Author notes: Well, here's the finale. It took a while to write a proper conclusion for this story. And for a moment, I didn't want it to end. But, all good things have to come to an end sooner or later. For those who stuck around, thanks for your support. Read and enjoy!
Warning: There are character deaths and violence in this final chapter. Read on, beware, and if you can, enjoy!
Chapter 5 – Restoration
Relief. That's what Riley felt when her sister's condition was stabilized. Of course, she had to stay in the hospital for a little while, just in case the doctors had questions. She was just thankful that Julia was still alive. However, fatigue was growing inside of her. The older girl nearly slept on a waiting chair. Riley sighed as she knew she had to get some rest after all the drama she was put through. Not wanting to keep the doctors from doing their job, she left the hospital.
What else could she do at the meantime? She lost interest in exploring the town after what had transpired earlier. She wandered about many things. Was it always this stressful for her parents when they took care of Julia? What will they think of Riley, who failed to protect her properly? Disappointed, no doubt.
Just then, she remembered Kazumi. Where could she be? Maybe she returned to the inn? It would have seemed likely, considering how dark it has become. In fact, it looked like a storm was brewing at any time. So, she went on her way out of town to return to Kerai inn.
As she walked upon the dirt road, the dark blonde girl sensed an eerie feeling in the air. As if something was amiss. Crows were eyeing her as they flew around in the sky, almost circling her. Spider lilies were everywhere. What was happening?
When she finally reached the place she was staying in, Riley was worried to see it's unsettling state. The wood was decomposing. It had the appearance of a ghostly, derelict building rather than a warm guesthouse.
Much to her confusion and surprise, the interior of the inn was in near shambles. It looked like a robbery had occurred. What the hell could have happened?
Riley ran inside and scanned around. A vase had been knocked over. A picture frame was broken. A corpse with a mask lay on the floor, spewing blood onto the carpet. She wasn't sure what to think or what to do. But, standing around isn't helping matters either. With caution, she approached the body.
Riley removed the mask obscuring the person's face and gasped softly. It was a girl around the same age as her. She was one of the bullies that pushed Julia down not too long ago. What was she wearing? And why was she at the inn? Many questions that wouldn't be answered so easily.
Riley gently placed the body down when the cloak had left something for her in return.
Out of one of it's pockets, something shiny came out. It was a key! But to what? Riley took it for safekeeping. She walked down the halls of the inn to find spider lilies covering the wooden floor. The girl walked through the strange garden and opened the door to Kazumi's room. It was empty. Now the red flags were raised.
"Where is everyone?"
Going back outside, Riley noticed something way out of the ordinary. She noticed a group of hooded figures from a distance. They were walking towards the opposite direction, where the school was located.
Kazumi slowly began to gain consciousness in what it seemed like an underground alter. Her blurry vision became clear as soon as she started to gain her bearings. She tried to get up but to no avail. She was stuck in a chair, with duct tape restraining her hands and legs. And much to her growing confusion, she wore a white kimono, identical to Mitsuko's.
"Oh, you finally came to?"
Kazumi lifted her head to see an elderly woman with a black kimono walk out of the shadows. Her greying hair was now loose and down. There was a tattoo of the horned skull on her forehead.
"I'm sorry I had to knock you out like that," Mitsuko said. "I didn't want you to run off on me."
"Where am I? Where are Yugo and Shin?" Kazumi asked, almost fearfully.
"No need to worry. I spared them, as promised. They'll be here in due time."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"They will become a great help in the fall ceremony," the grandmother explained. "The preparations are almost complete. Now that you are here, the ritual won't be so troublesome this time around."
There was something bubbling inside of the teenage girl. There were so many emotions clashing together like a battle of blades. Betrayal, confusion, anger and sorrow were all stacked together like an unstable house of cards. She glared at the elder woman, brown eyes shining with a stubborn passion.
"Go to hell…" Kazumi hissed.
"You're trying too hard. I know you are scared. Teenagers these days think they can take on the world, but that belief falls flat on its face once they face reality. You are no different. But, not for long…"
The girl couldn't believe what she was hearing. This was not the same grandmother that took her in with open arms. At the end of the day, she was no different from her negligent mother.
"Grandma," Kazumi asked, nearly in tears. "why are you doing this?"
"Oh, Kazumi, I'm so glad you asked that question. Simply put, I am in search of a suitable ruler of Kuroshima."
Mitsuko sighed, knowing she had to convince the girl in a different way. So, she tugged at her outfit and slipped it past her shoulders. Kazumi gasped with shock over what her eyes were seeing. The woman's chest was rotting away, just like the wood from the inn.
"Take a good look, Kazumi. This body is dying. I've been…cheating death for many years. I've transferred into so many bodies that I've lost count. Throughout the years, adults have lost a certain spark as they age. They lose that active passion. But, teenagers are different. They carry their youth and passion with them like an aura. And many few of them are selected as my vessel. My special host."
