Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Lightysnake, Nov 14, 2011.
Good stuff dude.
Keep 'em coming.
Wow, this is great! I haven't seen either of these animes, but you've got me hooked! Excellent story, I love how you've combined the two universes from what I've read and heard of so far.
Never before had a dame so beautiful walked into Guy's office in the evening. His memory was, granted, a bit fuzzy lately. Kiko was leaning back, reading her magazines instead of working. Guy admitted that he'd taken a peek at one once. He didn't quite understand most of it, but some part of his mind told him that it was wrong. Men and elephants were simply not meant to do that.
"Guy? Guy!" Rin snapped at him. Guy jerked up in his seat.
"Rin?" He grinned. "I ran into that Korstateen guy. He acted like he didn't even remember me. Guess he's keeping this on the hush-hush," He threw her a wink. "I told ya I could handle-"
"Which is why you called me right away? Kiko was right here."
"Yeah, but?" Guy leaned in to whisper "She's not really a woman thought, if you get my drift," He mimed at his chest and Kiko growled.
"That's sexual harassment, you moron!"
Rin sighed. "Guy?ignoring how much time you spend looking at my chest and comparing it, you-" she paused after a moment. "What do you remember?"
"Saving the day," He grinned. "Just another day in the life of the world famous detective, Guy Kuro-"
"I see," Rin interjected again. "I've got a?date with Li soon. Can you handle the rest of the work? No more Finnish pianists this time? No searching for lost girls?"
"Lost dolls and?" He paused glancing at his notes and gulping, "Cats?but-"
"Perfect, thank you, Guy," Rin smiled sweetly. "I'll leave it to you now."
"But, cats-" He started.
"You are the best," Rin said, patting his cheek. Guy coughed and pointed at himself.
"You know it! No problem too great or too small for-"
"At least we have enough so they won't cut the power," Kiko grumbled. "Hey, Rin, you seen that stoic girl around? I am totally getting her into cosplay and fanfiction while she works, isn't that awesome?"
"That sounds?wonderful, Kiko," Rin grinned. "I'll be off. I'll be busy for a while, so only call me if it's an emergency. I trust you can do everything yourself with no woman's intuition needed?"
"Of course!" Rin might've been a skirt, but she got it sometimes!
Rin decided to walk the remainder of the distance. Guy's memory hadn't been altered, to her surprise. Maybe he just didn't have enough of a brain to affect with the technology, unlike Elis Kastinen.
She'd checked up on Yin as well. She couldn't forget having seen Hei's partner smile. She gave a smile to herself. You really a big softy, she thought with a chuckle. She'd spent the day busy with her own work. Thankfully, things had been quiet recently. This was precisely the reason she'd asked to meet with Hei and see if anything was going on.
He was sat on the park bench, watching the crowds bustle past him as she approached, dressed in her suit and tie as ever. Hei was wearing a light jacket against the crisp evening air and she knew he saw her immediately.
"Rin," He stood up, walking over.
"And hello, Li," Rin smiled at him as she walked over.
"Is there a reason you wanted me here tonight? Did something else happen?"
Rin hadn't spoke to Misaki Kirihara in several days, and knew Huang had covered for all of them, even keeping Yin from being reprogrammed. "Not at all," Rin grinned. "I was actually thinking?" She reached out and took his arm, leading him out under the trees. "What say we spend a little time together?"
Hei blinked rapidly. "Rin, what-"
"Oh, come on. Would a casual evening kill you? No you trying to kill me, no trying to avenge one another or escape from somewhere?" She'd switched to English just in case anyone heard them.
"I?" He hesitated, caught wholly off his guard. Rin met his eyes with hers.
"You haven't had many casual evenings, have you?"
"No," He admitted, shaking his head. "Not since the Gate appeared-"
"Well, why not then?"
"I'm?" Hei looked to be thinking of a reason why not before he finally gave up. "Alright?what did you have in mind?"
"Well, I doubt your cover pays that well, so why don't we try a good restaurant?" Rin asked.
"I can eat a lot. You remember how I cooked-"
"Oh, please. How much you really put away?"
Approximately half an hour later, Rin was looked at the mountain of food nearly obscuring Hei from her view across the table. "Ah?.you?how?"
"You told me to order whatever I wanted," Hei lifted his chopsticks.
"I didn't think?I?" Rin stammered as Hei began to devour his noodles. "When you hit my age, you are going to weigh a million pounds, I swear it!"
"I move around a lot," He said and she caught a hint of amusement in his voice. Rin gave him a look.
"Oh, you think exhausting my budget for a year is funny."
"Actually, yes. You could take it out of Mimi's computer budget."
"And find every electronic device I ever use from here till the end of time crash on me? You're insane."
"Just a suggestion," Hei finished one bowl and selected another. "I'm enjoying myself very much, by the way."
"?nobody but myself to blame," Rin slumped in her seat. She felt a twinge of happiness, despite her external grumbling. Hei hadn't eben flinching from her touch after the night with Sayara Yamanobe's torment of him. It might have been his natural mental resilience at play.
"You know I'll make you pay me back," Rin gave him a look.
"Going to eat that chicken, or just tell at me?" Hei asked, a slight light of mischief in his black eyes. Rin gave a growl and seized her bowl before deciding to order a copious amount of sake as well.
Hei and Rin decided to walk back through the park, Rin leaning on him to steady herself. Hei was pretty sure she drank about as much as he'd eaten. She gave a grin. "See? We've got it mostly to ourselves?The moon used to come out over there and you could see the light through the trees?"
Now just the fake stars, though. Rin looked to Hei. "Hei, which one is yours?"
He pointed, having long since memorized it: The star that had once been Pai's and now belonged to him. "It's right there."
"It's bright," Rin said. "Wonder if it means anything."
"You can look all you want, but it won't change. It'll be there until the day I die."
"You make everything so gloomy," She chided, straightening as she removed her glasses. "It's not over yet, you know. We've got a lot more."
"You know everything that's happening and you still find time to go out like this?"
Rin leaned back, gazing at the sky. "And spend it sulking around? Apos, Laura, the Syndicate, Sayara?think of everything they've taken already, Hei. I don't let them take away my peace of mind, or my happiness when I can help it."
"Then are you happy right now?"
Rin grinned. "You already know I am. The better question is if you are."
He walked over to her, gazing up at the sky. A lifetime ago, he'd gazed at the sky with Pai, naming the stars and constellations for her, telling her how every shooting star was a wish she'd had.
"We'll find her, Hei."
"When did it become 'we,' Rin?" Hei asked
"Would you change that?"
"No," He answered after a moment. How did she seem to know him so well now? How did he seem to know her in return? Even bickering with her made him feel oddly comfortable now.
Rin stepped closer to him. "You told Yin you two are partners. That's true for us as well."
Hei nodded. "And Carmine, Mimi, Koki?"
"We've gotten real heavy for a fun night out now." Rin smiled at him. "Though-"
"No," Hei said. "I like this now?" He reached and put his hand to Rin's shoulder. "It's more than anyone's done for me, Rin. Thank you."
Then he smiled at her: a real one, not part of his Li mask. Rin looked to him, seeing him smiling at her. "Hei…" It was a real smile, not a part of his mask…warm, gentle and caring. She knew this was the real Hei. This was the Hei she'd come to care about so much.
She reaches out and gently put a hand to his cheek. He didn't flinch from it. She met his eyes as if seeking permission.
In return, Hei put his hand to hers before reaching to brush her green hair from her face, resting his hand against her cheek.
"Can you just kiss me already?" Rin whispered with a smile.
In response, he put his arms around her and leaned it. Rin put her arms around his shoulders and drew him in. She closed her eyes, feeling how warm and soft his lips were as they touched her own. She slid her arms around his neck, holding him to her
Look what you've gotten yourself into, Rin Asogi, she scolded herself halfheartedly.
She heard the footsteps then, and the sound of a switchblade.
"Ain't that sweet?" The voice said. Rin sighed in irritation as she and Hei separated. It was a small gang, about six young men. Juvenile delinquents by the look of it.
"Knew couples went here at night," One said with a grin. "We want all the money you got now."
"We were having a moment, do you mind?" Rin rolled her eyes. Heu glanced to her as the one with the knife blinked.
"Okay, money. Right now. And if you're lucky, honey, maybe we won't-"
"Hei," Rin smiled.
Hei glanced back to her. "I'll take the three on the left…?"
"Leaving me the loudmouth with the knife? Oh, you're too kind." Rin smiled charmingly.
One minute, and a number of broken bones later, Hei and Rin were leaving, her arm around his waist as she laid her head on his shoulder. "First kiss and first pummeling of people trying to rob us together? I'd say we're moving well."
Hei smiled at her. "Not moving too fast?"
Rin grinned at him, leaned up and kissed him again. "When you hit my age, taking it slow gets to be a waste of time. Do you want me to slow down?"
Hei leaned in and kissed her again. Rin grinned. "I'll take that as a no."
"Sure we should just leave them there?"
"Sure, I took his knife anyways."
"I was more concerned about what the broken leg."
"Aren't you a saint all of a sudden?" Rin chuckled. "It's a good hour walk back to my place, you know…"
Hei slid an arm around her, his smile remaining on his. "Then we've got some time together."
"About the rest of tonight though…I was thinking we take it slow?"
Hei smiled and nodded. "Good idea," He said. "About what you said earlier, about not letting them take what you already have?"
Rin leaned up for another kiss, "Did I say something like that?"
"Yeah…I think you're right."
"You want to give it a shot?"
"One day at a time," He said, glancing to his star.
It seemed to be shining more brightly than he'd ever seen before.
A bit of a filler chapter, I admit, but one I've rather wanted to do and one that seemed sweet with the holiday season here. The action will resume next chapter, I promise. Anyways, I want to extend my gratitude to everyone who's read and commented on this story. I'm very grateful and hope to hear more from everyone along with hoping to hear from others who are reading as well. From here on, Hei and Rin have to deal with Apos and Sayara's plots, the Evening Primrose is about to bloom and next chapter features more from our favorite intrepid detective as well as our favorite bad humored British assassin.
Thanks for reading, everyone!
Awesome chapter. Hehehehe, nice first date.
I enjoyed it! A little bit of fluff is good every now and then. Also I liked how you worked the gang of juveniles into it so that it kept to the roots of its genre and wasn't a full-on love-drama. Well done!
April leaned back in her booth, downing her next beer before setting it down and giving the waiter a wink. "Just bill that all the British Intelligence Service," She grins. "Just don't put MI6?"
The man smiled. "Madame likes a good joke," He said, as April pulled on her pink coat, sliding out from the seats where a group of young hosts of the club had passed out dead drunk from trying to keep up with her. "And a good drink," He added. The club was deserted at this time at the day, which was how April liked it when she went drinking without her partner. The tables were covered with white cloth, the floors with red carpeting. April thought the fanciness made it her kind of place.
"What can I say? I love to drink!" She gave a stretch as she passed him the check. "You know where to send the bill," she threw a wink, pleased to see him go slightly red as she slid her sunglasses on. "Same time next week, love."
She threw down a tip for good measure and walked out, raising her hand. When she exited the building, she shook her head. "Real joke's a club where the hosts pass out before the customers," she grumbled to herself. No matter where she went, nobody ever seemed to prevent themselves from going under the table before she was even feeling tipsy.
April had worked for MI6 ever since she'd awakened as a Contractor. She was proud of her abilities as well as her record. She knew she had it easier than most of the Contractors in regard to her Price, but she'd long since figured if she had to drink alcohol, she might as well enjoy it.
Still, not everything had been so rosy in this country. BK-201 had been on November's mind quite a bit, and other events were beginning to grate on their superiors back home. Decade, head of their agency, was even arriving in Japan to keep abreast of their progress. The Havoc incident had been a dark stain on their otherwise spotless record. That and they were still no closer to finding their primary target.
It was that exact second that April looked across the busy street and saw her. The young woman wore a heavy jacket and jeans, her hands folded in her pockets. Her long green hair was bunched up under a baseball cap. For a moment, April was unsure, until the girl raised her face and smiled, mischief dancing in her amber eyes.
She turned the corner and was gone, but April was already moving. The Contractor pulled out her phone, dialing in the number quickly as she pushed past pedestrians. She heard the ring on the other end, some part of her mind reminding her that 'Secret Agent Man' would be the ringtone November had chosen for their official business. She'd treated it with a light eye roll then, but in this situation, the song somehow played through her mind, lending an air of absurd comedy to this moment.
"This is Jack Simon," his voice message called cheerily. "I'm not here right now, but I heard this joke?" she frantically pressed a button to leave the message.
"November!" She shouted in English, "It's April, I've found primary target February! Pick up if you're there, for God's sake!" Of all the times for him to be away from his phone?
She ran to the street, seeing February smiling at her from across the street. She stepped forward?the street was deserted here. April summoned her power, ready to unleash it. She remained cautious, knowing February's power. As April gazed into that smile that didn't quite reach those strange eyes of hers, she remembered the other name that could only have come about from the color of February's eyes?
She then noticed the boy beside her, hand in hers. His face was lacking in emotion, his eyes-one red and one green- gazed at her without malice, remorse or pity. He raised a hand to his nose and wiped it once.
Her name?Amber? April thought. The last thing she saw before her world vanished in heat and fire was the smile on February's face.
Misaki stepped into the jail cautiously, looking to Saito. "No metal?"
"None, chief. We got searched before to make sure."
Yanagihara breathed in. "Had to make a special cell for this one. Usually any Contractors we catch make deals to work for our government, but this one…"
Misaki nodded, "That's why we're questioning him now, Detective Yanagihara," she looked to the cell with a frown. Inside, the Contractor knows as Hans was sat back on the bed. The cell was a small one, consisting of absolutely no metal as a precaution.
"Detective Kirihara," The German said, glancing to her without emotion. "I haven't had a chance to congratulate you on my capture in person."
"Hans, isn't it?" She asked as Yanagihara and Saito stepped by her, both armed with rubber batons.
"When I'm working." He looked her over. "You even took out your earrings. I'm impressed by the preparation."
"You've been here a while," Misaki said.
"I've been counting the minutes, I assure you. Will you release me now?" Hans looked at her and the others calmly. "It is the only way to save your lives now."
Misaki frowned. "We've arrested Contractors before. They've been more cooperative than you. You've been in this room a long time."
"The food is awful, by the by." Hans said "The plastic forks and spoons are a nice touch, however."
"If you're so sick of it, why not cooperate? You won't leave otherwise," Misaki said.
"Appealing to my rationality, Detective Kirihara? Not a bad option," Hans's thin lips stretched in a cold smile. "I am being rational, however. My employer would know if I told you anything."
"We could put you in a protection program," Misaki said. "We do that all the time here-"
"Not from him. Your department does nothing without his knowledge or approval."
"Your conspiracy theory?" Misaki gave a frown.
"Fact, Detective. I am looking out for my own interest. If I am patient now, it may very well be rewarded and I will be set free. Those are all the answer I intend to give you."
Something Rin had said triggered in Misaki's mind. She knew it would be a risk not only to her, but to the two officers there with her, but even so…
"Is his name Apos?"
Hans paused for just a moment before he said too quickly, "I don't know the name."
Misaki kept from a triumphant smile. It was a start, at least, and one she might be able to expand upon. "If you change your mind, we're right there."
"I'd like to be alone now," Hans said. Misaki didn't like the way he was looking at her. She'd busted plenty of lowlifes in her day, and almost all of them gave her the same, hateful look. But every so often, the sickest ones would give her a look just like how Hans was looking at her now. She remembered his file, with some of the creative displays he'd left back in Heaven's War and forced her face to remain level.
