Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This chapter somehow managed to be even more difficult to revise than the last one. It took a lot of work, but I got it done. I hope it turned out well.
There’s plenty in this chapter I’m not 100% happy with, but I need feedback on it. My own mind is having trouble looking at it from a new angle. So please let me know what you think!
I would not be able to do this without the support and encouragement of my supporters. You guys are amazing!
Hibiki came to visit. Rina wanted to scream. She still could not move or speak. This frustrated her to no end as she wanted nothing more than to reassure the important people in her life that she was here, awake and she could hear them with nothing better to do with her time than to remember everything that was said around her. She wished she could just ask someone to at least turn on the television so she felt a bit less alone in between visitors. With no way to actually get this request broadcast to any of the people visiting her she was left with just the visits to keep her from going out of her mind.
Doctors and nurses tended not to speak much while in the room unless she had a visitor at the time, but her mother and other actual visitors tried to talk to her, and usually did not come alone so they would talk to each other as well and keep her at least marginally entertained and give her something new to think about once they were gone again.
Hibiki only stopped by a few times. That might mean he visited her every day, but in her current state she had no way to tell. She could not see a clock to even mark the passage of hours and minutes. She had no way see if it was night or day. For a while she tried to mark the passage of time by the rounds of doctors and nurses stopping by, but her mind blurred it all together after a certain point. If he had visited her every day since she first woke up here then she had already been stuck like this for at least three days. That did not factor in the time that might have passed while she was still asleep or any of the time she lost when she managed to fall asleep again. She might sleep for a whole day or even longer and not realize it at this point.
Thinking about it only made her more frustrated about her inability to alter her situation so she tried her hardest to banish that thought from her mind. She needed her full concentration to listen and gain whatever information she could from Hibiki’s visit. He usually spoke to her a bit every time he came as though he thought she would start talking back to him at any moment. She appreciated that.
Today he entered silently and she did not hear him move to his usual seat either. This was a bit different from the format she had come to expect from his visits so far. Usually he came in and started talking to her a bit before he even sat down.
Finally he said something, but it was not to her as it had always been prior to this. The realization that someone else was in the room came as a shock to Rina, but she quickly adjusted to the idea as her mind quickly latched on to any new information and processed it before she had a chance to feel confused. She wanted to kick herself for not utilizing her recently developed acute sense of hearing to realize that there had been two sets of footsteps coming into her room this time, but she blamed her over active mind for distracting her from the only connection she still had to the outside world.
“What do you make of this, Penny?” Hibiki asked.
Penny? Who was Penny? She could not fathom why her boyfriend would bring a girl she did not know to her hospital room. She tried her best to get her mind from running off on a tangent so she could better follow along with the flow of conversation, but she struggled without any of her usual coping mechanisms available to keep her grounded. She could not pace the room or wring her hands or any of the things that normally allowed her more of an opportunity to ground herself. Now she did not have so much as a tether to keep herself from flying off into the stratosphere.
She took a deep breath in her mind — since she did not seem to be able to do much more than breathe slowly and steadily in reality — and tried to imagine herself back to a serene state of mind. She imagined pacing the room, or rather a very white, sterile room she invented for herself, and wringing her hands. Shockingly her little mind trick worked and she felt a bit calmer.
She seemed to have improved her own mind’s muscles while stuck with nothing else to occupy her for these long, lonely hours. Now she developed the ability to somehow control the self that lived within her mind. Her actual body might be unresponsive for now or maybe even forever, but now she had a sort of body within her own mental universe and she could command that body with even greater ease than she had ever experienced with actual flesh and bone.
Penny spoke for the first time since entering the room, and Rina had to use all of her newly found mental fortitude and strength to stop herself from ignoring the words being said and merely trying to paint a mental picture of this Penny based on her voice. She needed to hear what they were saying more than she needed to know about the girl Hibiki brought along to visit her in the hospital. She knew she could trust him so she allowed herself to do just that.
