The green-haired boy awoke from feverish dreams to an unfamiliar room and an empty bed. He was happy for a moment, awaiting the fox-call screech of his alarm clock to send him off to school. The walls surrounding him, however, displayed not exposed brickwork but a gaudy pink splash.
A sinking feeling filled him, he was still in the love hotel despite the post-sleep hallucination he felt. The Shinigami were real, as were Rho and Ayame, sitting across the room chatting to Hideki. Rho was the first to notice his awakening, greeting the boy with a smile; “morning sleepy!”
“Did you sleep okay?” asked Ayame, her words were coated in a strange chipper smile which made the whole world surreal to him.
“It was okay,” he told her, jumping his stare between the two girls. “You’re in a good mood, I guess you slept well?”
“I did… Thank you for keeping me close, it really helped a lot after yesterday.”
“I— it wasn’t a problem.” It was embarrassing, however, especially in front of Hideki. “I’m glad you’re feeling okay.”
“Come on, you need to get up!” said Rho.
“Yeah, you’ve been in bed all day,” added Hideki. “It’s already 12, we should get going before it starts to get dark.”
“You should’ve woken me up.”
“You looked so cute,” he teased, “plus, we figured you wouldn’t mind getting some sleep.”
Saboten slipped himself out of the heavy blankets, spotting the rabbit-feet that had replaced his own in the night. Ayame and Rho sniggered to themselves as he removed them, but he was surprised that the unfamiliar warmth hadn’t woken him earlier. “Have you figured out where we’re going from here?” he asked, sniffing his own underarms; he didn’t smell, yet. “Are we going to go to your shop today?”
His attention was turned to Hiro, “we’re going to head there and find something we can eat…”
“‘Cause I’m fuckin’ starving,” added Shinji as he cracked his knuckles, neck, back, shoulders, and anything else that might snap through the air. His stomach was growling something fierce as he spoke, clearly half-tempted to chow down on one of the Shinigami’s legs.
“…then we’ll decide whether or not we want to move on with Hideki’s nephew.”
“I guess this is the last time we’ll be sleeping comfortable for a while,” said a somewhat disappointed Ayame, directed in particular towards Saboten who shared her sense of unease.
“Should we get going,” he attempted to shrug off the realisation in favour of progress, but he could only lie to himself for so long. “I don’t want to think about this anymore.”
“It’s only gonna get worse, y’know?” Shinji said, “there’s gonna be a whole Shinigami Apocalypse before we’re done.”
“You almost sound happy, Shinji.”
“I’m not unhappy.”
Saboten’s attention returned to Rho, her fingers were pressed tight against her temples, making small circular motions. Soon, she piped up, “could I make a suggestion?”
“I think we need to go to the roof.”
“What is it? What’s up there?”
“It’s The World, isn’t it?” asked Saboten, his mind set on figuring out the questions he wanted The World to answer.
“My head hurts,” she said, “but I think I can feel two people up there. It’s like Adramelech is telling me that I should get closer, that will stop the hurting.”
“Fucking hell, why don’t we just find out ourselves?” argued Shinji, “we’re basically on the top floor, why don’t we cut a hole in the roof and climb through?”
“That’s absurd!” Hideki’s words followed Shinji out of the room and into the hallway where he tossed both of his weapons into the ceiling blade first and, with the grace of a Swan Lake ballerina, he followed them. In a sleek rotation, Shinji wrapped both his hands around the handles and tore a perfect circle in the roof.
“I thought he’d be too short, that’s all…”
Utilising Hiro’s unique size, it was all but too easy for Team Karasu to follow through on Rho’s detection. The outside world felt long forgotten when Saboten felt the refreshing breeze of the midwinter air. It was as though some God, opposing the Shinigami below, had painted the sunlit sky a wonderful shade to motivate mankind toward survival, although the sounds from the street below did not agree.
An inevitable problem arose when it came to Hiro’s power: while he could pass each member of Team Karasu through the hole and onto the roof but, even if he could fit through the hole, he couldn’t pass himself up.
This ‘unfortunate’ circumstance gave Hideki the perfect chance to test out his own new power. After ordering his friends back to a safe distance, Hideki used those enormous, bladed fingers to score a larger hole around the current damage.
Honed was an absolute understatement, his new set of fingers could slice flesh thin like graphene. He lowered himself down, chest to the ground, and reached his new arm down to his friend.
“Could you be more careful with those things?”
“Oh come on, I could give you the closest shave you’ve ever had!” he said, moving each one of the blades towards Hiro’s chin. “Just grab on to the elbow-bit. It’s not sharp, I should be able to lift you up.”
“All right, I’ll trust you.”
