The sound of crunching twigs followed Leyim Rossi for a long time now, her journey back to the familiar towered castle had been a long one. The sight of such a magnificent building put a smile on her face, it was nice to be home. She could relax a little now. Well, before she was taken in for questioning about her absence. But, she was the boss. Nothing too serious could happen to her anyway.
As she approached the forested gateway that led to the ‘great white gate’ Leyim removed her hat. Her long black hair swayed in the breeze as the scope of the Amber Citadel came in to view; the area it encompassed was threateningly enormous but her first hurdle was much smaller, a conversation with the security guard.
His name was Alvar Appleton and he was, in Leyim’s words, unbearably unconversational. Alvar was a former member of Leyim’s original squad who was almost immediately discharged for still undisclosed reasons. Leyim didn’t like to think about it, it was embarrassing for the both of them. Despite this, he somehow managed to haunt the poor girl to this very day. She shuddered at the thought of hearing about his day.
“Captain Rossi!” called out two muffled voices accompanied by the pattering sound of speedy footsteps approaching from behind. They were Hunters, and they were heading straight for Leyim.
“Reveal yourselves.” She demanded, the two of them were armed and both were encased in the standard Hunter’s armour, a uniform Leyim despised. Their identities were concealed by large masks, similar to the face of a fly, but it didn’t take a second warning for the two to co-operate. They were both members of Leyim’s personal guard; Siegfried Newsom and Alfsol Olander. “What?”
Siegfried grabbed his leader’s arm and pulled her along with him. As they ran, she heard him say; “No time, just move.”
“The head of Project Sin has taken lead of The Hunters.” Alfsol added.
“Envy? Under whose order?”
“That bastard!” Leyim cursed him as she ran, it took every shred of willpower to not turn around and drive her cane through that smug face of his face. But this was a time to remain collected, she took a deep breath as she ran. “What now?”
“The entire facility is out to get you,” Siegfried’s voice shook as he told her. His confidence had worn off, Leyim thought. He was never the most blood-thirsty of her guard. “There’s a pretty big number on your head, Captain.”
“So, this was his plan all along?”
“Whose plan?” Alfsol didn’t get an answer, Leyim was pre-occupied with images of Atticus Kazuhiko all those months ago.
“Honestly? You can’t be serious?” Leyim spat out on to her newly built desk what little tea had earlier escaped her wrath. It had been a bad day for the recently promoted Captain, she placed the china cup onto the mahogany worktable and let out a deep sigh as she accumulated her thoughts. She had spent the day as a nervous wreck, her first meeting with Atticus Kazuhiko, the leader of the New Earth Army and president of Scarecrow Research.
She had little to no idea why he had suggested a meeting, he hadn’t taken a real interest in The Hunters since the death of Verentine Rothschild, the first Captain of The Hunters. At this point in time, Leyim was the only active member of The Hunters who had any knowledge of The Hunters’ true purpose, before the Shinigami infestation they were but a small offshoot of the NEA under 'special orders.’
“Do you have a problem with my command Miss Rossi?”
“Ms.” She corrected him with a smirk.
“Ms Rossi,” Atticus repeated, shooting the Captain a look that sent a chill around her body. “Do you?”
“Then why do you question my judgement.” Leyim flicked her fringe out of the way of her face and sighed once again. She rubbed the top of her nose just between her eyes and tried to phrase her next sentence carefully.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea. Do you remember what The Hunters were brought together for?”
“Of course I do. It was my idea.”
“Then why put a Kanzen in charge of the operations!?”
“Do not raise your voice at me,” he scolded her like a father would. It would take a while for the initial shock of this to wear off, but Atticus didn’t stop there. “Believe me, I know what I am doing. The Hunters would have a much higher advantage with The Envy in charge.”
“But…” She gulped, “what makes you think it won’t be The Envy who betrays the Kanzen? The reason behind our entire faction is because you’re suspicious of your own project. If this Envy is as powerful as you make him out to be, he would wipe out every single one of us in an instant and without us, you would be deep trouble.”
“I don’t know who you think you’re talking to,” Atticus told her, a sinister smile had grown across his face as the Captain spoke, “I like you Captain Rossi, I do. But trust me when I say that you have very little choice in this matter. Whether you like it or not, under my orders you will do as you’re damn well told.”
“Get out of my office.” She told him. And he did, he left just like that without a single word. But that grin didn’t. It had stuck around to this day and, now with Leyim out of the picture, The Envy has taken his place.
They could run all they wanted, but the three of them were bound to run into someone. Or, so Siegfried kept reminding them. “Where will we go?” He asked, “Alfsol, we need to take Captain Rossi to safety.”
“I know where we’re going.” Leyim told him, “if you let go I can take us both there.”
“Oh,” he muttered, slowing the three of them down in order to return Leyim’s arm. “Sorry.”
“Where are we going Captain?” Alfsol asked, she had put her helmet back on. The Hunters’ helmets weren’t used for protection. In fact, with the advanced weaponry of the times, they would be rather useless. Functionality was key and thankfully one of the many functions used by the Hunters was night vision. Alfsol had taken it upon herself to keep the group safe in the dark.
“I know some people.” That was all she would say on the matter. “We just need to find a way back to them.”
“Where do you think they would be?” Alfsol didn’t need answers, she trusted the Captain with her life.
“I believe they were heading for a nearby mall, but you have to trust me. These people are our friends.” They both nodded. “They are Kanzen, do not attempt combat.”
“No. We have been mislead,” she told them. “It is those who follow the lead of Atticus Kazuhiko that are the enemies. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Siegfried nodded again, he wasn’t too sure on the matter. It was his job to keep her safe, and that was what he was going to do.
