it to be. I didn't want anyone to find me.
Only when I found a particularly large bit of shrubbery did I let myself stop running. I clawed out some of the snow and dirt from under the bush, and pushed myself into hiding. Silently, I started to count in my head. This was what I used to do when I was running from Masato in Jukyuu City. Always, counting until I calmed down.
"I know that you are here," said a voice. It wasn't Masterson's, but something much worse. "Will you come out, little one?"
The spectre. I didn't move.
"Do you not yet know what you are going to become?" it asked.
"Please stay away from me," I whispered. "You're going to bring Mark Masterson here."
The spectre pulled aside some of the shrubbery that concealed me, and sat beside me. It was wearing a perfectly fitted Ketsumu uniform, and a wig that might as well have been made of gold. Unlike me, there was not a stain of dirt on the spectre. Its skin glowed in the darkness.
"You have two very distinct marks placed on you," it said. "Do you understand?"
"I don't understand," I hissed. "I never understand. Why are you here?"
"One mark of virtue, and the other of power. You could go either way."
"What the hell do you mean?"
"I think that we will both know very, very soon," said the spectre. "Look. The moon is very bright tonight, is it not? It is only a matter of time before you are found. You are in danger."
"Of course I'm in danger! I've got a terrorist leader after me, and a crazed American girl on my tail. What am I supposed to do?" I almost shouted the last part before realizing how much more danger that would have put me in.
"She will find you. There is no doubt," the spectre told me.
I was desperate. "What about Mark Masterson?"
"Your beloved Hiroyuki Daiwa will take care of him."
"Take care of him?" I asked, almost cutting the spectre off.
"Kill him, of course. For your sake," it said. "We will have to talk about Hiroyuki Daiwa, but now is not the time."
"What are you -?"
Then rang the most horrifying American accent: "Joe-ey! Joey, come out, come out!" And the spectre vanished. There was another rustling sound, and a girl burst into sight. She was heavy, and that was the first thing I noticed about her. Crazy as that sounds. Her hair was streaked with blonde and white and dark brown, falling down all the way to her bottom. With giant, bulging eyes, she searched around the area.
But I knew that I would be able to fight her. There was something calm about me. Maybe it was because I had already faced the spectre. And the spectre was much more frightening than any of the Whites for a Better World, much less this girl.
So I waited for her to find me.
"You're cute." That was the girl's voice. It came from right behind me. "I'd like it if you joined us."
She grabbed me by the back of my shirt, and I could feel her breath on my shoulders. Loud and heavy, but so cold. She muttered something else into my ear, but I couldn't understand her English. But it didn't sound threatening. Was she trying to be sexy? I thought about it for just a second before realizing that she must be trying to seduce me. That was disgusting. Who did she think she was? There was nothing about her that was beautiful. Her nose was a squashed carrot, and her hand at my back was fat and sweaty. And I always thought that girls like this fell for the cult leader, not the boy they were trying to kill.
So I twisted myself out of her grip.
"What are you trying to do with me?" I yelled. Probably everyone in the woods could hear me. That was my plan. Well, that was the reason I came up with after I started to yell. But I had found a weakness in the girl, and I couldn't help but take advantage of it. Because with any luck, the spectre would be right, and it would only be a matter of time before Daiwa killed Mark Masterson.
"What are you -?"
"Are you trying to rape me?" The words didn't sound like my own, but I knew that they were. "Or are you trying to kill me? Or are you trying to recruit me? You have to make up your mind. Because right now, you're doing a poor job at all three of those things."
"I . . . I . . ."
"And you're not even speaking Japanese right," I continued to shout. "If you want to sound cute and make me like you, you can't pronounce it like 'Boku.' That makes you sound like you're trying to be a tough guy. Did Mark Masterson teach you all that?"
"Come with me. Now!" she yelled. But her attempt at intimidation didn't affect me.
"Why should I come with you?" I heard a rustling in the trees behind me, and I hoped that it meant something good. "I'm staying right here."
"No, you're coming with me. Don't make me -"
"Jyaki. Jyaki!" came a voice. "Jyaki, keep talking. Where are you?"
I turned around to shout back, but then I saw him coming towards my direction. It was Professor Isono. There were twigs caught in his hair.