"Thank you for your time," She said, stepping out of the room with Yanagihara and Saito, closing the door quickly. Apos again…I know Rin told me…something is going on-
"Detectives," she heard, looking up to see Director Horai walking over, gloved hands folded behind his back. "Did you learn anything?"
"A name, sir," Misaki said. "Apos."
Yanigahara had remained silent, but cleared his throat. "With respect, sir, I don't think there might be much to-"
Misaki spoke up. "Sir, he reacted when I mentioned the name Apos. I think it's worth looking into. I might have a source on this."
"I see," Horai said. "Perhaps you should investigate this then, Detective Kirihara."
"I was planning to stay late for a few nights after my rounds are done with Ohtsuka anyways to go through things, sir," Misaki said. "Probably through the graveyard shift anyways."
"That dedication is why you're leading your own division, Chief Kirihara," Horai said with an approving nod. "We'll discuss this tomorrow then."
Hei was in unusually high spirits of late, he had to admit. He and Rin had been seeing each other more lately, Hei always being careful to dodge the tails the Syndicate sent for him. They were still taking things slow, but Hei was enjoying being around her more and more. Mimi seemed to trust him, and he always enjoyed seeing Carmine. Both Rin's tenants seemed to approve of the relationship as well.
There were still issues he was working through. Despite his mental fortitude, what Sayara Yamanobe had done was not so quick to fade from his memory. It had taken a great deal for him to banish the thought of her touch from his mind when Rin's hands were on him. In many ways, Rin had been the greatest help there. She'd told Hei about what Sayara had done to her so many years ago, helping him overcome everything. Hei had been able to tell her about Heaven's War and the betrayals therein. It felt…liberating to have someone he could speak to without reservation of his experiences, someone who understood and accepted him. By the same token, much of Rin was still an enigma. He knew that she had been a warrior when she'd discovered her immortality and had lived her life helping others and taking on dangerous assignments ever since. He was careful not to push her much on what she didn't want to discuss, however. He respected her need for privacy and secrets.
He hadn't felt this way about someone since Heaven's War…
Hei looked up, the sun shining down on the street now. Mao was the same as ever, but Yin had changed. There was a new vitality to the Doll now. She was more aware, staying with the team because she'd chosen them as her friends and family. Even Huang had mellowed out somewhat, treating the others with a civility that was new to him.
Hei glanced to a tree on the sidewalk, seeing a small boy with gray hair jumping up, trying to retrieve something caught in the branches. He walked over and reached up. "Let me," he offered, reaching up to block the object of the boy's frustration from the leaves. He blinked, seeing a dreamcatcher there. He handed it to the boy who took it and quickly turned to go before he paused and turned back.
The boy's eyes were odd: one red, one bright green. He wore a green jacket and his face was curiously blank. "No," he said calmly. "Thank you. That's what you're supposed to say, isn't it?"
Something was off about him, Hei thought. Was he a Cotnractor? Was he just awakening as one?
"It's no problem," Hei said, forcing a calm smile. "My name is Li Shengshung by the way. Is that…"
"I dropped it," The boy said. "A gust of wind blew it up here…somebody gave it to me. It's very important to me."
"I see," Hei said. Something about it was too familiar… "Take care of it, then."
The boy nodded. "Thanks, mister," He said, clutching it tight. "My name is Maki. I'll see you around. I hope so anyways."
"You, too," Hei smiled as the boy walked off.
It was ten minutes later that the highest floor of the building a block away exploded.
November 11 had rushed to the hospital as soon as he'd heard the news. Decade was waiting there first. November walked in, looking to his boss. Decade looked like an accountant rather than a spy leader: balding, with a thick blond mustache and droopy looking dark eyes. "Jack," He said, breathing in.
"Where's April," November asked, in no mood for pleasantries. "Decade?"
July walked up, touching the window calmly. Decade closed his eyes and shook his head. November paused. "Are you sure?"
"I'm afraid so," Decade said. "She was badly burned, but we recognized her from her dental records.
November slammed a fist into the wall, gritting his teeth. July walked over and took his hand. July looked to the Doll. "Anything?"
July shook his head. Decade sighs. "The culprit is an obvious one, Jack."
"I heard the message," November whispered icily. "February…she resurfaced. But why kill April?"
"April might have seen her by happenstance. I admit that sounds unlikely…nobody sees February unless she wants them to. This screams a trap, and along with the recent bombings in general at multiple embassies….February cost us everything. She ended our monopoly on Contractor research when she shared our secrets upon defection and we've been playing catch up ever since. We can't return the spilled water to the cup, but the maid who spilled it ought to be disciplined, don't you agree?"
"I'm taking this mission. I'm the only operative who stands a shot against February."
"Take care, Jack," Decade frowned. "April is bad enough; we can't lose you, too."
November felt cold wrath in his chest now, but he buried it in with a tight smile. "I'll get my car. July, come."
His head was in turmoil…April was gone. They'd been partners for years, gone through countless missions. She was intelligent, skilled and simply…fun to be around before and after missions. She was always ready with a snappy comeback or a joke…she was always good to him and July. He felt he could trust her to watch his back, to keep his secrets...but more than that, he felt at ease around her. She'd been someone he could talk to, drink with, laugh with, feel at ease with. In the world of Contractors, trust and loyalty were scarce commodities. They'd been more than partners. She'd been his friend.
And he'd been in the damn shower when she'd been killed. Rationally speaking? Blood called for blood. He ran over the facts: February had been the leader of the most feared Contractor group is South America.
He and July entered the Parking Garage. November took out his keys, opening his red sports car. July climbed into the passenger side. This group was obviously responsible for the bombings now. One member of the group had been Havoc. Another had been…
"November 11," the cold voice called out as November pulled out of the parking space. November looked ahead, seeing the Black Reaper there. Any other time, November would've been delighted to bandy words, but now?
"The bombings. We received a tip you were in the area. Did your operatives do this?" The Reaper asked. November blinked. Why was he interrogating him from here? Had he been ordered to get answers? Was there another trap?
"One of my operatives was just killed by your people!" November snarled.
"Don't tell you don't know!" November shouted. "We're looking for February! Codename Amber!"
The Reaper seemed to seize up, tensing. "Where is she?" His voice came out in a furious snarl.
"I'm asking the questions here!" November returned. "You've been working with her this whole time!"
"Don't you talk nonsense to me!"
"That's my-" November paused, running over the facts. "Wait…" He whispered. "You really don't know…?" He grinned. "Well, I suppose that's what they say about never taking things as they appear!"
"You stay away from her, do you understand me? She's mine! Don't you touch her!" The Reaper's voice hit a near hysterical pitch.
"Not an option, BK-201!" November put the pedal to the floor, driving straight at the other Contractor. In response, BK-201 leaped over the car, landing on the other side. November could have reversed, but instead he drove for the garage's entrance as BK-201 leaped out from the building. November looked to July. "July, get l-"
July's hand was already to the glass. "Contractors." He said simply. "Make a left."
November turned the car, following July's instructions until they hit an alley. November considered his options, opened the glove compartment and removed a legal pad. He wrote down a name and number. "If I don't come back, July, find her. She'll help you. Run along now. You'll find me after if I'm safe." He gave the Doll a smile and exited the car.
He saw the boy, with grey hair and mismatched eyes at the end of the alley. He took a step…and the boy wiped his nose.
He saw the hand print on the fire hydrant next to him and threw himself to the side before it exploded, blowing water all over the street. "So you're the one who's been blowing up those buildings?"
"She told me to." The boy intoned calmly. "She said it was necessary. To create distrust between the humans."
"I'm sure she did," November smiled, seeing the water pooling down the alley. He took a step forward towards the child. He felt no hesitation. The boy was a terrorist and a murderer. Contractors were deadly no matter their age, besides. You couldn't even call them 'children,' as far as he was concerned.
"Alright," November said, flexing a hand. "You're going to tell me everything I want to know, you little brat. Were you the one who killed April?"
"Was that her name?" The boy blinked. "You cared about her?"
"I don't owe you any answers," November hissed, removing his sunglasses. He formed a spear from ice, summoning it into his hand as he advanced.
"That's unfortunate. I'm sorry it has to be like this." The boy blinked, shaking his head. "No, I'm not. That's just something I should say, isn't it?"
November realized too late his anger had clouded his judgment. He looked down, seeing more handprints. He could suddenly hear footsteps behind him, blocking the alley off. Why had he been so stupid to think the boy had only set ONE trap? How had July missed the other Contractor around?
The boy reached up and wiped his nose with his thumb.
It was already over.
Hei had barely remembered to change out of his Reaper outfit, fury filling his mind. Amber. Amber was here now. He should have known. The boy-the Contractor rather, his terrorist attacks, the dreamcatcher…Hei knew its design well. He had one just like it in his drawer back in the apartment.
He remembered sat beneath the fake stars that night, six years ago when he heard her approach. "I lost my knife. Can I borrow yours?" Her voice asked in the playfully pleading tone that differed so from the cold, commanding voice that she used to order men and women to kill their enemies.
He drew the knife from his belt, twirling it to offer the hilt to her. She took it gratefully, applying the blade to her bread. "I used to love the smell of fresh baked bread. Still do. I used to spread a bunch of marmalade on it, and put a ton of whipped cream on top. Ever done that?"
Hei didn't respond. Her voice then took on a gentle, urgent tone. "Hei? Let's run away together. You, me and Pai. Let's go soon. Live together where nobody knows us."
He felt the soft hand caress his cheek. "Where would we go?"
"Where you and I can see the stars every night…" she whispered in his ear. He knew she was looking at them at that moment, "Here…"
He extended a hand tor eceive the knife, but instead…he looked to see the dreamcatcher in his hand.
He turned in surprise. She stood there, smiling at him. "I hope it always makes you smile," she said, her amber eyes dancing.
She leaned in, pressing their lips together then, feeling his own arms encircle her body as she ran her hands into his hair, kissing him with quickening urgency.
It was just them, beneath the stars. Just the way she liked it.
The memories that would have once comforted him brought him nothing but fury now. She was in the city.
He heard his phone ring and looked at it. It was Rin. He snapped it on and whispered, "Rin."
"Hei, are you alright? You were in the district-"
He heard her pause for a moment. "Hei, where are you? Do you know where she is?"
"I'll find her."
"Hei, don't do this. You're angry. Don't rush in!"
He knew she was right, but even so… "Rin-"
"Hei, listen to me…we have a possible lead on Sayara as well. If you rush in without thinking, you're setting yourself up. She knows you! You can't fall in to a trap!"
Hei knew she was right. But if Amber was in town…that meant the Syndicate was keeping something from him.
"I'm going to get in touch with Misaki, see what I can do about these bombings…We both need to be focused on this."
Hei took several breathes, stepping out into public. He forced his voice down. "I'll check with my team then. Put together who you can,"
Rin sighed in relief. "Meet me soon, okay?"
"Understood. Thanks, Rin." He forced his rage down, knowing Rin was correct. "I'll be there before you know it. Let me get to my team."
Mao was pacing restlessly. Hei was late. Knowing what the Syndicate had just told them, this could only end badly, as everything in his life seemed to end these days.
"The orders are clear," Huang said. "We can't let them meet."
"So it's really her," Mao frowned. "I'd hoped she was dead."
"No such luck, furball," Huang grunted, lighting a cigarette. "Way it is now, if Hei knows, there's no telling what he might do. We've been on thin ice ever since Havoc as is. This is serious business now?"
Mao had to scoff at that. "What's it been for the last five years, Huang?" He turned his face up to the man. "You may think we're just-"
"So maybe I said some things," Huang grumbled, taking a drag of his smoke. "We can't let Hei run loose this time. The only orders we were given was to keep him away from Amber."
"Have you wondered why?" Mao pushed him a bit. "We know what Hei's looking for. Amber is the one who could have answers. Answers they don't want him to know."
"I thought about that," Huang nodded. "It's likely. It's just as likely they're playing us on strings with Apos right now. I didn't tell you he offered me something…"
"And you said no?"
"I'm human and if I go out, that's how I go out."
In other words, Huang would be too stubborn to live. How fitting, Mao thought with an inward smile.
They heard the footsteps and paused, looking up. "Hei!" Mao hopped over as Hei walked down the sidewalk to their customary park meeting place.
"We left her at the tobacco stand for now to keep an eye on things," Huang said. "Right now, she's got nothing."
"I met November 11 again. He's on the same trail we are. The bombings-"
"A group's taken credit. It's called 'Evening Primrose,'" Huang said. "The Syndicate passed this to me before you arrived. It's a Contractor rights group that has a list of demands, recognition and equal rights top of the list."
"Fighting an equal rights group? Sometimes I forget we're usually the bad guys," Mao said dryly
Hei's eyes were focused. "I'm meeting Rin to investigate this. The one involved is-"
He knew. Damn it all! Mao thought. He saw Huang's hand twitch. Huang looked to Hei. "You've been involving her too much, Hei. They have her in the crosshairs, and this Apos guy wants her bad from what you said. You gotta stop this, Hei." Huang's voice was soft, almost pleading. Mao blinked slightly. Just when he'd been expecting volcanic fury…
"No." Hei said.
"Hei, I've given you a pass on plenty as is right now. But at the end of the day, you are what you are. I've seen you work and we know what you do. You will break her heart. I've seen it happen." Huang fixed him with a look. "You proved how far you're willing to go when you busted my old ass out of that hospital, but there's a limit. It's gonna be us or her eventually. None of us on this team gets to have something like this."
"Unless she's into cats," Mao muttered, trying to lighten the mood. But Hei fixed them both with a look.
"Don't try to stop me." He turned and then heard the click of the gun.
"Hei, I'm sorry about this, but I ain't letting you go anywhere." Huang said, holding the gun at his back. Hei turned, facing Huang.
"Don't even twitch, Hei. Your hands so much as go an inch anywhere, I'm putting this between your eyes. "You have your orders! You can't meet Amber!"
Hei's black eyes locked on Huang. Mao swallowed, realizing that any second their three man cell might be shortened by a third. "Huang, you can't-"
"Mao…" Huang growled impatiently. "This is bigger than the three of us. These bombings were a show to make people doubt one another, but-"
"How many people died?" Hei asked.
"One, if you believe it." Huang said, lip curling. "Just the MI6 agent, they said. Rational, huh? To win hearts and minds…"
"Huang. Put it down." Hei said. "Do you trust me?"
Huang gritted his teeth. "I wanna know why. Why did you come for me? What value did I have?"
"Because we're partners." Hei faced Huang.
"Contractors aren't supposed to act that way," Huang whispered.
"I did, though." Hei said. "Can you trust me? One more time?"
After what seemed an eternity, Mao released his breathe as Huang lowered the gun.
"Get outta here before I change my mind."
Sayara Yamanobe was simply delighted. The bombings had taken off any scrutiny from her little ventures. She had checked with Apos, and they'd decided it was time to move. She sat back, watching her men loading the boats with her new experiment.
Virus and disease was her specialty, of course, and this was the crown jewel of it all: once they hit the mainland, it could be distributed far more effectively. She had it all planned out: her men would be carriers of this doomsday virus, spreading it through the populace…it would infect migratory birds to carry it far and wide…humans would die…
A little detail she hadn't mentioned to her creditors, of course. She gave a sweet smile as the tall man in the military outfit walked into the warehouse. "Dr. Yamanobe," He said, flanked by heavily armed soldiers. The man's hear was grey and thinning, a thick mustache covering his upper lip. Sayara smiled politely.
