Having a katana tossed at you wasn’t an easy situation to come to grips with. The long, silver sword was almost hilt-deep in solid concrete. Beads of thin, red blood began to completely cover several bands of the roll chain which lead straight up into the sleeve of a large, balding man standing a considerable distance away.
He stood beneath one of the only street lamps in the area as though he needed the attention. Like he missed on purpose. The flickering light revealed a greying shadow of a goatee, wrapped around a sinister grimace. He was not happy to have missed. As he stepped further into the light, wrapping the chain around his right arm, Saboten saw a muscular frame brandishing a black, leather trench coat, heavily modified with an additional set of unused sleeves. In his left hand, he held a second, identical katana.
The pale yellow light bathed darkness from the man, washing colour across perplexing features: a set of twin, demonic horns poking out from his forehead. They were small and beige in colour, poking out form sore skin leaking pus. The man ginned, forcing sweat to run down Saboten’s face where it fused with the blood. The man’s teeth were all pointed and jagged, the mouth of a great white.
Before Saboten could run, the man twitched and pulled on the chain. He tugged it towards himself, whipping the sword from the earth and narrowly missing Saboten’s throat. It severed only a short lock of the boy’s bush of hair, “lucky you,” the man exclaimed. “I suppose you’re Kanzen, game’s over guys.”
Saboten couldn’t turn away, frozen staring at the man ahead walking closer to them. From behind, he felt Shinji, Hideki and Hiro join them. This would be their first battle and Saboten was not ready. Weaponless and powerless, he feared for his life. “What do you want?”
“I am the seventh son of Project Sin, Noboh Kairiz. You can call me The Greed.”
“Why are you after us?”
“You’re experiments and my boss’s property. Did you really think that, if you escaped, it would be fine for you to wander the streets?” The Greed paused, genuinely curious in an answer. Saboten could see the intensity in his eyes, his face bulged with spider-web veins. Triangular pupils span in the centre of jaundiced eyes, “you have to die and, if you didn’t come to that conclusion yourself, you’re just shit outta luck, aren’t you?”
“God damn it, you’re really not as smart as they think you are, are you?”
“Who else is looking for us?” Hiro, the hulking giant of a man, became a point of amusement for The Greed. He applauded him as you would an animal at the zoo performing tricks on command.
“Lots of people, not just the seven of us. There’s the Hunters for one, the higher ups are too busy slacking off to deal with peasants like you at the moment. Too important to get off their lazy asses and fight a little bit. No matter…”
It appeared he was ranting to himself, raving about his bosses. It could’ve been the anxiety, Hiro thought, the first to kill an escapee. Whilst he was distracted, Hiro took it upon himself to charge. He yelled at the top of his lungs, “take this!” as his shoulder inched closer to The Greed.
“It’s rude…” he grunted, dropping both of his swords simultaneously, “to interrupt somebody’s train of thought.” Four thick, silver chains shot from each individual sleeve of his coat like extended bullets, carving their way into Hiro’s brick wall chest. Not only did it stop him in his tracks, breaking each and every rib in his chest, it knocked him right over. An incredible rush of pain shot through his entire body like electrocution and blood escaped through his lips, spilling onto the tarred road.
Before his body could pick him up, the chains returned. They plummeted into the side of his body and, with the force of a steam train, tossed Hiro across the street. The last thing his open eyes saw was the white blur of Shinji, making sure he was still alive.
“Now,” The Greed began, cracking his fingers, “to get rid of the old one and the Albino.” He withdrew the chains, slithering like snakes they returned to the depths of his coat. Then, he disappeared, moving far too fast for Saboten’s single line of sight to follow.
By the time he caught on, The Greed had already replaced Hideki. He was long gone, laying next to Hiro clutching a broken nose. In his shoes stood The Greed, one hand on Saboten’s shoulder cockily. “Hello, you two.” He said, “I’ve been looking forwards to this.”
He tugged away, pulling Ayame away from the monster. “What do you want?” she asked.
“Saboten. Ayame. Fucking run!” Somebody shouted. It must’ve been Shinji, he was the only one without injury. They didn’t have much of a chance to run, before Saboten could even process the idea, the ground began to tremble. The very Earth shook and started to swell up until thousands of chains appears from the planets core as though Satan himself sent them. Within seconds, the chains linked, becoming an enormous cage around the three of them, blocking all lamp light and leaving no exits.
“May I present, The Gambler’s Cage.”
Without spawning a roof, the cage stood higher than visible. All light vanished and all sound was drowned out by the high-pitched humming emanating from the chains like vibrations. There was no escape, trapped until only one side was left. Saboten had no combat experience, not like Shinji. He couldn’t vouch for Ayame but he was fucked.
