Yumiko stood concealed in the shadows of the schoolyard, watching the CAI room carefully. An uncomfortably warm breeze struck her, carrying with it swarms of irritating insects that refused to leave her alone. The full moon showed itself from a break in the clouds and illuminated the gloomy, flat-roofed separate building that housed the CAI room.
I feel like an idiot--a high school senior playing detective!
Yumiko smiled bitterly as she carefully observed the silent, empty CAI room. Yumiko asked herself just why she was out here doing this.
Yumiko was pretty sure that Nakajima had said tonight. It just wasn't normal for a student to call a female teacher to the CAI room in the middle of the night. Of course, it was probably none of her business what the two of them would be doing there. However, after seeing Ohara-sensei's nearly drunken gait as she left the classroom, Yumiko had been very upset. Overwhelmed with the urge to find out what the relationship between those two was, she had been hiding here all afternoon long.
Is this love at first sight?
No, that was too hasty a conclusion to make.
Yumiko could not deny that Nakajima held a very unique appeal to him, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she was drawn to him on some sort of deeper connection, on a level beyond an ephemeral love or hate.
The arms of her watch passed 9PM, and just as Yumiko's arms and legs were starting to fall asleep, the silhouette of a person passed through the connecting hallway and entered the CAI room. Yumiko's body stiffened in nervousness. Presently a light went on inside the CAI room; through the glass of the window, the outlines of several people moving about the room were faintly visible. Before Yumiko's heart even had a chance to start racing, the shadow of a very large man approached the window and, in an instant, all the blinds were lowered.
It seemed that Ohara-sensei and Nakajima wouldn’t be the only people meeting tonight. The mystery only deepened and overcome with curiosity, Yumiko decided to move from the rear of the schoolyard to the CAI room to get a better look.
As Yumiko left her former watch point, Ohara stealthily approached the CAI room, opened the door slightly, and slipped inside. The room was brilliantly lit as three students arrived to greet her. The three of them were garbed in black robes; one of them reverently carried a silver platter, and the other two carried swords and candlesticks. The desk in the center of the room that usually sported several computers had been replaced with a leather sofa. Nakajima Akemi was sitting on that sofa, deep in meditation. A large circle was drawn on the floor, with the sofa situated in the center. The circle was divided into twelve sections; four points within the circle hosted astrological symbols, representing the Moon, the Sun, Mars, and Pluto, respectively.
"Hello and welcome."
Noticing Ohara's arrival, Nakajima stopped his meditation and slowly stood. As he rose, the belts attached to the sofa’s backrest, arms and base, belts expressly designed to bind a person down, became clearly visible. Even after seeing this, Ohara displayed no signs of fear; in fact, her expression even calmed a bit. Smiling, Nakajima ordered the three students to turn out the room lights and light the candles. They obediently followed his orders. As if enthralled by the mysterious aura the now-dark room seemed to hold, Ohara knelt on the ground in front of Nakajima.
Nakajima's pale hand touched Ohara-sensei's flushed cheek.
"Come, relax a bit. In just a few minutes, the demon Loki will arrive. Loki is well known for his beauty and mischievousness. A perfect match for you, sensei," Nakajima said a composed, sweet voice that could melt anyone’s heart. As Nakajima's hand slid from Ohara-sensei's cheek to the nape of her neck, her breath became deep and heavy.
"It's time to turn on the host computer. There's no need to worry, sensei. I'm sure that you will satisfy the demon," Nakajima whispering in Ohara-sensei's ear as he stepped away and entered a command into a nearby terminal. Beyond the thick plate glass, the reels of magnetic tape slowly started to spin. Nakajima picked up his handheld computer and entered a quick command. A white haze appeared from the liquid crystal display and began expanding before seeping out the doorway. As soon as it disappeared from view, the low growl of a beast reverberated throughout the outside hallway, sending tremors of fear into the bowels of all within earshot. Its name was Kerberos; a digital beast summoned from the Atziluth world and given form by Nakajima, he was to perform the role of guardian for tonight's ceremony.
Meanwhile, the three students in the room led Ohara to the sofa, and fastened her firmly to the seat using the leather belts.
"Come, steady your breathing. Concentrate your spirit, and call forth the demon from the Atziluth world."
As if impatient, the sound of the terminal's disk drive echoed throughout the room.
"The Moon and Mars are opposite each other, and so are the Sun and Pluto, forming the Grand Cross in the heavens. No night could be as perfect as this to summon a demon."
