The world was at war. On every continent, across every country, in the depths of nearly every shadow, lives were taken. No city was spared, not even a city as grand as Tokyo. Old-world refinement mixed with new-world technology, giving the city its own unique beauty. Even so, it was still a battlefield. That’s why Keely had been sent to Japan, Tokyo specifically. The never-ending war between immortal monsters and humans raged out of control there. Keely Sheppard was the only one who could fight on the war’s front lines.
The casualties, human souls, had already started to call to her from the darkened recesses of the city, begging for her help, begging to be freed. Staring out the window of the quaint café, she watched people pass by unaware, focused on the complexities of their own lives and problems. She envied their blissfully ignorant lives and wondered if they would act differently with the knowledge that there were soul-stealing monsters lurking in their midst.
“There are a lot of hot guys in Tokyo,” Sutton, her constant companion and best friend, mused aloud.
Sutton’s interruption was timely since it gave Keely something to focus on other than the tension pressing on her temples. Cupping the coffee in front of her, she took a sip of the delicious bittersweet fluid. Immediately, she felt more relaxed and paused a moment to take in her surroundings. The café was nicely decorated and furnished with dark wood-exposed beams, matching furniture, and large windows to watch the city outside. Besides being clean, the staff was friendly. The coffee and the respite were a welcome treat after their twelve-hour flight.
“I wonder how they feel about taking on an American woman as a friend with benefits?” Sutton placed her chin on her hand and again scanned the crowd in and out of the café.
Keely grinned at her then answered, “I don’t know. Probably like any other guy from any other country, depends on the guy.” She took another sip of her coffee. “I’m sure you won’t have any lack of interested males. We’ve been stared at everywhere we go.” Keely looked around the coffee shop, noticing the open stares of some people and sideways glances of others.
“I know, I love it.” Sutton smiled and waved her fingers at a nearby pair of girls who’d been obviously scrutinizing them since they walked in. Red flushed across their cheeks as they turned away, which caused both Keely and Sutton to giggle. “Anyway, I can’t wait to find out.” She strummed her fingers on the table. “I hope our guy isn’t late. Our plan only landed like an hour ago. The Japanese ministry better not expect us to work salary-man hours. That would be crap.”
“I’m sure they don’t.” Keely shook her head.
“If they do, I’m telling Jasper.” She sounded like a pouty child.
“Please don’t call my brother.” Keely rolled her eyes. “Even I’m a little afraid of him, so let’s not piss him off. Besides, I think our guy is here.” She nodded toward the door just as two suited men, one older and one younger, entered the café. Scanning the room, they walked through rows of tables and chairs, then cautiously came to their table.
“You are the Priestess?” the older Japanese man asked in his native tongue as he stood over Keely. His distinguished features were marred by the slight frown of disappointment pulling at the corners of his mouth. “The courier?” He changed his question, disbelief still evident in his expression.
“I am,” Keely answered in his language. She flashed Sutton a knowing smile over the rim of her coffee cup. “Please,” she motioned to the open seats across from her, “have a seat.” They’d agreed to meet their newly assigned client, share a cup of coffee, and see if he was someone they could help.
“Many apologies.” The man bowed his head slightly. “I expected… I was told the courier was a Priestess.”
“She is,” Sutton confirmed, screwing her mouth sideways in annoyance.
The man still seemed like he wanted to question them, but
his face softened to resignation. “You may go,” he said to his stiff-suited companion before taking a seat across in one of the empty chairs.
The man’s reaction to Keely’s appearance wasn’t uncommon. No matter the country or city, people judged by appearances. Most people assumed she’d show up in flowing robes with an ethereal demeanor. They certainly didn’t anticipate her unique style. It was directly opposite the somber appearance expected of a Priestess. Ignoring his still obvious skepticism, Keely asked, “Who has put you in need of a Priestess?”
“I’ve come to ask for your assistance.” He bowed his head and clasped his hands together.
“Mr. Oshiro,” Keely interrupted. “While I appreciate your courtesy, please dispense with the formalities.”
He lifted his head, then bowed again before looking at her with tears formed in his eyes. “My daughter Ayano, we found her… her body. She’s alive…” He stopped and took a deep breath. “The doctors say there is nothing physically wrong with her, but—”
“Ayano is a body with no soul. She’s just a shell,” Keely finished for him. “The ministry has informed me. I know. I didn’t know she was your daughter. My apologies.” She’d encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of human shells in her lifetime. They were a sad casualty of the war she fought. “How long has she been that way?”
