The Lust’s head fell where she cowered, Saboten showed no mercy to the seductress as she feared for her life in those penultimate moments. The poison and blood continued to flow down her face for a few seconds before both fluids ceased production. Her death meant Project Sin’s numbers continued to dwindle, leaving only three warriors behind: The Envy and, if the naming convention stuck, The Gluttony and The Sloth.
In silence, Leyim and Hiro were set free as Ayame’s outer layer shed. The Iwa around her began to fall limp before each individual strand returned to its natural state. Ayame soon found herself to be awake and human, surrounded by her own hair. Saboten had not seen her bald before, he thought it gave her a much more threatening appearance which was an odd thought, it essentially meant she was weaponless.
It was much more fear inducing than he could’ve imagined but at least Ayame was in full control of her Tsuki Form, unlike Saboten. Back in Numazu, where the two crossed paths, Ayame mentioned an enormous snake Shinigami that had surrounded her when she awoke. It must’ve been Shax, dragging Ayame to safety in the midst of the rebellion. What else did she mention? A man in snazzy trousers? The words escaped him as the present forced itself back into his vision; Shinji was still standing in place. He was panting, bleeding from damage sustained in his battle with Ayame.
The poison still leaked from his neck. It was an obvious fluid, separating itself from the blood as it trickled down its victim’s nape. “Shinji? Are you okay?”
Not a flicker in his face, nothing had changed. The man didn’t even bat an eyelid as Hiro drew closer to him without his fists armed. In preparation for a more delicate state of mind, Hiro began to inspect his friend but even Saboten could see that nobody had to get that close to see what was happening here… Shinji’s body was rumbling, a violent movement reminiscent of an engine desperate to move on down the road. Maybe… just maybe, the poison had worn off slightly but Shinji clearly wanted to continue fighting.
Hiro was still trying to shake him out of it, begging for the man to just “put his weapons down” or “say something, please.”
In Shinji’s ruined eyes, Hiro was not a person. He was nothing but a cloud of red dust and Hiro knew that, he was a target that was soon to become another victim. Still, Hiro would not stop trying to snap the man out of his trance. No matter what it would take, Shinji Yamaguchi would not leave Team Karasu today, he would not let him die like this. It was dishonourable, all he needed to do was ingest those remaining pieces of influence that Valafar had left behind and Shinji would’ve been able to control that insatiable desire.
Shinji wasn’t at fault, even if he willingly took the bite. They didn’t need to worry about the poison; nobody would formulate such a potent sickness without designing a cure to go along with it and, if Hiro couldn’t find it in the Citadel, he could bring it to fruition himself. The medical bay had tools that he would figure out, one way or another. This battle had not beaten Shinji just yet, Hiro would save him and…
Was he being selfish? Was he fooling himself? Was there something that he was just averting his eyes from? Saboten had taken Ayame under his wing, Leyim had retrieved her cane from behind The Lust’s desk. All three of them looked ready to leave the building but Shinji was still indisposed. “What’s wrong?” he asked Saboten who wore a perturbed expression, “the poison might still wear off.”
“She’s already cold, Hiro,” said Leyim, “if The Lust’s poison was going to stop working, it would’ve done so already. Look at his wounds, the blood has no effect on it. None of the chemicals are being absorbed, they’re just floating around until his heart stops.”
Shinji grunted, his nose leaked and his wounds pumped more and more as his heart began to race. The shivering continued and, in his eyes, tears had been forming since the battle’s climax. He understood long before they could grasp it, Shinji had traded his life away for power and it had simply not been enough. He would never be in control enough to take back his own life, would he? Soon, his remaining personality would falter and the attacks would begin again. The four of them would fight back but, sooner or later, Shinji’s body would just give in.
If that happened, Shinji would’ve died a traitor to his cause. It was a cause which he was roped into joining, of course, but he was more a part of it than the others. After all, it was him who began the rebellion, it was him who saved them from a life in captivity, and it was his acts which brought them together. “Shinji Yamaguchi,” began the gentle giant, not knowing if his friend could even hear him, “you will not be forgotten. You were incredible.”
Hiro took his head in his hands and crushed the life from it. Death in its simplest form, he wouldn’t have noticed a thing.
Hideki Toramaru and Shinji Yamaguchi were laid to rest outside of the Hunter’s Citadel as their journey had come to its end. It was now up to the remaining fragments of Team Karasu to live out their task: take down the Shinigami Hakyoku before it was too late. It was Hideki’s plan but the three of them would carry it on in his memory.