Speaking as if chanting a spell, Nakajima took a helmet-like device from the machine room and placed it on Ohara’s head.
It was a Brainwave Modem Helmet. It digitized human brainwaves and acted as an interface to directly communicate with the computer. Two long cables, one red and one black, extended from the back of the helmet near the base of the head. The red cable connected to the host computer, and the black one connected to one of the terminals in the room. Nakajima entered a command on the terminal, and the magnetic tapes started to spin rapidly. Ohara's body began twitching slightly, as if her consciousness was already blending into the host computer. A pungent, musky smell wafted up from somewhere, enveloping her. The faces of the three students watching over the ceremony with glazed, unfocused eyes lit up with an expression like awe.
"Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh."
The instant the low, rumbling voice emitted from the machine room, Ohara let out a cry and started twisting her body. She screamed intermittently as her eyes opened wide with fear, staring emptily into space. The legs of the sofa started to come off the floor as Ohara jerked her limbs as if she were trying to escape from something; the cables connected to her helmet stretched.
Her leather bindings ground against her wrists, breaking the skin and staining the belts black with oozing blood. The expression of panic on Ohara's face soon dissipated, her face became calm, and she closed her eyes. Her mouth turned up into a smile even as her bottom lip still bled from where she had bitten down.
Nakajima looked into the display of the computer connected to the modem helmet."I see you've succeeded in taking in Ohara, Loki. Now, what are you going to do with her?"
The digital modem helmet had taken Ohara-sensei's thoughts and sensations, digitized them, and sent them into the virtual world that Loki had created within the host computer. Her earlier pain had just been a temporary autonomous rejection reaction when her digitized nervous system initially came into contact with the demon.
Nakajima stared into the display, hoping to get a glimpse of the world that was currently being fed into Ohara's visual cortex. Suddenly, Kerberos' angry roar echoed through the corridor. In reaction to Nakajima's gesture, the two stern students carrying swords started moving toward the door.
Shortly after Ohara-sensei had entered the CAI room, Yumiko moved from the rear of the schoolyard into the hallway that connected the outlying building with the rest of the school. She slowly walked down the corridor, using the moonlight reflected off the linoleum floor as her guide. A slight flickering light, most likely candlelight, was visible through a crack in the blinds.
Stop this foolishness. Let's just go home, take a shower, and forget all this.
Yumiko's normal instincts anxiously tried to persuade her, but tonight there was another Yumiko pulling the strings.
What are you so afraid of? This is our chance to find out what's up with Nakajima!
Like all teenage girls her age do at least once or twice, Yumiko obeyed the more daring, curious voice. She heard a far-off cry come from the CAI room. Yumiko's heart started racing but before she had the chance to even react, something suddenly crawled out of the darkness in front of her.
The moon broke through the clouds, illuminating the form of a terrible beast. Its body was larger than a lion, and its huge mouth (which looked like it took up half its body) had two rows of long, sharp fangs. Its eyes shone like a flame as it glared at Yumiko; the metallic feelers near its ears moved as if to detect even the slightest change in the area. Its burly shoulders and thick body were striped like a tiger, and its heavy-looking tail was plated with snakelike scales.
The beast roared. A puff of air thick with the stench of bloody meat drifted toward the petrified Yumiko. Yumiko's stomach twisted so powerfully that she almost felt like her intestines were being gouged out; her vision blurred. Unable to withstand the shock, she passed out.
Yumiko was brought to her senses by the sensation of unusual heat and the sound of intermittent panting. The surrounding area was dim and gloomy; she felt one of her cheeks on the cool ground.
Oh, right! That monster...!
Yumiko abruptly sat upright. Ohara-sensei, bound to a leather chair, entered her field of vision. She was wearing a strange helmet and breathing heavily. Next to her, Nakajima was staring at a computer display, an eerily cold smile on his handsome face.
"Nakajima..." As Yumiko blurted out her surprise, someone grabbed her right shoulder. Yumiko gulped back her words as she turned around.
Takai Ken'ichi was standing behind her. Normally Takai seemed weak-willed and reasonable, but now he looked at her with the hollow stare of the possessed. Yumiko certainly didn't think he knew where he was or recognized her. Two other students garbed in black robes stood motionlessly in the room looking like sleepwalkers.
At that moment, Ohara's heavy breathing got stronger. Furiously panting and writhing, she was giving off a ghastly aura that seemed like it would pollute the soul of anyone that came close to her.
Yumiko cried out. "What is this? What have you done to Ohara-sensei?"