"General Maxley," She said with a nod. Maxley looked around.
"Apos said you've outdone yourself. Your research paid off."
"But of course," Sayara said. "I specifically tailored it with Contractor DNA in mind thanks to the test subjects Pandora provided."
Maxley nodded. "The Syndicate appreciates your work."
"OH, if I can ask…won't you be worried to lose your best operatives? I had the pleasure of seeing BK-201 in action," In more ways than one… she thought.
Maxley's lip twisted. "My only regret is I can't kill Hei myself."
First name basis? Interesting… "History there?"
"He betrayed us to side with February in Heaven's War. After we taught him everything he knows."
"Mmm, fascinating," Sayara smiled. "Well, rest assured, he won't be long for the world," Neither are you, of course.
"We should talk more when this is over, Doctor. With your expertise, we could end up ruling the Syndicate. Your ships leave soon?"
"Packing up will take more time. It's a matter of hours, though."
Maxley nodded. "The Syndicate appreciates your efforts, Sayara."
"Oh, I put my heart and soul into my work, General," she said with a coquettish giggle. "I do trust you'll be pleased with the results."
Awesome chapter dude. Is April really dead?
Misaki stepped out of the police department, frowning. The Contractor named Hans was entirely too complacent for her taste, and he knew enough that he was hiding. His power, however, made appearing in his presence for any extended period of time with no backup difficult, though. She had left the other officers behind to handle things.
She'd heard countries were blaming one another for the bombings. Some had occurred at high profile targets: the British had lost an agent, the American embassy had been bombed as well as a Japanese office building, the Russian consulate and the Spanish ambassador's car?the message from the 'Evening Primrose,' aiming for Contractor rights. The information was, of course, top secret. Only her status as head of a Contractor task force had given her clearance to receive it.
Misaki even sympathized with such a goal. They were, dangerous as they could be, people. Granted, they were people with a lack of emotional capacity and deadly powers, but it was true Contractors were rounded up and used as soldiers. Had the rationality of others determined another way after all?
Even so, noble as the goal might be, she could recognize terrorism when she saw it. Granted, she'd found herself making more allowances than usual lately, particularly when Rin was concerned. The woman was keeping things from her, of that she was absolutely certain. She'd made a hard decision to let the Havoc issue go and trust Rin's judgment, but on the night of Alice's party, Rin had clearly walked in with more of an agenda than she'd let on. When the Black Reaper had interfered and defeated Wei Zhijun, there'd been something approaching relief in Rin's eyes. She did not like being kept in the dark or lied to, even for 'her own good.'
She toyed with her phone, debating to call Rin over the recent incidents, but decided against it. She had to stop relying on the immortal so much now, particularly when she was still uncertain what issues she could fully trust Rin on.
She was so lost in thought she didn't notice the little blond boy approaching her until he tugged at her shirt insistently. "Misaki," he said softly.
Misaki jerked and glanced down at the blank faced little boy, remembering the Havoc mission. "July?" She said in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"November told me to find you," July answered, face betraying nothing. "In case he?" His voice trailed off. Misaki paused at that.
She didn't like the Contractor. He'd been arrogant, entirely too willing to create bad situations she had to clean up, completely callous in regard to Havoc?but she held a respect for him, especially in regard to his substantial talent as a fighter. This meant something had happened.
"In case he what?" She knelt down, putting her hands to July's shoulder. "Did something happen?"
"He didn't come back," July answered. "He went and he didn't come back. "
Someone had gotten the better of November?was it the Black Reaper? Evening Primrose? Was the Black Reaper working for Evening Primrose? So many questions entered her mind now, followed by a thought: November had trusted her enough to send July to her with any valuable information.
"Do you know where?" Misaki asked. "If he's alive or-"
"Of course," July nodded. "I keep track of all my friends."
Misaki breathed out in relief, standing. "Come with me. I'll call the right people. We might be able to stop an incident now if you tell me ev-" She suddenly paused, realizing exactly what the Doll had just said.
"Your friends?" She repeated.
July simply stared at her as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
November 11 had woken up, bound with annoying tight ropes in a corner. The place was drab, shabby and, to his anger, completely dry. It was dimly lit, and her perceived a table in the room's center, a desk to the side where the boy was sat, reading from a book by candle light. The man who'd cut him off at the alley was working at a stove, with two pots. "Here." He sat, pouring the contents of one into a glass and setting it down in front of the boy, giving November a good look at him: one of his eyes was shut tight and his hair was wild and red. He was a big man: tall and wide, with blunt features. November had guessed he was a Contractor. "Drink the milk slow, Maki."
"I can't," the boy said. "Drinking it hot is my Price." He took the cup and tipped his head back, gulping the milk down, shuddering in pain from the heat.
"I don't suppose you'd loosen these ropes?" November asked with a smile. If they were surprised to find him awake, they gave no indication.
"Not a chance," The large, red haired man said. "You're one of the most skilled Contractors I've ever seen. The way you raised the ice to block that explosion?"
"Still put me under for a spell, didn't it?" November smiled at him. "Have we been introduced?"
"Call me Amagiri," The man said. "It's an honor to meet you, November 11."
"Pleasure is all mine," November smiled. "I don't suppose you have a cigarette? I rather need to make my own Payment."
Something about the way Amagiri smiled sent a stab of unease through November. "You are quite the worthy enemy. That's your payment, though? Nasty thing. You know how many deaths are caused from smoking related illnesses a year-"
"I know the statistics," November said, unable to keep a hint of desperation from his voice. "I'd really just like a cigarette if you don't mind." He licked his dry lips quickly
"I've always wondered?what happens to a Contractor who can't make his payment? You hear all the stories." Amagiri leaned back. "Is it true you'll melt like butter?"
He let the silence linger as a drop of sweat rolled down November's cheek before he chuckled. "I'm just joking. There's a vending machine across the street. I'll be back with a pack."
November exhaled gratefully. Amagiri turned to Maki. "Watch him. Don't underestimate him for a moment, Maki."
"I won't," The boy said calmly as Amagiri exited. The boy was?looking at something on the desk. November thought it appeared to be a book.
"Hello," the boy said. "How are you? It's nice to meet you. Thank you, I would like one, too. No, please. I insist."
"Aren't you a dutiful little boy?" November asked casually. "Are you studying etiquette?"
The boy turned to fix November with his mismatched eyes. November remembered the explosion that had claimed April's life. It meant this vicious little brat was responsible. He memorized every little detail of the boy's features.
"It's like something I used to know, but forgot. Why do you think that is?" Maki asked. "I guess it doesn't matter," he shrugged. "I thought this didn't matter. They're just empty words. But Amber told me it's important. I practice every day now."
"Well, isn't that impressive?" November said, leaning back. "Then you're the one responsible for the bombings and for my partner?"
"Amber said that was important, too," The boy said, shrugging. "I'd do anything that Amber wants. She's everything to me. I'd kill you if she told me to. I'll kill everyone in this whole city if she'd smile over it," his smile turned feral.
"She's not exactly known for her fair dealings, lad." November said.
"It's different with me. I'm important to her."
"You killed April."
"Was that her name?" Maki shrugged. "I'm sorry."
"No you're not," November said softly, eyes narrowing.
"No. But isn't that what you're supposed to say?"
Yin sat back in her booth as the rain began. She liked the rain. It allowed her to see whatever she wanted across the city.
It wasn't any surprised she heard the approach. The girl grinned sweetly at the Doll, a massive umbrella protecting her from the rain. "Hi, Yin. Hasn't it been a while?" Her voice was deceptively sweet.
Yin turned her head up, dipping her hand in the glass of water at her side. She could see her there, in the jacket, baseball cap and jeans. She was younger than Yin remembered, but that was no surprise.
Her vacant purple eyes met the bright amber eyes of the first Contractor
"Amber." She said, and prepared for what was to come.
"Pick up, Misaki," Rin whispered, holding the phone to her ear. Finally she heard the answer.
"Rin? Do you know something? I can't talk long."
"Misaki, I know too much about it now. This is a Contractor group. It's not-"
"I know that," Misaki interrupted. "I can't talk about this phone and I can't slow down, Rin. Someone's life may be in danger now. Can you trust me to handle myself?"
"Yes," Rin admitted with a deep breath. "Keep me updated. I need to know you're alright."
She almost saw Misaki smile. Rin admitted an admiration for the woman's bravery. She only hoped she could handle herself now...Rin knew she was throwing the dice now, but she couldn't make it to Misaki in time. "Good luck, Chief Kirihara."
"Whatever you're going to do, Detective Asogi, you, too," Misaki said before the line clicked.
Carmine looked to Rin. Rin saw the woman had pulled a jacket on. "Whatever this I, I'm not sitting it out this time. Did you call Koki?"
"He's with us, too." Rin didn't argue with Carmine. "Just keep yourself far enough from the Gate."
Carmine nodded as they heard the door. Mimi crossed to it and opened it. "Hei! Are you alright?"
"Fine," Hei nodded to Mimi. "Have you read anything?"
"I've intercepted everything I could. There's something happening at the bay, too. Someone named Maxley said they needed to hurry up with Dr. Yamanobe to Nishijima-"
Hei froze at that. "Maxley," He growled low. "He's Syndicate. And Sayara, too?" His eyes went dark for a moment and Rin saw his hand tremble.
Carmine shook her head. "I remember. "He was the commander of US forces in South America. I worked for him at one point."
"So did Pai and I," Hei said, looking to the three women. "He taught me how to fight. The Syndicate wanted to keep me out of everything here. Carmine, you think-"
"Amber wants to start a goddamn war all over again," Carmine finished. "She's targeting this city at a point when the Syndicate has a massive interest in it."
"Not just the Syndicate," Rin said, looking to Hei.
"She's targeting other agencies, too." Hei frowned and Rin saw the rage in his eyes suddenly. "She's trying to bring Armageddon just like in South America."
Mimi blinked. "They said they want equal rights. Shouldn't that-"
"That's not what Amber wants!" Hei snapped sharply, making Mimi shrink back. "She uses people, she throws them away when she's done! That's all she is!"
"Hei!" Rin's voice rose. "I know you're upset, but don't take it out on Mimi. She's trying to help."
Hei glanced to the other Immortal and gave a short nod. "I didn't mean to. I'm sorry."
"No sweat," Mimi rubbed her head. "So we're up against someone who was responsible for South America being destroyed?"
Carmine frowned. "I still don't remember that day?Hei was in the area. So were Pai and Amber. We both just woke up after the event. But?"
"Amber led us into it. She used her power, I'm sure of it. She knew what would happen," Hei hissed.
Rin walked over, putting a hand to his shoulder. Hei took a breath, calming slightly as he and Rin looked at one another. Rin leaned over and kissed his cheek. "We've been through this much."
"It just means we can take her this time. Before she spreads that virus."
"It means Apos is here, too." Hei said. Rin nodded.
"Then we'll have to be careful," She said. "Mimi, you're on point. Carmine's with us this time?she'll stay far enough from the Gate."
They paused then, as Hei's phone suddenly rang. Hei lifted it to his ear. "What? Yin? Is that-"
Rin saw him pause, his eyes widening. "Where? Where is?she hasn't?no?" He whispers. "Tell her I'm coming."
He hung up and looked to Rin. "We have to move. Now."
November 11 had never been so grateful for a cigarette in his life as when Amagiri let him smoke the thing. He felt the compulsion for his price fade before he coughed. "You can put it out now," he managed.
Amagiri did so, looking to November. "I want to make a proposition. We could use someone like you in Evening Primrose."
"Excuse me?" November wasn't sure he'd heard right.
Amagiri smiled. "There's a good deal you're not aware of."
"Enlighten me," November said. He kept his eyes on Amagiri and Maki, knowing the vicious little brat was waiting for any excuse to blow him up.
He had to keep himself from smiling as he saw a gleam on the window, the telltale sign of a Doll's specter. He kept his eyes firmly on Amagiri.
"As of right now, the humans will never accept you. That's just a fact. The way it stands, you'll be used and thrown away one day. Evening Primrose would seek to change that. We have Contractors from every continent, every agency. We're fighting for something more."
"The way I see it, you threw away my partner."
"Did we?" Amagiri asked. November blinked.
"To the more immediate point? At this second, a group called the Syndicate is loading several large ships in the harbor two hour's drive from here with a toxin that is set to be released into the mainland and on the islands with migratory birds. This virus is tailored to wipe out every Contractor alive."
"Why aren't you there stopping it?"
"Amber told us to be here," Maki answered, folding his arms. "She said it would be taken care of."
November ran things over then. April was dead, they'd seen the body?unless?
He'd heard of Contractors who could duplicate matter before. Perhaps one had created a facsimile? "And April?"
"Your answer first," Amagiri said. "No matter how you look at this, you have no choice. Make the rational decision like the Contractor you are."
It was so funny, November had to laugh. Amagiri blinked quickly. November turned a grin at him. "Not too long ago, I met another Contractor. I told him the exact same thing. Do you know what happened then? The crazy fool turned around and attacked me!"
He shook his head. "In our fight, he prioritized another's safety above his own. I couldn't comprehend it. The more I thought about it, the less I understood it. Perhaps rationality isn't all what it's cracked up to be?"
"So then, are you refusing to consider the situation with logic?"
"Me? Oh, no. I'm very proud of being a Contractor and everything it represents." November raised his chin. "I'm going to make the rational decision. I refuse. And if April is alive, I have no doubt she told you where you could put your offer."
As if on cue, the door was kicked off its hinges. "Police! Stand down!"
They heard the guns. Amagiri and Maki raised their hands as Misaki Kirihara entered with a full team of armored officers, her gun trained on Amagiri. "Don't move."
"Chief Kirihara, you are a sight for sore eyes!" November grinned merrily. "My wrists are starting to little numb, does anyone mind?"
He tried to hide the relief. He hadn't chosen wrongly after all. Misaki was every bit the police offer he expected. Right now, she might well have been riding through the doors on a white horse. As his rescuer, Misaki Kirihara was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Misaki made her way over to him, reaching down to undo his bonds. November stood a moment later. "My little Doll found you, then? These two are part of Evening Primrose. You might want to take them for questioning."
"We plan to," Misaki said, circling back with November as the police moved in.
"You will join us," Amagiri said, keeping his eye on November.
"Ah, that reminds me. There's serious business at the harbor, apparently," November said. "I need to get there with a full team as soon as possible."
One officer reached for a set of handcuffs when Amagiri said. "Or you'll die."
Maki wiped his nose suddenly. Behind the officers, November saw handprints glow white on the stove. "Get down!" He shouted, throwing himself onto Misaki, just as the prints exploded.
When his ears stopped ringing, he looked up, seeing Amagiri and Maki vanishing past what could only be a secret exit. Figures they'd have a bolt hole, he thought angrily.
Misaki coughed. "Is everyone-"
"We look alright," one cop groaned. "Get after them, you might be able to head them off?"
November grinned. "She's got me right now, then." He winced in pain. The force of the blast had left him sore and hurting. "July's outside?"
"Yes." Misaki winced as she helped November up. He'd shielded her from the worst of it. "He kept track of you the entire time. He considers you his friend."
November's mouth opened, the Contractor forgetting to breathe for a moment. Finally, he gave a smile. "Yes. I suppose that's what we are."
Yin looked up at the dark skinned woman named April gazed down at Amber. They were sitting on the steps of an old shrine, Yin's head in Amber's lap. The green haired Contractor was gently stroking Yin's silver hair.
