The newly Christened boy had very little chance to converse with his bulky saviour about this new nickname, which he was definitely not a fan of. The unfamiliar ring of it unsettled him with each utterance but, every time he brought it up with Hideki, he was stopped immediately. He was too busy, the man had been sniffing his way out of the building for the past five minutes. The sight was ridiculous; a grown man wandering around like a confused hamster, nose in the air claiming “it’s one of my abilities.”
Hideki’s ability, however, was getting them nowhere. Finally, after accidentally walking into the employee tearoom for the eighth time, Hideki admitted to the boy that he was lost. The tiny room, too small for such a wealthy company, housed only a small amount of amenities and now, in Hideki’s words, two biological weapons. There was nothing eat but Hideki seemed more interested in the small mirror which hung above a grimy, old sink. The boy watched as his enormous friend stare into his own eyes, a face still dotted with Shinigami blood. “Nothing yet,” Hideki said, “that can only be a good thing.”
“What can?” The boy asked him. He hesitated, at first, worried this information might be something he should already know and, from the look Hideki shot him, it seemed that was likely.
“Saboten, let me look at your eye.”
“Don’t ‘what’ me.” He was stern, grabbing the boy’s face. The sternness didn’t scare him, it was the sternness that brought him to relinquish control of his head, Hideki was a natural leader. He stooped, placing calloused fingers against his pale skin, stretching the right eye open. “This is important, trust me.”
“A- All right,” he kept perfect eye contact with Hideki, refusing to break his gaze to the point where he could almost recognise his own reflection plastered upon Hideki’s brown irises. “What’s wrong?”
The man smiled, “nothing at all.” Then, he pointed to the other, “what about this one?”
“That one’s not quite as good.”
“I see, can’t get it open?”
“Something like that. What are you looking for?”
“I was told that a sure sign of a Shinigami’s presence affecting you is triangular pupils. I suppose there’s nothing we can do about it if we do notice it, we just have to be more cautious. They could turn at any moment.” He explained it well, “that’s why I’m so interested in that eye, Saboten. What are you hiding?”
He wasn’t doing it on purpose, that’s what he wanted to say. Now the boy’s mind had changed, perhaps it’s not just an injury after all. Could his eyelid be hiding some sort of horrific machine? A weapon? Now that he thought about it, the left side of his head was heavier than the right, wasn’t it?
“Don’t worry yourself about it,” Hideki said, retracting his earlier statements, “we’ll sort it, whatever it is.” He continued to speak as the two of them headed onwards, attempting to catch the boy up on any of the adverse side effects that come with a demonic possession. He wasn’t listening though, as the conversation spread out to how the human body tries to adapt to… something, the boy’s mind could only focus on the act of opening that bastard eye of his.
He took a second to recollect his thoughts, to shut his eye as he walked and take an interest in what the brick wall of a man was talking about. When he realised he couldn’t hear him, he worried. Hideki was already gone when he opened his eye, “that bastard,” he muttered, using up his remaining energy to give chase. He caught up wight he devious shape of Hideki Toramaru as it turned the corner, darting through double doors like a hospital worker.
“Where are you going?” His call was ignored and so he continued the chase, following each footstep with intent to raise Hell when Hideki was caught, “stop, damn it!” He shouted again, Hideki listened this time, stopping in his tracks, but the boy didn’t see this. He crashed into Hideki at full speed.
“Sorry,” Hideki said, staring at the boy who fell to the ground with an audible groan. “I thought I smelt something.”
“That can wait,” the man ordered, lifting the boy from the ground with no problem whatsoever. The boy felt like nothing more than just a child as Hideki set him back down on his own two feet, and the vein in the centre of his forehead was growing larger with every interruption. Hideki, on the other hand, seemed pleased as punch. It was almost like he saw the two of them as friends, close as brothers already. It was a much different tale in the boy’s books but Hideki wasn’t reading it. “Let’s get a move on,” he said, “we’re getting somewhere now.”
That phrase… Oh yes, that phrase ‘don’t you worry’ was literally no help to the boy. If anything, the phrase made everything much worse. It was a sentence dip dyed in irony and coated in a shell of pure ignorance and so the boy took to ignoring it. That seemed like the only acceptable option. His own train of thought had taken a left turn towards the realms of self-doubt, “what if I just can’t grasp the situation? What if it’s just too big a shock?” before begin derailed entirely.