Takai tried to force Yumiko to the ground, but Nakajima slowly raised his hand to stop him. At his signal, Takai's strong hand stiffly moved away from Yumiko's shoulder.
"You're....Shirasagi Yumiko, was it? Come and have a look at this. It's fascinating."
As Yumiko stood up, she noticed that part of her skirt was torn, as if a dog had bitten it. She immediately realized that the beast she had seen earlier was all too real.
Nakajima pointed to the screen of the terminal connected to Ohara's helmet. A magnificent bronze statue of a youth styled like an ancient Greek sculpture was onscreen. No, it couldn't be a sculpture. As if life had been breathed into it, the divinely beautiful image was moving calmly. The image zoomed in on the youth's head and chest. His expression displayed an intellect beyond anything a human could hope to have; his jet black eyes looked like two black holes that would absorb everything they gazed on.
Nakajima spoke into Yumiko's ear."That's the demon Loki."
"This is just CG, isn't it?" Yumiko's eyes remained glued to the screen.
"If I could think up a demon this realistic and draw it, I wouldn't have to go to school in the first place. No, this is a real demon. Although I imagine you won't believe that."
Loki flexed his muscular chest onscreen. It was shining black and covered with scales. Yumiko noticed that Ohara-sensei's gasps were in perfect synch with Loki's movements. The next instant, she realized what that meant and gasped.
"That's right. Ohara and Loki are having a little fun together right now. In the virtual world, that is." For some reason, Nakajima spat out the words as if he were slightly upset.
Ohara-sensei was getting closer and closer to orgasm. Her heaving chest, covered in sweat, was visible through her open blouse. Her body had completely accepted the invisible demon in the virtual world. Yumiko noticed a faint blue haze floating about the area of Ohara's chest. The haze was increasing in thickness and an unbearable stench assaulted her nostrils. Looking confused, Nakajima knelt in front of Ohara-sensei with his handheld computer in one hand, typing on the keyboard while waving a rod around the area. As Ohara-sensei cried out and lost consciousness, the blue haze dissipated.
Nakajima let out a deep sigh of relief. Yumiko sensed a faltering in his normally rock-solid confidence.
Nakajima was not a magician. If he had been, he would have known the importance of ironing out a purpose and duration of service when negotiating a contract with a demon.
However, Nakajima had neglected that. When Loki turned Kondo, Takamizawa and Iida into bloody lumps of flesh, he had deluded himself into believing that he had become a great ruler.
Loki's power was tremendous. He had taken the subconscious respect that the students and teachers had for Nakajima and converted it through his power, making the men obey him and the women fawn over him. For a formerly powerless high school student, it was a dream come true.
The demon demanded female sacrifices. Those offered to him would groan, contort, and eventually orgasm. Perhaps deep in his subconscious, Nakajima had taken sadistic glee in violating these women. But he had always thought that what went on was not real, as it only took place in a virtual world.
Loki could not escape from the computer. The immense amount of data necessary to give him form was far too much for any but the world’s most powerful computers to process. He could only act within the confines of the software that Nakajima had written. So what was that blue haze that had shrouded Ohara....?
"Nakajima, you're afraid of something, aren't you?" A woman's voice spoke.
Nakajima remembered that he had been talking to Yumiko about what he was doing.
What was I thinking? I shouldn't have told her all of all that.
He affixed his gaze on Yumiko. For an instant, it looked like Yumiko's eyes glowed scarlet, and Nakajima was engulfed in darkness. An unfamiliar, illusory world opened up before him.
Rugged reddish-brown mountains towered toward the heavens; they bore not even a blade of grass. Threaded between the treacherous mountains, a small pathway wriggled forward as far as one could see. A youth desperately ran down the path, clenching his teeth and exhaling breaths that felt like fire. He wore a sleeveless flaxen robe, and as his feet struck the dusty ground, his long, chest-length ponytail flowed behind him as the string of curved jewels around his neck shook. He was dressed as one might have in very ancient times.
However, the youth's face was definitely that of Nakajima Akemi. Beads of sweat ran down his cheek, streaking the dust on his face.
"My husband, why do you abandon me? Izanagi, why...?"
A sad voice full of misery reached the youth's ears. Reflexively, he slowed down. It seemed as if his head was trying to turn around on its own. But the youth bit down strongly on his lips, glared at the path ahead, and ran on. The woman dragged her bloody feet, covered in injuries sustained from the rough stone ground, as she chased him. Her long, graceful white arms extended forward as she futilely tried to reach the youth. Her long, black hair and desperate voice were both blown backward by the wind.
