In the dead of night, an hour and a half after the death of his last cigarette, Saboten was testy. Time felt like it was against him, moving slower the faster he walked. It was tense, he could smell the danger brewing from behind them and the light show he caught earlier had begun to worry him further. Nothing had come of, several yellow flashes and that was it, but there was something about it. He hadn’t damaged anything electrical, perhaps The Greed wasn’t dead yet.
Shinji, the impromptu leader, had begun his approach to the hotel. It was derelict and old-looking, you could already smell the spoilt wood, stained mattresses and moulding corners. The pessimism was requited as the hell-hole was not just any hotel, but a love hotel. Atop the 30 storey building, a flashing pink neon heart held cursive English letters which read: ‘RABU! RABU! HOTEL!’.
Saboten sighed as soon as the blatant sign came into focus, “really?” he rolled his eyes, “a love hotel?” Only amplified by an annoyed Hideki, his sarcasm was ignored by all. Hiro, who looked increasingly worried, was Saboten’s first victim, “look familiar to you, Hiro?”
“N- no! Of course not. An officer of the law would never approach such a place!” was shouted in the most alarmed tone Saboten had ever heard from the colossus.
“Officer?” the two-toned uniform Hiro wore proudly looked somewhat familiar, he supposed.
“Before all this happened, I was a blissfully unaware security guard for Scarecrow.” Saboten wasn’t listening, not properly anyway. His daze, in which he imagined himself home, was broken by a sharp tugging on his right arm. Ayame, with her owl wide eyes, looked up and pursed lips became a subtle smile.
“Saboten? What’s a love hotel?”
“It’s where you go to ha-“ Shinji began to knock down the tower of innocence that was Ayame Suzuki with wicked words and would’ve been successful if the defensive Saboten had not released a fierce “no” from chapped lips.
“It’s a hotel for couples.”
“Oh! I see, so you’re quite the ladies man, Shinji?” she mocked him with a cheeky smile. For all Shinji knew, Ayame was playing dumb but Saboten knew the truth. From what he now remembered, he knew that Hirohiko and Hiromu Suzuki sheltered their child from any of Japan’s seedier truths. Hell, she had been single her entire life too.
“Are we gonna go in then?” Hideki asked, he was blatantly unhappy about the accommodation situation but they didn’t have a choice. This was the highest building in the area, the top floor would be safer than anything.
“Yeah, this’ll be our home for the night. Keep an eye out, the rooms themselves are automatically locked but the hallways might be crawling with the Shinigami.”
“If the rooms lock, do you think they will be other people?”
“If they were smart, yes.” Hideki answered, “the top floor should be fine; in the rush, the others might’ve taken up the first rooms they saw.”
“Well, look at the thirteenth floor.” After Shinji pointed it out, Saboten left only his left eye open. The Jigoku Crown could see further than the average human if needed. With it, Saboten could see in detail exactly what worried Shinji. Blood, pasted across the window in thick brush strokes. The characters meant nothing to them but it certainly meant an enemy had occupied the building.
“It looks like we’re in for a treat!” a grim smile rolled its way onto Shinji’s face in the way storm clouds ruin bright days. Thunder and lightning took the form of saliva as the swordsman drooled with excitement. He was the kind of man who craved battle like expensive food. It satisfied all of the needs, all of the rights, that he required quenching to survive. Saboten could see it in his eyes, he was going to be trouble. With a lick of his lips, he brought the group forwards despite Saboten’s hesitant thoughts.
The group paused in the lobby, distracted by incredible lights and reflective panels which spanned the entirety of the room. Everything, even picture frames, which held the regular bland hotel art, had been built out of chrome. Futuristic at the least creative level. In the centre of the room sat a small robot or sorts: a large touch screen, coin slot and change drawer. Nothing else, basic. However, lagging behind in the world’s technological improvements, Hideki asked “what’s that then?”
“Trying to cement your innocence?” Shinji mocked, “I’m sure I saw you in here.”
“I’m happily married.”
“I was married once.”
“I’m sure I don’t have to ask to know how that turned out.”
Shinji’s grin dropped for a second, “it’s how you book a room. This place is fuckin’ swanky, isn’t it?”
Shinji felt he was a lot more resourceful than the others gave him credit for, after all, he was the only one scanning the room. In his eyes anything could be a message from possible survivors, somebody smeared that blood and it wasn’t the work of Shinigami. Searching the walls was like staring directly into the sun but eventually something popped. A small cross, faint, carved into the wall by a sword or a knife.