Once again, the boy found himself knocked to the floor with little warning. His face had met a solid, concrete wall and an enormous belly laugh filled the air. “Saboten, you need to concentrate!” Hideki told him as pieces of said wall fluttered from the structure to the boy’s bare feet. “If a wall can take you out, you’re going to be pretty useless in the war.”
“You know, you’re a lot stronger than you look.” Hideki studied the boy again, “it looks like your muscle mass is starting to return, are you feeling your strength yet?”
“I guess I must be,” he said, noticing the marks he left embedded in the stone. They were impressive, the opposite of a chiselled masterpiece. If his forehead could do that much damage, what could the rest of him do?
That was Hideki Toramaru’s question. Statistically, there would be few people in this building who could regain their strength that fast after waking up. It was time to tell the boy his plan, it was now or never. “You’ll come in handy.” He wanted to begin the conversation subtly, sliding the boy from his fearful world into one of trouble and danger. It was no use, what was the point? With a sigh, he dropped the bomb: “we’re going to war, Saboten. And I’m leading the charge.”
“War?” Saboten said, “What war?”
“The war between Mankind and the Shinigami, of course.” He replied with gusto, an unsettling joy if he had to give the expression a name. The excitement feigned was apparently not to Saboten’s liking and so Hideki dropped the tone again. “They’ve escaped, that’s a big problem. Without our powers, Mankind will fall so we’re going to raise an army, fight the Shinigami menace and then we’re going to take back out humanity if we have to pry it from Scarecrow’s cold, dead, corporate fingers.”
He knew he sounded ridiculous, how does one raise an army from nothing? Hideki Toramaru didn’t know, but his mind was set on it. He had seen what Scarecrow had done, this is the future they deserved and a powerful kid like Saboten? It would be perfect, now all he needed to do was create a solid speech to loosen the boy up. A clear of the throat and the dramatic music building up the back of his head until the words flew from his lips like bullets: “Saboten, we can’t just let these monsters run amok, can we? They’ll destroy everything in their paths, you’ve seen their strength, right? Imagine the mayhem they could cause in a small town. We are two of many others who have the power to fight back. The normal people will die without our interference. We need to gather up anybody willing before it’s too late. Do you understand what I’m telling you?
He watched Saboten as he stood silently. His weight change was obvious, the scrawny body had disappeared and his once-baggy clothes fit perfectly. He held his mouth open as he thought of something to reply with, catching flies that weren’t there as the cogs in his head whirred. “I don’t even know who I am and you want me to fight with you?”
Hideki left a small pocket of silence and, as he watched the words slithering through his mind, the boy knew he would back away from the subject. Then, he sighed and wiped something away from his nose. “Still,” Hideki began, “we have to get out of here and I don’t think you’ll be able to refuse when you see the chaos outside of these walls.” That was when he walked away like a disappointed parent, allowing the boy to follow, quiet as a mouse.
There was a battle ahead, somebody’s life was on the line. The boy could feel it in the air, a certain tension that tickled the back of his neck like a delicate wind. Some can taste it on the tip of their tongue, some can smell it in the back of their noses but the boy could feel it like a shiver down his entire body. The warriors must’ve been straight ahead as the ever-twisting labyrinth of hallways now gave only one destination: a large, white door which read: LOBBY.
Hideki chuckled to himself. He probably said something witty, maybe I his fake accent but the boy was still not listening. His ears were occupied with another sound, the harsh, shining sound of steel clashing against something tough. As they passed through the door, the scope of the area shattered the boy’s perspective of the facility entirely. Two levels, each paved with thin glass flooring and a spiral staircase straight out of a fairytale to link the two. The smell of burning was finally gone, kindly replaced with a cooling draught that gently let the two of them know they may part ways soon.
The architectural field trip was cut short as - from a distance - a young, white-haired man was thrown towards Saboten at an incredible speed. A quick dodge and the stranger landed with his feet planted firmly against the wall. Despite this interesting feat, the stranger slipped, landing face first against the opaque glass. Blood trickled from his forehead, narrowly missing his white, long-sleeved shirt.
