Simply put, it was only Saboten who could defeat The Envy.
If he could tap into Belphegor’s ability to conquer reality itself, he’d be able to see past The Envy’s distortion, he could stay grounded. His newfound strength could be used to surprise the enemy and, once he’d gained the upper hand, Saboten could erase his foe forever. In Nori’s words, “it would be like The Envy never existed.”
Leyim watched from the roof of the bookstore where Saboten and Nori stood eight paces apart, silhouetted in the distance. It appeared their training session had taken a brief, deserved break. It had only been thirty-five minutes since they begun but calling it intense would have been an understatement. Nature itself cowered as they fought, each strike carving thick shockwaves which passed Leyim’s body with relish, journeying far enough to shake The Citadel’s foundations.
The Citadel… It wasn’t in the best of places, was it? Leyim had lost all but thirteen of her soldiers to The Lust’s poison, having culled her influence herself. These remaining recruits, they were nothing. Sure, the bar of entry for The Hunter’s Guild was sky high but, when compared to Alfsol or Kira, they were worthless.
Leyim had lost her right-hand, and her second-in-command. The Citadel was completely without an internal structure bar those lucky thirteen drones, left to clean and burn and bury their fellow soldiers, their bunkmates, their friends. Of all possibilities, Leyim wanted to sink into one where she threw away her mantle as Captain of The Hunter’s Guild. After meeting Hideki Toramaru and his rag-tag bunch of ‘good guys’, all she had known felt upturned.
The Hunter’s Guild, assembled by Scarecrow from NEA soldiers, existed to eliminate roaming creatures. Until you hit the field, you weren’t told what creatures you’d be fighting. It was all very hush-hush so that, from the get-go, you feared their name. Soon, they started to ‘take human form’ as Kanzen Hakujou.
Possessed, that’s what Captain Verentine told Leyim. “It would be best to put them out of their misery, don’t you think?” And, when she took his position, she gave the exact same spiel. Team Karasu, they proved their humanity from minute one. The Hunter’s movement had been incorrect, it needed to be abolished, burned to the ground, and resurrected before it could start to do good once again.
With these fresh thoughts, a batch of new recruits rescued from The Envy’s control, and a metaphorically sound fresh coat of paint, Leyim would be able to return to her castle with her head held high. Certainly, the Hunter’s Guild had to evolve under her wing. Anyway, it seemed she would have to return to the Citadel regardless of her political stance.
After all, Leyim Rossi was the only one who knew the combination to Nayami’s prison.
Saboten couldn’t find any holes in Nori’s plan of future action. Despite the repercussions, there was no other way to put The Envy into the ground, so to speak. Any faults had been pruned with a pair of careful, albeit haunted, eyes, safeguarded by countermeasure after countermeasure.
Simply put, Saboten couldn’t defeat The Envy.
Those seconds he spent mulling over Nori’s words were moments stolen from their limited window of opportunity. In this secluded hour, Saboten needed to grasp the ropes of Belphegor’s true potential but, in all realities, it would never be enough time for his body to acclimatise.
Nori had explained this poorly, and mid-strike.
Saboten returned, letting his guard down in the midst of combat, “what do you expect me to do about it?” Nori’s heavy, customised blade — forged in our world, perhaps by himself — swung open from its middle on a single, sturdy hinge. It took a secondary form, standing almost twice as tall as its master and bearing serrated teeth on its back-side for execution purposes. In weight alone, it was enough to carve Saboten’s katana into pieces.
Nori’s ability struck, forcing what remained of the sword’s hilt deep into the ground beneath them while the rest of the pieces soared into the sky, before returning to that familiar mist. It appeared that his Shinigami forced one meter of previously undiscovered space into anything he sliced, even the smallest of nicks.
“The Shinigami derive their strength from their homeland, Saboten. My own, Haagenti, believes that Kanzen Hakujou could benefit from the same exposure.”
Saboten summoned his katana again, tapping its edge against Nori’s creature of a weapon. “I’ve been to the Kara Sekai, and I can’t go back.”
“Seconds pass like years,” he said, edging on fear. “That entire world is lit by a single white light but it can’t pierce the fog. And there’s this… constant wailing. If I get rid of The Envy, I’ll have no way to get back.”
“We’ll come for you.”