“Okay.” Alfsol didn’t.
“It wouldn’t matter anyway.” She sighed, “we are well under-prepared to fight these monsters.”
The familiar sound of crumbling leaves reappeared.
“Is someone there?” Leyim asked.
“Alvar, get back.” Alfsol told him, she went to take the sword from her back but Leyim stopped her.
“Alvar, don’t listen to The Envy.” She was going to reason with him, perhaps Leyim had a bit of sway with the man. She needed to get the message of Kazuhiko’s betrayal out to the public.
“You don’t understand,” he whimpered slowly as his tear sodden face, seen only by the emotionless Alfsol, begged for forgiveness, “ you haven’t seen what they’re doing to those who refused…”
“You don’t have to do this.” Leyim kept her cane in one hand, just in case. The sheath was already discharged from the blade as Alvar took a step towards her.
“Watch out Captain, he’s got a pistol,” said her lookout. “Step back, Watchdog.”
“If you take another step, I will cut you down myself.”
“Alfsol, be quiet.” Leyim ordered. “Alvar, I’m going to come towards you now. Put the gun down.”
“I can’t.” She took a step closer and Alvar gripped his weapon tighter.
“Captain Rossi, don’t be a fool.” Leyim took another step, she could barely see the distraught man in the darkness, but his crooked figure was just visible to her adjusted eyes, “I’m going to come a little closer now.” She told him.
Another step was taken and Leyim Rossi was almost in arms reach for Alvar, but he was yet to make a move. “Come with us,” she told him.
“I’m sorry.” Alvar whispered to the careful Captain as, without warning, he brought the gun to his temple.
“Don’t you dare.”
“Forgive me, Captain Rossi.”
“Don’t you dare!”
A single flash of flight dispelled by a fountain of thick, red blood as the lifeless body of Alvar Appleton slumped heavily to the floor. Leyim heard the last gasp of air leave his body and left the scene.
“Jesus, I am so fuckin’ bored!” Shinji complained for the thirtieth time in less than half an hour. Sure, there was nothing to do, nowhere to go and no-one to kill but he could’ve done something to take his mind away from the numbing presence of Hideki Toramaru and Hiro Nakamura. “Where are those love birds?” He asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s getting a little late now.” Hideki paused, expecting a worried response from his white haired 'friend,’ “we’ll have to go looking for them soon.”
“He’s a big boy, I’m sure he can look after himself and Ayame, no problem.”
“Anyway, I bet they’re fucking.”
“I’d rather not think about it.” Hideki concluded.
“Nah, they have to be. Bloody kids.”
“I don’t think you’re allowed to say that until you’re at least my age.” He joked.
“How old are you?” A genuinely curious Shinji asked, but Hideki turned him away.
“None of your damn business.” He concluded the conversation for a second time. In response, Shinji decided to pace. To Hideki, it was quite possibly the most irritating thing in the world. The look on their faces grew increasingly frustrated, for different reasons of course. It could’ve only been a short while until one of them snapped.
“Seriously, stop that.”
The spoke at the same time, but Shinji’s voice echoed louder. “What?” Hideki asked, confused at the demand.
“We should fight.” He told him, “why not?”
“Why at all?”
“It’s healthy,” he said. Shinji’s expression had morphed from that of an angst-ridden teenager to that of a puppy dog, struggling to get what it desires. “C'mon, I won’t kill you.”
“Ha!” Hideki laughed heartily at his 'joke.’
“I don’t think you could.”
The fight was over in seven minutes.
“Saboten, you should stop smoking.” Ayame told him. On their way back to the camp site, the two of them had stopped at the closest thing to a convenience store in the mall. It too had been left open, unfortunately for the shopkeeper who was now down eight chocolate bars, five packets of chewing gum, three packets of high-quality smokes and all of the money in his register (from behind Ayame’s back. It’s okay, there was only enough for a magazine.) It didn’t take the green haired addict long to spark up his cancer stick. “It’ll kill you.”
He chuckled, “this is the last thing I expect to kill me.” Ayame was quiet for a second, “sorry.” He told her.
“But!” She spoke up, ignoring his apology, “you don’t want to survive this and find out your 'hobby’ is killing you anyway.”
He took one long last drag before dropping the smouldering staff and crushing it with his significantly more comfortable feet. “I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I am!” That made him chuckle, but it was true in a way. He wasn’t very thoughtful when it came to a lot of things, having Ayame there was good, for lack of a better word. They continued walking, the escalator from earlier still had freckles of Saboten’s blood on the bottom step, but they ignored it. But when they got to the top of the staircase, where their settlement sat, they saw only Shinji standing. “You!” He called as Saboten’s eyes focused on both Hideki and Hiro laying on the floor, apparently winded and in pain.
“What the fuck happened here?” Saboten asked, “Hideki, are you okay?”
“We’re fine.” He assured, “it’s just my pride that hurts.”
“We decided to spar, and I’ve decided you’re the only one here that’s powerful enough to challenge me.” Shinji told him with a smug grin, Saboten wasn’t quite as excited.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“You could just sit there, but you’ve got five seconds before I attack.”
“Shinji, don’t!” Ayame yelled at him, pulling the two of them to the side behind an overturned table. “You’re mad!”
“Stay here.” Saboten told her simply, she didn’t argue. She knew he could beat him anyway, he left with the words; “kick his ass” ringing in his ears.
“It’s just a bit of fun, Saboten.”
“I don’t think we have the same definition of fun,” he wanted to say. But nerves over took his lips, he said nothing.
“You know you’ll enjoy it.”
He was right.
As soon as Saboten summoned his trusty sword, his mind went blank and the fight began. Ayame saw the smile on their faces and sighed. “Idiot.”
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