If he concentrated hard enough he could just barely hear slapping footsteps, feminine feet too light to be The Greed’s. He heard his name echo from the negative space but the humming made it impossible to pinpoint the source. “Saboten?” he heard, “where are you?” She stopped, bumping straight into him. “S- Saboten?”
“Yeah, I’m right here. Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine,” she didn’t sound in any pain, just scared.
He told her to stay close, “grab my hand. I’m sure we’ll find out of here.” To survive in the darkness, they needed silence. As long as The Greed couldn’t hear them, they would be fine.
“Ha!” The Greed shouted his laughter once again, his booming voice bounced around the cage despite the cicada sounds. “Young love is hilarious. There’s no way out of this cage you fool! What would be the point in that?”
“Let us out!”
“Not going to happen. My powers came from the Lord of Jails, Amaymon.”
In the back of Saboten’s mind, he knew that name. It scared him, why did he recognise a Shinigami name so well? The information stung, birthing a headache that spread instantly like wildfire. It tugged on the back of his skull, “we’ll find a way out!” He yelled back.
“Don’t piss him off Saboten.”
He flicked his hair back into his hat, revealing that closed eye to the darkness. Maybe, just maybe, his power really was hiding behind the eyelid. He decided now would be the best time for one final push. It’s all he needed, if it resulted in his death, fine. As long as he could save Ayame, and his friends. Saboten was sure the power was just waiting for a situation like this one, in need of a moment so filled with pure fear that the energy burst out from his body. He was in a battle after all, that’s how it worked. So, maybe…
It didn’t open.
The eyelid didn’t even twitch, “fuck.” That’s all he could say as his utterance was cut short by two, metallic punches were thrown into his abdomen. The force shoved his limp body against the chain-link wall. He felt so heavy, sliding from the wall to the ground but The Greed wasn’t done. He sauntered over with menace in his step and violence on his breath, toying with his prey.
“What’s with all the hair?” He asked, lifting the boy up by his lengthy locks of field green. It was an indescribable pain that force beads of blood up from his scalp. If The Greed had pulled any harder, the hair would’ve torn skin from bone. Before that could happen, he tossed Saboten across the battlefield like a rag doll.
With a rush of adrenaline, Saboten rose to his feet and charged towards The Greed or, at least, to where he believed The Greed was standing. By sheer luck, his fist landed square against the man’s iron jaw. The Greed didn’t even budge, grabbing the boy’s wrist and forcing open his clenched fist with his grip. Saboten yelped as his wrist bones became dust under the pressure. Then, as he thought the pain would subside, The Greed grew sadistic. With his enormous mouth wide open, revealing two layers of shark teeth, he bit down and tore through three of Saboten’s pencil fingers with a single crunch.
Like an electric shock, the pain seared through his body, shutting off all instinct to fight or run. Saboten became a deer in the headlights, waiting for a swift end. Blood spurted onto The Greed’s chest but fled from the hydrophobic leather like rain of window glass. “Maggot,” he mumbled before spitting Saboten’s fingers onto the floor.
As the boy wriggled free, chasing after his lost extremities, he heard Ayame screaming: “Saboten, are you okay?”
“Of course he’s not okay!” The Greed returned, smiling as he did so. “Is that all you’ve got, boy?” With an audible gurgle, he swelled the leftover blood from his devilish trick with enjoyment. Saboten had given up forcefully attempting to reattach his fingers, choosing instead to wrap his hat around the wound to stop the floor of blood erupting from the swollen appendages. “Listen up boy, this is my game and you cannot win.”
Saboten was tossed again, this time in the direction of Ayame, where he landed against her feet. He was shaking rapidly, cold and completely out of control. “Oh, Sabo-.”
“Shh,” he whispered, “don’t let him see you. If you stay still, you’ll be safe.” His voice trembled, every word was full of fear and false confidence. He was trying to act powerful, reassuring her that, at the least, he could save her. She wasn’t stupid, she wasn’t falling for it. The two of them would die before the journey started.
“Shinigami?” The boy spoke to nobody. Muffled, hidden behind bloodied hands, Saboten was losing his mind and there was nothing Ayame could do.
“Ah, you must already be dying. Shinigami don’t speak to their hosts, boy.” He shouted from across the battlefield, “plus, what do you think standing still will do? I thought all Kanzen could see in the dark.”
“He can see us…”
Ayame stood in front of him, arms spread to resemble a cross. “Fight me instead,” she ordered, protecting her friend. “If you’re out to kill all of the Kanzen, take me first.”
“My job isn’t to kill all of you, dumbass. I’m just here to collect what is rightly mine.”