April frowned. "So that's what I tell November?"
"This is an?enemy mine scenario." Amber grinned. "He'll believe it from you."
"Nobody'll believe I haven't turned."
"He will if he knows you," Amber said. April breathed in, her blue lips furrowing.
"I want to know why you saved me. Using your power like that with a substitute after."
"Oh, yes, Tamara's power is a fun one. She can duplicate anything, even people after she touches them. Her Price is so high, I can't make her pay it often, though. It's not as bad as mine, though." Amber's smile turned sly.
April kept her gaze at Amber. "I haven't attacked you yet because you could kill me any time you wanted. If even half of what you just said is true-"
"All of it is true. If you go back, you'll be under heavy scrutiny by your superiors, but November will vouch for you if you say the right things. Still, don't let them silence you. Keep your eyes open until the right time. You will know when it comes."
"We're still enemies, February."
"I know." Amber said, running her fingers into Yin's hair. "But we won't always be. Take the street east and you'll see November, April. I'm not going to keep you here any more. You'll know what'll happen when the time comes."
"And the harbor?" April pushed her.
Amber's smile widened. "Oh, you'll handle it. My operatives are handling things elsewhere?"
"More like you like using us, is it?" April put her hands on her hips.
Amber gave a laugh. "Or I just believe in you?and BK-201. Time's wasting."
April took a breath and turned to run off. Amber waited until she was gone before she turned to Yin. "Oh, Yin. You must think I'm awful, but there's a reason for all of this. I wish Hei could see it."
Yin saw her smile turn distant. "It was so long ago?but one time, he really smiled at me, can you believe it?" Her amber eyes seemed to sparkle. "And what a smile! It cut right into my heart like a knife. You know what I thought then? 'I'm done for. I'll do anything for this guy, all he has to do is say the word.' I just wish I could see him smile one more time. You feel the same way don't you?"
Yin sat up, considering it before she nodded. "I do." She said.
Amber wrapped her arms around Yin and hugged her. "I timed it so nobody'd be hurt. I faked April's death so I could tell her everything?but there's only so much I can do. People are going to get hurt eventually. I'd save them all if I could, Yin, I really would."
Yin considered a question. "Apos?"
"He and I fought through Heaven's War. He's the driving force behind all of it, Yin. All the misery, all the pain, all the death?.though it'd be more accurate to say we both are. The Guardian of Yggdrasil and his heir aren't subject to how time usually flows. He's one of the variables that changes the whole equation. I have to use Hei in this. I've hurt him so much already, Yin. He deserves to be able to rest. Do you understand why I have to keep going?"
"Yes," Yin nodded, studying Amber.
"You're so important now, Yin. You're one of the first Dolls to advance this far. You've changed. It proves that we're all changing more, just like Pai did. I'm sorry I can't explain more?but watch for the tree, Yin. That's where the Gate's destiny lies."
Amber leaned back with a smile, gazing at the stars. "When the last star has fallen, who'll mourn us, Yin? Will anyone?" She sighed and shook her head. "I'm just talking?"
Yin put a hand to Amber's and grasped it tight. She recognized loneliness and uncertainty when she saw it. She'd lived with it for so long herself.
Koki had arrived fortuitously to drive Hei in the direction he'd asked. Rin, Carmine and Hei were in the car as Koki drove to the exact coordinates Yin had provided.
"Stop here," Hei said. "I'll make my way to the shrine."
Carmine took a breath. They weren't breaching near proximity to the Gate, but she was still uncomfortable being even this far. "I have to see her, too."
"Koki, wait with the car." Rin said. Koki nodded as the others exited.
"If anything goes wrong, get out of here," Rin said. "Teruki needs his father."
Koki smiled. "I wouldn't leave you, Rin. Not when the world could change."
Rin smiled and shut the door, looking to Hei. "That way?"
He nodded and the three took off. Rin glanced up, seeing the boy standing in the path.
Hei looked to the boy, stepping forward. "Where is she?"
"Mister. And you brought company. Where is-" He paused suddenly. "Oh, I see. You're him, aren't you? She told me to let you all through."
Carmine fixed him with a look. "You don't know Amber. She's using you."
"That's fine. I want her to use me. I'm the Contractor who's worthy of her. Nobody else can?" His eyes flashed angrily. "Nobody!" He pulled a hand back, and they saw he had a handful of stones. The stones began to glow red and he flung them viciously. The three sprang in different directions, the stones flying past them, exploding harmlessly against the ground.
Rin's hand snapped out as the boy ran back, throwing a knife at him. The boy flung himself aside. Hei slammed a palm on the ground, discharging a burst of electricity straight at the Contractor. With shocking agility and speed he leaped up onto the hood of a car as Hei blew out every light.
Rin glanced back, hearing someone else approaching. "Hei, Carmine, that way!"
"I won't let you get to her!" The boy screeched, leaping to the ground to grab more rocks before a wave of ice raced across the pavement, forcing the lot of them to dodge away. Hei and Carmine moved down the path off the street, making way for the shrine. Rin then heard the accented voice call out.
"Didn't your mother tell you? Good little boys and girls should be in bed by now!" November was moving down the road, accompanied by July and Misaki Kirihara.
Rin's eyes widened. "Misaki!"
"Detective Asogi!" November grinned as Maki sprinted back. "We do have a habit of running into one another. Now, who were you with just now?"
Rin gave him a stony look in response. November grinned. "We'll cover the details later. Misaki, you were headed that way. I trust Miss Asogi will make sure no ill befalls you?"
"What about you?" Misaki asked.
"I'm off to give that little rascal what he's got coming to him. Don't worry, I've got July with me!" November patted the Doll's head before smiling at Rin.
"I know we have our differences, but I get the feeling we're on the same side. We can sort the details out later."
Misaki looked to Rin. "Well, you trusted me."
"Glad to see it wasn't misplaced," Rin smiled. "Come on."
November took off after Maki, July at his heels. The boy was ducking into one of the abandoned houses around the lot- no wonder they'd chosen to store him here. In his haste, the boy hadn't bothered to close the door. November glanced through, seeing nothing. He heard Maki's voice shout. "I'm ready for you, so come and get me!"
"Handprints," July cautioned. "Everywhere," He began to pointed, one finger to his pocket mirror
November watched as the handprints illuminated the room, before exploding. The little rat had no sense of restraint or control now.
Amagiri must have separated from him. It made this easier. November sprinted up, aiming for the stairs, July following. The Contractor reached for the door handle to the room when he felt a hand seize his shirt. He turned, seeing July shake his head. November blinked and then smiled, nodding in gratitude before dodging back as the door exploded.
Maki had safely leaped out of the window to the next house, after preparing the trap on the final door he knew November couldn't arrive. Amagiri had told him to head back straight off, but he hadn't been able to resist. Amber caring about someone, about anyone else, was not acceptable. He was the only Contractor worthy of her. He'd stayed behind to meet the one coming for her. He didn't expect he'd be that difficult to kill, though.
"She doesn't need them?not that guy?not Amagiri?not November?" He grinned, walking down the steps to the door. "I'm the only one worthy. I won."
He heard the thunder then, and the pouring rain. He opened the door.
November 11 smiled down at him, a spike of ice held in his hand.
Amber stood up as Hei arrived. He was in the black coat, but he had no mask. She was happy for that. She wanted to see his face again after so long now. He stared at her with the hatred she expected. Neither seemed surprised at her newfound youth. Of course they wouldn't, not with her power.
"Hei!" She called, running over to him. "I didn't want him to fight you! He didn't hurt you, did he? Let me s-" She reached for him and Hei slapped her hand away.
Amber faced him and then focused on Carmine. "Carmine. You're looking better."
"Amber," Carmine said softly, hand flexing at her side.
"I like you like this, Carmine," Amber smiled. "Cruelty doesn't suit you. There's new life-"
"There's only one thing you need to say before I kill you," Hei said, glancing over amber's shoulder to see Amagiri standing by Yin. "Where is she? What happened to Pai?"
"Carmine didn't tell you? No, I suppose her memory would've been affected. I didn't do that, Carmine, I just want to make that clear."
Carmine faced her. "Tell us, Amber. No more games. Just end the lies."
Amber glanced between them and she gave a nod. "Oh, fine. She's closer than you think, Hei." She reached out to tap his chest. "But so far away?"
He slapped her in the face. "Enough of your riddles!" He snarled.
Amber's head snapped to the side, eyes wide for a moment before her featured relaxed into serenity. "You can see her again, Hei." She turned to stare up at him. "If you come with me now, I swear to you I'll take you to her. But what if the price for that is that this city is plunged into darkness?"
Hei's hand snapped out, gripping Amber's head. "No more games!"
"I've left instructions on what to do next, Hei. For you and everyone. This night isn't done yet."
"It is for you," Hei whispered as the blue aura appeared. Carmine's eyes widened. "Hei-"
Yin surged forward, arm outstretched. "No, don't!"
Amagiri's arm raised, palm extended towards Hei as he roared Amber's name.
Misaki and Rin had arrived, Misaki raising her gun with a cry to hold.
Amber's eyes flashed once.
The world was frozen save for her now. She breathed in. "Oh, Hei." She looked up at him, his face staring down, frozen in hate, rage and pain. "I'm sorry. I really am. But I can't stop now. But do you know what? I've seen it all now, Hei. I've been back and forth through time. I've wandered so long!" She stared imploringly up at him, even though he couldn't see nor hear her. "Longer than anyone could imagine. But one thing never changed?I missed you so much." She leaned up, putting a hand to his cheek and pressed her lips against his. "I broke my heart in two back then. Every time you've suffered hurt me more."
She looked to Carmine. "You've changed so much, Carmine. I'm glad for the person you are now." She reached up to rub her frozen cheek. "You'll bring something wonderful soon, I promise. I'm glad you were there for one another."
She turned and walked past Yin. "When the time comes. See ya." She came to Amagiri, leaned up and flicked his head. He blinked in surprise. "Did you use your-"
"Yep," Amber smiled. "Come on, time to go." She put her baseball cap on.
"Amber, there's a limit to how often you can use your powers," He cautioned.
"I think now was a good time," She said as they passed Misaki and Rin. She paused to look at Rin for a long moment. "Take care," she whispered, and snapped her fingers.
It was only an instant before they appeared back at Evening Primrose's hideout. Amber took a moment to study the faces of the ones there.
The man skulking in the shadows grinned. "Well, he didn't agree, did he?"
"No," Amber sighed. "You'll get your chance to kill him soon enough."
Dark haired Tamara breathed in. "You used your powers, didn't you?"
Amber noticed her clothes were a bit big for her now. That was one downside to the regression afforded by her powers. "It was the time to do it. I'm sorry you had to use yours."
"It's a small price for you, Amber." The woman smiled at her.
Blond, blue eyed Britta pushed her glasses up. "Then that's another step to bring the flower of Evening Primrose to its full bloom." She glanced to Amagiri. "Is everything okay?"
"I split up with Maki not too long ago. I just wondered if he was on his way?"
Amber shook her head suddenly, taking off her hat. "No?" She said softly. "Maki won't be coming."
"It feels lonely saying this?" Maki whispered. "But?farewell?is what you're supposed to say?.farewell?Amber?" He whispered, the spike of ice buried in his chest.
November reached for a cigarette and found it soaking wet. He then looked to see the dark skinned hand reach down, offering him a new one. "Were you just avenging me?" April, healthy and grinning, asked.
"Save the jokes for the experts," November lit the smoke.
"Back atcha!" She grinned, taking a pull of her beer. July stood next to her, his hand to her head. November breathed in.
"What'd she say to you, April?"
"Genocide," April looked up, frowning. "We need to get to the harbor if we're going to stop it, 11."
"How do you know?" November frowned.
"She showed me," April breathed in. "I know you won't trust me-"
"Stop right there," November stood and walked to her, putting his hand to her shoulder. April didn't flinch, even though she'd seen him freeze a man to death with his touch before.
November's smile held sudden warmth. "Trusting my partners is the most rational thing in the world to me, April."
She grinned at him. "Don't hug me, 11, you're getting soft right now."
"I know you, April. I don't pretend to understand everything going on, but if this is what we have to do, I'm going to believe in you right now."
"You might not when she said who we'll be working with," April smiled slightly.
Misaki had been aiming her gun at a man's back?and then suddenly, everyone was gone, even Rin. She blinked quickly, turning and running back along the path. What had just happened?
"Misaki!" November shouted. She blinked again, seeing April with him. "Do you have a car?" He asked.
"What is going-"
"We'll explain on the way. Call every officer you can and put the warning up."
Misaki nodded. "My car is back with the others. We'll need to move."
"We've got barely hours," November said. "When we're there, you need to let April and I handle it. This is going to be out of your league."
"We'll talk about that on the way, too," Misaki couldn't help but smile at them. Maybe it was just the darkness but November's smile didn't seem as pompous as before.
Koki was driving as fast as he could, having called Huang and Mao and directing them to the area. "Tokyo harbor, huh? Right?" Rin noticed his hand squeezing his pocket for a moment.
Hei had been silent. Rin looked to him. "Time manipulation then. But she let us out of it earlier? What'd she mean by all that?"
"I don't know. Everything she says has five meanings," Hei shook his head, looking to Carmine, who took a steady breath.
Hei lifted the mask. "It's like it's a game to her now."
Yin looked to him. "But we're going."
"If it's Sayara?if she's planning this?the Syndicate has to be unaware of all of it," Rin said, replacing her knives. "Everyone be sure to be ready."
Koki took a breath. Misaki put a hand to his shoulder. "That includes you. Stay behind with Yin, Koki."
"Same old," Koki gave her a smile. "Keep Mimi on the line, too."
Hei took a breath, forcing his mind on the mission. "Carmine?"
"I've got my old skills back. Even without powers, I could hang with you on my best day," She smiled at him.
"Then let's go save the world," Rin said.
Misaki had known several shortcuts to the harbor. November and April had nearly leaped out of the car upon arrival, seeing the other vehicle there. Misaki paused suddenly as she stopped, seeing BK-201, masked and wearing his black coat getting from the car. Next to him was?
"Rin?" She called, pulling out the car, November and April ready.
"Misaki," Rin said calmly, breathing in.
"Havoc," November said with a satisfied smile. "Oh, I knew it."
"I'm sorry you couldn't kill me," Havoc said, raising her chin. Hei looked to November.
"BK-201," November returned. The air seemed to crackle between the two. April groaned.
"Can you two knock off the bloody posturing? Amber told me they'd all be here?" She rubbed her head. "I have the feeling we all want the same thing tonight."
Misaki fixed Rin with a look, her gaze steely. "What are you doing with them, Rin?"
"What I have to. Sayara Yamanobe is a murderer. If we leave her be, she's going to kill every human on this planet. That is why we're here tonight, Misaki."
"You've been working with BK-201 this whole time? I trusted you!"
Rin closed her eyes, looking guilty. "I saved Havoc from being a research experiment. I worked with BK-201 at points. But you don't-"
"No. No more 'I don't' this, Rin. I'm taking you in after this. You haven't just lied to me. You've sheltered a mass murderer, and you've aided an abetted a known terrorist."
"Enough," the Reaper said in his cold voice. "Detective Kirihara. This is bigger than your notion of justice. You're working for nothing more than a puppet system."
"Shut your mouth," Misaki stepped forward. "Don't you dare speak about my system to-"
"Misaki!" Rin said. "You can arrest me after this if you want. BK-201 isn't what you think he is. You knew about Carmine, too."
