As the only living soul, Hideki Toramaru awoke from his peaceful slumber amidst the bodies of warriors he had broken. Despite having faced a small war only moments ago, there wasn’t a scratch on him: not even where the buckshot had pierced the skin of his thorax.
He did feel weaker as he shifted his weight around from knee to knee, damaged perhaps but not hurt… It was difficult to explain but Hideki felt light and heavy at the same time: a skeleton of plastic and concrete veins.
Three feet ahead of him, that young Hunter laid crumpled in a heap. His weapon was no longer raised in shivering hands and instead, pointed inwards as though fired in desperation. A blatant parade of five diamonds lined the edges of his gaping throat, these neatly patterned wounds matched the armoured fingertips of Hideki’s left hand - or rather - it had once upon a time. The unbreakable scales of Iwa had receded back to their fleshy, original form. It was his regular old skin: sunspots, skin tags and scars. It appeared his power had been revoked by a bitter Mammon, Hideki was no longer in possession of such dreadful power. The ache had disappeared, the whispers were gone. Not a shred of evidence existed to remind Hideki: once upon a time, he had wielded the left arm of the Shinigami Lord of Possession. He was free and it felt good. He had no doubts that Mammon would not return, he would rather die before letting another human sink their teeth into his unnatural power. Hideki could go about his business with his hands alone.
Amongst the dilapidated Hunters, Hideki spotted few acceptable replacements for his arm. Sure, he’d been using it wrong for the entire length of his possession but it made a damn fine axe. Yes, that was it. He would take the lengthy axe laying across the arena and carve it violently into the unsuspecting collars of the Hunters who dare to stop him. For his son, Hideki would not be stopped but there was still a lot of Citadel to search. There was only a small chance the poor child was actually imprisoned in this building, a whole range of buildings were built around the country meaning this could be a very long search.
The weapon was enormously heavy, a true testament to his own strength. It was not impossible to work with, of course, Hideki had trained for years with an axe but still, it was troubling. It wasn’t a shoddy piece of kit either, a shining steel body carefully wrapped in leather by a talented artist whom, upon the hide, painted a poem in his native tongue. A combination of Roman lettering and crude, uncomfortable characters that Hideki had not seen before in his life. Hideki wanted to promise the fallen soldier that he would take good care of the weapon which meant so much to him but the acts he would soon commit… it felt somewhat in bad taste. The weapon was now back in good, human hands.
The essence of his anger could be felt in the warm breath that now clouded their remaining oxygen. There was nothing that could escape the ironclad grip of Ayame’s hair as she kept Saboten wrapped tight in her golden locks, at least until her words were throughly ingested. These words were delivered slowly and they had been carefully selected. Her friend was in a delicate state but not one she hadn’t dealt with at some other point. There was a history of loss in Saboten’s life from his parents to his memories and she wasn’t about to add Hideki’s name to that list. It was important to the both of them that that man returned unharmed, of course it was.
“I know how you feel Saboten, honestly. There was no other option, you do understand that, don’t you? Hideki had to do this for Sun… If there’s even the slightest hint that he’s in the Citadel, it’s worth taking that chance, isn’t it?”
There was a brief moment of reflection in which he took his first deep breath in a while. He must’ve felt somewhat immature or… something along those lines because as soon as he recollected himself Saboten returned to that ‘leader’ persona Ayame was still quite uncomfortable around. “You’re right, sorry. Once we reach Mishima together, we should keep watch for him.”
“Until then, it’s just you and me. Okay?”
“Thank you. Can you get the GPS on the phone running?”
“Sure,” the barrier of stiffened hair began to degrade, returning to a more natural state and retreating back to a less intimidating length. The two of them were now left right in the open, sitting ducks in no immediate danger. It was dead silent at the front entrance, not a soul around. Ayame was befuddled, expecting only an entire troupe of Hunters to flood the area. A bloodbath was surely about to overflow and spill out around their feet, wasn’t it?
