A week passed in the Toramaru household after the introduction of Leyim Rossi, captain of The Hunters. She had already made herself quite welcome in Team Karasu’s embrace. Even Shinji, who remained cold to the hazel eyed warrior for another four days. Still, she didn’t seem to mind.
To Leyim, Hideki and company were almost friends. In her eyes they weren’t monsters but lost, hurt human beings unable to return to normal society. The people they knew, friends and relatives were most likely already dead as the escaped Shinigami sharpened their claws on the Japanese asphalt.
“How are you feeling?” Shinji asked, it had become somewhat of a daily ritual in an attempt to get rid of her. Better was the usual answer but today wasn’t a usual day. Today, Leyim had decided, was the day she left for the Citadel; duty called.
“I think I’m ready.” She sat up from the bare floor and unwrapped the torn, brown blanket from around her cold body; Leyim had earlier relocated from the chair-bed to the floor out of fear for her posture. She was still in the ominously dull blue room, now trusted with her ribbons and cane as well as a share of their recently doled out food rations: sitting in front of the girl on top of her tea-table top hat was a meal of seemingly never spoiling onigiri Hideki had taken from one of the refrigerated shelves. Shinji had left it while she slept, so the rice was a little warm. Still, she was quite happy for the free meal.
“I’ll let Hideki know you’re leaving, I reckon he’ll be heartbroken.” Shinji called from outside the door, loud enough for Hideki himself to hear the news. He was facing that room, the one nobody would acknowledge. Nobody but Leyim could see it. Just the sight of the leather coloured door sent chills down her spine, tempting her to the edge of curiosity but never pushing her over. A chuckle escaped her lips as the home-owner quietly cursed her health; “bastard,” he mumbled.
“I guess you’d better say your goodbyes.” He said.
“I’ll be right down.” Shinji peeked his head around the corner, Leyim could almost see him smiling. “Don’t I get a goodbye?” She winked, knowing he hated it. He just grunted, leaving it at that like an angst-ridden teenager. “Sorry!” As Leyim stood, her back cracked viciously as she straightened military style, it felt so good she considered spending just one more night on the cold wooden floor.
But she couldn’t she had to go down, The Hunter’s would’ve sent a search party out by now. They needed to find her before them, otherwise there would be nothing she could do. The stairs creaked as always, giving her no advantage against the waiting party.
“Hello.” Hideki spoke first as she reached the shop floor, it looked a little more empty than it did the first time they were all in the same room; food had been packed away and the electricity to the store had been shut off by Hideki “just in case they decide to charge me when it’s all over, greed doesn’t die down in the apocalypse.”
Everybody was spread out through the room; Hideki was once again stood behind the counter where the money had already been torn from the register, Saboten and Shinji searching through boxes of stale bread in the centre, Ayame rounding up loose bottles of water and Hiro simply napping in the corner, as quiet as ever.
“This is a sight for sore eyes.” Leyim told herself out loud to the delight of her hosts.
“So, you’re feeling well?” Hideki asked her, “you’re sure you don’t want to travel with us? You’d be much safer and…”
“No.” She spoke sternly. Leyim wouldn’t allow herself to be talked into such a plan, it would be the death of them all. “I have to go alone.”
“Okay, well before you go.” Hideki’s voice wavered, he was sad to have her leave. They hadn’t even really spoken, there was just something about her he really liked. Was it the fact she was a member of the NEA like him?
It’s not like he was a high-ranking officer like her. Perhaps he had some sort of sense that the girl was in some mortal danger, but no. Hideki was just lonely. Or, so thought the young Captain. “Take this backpack,” he pointed towards one currently being stuffed to the brim with water by the soft hands of Ayame. But Leyim of course shook her head.
“I can’t.” She proclaimed, explaining simply that; “if the Hunter’s were to find me, they would surely assume I have sided with the enemy.”
“So, you’re still against us?” Saboten asked after a short pause, you could’ve heard a pin drop after she said that.