Misaki's hand trembled near her gun for a moment before something seemed to occur to her. She faced BK-201 and Rin. "You're trying to stop this?"
"It's Apos, Misaki. He's behind all of this, Hei and I-"
"Hei? You're on first name basis with him?"
"Figured you for more of a?Liang," November and Hei kept their gazes on one another, both guarded against the other. April groaned.
"Yes she lied, we all lie to each other, can someone bloody well get the hell over it so we can get to work!"
"I will explain everything," Rin promised Misaki. "Just trust me. God, Misaki, you know me. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe-"
"No, Rin. I don't think I do know you," Misaki turned to the others. "Alright, then?" She faced Carmine.
"?We'll have words about you too."
November looked to Hei. "I'm going to assume you work well with others?"
"We have people arriving. One is a sniper. We caught the guards at the docks. He can drop them first off before we move in."
"Have him do it. We're on my element. April can handle plenty and kill visibility for you and Havoc." November extended a hand. "We'll put everything behind us until this is done."
Hei looked at him and extend his own hand, taking November's, both keeping the gaze on one another. Both were probably considering whether to just kill the other there. It was a sign of trust few Contractors would ever allow. "I'll admit?" November grinned. "I look forward to working with you. Let me be frank. I think you're a terrorist. I think you're more dangerous than you even realize yourself. But this is something we need to finish. There'll always be a tomorrow."
"Very well." Hei withdrew a hand and reached for the radio. "Huang. Get in position."
"Roger that," the voice growled back on the radio.
"April. Do your thing. We don't have long until the police get here. This virus?"
"It's sealed up tight in the holds, I know that. It's those two ships there. Let's get moving."
Hei watched from safety until Huang took the shot. The guard fell from the dock into the water. "Now." He ordered.
April's eyes burned red as she raised a hand, creating the storm. The rain poured down as November and Hei ran out, November grinned, racing alongside the black clad Contractor. "Now!" He whipped his hand out, turning the rain drops in front of him into a hail of ice, flying out with the force of bullets.
"Still have those boots?" Hei asked as the first wave of guards crumbled.
"You know it!" November grinned.
"Too bad." Hei discharged electricity through the ground, electrocuting the second wave before they could bring their arms to fire. Carmine, Rin and April moved in behind. April grinned, slipping a side arm into her hand. She raised it and with unerring accuracy, shot a guard on the ship's deck. She touched her radio. "July, do you have a read on Yamanobe?"
"The next ship. She has an exoskeleton of sorts." July said after a moment. "It looks like it's for combat."
"Good for us," April muttered. Rin flung a hand out, taking one of the men in the neck with a throwing knife.
"All of them are cultists obsessed with delivering this plague. Don't feel you have to hold back," Rin looked up. "Damn it?" The ship had already pulled off. "No, no, no!" Rin shouted.
"There's no way we can stop-"
"Oh, please, love, who do you think I am?" April pulled the beer can from her side, taking a pull of it. Carmine looked up. "The men are getting to the deck. If you have anything up your sleeve, now's the-"
April raised her hands and the winds picked up. The waves raised, pitching the ship forward. April wove her hands in front of her, directing the winds as she deftly forced the weather to bend to her will.
When the ship was out far enough, she raised a hand. No man had been able to accurately aim, let alone keep his footing. Grinning, April spun her hand around, whipping up?
A tsunami, Carmine realized. April thrust her hand down, the massive wave slamming down over the ship, swallowing it and forcing it to its side, killing it in the water.
"I'd have done that at the start, but that wave'd kill us all," April grinned at their looks. "Let's move along, shall we?"
"Couldn't you just hit the next one with that"
"Love to," April downed her beer. "Something like that, though?it costs more than I can pay twice now." She threw the can away. "I'm just your ordinary agent now."
Hei and November had reached the midst of their enemies, Hei grasping his knife and November a shard of ice. The two whirled, in full synchronization with one another as they wove in between bullets, cutting their enemies down with ruthless efficiency.
The two moved, back to back, unleashing a wave of ice in one direct and electricity in the other.
"Hate to admit it, but don't we work well together?" November grinned. Hei didn't answer.
"The ship isn't taking off." Hei said.
"Then we've got the time!" November looked as the others ran up. He sprinted forward and sprang from the docks to land on the ship. He glanced back, seeing the car pulling up. It was the one that had brought BK-201.
The cultists had their weapons raised when November formed a shard and threw it through the first's eye. Rin seized the second, throwing him over into the storming waters, just as Carmine followed suit with her own opponent.
The five moved over the deck quickly?
Rin then looked up as Sayara walked from the hold.
"You scuttled one of my ships?" Sayara was wearing the exoskeleton July had said, the cybernetic coverings extending down her body to end in wicked claws on her hands and legs, with a covering over her face. "We have plenty here though."
Rin moved forward first, throwing the knife out, but Sayara moved faster than she believed possible, deflecting it with one metal arm and slamming the other into Rin's stomach and chest. Rin felt her organs give and fell back, choking on blood.
Sayara leaped up, landing on the next deck as November and Hei unleashed their powers. November signaled Hei, April and Carmine, taking one side with his partner. Carmine moved with Hei.
Sayara had to laugh. "The famous Havoc?" She mused, leaping back down, to swing. Carmine forced herself back to dodge when Hei landed to stab at Sayara's head. His knife simply broke on the covering and he barely managed to throw himself back, landing on the first deck with Carmine. November and April had suddenly found their hands full with the rest of the guards.
Rin had forced her regeneration into overtime, forcing herself up. "Sayara!" she shouted as Sayara charged back. November cursed the distance.
"April, let's wrap up!" He moved back to get a cigarette, fumbling for the lighter. He'd never hated his Price more than now.
Sayara sprang off the ship at her enemies, meaning to finish them before she put the plan into action, trusting her men to keep the others occupied until she could finish them. She landed at Rin, avoiding her blows. "Surprised, Rin? I've been enhanced in this far beyond what any of you can manage!"
Huang's bullet bounced harmlessly off her covering just before Koki's car slammed into her. Sayara drove the metallic arms down through the car's hood, digging the claws into the metal before she heaved her arms back?and flung the car over her head.
"KOKI!" Rin screamed as it slammed into the ground, rolling over. The rain was stopping, April's powers running out. Hei moved at Sayara. She struck at him swiftly, but where she outmatched him in speed, he made up for in skill, evading her blows as he sought his opening.
Koki crawled, broken and bleeding from the wreckage, dragging shattered legs behind him. Hei seized for Sayara, but she sprang back, laughing, landing behind Koki. "My little experiment?" She purred before raising an arm and driving it down into his back. Koki's eyes widened in shock as Sayara lifted him, pitching him back into the water.
"Goddamn you!" Rin screamed as Sayara leaped back on deck. November came at her, ice in each hand. He attempted to freeze her legs, but Sayara was too fast, leaping above to the deck and then coming back down, aiming to crush him to the ground.
The shot didn't hurt her, but the force still threw her back so she landed harmlessly aside. Misaki kept her gun raised from deck. "The Doll told me you were outmatched?how the hell are we?"
Hei looked up as Sayara ducked into the ship. "November! She's going for the virus!"
"she can't release it now!"
"She can release enough to kill us all except her and Rin!" Hei yelled. "Move!" He looked to Rin in concern. Tears were pouring down her face, but she shook her head. Hei's radio sounded.
"Kid, get in there and take her out!" Huang yelled. "We're okay by Yin, but she says cops are on their way! She's the only one left!"
Hei sprinted ahead, moving for the ship with Rin. Carmine looked to Misaki and April. "We can't affect much now. Remain here, on guard."
In the water, something began moving?
They'd nearly reached the cargo hold. Sayara was moving for one crate when November, Hei and Rin were on her. Hei lashed a wire out, tripping her up as November plunged his spike at her back. Sayara cried out in pain , but rolled over, knocking the blond man aside.
Sayara grabbed Hei's wire, jerking it and throwing Hei aside before he could deliver the charge. She went for one crate, knocking it open and reaching for what was inside, a grin on her face when?
She gasp a sudden gasp as Rin sank to her knees. "An angel??" Rin whispered. "Here?but that's not-"
They felt the ship moving now, pulling off. They looked up, seeing Koki Maeno in the doorway.
His eyes were burning red, scarlet wings ended behind him as he gasped for breath. He moved forward, taking Rin in his arms. "The two of you?get off?now?" He moved forward, leaping through the doorway. November looked to Hei. Hei nodded quickly and the two sprinted out. Sayara's eyes widened.
"No?" she moaned, consumed by desire. "Don't go!" she ran, shedding her armor as she went.
Rin looked up hazily, fighting her body's urges. "Koki?oh, god?"
"I took?the Time Fruit with me?Shogo's?" He gave a smile as they landed. "Trying to control it?it's agony?this hunger?Rin?" He looked to her. "I had to?to keep my family safe from her?you were always there?even though I'm not the real Koki Maeno?"
Rin felt the tears run down her face. "You were real to me?" she whispered to her friend. Koki leaned in and pressed their lips together, just once, before releasing her to the docks. He turned back as Hei and November landed.
"Hei?look after her?and let her look after you?all of you?good luck?" He then turned, releasing Rin as he flew after the ship.
Sayara cried out eagerly as Koki's teeth tore into her. "Oh, yes! Oh, god, yes!" She put her arms around him. "Take me! Take me now!" she cried.
Koki had surrendered wholly to savagery, leaning down to rip through her skin, aiming for the Time Fruit within. So engrossed was he that he didn't notice as the walls turned to liquid gold.
Apos reached down, sliding a hand through Koki's back, moving through the Angel's flesh like it was water, to clutch the Time Fruit and pull it out. He held it up, the fruit glowing red. Koki gave a cry before his body crumpled into dust.
"Ah, a Time fruit that has sucked blood twice. Not something you see every day?" He raised it to his mouth when the waters made the ship jerk. Apos dropped the fruit, watching as it rolled into the water below.
"No?" Sayara moved up. "Don't st-"
"I suppose you'll do," Apos reached out and put his hand through her chest, withdrawing her fruit. Sayara's eyes widen before her own body vanished into dust. Apos smiled and cracked her fruit, releasing the sweet juice into his mouth.
"Mmm?not bad?but too young," He sighed. "Still, Rin's should be much more delectable after all this!" He grinned, looking up. "Don't you agree, Amber?"
Amber stood in the doorway, younger than when he'd last seen her of course. She was naked as well, just like the blond woman next to her who Apos surmised had to be a teleporter.
"So your little plan is over," Amber said.
"Oh, this was just the diversion!" Apos grinned at her. "I got to hurt your little friend again, cost Rin another of hers and to top it off, I end up with thos toxin for a rainy day. Not bad, don't you think?"
Amber smiled. "What do I think, Apos? I think you're going to die screaming."
Apos lost his smile, locking his eyes on hers. "Shut your mouth."
"Scares you that I might know? You're inferior to Hei and Rin. Even now."
"Well, call it what you will. Move and counter move, Amber. The next one is yours."
Amber's eyes then began to glow?
Sayara Yamanobe blinked. "I?I thought I was-"
"Dead?" Sayara turned, seeing the young, green haired girl there, floating above her. "You were."
"What? Where are-"
"Right now, we're at some far off corner of the universe, several light years from the nearest star. I can compress time to a single point as my power. It ages me backwards, you see, but I can use it for travel, or to walk back and forth through time. It can be maddening, so I have to do it sparingly?I just reversed your death and took this poison with me?"
Sayara swallowed. "But?"
"I know?why didn't I do this from the start? Apos might have cut me off there and there's nothing for that. Plus, I have to do this very sparingly. This is me letting my emotions run away with me."
Amber's eyes turned cold. "I know what you did to Hei."
"What you did to Hei is high on the list of things I can't forgive. And I'm all out of mercy tonight so this calls for something really cruel and unusual. You might lose consciousness until you hit the star. I think you should pray very hard that you do. See ya." She reached out and flicked Sayara once, throwing her outside.
Amber stood, watching the doctor's body tumble through space. Apos had devoured her time fruit, but Amber had reversed it as well, granting her this fate. She would pay heavily for such a thing. She could have simply dealt with the issue herself by freezing time, but that would have been?against the rules of the game she and Apos had erected. Her would have stopped her then and she couldn't risk open confrontation yet.
She'd seen the end. It wasn't to be her who brought him down.
She forced herself back to the first point, and saw Apos blink, seeing the toxins gone. "Well done," he smiled. "After your pawns took the board, that was within your rights. Rest assured?I will retaliate."
He stepped back and vanished. Amber looked up. "Britta."
Britta leaned down, kissing her cheek to pay the Price. Immediately, both vanished.
Hei helped Rin to the car, along with Carmine. Rin looked to Misaki who breathed in. November nodded once. "A deal's a deal."
"Misaki?" Rin breathed in.
In deference to Rin's grief, Misaki shook her head. "Not tonight, Rin. We?.we'll talk about it?"
Huang was waiting with the car, Mao and Yin.
"Koki?" Mao asked. Rin shook her head once.
Huang shook his head. "Goddamn it?Hei?"
"We won," Hei said simply.
Nobody spoke until they arrived back at Rin's apartment.
Rin sat back at her desk, rubbing her head. "Mimi! Some water!" She called. She waited. "Mimi?"
She could hear nothing but the sound of sobbing down the hallway. The phone rang. "Asogi Consulting," she said. They were open 24/7 after all. Hei kept his hand to her shoulder.
"No, Koki isn't with us anymore. No, he had to transfer. Yes, we're going to miss him terribly. Thank you. I'll look into it."
She hung up, staring at her hands.
Then she picked up the phone again, dialing as she thought of what exactly to tell her lost friend's wife.
...I'm starting to tear up. Great chapter dude.
Rin stepped out into the car, trying to erase Yuki's tears from her mind. She'd told her over the phone to prepare her, but it had been even to see the devastation on her face. She was grateful only that Teruki hadn't been there to hear his father was never coming home. She had told Yuki that Koki was dead. Rin even hoped it was true. The alternative was far worse: Koki living forever as a ravenous monster seeking the bodies of Immortals with terrible appetite.
Rin opened the door and sat in the driver's seat. She put her hands on the wheel, face stony and expressionless as she stared into nothing. Something made her reach into her pocket and pull out her wallet.
It had all fallen apart. Sayara was dead, but Koki was gone…and Misaki had seen her working alongside Hei. The trust she'd worked to build with Misaki was shattered and it was only a matter of time until Misaki opted to put the law in action and arrested her. She had every right to do it, too, Rin reflected bitterly. She'd kept secrets, caught between her feelings for both Misaki and Hei. She'd been honest with Hei, but she'd returned Misaki's friendship with lies and deception in ways she never had with Tamotsu. If that wasn't enough, Misaki knew about Carmine. November 11 knew about Carmine as well, and it was also just a matter of time until his Contractor rationality and pride steered him to ruthless sever that loose end.
She hadn't been able to face Hei, Mimi or Carmine that morning. Hei's face had betrayed no emotion, but Mimi had cried all night and Carmine had spent the morning ill from the events the raid.
She flipped the wallet open, reaching for a picture she'd kept for years now. It had been taken with Koki had been young, after he'd first joined the Asogi Consulting Agency. In the photo, Rin was dressed in her favorite suit, an arm around the young man's shoulders as he smiled awkwardly at the camera. Rin's grin was full of mischief, a hand resting on his shoulder, Mimi was in front of him with a huge smile on her face, one eye closed in a wink and an arm around Genta's neck, her free hand flashing a 'v' sign at the camera.
