Hideki fled the opposite direction to Leyim, sticking to right-hand turns and ignoring the call of his unnaturally imbued instincts which tugged him towards the chatter of frantic Hunters. Several passages led directly to company barracks or to the Citadel Foyer but Hideki wasn’t looking for either of those. He wasn’t heading for an exit. Hunters were swarming around the concrete corridors as the surroundings morphed from stone to steel, he was falling deeper into the construct.
The siren grew far more harsh and angered as he made his way towards the source and further from the predetermined exit. He was now on the hunt for clues, his final chance to search for what meant most to him. Hideki would not face Saboten and Ayame until he knew where to find his son. The Hunters would surely have a clue, at the least. Capturing Kanzen was their primary objective, Sun Toramaru was probably imprisoned in The Citadel, somewhere.
In a slow, low pitched yawn the sirens fell to silence and armoured footsteps became shuffles. Hideki became suddenly aware that a battle was imminent. In front of him, a wooden door shook with a draught and Hunters hid behind it, ready to spring upon him. Hideki was prepared, the bladed fingers of his left arm started to stretch and expand, rivalling the length of Shinji’s personal swords. He stepped closer to the door and - with the slightest amount of pressure - slid a single finger through the soft wooden door: the close-combat equivalent of a warning shot.
“Now listen,” he said, “put your weapons down. I don’t want to fight, you don’t want to fight. It would be easi-“ A bullet came flying through the wood, embedding itself deep within Hideki’s collar. The pain was dull and the warmth of adrenaline spread quickly under the cover of mild panic, eradicating all notions of damage. The door came down quickly after that, as though it had been built from thread. The splinters became weapons to Hideki who tore through Hunter after Hunter, dismissing most with non-fatal blows.
It was a simple process to disconnect the bodies from their meaning, Hideki did his best to avoid this. They had attacked after a warning, they had walked directly into the line of fire and it wasn’t his fault if accidents happened. As an ex-soldier, he knew the protocol, you never back down from a fight. They didn’t deserve the death sentence but most fell one way or another. It was when cries of pain and screams of anger became the same that he knew he was becoming the enemy.
He had taken more damage than ever before as cautiousness came at a cost. Hideki was missing four of his five human fingers, teeth were shattered and veins had burst beneath the skin. A silver-tipped shotgun in the hands of a weeping soldier was the last weapon standing in the centre of the room, only feet away from the hulking mass of carnage. Surrounding the two of them were the bodies of his friends and his co-workers, cadets armed with axes and handguns.
The lone-survivor asked him, “why are you doing this?” with a broken voice. His wounds almost matched Hideki’s perfectly, a limp arm handing straight down. “Do you understand what you’re doing? You’re killing innocent people!”
“If you retreat now, you can save more lives with medical attention.”
“There are penalties we face if we back down! The cadets… We’re far more afraid of The Envy than we are of you.”
“I gave you a warning, go get help.”
“What have your warnings brought other than destruction?” Before Hideki could give a response, the Hunter fired his weapon. Buckshot flew at incredible speeds, diving through thick layers of skin, a concentrated attack on Hideki’s throat that almost tore his head from his body. The pain was intense, his vision had blackened but not before a retaliation. His fingers had connected, there was a scream before the dead silence hit his ears and the world around him faded.
An overwhelming sensation of peace soared over Hideki as he found himself in no danger. He could only imagine this was how Saboten had felt himself as he fell into the abyss of his own mind. He was close to death, if not already dead. The Shinigami Lord residing in his soul had finally stepped in and intervened. Mammon, supposed Lord of Possession, was currently keeping Hideki’s consciousness on life support and he wasn’t too friendly.
Hideki awoke, he knew where he was the minute the darkness faded. This was the so-called Utopia that Saboten had alluded, but to Hideki it looked far more familiar. Under a different name, this was his livelihood, his konbini. At the time he was alone, elbows pressed against the counter, patiently waiting for the next customer in dire need of something convenient. The items remained in the neat and tidy order Hideki was famous for - even the carrier bags held an image of pride. The burgundy couch was fluffed and pillowed, waiting for those who needed a bed for the night, mainly Hideo, bless his soul.
He wasn’t a religious man himself but even he could not dismiss this experience as simple hallucination. Hideki was experiencing some level of afterlife, he only hoped his nephew received similar treatment. Alas, the man would never understand, the image of his nephew’s tortured corpse remained etched into the back of his eyelids. It was a terrible fate, perhaps the kid was better off than himself.
The man was anxious but for what reason? Was he expecting a visit from Mammon, should he be laying out the nice cutlery? The two of them had conversed before but according to Mammon, their entwined existence was nothing more than a bother for the great Shinigami Lord of Possession. He was reluctant to bestow his gift of power upon the ex-soldier and even after the tremendous pain of the ordeal, certain information was entirely refused. Hideki was simply expected to lift his hands and hope it worked. Needless to say, Mammon was less than interested in their fusion.
Bells chimed a signature melody, welcoming the presence of a new customer. Of course, this was no ordinary stranger but Hideki could not resist the polite temptation calling out, “irasshaimase.” The demon was wrapped in a human garb consisting of a large, square hat and trench coat, all black concealing his every shape. He did not appear to have arms, rather empty sleeves that swung alongside his pacing. Between Hideki’s triad of aisles, the demon stopped to inspect specific wares: toy guns, phone cards, manga, motor oil and finally, cigarettes.
