The gargantuan purple crystal that had formed around The World began to crack and disintegrate as Saboten and Team Karasu looked on in horror. Enigmatic shards of Shinigami essence crashed down upon the concrete of the roof but not a single piece hit the ground before evaporating into a faded silver dust, only to be drawn back to The World’s new form.
The cataclysmic adversary above them no longer bore the form of Atticus Kazuhiko. Instead, it appeared The World and Rho Dwelt had fused together, their similarities combined; long white hair and a pale complexion, wrapped in a tattered purple suit and lab coat. The World’s body had become slender, youthful, and ripe with new power. As the group stared, it was impossible to grasp the full scale of what had just happened.
The World had taken Rho’s feminine form, but the calm, menacing glare of Atticus Kazuhiko remained affixed to Saboten’s left eye. A smile drew across her snow-white face, “I didn’t see this happening, did you?” she said, disappearing with a flash of light and another gust of torrential wind, destroying 40% of the hotel as she vanished.
Saboten’s senses had gone wild; a static buzzing burst through his mind as he felt his connection with Rho Dwelt severed until the end of time. She had told him that they shared blood but perhaps there was more to it than that, a true connection between their Shinigami like demonic family ties. A cocktail of disappointment, outrage, and guilt pumped through his veins, followed by beads of fear which ran down his spine.
He didn’t have time to grieve, did he? The World had disappeared but she was only going to stronger whilst they waited. “Let’s get going,” he began. “We need to find somewhere safe, gather supplies, and then we need to find The World and put an end to this bastard.”
“Saboten’s right,” said Ayame, as the boy sniffed and wiped his eyes. He waited for nobody and turned to the exit because, if he didn’t keep his mind occupied, he would descend into an uneasy depression. They weren’t going to best The World before his transformation, how would they have a chance against the fusion? He was already doing it, he was losing his cool.
“I’m sorry,” he said to himself, before departing through the hole in the ceiling. As they left the hotel, half-expecting the building to collapse within the hour, they passed the leftover coins they had earlier missed, stepping through the automatic doors, and stopping over the lifeless body of The Wrath.
The muscular menace had been bitten and gnawed by recent scavengers, “there must be Shinigami around here,” said Hiro as he pressed his fingers into the missing chunks of flesh on The Wrath’s thighs and shins. “They’re probably quite small, but let’s be wary nonetheless.”
“We should be heading for my store now, it’ll be safe. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it hasn’t been raided yet, you know what people are like in a crisis. It’ll be coming out of my nephew’s pay check if anything has been damaged!” he forced a chuckle but nobody joined him. “I hope his all right.”
“I’m sure he is.”
“Lead the way, Hideki.”
The store wasn’t all that far away and it certainly wasn’t worth the stopover at the hotel. After fifteen minutes of walking through the twisting turns of corpse-ridden alleyways and staring off into space, the group had arrived at an open street riddled with small, family-owned shops serving outer-city purposes. The journey had been unsettling; quiet and empty, the Shinigami and Hakujou had already moved on after desecrating fallen men, women, and children.
Even this wide-open square of street was empty sans a few cars and unidentifiable stains across the asphalt. As they reached it, Hideki was unable to control himself from rushing ahead of the group. Delighted to see that his hand-painted wooden door was largely untouched, he twisted the brown door handle to double check the security.
Hideo was already a bit of a shut-in, it wasn’t likely that he would suddenly pick up some self-sufficiency during an apocalypse. The spare key had been left exactly where he told his nephew to leave it but he didn’t think he’d ever actually stick his hand into the small lantern to the right. He slotted the key into the lock, and the door swung open.
It was just as he had left it; the various merchandise sat on a rectangle of small shelves in the centre, bags and coats across the top racks on the wall, food and drink in a few refrigerators on the right-hand side, and pushed into an unused corner was a brown leather sofa where Hideo would fall asleep whilst Hideki rambled on how shop was doing “much worse since you got here” in that caring, but skint, family member kind of way.
It seemed like not a single creature had stirred since his departure, had Hideo really kept the shelves stocked? He supposed that, in such a terrible situation, you’d want to pretend that everything was all right but it was a little bit suspicious. He removed his shoes and pushed himself to go upstairs as his team huddled through the wide-open door.
On the second floor, where no customers were allowed to step foot, he was met with two locked doors like a puzzle. The pale door on the left lead to his child’s bedroom, his own unpainted door on the right. He took to the former, pushing to door open to an empty room as he should’ve expected; the half-painted room only served to remind him that his son was missing.
After a few moments to himself, Hideki shut the door again and turned back to his own door. A word of encouragement to himself and Hideo behind the door, and a quick look away towards the staircase allowed the man to build the courage to twist the knob with his right hand.
“Locked,” he muttered.
It took him a long time, he wanted Hideo to come unlock the door himself but their arrival wasn’t silent, was it? They probably spooked him, “I’m coming in, Hideo. It’s going to be a bit loud but don’t shoot me or anything, okay?”
Once he felt that his message had been received, Hideki ploughed his left hand through the wood of the door, spraying chunks of polished wood across the small room and knocking the curtains against frosted windows. His eyes panned from the left to right, first scanning the two sets of auburn cabinets, one for himself and one for his wife. As he crossed the half-way point, he cast his gaze across the once-hazel sheets which had darkened with the addition of Hideo’s blood.
It had been dripping from an opening in the young man’s shredded throat. The knife still sat in his hand and, above him, a message scrawled into the wall read: ‘SORRY’. Hideki stood in silence as Saboten came up from behind him, investigating the loud noise only to lead Ayame away from following him. It was far too late, she had already laid her eyes on the crimson fluid.