“Hey, look.” Hideki pointed to the left of the staircase where the young man’s presence originated. In the distance stood an enormous man holding his own against a similarly large Shinigami. He was unarmed, pounding minivan fists into the monster’s sternum. Thankfully, it appeared the shorter companion had dropped a weapon. A katana with a blade no lighter than the darkness of midnight. It was Saboten who shouted: “pick up the sword.”
But it was the white-haired man who shouted back: “don’t you touch my fuckin’ sword Hiro!” Then, he turned to the boy, “don’t get involved, kid.” The boy did as he was told, watching on in silence as the nameless stranger retrieved a second katana, held snugly against his hip through a belt loop. A shining, snow white blade that almost brightened the room as he waved it. Each katana had been personally modified, the designer had added a small, tonfa-like handles to the hilt of each weapon, allowing the man to fight with a completely unique style.
When he had recovered from his fall, the white-haired man shot the boy a single nod before heading back into his fight faster than the boy’s eye could track.
“Shouldn’t we help?”
“No, just look. They can handle it themselves.”
“Well, we can’t just leave them here?” The boy argued.
“Listen, Saboten. We’d be no use, those guys have some serious combat experience. We’d just be in the way.”
“That guy,” interrupted Hideki, “do you know him.”
“Not even vaguely.”
“Oh, well,” he said, “I suppose you don’t really know anybody at the moment.” His voice took on that ‘I really don’t want to offend you’ tone. Cringing, the boy watched on, his ears only picking up the snarls and the grunts. “Anyway, if he needed our help, we’d know it.”
There was no way to take his eyes of the battle but the boy’s legs moved along with Hideki’s. By the time he shook himself from the trance, they were already heading down the spiral staircase towards the great revolving doors that led to freedom. With each spin, the door blew a shot of clean air into the path of the two of them, drowning them in a cocktail of sweet forgiveness and great expectations. The boy’s eyes became misty when he thought about leaving, tears of unadulterated happiness.
A sombre voice ordered the boy to look around and, when he did, all of the weighted feelings once lost returned in an instant. His rose-tinted glasses shattered and reality came pouring back. Bodies lay shredded all around them, human bodies. The lobby looked like a bomb had gone off. Men and women in torn suits and cardigans, limbless and silent in pools of their own bile.
“Saboten, look at the wounds.” Hideki ordered. In his own time, the boy moved towards the exit where the front desk once stood upright. Underneath it lay a young woman, blonde hair with cold, blue eyes. Her head was no longer attached to her body. Like an experienced detective, he studied the wound. A clean cut. There was no way this was the work of a Shinigami.
“A human did this?”
“This was no human,” he replied, “it was one of us.”
At that moment, the boy was hit. He was hit so hard from the left-hand side that he shut his eye and dropped the sword he was still clutching. As his back touched the floor, the boy knew it was over. The air from his lungs was forcefully removed, “this is it,” he thought, “the end.” However, the soundtrack to his death was not the crunch of his bones but the quiet… laughter of Hideki Toramaru?
When he timidly opened his eye, the boy found himself swimming in the deep blue of somebody else’s. The girl who owned these eyes was sitting cluelessly on his chest like a puppy, lost in thought. Whoever she was, she had long blonde hair and smelt faintly of vanilla. It was a scent that, when wafted into his nostrils, made him believe he should know her and yet, he couldn’t bring himself to take a better look.
“Hello,” the girl mumbled. There was no response waiting in the boy’s mouth, he just blushed like an awkward teenage boy. Partially because he felt intimidated by her, but mostly because this stranger was so close to him. Suffice to say, the poor boy was rather shy. The best he could manage in such a situation was; “can I help you?”
“I’m okay, thanks.” She muttered through a stupor. The girl had been staring at the boy’s left eye since she had bumped into him, it would seem, with such violent concentration that it looked like she was trying to open it with her mind alone. A tear followed, dripping down her chin and onto her breathing pillow, where she thumped her head in shame. “Oh God! What happened to you?”