There was no service for the cell phone at all and no source of an internet connection. Not even the Citadel had Wi-Fi; whether it was the heavy canopy of trees above or the destruction of modern civilisation around, the GPS was having a struggle discovering their position. The phone was ancient, just having the clamshell unfurled drained the battery something awful and no amount of strained upward stretching would remedy the signalling troubles. “I guess we’re going in blind, okay?” It was difficult to remain cheerful but the situation called for a smile, didn’t it? Saboten wasn’t in any state to lead at the moment, she had to step up. “Let’s go.”
The two of them stuck to keeping the building in clear sight, circling the tower rightwards in the brushwood. For them, the path to Mishima would begin from the Citadel’s back door. The occasional Hunter would hurry past them, alone, not stopping to take a second look into the woods. Four separate soldiers passed before Ayame took notice, a swarm quickly followed Baader-Meinhof style. The sudden apparition of masked Hunters hurtled towards the rear-exit, armed to the teeth as always. Something was about to happen, something important. The two of them chased quickly after the soldiers, delving further into the forest for safety as the crowd seemed to be multiplying at an alarming rate. Before long, a small arm stood in front of a pair of iron double doors. If they were to catch notice of Saboten or herself, they would not be able to defend themselves for long. So they waited, trying to listen to fragments of conversation.
“What do we even do?”
“Should we ask him something?”
It was all very clear to Ayame, they should back away and stay out of sight because The Envy was preparing a speech for his remaining warriors. He wanted Saboten dead or alive, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to take the lead himself. Fumbling backwards, the two watched as a silent hush fell upon the soldiers. They could hear footsteps, or muttering or something that gave them the indication that danger was afoot. Three sharp knocks scrape across the iron doors before they’re knocked straight off their hinges: the danger was not The Envy, but Hideki.
“No…” Saboten whispered, “we have to get out there.”
“W- we can’t, we have to get to Mishima. We promised Leyim, we can’t risk getting you captured.”
His voice remained shaken and hushed for the most part but angered words were raised like fists. “Ayame, look at his arm. It’s human, something must’ve happened and we have to save him.”
She raised her own voice back, “you’re more important than he is right now!”
There was no response.
“I’m sorry Saboten, you know there’s nothing we can do. We’re not in any state to fight yet, this is a blatant trap. The Envy wants your eye, he’s waiting for you.”
“You can’t let them do this, Ayame, you can’t.”
“I- I don’t want to, Saboten. This is the way it has to be, isn’t it?” The tears simply fell from her eyelashes, a silent storm of regret as the fight raged on in front of their blurred eyes. She didn’t find the reasoning to let this all play out inside her own heart, it was a tactical manoeuvre spoken in whispers by Shax, dictating their survival. The Envy was watching, Shax could feel Bael’s presence. He was waiting for them, he could see them hiding in the woods.
He was smiling.
With each missed blow, their hearts skipped synced beats. Hideki ducked and dived, screaming into the abyss above after every successful swing. “He’s not here,” he cried as though speaking directly to Ayame and Saboten. “Where’s my boy!?”
The swings became more brief and less artistic, more desperate and sluggish as time passed but the Hunter’s numbers simply grew and grew. When Hideki fell to his knees, he could no longer yell. He whispered something, coughed and whispered again. Ayame couldn’t read his lips from that distance as copious sludge slid across his reddened facial features, he was losing blood fast. The Hunters finally began to surround him, ready to execute on sight. Hideki no longer represented their enemy, he was human now - at least physically. As one ordered his death, another stepped to his rescue. His arms wrapped around him, his mouth called for a medic.
The merciful route would be taken and faith was reinstated in humanity; the Hunters were redeemable. The Envy’s influence was not permanent, perhaps they could even join their struggle. But the atmosphere became sour as fast as it had sweetened; the Hunter had dropped Hideki to the ground again, allowing this blood to pool as he took notice of his new weapon. The axe looked better suited in the hands of the Hunter, his eyes gazed across the leather wrappings. Ayame couldn’t make sense of it until the Hunter punched the wall across from him: maybe the axe belonged to a friend.
He raised the weapon in the air to the twelve o’clock position and fell behind the Hunter, almost hitting the earth again. “Saboten…”
“Saboten, should we move?”
It was too late.
“Saboten, don’t look.”
The axe fell forwards, Hideki was surely gone.
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