There was nothing she could do as Alfsol fell to the ground. Her expression was one that dripped of betrayal, she could never have seen it coming. Her head was the first to hit the silver floor, pushing blood up through her body. It ran across Leyim’s face now, dribbling down from her brow to the floor.
Before her arms broke her torso’s fall. Her knees buckled, and she fell to the ground. She had died seconds earlier.
Leyim was second, falling to her knees in order to vomit; ejecting all sorrow from her body in the form of bloodied chunks. From now on, all she’d see in her dreams would be Alfsol Olandar; murdered by the very man she fought side-by-side with.
The man they were hunting was to their right the entire time, and they were too blind to see it.
“How long?” She would not beg for an answer but Leyim had to know the extent of Sie- No, The Envy’s betrayal.
The Envy didn’t answer. He swung again, lashing out at Leyim with the blunt edge of his blade, intending to break bones not sever limbs. It was Saboten who blocked the blow, saving Leyim who did not even have the strength to stand.
Saboten’s defensive lunge lasted lasted for less than three or four seconds as The Envy was quite easily able to kick the boy away. He was thrown back to his own group but quickly picked himself up. The Envy stood next to Leyim, his chin at her shoulder; “the whole time. It's been a long couple of years.” He told her, “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t The Envy.”
He repeated his kick, this time planting the top of his dominant right foot into the Captain’s temple. She fell like her bones were concrete and the room vibrated. The Envy was a step above them all, and they knew it. The fight had yet to begin and Team Karasu had already lost.
A light began to form around him, an aura of sorts. As it was born from nothing, it began as a small outline. It grew and span, thickened and swarmed like a hurricane of flame-orange insects enveloping him entirely. Seconds after, the Hunter armour erupted from his body landing right next to Leyim’s foetal positioned body.
The flames eventually died down and, although they cast no heat, sweat poured down Saboten’s neck. The Envy had finally revealed his true form as Saboten once did; pointed ears, jagged fangs and red sclera. He was a wielder of Jigoku Eyes; a pair of Y-shapes in black circles, the symbol on the television sets.
A tail whipped out from behind his now-denim trousers; it was barbed and razor-tipped. His brick red hooded jacket was already stained with a darker red, blood. He had gotten into costume just for them.
The handle of his sword retracted telescopically and he returned it to the brown leather scabbard on his shoulder. Alfsol’s blood gravitated down the smooth, dented blade. “I’m not in the mood to fight you just yet. Thankfully, you’re in just the place for me to kick back and relax.”
Those flames returned momentarily, blanketing both The Envy and the upper half of Alfsol and the two disappeared. Saboten watched as both he and Hideki hesitated to move, Ayame followed second. It was their hands that graced Leyim’s sunken shoulders. She was shivering like her body had frozen from the inside out. Raindrops of sweat and tears fell down her bone-white face, pooling around her pupiless eyes.
Her lips trembled to form shapes, but no words were spoken.
‘I’m sorry’ was the first and only phrase she could conjure when she finally came too. Leyim had been trapped in a limbo of though, unable to even accept the events in front of her. She had now lost both of her comrades, her friends.
Leyim was alone.
She had Team Karasu but they were not hers. They were not her friends and they did not trust her. It was a strange feeling but not one she had time to overcome. She wished to be at home; her office. It sat above all other floors in the Citadel and was enormous. It was cosy in some places, complicated in others. Hell, there were places she had not yet seen in that offices, still nooks to explore. She kept to her desk, her bed and her bookcase, where she read Verentine’s journals.
Static burst through the speakers once more and Leyim’s eyes opened. It was blurry on the outside, her vision clouded by depression. The Envy told her to wake up; “come on Captain, rise and shine. I have something to show you.”
“Stop it,” she heard Ayame shout.
“Ayame,” Leyim began, “don’t bother. He’s not going to list-”
“Leyim, stand up.” Now Ayame was barking orders at her, would it ever stop? “What are you going to do about this? Are you just going to let him stand over you?”
“What are you talking about?”
Ayame slapped her, cheek to cheek. It stung but it was freeing. “You need to wake up and smell the roses, Captain. You might’ve lost Alfsol but this fight isn’t over. Stand up and avenge your friend. Now.”
She stood, a newfound strength warmed her stomach. She drew the blade from her cane and whispered, “I’m sorry.” She said nothing more.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” The Envy said, “that really was quite the show. However, the feature presentation is about to begin.” The sounds of gas escaping could be heard again from all around the room. Five more doors appeared from between the silver panels. “Welcome to the Torture Ward.”