“You?” Her muffled voice cried, “your hair is so long and… What happened to your face!? Are you okay? I- I can’t even remember your name. What kind of best friend am I?”
“My hair? I- Wait, did you say ‘best friend’?” He was stunned. How could this lunatic be his best friend? She lifted her head up, the poor girl was just as stunned at the fact he could not remember her immediately.
“Don’t worry about it,” Hideki interrupted, spoiling the incredibly one-sided ‘moment’ the girl was having. To help, he grabbed the back of the girl’s sleeveless blue button-down and hoisted her off the boy. She was a cute one, the boy thought. Her denim shorts were so tightly clamped to her hips that he could almost see the skin beneath. Below these, she wore a pair of grey, thigh-high socks that amplified the beautiful, tanned skin of her legs. Topping the outfit off, she wore a pair of brown boots with heels big enough to trip her over. It was adorable.
“Saboten here is suffering from a little bit of memory loss, like yourself. He can’t remember his own name, let alone another person’s.” He explained quickly, in a much friendlier voice that the one the boy had first heard. She was a little defensive at first, responding with a quiet “sure”. Maybe she didn’t quite trust him, who could blame her? “I’ve taken to calling him Saboten, until his memory comes back.”
“You mean like cactus?” He nodded, “that’s adorable.” Well, it was confirmed now. He would be known as Saboten, at least until his memory returned. “Let me fill you in a little, my name is Ayame Suzuki. I’m your childhood friend and, well, only friend.”
The words resonated in his head and the concept seemed familiar. Saboten could see himself as a guy with only one friend, sadly. “Just you?”
“You were never much of a people person.”
Hideki scoffed, “I couldn’t tell.”
“And you are?” Ayame replied, snapping at the man who was old enough to be her father. Hideki smiled, grabbing her hand without her blessing and violently shaking it.
“Hideki Toramaru, nice to meet you.”
The girl retaliated calmly with an awkward shake and smiled that smile you only see when you catch a girl off guard with a photograph. “So,” she said, switching her focus back to Saboten, “you can’t remember a thing?”
“Not that I remember…” he joked unsuccessfully, Ayame didn’t even snicker.
“Well, let’s get started on your history and then you can tell me why I woke up in a prison cell.”
“That’s Hideki’s job,” he mocked loudly. Hideki didn’t react, he was too busy cleaning off dried blood from his axe with his sleeve. “He interview somebody.”
“Right.” She said, “you’re seventeen years old, like myself. We’ve always gone to the same school, we’re in high school together now actually. Or, we should be. We’ve even got the same classes!” she exclaimed excitedly as if remember in-jokes and conversations. “You were raised by your grandfather, your father left home for work one day and never returned.”
The tone began to shift noticeably, “you live alone now. Your grandfather died a few years ago and you’ve been surviving on your inheritance ever since.”
“I sound like a lonely old man,” Saboten finally replied after a sad expression washed over him. It was almost like he was reliving all of the sadness in his life, “thank you,” he said, flashing a pseudo-cheerful grin as to not hurt his friend’s feelings. “Hideki, would you do the honour of explaining our situation.”
Hideki let out a loud, obnoxious grunt as his muscular arms lifted his axe upon one shoulder, only to slam it back down onto the glass floor, where it landed with an incredible shattering sound. “This girl will be no help,” he thought to himself. But he dusted off his hands and began to explain what in God’s name was going on anyway. He was already well-versed in the lore: the demons, the death, the impending destruction.
In the meantime, Saboten had planted himself on top of the overturned desk. The putrid smell of quick-to-decay human flesh had settled in his nostrils.
“So,” began Ayame after the lecture finished. “We’re like super-soldiers?”
“She sounds far too happy,” Hideki thought, “in theory.”
“Not really,” he replied. Hideki turned his head back over to Saboten, who was staring straight out into the open, past the revolving door where he longed to be. “Hey, Saboten…”
“Yeah?” he replied, not turning from the night outside.
“Shouldn’t we get going? I don’t want you to be attacked by anything else,” he stressed with the utmost joy. “Let’s get a move on.”
“No,” he replied coldly, “we should give it a second.”
“If we’re really going to build an army, we’re going to need those two upstairs.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter.
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