Chapter 4:

The Hands of a Guardian Angel

Glitches in the Digital Afterlife


Those who believed in angels and the afterlife often also believed that a person ready to part from the living would be guided by a loved one who had already passed on. There was a comfort to be found knowing that their last moments would be met with a familiar face, to feel love and companionship until their final breath. Some liked to think of their loved ones as their guardian angel.

Up until this very moment, nothing truly made sense to Yume. Not Sylas, not Aslin, and the kidnapping surely didn’t help either.

As the anomaly in a sea of people and events to occur tonight, Kagehisa’s presence provided her with a safety buoy of comfort. However, it wasn't enough to distract her from the waters of uncertainty. 

She was aware that her memory had proven fallible throughout the night, and the cost of Kagehisa’s familiarity blatantly reminded her that the man before her—her best friend—was supposed to be dead.

“It’s been a while hasn’t it, Yume?”

Blood drained from her cheeks at his simple words, and she wondered if this was perhaps her final moment—her final chapter without an epilogue.

Wary eyes followed Kagehisa’s movements as he offered Yume an upturned hand. She apprehensively glanced down at his gloved hand and remained still as a statue. From the shallow breaths she was taking, Sylas began to worry his partner may have fallen into a state of shock. His cold, steely eyes scrutinized the blond man who had addressed Yume with such informality before flickering back to his partner with concern.

Yume felt a dull ache probing at her temples as she fretted over the clashing memories and uncertain reality. She didn’t want to take Kagehisa’s hand, not if his manifestation resulted from her weak body meeting the end of 27.

With a small shrug, Kagehisa retracted his hand. The odd reaction from Yume must've been due to her uncertainty in the presence of her civilian friends. Instead, he turned his attention to the man on the cold cement, his neck twisted to an odd angle, and his lifeless eyes remained open.

Aslin noticed Kagehisa staring and pulled away from Yume’s protective hold to grimace at her shaky hands. They were free of blood, but a tingle rippled across her tanned skin at the mere memory of having twisted a man’s head with her bare hands. She recalled the gag-inducing crunch and flinched.

“I want to go home," her uncharacteristically low voice cracks.

Yume patted her friend’s back in response, prepared to soothe her with a promise that she could only pray to keep, but the hooded figure behind Kagehisa awkwardly coughed. The blond peers over his shoulders to acknowledge his impatient partner.

“Right, we will get you home, but now is not the best time. You’ll need to come with us first,” Kagehisa announced with a half-smile, sympathy lacing his words. “It’s protocol.”

Sylas stood up first, briefly looking down at Kagehisa before the blond stretched from the ground. “Where are you taking us?”

“Back to the compound.”

“And what’s that, some underground trafficking ring too?”

“No, it’s a… special government base of sorts.”

“Are we dead?”

Everyone turned to Yume at the sprout of the odd question, though her eyes were directed to none other than the only anomaly in the warehouse. From his current angle, the dim light highlighted Kagehisa’s tall and slender frame. It gave an ethereal glow to him that reminded Yume of angels she had seen in historical paintings. This observation only fuelled the growing worry that her best friend was only here to guide her and her friends to the afterlife.

Kagehisa slowly shook his head. “No, you’re all alive and healthy. Though I am picking up a wound on your body and a possible trauma response from your friend.”

At the mention of the injury, Yume felt the sting in her calf. The blade managed to knick open fabric and a substantial amount of skin, but it was a clean cut. One she knew would be a quick recovery.

Sylas cleared his throat. “So where is this special compound?”

A moment of tense silence lingered in the air, grey eyes searching red ones for any signs of deceit. Kagehisa raised a finger to point at the rough ceiling above them. Everyone expectantly gazed up to where he pointed as if they were waiting for something to manifest in the air.

Incredulous, Sylas raised an eyebrow at Kagehisa, then over to the person who shifted with impatience behind him. “In the sky? You gotta be kidding me.”

The silver fox turned to his partner to survey her reaction. It was a sign that he wanted her to make the final decision on behalf of the three of them. She remained pensive.

What is the right thing to do? Can Kagehisa be trusted?

A deep, guttural urge to scream in frustration prodded at Yume. She wanted to tell everyone to stop messing with her mind, but the angry voice remained tethered to a passing thought.

“Why are you here, Kagehisa?”

The question seemed nothing more than a plain inquiry into Kagehisa's presence, but its deliverance fabricated the true curiosity within Yume’s mind; how was he here?

Kagehisa shrugged again, “You called, and it sounded like an emergency.”

Sylas and Aslin had many questions, but they both bit their tongues when Yume decided to stand. She helped the smaller woman up to her feet as she recalled having deleted her best friend’s contact from her phone years ago. The visible call history logged a different memory.

