It seemed they were in a stalemate situation, Team Karasu had been outwitted by Project Sin. They had been fighting an uphill battle since leaving the Numazu facility so this turn of events was inevitable, but surprising. Speaking with brutal honesty, Hiro did not think that he would make it this deep into the journey because his existence was the least relevant of the group.
His Shinigami Lord was, in the grand scope of things, weaker than most. Had he only survived on pure luck? The World and Project Sin were beginning to take control of the situation which meant that, if they wanted to, they could’ve eradicated Ayame, Leyim, Kira, and himself at any point. It was Saboten they were after, after all.
He was much too powerful to be defeated by conventional means, Hiro understood that. You cannot just let a creature who controls the fabric of reality roam the Earth but Project Sin was finding it difficult to defeat him, and Saboten couldn’t utilise his abilities.
According to the information Hiro had digested, The World was predisposed at the moment with a personal objective to which Saboten was a mortal threat. The World had given up on the obvious offensive and simply put the group out of service until her job was complete, then would come the execution.
Given the current situation, if The World wanted Team Karasu erased from the face of the Earth, The Sloth would’ve shot them dead by now. No, The World wanted Team Karasu to witness her true power before initiating the final phase of her plan. Hiro wasn’t anymore privy to The World’s intel but, based on the previous experience with Rho Dwelt, it was quiet obvious that The World’s power had been split into multiple bodies.
Atticus Kazuhiro was just the stepping stone for whichever Shinigami Lord was in control of that body, as evidenced by the transformation which took place when Rho Dwelt was swallowed whole. Dwelt gave The World the ability to summon the Shinigami from the Kara Sekai by bypassing the blood ritual as far as Hiro knew.
She was also looking into the Citadel’s prisoner: a devastating power laid within those walls. Could it have been one of the remnants of The World? She was travelling the country, absorbing those who borrowed her power before she can become complete. What kind of power could she be after that could be more devastating than the ability to control reality itself?
Furthermore, The Sloth’s decision to allow Sun Toramaru’s Shinigami Lord to remain in possession made little sense. What was it about this child that made him so special? Upon closer inspection, the boy appeared rather fragile: he had been detained under Project Sin but this child was a product of the same fate as Team Karasu. Hiro was sure that it was common knowledge that Kanzen Hakujou no longer needed nourishment, so what was going on?
“Just what’s going on here?” he said, “where do you intend on taking us?”
“Tonami has gone into a total lockdown situation, right? The Envy is basically in charge so that’s probably where he’s run off to, if you wanted to know. Once we arrive, you’ll be imprisoned and executed in-front of a live studio audience and then the rest of us can get on with our boring lives without you.”
“And what about those of us that are human?” asked Kira, “what’s stopping me from taking you out right now?”
In an instant, tears began to roll down the side of The Sloth’s face as it contorted into a perverted grin stretched out to both ears. As the tears fell into that gaping void, The Sloth produced an unholy noise similar to that of a banshee or a gibbon, “I dunno if you’ve gotten a hold of this, Hunter, but all the specialised training in the world won’t help you match up to a Kanzen Hakujou, especially without these guys.”
“If you’d like we could try it right now but let’s get something straight,” said The Sloth.
Kira dipped her left hand into the breast pocket of her Hunter’s uniform, preparing a concealed weapon for a quick draw. Her stance had evolved into a more battle-ready state: parallel feet, bent knees, penetrating eye contact. “What’s that?”
The enemy stepped forward without a single hint upon her face, drifting straight past the hammered-in instincts of the intensive Hunter’s Guild training regiment. Kira didn’t flinch herself, perhaps only because she hadn’t the time to move at all. If The Sloth had felt up to it, it was clear that Kira’s internal organs would have been strewn across the room before Team Karasu’s human perception could’ve picked up on it.
“I will tear you apart in front of your friends, your family, your pets.”
“I will pull your liver out of your body, perform a complex surgery on it in front of you, and waterboard you with your own bile.”
“I will cut your own feet off and kick you in the head with them.”
“Ya’ got that, Killer Queen?” The Sloth planted a brief kiss upon the threatened Hunter’s cheek, before returning to her bread bag and emptying the product into her mouth. Words pass through the melting crumbs like slime; “I don’t wanna hear another peep outta you, all righty?”
