Chapter 3:

New Past / Old Friend

Glitches in the Digital Afterlife


The last thing Yume wanted was a repeat of the bathroom incident from earlier. Temporarily losing the ability to see and move once was more than enough anxiety for the night, but nothing seemed to work in her favour.

Coming to her senses, Yume was met with hooded darkness and limited movement. She could feel the cold seeping through her clothes from the hard flooring, and lingering dampness made the place smell acrid.

Her wrists are bound to the post that propped her upright.

Oh for fu—

Yume groaned in frustration. The unexpected sound startled both Sylas and Aslin from their posts.

“Hey, we’re here. Aslin and I are here, Yume.”

For a moment, Yume wondered if she had finally woken up from the hellish dream. She waited for the Sylas she remembers to take the blindfold off, but to her disappointment, nothing changed. The cable tie chafing her wrists was the only answer she needed. 

Yume twisted about in her spot, angling her head so she could peek out from under the blindfold.

“Sylas, where are we?”

“No clue, some warehouse.”

Aslin heaved a whiny sigh, squirming against her restraints before she too let out a grunt. “I really need to pee.”

Sylas cleared his throat at the announcement, indicating that he was growing impatient with the outspoken woman.

They must have been awake for some time now.

He ignored the outspoken woman and turned his attention back to his partner instead. “Yume, are you okay? You were out for a while.”

Yume recalled the quiet street and the random masked figures that had plucked them off the streets. She also remembered calling someone, though it may not have worked in her favour... Instinctively, the woman rolled out her shoulder, testing the sore spot where she had been jabbed.

“How long?”

Aslin snorted. “It’s been a good hour of us just sitting ducks and playing 21 Questions. We even made a bet to see if you would wake up or not.”

Yume rolled her eyes at her friend’s attempt to be the comedic relief. She nudged the fabric of the blindfold against her shoulder, removing it from her face completely.

Sat off to her left was Sylas, who offered her a pressed smile and a tiny wave from his knot behind his back. To her dismay, he was still not the version of Sylas she wanted to see.

Aslin was on the right. She bumped her feet into one another while humming a tune to occupy herself, briefly sparing a tired glance at her friend, “Hiya.”

Yume observed her surroundings. The warehouse would explain the damp environment and cold cement beneath her. A few unlabelled boxes surrounded the three of them, the layer of dust and mould indicative of its abandoned state.

Each of them remained separated and tied to different shelving units. Distinct noises of the ocean and tankers filtered in through the opened window by the mezzanine, and if she focused hard enough, Yume could pick up on a faint smokey note from the air.

Ashes.

“I think we’re at the Southern Ports,” Yume announced as she tested her ties against the beam once more. “I recognize the smell.”

Aslin’s arched brow encouraged an elaboration.

“The crematorium at the Southern Ports, I came here for… you know?”

“Who died?”

“Takeuchi, seriously! Learn to rephrase sensitive questions.”

Aslin scoffed, offended by Sylas’ scolding. “What?! Yume’s never mentioned anyone dying so why the hell would she know what the crematorium here smells like?”

He closed his mouth and resigned his fight, trying to suppress his annoyance because Aslin's had a fair point.

Yume pivoted between their blank stares as she waited on some hint of an ill jest. “Sy, you should know this.”

Her partner racked his brain for some lost memory of a time when she would’ve disclosed such personal information, but alas, he pulled a blank.

Yume clicked her tongue and turned to her friend. “Aslin, you were here for the funeral!”

“… I’ve never been to a funeral?”

“What are you guys on?”

Heavy footsteps scuffing against the cement alerted the three of them. Their hairs stood on end when they spotted two men ducking from behind the dusty conveyor system. The one who led the pair clicked his tongue and knocks a slow pattern on the machine. His golden eyes scrutinized Yume from where he stopped.

“I was hoping you’d stay asleep. You were a real hassle y’know?”

The taller man behind him sneered and brandished a switchblade in her direction. “We meet our quota just fine with these two. There’s no need for you—”

“No, this could be the bonus we’ve been waiting for.”

The tall man glared at his partner, subtly shaking his head in disagreement. As the two silently argued amongst themselves, the trio started to tug on their restraints. Nothing good would ever come from kidnappings, pointy weapons and the mention of quotas.

Yume caught on to the harsh whisper of the name, Kaito.

“Seriously, man, the greed’s just not worth it. She could be more trouble for us.”

“Kaito, just trust me will ya? Compared to neon checkers over there, she could be worth more. It’s the perfect opportunity to haggle them for more money.”

Yume grew tired of the futile efforts against the plastic cuffs. She paused to take in the not-so-private bickering between Kaito and his partner. Sylas also stopped at the mention of his partner, but Aslin was the first to speak up.

