Hideki rolled his eyes away from the stubborn boy and sighed. Looking at the kid, you’d never imagine he could be quite so obstinate. “You want us to just sit here?” Saboten nodded around each word, even as Hideki pointed out that they were amongst both mutilated carcasses and puddles of blood. Ayame was simply wandering around the scene looking upwards like some disorientated child, her mind warped by the spectacle around her. Saboten, well, he didn’t seem to even notice it anymore. He was still sat on the reception desk, leg swinging, running his fingers through his hair and grumbling under his breath.
“This is so itchy,” he complained. His hair really was ridiculously long and it was beginning to annoy him to no end, he was almost tempted to cut it with his katana. It matched a hundred others scattered across the glass floor, each splattered with dried blood like metallic canvasses. The crusty watercolours put him off the idea, even though his blade was the cleanest and so, he continued to scratch at his mop. “Just a few more minutes,” he told Hideki straight. “Ayame, do you remember any of our childhood?”
She paused, staring into infinity. “I think so, why?”
“It’s just that Hideki said memory loss is a side effect of the experiments.”
“Oh, I don’t think I’ve got an-,” even as she spoke, Saboten couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Ayame was absolutely stunning and his eyes felt fresh like she was the first woman he’d ever laid eyes on. Her silky, blonde hair was dip-dyed with blue tips that fluttered against her chest when she spoke. That’s where his eyes were perched until he heard her say “Saboten? Are you okay?”
“Wh- what was it you were saying?” She asked, shifting her body weight to avery her best friend’s perverted gaze. “Something about our childhood?”
“Yeah, right…” He began, “you can remember everything?”
“As far as I can remember,” she said, cracking the very same joke he had made earlier.
“That’s good, so…”
Saboten blushed at the thought of the two of them ‘intertwined’ but he had to ask. His face swelled, the blood rose fast enough to blast out a waterfall from each nostril. “Were we..?”
“Were we?” She repeated in a less awkward tone, not quite understanding where he was coming from. She gave off this dense impression to Saboten, to say the least. He was hoping it might be a side effect from the whole Shinigami thing.
“Were we ever… well, you know?” He gestured with his hands, pressing both index fingers together as though it was the universal symbol of ‘in a relationship’.
“Oh…” She smiled for a split second, so did he. However, her smile became full-on laughter, “oh! No! No, no, no, no, no,” she kept on repeating herself with such a disgusted look on her face that Saboten felt he would never even have a chance with a girl like her. It was disheartening to say the least, “I did ask you once though.”
“Yeah, I suppose it must’ve been bad timing, or something. I don’t remember.”
“Me either,” he said, punching himself on the inside.
“It was picturesque. We were on this beautiful hill far, far away from home. We took the train and I was wearing this cute, floral print dress. There was nothing but green in every direction.” She sighed so happily, like she was back and nothing could hurt them. The nostalgia washed over them like it was the happiest day of their lives but Saboten remembered it differently. A darker vision, an evil place. The dream he had before he woke up in this terrible place, “I remember calling to you. I asked you to chase me an-“.
Saboten dropped to his knees as a rushing pain shot through his head like a bullet. His face followed, hitting the ground as a tortured scream left his mouth. Ayame attempted to help, grabbing his shoulders but it was no use. Blood flowed from his nose and his right eye shot open, as wide as possible. The pupil shook, taking the shape of a triangle, still wrapped in its green iris coat. It span in the white of his eye, filling his mind with images of fire, conquering his mind as a sinister laugh filled his ears.
“SABOTEN!?” Ayame screamed, tugging at his shoulders. He could see her there, watching as he convulsed. He was trapped in his own world, a thin yet impenetrable window between the two of them. Hideki slapped her hands away from him as soon as possible, “you’re just going to make things worse.”
Despite his demeanour, Hideki Toramaru had no idea what to do in this situation either. “Look at his eyes,” he told her. It was the worst possible outcome, Saboten’s eye had developed that demonic triangle shape. It span outrageously fast as though the boy fought a battle of consciousness. It wasn’t truly a question of whether or not he could win, vanquishing his Shinigami parasite and commanding complete control. No. As Hideki tightened his grip on the axe, it was a question of whether or not Saboten would attack.
“Don’t hurt him.”
“Don’t you dare hurt him.”
“Do you hear me?”
Hideki heard her. Ayame’s voice rang through his head over and over, even as he raised his axe into the air. The seizure wasn’t subsiding and there was no way to tell what insanity was passing through the young boy’s mind. If anything, the convulsions were becoming more violent. If he looked close enough, he could see Saboten’s left eye twitching. The eyeball beneath struggling through the thin lid of skin, begging his body for just a glimpse of the world around. If that eye opened, anything could’ve happened.
“Hideki, put the axe down!” Ayame was screaming now, tears streamed down her face, “Saboten? Saboten, I know you’re in there. Come on, get up. Wake up!”
It was almost like a trigger word for him. The moment she said it the laughter ceased. The darkness dissipated and he could move once more. It wasn’t a very warm welcome, Hideki stood above him like an executioner ready to remove head from body. There was no remorse in his eyes, if he was to be possessed entirely, it would’ve been the right thing to kill, would it not?