“Shit.” Leyim new that name and Hideki looked as though he did too. The look of power dropped to an expression of worry, wrinkles buried themselves in his forehead. “The Torture Ward is just a myth.”
“I think you’ll find that is the myth, Captain.” The Envy said, “we’ve got a lovely group of people to greet you tonight.”
“What is this place?” Saboten asked from behind her.
“It’s where the NEA sends their troublesome lot.” She explained, remembering the tales she heard from her father. “It’s a rumour within the walls of the government; the NEA build a terrible place to send deserters, betrayers and all those who couldn’t follow the rules in order to scare soldiers straight. It’s a hellish place, and supposedly the foundation to the Citadel.” She panned, never taking her eyes away from the blackened doorways. Nobody had stepped out of the darkness, yet. “I could never find it.”
“I always heard that the Citadel was just a cover-up,” Hideki added, “one of my squad members was sent to the Torture Ward for a stupid manoeuvre, killing thirty people.”
Leyim stopped for a second, “how do you know he was here?” She kept her eyes on the darkness.
“I sent him there.”
“Oh prisoners?” The Envy’s voice spluttered out in a sing-song style. “You can come out now. Oh, and, if you manage to kill one of them, you can all go free.”
They stepped out of the shadows, one by one. Each prisoner was a different height, held a different weapon but they all shared a smile. An expression soaked in lust for freedom. They were all rugged-looking men; their bodies hard but their spirits enfeebled, sunken eyes grown used to darkness. All of them, bar one, wore beehive beards to their chests.
The prisoners moved closer like hungry dogs staring down their first meal in months, licked lips and weapons drawn. Team Karasu didn’t react, Leyim feigned confidence. Nobody seemed worried, they were no challenge at all to them but Leyim had to be careful. She couldn’t risk getting hurt now, not until The Envy came back out.
She focused on their faces; they each had, penned on their forehead in permanent marker, katakana. It was their names.
Hajime; he held a pair of pistols caked in dust. His trigger finger itching with only a single spare magazine to blow through.
Hideo; around his belt were kunai. The once-stainless blades were now rusted and orange.
Masanori; he wore gloves with seven silver knuckles. The wrist buckles were broken and the leather appeared too tight for his swollen fists.
The fourth was seemingly nameless as the ink had been smeared across his skin. He held a katana in a wooden scabbared, the dents showed years of battle experience.
Akira; he had a small holster strapped to his thigh, home to a pair of nunchucks. He seemed uneasy, his first battle in a while. Hiro already had him lined up.
In an instant, four of the five jumped. All of them but the nameless one aimed for Ayame, smelling innocence and fear on her sweat. Leyim dashed backwards to protect her, as did Saboten, but the girl saw this coming a mile away. Her hair showered downwards like a thousand extending needles. They punctured the metal flooring, shielding her from all damage as Leyim and Saboten fought them backwards.
From behind, Leyim could hear the others moving into position. That moment decided who would fight who; leaving Saboten and herself to fight together. His eyes met with Hajime’s and the battle was decided, but they had to finish quickly as The Envy would be caught off guard. Saboten was already off, sharing her thought and summoning the strength to slice through his pistols.
The battle for the Citadel had begun.
The man with the sword, Shinji knew he had to fight him. His body wrapped in a kimono of bandage cloth; moth-bite holes up both sleeves, wooden sandles on his feet and marker pen on his forehead. He did not look strong, but neither did Shinji. The chips on the scabbard told Shinji more than enough; he would never reveal his sword in battle. It could be an heirloom, and that would make him weak.
Shinji saw his objective; if he could summon all of his speed and strength, he would surely be able to cut straight through. That bastard wouldn’t stand a chance. He geared up. Both swords lined up, spread out with his arms in a V-shape behind him. The attack plan was simple, as he reached a blade-length away, he’d cross the swords and dive past. Action movie style.
The man had his eyes on him but no time to react appropriately, months and months of anticipation behind his stance. The carbon-fibre black of his pupils stared into his plan but it didn’t matter.
Five steps away now; he could move faster if he wanted but he was saving his energy for the strike.
Three steps. The swords were moving. He could feel the strength building up in his biceps, flowing down his arm.
One step. The blades swoop in like eagles. From one side, time feels infinitely slower. To the other, a flash of light and it’s all over.
Astonishing pain. Striking. Breathtaking. His left side burning. In agony, Shinji Yamaguchi fell to the ground.
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