She could tell Penny was female and between childhood and old age but the voice did not do much to indicate anything beyond those two features. She found herself getting drawn into what Penny had to say though and that was not something she had expected in the least. Her interest at least made it easy for her to avoid staying stuck inside her own head when she had an opportunity for diversion.
“I think you were right to ask me to come. There is a definite discord between her body and her soul right now. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say her body is rejecting her soul, but I’d need some more time with her to make that kind of assessment anyway,” Penny explained in the calm, soothing tone reserved for those well versed in the art of meditation.
“Is there anything you can do for her? The doctors have been running tests on her for four days now and Leah says they still don’t know what’s wrong and they can’t do anything more for her than they are doing right now.”
“It’s not really my place to interfere unless the family wishes to look outside of traditional medicine for help. If you could get her mother to agree to allow me to treat Rina then I might be able to get her back in alignment.”
“Her mother is never going to agree to this, but she’s already gone against Rina’s wishes. Leah already as much as admitted to me when we ran into each other that Rina didn’t want to be stuck on a bunch of medications that would change who she was. Can’t you just do enough to help her wake up and then we can know for sure what she wants to do?”
“You’re smart enough to know just how wrong that would be — acting without consent. Just because we are working outside of science doesn’t mean we should abandon ethics. If she can’t speak for herself in this regard her family has to speak for her. We can’t go against her mother’s wishes while Rina is unable to decide for herself.”
“Fine. But you’re psychic, right? Can’t you ask her? She’s right here and Leah said she was told her brain activity indicates she’s usually awake when people are around.”
A jolt of excitement shot through Rina’s mind. Penny was psychic and could communicate with her! Not even her now entirely overgrown imagination could have hoped for this. Now she could get some answers, maybe get some help, and hopefully get out of here. The idea of having a stranger talk to her telepathically made her a bit nervous but she tried not to feel violated or otherwise let it bother her because she had been so very lonely that she could talk to just about anybody at this point without complaining. Loneliness did interesting things to introverts, although not quite as quickly as it did the same to extroverts. It might have taken a while but she actually craved conversation with another human being now.
Even so, she felt a bit nervous at the prospect of having another person in he mind. A conversation was one thing, but even the most intimate of conversations did not give the other person access to her most private ands secret thoughts. She did not know if telepathy would give Penny access to all of her thoughts or if she would still be the gatekeeper to her own private mind. She hoped that the code of ethics Penny seemed to hold in high regard a few moments ago would keep her from invading her more private memories. She wanted to believe this would all work out for the best, but she had only the tiniest understanding of what was actually happening. She did not know how to best protect herself or if she needed or even could protect herself. A psychic might force her to give up any and all information anyway because they knew more about minds than she could even imagine. She resigned herself to whatever fate might await her and tried to remain calm as she lacked a deep, dark secret anyway.
A wave of calm washed over her and she knew everything would be just fine. Her mind would not be plundered and her secrets stolen and passed around the outside world. Penny needed her trust to help her and stealing from Rina’s mind was not the way to gain her trust.
Rina understood, or thought she understood. She felt confused but oddly confident that she was now in the hands of someone who understood more than her, and she was unusually okay with that right now.
Penny gently prodded the surface of her mind to see if she was receptive to psychic manipulation.
This all felt more than a bit strange. Her mind responded instantly with none of the filter she usually kept between her thoughts and speaking. It was slightly unnerving, but she still felt calm, relaxed even, and therefore did not panic. The calm came from the place that was not quite her own mind as well, but the difference was barely a hairbreadth away from her own thoughts so she could only see the difference while focusing intensely.
The not-quite-her-own-mind that must be Penny prodded her a bit more to see if she minded the idea of an alternative, psychic healing that could potentially cure her of the problems the doctors could not find with their machinery and tests.
She could not stop herself from responding with the biggest, loudest, most resounding yes that her mind could muster. She hoped it was not too much, but she had a hunch that even with the bit of extra psychological work out she had been giving herself over the past few days she would still have to work quite a bit longer to begin to approach the telepathic strength of the person currently tuned into her brain.