Saboten didn’t want to admit that. If his life was truly in danger, he needed to be more careful. He went to speak but spat instead, blood like treacle trailed down his chin in the form of a thick wire, landing on the floor with an audible splat. “That was uncomfortable,” he gasped as more blood fled from the abyss of his stomach.
Hideki looked stunned but before he could let go of his weapon, Ayame dived towards him. She was tear soaked, pulling him hard against her chest. “Saboten!” she whimpered, nuzzling her face against his shoulder.
“I’m fine,” he whispered.
“What happened to you?” With each syllable, her grip on his face tightened until he could hardly breathe. “We thought you were going to die.”
“I really don’t know,” he lied. It was the Shinigami, wasn’t it? Nothing else could create such a malevolence in his mind. The monster spoke, briefly, but he was there. The words now seemed hollow and forgettable, washed into the back of his mind alongside the beast himself. He didn’t need to worry Ayame.
“Hey!” boomed a loud, obnoxious voice from the south. It was full of anger, energy and excitement. It could’ve only been one person. “Are you two love birds finished yet?”
Ayame released Saboten immediately as though comforting him was something awful to be caught doing. Her face filled with blood, the cherry red of embarrassment. It was the white-haired man and his bulkier counterpart. Saboten felt the smile spread across his face, at the exact moment a frown fell upon Hideki’s.
As the two slowly made their way towards the group, down the spiral staircase, the shorter man looked Saboten up and down. Casually, with a nonchalant wipe of his nose, he said “you waitin’ for us?”
Saboten sighed, “Hideki… Yeah, we figured we’d all be safer in a group.”
“Did you now?” His silver tongue could cut through steel.
“My name is Saboten,” the boy continued.
The taller one followed, “do you mean like ‘cactus’?” The question alone filled Saboten with rage. He nodded to avoid yelling but the shorter one just laughed aloud.
“Don’t make me.”
“Cool it, children.” Hideki ordered, switching the focus back to the newcomers. “I’m Hideki Toramaru and this is Ayame… something.”
“Suzuki,” she chimed in.
“Cute name,” the shorter one complimented, “just like yourself.” The cheesy remark was topped with a wink, irritating Saboten further. Not that he cared, of course, but the flirting was noxious and he was suddenly regretting his order to wait for them.
“And you, Snow White?”
“Is somebody jealous?”
“His name is Shinji Yamaguchi.” When the taller one spoke, it felt like a loudspeaker. His voice was deeper than you could possibly imagine, each word sent tingles down Saboten’s spine and yet, it was charming and polite, even without need. A welcome change, in Saboten’s opinion. “I am Hironobu Nakamura but please, call me Hiro.”
“ Hiro Nakamura? That almost rings a bell…” Hideki added.
“It might do.” He looked and sounded like a friendly giant but Saboten knew his other side. Maybe he hid his violent tendencies, letting them out only in battle. A concealed rage pumping through his body, purposely injected by Scarecrow. His body was the antithesis of Shinji’s with huge muscles and thick, boulder-like fists that could crush Saboten’s skull if misfired. His body took the form of an ape, the heavy torso causing some sort of hunchback. Two men tall and impossibly heavy, Hironobu Nakamura was definitely one of them. Pinned against Shinji’s chest sat a badge that Hideki noticed, white plastic with a small name: ‘NOAH YOUNG’. Above the name sat the words ’SCARECROW EMPLOYEE (35712-1)’ and a QR code. His grip, once again, tightened. “Why do you have that?”
“This?” He pointed at the badge, Hideki nodded, “I needed a badge to to get into certain information. Noah’s badge just happened to be in the pocket of some insignificant scientist.”
“So you killed for information?”
“Cold. But I still don’t trust you.”
“W- well, we just wanted to know what was going on.” Hiro spoke so frantically, flailing his giant arms around in an attempt to gesticulate. “And Shinji didn’t kill him, necessarily. A Shinigami did, Shinji just found the badge on the guy’s pocket.”
“What did you find out?” Saboten asked.
“We already know that we’re experiments.” Hideki added.
“Oh, good. That means I don’t have to explain shit for two hours. Okay, we’ve been tinkered with in so many different ways it’s almost impossible to keep track of them. Together, we’ve been royally fucked. Possession isn’t just a side effect, it’s the whole fucking point.”
“Shut up and listen Toramaru. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill genetic experiment. We’re hosts to powerful Shinigami called ‘Shinigami Lords’ and they’re sure as shit not happy to be here.”
You could hear a pin drop in the room.
“I’m glad you all understand the situation.”
“How did Scarecrow get a hold of these things?”
“They summoned them, a contract was made with one particular Shinigami Lord: Adramalech, the Lord of Ritual. He could summon Shinigami from their world to ours and now, he’s inside one of the thousand or so Kanzen.”
“That’s us. Perfect Heartless, Kanzen Hakujou. We’re the final stage of the experiment and now,” Shinji said, “it’s all gone tits up. We’ve escaped.”
