“So, tell us Saboten. What happened?” Hideki asked the obvious question, “we’ve been waiting.”
“It’s a long story, believe me,” he began to tell everybody all about his conversation with Belphegor, almost proving Shinji’s earlier tale to be the truth. “It unlocked my mind and transformed my body, maybe the same could happen to everybody.”
“Interesting,” Hiro replied, fixated on Saboten’s eye. It was, obviously, a curious sight. “I’ve seen Shinigami with triangular pupils but I’ve not yet seen additional patterns or lines like this.”
“Please don’t stare at me…” Saboten told him, his nerves had returned with all their socially awkward force. Since his memories came back, his personality had reformed too. He was no longer the fearless warrior Team Karasu saw him as.
“Y’know,” Shinji remarked with a smirk, “with that fang you look kinda like a…”
The white-haired man held in a small laugh as Saboten brushed him off, patting himself down and rummaging through bottomless pockets to find nothing at all. “Did you lose something, Saboten?” Ayame asked, twisting her body around the battleground, completely carefree now that The Greed had been defeated. Around her, she sought for dropped items that Saboten may have lost in the fight.
“Anyway,” he responded, ignoring Ayame’s helpful hunt and pulling, from one pocket, an unused media player complete with headphones. “It’s not like I mind the fang much, it’s my eye that feels odd.”
“It looks odd.”
“What’s more important is your health. Are you alright, Saboten?” Hideki asked, “you look a little pale.”
“Hm? I’m fine, as far as I’m aware. More importantly, do you have any smokes?”
“Smokes?” Hideki muttered, confused, turning his big head slowly towards Ayame as if to say ‘who is this? This isn’t Saboten…’.
“It’s an old habit he picked up near the start of high school, like a lot of people our age.” She sighed, frowning heavily at her friend. “I thought I told you to quit!”
“I did quit!” he told her, “but, in my defence, I was just almost killed.” He was almost killed, that realisation had yet to hit him. Worse off, Saboten had murdered The Greed. Despite what he wanted, The Greed was still a human being and now, he was dead.
“Hey,” Hiro broke Saboten’s silence, staring at the solemn look upon his face. “Don’t think about it like that, Saboten. We’re the heroes in this situation, we’re out to get rid of these people, for the rest of humanity, right?”
“That was your goal.”
“Yes, well,” Hideki took over, “it’s our goal now.” Shinji prodded the boy, his right hand dipped into his jean pocket, from which he pulled a small, white cardboard container: ‘CLASS CIGARETTES’ was printed on it in thick, black text. A single cigarette remained. Still, Shinji offered it to Saboten who thanked him hastily before picking it up and planting it in his mouth. Following from the same pocket, he pulled a small flip-lid lighter and examined it lovingly. After this, he brought the flame to Saboten’s face and lit his first cigarette in what felt like years.
With his first drag, an unadulterated pleasure rolled through his body. “You’d better make that last,” said Shinji, “it’s the last for a while.”
“Nice moment you guys are having,” Hideki snickered.
“Fuck you,” he snapped, “this lighter is special, like I’m going to let him touch it.”
Silence fell for a while as Team Karasu unwillingly watched Saboten slowly suck down the cigarette smoke. Hiro, for the entire process, had this look on his face like he wanted to speak out and censor the high school student’s illegal habit but, before he could reach and pull the cigarette from Saboten’s lips, the boy removed it himself to speak. “Hideki,” he flicked the lip-end of the cigarette with his thumb, disrupting the record breaking collection of ash into the caring embrace of the wind. “I’ve got a question.”
They were all patiently waiting for him to finish, he could see that but the fright of battle deserved a short breather. Despite this, they were prey in the open. The creatures seeking them were beasts in human skin, they were ruthless, violent and devastatingly powerful. “What is it?”
“What happened to your accent?”
“When we met, you had this really thick, annoying accent where you randomly dropped letters.”
He stammered for a second, “y- you see…”
“This isn’t important,” Hiro told them, turning his enormous head towards Saboten with searchlight eyes. “I need you to explain this ‘contract’ you made.”
He took another drag, rolling it from one corner of his lips to the other. With the three seconds of smoke in his lungs, he sent a flock of silver smoke rings across the eastward breeze. “When I talked to Belphegor, he offered me his strength and abilities for the chance to return home.”
“So, he’s going to lead you to the Kara Sekai?” said Hiro. “What then?”
“Yeah,” added Ayame, “isn’t he trapped inside your head?”
“I think he’s got a plan though, he says he’s the ruler of the Kara Sekai.”
“Impressive. I bet they all say that.”
“I can still hear him laughing in the back of my head. He’s proud that he’s been able to manipulate me but I won’t let him win.” He stopped, a dramatic pause to finish the last inch of his cigarette. “Do you want to know the worst part?”
Clueless, Ayame looked at him with a funny expression. “Weird? How?”
“He’s dressed in the strangest clothes, he’s not used to his mouth and he’s… I don’t know, playful? It’s horrible.”
“Exactly.” Saboten had noticed Shinji, standing beside Hiro almost out of the way. Unlike him or, at least, what Saboten knew of him. The white-haired man was deep in thought, “Shinji?”