However, the face beneath that hair was rotted and melting, and her eye sockets were completely exposed. Maggots writhed in the space between flesh and bone, and when she gasped for breath, vile fleshy juices fell from her cheeks like tears. Her lips had rotted and fallen off, and as her exposed white teeth clenched together in frustration, she let out a shrill cry.
With the woman's cry, a bolt of purple lightning shot through the gloomy clouds in the sky before coming down to strike nearby. A ghastly creature appeared where the bolt struck. It was a huge woman that looked large enough to reach the clouds, with a slimy green hide and an appearance like a frog. The woman stood in front of the youth’s path as it extended both arms out as if to stop him.
"Yomotsu-Shikome, out of my way!" As the youth called out, the woman's squat neck jiggled like a blob of jelly, and she let out a hideous voice.
Seeing the youth continue to press onwards, Yomotsu-Shikome took a step toward him. When her thick, misshapen leg struck the ground, the earth shook with a great sound. Not faltering for a moment, the youth glared at the colossus before him, pulled a red comb from his hair, broke off one of its teeth, and threw it at the woman. The tooth of the comb lodged itself into Yomotsu-Shikome's exposed chest, and the woman's ugly face suddenly twisted into an expression of pain. As if her whole body was being affected by some strong poison, she gripped her chest in pain and vomited syrupy bile all over the ground. Even so, she tried to grab the youth, but her body convulsed furiously and she fell face-forward onto the ground, shaking the very earth itself.
As the youth delicately passed by the side of the huge corpse, the sound of the sad voice echoed in his ears once more.
"Please wait, Izanagi...."
"Nakajima, what's the matter?"
Suddenly brought back to his senses by the sound of someone calling his name, Nakajima saw Yumiko examining his face closely with a perplexed look. Her eyes were full of both fear and pity.
What the hell just happened? Was that hallucination connected to the Demon Summoning Program in some way? Or else...
For a moment, Nakajima was lost in Yumiko's eyes. But his stubborn pride would not allow him to show Yumiko any more weakness.
"Forget it, just get out of here." Nakajima's words were curt and cold, as if he was trying to blow off the situation. Yumiko looked like she wanted to say something, but was unwilling to oppose him and obeyed.
"At any rate, I've got to figure out what that haze was." Recovering his composure, Nakajima turned on the modem and called up ISG's host computer.
HELLO NAKAJIMA. WHAT'S UP?
Checking Craft's message, Nakajima changed disk drives and turned on another customized computer, an automatic translator equipped with a database of 50,000 magic and occult-related terms. Of course, Nakajima had created it himself.
> AN UNKNOWN VAPOR APPEARED ABOVE THE SACRIFICE. I'M SENDING A ROUGH ESTIMATION OF ITS FORM AND COMPOSITION. TRY TO ANALYZE IT FOR ME.
The data stored in the handheld computer traveled over the phone lines to Massachusetts. Nakajima tapped his fingers impatiently on the desk for a minute...two minutes. Five minutes later, Craft finally sent its analysis.
VOLUME AND MASS SUGGESTS AN ECTOPLASMIC CONTENT FIVE TIMES NORMAL. JUDGING FROM THE SITUATION IN WHICH IT AROSE, THE CHANCE OF THE VAPOR BEING LOKI HIMSELF IS QUITE HIGH.
> I HAVEN'T PREPARED ANY DATA THAT WOULD ALLOW LOKI TO TAKE A BODY. BESIDES, THE CAI ROOM'S COMPUTER COULDN'T POSSIBLY UNDERTAKE A SIMULATION OF THAT SCALE IN THE FIRST PLACE.
FROM THE DATA THAT YOU PROVIDED, I CANNOT GIVE YOU AN EXACT ANSWER. THE ONLY THING I CAN SAY IS THAT THE DEMON YOU SUMMONED INTO THE COMPUTER IS LIKE A GENIUS-LEVEL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. ONE CANNOT DISCARD THE POSSIBILITY THAT HE HAS FIGURED A WAY TO TAKE FORM HIMSELF.
> THANK YOU, CRAFT.
Sending his closing message, Nakajima cut the connection.
I can't possibly believe that Loki could have figured out a way to take a body on his own. Still, I had better start working on some new technology that I can use to take complete control of him.
Nakajima walked over to the window and looked up at the black expanse above, thinking.