Rin felt tears well in her eyes as she stared at the photo. In her long life, she'd seen many people she cared about pass away, but it never stopped hurting when it happened. Especially when such a fate befell the ones she loved.
She lowered her head, her shoulders shaking as she began to cry for the first time since the previous night, forehead falling against the steering wheel as she gave full vent to her grief.
Misaki Kirihara faced November 11 as he put his sunglasses on. "Wait, you're suggesting I-"
"Do nothing, that's right. For now, at least," April said, putting a hand to July's head.
Misaki gave her a frown, clenching her fist. "You have no idea what you're asking me to do."
"Violate every principle you have and betray your faith in the law? No, no, we have an idea of that," November said cheerfully. "Kidding!" He added quickly when Misaki turned a baleful glare at him.
"Misaki," April lost her smile, turning uncharacteristically serious. "February told me a lot of things. I can't verify them yet, but what I do know is last night Havoc, BK-201 and Rin Asogi were the ones attempting to prevent the extinction of the human race. The fact is that right now, I don't know who's on what side. I don't trust February, but I certainly don't trust anyone else and especially not any government. Not even my own."
November nodded. "You need to at least convince her you're reconciling with her."
"Now you're asking me to lie," Misaki frowned.
"We're all doing things that go against our nature here. What's the point of a conspiracy if you can't compromise yourself a little, Misaki?" November grinned at her.
Misaki ran it over for a moment before April sighed. "Misaki, I understand you feel betrayed. I would too, if November pulled one over me-"
"Like we've never kept things from one another," November smirked
"Shut it, 11. My point is…" April sighed. "Misaki, you see the world through a different lense. Betrayal is something we Contractors understand by definition. What Rin did was-"
"Don't call it logical," Misaki said, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice.
"Consider it from another perspective. You believe in the law, Misaki, but surely you've noticed some things are wrong lately. Something is out there. Something is manipulating events to someone's benefit. You've heard the name 'Apos?'"
Misaki gave a nod. "Rin mentioned him…"
"Feeling betrayed is one thing, but she might actually have done this with good intentions."
"Dangerous terrorist," November said. "But…he came down on the right side. His emotions…" He shook his head. "I still can't understand it. Everything he's done, and now he takes that line. I have to see what's under his mask eventually. As for Havoc...to be honest, there's a bit of professional needling in my side over that, but I can put pride to the side for a bit."
"You have to promise me, Jack. You cannot-"
"I'm a Contractor, Misaki. I break promises, it's what I do." He smiled. "But I promise not to take action on my own if you makes you feel better."
"Just a little," Misaki managed, taking a breath. "I'll speak to her soon."
"There's always the option she was right," April said with a smile. "How much do we know? BK-201, Havoc, the entire group? November found out BK-201 wants February just as bad as anyone, and she seems to trust him implicitly. The fact is we're going to need to keep at this and keep a low profile."
"And how about you?" Misaki asked April. "They're bound to think you've turned."
"Maybe, but if I tell them just enough?" April grinned. "And 11 will vouch for me."
Misaki mulled it over. "Alright," she agreed. "You two should go. You've got a long debriefing."
"I'll start the car," April rubbed July's head. "July, let's go."
"Give me a minute," November said. April nodded and left the room. November smiled at Misaki. "Look at us now. How'd it all come to this?"
"You tell me. You're the one in the know most often. Jack?"
"Hm?" He cocked his head.
"You told July to come to me if anything happened to you."
"I suppose I did," he chuckled. "Little guy really came through, didn't he? Guess that's what friends are for."
"Why me, Jack?"
"Because I can trust you, Misaki," November said. "You're honest. It's such an uphill climb to get you to do anything but the right thing as a police officer. I knew you could be trusted. I knew you wouldn't stop until you got justice. I knew you were smart enough to go about it right. Put bluntly…I knew you were Misaki Kirihara. And lo and behold: you saved my life."
Misaki couldn't help but smile a bit. "I'll work late tonight like I was doing anyways, Jack."
November smiles. "I'm sure we'll meet again. Unless they don't buy my story, have me shot and let me go die alone on the street." He almost laughed at the look on her face as he started for the door of her office. "Kidding! You really have to learn how to take a joke, Chief Kirihara!"
Hans sat in his cell, listening to the voices outside. He'd been extremely patient, giving no sign he'd picked up on their little oversight with the guards chosen that evening. Apos hadn't taken steps to eliminate him yet, which was a good thing, but he was getting awfully sick of being in the cramped little cell. He'd been in long enough, however, to note the evening routine when the graveyard shift rolled around. The division would have a skeleton crew and Chief Kirihara would occasionally stay behind. He'd already mapped out the layout of the station in his head, but he'd have to move quickly when it came to it. He was looking forward to walking out the door and having his life back that evening.
"Officers," He raised his voice loud enough for them to hear outside. "Might I trouble you for a glass of water? It's been seven hours since I last had once."
"Contractor gives me the creeps," one officer grumbled.
"Just get him a drink," the other said. "No metal, right?"
"I know, I know." Hans heard the other man's footsteps as he stepped off. He counted the seconds until they returned.
"Open the door, Taki…and keep that club at the ready."
Hans heard the door swing open and the man stepped in. "Nothing funny," He said, setting the glass of water down. "You know the drill." His partner stepped in by him. "Drink up. Then set it back and face the wall."
Hans summoned his power, his eyes flashing crimson as the blue glow appeared. Both men tensed, but it was too late. Hans snapped his hand to the side and something burst from the first officer's body, whipping out with enough force to embed itself in the other officer's skull.
Hans walked up, catching the wounded man before he could fall before throwing him back on the floor. Hans looked to him impassively. "You rotated shifts. I was waiting for when you had the night one.
Hans reached down and took the man's club, testing the weight. The injured man was gasping, mouth working weakly a she gazed up with horrified, uncomprehending eyes.
"Contractors with control over certain things can feel their power's domain within certain proximity. In your case, I'll wager you didn't know. It's likely that several years ago, you'd been shot. You're a police officer, this happens, yes?"
Hans put his foot to the injured man's chest. "I'll bet you didn't know they kept the bullet in. As far as science advances, it only goes so far, nein? Now, answer my question and you can live. Which floor has my gear? The first?"
The man managed a quick nod at that. "Good. How many officers on duty?"
The man didn't respond so Hans put forth pressure. The man was in too much pain to scream after so Hans gave him a moment. "S…six…" He gasped.
"Very good," Hans nodded. "Is Chief Kirihara here tonight?"
"S-she stayed late…"
"Final question. Security cameras?"
"Not…not down here…"
"Thank you." Hans said before swinging the club five times. Human skulls were harder to crack than one might think, especially after you'd spent so much time in confinement.
He glanced up. Escaping would be child's play at this point. He looked to the wires on the floor, an idea forming in his head. He had to find something sharp to pay his price soon, and he had to keep an eye out for the officers.
He didn't plan on escaping just yet. He had to return their hospitality. He hadn't been able to enjoy himself in some time now. When it got right down to it? That was Kirihara's fault entirely. No, Hans wouldn't escape yet.
He considered the location of the exits in the building and began to walk. After they were sealed, he could simply take his time.
Misaki was sat in her office with Mayu Ohtsuka. The graveyard shift was, of course, dead as ever. Most of the officers had been called away on various activities related to EPR and November and April had left her alone earlier.
Mayu rubbed her head. "That's really about it for the file on BK-201 chief. All his recorded activities and everything he's been suspected of."
Misaki sighed. "Thanks for sticking in tonight anyways, Ohtsuka."
"Oh, it's nothing," Mayu gave a smile. "I mean, I finished my novel last night- I mean!" She added quickly as Misaki raised an eyebrow.
"A little…?" Mayu laughed nervously. Then the room went dark, the computer screen flicking off. Mayu gave a squeak of surprise, nearly falling out of her chair. "Ah!"
"Relax, Ohtsuka, it's a power outage," Misaki sighed. She counted to five. Nothing. Then to ten…
"I'm sure some of the others will check the fuse box," She said, having a seat. Mayu was shaking slightly. "Oh, will you relax? You're not scared of the dark, are you?" The analyst shook her head too quickly.
Misaki closed her eyes, mentally ticking off the minutes….after ten had passed, she frowned. "This is ridiculous…is anyone out there?" she raised her voice.
Silence greeted her. A feeling of unease began to creep up her spine. Misaki Kirihara, you are too old for this, she snapped at herself. But the little voice inside her head began to speak up…after everything that had happened earlier…
A thought hit her mind…BK-201 had seen her. He'd known she'd seen Rin and Carmine. Was he acting to silence her now? She shook her head quickly.
"Ohtsuka, is there a flashlight in here?"
"Uhh….there's one near the break room I think?" Mayu said.
"Stay here. I'm going to have a look." Misaki went for the door, but Mayu grabbed her hand.
"C-can I come, too?"
Misaki sighed. "Alright, alright," she managed a smile in the dark as she opened the door. The room was pitch black, the only light from the moon outside. She and Mayu had been the only ones of this floor anyways. She wondered if her fellow officers had seen to the fuse box…
Misaki grasped Mayu's hand to pull her along until they reached the stairs to descend to the next floor. In the darkness, she made out a row of desks and a human form at one with its head down. She gave a light frown. It had to be Kurumada, asleep on the evening shift again. Misaki walked forward and shook his shoulder. "Wake up, the power's out and-"
Kurumada's head flopped back. Even in the bad light, Misaki made out his wide, staring eyes, his open mouth and the red gash in his throat.
Her eyes went wide and she turned to Mayu, clapping her hand over the woman's mouth before she could scream. Misaki shook her head quickly. The little voice in her head wasn't so quiet now. Was it BK-201? Was he here? Had he murdered a police officer?"
Misaki felt her cell phone in her pocket. She wanted to call someone. She wanted to call Rin or November, but to turn her phone on would be to announce her presence to anyone listening in the darkness.
The door downstairs, Misaki thought. They had to get out of the station.
"Ohtsuka…you have to stay calm," Misaki whispered. She thought she saw tears in Mayu's eyes as the woman nodded before Misaki removed her hand. Misaki breathed in.
The poor woman wasn't trained for tough situations. She was an analyst and liaison for Pandora, not a soldier or officer. Misaki couldn't expect her to operate under pressure like a trained fighter. She took a breath and whispered. "I'm getting you out of this."
They went back to the stairs, ducking down them as, upstairs, Misaki heard the creak of a door. She motioned Mayu for silence as they slowly descended. With Mayu trembling as bad as she was, it was a miracle she managed to get by without news.
Misaki also had to consider the frighteningly real possibility that if a Contractor or killer was loose in the station, she and Mayu were the only ones alive.
They ducked into the next hall. Misaki took a breath, seeing the door to the evidence room wide open. She glanced in for just a moment, trying to piece something through the darkness before Mayu gave her hand an urgent tug.
Misaki had a disturbing suspicion if she looked in the lowest levels, the door to the Contractor captive's cell would be open. He'd been set to be transferred to Pandora earlier, but Evening Primrose's actions had sent that idea to hell. If that was the case, this made things worse: her gun was useless against him.
Misaki moved into the evidence room, hearing Mayu whimper urgently. Misaki had taken items off suspects before, and she leafed around for anything she could use. A knife was metal and thus useless. The guns weren't loaded anyways. She closed her hands around a can of pepper spray and passed it to Mayu. "Hold onto this so you're armed."
"Chief…can we please…the shadows…I think someone's…" Mayu was trembling.
Misaki nodded and moved with her again. Mayu was jumping now as they moved to the front doors.
The officer who'd been at the entrance was staked to the door. His body had been sliced open and his insides were all over the floor. Misaki clapped her hand over Mayu's mouth again before she could scream, gritting her teeth.
These were her people and this son of a bitch had murdered them. There was no doubt about it…it was the one below. BK-201 was many things, but he was never a sadist. Hans on the other hand…based on the files Mayu had pulled on him before…
She forced herself to look away and reached out, but the door knob refused to move.
"Eins. Zwei. Drei. Fier. F?nf. Sechs…und sieben…und acht…" the voice seemed to come from everywhere at once. Of course he could throw his voice, Misaki reflected, forcing herself not to vomit.
"Ohtsuka. On the count of three. Run."
"Ohtsuka…" Misaki whispered, "Don't look at the body. It's just you and me in here."
They heard the footsteps. Misaki looked to Mayu. "Go. Go now."
Mayu took off, Misaki on her heels. They weren't even trying for stealth now, and the sound of their footfalls echoed through the halls.
Hans was a veteran hunter, tracker and killer. Misaki knew they'd lost the game before it'd properly begun. This was a man who had hunted and murdered perhaps hundreds of people. They were an unarmed police officer and analyst.
And yet…Misaki wasn't ready to give up and die. She hadn't taken Rin to task, hadn't seen under BK-201's mask. She hadn't solved the case of Evening Primrose. She looked at Mayu. "He's behind us. Get up the stairs. I need you to focus, Ohtsuka."
Mayu gave a quick nod. Misaki knew that there was no other choice: it was him or them.
Hans followed at a leisurely pace. They were making so much noise now he didn't really have to put much effort in. He loved that humans threw caution and logic to the wind when they were scared. It made it easier for him. He had enjoyed hunting like this even before the Gate appeared. After, it had only been logical to continue what he enjoyed.
He'd used stealth to kill the other officers after paying his price on a paper clip he'd found at a desk-that had been an unpleasant remuneration. He'd sealed the entrance with the last body and now he wanted to take his time. He'd deal with the Apos situation after, but he had a feeling this would get him a good recommendation after the fact.
He heard them making for the stairs and sped up slightly. He heard the footsteps break off around the third floor and followed in shortly behind.
"Chief Kirihara." He raised his voice. "Both of you, come out. It will go much easier." He couldn't even hide his smile now, but he figured the night would mask it for him.
He heard the whimpering and shaking before he even approached and smirked before he summoned his power and threw the metal desk off the other woman. She gave a scream of terror and covered her head like she thought it would help her.
"Chief Kirihara, I know you can hear me! This woman is in mortal danger if you don't come out!" He raised his voice more. Granted, the woman was in mortal danger regardless.
He withdrew a needle and made it hover to the woman's face, tracing her cheek with the point. He let the needle drop to the floor. "I'm going to count to three. There will not be a four."
He pulled Mayu to her feet, making her look at him. "One," He said as he levitated three needles, raising them behind him.
"Two." Maybe he'd underestimated how hard hearted Kirihara could be.
"Th-" He noticed something in the woman's hand just before the pepper spray hit him in the eyes.
Kirihara heard the Contractor scream in agony and didn't waste time. She had only one weapon close at hand now. She'd undone her belt, and hoped a full blast of pepper spray would keep him from utilizing his powers or noticing her. She had seconds before he lashed out and killed Mayu.
She leaped forward, his howls of rage and pain making him a target. She grabbed the end of her belt and swung with all her might.
She practically felt his face split open. She didn't stop, swinging it back the other way as Mayu scrambled away. She thought it felt it catch the German's eye this time. His scream became inhuman as the metal fell without his concentration forced on them.
He surged at Misaki, hands aiming for her neck, but she stepped away and pulled her belt tight around his throat. She pulled herself over one desk, planting her foot on the back of it as her hands pulled.
The Contractor struggled for breath, clawing at the belt cutting off his air supply. He struggled to use his powers, but Misaki guessed he'd used his powers too much since the last payment.
She held on, aware that if she let go, she and Mayu would die. Finally, she felt the Contractor's struggles weaken, his choking gasps stopping as his body went slack. Still, she held on for as long as she could before she released the belt. She heard the man's body collapse and moved over, putting two fingers to his neck. He was dead.