Another wave of information came to her from the ether. This might be uncomfortable or even a bit painful, but she needed to stay calm and not fight against it or the process would only be drawn out longer than was necessary and it would probably only grow to be even more painful with resistance added in to the mix.
She thought she understood, and hoped that the message was received, although she already felt the presence of Penny withdraw from her mind. Her mind felt a bit empty with only her own thoughts in her head again. The ease of just thinking her words and the way she knew nothing would be misconstrued made this a nearly stress-free method of communicating. She hoped she would have a chance to learn more about such things once she was well again or at least have Penny explain in actual words what had just happened so she would actually feel competent to talk about it with someone, or at least with herself.
“She’s given her approval,” Penny announced.
“I knew she would.” Hibiki sounded pleased.
“Shall we begin?”
“Yes. As long as the coast is clear. I’d rather not have anyone asking us uncomfortable questions. Is anyone scheduled to do any tests or the like soon?”
There was a rustle of paper somewhere near the foot of her bed. He sighed, relieved. “Nothing until the nurse’s rounds in an hour.”
“That will give us plenty of time,” Penny said her voice already taking on the soothing meditation tone again.
With that the room fell into silence. The machinery continued to hum and beep quietly, and of course during visiting hours there was some sound from the hallway, but as far as hospitals went this was silent. She hardly heard these sounds anymore as long as she had something else to occupy her mind.
Rina waited. The sensation started as discomfort. The feeling built up slowly so she never quite felt as though she was not able to handle it, but at the same time she never had a chance to grow accustomed to the sensation before the intensity changed once again. She tried her best to take it in stride and not fight against the sensations. At first it felt as though she was slowly being pulled down and then pushed further inside of a box that just felt too small so she felt cramped and crushed into a space that pinched and twisted at the very core of her being.
Then parts of her stretched out to fill some sort of void and the parts holding the pieces of her together burn like a white hot fire as she tried not to fight this and to keep herself from going to pieces. The task sounded difficult, but the pain was really the least of her problems.
Her very soul was being manipulated it most certainly did not appreciate the attention. She tried not to panic too much. This felt wrong, but the state of her health in the past few weeks was far from natural in her own opinion. She should have control over her body, over her own senses. Anything that took that away from her could not be considered good and probably resulted from some sort of dangerous imbalance within herself. Penny was correcting this imbalance in her right now. It felt uncomfortable because she had grown accustomed to feeling things being the wrong way that she could barely stand getting back to the way she should feel.
The process continued and uncomfortable sensations became painful and she started to lose grip on her senses. Her sense of hearing went first. The sounds of her hospital room that she had heard for so long as to completely block them out disappeared and she suddenly found herself missing them. Then her own thoughts started to grow dim. Her thoughts grew thinner and thinner until they dissolved like a wisp of smoke in a breeze.
Nothing remained but the pain. Pain tore at the very fabric of her being. With nothing left she was pain.
Everything went black for a while. Her thoughts filled with static. Nothing happened inside her mind and she had no way to observe what was happening to her outside for an undetermined amount of time.
When her senses came back to her she opened her eyes and looked around her hospital room. The room so perfectly met her every expectation for it that she failed to realize for a moment that she actually saw the room. She must have been unconscious for a time because Hibiki and Penny were gone.
She tried to look around but found it difficult to turn her head. Her muscles were not quite sure how to handle receiving commands again. She hoped moving would get easier with time, but for now she was too excited to be too concerned about anything. After this she could not imagine a problem she could not overcome.
She hoped someone would be in to check on her soon. She wanted someone to know she was awake. Then they could do some sort of other test which would hopefully be accurate and then she could get the okay to sleep like a normal person again and she could put this whole thing behind her.
Then again, maybe it might be better to ask Hibiki to bring Penny back and she could explain just had happened. It seemed to her that Penny was the one that cured her. Nothing the hospital tried had worked.