"You're insane," Kazumi quipped. "And this is your last ceremony." Mitsuko scoffed with indifference.
"On the contrary, honey: I'm so sane that nobody knows what's going on right now."
"So, what happens now? You're just going to keep me chained up here?"
"Well, you won't be alone, of course. You'll have your friends to keep you company."
"Why them?" Kazumi asked angrily. "What more do you want?"
"The journalist, Shin, and Riley also carry that spark of passion with them. Especially Yugo and Riley. They will be of great help. I already have someone searching for the foreign exchange student as we speak."
The disheveled girl looked down at her feet, bare and dirty from the ground.
"So, you've been manipulating us all along. Even Kanji."
"Kanji was a different case. He was quite a wreck when I found him several years ago. A victim of abuse from his family, he ran away and didn't know how to live with himself. So, I gave him a chance to work at the school. Too bad the fool wanted to use his new position for perverted purposes. Such a disgrace."
"Where is he now?"
"Dead and buried," Mitsuko answered. "After what happened with Julia, there was no way I could keep him around for much longer. It was only a matter of time before he screwed up. Do you understand now, Kazumi? I can't waste my time bringing depraved amateurs to my new vision of Kuroshima."
"You're the amateur," Kazumi rebuked. "Look at the trail of destruction and death your cult has left behind. You can't blame this all on Kanji. You know what? I don't care what happens to me. You're going to regret this, you old hag! Count on it."
"I do love your spirit, Kazumi, but you came here of your own volition. Anyways, I still have work to do. So, sit tight. I'll be back soon."
And with that, Mitsuko began to disappear into the shadows of the underground walls. Once the woman was nowhere in sight, Kazumi struggled against her binds. She was completely stuck. But perhaps there was a way to free herself. Did she have time, though? Would she be able to break free before her grandmother returns?
Riley had to hide under the spider lilies in order not to be seen. She wasn't sure what was going on but she had enough sense what was wrong with the picture in front of her. Two hooded figures were breaking into school. But for what? The dark blonde had to figure it out. With dark green eyes, she watched as one of the figures unlocked the door. Riley quietly sprinted towards the door and went inside. From there, she found herself inside the school gym.
But that's not all that confused her. There was a passage way on the floor that was opened, revealing a staircase. This only fueled Riley's curiosity even more as she cautiously descended. It felt like hours before she could get to the bottom. As soon as her shoes landed on the ground, the surroundings were a whole lot different.
Riley was now underground. She didn't believe what she was seeing.
"Okay, where the hell is this?"
The dark blonde girl nearly jumped at the voice addressing her. Her head spun around to see who it was, but it was too dark to tell.
"Who is it?"
"It's me, Shin. I'm over here!"
Riley followed the voice to the left and seen the timid boy himself, standing behind bars.
"Is this…a jail cell?" She asked, bewildered by such a thing.
"I'm not the only one trapped here. The journalist is here too. We were dragged here."
Shin pointed towards the battered and unconscious Yugo, his cellmate. His face was bruised, as if he was engaged in a bar brawl.
"My god…what the fuck is going on?" Riley muttered.
"Riley, listen to me," Shin urged. "Kazumi is in danger. We have to save her."
"Kazumi? In danger? Shin, you're not making any sense."
"It's Mitsuko, she's using her for some freaky ritual!"
"There's no time to explain, but she's trying to make herself young again. That woman is trying to take control of her own granddaughter."
"I know it's a lot to take in," Shin insisted. "but you got to believe me!"
Suddenly, there was a tremor from above, forcing the lanterns to flicker rapidly.
"That could be bad…"
"Alright," Riley said. "just give me a second to find out how to unlock this cell."
"I'll try to wake up Yugo."
Riley produced the key she found from the body earlier. With the way it was shaped, it looked like perfect enough to unlock the jail cell. There was only one way to find out. She used the key to intercept the lock, successfully. Shin grabbed the journalist's shoulders, trying desperately to wake up the battered man.
"Hey, wake up! We got to hurry."
After a few moments, Yugo began to stir, much to Shin's relief.
"W-what…where are we…?"
"We're underground," Shin answered. "Can you stand?"
The older teen got up from the ground, holding Shin's shoulder for support. There was no pain in his legs. They were still functional.
"Yeah…I think so."
"Good. Just watch your step."
Shin helped Yugo walk out of the cell. They reunited with Riley, who was raring to leave such an unfamiliar place.
"Now," Riley announced. "let's find Kazumi and get the hell out of here."
"Not so fast!"
Before they could proceed, a voice stops their tracks. The teenagers swung their heads and saw a maid with purple hair standing behind them, machete in hand.
"I can't let you leave here. You are necessary sacrifices for Mitsuko-san."
