It was a long walk down the street, the black top was still wet with the still moist demon blood. It was sticky to the touch, especially for the shoeless Saboten. They had slowed down after the original rush and were now making their journey at an unnervingly slow pace, far away from the rancid smell of burning building. Saboten and Ayame led the charge, she pulled him to the front of the convoy in hopes of forcing a nostalgia trip. It didn’t help.
“Do you remember this road?” She asked after a rather extended 'hmm’, she knew full well that neither of them had actually been around this area at all. At least, not together. He handed her an aggravated “no,” and the two continued on north in silence. That was until Ayame asked the same thing five minutes later.
After that ordeal it didn’t take too long until the shopping mall was in sight. The team stood upon a large, man-made hill where the road met slightly less road. The mountain gave the five a good view of where they would be spending the next few days. Below them sat a small looking town, unfamiliar to all but Hideki. The weaker, greying road followed straight down for about half a mile before it split off into six different branches where at least four arms led to a small cluster of weathered homes.
They looked fairly safe, but there were no lights on in any of the buildings which hopefully meant the residents had already fled to a safe place. Another branch looked like it led straight out of town. A few cars sat scattered few and far between; on and off the thin slither of road and onto pavements, but no bodies. There was no sign of violence anywhere. There was not a single sign of a Shinigami attack at all. Finally.
Almost in complete silence the group wandered down the straight path. The soundless street felt like an omen of a shinigami ambush. Saboten and Shinji kept their weapons unsheathed and led the battle ready group along that all important sixth branch; the one that would lead them to the large, glass double doors of the untouched shopping mall. The doors that would keep them safe, if only for a night.
They stopped in front of the building, it’s glass barrier remained intact, despite the concept of looters, and it had even been cleaned recently enough to still reflect back to Saboten the grotesque form of his left eye. It stared straight back at him like it was its own being; watching, waiting, begging for an opportunity to return to its own world and conquer what was once his.
Belphegor’s laugh shot through his mind and all the plausible ulterior motives the creature could possibly conjure became genuine worries for Saboten. Was his humanity just a ruse? He couldn’t tell. It felt to Saboten like no matter what he did, it was Belphegor pulling the strings.
“Ayame?” He replied with a sarcastic inflection, as if to let his friend know he was all right.
They shared a silent smile, a fake one. Both of them knew it. “Does this look familiar?” She asked him.
God damn it.
“Not in the slightest.” He told her, head in hand. “Does it look familiar to you?”
Ayame tutted, “Maybe a little.”
“Is there one back home?” He asked, surprising her a little, she didn’t need to think back, “no. But we’ll see it soon, right?”
“I’m sure we will.” He told her, “but our priority right now is Leyim.” Well, that and how they would get into the mall without destroying their only line of defence. The door was simple; almost all glass besides the god awful, gaudy golden doorknob with it’s unusually large keyhole underneath.
“Any ideas?” Hideki asked, whom had been silent until now; possibly thinking about Leyim herself or the dangers her departure held. “And don’t you dare say break it.” His angered glare focused on the sly face of Shinji.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He told the bearded man. Instead, he sheathed his weapons and knelt in front of the lock. Shinji flicked back his hair behind his left ear; revealing a pointed tip and a multitude of various piercings hidden well out of sight. His earlobe had been stretched to a large size that looked like it would get in the way, considering the speed Shinji fought at. In the place on his earlobe was a plain, silver, circular plug. It looked rather sore, in Saboten’s opinion. He could almost feel the pain Shinji must’ve gone through as he held his own unpierced ears. “Now, just let me…” Shinji mumbled as he fiddled with a piercing; unscrewing the stud and cautiously pulling the thin, metal scaffold from his cartilage. The bar itself was long and silver with odd, key-like addition at the point.
“Ha, you’re joking, right?” Hideki joked, looking to Hiro for approval who kept watch of Shinji as it happened. His tongue poked out from between his lips as the 'lock pick’ was jiggled around in the keyhole. Shortly thereafter, a loud click was heard. The door had been unlocked and, without even considering the amount of germs forming on the steel bar, Shinji slid the jewellery right back in. “Well… Fuck me.” Hideki muttered.
“It gets me every time.” Hiro added.
“You were saying, Hideki?” Shinji replied as he flung open the door with an 'oh yeah, I did that,“ look on his face which was quickly followed by a 'no alarm’ sigh of relief.