“No, but it will take time to shift such a strong view.”
“So, no returning with our heads then?”
“Not right now,” she smiled, Leyim thanked Ayame for her efforts but simply handed the overfilled backpack to Hideki with a kiss on his bearded cheek. “I promise, I’ll make sure the NEA don’t target you. You don’t deserve to be hunted down, not like this. The Hakujou deserve a chance at redemption.”
“I’m not too sure about that.”
“Project Sin is a hell of an example of that.”
“Saboten’s right,” Shinji joined in, much to the disgust of Hideki.
“I’m not saying we’re like them, not completely.” Saboten explained as his glare caught that of his friend, he shook as he spoke out of fear. “Being in contact with Belphegor I can easily tell you, and Leyim you’ve seen this first hand,” he reminded her, “our Shinigami could take over at any moment. It’s in their nature to toy with us.”
“Well, it hasn’t happened yet.” Leyim said, “you’re still in control. You’re powerful, too powerful. But I’ve seen this before, the whole ‘losing control’ thing.”
“We’re all different, the Kanzen Hakujou.”
“Yes, exactly. Saboten, trust me.” She took his hand in hers, gripping tight like a calming vice. “Don’t worry. You will be fine.” Her voice was reassuring, like a hypnotist who knew exactly what to say, “okay,” he nodded without further question. Belphegor wasn’t quite agreeing with her, but the echoing sound of Leyim Rossi’s voice drowned out his influence quite easily, even if only for a short while.
“Time to go?” Hideki asked her. She nodded, without a final goodbye she took her cane in hand and fled the sorrowful shop in hopes of quickly returning to the Citadel to argue her case.
“Was that a mistake?” She thought as she wandered past the crumbled buildings and undisturbed Shinigami corpses. “Perhaps he is a danger.” Leyim flashed back to the short few words she exchanged with Belphegor. His possession of Saboten was strong, she had discussed this with him earlier in the week, but he didn’t want much. Just to stretch his legs, even Leyim could tell the demon had bigger plans and she would make sure to leave that out of the brief.
Meanwhile, Team Karasu stood quietly.
“Is it just me, or do women who come across us just sort of… disappear?” Shinji insensitively remarked. His eyes cast over to Ayame with a 'good luck’ impression. She nodded in response. Hideki was still watching the door, a morsel of hope buried itself in the idea Leyim was just teasing the group. Of course, from the stories she had told him Hideki knew quite well the girl was leaving for good. His week was spent taking care of her wounds (despite his lack of medical training) and learning about The Hunters, partially out of interest but mostly because Hideki knew not to trust a pretty face. The information he talked out of her wouldn’t help too much though. He did manage to get a good idea of where the Citadel was though, but it was a long while away. “I think we should head to the Citadel.”
“I think you’re mad.” Shinji told him, “surely that place must be fortified to all hell?”
Hideki paused, that was true. Although Leyim hadn’t mentioned it, there was a good chance that there would be patrols of Hunters setting up camp around the area. “Still, I think we should head that way.”
“But, why?” Ayame asked, she sat cross legged still holding a single bottle of water she was rather tempted to drink from.
“She’s in danger.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Hiro told her. “She said so herself, right?”
“Yes, but there’s a damn good chance that they won’t believe anything she tells them. You can imagine, right? One of your comrades goes out to hunt the enemy, disappears for a week and returns unharmed.”
“She can handle it.”
“Bullshit.” He cursed. “Trust me on this one.”
There was a short silence, like the word 'trust’ itself was offensive. Hideki sighed, “I’m sorry.”
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” Saboten told him, his voice and posture unsure but ready for combat. “It’s like you’re leading us to our deaths.” He told him. To Hideki, it looked like everybody felt the same way; their eyes were on his like torch-light.
“Fine,” he sighed. He didn’t want to give in just yet, his head was racing with the sounds of their previous conversations. There was one that kept repeating itself. He couldn’t quite remember what day it was, but the conversation happened quite recently, perhaps two or three days earlier.