“There’s no way I’m hearing this nonsense about you using my friend as your token to get paid.”

Kaito rolled his eyes, flicking open his switchblade once more but his partner placed himself between the two of them. “You harm them, and we get paid less. I’ll settle with you this time, Kaito, but next time we’re getting that damn bonus.”

The tall man huffed at the settlement, and his scowl grew deeper with annoyance at his partner’s orders. He harshly nudged past the stout man and stalked up to Sylas while the other made his way to Aslin.

A string of protests and profanities filled the air. Aslin did her best to dodge the gag being brought to her face while Sylas tried to deter the tall man with harsh kicks. Yume remains locked in place, too far to do anything for the people she couldn’t save in the first place.

“We’ll deal with you when we get back,” the stout man shouted firmly.

Yume continued to tug, ignoring the sting from the chafed skin. She weighed her options, assessing the situation unfolding too quickly before her eyes.

These men just offered her a second chance, giving her distance from the very two people she held a sense of detachment towards. They claimed the identities of the people closest to her and assumed a relationship with her, which left a sour taste in her mouth. She could let Kaito and his partner take these strangers away, yet a heavy burden weighed on her conscience when she took on the role of a passive bystander.

Sit here and do nothing or at least try to save them… again.

Yume closed her eyes, holding back the exasperated tears that threatened to spill. All she wanted was an end to this nightmare.

Muffled shouts and frustrated banter filled the air, intruding on the woman’s thoughts. Her moment of inner turmoil was interrupted by a passing thought she had earlier. When her eyes are closed, she can vividly picture the Sylas she remembers, just by the sound of his voice.

Aside from his appearance, his identification card checked out, and it seemed so obvious to everyone but her that there was some history between the three of them. They were confident and familiar with her, so why was she wavering over the small things that didn’t seem to line up in her own mind?

The indecisiveness started to boil over into anxiety. Yume no longer questioned the innocent people in her life but rather herself. She started to worry that all this unnecessary denial was the product of her brain’s way of avoiding acceptance. Acceptance that her illness was progressing beyond casual motor dysfunction and was now affecting her memory.

A sharp cry drew Yume’s overwhelmed attention to the stubby man who was Aslin by her hair. His switchblade pressed threateningly to her jugular. Blue eyes flickered between the people moving further away from her, unsure of how to free herself and right this situation.

If they truly were who they said they were, Yume had to take responsibility. The longer she doubted them, the more danger they would be in.

She concluded that a proactive move would be better than nothing, a surge of confidence outweighs the woman’s diffidence.

Yume pushed herself up from the ground and simultaneously pulled her wrists as far apart as they could in the tight bind. She pushed the fastener flush against the steel beam and started to tug against it. The men, too preoccupied with the fight Aslin’s putting up, remained unaware of Yume's struggle to free herself.

She leaned and pulled with as much force as she could muster. The woman’s face even started to flush pink from the pressure. “C’mon, you stupid piece of plastic!”

Yume propped her foot up against the industrial shelving unit and musters every ounce of pent-up grievance collected throughout this whirlwind of a night. She stubbornly tried at the restrictive material some more.

The desperation in Yume was a festering feeling to bargain a good deed in exchange for normalcy. What she wanted—no, needed—more than anything right now was a sense of comfort and familiarity.

 The longer she remained stuck to this beam, within this daunting new reality, the more she yearned for even a fraction of whatever comfort Sylas and Aslin could offer.

Her childish hope was a reward that needed to be earned; she needed to save them.

Fear turned into inexplicable energy deep within Yume, and with one final harsh push of her foot against the beam, the cable tie gave out. The plastic broke with a snap, and Yume could feel the blood returning to her fingers.

A wave of relief rushed through her arms before the adrenaline took over. She ran to the conveyor and pulled on the first loose object she could find—a detached handle from some hand truck.

She sprinted at full speed and rushed in on the shorter of the two men. A determined shout ripped through the warehouse like an angry cry. It turned heads just in time to catch the sight of Yume launching herself at the shortest opponent.

Brown eyes barely made out the incoming figure before he was met with a blunt force to his temple. It knocked the man off his feet, bringing Aslin down with him while Kaito violently shoved Sylas into a row of scrap bins.

The handlebar was a weak choice against Kaito’s knife, but Yume stood her ground, swinging her grip to deflect Kaito’s repeated attempts at her neck and torso. Her fight against Kaito slowly became less fear-ridden and more instinctual.

She ducked under one of his larger swings and harshly kicked him from behind the knees. The surprise attack forced him into a painful kneel. He winces at the contact, doing his best to recover before Yume could gain another advantage.

He grabbed a hold of the handle, attempting to rip it from Yume's stubborn grip. She tripped past him at the sudden force, but Kaito’s awaiting blade grazed Yume’s calf. She hissed at the pain and kicked her boot into his face.