The inside of the mall was enormous. As they walked in they were knocked back by the wealth of untouched goods; to the right was a jewellery store while to the left was an electronics shop. It was incredible. Even the most moral of the group couldn’t help but ponder the idea of a new phone or bracelet.
They set up camp in the centre of the building on the third floor where the food court was; a temptation to the youngest that neither could resist. In one of the corners there was a rather shop selling Mexican food, or rather, it would be. However, it was neatly shut, closed off to the public. This itself brought up more questions.
"Am I the only one finding this odd?” Saboten asked the question on everybody’s mind. “It’s too… neat.”
“Like it’s just a day off work.” Ayame added.
“Maybe they had packed up before the invasion?”
"Maybe,” Saboten said. “But Hiro, that wouldn’t explain why this place hasn’t even been touched since. I doubt we’d be the only people to think of this mall, right?”
“Right, then what about it?” Hideki asked, “we can’t turn around.”
“I know.” Saboten was frustrated. “I don’t trust this place, that’s all.”
“Neither do I, but we have to make do.” That was it, there was no discussing this with Hideki. There was no sentence that Saboten could work well enough so, like a grounded teenager, Saboten walked off in a mood. Ayame followed.
“Are you going to go after him?”
“No, it’ll do him good.” Hideki said as Hiro watched them leave. The two of them walked hastily past each one of the food stores, each suspiciously well organised for an apocalyptic setting. “Anyway, perhaps he is right.”
“Saboten, get your ass back here.” Ayame said in the most demanding voice she could muster. Saboten had sped ahead of her, ignoring the girl. She was worried about him, who could blame her. It was the anger in his eyes that got to her. He was never angry before that fucking eye appeared.
Never. It was changing him so much. She just wanted him back. She was worried she’d lose him entirely to that beast. He turned to her, scowling. It broke her heart, so she slapped him. A blow as hard as she could physically rally that would, in front of the rest of the group, knock the green haired grump down the steel escalator.
It left him pretty bruised, the thirteen step tumble dropped him straight on his tail bone. He wasn’t too glad to see the face of his defeater standing so high up, but the blood had already rushed up to his face and it was hard to stand, so when she offered her hand to him Saboten took it instantly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to!”
“It’s alright,” he said. “Sorry for being an asshole. I just need to…” Saboten paused for a second as his numbing body stood and cracked further, it was a subtly relaxing pain. “…walk it off.”
“We could take a walk around the shops!” She said in such a way that not even the current, cold hearted Saboten could’ve said no. He nodded, allowed her to pull his arm around her shoulders. “An opportune strangling position if I feel vengeful,” he joked.
They moved away from the scene of Ayame’s crime towards a large pillar which stood alone in front of a clothing store that hadn’t been closed very well. The shutter was down but the padlock was undone. Saboten blew it off and continued over to the pillar which displayed an electronic map with a touch screen so dirty and greasy Saboten make sure to cover his fingers with his shirt.
The screen showed a map of the shopping centre and the stores on each floor. The number of shops was quite impressive, and the number of odd food stands too; who knew so many people in Japan desired Italian food. “Ayame, take a look at this.” He spoke to thin air, as Ayame had become distracted by the clothing store.
“Saboten, take a look at all this.” Her voice had become loose and cute, she was obviously interested in some outfit, maybe all of them. Saboten had never quite understood the adoration behind clothes. He just picked up whatever he could find, hell, he’d been wearing the same jeans for years from the look of them; even the crotch appeared to have been sewn over and over again. “This one would look so good on you!”
“Shh.” He told her.
“Look at this!” She ignored him.
He was the first to give, not wanting another tumble. He looked through the single gap in the shutter where a smidgen of window was in view. “I can’t really see anything.”
“That’s a shame.” As she spoke, the gap rose. Ayame was lifting the shutter up to reveal the locked store. “I guess we’ll have to go in.”
“All right, well done.” He muttered sarcastically, “I didn’t think you’d see that.” The girl smiled seductively, that’s how Saboten managed to see it. “But you know that door’ll be locked.” But she didn’t take any notice, she just threw her elbow into the door, just above the handle and -click- the door was open.