“Why haven’t you killed us yet?” Hideki asked out of nowhere forcing the small pieces of chewed crisp from the mouth of Leyim. He was sat on the floor next to her makeshift bed, casually wiping the soggy crumbs from his face.
“Sorry.” She replied, ignoring the question.
“Well?” Leyim took another bite, the crunch echoed through the house. It was almost midnight, so said the microwave in the kitchen, and everybody else was asleep downstairs. Hideki had gone up earlier in order to, in his words, “extract information” from the girl.
“Do you want me to?” She joked looking straight past Hideki as to avoid his glare. Leyim tipped the rest of the potato shards into her chops and through the mouthful told him; “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
“But it’s your job,” the words of his NEA training instructor used him as a medium, “you have no choice. Especially with such a high-ranking officer as yourself. I mean, you’re the captain of a whole goddamn legion.”
She just smiled, “you’re a man who holds all those… rules and laws very high, aren’t you?” Hideki nodded, “I can respect that.”
“I suppose you’re not?”
“I wouldn’t say that.” She flattened out the crisp packet out, folded it in half and then in half once more. “What would you do in my position?” She asked as she morphed the long, straight packet into a cute ‘L’ shape. “I’m laying in front of you, I have just saved your life and fed you. My arm is covered in Iwa; a sure sign of Shinigami infestation and I’ve already proved to you my connection to Scarecrow. Do you kill me in my sleep?”
He sat on it, watching Leyim’s delicate fingers with their scuffed, black painted nails fold the packaging over and over. Soon, it had become a much smaller square, a fraction of the size it started at. Hideki still didn’t have an answer. “Well?” She pressured as he did, finishing off her art project with a quick slip of the corner to turn it into a triangle.
“Impressive.” He stalled, but to no avail. She just flicked it at his face; “your turn,” she told him. “Go on.”
He couldn’t even unwrap the contraption with his Iwa-coated hands, resorting to slicing the packet into even smaller triangles with frightening precision.
“Is it really that hard to answer?” She asked him again, “you’d really kill Saboten, Shinji, Ayame, Hiro and me? I mean, me? The great Hideki… T… Toramaru?”
“I mean, I think I would. I’m a man of my word and, in that moment, my word would be a promise to the army.” He blew the smaller triangles in the direction of the young girl, who simply let them drop onto her now crossed legs. “So, why wouldn’t you?”
“I was a lot like that, back in the day.”
“Are you old enough to speak like that?” He laughed, but she didn’t listen.
“I was very by-the-book, so to speak. But that’s not any way to go.” Leyim told him in all seriousness. “Common sense should trump any law. That’s just the way it should be.”
“That depends on whose common sense you mean.” He reminded her. “Mine would end in me on the wrong side of a moral compass, yours might wind you up dead.”
“Common sense should trump any law, unless you’re stupid.” She said, “like you.”
“So, I guess I should kill you at some point.” She told him with a smile.
“Well, you’re sure as hell not getting your hat back. And those ribbons are staying with me.”
“I don’t think you have the wrists for it,” she laughed, “like them do you?”
“I’m going to need them soon.” Leyim muttered, her voice took a dip in tone and suddenly she sounded quite sad. “Or, I might.”
“Maybe not killing us is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made.” Hideki told her, but she shook her head.
“Nah, it’s the best.” Her smile reappeared, and Hideki’s followed. “His words mean a lot more now. This is what he meant.”
“The common-sense guy,” just the nickname made her smile grow, Leyim knew who she meant obviously but felt the need to explain it to Hideki. It didn’t mean she had to lose the internal monologue voice. “The original leader of The Hunters; Verentine Rothschild.”
“The original ‘eh?” Hideki asked, “is he looking for you?”
Leyim shook her head, “not anymore.”
“I should go.” Hideki brushed away the triangles from her legs before he stood up.
“Is it that you want me to kill you?” She didn’t look up when she asked, which hit him much harder.
“I don’t know.”