A gross crunch beneath her heel and blood instantly dripped from his nose. The sight of blood wasn't sickening on its own, but Yume almost faltered, knowing she was the cause of this man’s injury.

“Never leave a man half-dead—send them off with just the right prayer.”

Yume spotted the loose hold that Kaito had on his knife, taking the opportunity to kick it out of his hands before he could use it. With one hand pressed to his painfully crooked nose, Kaito yanked the woman back.

Her handle clattered against the ground with a sharp echo, and the two scrambled for the discarded blade. The six-foot-two man clasped down on the back of Yume’s neck and forced her to the ground.

Yume flipped over under his strong grip as Kaito moved in on her scrambling figure. His large hands found themselves around her neck once more. This time, her eyes fell past his broad shoulders as he hovered above her. Sylas and Aslin were too caught up in their fight against Kaito’s partner to offer assistance.

Her windpipe strained at the pressure, and her vision blurred at the sight of Kaito's bloody face. The bridge of his nose was crooked too. He was oblivious to his knife resting under her back, and Yume used that to her advantage. She waved her free hand at Kaito, drawing his attention away so she could pull the blade out from beneath her.

“A dull blade can kill if enough weight and skill are put into it.”

Her blade was far from dull, but the flicker of a knife being plunged into someone’s neck crossed her mind. The memory itself seemed hazy but all very real. 

Too lightheaded to feel the disgust, Yume thrust the blade with what little energy she could muster in a short breath. She punctured Kaito's tanned and tatted skin with his silver instrument, and then the rest of the memory sequence began to replay like a loop as the man’s grip loosened; twist the blade.

Yume grew remorseful as she came to her sense, but she also felt as though it was too late to stop. She had already stabbed him. There was no reason to stop short of ensuring the safety of her and her friends. Whatever chance she had to turn back was now gone.

She clenched her eyes shut and bit down on her lower lip, Yume regretfully twisted the blade in the ragged hole, and blood started to spurt out from the gap in his flesh. An overwhelming metallic scent filled the air as a few droplets of blood landed on her face. The strangled noises only lasted a few seconds before a sickening crunch alerted the traumatized woman.

Her eyes found Sylas' hunched-over figure first, then Aslin, who was across from him with wide eyes. Between her shaky hands was Kaito’s partner, his neck twisted too far to one side.

Kaito himself toppled over, hand desperately clawing at his neck as he choked on his blood.

Yume swallows thickly. “Aslin, did you just snap that man’s head?”

The short woman stuttered, turning to face her friend with distant eyes; she didn't finish her sentence. Sylas took a seat on the cement, his head held in his hands as he caught his breath. Yume shoved Kaito’s leg off her so she could scramble over to her friend. She heaved the dead man to the side and instinctively pulled Aslin into a tight hug.

Shocked as she was, Aslin started to tear up, fisting the fabric of Yume’s jacket to try and ground herself from the adrenaline comedown.

“Sy, are you okay?”

Her partner nodded, inching closer to prop his forehead against Yume’s free shoulder in search of comfort, but the moment was short-lived.

Thud.

Thump.

The soft sounds garnered the trio’s attention. Two figures dressed in all-black stealth gear approached the group huddled near the warehouse exit. Aslin stilled with fear, holding back a sob as she clung to her friend for protection. Sylas readied himself, but the tall blond raised his gloved hands as a sign of surrender.

Their breathing was faintly heard through the hard-shelled masks which covered the lower half of their faces.

“We took care of the men outside; you’re in the clear.”

The voice, albeit distorted, was still somewhat recognizable to Yume.

The woman cocked her head, squinting to make out the man who stopped short of her and her friends. Dim lighting made it hard to discern his hidden features.

The blond goes to unlatch the guard over his face, flashing a genial smile at the woman who sat in the middle of the group. His wavy mop of hair almost curled at the ends, and his ruby eyes left Yume in utter shock. Goosebumps trailed up her arm.

She was in need of Aslin for support when her own body started to tremble. Yume tightened her arms around her friend, and the blond tilted his head, allowing Yume a moment to rake in every familiar thing about him.

Aside from the eyes, everything thing else about this man reminded Yume of home, and for some of the wrong reasons at that. The silver ear cuff rested snuggly on the shell of his left ear. A small butterfly dangled from it like a sign pointing to the three small koi fish tattooed in black ink on the side of his neck.

Strength in family; perseverance with unwavering support.”

Her mouth dries up with one single gasp. She was too stunned to speak, but she sought reassurance.

There's no way this is real.

Yume swallowed her shaky breath and whispered a name that was only spoken as a memory for the past decade. “Kagehisa?”

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Yume?”