“Two days,” he answered.
“How many days was she missing before that?” Sutton asked, producing a notepad from her purse, then scribbling down notes.
“One,” he answered solemnly.
Keely hid a frown. She only had seven days to return a soul to its body. Their time had almost been cut in half.
“I think I can help you. You were informed of what I require. Did you bring the vessel?” Keely asked.
Mr. Oshiro nodded and reached into his leather satchel. “I have a necklace I gave her when she finished primary school.” He offered her a long, blue, velvet box.
Keely stared at the box, searching for the touch of a soul, an imprint of the warmth or happiness from a thing that was loved. Her impression was that the box and its contents were cold and impersonal; it was merely something discarded. She frowned at the box and set her cup down hard on the table. Tiredness made her irritable. She didn’t want to take the time to re-explain what should havealready been thoroughly explained. “Was the ministry not clear about my requirements? Your daughter doesn’t have a lot of time left, and you bring useless trinkets.”
Sutton cleared her throat, reminding Keely not to lose her temper with Mr. Oshiro. “Our Priestess can sense when a soul has cared for an inanimate object.”
The tears that had formed in Mr. Oshiro’s eyes started to spill down his cheeks. “I apologize.” He breathed in heavily through his nose. “I love my daughter. She is everything to me.”
“I know you do.” Keely softened her voice. She could not only see but sense he loved his daughter very much. “I apologize for being impatient, but I require a tangible item she loved. Whatever is in that box doesn’t bear the touch of something loved by a human.”
Sutton reached across the table, took the box from him and opened it, revealing an expensive diamond necklace. “Are you sure? I mean, I could fall in love with this?” she asked in English.
Keely snorted then replied in the same language, “No, Sutton.” She stared at the man, noticing a flash of a grimace before he looked down at his folded hands. “That’s not enough, but I think he has something else to offer,” she said in Japanese for Mr. Oshiro’s benefit.
“I wasn’t sure,” Mr. Oshiro said as he dug in the bag again and produced a paint-smeared cherry wood box. “My daughter wants to be an artist.” He handed her the box. “The last time we talked, we fought about it.”
Keely stretched out her fingers and tenderly took the box from him. The essence of warm wind bursting with earthy fragrances filled her senses. The box did hold some of Ayano’s soul, some of her happiness. It was something only Keely could feel. “This will be enough.” She carefully stowed the box in her bag, making sure it was
secured in a padded pocket.
“Do you have the addresses and details we asked for?” Sutton asked Mr. Oshiro.
“Yes.” Mr. Oshiro produced an envelope and handed it to her.
“Also,” Sutton took the envelope, “the fee is three million yen plus expenses,” she informed him. Sutton wasn’t one to play politics or politeness when it came to their earnings. She expected them to be paid well for risking their lives. If the victim couldn’t pay, she made sure the ministry did. Religious organizations were some of the wealthiest corporations in the world.
The man wiped at his tears, reached inside his coat pocket, and handed her another envelope. This one was thick. “Six million should cover all of your expenses and your time, but if it is not enough, let me know.”
“It will be enough.” Sutton smiled, took the second envelope, stowing it in her purse.
Keely reached across the table and took the man’s hands. He stiffened, surprised by her actions. “I will do everything in my power to bring your daughter back to you.” She squeezed his hands. For a moment he was pensive, then he simply looked lost. His fingers softened, then wrapped around hers before he bowed his head, took a deep breath, and pulled his hands away. “I’ll contact you within twenty-four hours. Go home and comfort your family. Let them be with Ayano’s body. And do not tell anyone beyond those necessary about what has transpired here today.”
“Yes.” He pressed his hands together and bowed before standing. “Thank you, Priestess.” He bowed again, only this time it was a formal bow that emanated from his waist. With a worried frown, he turned away from her and quietly left the café.
Keely watched him through the window as he got into a dark sedan. “Four days isn’t long,” she said to Sutton in English.
“No, it isn’t,” she agreed in the same language. “But then, seven days isn’t a whole hell of a lot of time to start with.”