She moved to Mayu and hugged the other woman, dimly aware she was crying as well. It was the first time she had ever killed anyone like that.
Somehow, an eternity later, she found the strength to take out her phone and call Saito to send every officer to the station.
Wow...Go Misaki! You took him down!
And...when will things change...?
Hei kept his smile frozen to his face as he swiftly cleared the table of drinks and plates before wiping it down. His cover of Li Shengshung, the happy, lackadaisical Chinese student, had gotten a job as a busboy at one of the local nightclubs in order to be in close proximity to the new mission. The Syndicate hadn't commented on the past issues save to give commendations for halting Sayara's plans.
He hadn't heard from Rin, either. He hadn't even been able to work up the nerve to call her or drop by the Asogi Consulting office. He wondered how she was feeling now. He knew how devastating the loss of a loved one was, of course, and a huge part of him dearly wanted to make certain she had someone there for her. He sure as hell didn't want to be in a fancy club staking out the movements of the captains of the Nakazawa Yakuza family.
He'd been a near recluse for the past few days now, waiting for the attack from Novemebr 11 that never came. Carmine was safe, apparently…unless the Contractor was waiting for them to lower their guard.
Hei's train of thought was interrupted as he heard the manager cry out in protest. "S-sir, please, that's the bill!"
The hulk of a man at the table stood up. "All that for a lousy few drinks? Piss off, I'm out of here!" He reaches out and pushed the manager away. Hei gave an internal sigh. This was just what he didn't need now.
The door opened then, and a young man stepped into the room. His brown hair was slicked back and he wore a pair of oversized shades he had to think were 'cool' along with a tacky white jacket and pink shirt. "Hey…you heard him." He said in a low voice.
"Who the hell're you?"
"Sakurai Kenji of the Nakazawa family," the boy answered with a cocky smile. "You better do as I say, or you're gonna get hurt."
The man's fist knocked the cheap sunglasses right off his head and sent him tumbling back. Hei chose that moment to step forward. "Sir, the bill is-"
The man whirled and punched, clearly in no mood for talking. Hei could have killed him about four dozen times before he so much as completed the hit, but gauging exactly where the blow would land, Hei stepped back to evade it, all the while keeping Li's dopy little smile on his face. "Sir, please, there's no need for violence!"
The man came at him, fists moving in a blue. Hei merely stepped back and to the side, leading him on a chase as the man's anger began to get the better of him. Hei promptly stepped to the side, leaving his foot out just a little for the man to go head over heels into a table. Hei stepped back, rubbing his head. "You should watch where you're going, sir!" he called just as the doors open.
Kenji called out. "Big bro! I mean, boss!" Hei followed his gaze to the tall, lean man with short black hair and the sweeping white coat. Hei could tell immediately he was more than the poser Kenji appeared to be. This man was a hardcore Yakuza.
As the loudmouthed man struggled up, the gangster walked over and with a sword, twisted the man's arm behind her back. "You should pay your bill when the manager tells you," he said in a cold voice before shoving him onto the ground. He raised a hand and several men in jackets and sunglasses stepped forward. "Take him out in the alley, give him something to think about."
"Hey…Big Bro Hitotsubashi," Kenji struggled up as the man was dragged out. "I was-"
"Acting like a punk and embarrassing us again?" Hitotsubashi, captain of the Nakazawa family said, folding his arms before looking to Lee. "This part-timer did better than you, and you call yourself a Yakuza?"
One had to be real secure to call himself that in front of hired help, Hei thought. Then again, however, Hitotsubashi was the most powerful and dangerous captain of the family, and the one his superiors were most interested in. The family had maintained a secret smuggling route the Syndicate was most interested in.
News also said the family's leader Nakazawa himself was beginning to look for peace in a running dispute, to Hitotsubashi's disgust. Hei was to see how it played out.
"S-sorry, boss," Kenji stammered out. The Yakuza captain looked to Hei, reached into his jacket and pulled out a wallet. "Kenji. Take him. Treat him to whatever he wants on me, you understand? We show our gratitude." He gave Hei a tight smile and a nod. "Take care, kid."
Kenji looked to Hei. "So, uhh…I'm Kenji."
"Oh, I'm Li!" Hei smiled. "Li Shengshung. I mean, you don't have to go to any trouble…"
"Well, if boss says you get what you want, then you do…and hey, can you show me how you do that fancy kung fu of yours?"
"My what?" Hei blinked. Oh, come on…how could he have spotted…?
"That Bruce Lee stuff! You didn't even look like you were trying!" Kenji mimed a kick, striking a stance. "You could be like THAT!" He made a chop. "You've gotta show me!"
"I was only moving out of the way…" Hei said, blinking. "I suppose if you need to thank me, we could get some food…"
Kenji grinned. "You got it! We can get whatever-"
"Oh, just some ramen will be fine," Hei smiled. Sooner this was done, the better.
It was a short time later, Hei was on his thirtieth ramen bowl, Kenji staring in disbelief as Hei eagerly slurped his noodles down. "I love this place," he explained. "They always make these bowls so quick when I'm in."
"How do you pull off that kung fu stuff when you eat that much, bro?" Kenji blinked rapidly. Hei blinked quickly.
"Well, I always eat that much…and I really don't do martial arts…"
"Well, when you're done with that, we can hit the clubs and buy the girls drinks!" Kenji grinned at him. "We've got tons of cash left from the boss!"
"Oh, so he's your boss then?" Hei asked, playing as dumb as possible.
"Hitotsubashi? He's awesome! I've wanted to be like him since I was a kid…you know he taught me how to ride a motorcycle?"
"Wow, he must be great," Hei said. Of course, Kenji was probably too na?ve or stupid enough to know of the body count Hitotsubashi had personally, never mind the kills he'd ordered, "But I'd just like a ride home if that's okay?"
"Huh? Well, sure, if that's what you want. Man, Li, you really are one cool guy!"
"Yeah…thanks." Hei blinked quickly. Sooner he got home, the better. He thought of Rin again…she might be alone now, still crying over her Koki. He made the decision to call her the second he got home. They were in a relationship now. Being there for one another was what they were supposed to do.
They walked out to the bike, Hei sitting behind Kenji as he started it off. Hei gave him the directions to his apartment as thunder began to rumble overhead.
"Alright, it should be-" Kenji started when the bike sputtered. "Oh, not now!"
The motorcycle stalled and Kenji groaned, stepping off. "It's not far enough to walk…hey, Li, I've gotta fix this thing up. Is it okay if I stop in your place? Just for a bit?"
Damn my luck, Hei thought angrily. "Sure," he said with a smile, leading Kenji off the street to set the bike aside before leading him up the stairs to his apartment. "Hi, Misuzu!" He called, the old landlady raking leaves in the garden.
"Li! You being a good boy?" she gave a motherly smile.
"Always, Miss Misuzu." Hei gave a wide smile. "I'll handle the raking for you tomorrow!"
"Oh, you're such a good boy! Just no pets, ya hear?" She called after him as he opened the door, letting Kenji in.
"She's up later," Kenji blinked….before he practically felt the walls shaking. "Hey, what is that?"
"Uh, it's probably my neighbors down below." Hei said. "They're always throwing some party."
"It's ridiculous how loud they are! Shouldn't you say something?"
"Well, I don't want to cause a problem-"
"Ridiculous! In the Nakazawa family, they teach you to speak or you never get heard! Leave it to me!"
In the apartment below, Hei's neighbors had little time to wonder why they're door was kicked off the hinges before Kenji walked in, pointing accusingly at the four. He could see a tall man with dark skin, a chubby blond man, a brown-skinned redheaded girl and a blond man with a guitar. "what do you idiots think you're doing?" He shouted.
"Huh…?" Was the resounding response.
"These walls are so thin you can hear a pin drop, let alone all of you jamming like this! People have lives too, you kn-" Misuzu's broom smacked him in the head to cut him off.
"I don't care what ya do to those deadbeats, but that door's another story! You better have the money to pay for that!"
"Hey!" The man with the guitar smiled. "We can fix it! It's no big deal!"
"Uhh…yeah, I'll help," Kenji winced as Hei stepped forward. With the five of them, it took no time to repair it and put it back on its hinges. Kenji found himself talking to the group, sitting with them and sharing the drinks. Hei remained outside, listening to the laughter in the room.
Kenji was laughing. "It's like a gathering of multinationals here!" He pointed to the black man. "So, Babo, you're from America…and Joshua's from Israel?"
"Yep!" the chubby blond man grinned. "I'm here to work in Japanese animation!"
"How about you, Irene?"
The redheaded woman grinned. "And I'm making money for my brothers and sisters in the Philippines as a hostess. Louis?"
The spiky haired man raised his guitar. "To spread the holy word of rock and roll! How about you, Kenji? What do you do here?"
"Well…don't tell anyone, but my boss has a special job for me soon!" He grinned, looking up. "Li's missing all this…"
Irene grinned. "He's a good looking guy, but doesn't socialize much. He doesn't seem a people person, ya know?"
Hei, for his part had stepped upstairs, letting the others have fun below as he dialed the number. It rang once…twice…three times…on the fifth ring, he heard her voice. "Hei…"
"Rin. How are you doing?"
"I'm…" she let it trail off. "Everyone's been supportive," she said.
That didn't sound positive. "I just…have a little to finish here. I'll be by soon, Rin."
"I'd really like that," She said in a strained voice. He tried to imagine her with a weak smile.
"I want to see you…"
"I want to see you, too…"
"Tomorrow. First second I'm free, I'll head down."
"Just keep yourself out of trouble, ok?" Rin said on the other end. Hei smiled.
"I'll give it a shot, Rin."
Hitotsubashi had just given the order to change everything that morning.
Nakazawa had tried to broker a peace between Hitotsubashi and his enemies. Such a thing could not be allowed to stand. Hitotsubashi had been building his forces for too long. Enough members of the family were loyal to him instead of old man Nakazawa. The old man had just gotten soft.. It was what Hitotsubashi had always said: when a Yakuza lost his nerve, when he wished for peace…he was finished.
Hitotsubashi had just the way to take over the family completely. For that, he'd needed money. This acquisition had cost a pretty penny, but what he was making from the sale would eclipse it. It could even change the very markets if this was successful. The money the family made would be reinvested into operations, giving no cause for complaint about his ascension.
He had been so confident, he'd ordered old man Nakazawa's death that morning.
Hitotsubashi sat back as Kenji rushed in. "Boss! Sorry I'm late, I had to fix my bike-"
"Kenji," the older Yakuza smiled. "Come on, relax. Have a seat, okay?" Hitotsubashi's office wasn't flashy. There was a couch across from the desk, but it was mostly unadorned. Kenji dropped into the seat as the other men brought in a crate.
"Kenji, the family's about to change. You're on my side, right? You want to be a real Yakuza?" Hitotsubashi grinned at him. Kenji's eyes widened.
"Y-you bet, big bro!"
"Then I can trust you? With a big job? We just came into this item. We have a buyer paying big bucks for it."
"Yeah!" Kenji grinned. "Whatever it is, sir!"
The captain gestured and a man removed the crate's lid. Kenji gazed in and his eyes widened…seeing the short haired girl curled up inside. "H-huh?"
One guard gently held the girl's arm, helping her out of the crate. She stood, staring at Kenji with blank, purple eyes, dressed only in a smock.
"She's a 'Doll' from what I hear," Hitotsubashi stood, walking to her. "Totally obedient, no emotion, no whining, no nagging, nothing. People pay top dollar for a girl like this…and we're finalizing the sale. And she's a cute one…" He reached in to the girl's smock, feeling her up. Kenji recoiled slightly. "Everything's in good working condition. Thing is, Kenji? I want you to guard the merchandise for a few hours while we finish with the buyer and get the money. But no messing with her, you got me?"
Kenji was still staring in shock as the doll was made to sit on the couch. "S-sure…boss…no problem…"
Hitotsubashi gave his shoulder a pat. "You're gonna go far, kid. I promise you." He smiled reassuringly as he exited with his men. He waited as one of them opened his car for him before sliding into the backseat. His guards sat in the front. One glanced back. "Hey, boss, why leave Kenji with the girl anyways?"
"If I left one of you," Hitotsubashi grinned, "You'd mess with the merchandise. Kenji's too stupid to do that."
Kenji was stupid, he knew. Kenji could be trusted completely. Kenji was loyal.
Which was why it was such a shock three hours later that he found out Kenji and the Doll were missing.
Hei opened the door when he heard the insistent knocking, getting a sinking feeling in his stomach. "Who's-"
Kenji stood there, wearing his tacky pink shirt and white coat, his eyes wide and pleading. "Li, can we please come in?" He asked weakly. Hei blinked and glanced behind him. The girl there was staring ahead with the purple, vacant eyes of a doll.
"I…I didn't know where else to go.." Kenji managed, looking down. Hei watched him for a moment. "What happened?"
"B-boss left me alone with her…she's gonna be sold! For…for…you know…"
A sex market for dolls, Hei thought. His lip curled. Truly, he thought he was beyond being shocked at depravities by now, but that hit a new low.
"And you just took her and ran?"
"She was…looking at me…" Kenji bit his lip. "I couldn't just leave her! You're the only person outside the family I know, Li!"
"Come inside. Be quick about it." He opened the door wider and Kenji gently guided the Doll inside, glancing to her worriedly.
Hei shut the door, stepping inside and walking to lean against the wall. If anything, he figured Rin would understand this. "You know this means they'll come after you."
"I know that! But…but…I've never killed anyone! I've never done anything like this! I just hang at the nightclub and try to look like I'm cool…I thought being a Yakuza-"
Hei shook his head, his Li persona gone. "Yakuza are killers. They're gangsters. You didn't understand what that meant?"
Kenji looked down, shaking. "It's okay if I have to go on the run, I have some money-"
"What'll you do when it runs out? You'll be looking over your shoulder forever."
"I can work!"
"And what about her? Where will you stay? Will you leave her there? She can't even go to the bathroom on her own."
Kenji managed to look even more ashamed. "I'm sorry I dragged you into this, Li…I just had to do…something…"
Hei let his features soften a little. "If you're serious about this…"
"I'll help you get clear. Do you know where you want to run to?"
"I'll figure something out! Oh, Li, thank you! I mean, if they did find us-"
"That's a matter of time as long as we stay here…I'll make calls. It's better you know as little as possible. Remain here. I'm going to pick up clothes for her."
Misaki had allowed herself to be dragged shopping by Kanami, who viewed it as a remedy for all the world's ills. Even after she'd been attacked and nearly killed by a sociopathic Contractor she'd strangled to death. Misaki had killed people before, but always with a gun and from a distance. Killing someone up close and personal like that was a new one. Though, Misaki knew, it'd been her or Hans. Mayu had also come dangerously close to dying that night as well. Given the option, she would make the same choice. Not that it prevented her from having bad dreams now, though.
She appreciated the thought, at least, and being able to spend time with her best friend. She'd swapped her suit out for jeans and a comfortable blue shirt and matching blue cap while Kanami wore a pink coat and lavender short, long honey-brown hair worn long. Naturally, Kanami was holding several bags filled with clothes. "I'm gonna check out that store, Misa!" She grinned. "You should come!"
Misaki grinned, feeling better as she glanced around before blinking, seeing a man from behind.
She remembered suddenly, racing to the shrine not long ago…seeing the man from behind…his body glowing with the blue aura. "I'll…catch up, Kanami."