Riley softly glared at the maid. Although they had only spoken a few times, the dark blonde was never fond of Sophie.
"I knew there was something shady about you the moment we met. Why are you working for that hag?"
"She has taken care of me for many years," Sophie replied. "I am in her debt. She's important to me."
"And she's so important that you are willing to let her kidnap other girls to keep her youth?!" The blue-eyed girl bit her bottom lip before bluntly stating,
"You're despicable," Yugo added. "just like Kanji."
Sophie shot a look at the journalist for such a comparison.
"I can assure you, I am nothing compared to that depraved pervert. He wanted to bed children out of pent up childhood trauma. I am doing this because I owe everything to the one person who saved me from a harsh life!"
"Take your sob stories someplace else," Riley exclaimed, "We aren't interested. We have a friend to save."
Suddenly, Sophie dash forward and jumped into the air. She swung her machete towards Riley. However, the other girl dodged and kicked the maid in her stomach, pushing her back a few feet.
"Shin, Yugo, go on ahead! I'll hold her off."
"Don't be stupid, Riley!" Shin reasoned. "She's ten times stronger than you."
"Maybe…but it won't stop me from trying."
Shin cursed under his breath and relented. He helped Yugo walk out of the underground prison. Riley stared Sophie down as she began to recover from the gut kick.
"You're making a mistake, Riley."
The red sweater girl spotted a rusty baseball bat and claimed it as her weapon of defense.
"No, you are. Whatever you think you are fighting for might not be worth it."
"We'll see about that!"
Sophie and Riley charged towards one another and their weapons clashed. Riley swung the bat towards Sophie's head and narrowly missed. The maid lunged her blade towards her opponent. Riley felt a sharp pain on her left shoulder as the machete grazed it. She winced as she gripped her wounded shoulder.
Sophie pointed her weapon towards Riley's direction, a look of conflict clear on her face.
"Make this easy for me. I don't want to have to hurt you like I did Julia."
The older girl's eyes widened at the revelation.
"I was going to finish her off had she not escaped, but I let my compassion get the best of me."
Riley clenched her teeth and the baseball bat on her hand shook violently.
"So, it was you, after all! You tried to kill my sister!"
Anger consuming her, the blonde teen ran towards Sophie. Her rusty bat swung everywhere, looking for anything to hit. The inn maid blocked the blows each time but she didn't foresee a fist heading towards her face. She stumbled back and retaliated with round house kick to Riley's abdomen. The girl crouched and coughed as she was struggling to stand up.
"I didn't have a choice! Once Kanji made a move on her, she was quick to resist and flee."
"Of course, she would! She wasn't raised to be a fool!"
Noticing the enemy becoming tired, Riley attacked the maid again. Only this time, she swung her bat at her leg, forcing her to kneel. Without hesitation, she hurled it towards Sophie's shoulder, rendering her immobile on the ground. Riley pinned the girl down with a boot on her chest.
"And now, you're the fool."
"You'll regret this…"
Before Sophie could raise her weapon at her, Riley stepped on her hand, forcing it down. The bat was raised, ready to perform the killing blow. But before the green-eyed teen could finish the fight…
Kazumi managed to make her leg break free of the duct tape. Somehow, the binds weren't as strong as her captors thought. What incredible luck, she thought. But she also knew that would not be enough. If only there was a familiar face around to aid her.
"Kazumi? Where are you?"
Confused, the girl looked around to see who was addressing her. Why did it have to be so dark and cold underground?
"Oh, there you are."
"Quick! Get me out of here before Mitsuko comes back! Do you have something sharp?"
Yugo produced a switch knife from his pants pocket. He took a knee on the ground and began to cut down the duct tape that restricted the brown-haired girl.
"How did you guys break free?" Kazumi asked. "Weren't you locked up somewhere?"
"We were," Shin replied. "but somehow, Riley found us and busted us out."
"Where is she now?"
"Fighting Sophie." Kazumi's glanced at Shin as if he as now speaking an alien language.
"No time to explain!"
Yugo had just finish cut off the tape keeping Kazumi in the chair. The girl finally stood up and rubbed her wrists.
"Alright, hopefully, Riley can catch up and- "
Shin never got the chance to finish his sentence when a bullet whizzed by and pierced him between the eyes. Yugo and Kazumi watched in horror the boy's body collapsed on the ground.
"No…!" Kazumi managed.
Their shock was abruptly cut short when a voice broke the silence.
"What a nuisance. I should have killed you sooner."
Yugo looked to the side and seen Mitsuko, holding a gun with a smoking barrel. She wore a glare of death as she pointed the gun at the journalist and her granddaughter. Suddenly, the masked figures from before circled around the two teenagers, like stone statues.
"Mitsuko…!" Yugo growled.
Another figure came through the shadows, a frazzled Sophie was dragging Riley by her long blonde hair. Kazumi was at a loss for words. It was clear that there was no chance of them escaping without sharing the same fate as poor Shin.
