In those weeks they spent together, Hideki had no access to a single image of his child in safe, loving arms. Ayame knew that, throughout the journey, Hideki had hope in his heart that Sun Toramaru had been protected by his mother, so it was an immense relief for Ayame to be able to say without doubt that the little boy she held in her grasp was Sun Toramaru himself.
Unscathed, the two of them sat in the cocoon of Ayame’s impenetrable hair. She could keep him safe as long as he stayed inside the sphere, but the child was uncomfortable sitting beside her.
They shared postures, atop their tired knees. In the end, Ayame supposed, a conversation is all she’d wanted; “Sun? Sun Toramaru? That’s your name, isn’t it?”
“Are you g— going to hurt me?”
“No, of course not. Me, Saboten, Kira, and the others have come to save you from the bad guys.” Those twitching cheeks and bruised eye sockets told upsetting stories of mistreated nights spent in the cold palm of The World. “Could you tell me who you were just with?”
“S—,” he swallowed his words and chose them again. “She was going to take me to my Daddy, away from all the bad people… now, she’s dead.”
An impossible amount of tears forced their way out from the purpled pockets beneath those innocent eyes. It didn’t matter what they spoke about because the conversation could only lead to a single destination: this child’s father is dead, and his mother is missing. “I know this is going to be hard to understand…” Ayame couldn’t possibly explain at this moment and, in any other situation, Ayame wouldn’t have the gall to lie to a child, “she was one of the bad guys in disguise.”
“You’re not making sense! She was taking me away from the big man,” screamed the boy with the strength of Hideki, “she was helping me.”
“Sun, I need you to listen to these words, okay? It was your Daddy who sent us to pick you up. Hideki sent us to come keep you safe because we’re his friends, we’re your friends.”
Stunned, the child looked up at Ayame with all the hope in the world. “Is he going to get on the train too? Is he okay?””
“H— I think he’s doing fine, Sun.”
“You don’t sound very happy.”
“It’s been a difficult time for everybody, especially your Dad.” For the first time, talking appeared to be the only effective method for barricading the tears within the cold walls of emotion. The longer Ayame could talk up Hideki’s heroics, the longer her cheeks could stay warm. “One of the bad guys attacked us and we all got split up. We’re not sure where he’s hiding but it was your Dad who saved us.”
“He’s a hero?”
“He’s the biggest hero I’ve met, he brought us all together.”
“And now he’s missing?”
“But we can find him together now, right?” Sun nodded, inching closer to his own personal saviour. Their alliance was no longer under investigation, now Sun focused on their dome. “It’s my hair, it’s a little hard to explain but you’re safe in here, I promise.”
“The lady in the cape,” he muttered, “she’s really strong. I don’t think you’ll be able to beat her.”
“You’ve got special powers, right? I’ve got them too, and so does she… Her special power is so powerful that she’s got to keep eating or she’ll die!”
“Everybody will do their best, don’t worry.”
The keratin forcefield around them came to a sudden and crashing end as it splintered into one million individual blonde toothpicks, before evaporating into the tense atmosphere. The menacing figure was no longer cloaked, revealing her true dreadlock-donning form. The epitome of laziness wrapped in grey sweatpants hanging from her hips. A pale blue, half zipped hooded jacket hid canvas skin, heavily tattooed in a geometric fashion.
The ink spread from collarbones to fingertips, passing several cloth wristbands and multiple silver rings. In those jewelled hands, she lacked the enthusiasm to hold her two revolvers straight at Ayame and Sun, instead falling to the left as the strobing light of the sun passed. The weapon in her right hand had been customised with an inconvenient-looking golden monocle to act as a scope which magnified the pattern that her Shinigami had branded into her eye.
Another member of Project Sin had reared their fangs, one who had access to a pair of powerful looking eyes just like The Envy and Saboten himself. Oh, Belphegor perked up at the sight of this new enemy. If it isn’t Malphas, it’s been a while. The Lord of Sleep, my favourite little sister, she packs one hell of a punch.
“What are you thinking?”
I’ll let her do the explaining, he said, but if I’m honest, I don’t think you’ll survive this one. I won’t be able to help you, and it’s not even my own choice! Ha!
Still, the demon’s confidence pumped through Saboten’s veins and the cocky warrior spoke out. “Which one are you? There’s not many left,” he raised seven fingers toward this new enemy who would follow the same pattern as her accomplices: they would fight, she would almost kill somebody, they would overcome an obstacle, she would be defeated. As he listed each name, Saboten struck a finger; “The Greed, The Pride, The Wrath, The Lust… You’re not The Envy and you don’t look like The Gluttony, so you’re The Sloth, right?”
“Ugh,” sighed the gunslinger, tossing her left-hand weapon into its holster so she could stuff more bread into her mouth. Slogging through the soggy crusts, she explained herself: “Yeah, I guess I’m The Sloth. I’m not super crazy about these nicknames, they’re a bit pejorative… is that the right word?”
“Enough talk, what do you want with Sun Toramaru?” asked Kira as Ayame extended her hair to protect the child once again.
“Nothing? I don’t really want him, he’s such a whinge-bag. Mummy this, Daddy that… The kid’s just a trap, y’know? We’re halfway through moving him to Tonami because The World reckoned you’d chase after him, I don’t think she was planning on having you arrive so soon though. She’s busy, you probably know that.”
“The Envy filled us in,” said Leyim. “We’re free to keep the child safe as long as we come to Tonami?”
Relieved, The Sloth fell back into her row of seats, donning her cloak as some kind of blanket. “Great, glad that’s sorted out.” Once again, Ayame’s extended hair burst into the tiniest fragments, piling up around her and the boy before returning to the Kara Sekai where it began, Saboten assumed.
“Oh yeah, right!” she sat back up. “So, I’m going to have a bit of a nap, if that’s okay? I don’t want you trying anything silly, so I’ve stolen all of your powers. Don’t do anything stupid, all right?”
It didn’t feel right, Saboten couldn’t summon his weapon from the Kara Sekai. Hell, he couldn’t even feel Belphegor’s overbearing presence in his mind. It was as though The Sloth had pulled the muscles from his body and, if Kira decided to open the train window, a gust of wind could’ve knocked him off his feet.
“Lemme lay this down for you,” The Sloth retrieved one of her pistols once again, pulling the barrel toward the squirming carcass of Akio the Soldier. “You heard the machine, there’s about two more hours left on this journey so, for the next 120 minutes, we ‘mortal enemies’ should be duking it out until one of us comes out on top.”
The Sloth fired her scoped revolver from her right hand but no bullet followed the distinctive action. Seconds passed, six pale blue wisps were pulled from the air around her and loaded into the cylinder. It began to rotate, slow at first, before exploding all at once: firing a small beam into the soldier’s skull.
“The Jigoku Crux revokes the power of your Shinigami making you all human again. I assume you’re all caught up on what that means, yeah? If you try and start shit, you’ll end up like him. Let’s just have a nice, relaxing journey where the Shinigami can’t get to us. I mean, when was the last time you just got to have a bit of a rest?” The Sloth returned to her horizontal position as the audience stared, “Oh, except for you Sun. As long as you’re on your best behaviour, you can keep your Shinigami, all right?”
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