It was his plan to keep quiet but he noticed Saboten’s gaze. Without making a scene, Shinji gestured with his eyes, darting from Saboten to the cross and back in an effort to subtly point it out. Somebody was there, and they wanted others to know.
“Can we use this to find out who is here?” Ayame asked Shinji but instead, the machine answered.
“UNFORTUNATELY. OUR SYSTEM ONLY ALLOWS A USER TO VIEW WHETHER OR NOT A ROOM IS IN USE. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO VIEW THE OCCUPANT’S DETAILS. THANK YOU FOR USING OUR SERVICE.”
“‘SleazyOS’, for all your perverted needs.” He announced, pressing the large, heart shaped button at the bottom of the screen. As he did so, it recognised his thumb print, displaying his name on the bright screen for all to see. “You have to be a member… You’ll thank me later.” With a blip, the screen became filled with small blue boxes, each with a room number. Only one room was booked but surely that meant nothing. Why spend ¥12000 on a room you could steal?
“Should we pick one then?”
“Nah, no need. We are off to this one though,” he pointed at the largest square towering above all the others with a shiny gold price tag. The Honeybee suite, top floor, biggest room. Shinji had only ever had the funds to afford this room once in his life but man, was it worth it. Two beds, free food and drink and extra privacy. “We’ll take the elevator.”
“Keep your eyes peeled, everyone.” Hideki told them, raising pathetic fists in defence. Saboten, however, revealed his weapon once more. It appeared from thin air, wrapped in that strange, coal-black life form which crawled away and shed itself as he raised the sword in style.
“It’s shorter than I remember,” he remarked.
“Woah, Saboten, what are you doing? If you keep that out, civilians will be frightened. They might not trust us.”
“Hideki, you are our leader and I get what you’re trying to say. But you’re weaponless and if you die, we’re fucked, okay?” His message wasn’t taken lightly and the orange-clad warrior stepped backwards with Ayame. At least he could protect her, if worse came to worse. “Ready Shinji? Hiro?” They all nodded, Saboten smiled. Shinji hadn’t considered Saboten as the kind of person to enjoy violence. It was the Shinigami, of course, Belphegor’s maniacal influence on the boy. He could be reckless and Shinji wasn’t quite up to protecting him. He drew both swords and Hiro’s Iwa covered his hands.
“Let’s get going.” Saboten’s hand reached over to the ‘DOWN’ button on the elevator, not a single shake or shiver. He was ready. Shinji was not; he called the boy to stop for a moment. There was something they might need.
With the white blade, Hairu, he slashed the more than helpful robot in two, releasing a beautiful flurry of yen notes into the room, painting the silver with purple, brown and blue. “Collect only the larger notes, we might need them if civilisation hasn’t collapsed already.”
Hideki was visibly angry, fuming even, as Shinji began filling his pockets with cash. “I’m not taking any,” he said.
“I don’t care.” He was too stubborn for Shinji, the Shinigami might be running rampant in the area but money will always drive certain people. He was certain most areas wold remain unaffected by attacks and, in preparation, some cash would be required. After a short ponder, Saboten and Ayame joined in.
Saboten believed Shinji was in the right this time, they would need the money. He took it upon himself to pocket twice as much for Hideki, just in case.
“Press the button,” Shinji ordered. As the two of them finished collecting what they might need, Saboten and Ayame wandered closer to the shining silver doors of the elevator. It was humming, no, crying. It was quickly falling to the ground from the 20th floor, the shaft shook with the speed until it hit the ground without a sound. The doors did not open.
“Is it broken?” Ayame asked, reaching over to press the button again. Hideki shook his head, “What?” she whispered.
“Can’t you hear it?” The man pulled her back. From behind the two steel doors, a faint gurgling could be heard. The sound of starving; drool started to pool out form beneath the automatic doors. Saboten stepped up to the challenge.
“I’ll take this one,” he told them as he aimed his blade towards the door. The circle around his new pupil began to spin yet again, he could feel it burning, and as it span the room became enveloped in a malevolent aura, “this won’t take a second.”
“Don’t.” Shinji ordered, touching his arm with the blunt edge of his black katana, “we can’t use the elevator if you blow it up with that attack and I’m sure as hell not climbing all of those stairs. Just let me solve it, okay?”
“Fine.” Saboten backed off, watching Shinji take his place as the vile flesh took ahold of his weapon once again. Shinji, for once, seemed collected. He studied the door, hunting for weak spots. When he came to a conclusion, he pressed the tip of his white katana against the parting of the doors and quickly stabbed through. A tortured yelp came from the elevator shaft, but it wasn’t a cry of death. The monster inside was very much alive and now, it was angry.
