Esher drew his hand away from his right side and frowned at the blood coating his palm. It caught the light of the narrow signs that jutted out from each building, running their entire height to mark what was on each floor, and reflected white, red and yellow back at him.
The wound would heal rapidly, not like the wraith wound, but he would have to conserve his strength until it had knitted back together, which meant he couldn’t teleport home. Stepping, as he and his brothers called it, would drain him, and it was only just gone one in the morning, meaning there were still another four or five hours of darkness in which another daemon could attempt to find the gate.
Or a Hellspawn, one of the accepted species in his father’s eyes and one allowed to enter the Underworld via the gates, could call on him to open it.
So, he would have to do the unthinkable.
He ground his molars and reached into the breast pocket of his shirt, tugged the tiny headphones out and jammed them into his ears. Instantly, the soothing melody of Bach filled him, swamping the song of the rain and the grating noise of Tokyo.
Esher took a few deep breaths, giving the beautiful classical piece time to do its work, and then trudged forwards, past the two dead daemons. He didn’t look at the dead mortal as he passed the male, kept moving onwards on auto-pilot, slowly constructing a wall of calm inside himself, a barrier that would shut the world out and allow him to venture down into the train station and tolerate the presence of the mortals as they surrounded him.
As the strings rose, he spotted the airplane-wing canopy that stretched above the central entrance of Tokyo station, extending from the glass skyscraper to its right. Clouds swirled around the top of the towering structure, glowing yellow from the city lights. The rain continued to pour, soothing Esher as much as the music, but as he approached the entrance and the number of mortals rose, hurrying to catch the last trains, his grip on calm began to weaken.
He could do this.
He balled his right hand into a fist, and grimaced as the cut across his forearm stung as his muscles flexed beneath it, a flash of fire that tested him. He breathed deep, letting the flare of irritation fade without affecting his mood.
He was calm. In control.
Esher breathed through it, steeled himself and moved forwards, avoiding the busier paths into the building.
It was only a short trip. Barely fifteen minutes. He could do this.
A mortal female passed close to him and he tensed, his breath seizing in his throat as he leaned to avoid her even though she was more than ten feet away.
Keras would fucking kill him if he lost his shit and caused a bloodbath. His oldest brother had lectured him more than once about playing nice around the weak little mortals. By the gods, he tried. He could almost tolerate them now. He had even managed to speak with some when he was feeling strong, able to cope with breathing the same air as them.
But he wasn’t feeling strong.
The coppery odour of blood clouded his senses, tugging at his memories, and it was hard to keep them shut out, to hold the wall of calm in place.
He shoved the bloodied fingers of his right hand through the longer lengths of his black hair, pushing the damp strands out of his face, and scrubbed at the shorter sides.
He could do this.
He took another step towards the building, a pressing sense of urgency building inside him and driving him to move as he picked up the warning over the public-address system. It was last train time.
Now or never.
He froze as a male passed him, flicking a glance his way that turned into a double-take before he pivoted on his heel and hurried away from the station.
Esher touched his face, drew his hand away and looked at his fingers. Black smeared their pads. Daemon blood.
He huffed, grabbed the handkerchief he always kept in the back pocket of his dark blue jeans and wiped the blood away, scrubbing his neck and face, and then his hand to clear it of both daemon and his own blood.
It took barely a second for the blood to roll back down to his fingers. He buttoned his coat to hide the crimson stain on his shirt, tugged the sleeve back and wrapped the handkerchief around his forearm, covering the wound there. It would have to do.
The last of the mortals ran into the building ahead of him.
Esher strode towards it, his left hand closing over his right side again as the wound below his ribs burned. He pressed hard against it, stopping the flow of blood down his side, and trudged forwards, moving as quickly as he could manage.
The lights inside the station stung his eyes and he lowered his head, letting the hand-length ribbons of his black hair fall forwards over his brow to shield them. He kept his head bent as he hurried past the closed shops towards the Yamanote Line. It would stop at Yoyogi Park and he could walk from there. The streets in that neighbourhood would be quiet.
Unlike the immense room around him.
Someone almost ran into him as they rushed towards the ticket barriers, and he bared his teeth at their back. Keras would have to forgive him if someone bumped him, because he wasn’t sure he had the strength to stop himself from hurting them.
It was leaking from him as he passed his bloodied right hand over the card reader on the barrier, using his abilities to force it to open for him. It swung open and he passed through, scanned the area ahead of him and spotted the sign for the line. It was further than he remembered. He was going to have to use a little bit of power to make it to the train.
Not stepping. Just running.
He clutched his side and sprinted, passing the mortals with ease, and reached the platform just as the last train pulled in. He boarded at the first door, and moved down through the carriages until he found one that was quiet.
The seats near the next car were empty, so he slumped into them, arranging himself in a way that put off the mortals who were eyeing the spot beside him. He looked at his bloodied hand, felt a few mortals glancing there too, and then moving away. He was tempted to wipe it on his jacket, but since it was acting as a nice deterrent, he kept it on show. Another barrier to keep the mortals at bay.
He couldn’t believe he had been reduced to using public transport. He eyed a few of the humans, issuing glares to the braver ones who looked as if they might chance it and sit beside him on the three-seater bench. Wretched creatures. The wall of calm cracked a little, and he drew in a deep breath. Mistake. His right ribs protested, a sharp pain echoing along them from the wound, worsening his mood and adding a few more cracks to the wall.
He closed his eyes as the train pulled away, meaning to shut out the crowded carriage so he could claw back the calm.
Not meaning to fall asleep.
He woke with a jolt as the train rounded a bend, and his black eyebrows pinched in a frown as he swept his blue gaze around the carriage. It was almost empty.
“Fuck,” he muttered and peered out of the window, trying to see where he was as he silently berated himself for succumbing to sleep around so many humans. They weren’t to be trusted. Fuck knew how many of them might have taken the opportunity to kill him if they had known what he was.
Building after building whizzed past outside, none of them standing out to him. The damned city looked the same no matter where he went in it. He rubbed his tired eyes and squinted at the display screen above the doors. Broken. Just his luck.
Had he missed his stop?
He looked at the two people in his carriage, assessing them, and then squeezed his hand over his side as he leaned forwards and looked to his left, into the next one. Five people in that one, none of them a threat.
He leaned back into the padded seat.
A shriek rose from his left.
Esher edged forwards again and glared into the next carriage. A petite raven-haired female with bunches and a fringe that cut a straight line above her eyebrows swatted at a male with her black backpack. Her thick-soled patent leather shoes skidded on the floor of the car as she swung again, causing her short black dress to rise up and reveal the tops of her stripy black and white stockings.
A little Lolita with a vicious streak.
Or a terrified little Lolita.
He canted his head, trying to figure out which one it was, and growing increasingly annoyed and disgusted with everyone in her carriage as they all pretended not to notice her plight.
A public transport one in particular.
The male grabbed her again, snapping his hand tight around her delicate wrist.
Still no one moved to help her.
Why the fuck was he forced to protect a people who cared nothing about their own kind? No Hellspawn or god would tolerate this female’s cries.
She battered the male again, but the bastard pulled her towards him, undeterred.
Esher growled and shoved to his feet, not pausing to consider what he was about to do.
He was going to save a human for the first time in his life.