She wanted to do so many things, but first she needed to find someone to help her make a phone call. She just hoped Hibiki would be able to give her some answers over the phone.
“Takeshi, let her go,” Souma demanded in that cool, calm tone of voice he reserved for times he fully intended to get his way.
“She belongs to me and I’m not leaving her here to be the whore of a whore’s son.”
Yuzuki slowly came back to her senses as this conversation progressed. She did not think she fainted entirely, but she experienced some sort of deadening of her senses as a sort of coping mechanism. Now she returned to her own mind and immediately knew she had missed something.
Her father still held her with the knife against her throat as she last remembered, but now Souma was there as well. As far as she knew, he should have been somewhere far away from home by now, but somehow he was here and this meant she finally had an ally in her effort to escape from her father. She could not bring herself to care about the particulars of how he found her when she was so overwhelmed by gratitude and concern for his safety.
None of her worries mattered if they could not get themselves out of this situation alive. As of right now the only one with a weapon was her father, and that did not bode well for her in particular. She just hoped Souma would not do anything that would provoke him into taking his frustration out on her.
“Yuzuki is not a whore,” Souma said in that continually calm tone of his.
“That’s why she is coming home with me.”
“No. She is not. She knows what will happen if she goes back. That’s why she left in the first place.”
“She’s better off with her family than with anyone else. Blood looks after blood.”
“Blood looks after blood, and it’s no secret that you start to look at your daughters a little too much once they reach a certain age.”
The knife pressed hard against her neck. She was still too numb from shock to even know if he had cut her or not, but her imagination certainly seemed to enjoy providing her with the mental image of her blood running along the edge of the knife. She felt useless, and trapped, and a bit like she had no business being there at all. In fact, she would have loved to be just about anywhere else in the world.
“What’s wrong with looking after what’s mine if I intend to keep it?”
“You don’t get to decide if she stays or goes. She has a mind of her own and will make her own decisions.”
Souma spoke as though he were making a threat, which seemed strange seeing a he was not in a position to actually do any harm to the recipient of the threat. Yuzuki knew that this sort of recklessness would probably end up getting them both killed, but with a knife at her throat she dared not say a word. The last thing she needed at this point was for her father to get the urge to dig the edge of that knife into her neck.
“I think I do get to decide her fate right now,” her father said in tones that flowed like a dark miasma.
He shifted the knife ever so slightly so that the sun light glinted off of its surface. Yuzuki did not need a reminder of the threat to her life and she did not appreciate the sensation of the knife pressing against her skin.
Souma knelt down to the ground and plucked a blade of grass. His eyes stayed locked on Yuzuki’s and she could not take her eyes off of him. Even now he radiated a cool confidence that she could not help but envy, and felt she could never hope to emulate.
She watched with awe as the blade of grass in his hand metamorphosed into an impressive sword. The balance of power shifted ever so slightly away from Takeshi. Hope caused her heart to flutter. They might get out of this alive and in one piece.
She felt her father’s resolve falter. He did not speak immediately. He was just as shocked by what he just saw as Yuzuki herself.
Escaping his clutches by fleeing while beneath his notice had obviously been less than effective. A show of force would enable them to break free once and for all. She needed to think Souma stood a chance of ending this without getting himself or her killed.
Nothing she could imagine doing at this point could tip the scales in their favor. Once again she found herself with no option before her other than to place her fate in the hands of Souma.
So she did.
Souma took a step forward and her father took a step back, dragging her along with him. She kept her eyes locked on Souma waiting for a sign that it was time for her to take some sort of action. Until then she would wait for fear of getting them both killed.
The tension in the air was on the rise. She could feel her father’s lack of confidence. His bravado faltered and dissipated. The way he held her changed. He no longer threatened her. She was his shield. He held her tightly before but now the grip was downright painful. She worried the wound up tension would carry over to the hand holding the knife and he might be startled into slitting her throat.
“Let her go Takeshi and I won’t have to hurt you.”