“What’s that?” She commanded an answer like a war general.
“The green guy has something I want.” Saboten couldn’t react but Ayame understood, what he wanted was obvious. “The Jigoku Crown, kiddo. That’s why you’re the target.”
Outside, the remaining members of Team Karasu stood outside of the cage without any idea of the brutality waiting on the inside. Shinji had managed to revive both Hideki and Hiro, the latter still limped. He had already noted that Kanzen heal quicker than usual but their response was incredible. Hiro’s broken ribs had even reformed.
They were alive and that was enough to get them to stand. “I think they’ll be okay,” Shinji said, watching Hideki’s face drop. He thought otherwise, his very way of standing seemed to contest Shinji’s opinion. “Well, maybe. If we can forget that The Greed is in there.”
“It’s just made out of chains, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“Do you think you could cut through it?”
“I doubt it,” Shinji told him. Even admittance wouldn’t stop him, he was already sizing up his target with both swords in hand. “It might be made of magic, or something. You saw how it got here.”
“Demons and magic? I think we should at least try it.”
“I’ll give it a go,” he said, watching Hideki as he looked on. Shinji took a few steps backwards and got ready to charge ahead.”
Hideki figured he wouldn’t be able to do it or, at least, he had a bit of an idea. There was no way they were just normal chains so a human weapon would do no damage. Still, he sent Shinji off.
As soon as the blade touched the chains, Shinji was sent flying backwards straight into Hideki’s chest. In their stead, Hiro took a closer look for anything at all. Even the smallest nick or scrape could be a sign of weakening the dull chains. “Nothing, not even a mark. Do you think the Shinigami’s world is Hell? It looks like that’s where the chains are coming from.”
In response, Hideki gave off a quiet groaning. He hurt, but not in his chest. It was his arm that he clutched, “Hiro, could you come here?” He asked, watching the giant stomp towards him to inspect the wound. The skin around his arm was throbbing, becoming impossibly tight and hard.
“Does it hurt?”
“For how long?”
“Since I woke up, I suppose.”
“Then, I guess it’s Iwa.” He tapped the skin but Hideki felt nothing, “it’s an armour for Shinigami. An exoskeleton, very thick and protective. I’ll explain more later but, if you try punching the cage now, it won’t hurt.”
Hideki smiled, he was finally becoming powerful enough to fight. “Let’s try again, then.”
Ayame was still stood in front of him but Saboten had found enough energy to stand, holding tightly onto her shoulder with his right hand. It was Ayame who was fighting now. “What’s the Jigoku Crown?”
“A- Ayame, get behind me.”
“That eye he can’t open? It’s special. It’s a legendary weapon heard only in Shinigami lore. A set of eyes are the powers of the Creator, Beelzebub, split into his children. His, my friend, is the most powerful. That’s why he named it the ‘crown’.”
“Who wears the crown?”
Saboten shot The Greed a puzzled look, “a king?”
“The King. Inside your head resides the king of the Kara Sekai and you definitely don’t deserve his presence.”
“Fuck you.” Saboten could hear The Greed gritting his teeth as another burst of adrenaline allowed him to almost sense where The Greed was. This short-lived ability came at a price, he now felt horribly drained. The worse he felt, the louder the voice in the back of his head seemed. It was laughing now, if the Shinigami was going to take over, it would attempt to soon.
His body was in much worse a condition than he remembered: skin cracked, stubs dripped blood, bones snapped as he moved. Still, for some reason, he was becoming more confident. Perhaps he had become docile, not powerful, ready to die. As he loosened his grip on Ayame’s shoulder, he told her “don’t worry, I have a plan.”
He slid himself in front of her, that was his plan. “Not really.”
Ayame planted a kiss, a token of her thanks, against his neck and then buried her face into his back. She was warm, comforting. Her presence allowed this feeling, deep in his chest, to free itself. A feeling able to overpower the pain and the agony, he could almost stand straight. It was enough for him to laugh, enough to force Ayame to laugh too. Even The Greed joined in.
“Is that how you want to go out then?” The Greed asked, wrapping his katana chains around his arms. “Is this already over?”
“Saboten, I want you to move.”
“Jackpot,” The Greed half-heartedly called, shooting out his blades like throwing knives or bullets at lightening speed. Saboten pushed his friend backwards, he had lied to her. If he pushed hard enough, he could catch the blades in his chest. There was no way they could touch Ayame, that was enough.
The gold of the hilt would’ve reflected the blood on his face if it was light enough to see. His lungs and heart were ribbon and his chest was stained with the warm, red water.
“I thought it might be.”
“It’s up to her now, I suppose.”
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