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Chance stepped through the door of the café with one of his best friends, the lead singer of their band, Tau. He’d come in search of two things: a place to sit and a good cup of coffee. Band practice had been arduous. Not that he liked to complain. He was living his dream, but it had been a tedious rehearsal with a lot of mechanical and electrical issues. He needed coffee and a break before their performance that night.
“That was a cool bike,” Tau said wistfully, talking about the black and gold motorcycle they’d passed on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop. “I’m torn between buying a sports car or a motorcycle. I think I want a motorcycle.”
Chance was only half listening since Tau changed his mind about the vehicle he was going to buy, depending on the day and what they passed on the street. “It’s a cool motorcycle,” he agreed half-heartedly as he looked around the café for a place to sit. His eyes were immediately drawn to something out of the ordinary. Across the room, a pair of foreign women sat at a table quietly drinking coffee while talking to an elderly man with gray hair, wearing an expensive-looking suit. Foreigners weren’t an uncommon sight in Tokyo. Chance had encountered a lot of them, but these two women definitely drew more attention than most. He and Tau weren’t the only ones staring.
One of the women was very eye-catching. Her dark brown hair was piled on top of her head, cascading brown, red, and blonde curls down her back and over her shoulders. Her rounded face reminded him of the old American movie idols, especially with her black choker enhancing the length of her neck. Her porcelain skin looked like flawless ivory, making her lipstick seem redder. Sunglasses covered her eyes, so he couldn’t see their color, but he was curious.
Next to her sat a younger woman who also had very striking features. Her caramel colored skin and purple streaked sandy-blonde hair made her stand out. Both women dressed in attention-
getting attire. The younger woman wore a checkered halter top that showed a lot of skin, and the brunette wore a form-fitting, white blouse with a deep v, offering a view of her ample cleavage. Japanese women were typically more conservative. They didn’t wear figure-enhancing clothes or show a lot of skin above their waist.
“Wow, I don’t think they’re Russian,” Tau said from beside him. “American, Canadian, or English?” he asked.
“It’s hard to tell,” Chance answered. “But I agree, definitely not Russian.”
“Let’s find out,” Tau smirked mischievously and walked over to the empty table next to the two women. If he was trying to be sly, it didn’t work. All the eyes in the room followed him. His hair was a vibrant shade of blue, which was an uncommon color for hair in Japan. Chance smirked at his friend while moving to join him at a table.
As he walked across the café, the dark-haired woman looked up, pivoting her head as if to look around the room, glancing over at him and Tau in the process. If she noticed either of them, she didn’t show any outward sign. He sat at the table across from Tau with his back to the women. His position enabled him to hear their conversation.
Chance settled into his seat, feeling slightly awkward. Intentionally eavesdropping was rude and something he didn’t normally do, but he forgot his discomfort when he heard, “Our fee is three million yen, plus expenses.” He was momentarily shocked. The quoted price was exorbitant. Furthermore, he hadn’t expected the woman to speak nearly flawless Japanese.
“What did they say?” Tau inquired anxiously in a low voice, probably in response to Chance’s stunned expression. Chance put a finger to his lips, silencing his friend a second before his mouth fell open with shock. The old man gave them double what they asked for.
“What are they saying?” Tau asked in a slightly louder voice. “That older man is wearing an expensive suit, he looks well off. What are they talking about? Are they prostitutes? I don’t know why such
unusual foreign women would talk to him unless they were prostitutes.”
“Shh, you’re too noisy.” Chance leaned in, shushing Tau. “They can speak Japanese. They’ll understand you if they hear.” He leaned back to listen again, but he’d already missed the last of their conversation. The older man thanked them, called one of them Priestess, then left. Chance was utterly confused and absolutely intrigued by what he’d heard. Tau opened his mouth to talk again, but Chance put a finger back to his lips, signaling him to be quiet. Unfortunately, that was all he was going to hear. The two changed languages. He immediately recognized it as English but didn’t know enough of the language to know what they said. “I think they could be American,” he told his friend in a quiet voice.
“You know, American women are wild in bed,” Tau whispered with a grin. “I’d like to have one, one day.”
“Not me,” Chance replied, waving his hand at a waitress. “Excuse me,” he said. A young woman with a welcoming smile came to their table. The two of them placed their order, and the woman scurried off. “They aren’t my type.”
