Izzy Izumi glanced around nervously, unable to shake the feeling of being watched. He looked ahead to his friends, who were chatting away, completely oblivious. Must be my imagination. He shrugged and glanced into a store window.
"Wait a second guys!" he called suddenly, spotting what he was looking for.
Tai, Matt, and Joe turned around at the voice of their younger friend. "What is it?" Tai asked, almost irritably.
"I've got to use the bathroom," Izzy explained. He glanced at the store beside him. "Can you guys wait for me?"
"Sure," Joe agreed. Tai sighed impatiently and Matt shrugged.
Izzy took that as a 'yes'. "I'll be right back!" he promised, hurrying into the store.
The others leaned against the building to wait.
"Hey, check out that guy," Tai commented. The others followed his gaze, and caught sight of a tall, gaunt-face man. Slung over his shoulder was a huge sack.
"Looks like he came prepared for some heavy shopping," Matt said, amused.
"Maybe he just doesn't like shopping bags." Joe shrugged.
"I still think it's weird." Tai grinned. "What could he possibly want that he'd need to carry in a sack?"
Izzy shook his damp hands in the sink. Now, where are the paper towels...? He looked up and jumped, caught by surprise by the reflection in the mirror.
A tall, gaunt-faced figure stood directly behind him.
Staring at him.
Izzy spun around to face the man. "Oh... uh... Did you want to use the -- the sink? S-sorry." He moved aside, towards the stalls, then tried to inch past the man.
Slowly, the unsmiling figure moved to block his escape. Izzy's stomach clenched with sudden fear. He moved to a different angle, but found himself blocked again, almost immediately.
"Uh... excuse me?" he tried. It's not what I'm thinking. It can't be what I'm thinking!
The man reached behind him and, very deliberately, locked the door.
Izzy backed against the stall behind him, his now-wide eyes never leaving his assailant. "Who -- who are you?" he stammered.
He was never given an answer. Without words, the man rushed forward, crashing into Izzy so forceably that the stall door behind him fell off its hinges. Dazed, Izzy tried to detangle himself from the mess, but something soft and sweet-smelling was pressed over his mouth and nose.
Izzy's thoughts fell away into sudden and complete darkness.
The tall figure rose, panting, and surveyed the damage he'd caused. Not very inconspicuous. Someone was bound to notice the mess.
He shrugged. That wasn't important. He'd achieved his goal, and that was all that mattered. He smiled, bending over the still form of the boy he'd been stalking for the past few weeks. Everything was going according to plan.
Excellent. He gathered the boy up and made his exit.
"Where is he?" Matt glanced at his watch, annoyed.
"Don't know." Tai shrugged. "Maybe he passed out or something."
"Tai!" Joe gave the younger boy a 'look'. "That's not something to joke about! What if Izzy's really sick? What if he has to go to the hospital? What then?"
"Oh brother." Tai rolled his eyes, grinning. "I'm going in there to find out what the matter is. Wait here." He walked into the store and opened the bathroom door. "Hey! Guys, c'mere, quick!"
Matt joined him at the door, followed by Joe. He grinned weakly at several customers who were giving them odd looks. "What is i -- oh man!" He leaned against the wall and stared at the broken stall door. "Looks like someone ripped it off its hinges!"
"Somebody really had to go," Tai commented.
"Enough with the jokes!" Joe glanced around. "Weren't we looking for Izzy?"
"Oh yeah." Tai moved inside and peered around a bit. "He's not here."
"That's impossible!" Matt protested. "He couldn't have left, or one of us would've seen him -- and there's no windows or anything in here."
"Maybe that weird guy carried him out in the sack," Tai suggested, shrugging.
"Good grief!" Joe rolled his eyes.
"Hey, it could happen!" Tai protested.
"Tai's right." At those words, both Tai and Joe turned to look at Matt in astonishment. "Well, think about it. The stall door could've been knocked out if Izzy struggled. And if there were a lot of people talking in here, no one would hear it."