✆➚ Matsui Kagehisa

The lack of red font over his name indicated a successful call, one that Yume couldn’t dispute. Kagehisa fit his mask back over his face while Yume shifted her eyes between her phone and the man before her.

There's no way this is happening...

“It was muffled, but I heard someone mention the ports, so Fujioka, Amari and I decided to check it out.”

The blond gestured at the man patiently waiting on standby to emphasize him as Fujioka. He only nods at the trio before turning away from Kagehisa.

“… Thank you.”

The corners of Kagehisa's eyes crinkled from the hidden smile. “We made a promise, Yume, and I’ll be dammed not to keep it.”

Fujioka sighed at his partner as he started to walk away from the group. “Let’s get going before Amari abandons us.”

Yume half-expected Sylas and Aslin to object to Fujioka’s orders, but they didn't. Her informal conversation with Kagehisa must have alluded to a comfortable history worth putting their trust in because they surely did not recognize Kagehisa the same way Yume did.

The conversation earlier made a lot more sense to Yume now, why the two of them didn’t seem to recall any memory of Kagehisa's funeral down at the docks.

Aslin tiptoed up to Yume and leaned in to whisper. “I really need to pee.”

“Right,” Yume nodded, taking the first step after Fujioka. “Let’s go then.”

Kagehisa trailed behind the trio, scanning the warehouse once more to ensure none of the men were lurking behind the shelves. His eyes trailed over the dead body that Yume had taken care of during the fight. Red contacts scanned the man’s beaten face to pull up a data file.

Fujioka was the first to climb up the fire escape ladder and onto the steel landing. He reached back down to beckon the others and to offer assistance. Yume and Sylas offer Aslin a lift, nudging her enough to climb the rest on her own until she reaches Fujioka. Yume reached out to go next, but Sylas stopped her with a firm hand.

“Are you sure about this? I don’t know what your relationship to this dude is, but I would appreciate it if things stopped getting worse tonight.”

Yume watched Kagehisa as he loomed over Kaito’s body with a tilt to his head. There were a dozen things he could be doing, and guiding her kidnapper’s soul to the afterlife did not fall short of that list. Of all the expressions she expected to see on his face, confusion was not one of them.

She stood by for something out of the ordinary to happen. Maybe a physical indication of the man’s soul being sent from his lifeless body or some weird, paranormal spasms, but nothing occured. Kagehisa simply hummed to himself before leaving the dead man's side.

“No, I’m not sure, but this is probably our best shot of getting home from here.”

His hand remained on her elbow for a moment longer, gauging her response before finally letting go. He helped her up to the fire escape next, then followed suit. Aslin was quick to latch onto Yume once she reached the top, in dire need of comfort, but her actions only fuelled the guilt in Yume’s heart as she encircled her arms.

Once Sylas and Kagehisa joined the rest of them, Fujioka continued to the open window Yume had spotted earlier from the shelving units. The smokey ocean air was stronger once they stepped out of the warehouse. 

From their perch, the industrial port was littered with multiple warehouses. A couple of storage facilities and large shipping containers sat idly in a fenced-off area, furthest from where they were. On the other end was the large crematorium, a billow of ominous smoke filtered into the sky and polluted the air of its stray ashes.

Kagehisa stopped on the next set of ladders to beckon Yume. “We’re taking off.”

She nodded and turned to leave the view of the word-down industrial ports to join the rest of them in the idled personnel carrier. It was a sleek jet, small but still big enough to hold everyone. The pilot, who she could only guess was Amari, bows from their seat in the cockpit.

Yume strapped herself into the free seat across from her friend and her partner as her eyes cautiously observed Fujioka, who was tending to her company for a basic evaluation. Sylas sat in his seat, perplexed by the never-ending state of confusion due to the unfolding of twisted events.

Kagehisa suddenly appeared in her direct line of sight. He knelt before her with a bottle in one hand and a healing device in the other. The hazy and distorted memory of her past seemed to unfold, which forced her to question herself.

What if Kagehisa never did pass away?

“Your leg, if I may?”

Yume huffed as she pulled her pant leg over her knee. “It’s not that bad.”

“Could be worse, yeah. What happened in there exactly?”

She sucked in a deep breath out of anticipation for the sting of alcohol on her open cut, but the spray was only mildly cool.

“It’s only hydrogen peroxide.”

“Oh… Anyways, the um, people tied us up at the warehouse. One of them wanted to bring me with them, but the other didn’t, so they tried to leave with Sylas and Aslin—my partner and my friend over there.”

“I know who they are.”

Yume looked down at Kagehisa, who only spared her a glance as he turned on the little device, holding it at a distance from the wound.

“We may have been working together for years, but we've been best friends since you were born. We talk about our personal lives outside of the Compound, y’know?”

Her mind didn't quite register the whisper of his last sentence, too caught up in the remainder of her long history with Matsui Kagehisa.