“Do you have a type?” Tau asked with a knowing smirk. Tau wouldn’t say it out loud, but Chance was popular with women and had a fair amount of experience. Although, Chance had never entered into a relationship with any of those women. For that reason, Tau would say Chance wasn’t the relationship type. Chance would say he’d never had the inclination to have a relationship.
“Yes and no,” Chance answered. “I know what I don’t want,” he admitted honestly. He’d never bedded an American woman. Eternity’s End, their band, had a few foreign fangirls. Some of them were American, pretty, and very sexually intriguing. None of them had made offers, and he wasn’t sure what would happen if they did.
“Really? You’re not even curious?” Tao leaned forward and whispered, “The dark-haired one has really nice tits.” He moved his
head to look around Chance. “I can’t tell her age, but I honestly wouldn’t care.”
Just then one of the two women behind him sighed loudly. Chance glanced over his shoulder to see if they were listening to his
conversation, after all, he did listen to theirs, but they were focused on some papers laid out on the table in front of them. Chance couldn’t see well, but from a distance, they looked like maps. It was very possible they were looking at trainline maps.
“Hello,” a young girl with short, dark hair and glasses said from beside him. If Chance had to guess, he’d say she hadn’t yet graduated from middle school. “Tau and Chance.” She bowed. “Could I get your autograph?” she asked, red spreading across her cheeks.
“Sure,” they answered in unison. The girl smiled excitedly, holding out one of their band’s pictures.
Chance took the picture from her. “Do you have a pen?” he asked, looking from her face to her empty hands.
“No,” she said. Her face went pale, and she bowed her head, but then she moved to the table behind him and asked in Japanese, “Excuse me? Can I borrow one of your pens?”
“Sure, pink, purple or orange?” the dark-haired woman directly behind Chance answered. For a moment, the girl looked dumbstruck, probably because a foreigner spoke so eloquently. He found it comical, considering the girl did ask in Japanese. “Here, how about pink?” She gave the girl her pen, and still, the girl looked shocked.
“Thank you,” Chance offered, since the girl hadn’t. The woman turned around, reached up, lowered her sunglasses, and looked at him.
Violet. Her eyes were an enthralling light violet. He’d never seen such brilliant eyes. He was so caught off guard by the depth and beauty of their color he didn’t react when her lips turned
up slightly, and she winked at him. He regained his senses in the same moment she turned to her friend, saying something in English he didn’t understand. She looked at him over her shoulder one last time, offering a brilliant smile as she pushed the sunglasses back up
on her face, covering her captivating eyes. He couldn’t help but smile in return before turning back to the girl.
“Pen?” Chance asked the girl. Pink flushed across her cheeks again as she bowed deeply, offering it to him. Taking the pen, he
signed the picture and slid it across the table to Tau. Tau did the same and then handed the pen back to him and gave the picture to the girl.
“Thank you,” the girl said excitedly, bowed several times, then skipped away.
Chance smiled at her enthusiasm before turning back to the woman behind him, gently tapping her on the shoulder then offering her the pen. She looked over her shoulder. “Since you’re so popular, you may want to keep it. Here.” She turned around in her seat and held out her hand. He was confused by her conflicting words and gesture, so he didn’t move. “Let me see.” She reached over her chair, grabbed his hand, then snatched the pen. Dexterously, she scrawled something on the back of his knuckles. And he didn’t consider of pulling away. Her fingers were soft, and her skin was almost electrifying to touch. Smiling at him, she pulled her hand away, offering the pen again. “A gift.”
Tau grinned, leaning forward. “Did she give you her phone number?” he whispered.
Chance looked down at his hand, almost expecting to see numbers scrawled across it. Instead, there was something written in English with a pair of pink lips drawn next to it. “No,” he answered, both mystified and curious.
“You want it though?” Tau said, laughing.
He looked over his shoulder in time to see the two women stand. The brunette was tall, especially in her heeled boots. He stared at her lengthy, black-clad legs as she donned a long black
jacket and packed her belongings into a pink bag covered in skulls. She lowered her sunglasses, smiled, and winked one last time before she turned around and walked out of the café with her friend in tow.
He turned back to Tau. “No,” he answered, but then he wondered if he just lied to his friend because, mixed with his curiosity, he felt disappointment.
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