"Yugo…what do we do now…?"
The young journalist clenched his teeth as he tried to formulate a plan. But, much to his frustration, nothing came to mind. They were pinned down, with their lives, and Riley's on the line.
"Kazumi!" Mitsuko shouted. "Return back to your place in the circle. Complete the ritual or else."
"Or else what?" Kazumi shouted back. The grandmother smirked callously.
"Well, glad you asked. Sophie!"
The purple haired girl dropped Riley to the ground and kicked her over. She straddled the girl's waist and grabbed at her neck. The other girl struggled through the grip as she tried to claw out the maid's eyes.
"Sophie, stop this!" Kazumi begged.
"Mitsuko's orders are absolute!" Sophie roared. "You will obey them!"
"Like hell we are, you crazy bitches!" Yugo taunted.
This only incensed the maid even more as she punched Riley in the head, hard. Three times. Yugo growled as he tried to advance toward the maid.
"Leave her alone, dammit!"
He couldn't go too far without a bullet grazing one of his arms. One of the masked cloaks approached Yugo from behind and kicked his shins, forcing him on his hands and knees. He didn't have time to retaliate when his head was being kicked into the dirt.
"Well, granddaughter? What's it going to be?"
Kazumi closed her eyes, trying to block out the cries of Riley and Yugo as they were being savagely beaten. What happened? How did it all end up like this? The girl had just moved to Kuroshima in only a week. She wanted a better life. When her mother eloped and left her behind, Kazumi thought she would start fresh in a new life. But it was all a lie. A horrible, cruel lie. This was a nightmare.
She couldn't stand to see anyone else hurt or die. She had to put a stop to it, one way or another.
The teary-eyed girl took a seat back on the chair she was tied to before. Mitsuko smiled in devious triumph.
Kazumi didn't bother to wipe her face, as the tears freely flowed. They landed on the dirt as she sat still, resigned to her fate.
Yugo and Riley were being restrained by the masked children as Mitsuko stood at the end of the circle. Sophie stood behind her mistress as she watched the ritual occur. Mitsuko picked up the knife Yugo dropped and slit her wrists, allowing the blood to flow freely out. The crimson fluid began to fill in the tracings of the dirt circle as it began. Suddenly, a purple light began to glow.
Everyone present was stunned beyond belief. Who would have thought that magic existed? The light began to glow, brightening the underground altar. However, something went awry. Lightening voltage spewed out of the circle.
"What is this…?!" Mitsuko asked, confused and worried.
It struck the dirt celling from above, forcing large groups of boulders to fall in a matter of seconds. Many masked members were crushed to death as earthquakes grew more violent.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Yugo and Riley broke away from their captors and ran to Kazumi. They were quick to avoid the rubble that were tumbling down.
A boulder was on its way to destroy Mitsuko. However, someone pushed her out of the way. Her trusty maid.
The old woman landed on the dirt and shook her head to regain her thoughts. She looked back and was greeted with a grisly image. Sophie, her trusted maid, her confidante, and surrogate daughter, was nowhere to be seen. All that was left of her was a strand of purple hair, underneath the rubble, and an arm that twitched errantly before it became numb. Wide dark eyes turned dull and empty. The manipulator of an innkeeper, the schemer of Kuroshima, was at a loss for words. Even after all this time, throughout the years of putting up with her, the maid was loyal regardless.
She didn't have time to walk over to the body as she felt the floor beneath her breaking down and collapsing, taking her and the corpses with her.
The three survivors didn't have time to look back as they escaped through the staircase.
Two days have passed since the underground ordeal. The three survivors managed to flee with skins intact, but just barely. Yugo returned to Tokyo for a much-needed break from journalism. He was considering taking another career, that didn't involve conspiracies that nearly got him killed. Riley stayed behind in the countryside, waiting for her younger sister to recover steadily. She and Kazumi promised to stay in touch every now in then.
As for Kazumi? Well, even she didn't know herself.
She wasn't sure what lied ahead for her. She thought her place was in Kuroshima, only for that belief to turn to shreds after just one week. It felt strange how only one week could change someone and give them another perspective. What she had seen had shocked her beyond belief. And she would give anything to un-see the horrors she was put through.
How did it all turn out like this? All Kazumi wanted was to find a place to belong to after her mother abandoned her for a whirlwind romance. All she wanted was a life of her own. And now, she was back to the start of this whole story. Traveling to the unknown by train. Leaving the countryside behind was the only option she could think of. There was nothing else left for her there.
What was next for the teenager? How could she live her own life on her own? Was she ever going to recover from such a harrowing ordeal two days ago? Only time will tell.
For now, Kazumi would have to figure out her own path, alone. It won't be easy, but at the end of the day, she was just thankful to be alive.