And with that he left.
“It was a bad idea. But I’m not letting her die. She’ll be heading for a train station near here. The Citadel is about an hours commute from here.”
“Really?” Ayame spluttered, “I don’t remember it at all.”
“Me either.” Saboten added.
“You’re not supposed to. It was never announced, nor was it in public sight.”
“Well, at any rate. We’re not going there.” Shinji made sure to announce, he too would not go without a fight.
“Then we set up camp nearby the station. That,” he said, “is my final offer.”
Silence seemed to be a thing today with Team Karasu. Maybe the loss of Leyim mirrored the loss of Rho, but nobody felt too argumentative. Hideki felt it meant he was right.
“Fuck.” Shinji mumbled, “well, where would we even go?”
“Oh!” Ayame perked up, “there’s a shopping mall nearby Saboten and I used to go to.”
“Good idea,” Hiro added, “there’s a good chance it’ll be empty.”
“And Saboten can buy some fucking shoes.”
“But more importantly,” Saboten spoke louder to draw attention away from his bloody feet, which he currently refused to cover out of a sick sense of pride. “It’s a large area, there’s a bigger chance of us being torn apart by some Shinigami than anything else.” He was the rainstorm, they were the parade. A parade of deluded morons who thought there was any chance of them being safe in Japan. As much as Saboten wanted to grab an instrument and jump on into the middle, logic told him otherwise. Well, logic and the bastard of a demon whispering in his ear.
“We would be better off there, right?” She asked him, it was another chance to return to normality, even if just for a few hours.
“She’s right Saboten.”
I wouldn’t trust them if I were you. The voice said, they’re just going to get you killed.
Saboten shook it off again, no longer would he listen to Belphegor. He could not be trusted, no matter what. He went with his gut. “All right, let’s head out.”
“Aye aye cap'n.”
The group checked their gear, food and the backpacks they would haul three times at the request of Saboten until Team Karasu were certain they were ready to move out of case de Hideki (as Ayame had taken to call it, of course, her knowledge of Spanish was, well, limited.) “Do you have the cigarettes?” Saboten asked quietly, not wanting to upset Ayame. Shinji nodded and passed him one from the packet hidden away in the pocket of his jeans. “Lighter?”
He shook his head, “I don’t know where that is.”
When the group finally wandered out of the shop into the street that almost caused their deaths and studied the sea of rotting corpses they saw no sign of Hideki. They could guess where he was.
“Goodbye,” he whispered to both the building that once housed his family, his workplace and himself and to his deceased nephew whom he could not lay eyes on. Instead, he pressed his forehead up against the wooden door. His tears poured out, riding his bearded face until they fell to the floor.
He threw his head against that door four times before eventually leaving, he had no idea what to do with the body. His heart told him multiple times to just open the door, just once. But Hideki knew he couldn’t. He took his time as he left, pondering each and every possible outcome of each and every possible future, it bothered him like crazy. Hell, he had blocked the truth from his mind whilst Leyim was there.
Would he ever return? What would happen to his body? He couldn’t just leave him like that, could he?
When he reached the stairs, he still didn’t know what the correct procedure was. But there was one answer in his unstable mind that meant he could put everything behind him and slowly return to his original self.
A single pro, thousands of cons but still he went. He tipped the stand of magazines and watched the tower of literature hit the floor with a mighty crash, a sea of flammable material covered the carpet. Without a second thought, he grabbed the shiny silver lighter from the counter which had apparently been forgotten by Shinji. “Three.”
“Two.” Hideki flicked the cap and out sprung a glorious orange flame. It warmed his face as he studied it, holding it close to him as he imagined the terror such an object could inflict. It horrified him, but he couldn’t stop himself now.
“One.” He spoke to himself softly as the lighter slipped from his weakened grip, hitting the ground and igniting the main spread of a numbered fashion magazine. The face of an idol screeched in the flames as it curled and burnt before him. He left quietly, telling his friends only to run as he reached the outside world.
Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter.
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