It fell upon Saboten to bring the group forwards. He wanted them to move onwards to Tonami where the second largest Scarecrow facility had been built to house lesser Kanzen Hakujou. From what he remembered, it was also where Sun Toramaru was being held captive. It was also where they believed The Envy had moved his base of operations.
Leyim had been searching her reclaimed home for the bastard but he was nowhere to be found, “he’s definitely gone. His office has been emptied and the data centres have been wiped clean… but the prison still remains untouched and that is a relief.”
“Leyim, what about the Hunters?”
“That’s a good question. I don’t quite have an answer yet, I don’t believe the poison will ever completely wear off but the Hunters were irreplaceable. I think this might be the end of us.”
“That’s a lot of soldiers to just kill off, Leyim.”
Breaking his silence, Hiro stuck his bitter opinion into the air and threw it at the Captain. “What other choice do you have?” he asked them. “The Lust is dead but the Hunters still hold some of her inside them, what if they could spread the poison?”
“That’s just bullshit and you know it, Hiro.”
“Do not try and make me regret what I had to do, Saboten.”
“And don’t try and justify what you had to do by making things up! Shinji had to die because he was a fucking lunatic. You know as well as I do that Shinji would’ve taken that gamble on a clear mind any day. He didn’t need to be coerced into letting The Lust bite him, he’d have pulled her fucking fangs out and ingested it himself if he wanted.”
As Ayame stepped into the argument, her hair lurched forwards and extended to its original length. The ends balled up into two separate fists which she held to her friend’s faces. “Is this what you want to be doing right now?” her words were hot, Saboten could feel the anger on his cheeks as she spat them at him, “our friends are dead. Leyim’s friends are dead. Soon, everybody will suffer and it will be because we didn’t act quick enough. Do you understand?”
Saboten and Hiro nodded in unison, it felt like the last act the two would do as a pair. The bonds between them had been snapped by vicious words and Saboten didn’t feel remorse, Hiro was slowing him down. Ayame continued but switched the topic of the conversation to their departure, “how do we do this?”
“What do you mean?” Saboten responded, “we head Northwards to Tonami and we take out The Gluttony, The Sloth, and…”
“Sorry, I think Ayame means how are you going to get to Tonami?” Leyim interjected pulling Saboten’s sense of direction from him in an instant. Was he forgetting something? Leyim looked at him and Hiro, and then back to Ayame. “You do understand that Tonami is 200 or so miles away, right?”
Saboten stood silent, he had failed geography in class and now, the subject he expected to affect his life least, was bothering progress. “We’ll walk?”
“Yeah, great idea. Enjoy your three day hike, kids.”
Ayame retrieved Leyim’s mobile phone from her back pocket. In the midst of battle, the screen had been shattered but at least part of the display was still legible. “I’ll look it up,” she said, “the maps have public transport details, maybe the trains are still running.”
“Do you know how to drive a train?”
“You don’t need to know how to drive it,” she replied, “even manual vehicles have auto-pilot options these days.”
Leyim’s phone let out an extended beep, “directions downloaded.”
“Yay,” said Ayame.
“Begin journey,” said the phone, “walk to Mishima Station and board Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen service to Tokyo Station, this journey will last 55 minutes.”
“I always hated this phone’s voice, it’s so robotic.”
“Exit Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen service and board Utsunomiya Line service to Ueno Station, this journey will take 6 minutes,” the phone continued, “exit Utsunomiya Line service and…”
Sooner or later, their journey had been mapped out and the phone finally stopped talking. Leyim was next to take the stage, “it’s going to take a long time to get to Tonami, are you sure you’ll be all right?”
“I think we’ll be okay,” said Saboten.
“He’s being polite, we’re going to need an extra pair of hands if you want to join us.”
“Thanks for the offer, Ayame?” she stumbled over her words, unsure if the girl was failing to be sarcastic. “I’ve got some things I need to do here so… I think this might be goodbye from me.”
To the Captain’s obvious surprise, three hands shot out at her. She shook each one with vigour, “thank you.”
“We will cross paths again, I’m sure. First, I have to help my comrades…”
“We need you in this war, Leyim.”
With four final words, Captain Leyim Rossi returned to her castle and departed from Team Karasu; “I’m sure you do.”
Team Karasu departed northwards, further from the Hunter’s Citadel where many soldiers now laid for eternity. Their exit was scored entirely by Leyim Rossi’s voice which echoed out over the P.A system of the building as she ordered the remnants of her Hunter army to fall back to their original states, if possible.
“I am now ordering you,” she said, “no, I’m begging you to listen to me. This is the Hunter’s final stand. Those who will no longer follow The Envy’s will, please step outside of the building.”
Saboten crossed his fingers harder than they had been crossed before, he marched them forwards without once turning back.
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