“I assume the one who got the knife to the neck was your doing?”

At the mention of his name, Yume looked down at her bloody hands. The crimson liquid was still bright but was starting to dry into her skin and under her nails.

“Kaito... Yeah, I did that.”

“So who killed the other? Was that also you?”

Yume nudges her head towards Aslin. Kagehisa followed her solemn gaze behind him, where Sylas was doing his best to console the shaken woman.

When he turned back around, there was a frown on his lips, “You haven’t killed anyone without an order before. How are you feeling?”

“What do you mean? I’ve never killed anyone before—period.”

Kagehisa raised a sharp brow at the claim, closing the gap between them. “I know you took some time away from the Compound, but you haven’t forgotten, have you?”

“Forgotten what? And what about this Compound? You keep talking about it like I’m a part of whatever crazy secret agent thing you’ve got going for you."

“Yu—”

“And why are your eyes gold now?!”

The man blinked at the question before fumbling for something in his pocket. Pinched between his fingers was a barrel case containing red contact lenses.

Techcons? You have a pair too—everyone does. They’re issued by the Compound for visual aid and tracking."

Yume shook her head. This was all news to her, and Kagehisa just wasn't helping with all this confusion.

“Do you want me to get Dr. B to run an exam when we arrive?” Kagehisa raised an eyebrow at Yume, “At first, I thought you were acting strange to be subtle since Sylas and Aslin were with you, but now you’re asking many odd questions.”

Yume racked her brain for a memory of a doctor by that name, but her mind drew a blank. She's never had a doctor by that name, and despite having seen many of them for her medical issues, she had a pretty good memory for names and faces.

The little gadget in Kagehisa turned off with a beep, and the cut on her calf was almost non-existent to the eye. Yume tugged the fabric back over her leg, and Kagehisa passed her a wet towel for her hands as he took a seat next to her.

“Dr. B, the resident counsellor?”

“No,” Yume replied sternly.

Her response garnered the unwanted attention of others within range. She simmered back down with a meek apology before turning away from Kagehisa.

“I’m tired of seeing all these unfamiliar faces tied to names of people I know. You have been the only person tonight I recognize fully, but you’re—”

She didn’t want to say it out loud, fearful that if she admitted aloud that the man beside her was supposed to be dead, it would mean he'd disappear. Someone she considered her past safety net had returned to be her source of comfort once more; why would she want to wake up from this twisted dream?

“You’re not supposed to be here, Kagehisa...” Yume assumed the silence as Kagehisa's implicit puzzlement. “It means I’m dreaming.”

Kagehisa withheld his solicitude. Golden eyes watched his best friend from the corner of his eyes as she deflated into her palms. Her navy hair shielded her from the concerned looks of everyone around her, which allowed her a moment of peace. She gasped in shock at the navy curtain touching her knees.

When did my hair get this long again?

Nothing should have surprised her at this point, not when everything was constantly opposed by her conflicting reality.

Keeping her hair short was a personal choice she made for the sake of simplifying her daily routine in case her illness decided to manifest. The sporadic symptoms were more debilitating on certain days than others, which made it hard to do even the most mundane tasks like washing her hair. She did, however, certainly miss the length.

As Yume carded her fingers through the long strands, she ignored the overwhelming questions and the worsening headache. Exhaustion was finally hitting Yume now that the adrenaline had worn off, but Amari announced the group’s arrival at the Compound before Yume could even consider a quick nap.

“Once we meet with the team, someone will be tasked with making accommodations for your friend, and then I’ll walk you down to Dr. B’s, okay?”

The jet docked with a subtle jolt, and Fujioka opened the carrier doors. The three outsiders followed closely behind the uniformed team as they observed the new environment. They take notice of the dark clouds that stretch like a long blanket for miles, not a single high-rise or a skyscraper to be seen.

With a turn, Kagehisa removed his mask and offered the trio a huge grin, “In case there’s any curiosity, the Compound floats above the Neo-Tokyo skyline. To the regular people, this is just another space research facility for the Japanese government.”

Dubious, Sylas took another survey of the hangar, “But you guys don’t look like scientists and researchers.”

“That’s because we’re not.”

“Then what do you guys do exactly?”

“Security… and stuff.”

Fujioka scoffed. “And stuff.

Amari shot her teammate an unimpressed look before she turned to the guests. “Just a little heads up, our current Captain isn’t in the best mood… The higher-ups have been breathing down her neck all day so don’t mind the edge to her tone.”

“There’s an edge to her tone regardless. She’s just a lot chirpier when she’s not standing in for—” Kagehisa nudged Fujioka with his elbow. “It’s hit or miss, that’s all...”

The trio awkwardly glanced at one another, coming to an unspoken agreement that the team was hiding something.