Before an hour had passed, The Sloth had digested more than four loaves of bread. Team Karasu was powerless in the wake of The Sloth’s abilities and she absolutely knew it, keeping her eyes pointed out of the carriage and not once turning back to her enemies. If they struck her, what damage could they do? Did it matter? At this point, the team knew that The Sloth was a maniac in every sense of the word and that relaxed attitude hid the tenacity of a serial killer.
In silence, Team Karasu sat atop the rocking carriage waiting for some miracle whilst Ayame, alone, kept a close eye on Sun Toramaru. His condition was deteriorating to put it simply, he looked unwell as though his body was wracked with a sudden onset motion sickness. Ayame’s questioning couldn’t break through Sun’s intense stare, his heavy breathing, his sweating brow, all signs of motion sickness.
Saboten used to get it, she remembered, whenever the school would take them out for trips. No matter how long the ride lasted, Saboten would vomit before it concluded. He no longer seemed to have this distressing problem, nor could he see the signs written across Sun’s face. At any moment, the boy’s defence system would break down and the Team would have another problem to deal with.
The chunk-bursting moment never came, in fact, the infant continued to stare into nothingness until he collapsed from exhaustion. Ayame was happy to hold the boy in her arms as he slept but his doze was anything but restful as he twitched and clutched his left arm. As his movements became more violent, it was The Sloth who turned around to say, “oh, he’s probably having a heart attack.”
“A heart attack?”
“The little tyke’s got a condition, I dunno much about it,” she said, “his Shinigami Lord is always working overtime to help keep it working but even they can’t fix that kinda damage.”
“Why is it not working!?” shouted Ayame, “you said that he could keep it!”
The Sloth gazed upon the group in front of her, “exceptions are hard. I figured I could do it but we’ve all got limits, y’know? I’m not perfect.”
“You can’t just let him die!”
“I can, actually,” said The Sloth, “but I shouldn’t. It would be kinda hard to live quietly without a head, The World doesn’t take kindly to high-magnitude fuck-ups.” She stood, rising above Team Karasu with both weapons pointed towards the air. “All right, all right… I’m gonna break the spell for a mo’ but if you make any silly moods, I’ll think of another three things that I can do to each of you. If I’m right, that’s fifteen different brutalities in the next next forty-five minutes and I’m quite capable.”
“You’ll help him?”
“I’m a sweetie at heart,” she snarled. “Let’s take it from the top then, you might feel a bit of a prick.”
The Sloth shut her eyes and winced. All of a sudden, Ayame could hear gasping from the back of her head as though that villainess had pulled of the wind from Shax’s incorporeal lungs.
We should strike! said the Shinigami Lord, we should all have a burst of strength. Malphas’ lock-in causes us to bottle it up.
Saboten looked as though he had received the same message from Belphegor, and nodded in her direction. Right away, Ayame brought Sun Toramaru back into the protective snake chassis, and attempted to resuscitate the boy. The muffled sounds of battle outside matched that ever-present beat from Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da which Ayame could remember from school. The fight outside lasted less than forty-three seconds and soon, her iron-hair palace became shards once again.
It had been a long, long time since The Sloth had felt offended in any context but their deliberate ignorance towards her laid-back nature had scorched past the line she had so kindly drawn in the sand for them. Such incredible rage built up in the back of her mind that it drowned out the words of her Shinigami Lord who would do her best to keep her host breathing deeply and feeding herself as often as possible.
Those bastards had attacked her from all angles in the flurry; how was she expected to properly defend herself with all of The World’s rules? After all, do you really need a living being to perform a live execution? The audience won’t notice if there’s a little hole in the carcass where the heart should be, right? For such an angry moment, The Sloth was able to see the appropriate solution: one of these little piggies was out of place, unlisted, unaccounted for in The World’s orders.
Kira Königin hadn’t stepped against The Sloth during the flurry, she stood alongside the girl with the stupid hair but she would be the one who had to pay for their mistakes. The wealth of Shinigami strength between them was sealed away for another hot minute as The Sloth stormed past Saboten with her broken teeth and scarred shoulders, she knocked the big one from his feet with her forehead, and she pulled the Killer Queen’s ribcage from her chest.
The wounded flesh pulsated to the beat of her heart but all signs of life on her face had been stalled. The shock must have set in on the first move, she was only human after all. In one final act of vapid hatred, burning a haunting image into the minds of ‘Team Karasu’, The Sloth returned the bone from whence it came, only upside down.
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