“And there were experiments before us, too.”
“Yeah, because they fucked up. Shittier creatures were made by poorly combining our DNA with the DNA of regular old, monster-Shinigami. They’re these, mishmash creatures of rotten skin and demon souls. Hakujou, more Shinigami than human.”
“That’s a lot to take in,” said Ayame, spinning her thumbs around each other. Nobody could blame her it but she seemed a little dim, at least to Hideki. The two were not finished though, it was Hiro’s turn.
“The worst part is that the five of us aren’t the only ones. According to the data, there are hundreds of different sects of hundreds of different Kanzen, let alone the Shingami and Hakujou. One sect worries the most, Project Sin.”
“They’re a group created specifically to stop any chance of a break out, and they’re already out looking for us.”
Hideki cracked his neck and stretched out the rest of his body limb by limb as Shinji stared on, past him and out of the door where he believed the members of Project Sin might be lying. “That’s all very dramatic,” he said with a smile, “but if we’re going to start a war, we’d better get a move on.”
“War? War on the Shinigami?” Hiro spoke, drowned out by Shinji’s excitement.
“That’s not a bad idea,” he said. “But if that’s all it is, think again. There are countless Shinigami now, in this facility and others.”
“Shinji, you’ve forgotten to menti-“ but Shinji shot him a glance that told everybody he was getting to that part, without even knowing what that part was.
“Let’s just go with what was in the file, and what I remember. Okay?” They all nodded in unison, even Hiro. “I’ve been implanted with a Shinigami Lord called Valafar. His soul flows through my body and has given me strength and speed far beyond what I can imagine.” He drew a blade from his belt loops, the black one. Nicks and scrapes covered the steel, it was more worn than the white one like it was his preferred weapon. A favourite tool. “I was trained to fight, it seems. I woke up this morning in the company of these babes and I knew exactly how to use them. We should all be able to tap into this power, in theory.”
This all rung true to Saboten. The strength that seemed to come out of nowhere, the voice in his head and all of the monsters around him. Yeah, it all fell into place but, how did it get like this? That’s what Saboten wanted to know. Why did Shinji know so much when the rest of them knew so little?
“I’ve been waiting for that question,” he said, “as you can probably tell, this is all my fault.”
“Oh, of course it’s your fucking fault, isn’t it?” Hideki argued, “I knew we shouldn’t have waited.”
“Let me explain, Jesus. The real objective behind my experiment, I think, was to take Valafar and build a commander. A perfect soldier, simply to prove they could. I’m their original and I’m a damn good one because Valafar is. Unfortunately for Scarecrow, Valafar was known as the Lord of Rebellion.”
“I was supposed to be part of one last experiment before I was put to good use. Shipped off to lead my own troupe. They called it the ‘Tsuki Form’. It was to see if a Shinigami could be influenced enough to possess the subject entirely, forcing their own image onto the subject’s body, increasing their potential tenfold. Valafar was very happy to oblige.”
“I was given a shot, numbing my body but leaving me conscious. Once I was hooked up to the machine the world turned white and a tall, thin man appeared before me. He was Valafar, disguised in his human form. I knew it straight away like God had shown himself to me. Not once did he open his mouth, the words poured into my mind instead. He told me that tonight we would escape.”
“There was nothing I could, I was simply a bystander. I knew I could trust him though, so I shut my eyes. Boom, I woke up over Hiro’s shoulder.” Silence took over, broken finally by Hideki whose arm had begun to hurt. A clenching, burning pain like no human could create. Maybe he too was reaching his peak, like Saboten. “The power of a Shinigami Lord, ‘eh? All in a single arm?” he deduced to himself. “I’ve decided we should use our powers for good!” The man announced, reaching his left fist into the air.
“We’re definitely going to end the Shinigami infestation, if it’s the last thing we do.”
“Yeah!” Ayame cheered, blind to the dangers ahead. To her left, Saboten simply rolled his eye: “you can’t,” he told her, “we can’t.”
Hiro didn’t even need to think about it, “I do need to get smaller.”
“What? No! Come on, you can’t all be serious, can you?” Saboten almost laughed at their stupidity.
Finally, Shinji added to the cheer. “I’m excited to sink my blade into more Shinigami skin.”
“You bastard, come on! We’re not the ones for this job.”
“Why not?” Ayame asked.
“Because we’re not fucking superheroes,” a laugh broke free, that sort of angry laugh. “Look, we can’t end the lives of thousands of demons because you said so!”
“What other choice do you have?” Hideki asked him, “are you going to just wander around aimlessly in the darkness, waiting to be eaten?”
“Ooh, I know!” Ayame shouted, “we should give ourselves a team name, like superheroes. We could be Team Karasu, if that’ll make Saboten happy. We’re the raven that knocked down the Scarecrow.”
“Aha! I like it,” Hideki added, “shall we go? Saboten, what say you?” One final plea to bring the boy to the right side. Hesitantly, the boy nodded, lighting two faces up like Christmas trees: Ayame and Hideki. “I knew you’d make the right choice,” he told him.
Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter.
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