With all its strength, the creature tossed itself at the doors, hoping to break them down with sheer force. After three blasts it tore the metal straight from the wall and trampled into the open. The creature was blinded by the brightness, slapping shut three eyes placed uncomfortably around a snout. It was definitely a Shinigami. Barely smaller than the elevator itself, the creature stood on three legs with shuddering, stitched skin. An animalistic stance which matched the foul stench of its breath and displayed claws capable of carving them each in half.
An angered expression seemed to pull itself across Shinji’s face as he gripped both swords by their additional handles. “Let’s dance!” he yelled, stretching his body into a fighting stance. In a swift movement, Shinji started to attack the beast, moving faster than the group could follow. That is, except for Saboten who, with his left eye, could track Shinji’s movements almost perfectly. A mental note was made.
Before the group realised what had happened, the battle came to a close. The blood flew from polished steel in the form of confetti. Shinji had removed all three legs from the Shinigami’s nugget-shaped body.
“Shinji, don’t play around. Just kill it.” Saboten yelled at him, he was in a bad mood. Shinji did what he did best and ignored those around him, instead choosing to stand in front of the beast. He carved into it’s face, removing eye after eye as it squealed, begging for the coup de grace. Unfortunately for the warrior, the creature’s fight had already waned, the blood loss had gotten to it first.
“Are you finished?”
“Quite.” He joined the group and they finally took that step into the elevator, still dripping monster blood. The group was ready to proceed, mostly.
“I can’t fit,” Hiro mumbled.
“Then, I guess you’re taking the fucking stairs.”
“Which means you’re taking the fucking stairs too, Shinji.” Hideki stood with his finger pointing out of the crowded elevator, “you’re the fastest of us all. Clear a path and take the stairs with Hiro.”
“Y- You bastard,” he cursed and mumbled beneath his breath, stuffing his swords back into their sheaths and his hands into his pockets. “Fuckin’… Hurry up, asshole.”
“Thirty floors up,” Hideki told Hiro, “we’ll meet you thirty floors up.” He nodded in return, polite as always. Silently, he joined the curse-ridden swordsman.
He could feel the tension in the air but Hideki wasn’t finished having fun just yet. As the doors began to shut, he stuck his head between them and called out; “have fun!”
He heard Shinji yell something back - something along the lines of “fuck you, you fucking asshole” - but he took no notice. His hand slammed into the highest button on the command pad. On a screen of many duplicates, this icon shone with individuality: heart shaped and lettered, rather than numbered. It was floor ‘H’, the ‘Honeybee’ suite’.
“Was that really necessary, Toramaru?” asked Ayame. Hideki knew that tone; she was trying to hide it but the true translation of her comment was “don’t be such a dick”.
“Call me Hideki.”
The elevator stuttered for a moment, worried Hiro might turn back around and attempt a forced entire. The reflective inner walls of the elevator made the perfect mirror for Ayame Suzuki. She stood behind Saboten, who watched her play with her hair. Silky, like she had the chance to wash it to perfection right before they met. Like water, it flowed down her body and remained unusually malleable. He watched her notice her split ends, the invisible impurities of the gold-laden river.
She lassoed a collection of the fraying silk and caught sight of something unusual. Saboten knew because her expression jumped, she had been frightened briefly. “What’s wrong?” Pressing the palm of her hand against the tips, she recoiled and squeaked.
A small amount of blood rose in the form of tiny dots; “sorry, never mind.” She announced without question, wiping the blood on her shorts.
“Did you do that with your hair?”
“O- Of course not! Why would you think that, Saboten? That’s crazy.”
“I just saw you do it!”
In the midst of their argument, the elevator stopped abruptly. The bewildered Ayame stood against the wall, “what happened?”
“The lights are still on,” Saboten mused.
“I hadn’t noticed,” the tallest of the three mocked him, following his joke with a hearty laugh. “The cable might just need loosening or something but it looks like we’re stuck here. Floor 20, do you want to just start walking from here?”
“We don’t really have much of a choice, do we?”
“Right, hold on a second.” Saboten was still on point, another dangerous plan made itself known to him. From the darkness within, Saboten summoned his katana. It had grown significantly in size but remained weightless. The hilt he kept close to his face at all times in that familiar pose, the only stance he knew. The point of the weapon teetered between the lip of the doors, ready to catch the enemy off guard.
A subtle nod was sent to Hideki, and the [OPEN DOOR] button was hit.
Saboten lowered his blade. There was a Hakujou, it had been skulking around but something got to it first. The corpse laid mutilated and shred, torn in a pool of its own stagnant blood. The sight was such a mess that it was almost impossible to distinguish features.