“A girl has to know these things.” She shrugged as the door was pulled open. In awe Saboten just stood still, watching his 'innocent’ best friend picking out shirts from the various aisles of fashionable clothes. “Oooh! This would even better on you. What are you waiting for? Come in!”
Saboten had no choice, his legs moved on their own towards the song of the beautiful Siren.
Almost an hour after setting foot in that damn shop, Saboten had a selection of clothes Ayame had chosen for him. Two shirts, a pair of jeans, some new underwear and a nice, warm looking hat.
Ayame had even insisted Saboten wear a pair of shoes, but sandals was all she could get him into. The only 'real’ reason Saboten could be convinced to try these on would be because of how bloodstained his clothes were, not that he had noticed before looking into the shop’s obnoxiously large mirror which made him look more like a Jack the Ripper wax model than a high school student.
Of course, the colour scheme Ayame had picked out for him just so happened to be white which, even to Saboten, seemed ineffective. Ayame herself had a fairly large pile.
“Well, off you go! Go try them on.” She told him with the utmost excitement to see him in some new 'threads’ as Ayame called them.
“Not buts!” Ayame giggled as he turned around with a huff and a puff before shutting that thick, black curtain he’d been dreading. The jeans went on first; they were grey and skinny which was quite nice. They looked as though they’d fit nicely. Saboten pulled his trousers and underwear off quickly, thinking Ayame might try to peek for a joke.
Thankfully, she didn’t. Saboten couldn’t tell if it was the age of the previous jeans or if his legs had bulked up (he preferred the latter idea) but the new jeans fit quite snugly around his legs. He drew a breath of relief, that was before he heard; “the curtain isn’t shut all the way!” from behind him. After shutting it, Saboten continued his transformation.
He stepped out from behind the curtain to an empty room, his only audience member was himself staring crookedly from the obnoxious mirror. He pulled the knitted blue hat over his face, allowing only a small porthole for him to view his new outfit. He thought he looked all right; a white and grey flannel shirt over a black T-shirt, the grey jeans felt nice and the sandals kept the cold from stabbing at his bruised soles.
He even had a nice, gold buttoned black coat for the Wintery outside. But to be honest, he quite missed that blue and white top which was sat just behind him ready to be returned to its master. He heard the sound of curtains shifting and out from the stall beside his stepped a beautiful Ayame garbed in a frilled pale blue dress underneath a gorgeous baggy, brown, shoulderless jumper.
She obviously had shorts underneath and her legs were coated in a shell of black Argyle tights with pale blue matching trainers. The hat fell from his face like as mask as words began to form on the edge of his dried lips; “you look beautiful,” he wanted to say, however Ayame spoke first.
“Wonderful.” She smiled, “you look great!”
“You too…” He stuttered, forgetting completely what he wanted to say. “I’m missing something though.”
“Hmmm…” Her pretty blue eyes scanned the room, catching something in a rack of jumpers. Her hand dove into the rack with reckless abandon and pulled out a comfortable looking, blue and white striped hooded jumper, one that almost exactly matched Saboten’s old tank-top. He tried it on as quick as possible, taking an instant shine to it.
“Thank you.” He told her, looking at himself in the mirror. The lack of coverage over his eye unnerved him, but with Ayame in the room he felt somewhat safer. He was more at home. “Ayame,” he began, “why did we do this?”
“That was sudden.” She told him, “because I thought it would be fun.”
“Fun.” He thought, it wasn’t something that had crossed his mind since their journey began. But it was important, wasn’t it? It hadn’t been a long time since they began, but it felt like years.
“I’m just worried.”
“No, I’m worried about us losing our humanity.” That hit him. It worried Saboten too, “what if we lose that?” Tears welled up in her eyes. “It’s the only thing we have left, and if we lose what makes us human then there’s no point to fighting.”
Saboten had no more words, just noises. A few escaped his lips as he watched his friend cry, he had already lost a lot of his humanity, his appearance told him that. The pointed ears, the fanged tooth, the triangular pupil, all of it. He was a monster. When Ayame took a second glance, she realized what she had said; “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “When I look at you, I don’t notice how you look.” She wiped the tears from her own face, as Saboten slowly did the same. “I see the Saboten I grew up with.”
“Thank you.” He tried to say, but once again, the wrong words fell out; “let’s go back.” He spoke with a smile, a real one. Ayame grew one too.
“You look beautiful.” He told her.
Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter.
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