“No, you won’t,” said the boy. “Why would you? I’m just as much threat as The Envy, right?”
Nori let the hilt of his weapon touch the concrete between his feet and, as he spoke, toyed with that sole hinge between his hands. “Yeah, you’re right Saboten. I’ll be honest, we can’t bring you back. The only reason that you’re not on The World’s list is Belphegor’s stubbornness.” The hinge dropped to the ground, letting the upper segment of his sword slide free from the primary body.
A convenient handle popped out from the bottom as though its applicable uses were endless.
“Once The World is strong enough to overpower him, she’ll certainly come for you.”
“You’re lucky, I guess.”
“The World doesn’t need to put a bit of space between things to conquer the… the world.”
His brow furrowed and a smidgeon of character was revealed before he launched another attack. “Sure,” he said as Saboten dodged once more, “that’s all I do. You’re wasting my time, kid.”
Just one word and, just for a second, Saboten could see Hideki’s stupid grin again. It was almost a permanent addition to his face, even in the flicker of Numazu’s flames but it was his last expression that Saboten recalled most often. That last breath, it was spent calling for Sun. He was safe now though, at least they could do that much for their leader.
He was a raven, trying to build a nest from Scarecrow’s mess.
Willing to scavenge for their betterment.
Ready to die protecting his flock.
Was it his turn? To defend what remains of Hideki’s Team Karasu? To honour those who already fell to The Envy’s will?
He could accept that fate.
He blinked, he smiled.
This peace lived only in Saboten, and his sparring partner refused to let up. Every pound of Nori’s body weight was forced into each serrated strike and like one hundred iron teeth, the secondary blade dug into his left arm something fierce, refusing to stop until it shattered the radius, settling in the first third of his ulna.
Eyes remaining shut, clamped in a wince until Nori’s abilities ordered that unnatural space to fill his wound with nothingness. His vision returned, reintroduced to the world by the sight of his own arm disappearing into the distance, and a look of simple awe strapped to Nori’s face.
Saboten could feel a pulse, located beside his nose like a shard of his steel had been stuffed into his tear duct in the blast.
The third ring had been birthed.
That half-feeling of congratulation and success died once the Earth’s colours began to fade from vivid to a meagre greyscale. No, it was more like they were being pulled from all things — animate or otherwise — to a vanishing point far, far behind him. Still in motion, he witnessed time itself slow in the form of a stilted river of blood from his voyaging limb.
Saboten inhaled the deconstruction of a universe as all things, now bleached and still, began to peel away like aged paint, drawn to the same vanishing point. Slow at first, the boy was soon battered by a hailstorm of his life, engulfing him in their pieces.
Was he dying?
There was a stillness within his core that Saboten couldn’t attribute to any previous experience; his exhaustion hadn’t been relieved but no longer did it pester him. There was nothing left of him to pester, just floating thought. Had his remaining hand not already evaporated, it would’ve been the perfect, peaceful moment for that cigarette he’d saved.
Awake, or alive, the boy shook his head from side-to-side. Reality had returned by the blink of his eye, an immediate and disorientating transition not unlike a car crash, or a morning that came too quick. Saboten’s shell hadn’t moved but his insides came to a fierce and rolling stop. Everything was wrong; upside-down as though his brain hadn’t yet adjusted for visual input.
A rub of the eyes fixed his vertigo; both hands.
Had he not sustained an injury after all, or had Belphegor healed him again?
When did it start raining?
A hand fell upon his shoulder; rough and warm, even through the fabric of his shirt. It upset the delicate balance of what felt like a brand-new existence. It belonged to Nori Adachi whom stood to his left, wearing that same simple look of awe as rain washed away the stick of sweat. On the right stood Ayame, staring out towards the train station in the fogged distance, distracted.
He had been moved, standing now atop their makeshift base but their hair was soaked; they’d been standing in the wash for a while.
Saboten needed to vomit.
“A— are you okay?” Ayame dived for his back, offering the traditional three pats to help get everything up, contrasted by Nori’s response: tugging at his shoulder, straightening the boy out mid-stream. Saboten hardly had the chance to wipe the chunks from his face before Nori’s patterned eyes approached, reflecting Saboten’s own image.
At last, three concentric circles surrounded Saboten’s triangular pupil.