“Oh shi—“ she spluttered, hitting the carpeted deck with knees shaking like jackhammers. “Hideki, what happened?”
“Shh, shh, shh,” Saboten told her, pulling her away from the scene and towards his shoulder to obscure her vision. “Hideki, are you…”
“I’m fine, Saboten,” said Hideki, “I suppose this is what the boy wanted, right? Don’t you think that this is better for somebody like him?”
Saboten took a moment to respond, he was preoccupied with Ayame and that was okay, it was all okay. “I think you’re right, Hideki.”
“How scared must Hideo have been to cut out his own throat? I can’t wrap my head around it, Saboten. I guess his suffering is over now, though.”
He paused for a second and took a deep breath, “I do wish I hadn’t broken down the door now though.”
“Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.”
Hideki smirked, “never let this tragedy ruin you, Saboten. It’s out of our control, there’s very little we can do… we should always be able to smile though, don’t you think?”
Ayame lay awake in her bedroom where she had shielded herself from the nightmare outside. The room emanated a pale pink glow from the salmon spread across the walls and the bedsheets while sat on the floor was a nice, fluffy white carpet which almost reflected the colour. She slept in the centre of a tiny bed but that didn’t stop her from adorning it with her childhood collection of stuffed animals which - she was almost ashamed to say - had been growing even out of childhood.
Her room was the largest in the house as her parents favoured minimalism. Ayame, however, adored her bedroom and her collections. To the right of her, atop a small wooden tea table, was a photograph of herself and Saboten. The boy had no scars and a natural green stare; it was taken so many years ago before the two had even reached high school.
She rolled herself over and sighed in relaxation; she was home and warm and safe, that’s all she wanted. That’s all she wanted to believe but the walls were fake, of course they were. Her mortal body was still sitting with Saboten and the death, and the blood, and the monsters, and there was nothing she could do to escape it anymore.
You need to let go of that fear, baby. She heard a voice speaking from all angles of the room as echoed footsteps came closer. There was no exit to the room but the sound of one squawking open could be heard. I know you can hear me, you’d better stop pretending to be somewhere you’re not. It will never end well.
“Are you the one who’s polluting me?”
‘Polluting you’? That doesn’t sound like the Ayame I’ve been stalking for the past little while. What’s gotten into you, baby? Ayame was silent, the pink tone in the room began to fade into grey. She half expected the demon to become enraged with her but instead, the creature appeared right in front of her without warning. This demon looked almost human, which she was not expecting in the slightest. She also wasn’t expecting her to be female, but stranger things have happened.
This was the demon plaguing her mind; a scream grew in Ayame’s lungs but she kept it down as well as she could. I am Shax, spoke the demon, Shinigami Lord of Bone. I bestowed upon the Shinigami their Iwa and it is by my hand that you can defend yourself.
Shax was at least one head taller than Ayame and slender, almost skeletal in shape but her body was toned. If Ayame had acted on her rage, the demon would’ve put up a difficult fight. Atop her head, Shax donned a crown and, attempting to shroud her naked body, she wore a thin sheer robe which embarrassed Ayame to no end. I can see you staring, my eyes are up here.
Ayame stepped backwards, her head shot up as though she certainly wasn’t looking at anything! If Shax hadn’t already introduced herself, she could quite easily be mistaken for a succubus, or so Ayame thought. A sickening smile slithered across Shax’s face, forcing Ayame’s hand. “I’m sorry.”
I like it a little bit, you don’t have to stop.
Suit yourself, she said. You must be curious as to why I’ve appeared in front of you, after all, you’re not dead.
“I didn’t know that was a thing,” Ayame replied, she hadn’t considered that Saboten had actually died during that battle. Did Hiro die too? Has everybody died apart from her? Oh dear, was she actually feeling envious about death?
I’m just hear to tell you that your fear of blood is very annoying, and it’s going to get you killed if you’re not careful. Do you even remember why you’re afraid of blood?
She didn’t, actually. “Can you remind me?”
Now, why would I do that to you? Just live and learn, okay? The demon placed her cold hand atop Ayame’s hair, a piercing gaze struck her host’s deep blue eyes and a look of fear shot back. Keep that boy close, you’re going to need him.
Hideki decided that it would be best to leave his nephew alone for now, simply covering the young man up in the bed. Saboten and Ayame moved back downstairs as their leader needed a moment to himself; Ayame was still shaking a little bit, trying to stop herself from vomiting as the bile crawled back up her throat with a vengeance.
“Catch!” said Shinji, tossing a canvas bag into Saboten’s chest. He threw another at Ayame, but it just bounced off her shoulder. “What’s up?”
“Hideki’s nephew is upstairs.”
“…shit, should we say something about it?” he asked, “I’ve never had any experience with that shit.”
“Me either,” muttered Saboten, casting this eyes to Ayame just in case she remembered something he didn’t. She wasn’t listening, still staring into nothingness; “Ayame?”
“It’s okay, Ayame, it’s okay to be afraid.”
"Yeah, you’re fine as long as it’s not your blood, am I right?”
“Shinji…” Hiro had already filled his personal canvas bag, bursting from the top was a few bottles of water, reminding him that he hadn’t drank or eaten anything in a while. That’s not what caught his eye though, the water was rippling like an earthquake.
“What?” his gaze followed Saboten’s toward the hip-level canvas rucksack. “Oh shit, that’s not good.”
“Saboten, take a look outside.”
As the boy started walking, he was met with louder, fast paced footsteps from upstairs. He peered outside of the shop’s front door and, almost in unison, he and Hideki spoke:
“We’re so fucked.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter.
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