“Too much, plus half your life.” Hideki remarked, “I can recommend a quitting strategy if you want.”
Mammon kept his faceless gaze towards the cigarette display behind the counter as Hideki returned to is post, setting up in front of the stranger. Beneath the thin hat, a mask held itself in place. Plain, block coloured off-white. His speech was clear, however, as though it shot out from another, uncovered orifice.
“So,” the tricky conversation begins, “what happens now? Life after death, what do I have to do?”
“You have wasted your ability, centring your very survival on physical prowess.”
“I don’t understand, you’ve been cryptic since the first day. You gave me armour,” he argued, “you gave me a weapon.”
“Silence. I gave you the physical representation of my being. You - a weak, mindless, insignificant creature - saw only violence in its form.”
“Of course I did! I mean, for God’s sake, the fingers are little swords.”
Mammon was physically unimpressed and with such emotions came a change in scenery. Darkness began to creep in through the door, revealing the illusion’s true form. A cave began to swallow the two of them whole, the only light source being Mammon’s mask. When the transition had completed, he spoke again. “You have failed to understand, Hideki.”
The trench coat fell from the creature’s unshapely body, revealing not a human form but a complicated mass of tentacles and tendrils, all in that now-familiar off-white colour. As they writhed, coated in a thick gel, the arm Mammon had bestowed upon Hideki grew out from the centre of its body, attaching to the last remainder of Hideki’s store: the desk between the two of them. From there, fingers expand and move freely; not as blades but as individual snakes, slivering towards Hideki. “You will take note Hideki Toramaru, this is your final warning. I am the Lord of Possession, not the Lord of Blades and Failure.”
From the shadows beside the demons, a creature appeared to fade into existence. Holding a human figure, just barely, the mass of flesh had no facial features nor fingers or toes. A mannequin. It stood still, simply waiting for its objective to be complete. The fingers slid across the desk, jumping from the edge and implanting themselves into the chest of the blank slate. Working their way deeper, the snakes split into veiny protrusions, ten more individual worms stretched themselves up and through the pawn’s skin, wrapping around its head but it never once struggled.
“My power is not for battle. It is for control, it is for mastering others and bending their will to suit your own purposes. But you, you are a crude human. If you would rather carve through one hundred innocents rather than extract the information you desire, I understand that it is your nature. You cannot save yourself, let alone your son.”
Hideki lashed out, throwing his dominant fist into Mammon’s mask. Neither felt any pain in this world, no sound was released, nothing. “See?”
As one might expect, the Hunter did not take kindly to Leyim’s words. Her kunai were drawn, gripped between her index and middle fingers, Leyim could see the flight trajectory apparate before her eyes. Her movements were all telegraphed in the way she stood: left foot out in front, her shoulders tensed and ready to act.
“You open it.”
“What do you want to be in that room? I don’t get it, what possible motivation do you have to open those doors?” Leyim asked, “if you succeed in opening it, you’ll die. If you fail, you will die.” The enemy stood still for a minute or two, “if you can’t come up with a definitive reason, is it really worth it?”
The Hunter made up her mind soon after, lowering her guard. “The Envy often thinks out loud. Whatever is kept behind that door is part of his end-game, he needs it. In order to return The Citadel to normal, we need to destroy it.”
“If you can’t defeat The Envy, you won’t stand a chance against the monster behind that door. The Envy doesn’t even know the passcode, the creature is safe where it is, for now.”
“We can’t trust her! For all we know, she’s working with The Envy too.” The partner raged on, inching ever closer to the master keypad. His eyes darting between it and Leyim, “you’ve been running around with Kanzen, you’re just as much of a traitor to our cause as the rest of them.”
“Edgard, step back. Don’t touch it, we’re not ready.”
“Hey, don’t worry. I’ve got this, it’s a mechanical keypad. The most worn numbers will be the keys we need and after that, we just piece them together in a logical fashion. Passwords are never secure, not if they’re impended by human rules.”
“I don’t know who you are but you obviously do not understand what you’re talking about.” His fingers washed over the ten numerical keys, moistening them with sweat. She had to make a decision: intervene or allow him to make his own fatal mistake. Without second warning, the man began to tap at the keyboard. A flurry of three numbers before a short pause, he was unsure how to continue, a choice between two different keys.
“Now look…” Hiro began, interrupted by the Hunter almost immediately.
“Don’t speak to me, filth. You’re part of the problem. Elsa, between 2 and 6, which do you prefer?” His voice was assured and cocky, his eyes pointed towards Leyim with an almost sick sense of satisfaction and unrelenting confidence.
“That’s wrong,” Leyim interjected.
“I beg to differ,” the key was pressed and all lights fell dim in the Citadel. His body pulsed and convulsed as electricity pumped through his body, eradicating all signs of life in a matter of seconds. Leyim couldn’t understand his thought process: 10,000 different combinations possible, one couldn’t guess with a simple party trick.
With internal organs smoking, the Hunter known as Edgard fell to the floor, stiffened by the shock. The tone had been set between Leyim and Elsa, unnecessary but rather unavoidable. Edgard’s death had made the room surprisingly cold, “I suppose it’s your turn, is it not?”
Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter.
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