“This means my experience with Valafar wasn’t a hallucination. Do we all have Shinigami?”
“I think we do. It seems some are still not yet completely active like Hideki’s and my own,” Hiro noted, “while others are entirely dormant.”
“Sooner or later, they’ll wake up. That much I know,” Shinji told them, “Ayame, have you heard from yours?”
“All I’ve had is this pain in my arm since I woke up, no speaking though.”
“I’ve not heard anything either.” Hiro said, “at any rate, if Project Sin are still out looking for us, we need to learn how to use these powers.”
“Belphegor told me I’d immediately know how to use his powers, maybe everybody is the same.”
Outraged, the swordsman in white stood and yelled, “powers? We’re not fuckin’ superheroes.”
“What would you rather us call them, Shinji?” Hiro raised his hand at the end of Saboten’s sentence. Awkward and childish, the giant looked more ‘school child’ than brute. “Y- you don’t have to raise your hand, Hiro.”
“From what I read, I can tell you all two things. Chances are that not all of the Shinigami Lords are powerful enough to survive this transition. Some will break down, disappear somewhere in the recesses of your mind and leave behind a small amount of residual power. And the,” he paused as though he felt the following word would break his mature character, “powers, as you call them, are actually named ‘Turns’ by the Shinigami themselves.”
“Okay, for Shinji, let me rephrase that. If Project Sin are looking for us, we need to learn how to use these Turns efficiently because they already have.”
“Saboten and I are the only ones who can control it, so you all need to start trying to contact your Shinigami, got it?”
“I can control it.” Hiro announced with the same subtlety as always, when the group turned to him, he repeated himself. “I can control it.”
He held both hands in front of Shinji, an inch away from his face. Calmly, he shut his eyes, “just watch.” He waited for a seconds before his eyes shot open and a pained gaze broke his glass eyed and patient stare. Tears revealed themselves between the creases of Hiro’s palms and from those streamed a thin, grey fluid which wrapped its way around his hands. When it finally settled, the fluid hardened and developed a rugged, rock texture. “So far, this is all I can manage. This is Iwa, a part of the possession process. It’s an ability unique to Shinigami Lords and acts as a defence mechanism for most, the more skilled manage to use it offensively.”
“We need to head somewhere for the night,” Hideki said.
“Yeah, Shinigami might be more active at night, like zombies.” Ayame told them with the utmost fear.
“You watch too many movies.”
“I was thinking the same,” Saboten said.
“Well, I mentioned this before but I know a place. There’s a hotel not too far from here, it’ll be our stopover before Hideki’s store,” Shinji told them.
“I really don’t like this idea.”
“Hideki, we don’t really have a choice.”
“All right, that’s decided. Follow me and I’ll lead us there. I know the place fairly well, it’s not exactly a known place.”
“It sounds seedy.”
“It’ll give you that impression,” his words left a daunting effect on the group. They stood still, even as he left, staring into each others eyes in hopes one of their own would stop this madness. They trundled onward, following the distant shadow of Shinji Yamaguchi and leaving the mutilated corpse of The Greed far, far behind them.
They waited in the shadows for the young group to leave the vicinity before revealing their presence to The Greed, but he knew they would be waiting for him. The two of them, wrapped in pale brown cloaks laid their shrouded eyes upon the mangled body of their weaker cohort. The figures: a man and a woman, stood staring at The Greed’s carcass passing a silent judgement. Pathetic. Not worth the time and effort it would take to clear him from the road.
The woman, who stood at least a head shorter than her male counterpart, picked up The Greed’s mangled upper-half with one hand clasped around a crushed throat. He was still breathing, barely. Her cloak lifted with her reach as she held him in view of his own pieces. “You are not worth my spit, Kairiz.”
“Pl- please… have mer…”
“Die.” She cursed as electricity coiled around her arm and began to shoot through The Greed’s torso, surrounding him until the swirling sparks turned him into nothing but dust. The dust fell upon the remaining half of her powerless subordinate. He was unlike them, The Greed was not worth his title.
“Now, now Pride. You didn’t have to do that, did you? He was going to die anyway, you’ve just ruined all the fun.” He watched her with a sick smile as she dipped blood soaked fingers in the dry, sandy dust. With his charisma, he could charm any woman he wished but not her, “oh dear, didn’t Prince Moon ask you to bring him home, alive? How are we supposed to complete this mission now?”
“Shut up, I only take orders from our king. Not some lucky-ass prince.” She spat, standing with an exaggerated lean, “I know where they are heading, let’s go.”
“I’m not your partner, dear, Wrath is. I’m heading back but good luck with disobeying your boss, kid.”
“I never wanted Wrath to partner with me, we don’t mesh.”
“You never really had a choice, did you? I know I didn’t.”
She grunted, his cockiness annoyed him like nothing else he did. He was in charge of their unit, one of two. “You wanted that eye, asshole.”
“I know, I know,” he smiled, “Sloth didn’t.”
“Do you have to bring her into everything?”
“Do we have to squabble? Follow them if you must, I’ll tell Prince Moon to send Wrath. Try not to die, okay?”
“Whatever. Go play dress up.”