"That's true..." Tai nodded slowly. "And if there was a struggle, there could be evidence left over!" He ran back to the mangled stall. "Aha! Look at this!" He bent down and then rose again triumphantly.
"Oh, great piece of evidence, Tai," Matt said sarcastically. "A book. Wow. Now I know exactly where Izzy is."
"Actually, that's a library book," Joe corrected, taking the item from Tai's hands. "And, since I now work part-time at the library, I should be able to access the files on computer there to find out whose card this book is signed out on. It'll have their address, phone number, everything."
"Great!" Tai pushed past the other two and out the door. "Let's go!"
Izzy's eyes slid open slowly, even though they felt as if they weighed 200 pounds each. He was in a dark room, totally unfurnished except for a small couch, or what seemed to be a couch by the way it felt beneath him, and a curious glass container which was a little bigger than Izzy and about twice as wide. It lay on its side, and the glass panel that would fit on the uppermost side was missing.
It looked like some weird, transparent coffin.
Oh god. Izzy's heart began to pound, as he remembered his last few moments before he'd passed out. Someone had kidnapped him. He had no idea why, but there was a reasonable chance that he would not be coming out of this alive.
Izzy tried moving his head, but for some reason his muscles refused to respond. Nearly all of his senses were fully active, but he couldn't even so much as twitch, except to breathe. His body remained limp and unresponsive.
"Welcome back," a voice whispered, and Izzy felt rustling behind him. His heart beat hard with fear as a tall, gaunt-faced man bent over him.
His lips felt numb, but they worked. "Wh-who are you?" he croaked out.
The man smiled. "Unimportant, for now. How are you feeling, Koushiro Izumi? Having a little trouble moving, are we?"
The surprise that Izzy felt upon discovering that his kidnapper knew his name was dispelled quickly by more fear. "What have you... done to me?"
"Not to worry," the man answered. "It's a harmless drug. The effects should begin to wear off in 15 or 20 minutes. Of course," he added, "at that point, it will be completely irrelevant."
"You're going to kill me," Izzy said softly. He couldn't keep his voice from shaking, and his body wanted to tremble. The realization was not a shock, but it wasn't exactly a pleasant one, either.
"Yes, I am," the man answered calmly.
"B-but why?" Izzy was unable to keep the hysterical edge from creeping into his voice. "I-I never did anything to you."
"Ah." The man smiled. "But you will do something for me. You'll help me bring a new religion to this... dead world."
Izzy closed his eyes tightly. This is not happening. I'm not being held prisoner by a psycho who's going to kill me. I'm home, asleep, dreaming. This isn't happening, it's not...
And there was nothing he could do about it.
"This is actually really interesting," Joe commented, flipping through the book. All three boys were on the subway, travelling from the library to the address they'd found on the computer. "It's focussed on some ancient religious rites. I guess this guy must be a cult freak."
"Great," Tai said sarcastically. "How nice."
"Not for Izzy," Matt reminded him. "What do you think this guy wants with him, anyway?"
"Not a clue," Tai admitted instantly.
The subway gave a sudden lurch, and Joe lost his hold on the book. It fell to the floor and opened to a page near the middle.
"Great." Joe bent to pick up the book, and a few words caught his eye. '...the victim with the hair like blood...' "What the...?" He read a little further, and paled. "Oh my god..."
"What is it?" Matt leaned over to look at the book.
"...I know what's going to happen to Izzy..." Joe gulped out. "If we don't get moving right away!" There was a note of real horror in his voice.
"Well, fill us in, already!" Tai said impatiently.
Joe opened the book wide. On one page was a crude drawing. The picture showed one figure with its arms exultantly raised in a religious rite, while another lay unmoving in a crystal box filled with water. Tai's and Matt's eyes widened as they simultaneously realized one thing.
The dead figure's hair was the same red as Izzy's.