The flesh had been carved by a curved object unlike any of the wounds Saboten had seen before. The frequency and placement of the cuts, the splashes of blood on the wall, the footprints. A long struggle took place here where both parties took significant damage. A handprint, crisping from the wall, led to one of the six hotel rooms. The door was cracked open somewhat.
Saboten inched forwards, his blade raised. “Ready?” he whispered. Hideki nodded, Ayame waited behind him. The boy inspected the wooden frame; it was broken. At one point or another, the door had been violently kicked down and this, in front of him, was a poor attempt to fix the problem. A human remedy, it could be more dangerous than anything.
I think you might want to be careful.
“What’s in there?”
I’m not too sure, can’t you feel it too?
Belphegor wasn’t kidding, there was a slight twitching in the back of his head like anxiety times two thousand. Once more, the boy readied himself for battle and nodded towards his team. He charged ahead, sword straight and ready to cleave.
“Whoa! Hold up, don’t hit me!” called a young, wavering voice from across the room. It caught Saboten off guard, it was the first pleasant-sounding voice he had heard in a while. The boy stopped in his tracks, an unfortunate reaction which put him on the wrong side of a scythe blade, “what are you doing?” asked the voice.
An intricate white scythe put pressure against the tip of his nose and, worsening this embarrassing situation, the wielder sniggered at him. It was a young girl: moonlight pale with silver patterned eyes swimming in red sclera and platinum hair, adorned in a petticoat dress fitted with more bows, zips, and ribbons than practical. A pair of platform boots brought her height just under Saboten’s most pointed hair spike, where two ribbons pulled her hair into bunches beneath a miniature cloth crown.
The left hand which grasped the scythe closest to Saboten wore a simple ring with the letters ‘R’, ‘H’, and ’O’ printed into the polished steel.
“What’s up?” Saboten asked, feeling pretty okay about the situation he had encountered. After all, she didn’t seem like a real threat, it seemed like she was just as confused as him. It was more important that he brought Hideki into the room as quick as he could to see this tiny, Victorian Shinji which he had stumbled upon. “My name is Saboten,” he lowered his weapon, “what’s your name?”
In response, she wobbled to the left barely able to hold her own weight against the scythe in her hands. She was tired, probably because she had to fight through those Hakujou to get this far. As she moved her lips to answer, the scythe dropped to the floor with a clunk where she soon followed. A burst of adrenaline meant Saboten could catch her in his arms, “welt…”
It was no contest between Shinji and Hiro on who was quicker as the former had already reached the twentieth floor while the latter was nowhere to be seen. As he turned the corner, galloping into the room in an impressive rush, Shinji caught eyes with Hideki. “Hey!” he called back into the stairway, “I found some of the others, you’d better hurry the fuck up, yeah?”
The ‘others’ included Ayame and Hideki, both stood in a precarious manner with their ears against the thin plaster of a hotel room wall. “What the hell are you two doing?”
“Shh! It sounds like Saboten’s about to kick some guy’s butt, and we’re standing out here because you told us too.”
“Oh, good job, I guess.” Shinji placed his hand upon Ayame’s head as though she were his puppy, he was never good at positive reinforcement. “Is he all right in there?”
“I think he might be dead, actually.”
An elbow found its way into Hideki’s chest, “don’t you say things like that!” Ayame yelled, covering her mouth to stop any further announcement of their presence. As another elbow connected, Hiro stomped up the final hurdle of steps, lacking his usual ‘collected’ persona.
He gasped something offensive, but nobody caught enough of it.
“Don’t worry, I’m not dead,” called back the muffled voice of Saboten. As he announced his big reveal, several questions were raised between the four of them. In one hand, this green haired, awkward looking teenager held a snow-white scythe taller than himself. In his mouth, he now carried a tiny cloth crown and, on his back, he had acquired a complete stranger.
“Oh, just some kid that I almost killed, she’s responsible for all of this mess. We started talking, she collapsed, so I’m bringing her with me. Cool?”
“Fine by me,” Shinji said, “if you’re going to carry that kid up the next ten floors, be my guest. It looks like she killed each and every damn Shinigami in here, what is there to worry about?”
“We’ve just passed the… mess she’s made,” said Hiro, “each has the same kind of wound, it’s like she’s calculated their weak spots, don’t you think?”
“She’s definitely one of us,” Saboten rearranged his passenger with a jump, making sure the Sleeping Beauty was comfortable. “Hideki, take the scythe just in case we run into trouble. It’s your kind of weapon, right?”
“And could somebody please put this hat on my head? It’s getting damp, and it tastes like death.”