Her father laughed and she jumped at the sound. His grip on her shifted a bit and for a split second she thought she might be able to slip past him, but she hesitated and found herself bound to him as tightly as ever.
“If I let her go you’ll just kill me.”
“If you let her go I’ll spare you.”
“Somehow I doubt that. I know you won’t touch me now for fear of hurting my girl.”
“She’s not very big. I think I can work around her.”
Souma had a cocksure smirk that put butterflies in Yuzuki’s stomach. He had a plan, and she had no idea what it might be. She knew she had to trust him, but now she was not sure she should.
Trusting him had gotten her out of a bad situation before, but there had been much less risk of physical harm back then. Now she was caught between two sharp objects and all she had was her own flesh waiting to be cut open.
She tried to trust him. He seemed so confident that she found it difficult not to put her faith in him. The alternative was not particularly appealing.
The smirk she saw as reassurance of Souma’s faith in his abilities shook her father’s confidence. As far back as she could remember no one ever defied her father as many times as Souma, and now by association she had defied him several times herself. She wanted to be free and safe from threat of harm, and she knew Souma was the one to offer such a life to her. All her father could do was bring about suffering and the death of her spirit.
She would rather risk being killed along with her father than let him win and take her back with him. Death would be better than going back to that life.
“Kill him,” she pleaded. “Cut me down to get to him. I don’t want to live if I have to go back with him.”
Souma’s smirk faltered when he heard her words. Her plea shook his confidence. She held his gaze, trying her very best to make sure that he knew she was serious. He needed to know it was okay and she wanted him to do what needed to be done to stop her father.
He nodded at her and shifted his stance. She closed her eyes and waited for the sword to cut into her. She waited to feel the blade cut into her, but the sensation never came. She felt herself pulled away from her father, and half expected to feel his knife pierce her flesh at the same moment, but that did not happen either.
Finally she gathered up the courage to open her eyes once more. Almost immediately she spotted the knife on the ground. She could not take her eyes off of it. Then she heard the pattering sounds of liquid dripping onto the ground.
She looked up. Her father stood a short distance away with blood steadily dripping from the arm that hung limply at his side. She was alive. Her father was alive. Nothing was as she had expected it to be mere seconds ago. But she was no longer being held with the blade of a knife digging into her throat, and that was more than good enough. She could not muster the energy to be disappointed in this outcome.
Souma placed his hand on her shoulder and she nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt his touch. He quickly dropped his hand back to his side. His eyes were focused on Takeshi the entire time.
Her father’s face was ashen. He still held his ground, but somehow he seemed smaller than before. Now Souma appeared to be the unstoppable force, and for the first time in her life she was on the same side as the person with the advantage. She did not know if she should feel relieved or if this would only lead to further complications that she had no way to foresee or avoid as she had entered new territory with this power shift.
She started slipping into a state of shock. She felt as though she were floating somewhere just above her body. Her limbs were numb as she could only move with concentrated effort. Souma and Takeshi were exchanging words, but their speech sounded slow and distorted to Yuzuki’s ears. She knew they were angry. She did not need to hear them now to know that though. She could not endure much more of this. It seemed to be taking everything she had just to keep standing.
She decided there was not much of a point in keeping herself off the ground at this point. She might need her strength later so it would only make sense to conserve it for now. Yes. She needed to conserve her energy for later. For now she needed to rest.
With her weight off of her feet her mind started to drift away from the present. More words were exchanged and she could not muster the energy to focus on the course of the conversation. She lost herself until Souma knelt down in front of her.
Understanding his words required all of her concentration. Her mind kept slipping back to earlier in the day when everything was still going wrong.
“Can you stand?” he asked.
She nodded. He helped her to her feet and her eyes latched on to the spot on the ground where her father’s blood was now beginning to dry. He had already left, although she could not say how long ago or his condition when he left. She felt a bit weak in the knees but forced herself to stay on her feet.
Souma offered his arm to her and she leaned on him.