Izzy tried to force his unresponsive limbs to struggle, but he might as well have tried to knock down a brick wall with a damp stick. Nothing worked.
His captor lifted him from the couch and carefully placed him in the glass box, flat on his back. Izzy stared at him. What did this guy have planned, anyway?
"You might get a bit wet," the man smiled. His eyes showed something akin to madness. Oh god... That was when Izzy noticed the hose that had been placed in the box with him. The kidnapper turned a knob nearby.
And water started to flow into Izzy's glass prison.
"The religion only had a few memebers at best," Joe explained, as they hurried through the crowd at the station. "They traveled around a lot, looking for victims like Izzy -- "blood"-colored hair, and black eyes."
"And then drowned them," Tai growled. He was, quite obviously, extremely upset.
"Not exactly," Joe corrected. "They would follow their chosen victim around for a while, until they found out their name. The name was always very important. It says here that the drug they used to render their victims unconscious also left them paralized for about 20 minutes after they woke up. So all they had to do was put them in those crystal boxes, and when the water filled it up..." He trailed off.
"Lights out," Matt finished.
They quickened their pace.
"But they have to be awake, right?" Tai looked about as serious as they'd ever seen him look. "So he couldn't have gone straight home and dropped Izzy into a tub of water."
"Nope." Joe checked his watch. "But, if the book's right, the drug should've worn out five minutes ago!"
"There's the house!" Matt shouted, pointing.
Tai tried the front door. "It's locked!"
"Well, duh!" Matt rolled his eyes. "You think he's going to leave it open when he's sacrificing people in the basement?"
"He might," Tai protested, in an injured voice.
"Enough of that," Joe interrupted. "We've got to get in. Break a window if you have to, OK?"
Tai grinned. "Can I take that as permission?"
"Remind me next time to keep my big mouth shut," Joe muttered to Matt as Tai threw a fairly large-sized rock at the nearest window. The glass shattered.
"All right!" Tai ordered. "We're going in!"
"I doubt our parents will be happy when we're arrested for breaking and entering," Joe complained. Despite his words, though, he didn't hesitate to follow the other two into the house.
"Let's worry about that later," Matt suggested. "When Izzy's safe."
"If that creep's done anything to him, I swear..." Tai left the threat hanging. The three boys crept silently through the house.
Izzy breathed quickly, so fast that small squeaking noises escaped with each gasp of air. The water level was just rising past his ears.
I don't wanna die! he thought desperately. I don't wanna die; please don't let me die!
The water level rose. Izzy couldn't even tremble.
"Help me," he whispered, more a plea to fate in general than any physical being. He couldn't hear himself.
"Help me," he said louder, voice cracked with fast-rising hysteria. "Help me!" The water brushed his cheekbones.
Izzy's control snapped altogether. "HELP ME!!!" he screamed. "Help me, oh god, somebody help me!!!"
The scream broke off into loud, hysterical sobs.
"Help me, oh god, somebody help me!!!"
The boys froze. "Izzy!" Tai exclaimed. His eyes reflected horror: probably the most serious expression he'd ever worn.
"It came from down there!" Matt pointed, and all three of them vaulted down the stairs at top speed.
"There!" Joe said, waving at a door that stood slightly ajar. A strange sort of chanting was coming from it, nearly drowned out by Izzy's sobbing pleas for help.
Matt looked in. There was Izzy, lying still in a strange looking glass box. Water poured in from a hose that had been tucked into the box, rising to a level with Izzy's chin. But, other than that, the room appeared empty. "So where's that nutcase?" he wondered, out loud.
"Move aside!" Tai said, shoving him out of the way. Matt glared, but the shorter boy wasn't paying attention. "I gotta get in there!" he said, moving to slam the door open.
"Wait!" Joe cried. "We don't know where the kidnapper is! We could get into serious trouble!"
Tai looked anguished.
"Please, please, somebody help me!" Izzy's voice sobbed from inside. "Please..." He broke off in a long, desperate gasp.