“Gee, thanks. Just watch out for the pointy ends, you’ll do fine.” As Hiro managed to get both hands around the prong, Hideki realised he didn’t have a single nerve ending running through the Iwa and wouldn’t know whether or not his arm was about to split into two pieces. “Are you ready?”
“Ready, if unwilling.”
With a flick of his shoulder, Hiro was up and on top of the roof with the rest of his friends to their own amazement, even Shinji’s mouth fell open at the display of sheer strength. The rumble of his landing sent shockwaves towards three Hakujou who took notice of their arrival.
“C’mon Hideki, be a little more careful,” Saboten muttered as he summoned his katana to his side.
“Yeah, you can’t just overexert yourself like that,” Ayame told him. “You’ve got to keep it in check.”
“There’s a lot of responsibility when it comes to power of such magnitude.”
“Well said, Rho.”
“I feel like I’ve heard something like that before,” Saboten said as he took his usual stance: a crack of the neck as he began to ‘charge’ his ‘Lunar Shot’.
“I’ll be fine, I’m strong now!” called the boastful Toramaru, cracking his neck in-time with Saboten. Using Saboten as an example, Hideki took his own stance: pointing his weaponised arm out like some kind of bazooka cannon. “Just you watch!”
“What are you going—“
Hideki cut Saboten’s sentence short as two small plates of Iwa burst away from his arm, allowing it shoot into the distance like a grappling hook. Blades first, the arm tore through the centre of the Hakujou, spewing intestinal fluid across the streets below.
Once the job was complete and the Hakujou had fallen, his arm began to retract. It was a slow process which made his flesh fall into itself like chewed bubblegum, perhaps this was his downside.
“Idiot!” Shinji cried as he removed both swords from their sheaths, running towards the two remaining Hakujou; one lacked its head, the other was missing a leg. He was able to slice them into pieces within seconds then, as their parts piled up, he returned to scold Hideki like a child.
It took a while but soon his arm returned to its armoured form, growing back the two pieces of Iwa which had earlier flown off. “It’s that kind of weakness that will get you killed, Hideki.”
“I didn’t even know that’s what would happen,” he said, “I was just showboating.”
“But still,” a loud, female voice joined the group’s discussion from behind. It held a terrifying power behind it on par or above The Greed, a dominance came with every chilling word. “This is the first time you’ve developed any physical signs of Shinigami possession, I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
The crack of electricity filled the air and, from behind Ayame, the group caught eyes with a young woman. Cloaked in a thick, brown poncho which cut off into a skirt, her presence could not be ignored. In the slight breeze of the dawning afternoon, her dreadlocked hair nudged to the right.
Her pupils held a perfect triangular shape encased in amber irises, and they were locked onto Hideki’s arm as though she wished to claim it as a trophy. She stood only a few feet from the group, confident, and snapped her fingers. “You’re not exactly as observant as we’d have liked…”
This stranger was mocking them but she wasn’t wrong; he came to Ayame’s attention at first but, standing on their other side was a man dressed in a similar cloak. He held an enormous stature, almost rivalling Hiro in height and muscle mass, but appeared to be blind to the world.
Two crimson cavities sat where his eyes should have, outlined in a tender, rectangular sore where a bandage had once been overtightened. “Who are you?” asked Ayame, taking a stand against the ‘intruders’. “Project Sin?”
“Yes, not that it’s any of your business to know.” This woman spat as she spoke, particularly in Ayame’s direction, but it sizzled as it hit the ground, it appeared the enemy could control electricity. “I am The Pride, formerly Chief of Medicine in the facility. I got to watch you grow, isn’t that sweet?”
She pressed her hands together as though cooing over a newborn, only to tear the two apart creating a magnificent spark between them.
“I have to say, I’m looking forward to seeing the green one,” she said, “you weren’t in my ward, you got special treatment because of your eye.”
A growling could be heard like the gurgle of a storm drain, it appeared The Pride’s partner could not contribute to true human conversation.
“Oh,” she said, “that’s The Wrath, formerly second in command when it came to combat training. One of the inferior projects stole his vision, not that you should care.”
The Wrath growled one more time.
“And what?” said Shinji, “Are you here to destroy us? What is this, a fucking kid’s show?”
“You’ll watch your tongue while it’s in my reach, Shit-For-Brains,” said The Pride as her fingers spread out in front of her, declaring she would take first blood. The glove atop her hand burst forth, hurling itself toward Shinji like a comet wrapped in a golden burst of electricity.
As Shinji attempted to defend himself, he swung his white-blade and severed the glove into two pieces. He yelped, dropping his weapon in agony as the electricity burst through his veins and into the ground below.
“Fuck. Well, what are we going to do now?”
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