"We've been looking everywhere for you," he said. "We were worried that girl got you."
The girl made it a point to stand up straighter. "Haven't yet, but you'll both be coming with me now."
"Give it a rest," said Professor Isono, in a tone that I had never heard from him before. "Masterson's dead."
"What?" I shouted, forgetting that I didn't have to anymore. The girl let out an indiscernible screech.
"Professor Daiwa finished him," Isono explained. "He had to. Masterson would have started killing students otherwise. But he's dead, Jyaki. You don't need to worry about him anymore."
I sighed. "Good riddance."
"But I'm worried about the children he was with," Isono said. I looked around, and the girl was gone.
"Shouldn't we just focus on our own for now?" I suggested.
"Yes, yes, of course," he muttered, seeming to be taken aback by my adult speech. Although that might have been only in my head. "Many of his supporters have been caught. It's just a shame."
"I know," I said.
Suddenly, he grinned at me. "That was very smart, what you did with the girl."
I returned the smile. "Thank you, Professor."
"Well, I think it's about time to return to campus," he said. "We can't avoid it forever, you know."
"What do you mean?"
But when we returned, I found out. Everything was in chaos. The students were panicked and disorganized; Headmaster Sakai was yelling but not getting anyone's attention; professors were nursing small injuries.
But it was Professor Daiwa who I was focused on. Completely still, Daiwa stood away from the other professors. He was bleeding, but he did not seem to care. That awful, furious look had not left his eyes. Though he could not have been directing that anger to anyone besides himself. I wanted to go up to him and say something. Anything. But before I could, Headmaster Sakai approached me.
"Mr. Jyaki?" he croaked. "I just wanted to say that you showed an incredible amount of courage tonight. I know that there's no way to really reward you, but how would you like your own trophy? We'll display it in the Main Building."
"Are you serious, sir?" That would be nice, I mused. Real impressive.
"Of course, Mr. Jyaki," he said. "Of course. It's only a fraction of what you deserve."
"But . . . But I hardly even did anything," I said, so modest. "I just ran around a bit and yelled at a girl."
Headmaster Sakai dismissed my protests with a wave of his gnarled hand. Then, he turned to Professor Daiwa. They exchanged quiet words that seemed to leave Daiwa looking ill.
"It's just that I've never killed anyone before," Daiwa said.
"Oh." Headmaster Sakai seemed to be feeling especially awkward. "Well, you should get checked out in the Health Center. Get some rest, you know."
And when Sakai looked towards me, he added, "You should also get some rest, Mr. Jyaki. And perhaps it would be best if you took Professor Daiwa to the Health Center. Make sure he's okay."
"Sure," I said, looking at Daiwa tentatively. Only then did I really notice the aching sensation that pulsed throughout my body. My arms and legs were red, forming the beginnings of bruises. And there was still that wound in my shoulder. "Well then, let's go."
I started off towards the Health Center. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Professor Daiwa walking behind me. It was strange - like I, for once, was the one with authority. I didn't like it. Never before had I seen Daiwa so shaken up. Was it really that traumatizing to kill someone? Even if it was for the greater good? In any case, I couldn't wait for things to settle, and for Daiwa to return to his normal self. Because as much as his rages scared me, it equally terrified me to see him weak.
And as it happened, Professor Daiwa was very slow to heal. Government officials and other very authoritative-looking men were in and out of his hospital room, but he didn't seem to care for any of it. From the room next to him, I never heard him talk about the incident. Not even once. He stopped speaking in full sentences, save for my visits with him. And that was only because we were bonded by Mark Masterson since the first time I received a pamphlet from him. Maybe even before that. We were past the point of talking about the incident, because we had always been preparing for it. So I feel like I should take some sort of credit for Daiwa's recovery. Certainly, it wouldn't have been so fast without me.
And by then, that year had passed.

Author's Notes: I'm updating again! This chapter is the end of Part One of Ishiki, also called The Monster. I have finished this entire story and am up to editing, which is going to be a lot of content editing so the finished story will have a lot of changes. But for now, I'll post these early drafts. There are three parts and thirty six chapters, about 500 pages in total. Think you're up for it? :)