Tai glanced back into the room. "Izzy's underwater!" he protested. "He'll drown!"
"Tai, we've got to think before we charge in there and -- "
"I've had it with thinking! We haven't got time!" Tai shouted angrily. He turned away from them. "Hang on, Izzy! I'm coming!" He shoved the door open violently and ran toward the glass box.
The door made contact with something, hard, and the chanting abruptly stopped. Tai didn't even notice. Izzy's eyes were wide with panic, but he didn't seem to see his older friend. The brown-haired boy reached into the water without a moment's hesitation, grabbed a handful of Izzy's shirt, and hauled his smaller friend out of the water.
Izzy immediately began to draw in deep, panicking gasps of air. "You're OK!" Tai assured him, alarmed. "Calm down! You'll choke!"
Izzy's gasps broke off into weak coughing, and he began to sob again, gulping as much air as he could in between. Tai carefully lifted him out of the box and held Izzy's limp body like something breakable, patting him comfortingly on the back as he cried.
Matt glanced down at the unconscious man by the door. "Well, looks like he won't be drowning anyone for a while. What happened to him?"
"I think Tai hit him with the door," Joe offered, blinking. "The walls in here are made of marble, and he must've smashed into them head-first."
Matt crouched beside Tai and Izzy. "Is he all right?"
"He's alive," Tai answered, unneccessarily. "That's the important thing, right?" He shifted Izzy's form a little, allowing the younger boy to quietly sob onto his shoulder.
"He should go to the hospital," Joe said firmly, moving to stand beside them. "There may be side effects caused by that drug he's been given. And we need to call the police."
"Good idea," Matt agreed, getting up.
Tai started to follow them, still holding Izzy, when the younger boy's voice, muffled by his own shoulder, interrupted him. "Tai?"
"Yeah?" he said quietly.
"Thank you." The words were weak, but entirely sincere. "I-I owe you my life. I r-really thought I was going to d-d-d-"
"It's OK," Tai answered, with a forced casual tone. "I'm glad you're all right. We were really worried."
"So was I," Izzy whispered. He tried to hide it, but Tai could tell by his breathing that he'd started to cry again, very softly.
"Mo-om! I'm OK! Stop crying!" Izzy was back in total control of his body, but he didn't even bother to squirm in his mother's tight hug. It felt nice to be home again.
"Have I thanked you yet, Tai?" Mrs. Izumi asked tearfully, trying to get herself under control.
"Only about a million times." Tai grinned.
"Oh." She set Izzy back against the pillow on his hospital bed. "I should go thank Matt and Joe." She stood, and smiled down at her son. "I'll be right back, Izzy."
"OK." Izzy returned the smiled, a little weakly. He still hadn't fully recovered his strength.
"Feeling better?" Tai asked, after Mrs. Izumi left.
Izzy laughed shakily. "Yes. But that was really not an experience I'd like to repeat. I'm lucky you guys were there to save me."
"You would've done it for us, too," Tai reminded him. "That's what friends are for, right?"
Izzy smiled. "Right."
"Izzy?" Joe walked into the room, followed by Matt. "You're supposed to take this," he said, holding out a small cup. "It'll put you to sleep, though."
"Maybe we should save it for my teacher," Tai joked.
"Ha ha, very funny." Joe handed the cup to Izzy. "You'll be glad to hear that the guy who kidnapped you is on his way to the police station." He glanced at the clock. "Sorry, I've got to go."
"He's being charged with kidnapping and attempted murder," Matt added, taking up the story as Joe hurried out the door. "We're all going to be testifying against him. You up for it?"
"Yeah, I think so." Izzy swallowed the contents of the cup and laid back. "As long as I can move, I think I can handle facing him."
"That's good." Matt grinned.
"Yeah, it means we don't have to worry about getting you a psychiatrist," Tai added.
"Very funny." Izzy sighed, and let his weary eyelids slide shut, losing himself in sleep. He'd had a busy day, after all.