Amari walked ahead once the group exited the hangar and into an immediate foyer with a set of doors for an elevator. She took the first ride up alone, which left the three of them to witness a quiet disagreement between Fujioka and Kagehisa.

Their whispers were harsh and laced with coded language, but Yume caught on to a heavy curse and an inaudible question that Kagehisa simply ignored. He was tight-lipped with his answer, or lack of one. Fujioka sighed at his stubbornness and removed his hood, mumbling to himself before he jammed on the call button for the elevator.

The ride up to the next floor was a short but tense trip. No one dared to breathe, afraid they would stir the pot, so only side eyes were exchanged between the trio to convey confusion and hesitancy.

As the elevator doors opened, a few Compound members exchanged respective bows with Kagehisa and Fujioka, then once more at the trio. Yume caught the lingering stares and small smiles at her in particular, which caused her to shrink away.

Was there something on my face?

She wiped her cheeks with the sleeve of her shirt, checking for bloody residuals, but nothing transferred onto the fabric.

Kagehisa sighed as Fujioka stomped away, rounding a corner into a room. “Just smile and wave, boys, just smile and wave.”

The trio peered into what they could only assume was a meeting room or a debriefing area. Aslin timidly waves, but Yume gently puts her hand down with a small shake of her head.

A woman, even shorter than Aslin, quirked a pink brow at the newcomers, harshly tossing her tablet onto the holographic display console in the centre of the room. A few members were donning similar uniforms to Kagehisa, Amari and Fujioka. They all jumped at the sudden noise, but Fujioka only rolled his eyes from the side of the room as he muttered something to himself.

The doors slid close behind the new group, which forced them to shrink under the harsh stares of the Compound members.

Corleone, be nice. We have guests,” Kagehisa gently chided, earning a scoff in response from the pink-haired woman. Yume perked at the family name, squinting at the woman, another familiar stranger.

“I can see that, Matsui. I got two well-functioning eyes of my own,” she bit back.

The small grin remained on his face despite her clipped tone, clearly unfazed by her attitude. She leaned off to the side to peer around him. Silently, she took a good look at the trio before a sarcastic smile revealed itself.

“Welcome back, Captain.”

Yume looked at the blond man standing in front of her as she waited for some sort of response, but he didn’t say anything. Only when she turned back to Corleone did she realize that Kagehisa was not the one being addressed. All eyes were now on her, waiting for the navy-haired woman to acknowledge the powerful title.

Kagehisa slowly turned his head towards Yume but never fully addressed her. Instead, he opted to save Yume the embarrassment by stepping in. 

“It’s best you remain the stand-in until Yume has her evaluation completed by Dr. B.”

“But—”

“Just give her some time,” Kagehisa insisted, and without missing a beat, he moved to shield Yume from her other best friend. “While we wait, I think it’s best we have the guests settle in the team lounge while we settle the accommodations.”

Corleone sighed once, then again after a brief period of silence. “Fine. Amari, please prepare the spare room. Matsui, I’d like to speak with you in private afterwards.”

Kagehisa abruptly turned on his heels and ushered Yume out of the tense room with one swift nudge before Corleone could change her mind. She tumbled into the hall, complaints and questions tumbled past her lips, but Kagehisa continued walking.

“Hey! Kagehisa, wait! Was that our Rosiel? Was she addressing me? Why was she calling me Captain?”

The blond remained tightlipped once again, his face was firm, but there wasn’t a trace of anger or annoyance. It was a look of stoic determination.

“Hey, I’m talking to you! I have questions, and they need answers!”

Yume walked right into his back at the sudden stop, “Ow—”

He tugged her towards the wall and shushed her before she could clamour any further. She obeyed as the sound of footsteps approached the pair in the hall. She turned her head away from the open space to shield herself from curious eyes.

Kagehisa nodded to silently acknowledge his teammates as they passed by.

Once out of earshot, the fake smile on his face faltered. “So do I, Yume! I have questions, and they need answers too! Why are you acting like you’ve forgotten everything? Has your honeymoon with Sylas absolutely wiped your memory?”

“I haven’t forgotten anything! I genuinely don’t have a single flickering clue as to what’s happening,” her hands gestured wildly at her own words. “What honeymoon? Sylas and I never got married, and how would you even know? We met long after you—never mind that, I can’t tell you! Maybe this doctor of yours can tell me what’s going on!”

Kagehisa tugged at his roots with frustration. He was agitated by the information Yume was withholding from him, but he sucked in a deep breath, mumbling patience yields focus until he wholeheartedly believed in his little mantra.

He quickly recomposed himself. Golden eyes flashed towards Yume before he quickly turned to tug her down the hall. “Alright, let’s go.”

The warm touch of his hand against hers prompted the memory back at the warehouse when he first offered to help her up.

This is it; this is the end.