She stepped forward as Kanami turned to check the store. Misaki stepped up close. Had she found the Black Reaper here? "Don't move…" she said in a hard voice. The man stiffened.
"Turn around, slowly." She wished she had a stun gun at least…
"Misaki? Misaki Kirihara…?" The gentle voice said as Li Shengshung turned to face her. She blinked quickly.
"Li? Is that-"
He smiled cheerfully. "Oh, it is you! Wow, it's great seeing you again! Was that some police thing?" He gave her a gentle smile.
….Smooth, Misaki, she thought to herself. "Oh, yeah, just a game." She chuckled, waving a hand. What had happened at the police station had been kept out of the public record, with cover stories made for the dead officers. Of course he wouldn't be aware of what had happened. Li was also a genuinely nice guy and she'd been this close to arresting him on the spot…over a case of mistaken identity…
For some reason, she couldn't shake a slight feeling of unease, though. She glanced to the bag in Li's hands. Was that…
"Hey, Misa, who's your friend?" Kanami walked back over with a grin, waving cheerfully.
"Oh, Kanami!" Misaki jumped. "This is Li. Li, Kanami, Kanami, Li."
"Nice to meet you!" She grinned and glanced to the bag in Li's hands. "Is that a bra?"
"Oh, uh…it's not mine." Li said awkwardly, rubbing his head.
"Is that for Misa…?" Kanami grinned slyly. Misaki choked.
"Huh? Oh, no, we're just friends…well, I guess we don't know each other that well…"
"Well, I bet you two should change that!" Kanami grinned. "You know how to get in touch, right?"
Li smiled and nodded. "Let me just go pay for these. We can talk when I'm not so busy?"
Misaki nodded as he walked to the register. "What is he doing with women's clothes…"
"Maybe he's a drag queen?" Kanami suggested, smiling playfully. "Or it's for a girlfriend? Misa, you're going red…"
"Shut it, Kana." Misaki growled as Li paid, walking back.
"Sorry, it's for my sister…" He said. "She's sick so she asked me to pick some things up."
"See?" Misaki smiled, elbowing Kanami gently. "Well, Li, we'll talk more next time?"
"Sure! Nice seeing you, Detective! And meeting you, Kanami!" He waved, walking off.
Misaki breathed in, watching him. For some reason, she just couldn't shake the feeling…
Hei had managed to tell Rin he might be a little late after all. He had a feeling Huang would be upset enough about this as it was. He'd have to avoid killing Hitotsubashi due to his knowledge on the smuggling ring. Running in to Misaki had been an unfortunate coincidence. She'd gotten far too close for his liking and it was a miracle he'd been able to keep her from becoming too suspicious after she'd been up close to him. The slightest slip in his body language would set her suspicions off.
Still…maybe this wasn't such a bad thing. For some reason, he'd wanted to help Kenji. The boy had been a fool, but he had a good heart under it. The world didn't have enough people like that.
He arrived back at his apartment, opening the door. Kenji called out. "Li! Is it you! This friend of yours showed up!"
Hei paused and saw…Yin sitting next to the doll, looking over to him. "Hei," she said.
"She's real quiet, but has a great fashion sense." Kenji grinned. "Is she your…girlfriend?"
"I…" Hei walked to Yin, switching to Chinese. "Did Huang send you?"
Yin shook her head. "I wanted to come." She said simply. "I felt…you needed help."
His mouth opened slightly before he set the clothes down. Yin surprised him more every day it seemed…but then…he remembered her smile…Maybe it shouldn't surprise him so much after all.
"Yin, can you dress her?" Hei set down the bag and nodded to Kenji to leave the room. Yin nodded and began taking the clothes out. He'd bought a wig for good measure.
Hei walked into the next room with Kenji. "I should ask you something…the best plan might be to get you to Shinjuku train station. But, I want to know. Why are you doing this? You're throwing your entire life away for a Doll you don't know."
"I know that…but…" Kenji shook his head. "Do you know about other people? Li, what would you do?"
Hei didn't answer, contemplating Kenji. "You didn't tell me. Why her?"
"If you have to ask…" Kenji looked at Hei. "How couldn't I? She's in trouble, that's all I needed to know! You have to know how that feels!"
Hei took a breath, thinking of Carmine, Yin and Rin. He nodded. "I do."
"Li…" Kenji said, "It's like nobody here really knows you…like you don't get people well…the people downstairs would love to get to know you more-"
"Are we talking about my people skills or about your predicament?" He cut Kenji off. "How I act around people isn't your-"
"It's just that I was…worried," Kenji said. Hei blinked.
"…There's someone," Hei said. "It's not much you need to know."
"I'm just saying…you should get to know people more…cutting yourself off…" He looked up as the door opened. Yin walked out with the Doll, dressed in a fine dress with a long brown wig. Kenji paused, staring.
"W-wow…you look…" he shook his head. "So we should…go soon…"
Hei had signaled them to follow. "The train station's not far," he said. "We'll take the subway to Shinjuku…from there, use your money and get as far away as you can."
Hei saw they were being followed when they reached the subway. The man was trying too hard to be inconspicuous. He looked to Yin and gave her a nod, knowing she'd perceive it. "Kenji," He whispered. "Go left."
Kenji turned down the path with the doll when Hei stepped back, putting his leg out to trip the Yakuza up. The man cried out, toppling over. He recovered faster than Hei thought, jumping up and taking after Hei. Hei let him push through the crowd, leading him off into the subway.
The parking garage was nearby, which was where Kenji would go through. Yin was settled back to wait. Hei waited for the man to bear down on him, then lashed out, pressing two fingers into the man's kidney. He was in too much pain to even cry out, exactly as Hei had intended. Hei struck again, unseen by any passerby, striking a nerve and sending the man into a long period of unconsciousness.
He stepped out quick, near the escalator. Yin was waiting. "The garage," she said. "Now."
Kenji was making his way in the garage, trying to get back near the trains when he saw the lights. The car drove right for him. His eyes widened and he pushed the girl to safety before the car hit him, throwing him back. The doors opened and Hitotsubashi stepped out.
"Of course I had people watching this place, you idiot." Kenji saw the glint of iron in his hands through the pain. His 'brother' knelt down, putting the gun to his head, six men flanking him. "You've caused me a lot of trouble tonight, Kenji. I'm almost impressed."
Kenji looked up. "Boss…"
"You threw it all away, Kenji. You really had a future. But with Ooshita bearing down, I can't let this go. Load him and the girl in the car. We can still make the sale."
"Why not cap him here, boss?"
"Too many people might hear it here," Hitotsubashi said. "We'll hit the garage further out. Make a few circles so we're not followed…Ooshita might have people around. Kenji. Up."
Kenji closed his eyes as he was forced to his feet. He'd gotten this far and all for nothing.
Hei looked to Yin. "Too late…Yin, where are they?"
She looked up with Hei to the pipes near the ceiling, seeing the telltale blue glow of a specter. "It's her," Yin said. Hei looked to her.
"She says to hurry. They're going to the garage several blocks over. She says they're going to kill Kenji. She's begging you to save him."
"Yin. I can't slow down for you here."
"Go. I'll find Mao. He's not far off."
"He's been watching?"
"He's interested in how you'd react."
"Sounds like him." Hei smiled and took off.
Kenji was dragged out of the car, thrown to the ground. He groaned, looking up to the man he'd idolized for years. Hitotsubashi sighed, shaking his head. "Just tell me why, Kenji."
"You should know, boss…I found something to protect…something I could risk my life for. You know what that's like? Did you ever have anything like that?"
Something flickered in the Yakuza's eyes but it was gone almost as quick as it had appeared. "You brought this on your-"
One of his men screamed suddenly, collapsing. There was a blur as someone ducked away. The Yakuza all made to draw their weapons when a wire wrapped one's wrist. He gave the same scream before dropping.
Li…? Kenji thought, seeing nothing but a dark blur of movement ducking behind cars as the Yakuza opened fire, missing their targets. Hitotsubashi raised his gun, firing as well.
"What the hell?" He shouted, as another went down. "Fan out!"
The three remaining men moved to position when the wire seized one and yanked him as the other two fired on their assailant. The attacker held the man up, using him as a human shield, bullets thudding into him before Li shoved him forward. He sprang, kicking out to strike one man in the throat, crushing his windpipe before whirling to the other to seize and snap his neck with a motion.
Hitotsubashi stepped forward, raising his gun when he suddenly felt the press of a cold barrel against his back. "Far enough, boss. Drop it."
Hitotsubashi paused, slowly lowering his gun. "Keep your hands up, boss. You're driving us to the station."
Hitsotsubashi betrayed no emotion. "Alright." He said.
"Fine," Li said as he sat in the backseat, next to the Doll. Kenji sat behind the driver's seat after Hitotsubashi sat in, the gun pressed to the seat.
"Station, huh, Kenji?"
"That's right," Kenji said as Hitotsubashi began to drive, out of the garage and down the road. "It's funny, boss…" He said.
"Funny? I don't really see the humor, Kenji."
"This isn't the first time I've ridden behind you. Wasn't it you who taught me how to ride a bike?"
"Yeah. I guess it was," Hitotsubashi said softly. Through the haze of years, Kenji could remember stepping into that garage for the first time, an orphan kid interested in motorcycles. The man had been working at the bike of his dreams, looking up with a grin.
"Back again, kid? Don't you have somewhere else to be?"
"This's the only place I wanna be! That bike is awesome!"
"Hah! You've got a good eye! A good bike will never steer you wrong as long as you treat it well. What say we go for a ride, huh?" He'd smiled them. It was a real smile, not the cold, calculating shark smile that had taken him over in later years. It'd been the first of many rides, the wind rushing past them. His big brother had grinned at him and Kenji had felt invincible.
After so many rides, his brother had smiled, putting a hand to his shoulder. "Kid, you have anything you can protect?"
"Protect, big bro?"
"Yeah. Something you'd give your life for. You find that one day, you risk your life for it…and nothing can ever stop you."
But those days were long gone. Neither was the same as he'd been then. Too much had happened in the years since. Kenji kept the gun steady. There was no magic in this ride, no joy or laughter. There was just the steady thud of his heart in his own throat.
When they pulled up at the train station, Kenji gave Hei the gun, sparing one last look as Hitotsubashi and thanks to Hei before taking the Doll's hand and rushing inside with her.
Hitsotsubashi looked to Hei. "Can I get a smoke?"
"Go ahead," He said, the Yakuza leaning back against the car.
He drew out a cigarette, and then his lighter before taking a pull of the white stick.
"I want to ask you something," Hei said.
"You must have known this gun had no more bullets in it. You could have taken him. A man of your experience…"
"I guess I lost track in the excitement," the Yakuza smiled thinly.
"You should have seen it. A man like you-"
"I didn't notice. That's all." A faraway look appeared in Hitotsubashi's eyes. "Hey, I ask you something now?"
"You got anything you wanna protect with all your life?" He gave a grin, shaking his head and flicking his smoke away. "Because I sure as hell don't."
Hei watched him calmly, not confirming or denying anything.
"I did once," The gangster's eyes closed, his smile becoming nostalgic and pained. "But not anymore."
Hei stepped away from the car, walking away. He glanced down, seeing the crowds bustle past as Hitotsubashi began to walk away. He'd seen a look of peace on the man's fast for just a moment.
A man bumped into the Yakuza and Hei heard a muffled bang before the man hurried off. Hei's eyes widened, seeing the red stain spreading on Hitotsubashi's white shirt.
The Yakuza's face was frozen in a grimace of shock and pain. "Dammit…" he whispered, his legs buckling before he toppled back. Hei knew there was nothing he could do for him.
Instead, Hitotsubashi's words ran in his head, over and over…something he'd protect with all his life.
Kenji sat back as the train began to move. The girl was staring out the window. "Hey, listen…" He said. "I…I don't have much…so it's okay if you don't stick with me…I mean, you don't even know me…I just couldn't stand around and…what I'm saying…"
He looked down, shutting his eyes. "You probably don't feel one way or the other about me, but I promise I'll do my best, but it's okay if you-" he felt a warm, soft hand touch his and he looked up.
She was staring right at him.
And on her face was the most gentle, beautiful smile he had ever seen.
With Hitotsubashi's death, knowledge of the smuggling route had died with him. The new Nakazawa head was a man named Ooshita. The mission had been called off, Huang had told him before.
Hei wished Kenji well, he truly did. Hitotsubashi's and Kenji's words kept running over in his head.
He'd been divorced from humanity from too long. He made the resolution to, the next day, stop with his neighbors, get to know them. But now…
He knocked on the door. He knew it was the dead of night, but he couldn't stay away any longer. He heard the loud bark inside. The door opened and Rin blinked. "Hei…is that…"
"Rin…did I wake you?"
"No…I wasn't sleeping, I just finished a phone call…"
"Can I come in?"
"Yeah…sure…did it go-"
"Mission accomplished…" He managed a smile as she opened the door. "Mimi and Carmine?"
"Asleep, if the rug didn't wake them." She patted Genta's head. Genta panted happily and nosed Rin's hand. "Alright, you…" Rin said, "back to bed." She smiled as Genta trotted off.
"I'm sorry I didn't call first…I was…close enough and…"
Rin put her arms around him and hugged him to her. Hei reached and drew her to him, hugging her tightly. "Rin…I didn't-"
"Yeah…you're a wreck with people sometimes…" She looked up at him, eyes glistening.
"I should've been there for you…"
"I needed the time…" she whispered, putting a hand to his cheek. "But…"
"Someone asked me tonight if there was something I would protect…Pai was the only thing I ever did…but now…there's Carmine, my team, Mimi…and you…with all my life…I want to get clear of the Syndicate…I want there to be a chance now…after we've finished all this…"
"I'd like that…if I'm not rotting in jail for the next thousand years," she gave a weak smile, linking her hands to his. "But…best of the time we have? Because I want to protect you and everyone else, too…"
"Yeah…you might be one of the best fighters I've ever met, but there's this vulnerable side to you. That's why." She smiled. "I'll let you protect me…if you give me the same…."
"I will," He whispered, putting a hand to her cheek. "I know I can't give you forever, Rin…"
She reached up and drew him in, pressing her mouth against him, her breath warm and sweet against his lips. She drew him closer, kissing him long and slow.
"Let me give you tonight," She whispered
He didn't feel the pain from Sayara's touch when her hands and lips were against his. He thought of a thousand excuses to stop now but for once, Hei made the choice to put his own desire first.
Rin took his hand and smiled, motioning him along. Hei returned the smile and followed her.
Come whatever may, this night belonged to them.
Awesome chapter dude.
Rin lay on her side, feeling the warmth of Hei's hand resting on her thigh. She leaned in and brushed her lips against his. She felt him lean in, answering her kiss with his own, and playfully slipped her tongue past his lips.
He caught her, pulling her in closer to feel the warmth of her bare skin against his, rolling her to her back to lie above her. Rin had left her glasses on the bedside, but she could still perceive Hei's handsome face, and see the warmth in his black eyes. She grinned and drew him down for another kiss before gasping as she felt him gently run a hand over her left breast.
"Insatiable tonight, aren't we??" She asked with a playful smirk. Hei leaned in, running his mouth over the softness of her neck. Rin slid her arms around his shoulders, loving the feel of his firm muscles beneath her hands. She had loved every soft sigh she'd elicited from him. Every caress with her lips or hands gave him a new pleasure?pleasure she'd received in kind.
Rin questioned again how they'd come to this?they'd come a long way from him being the faceless villain she'd attempted to defeat, to becoming allies, partners?then friends?and now lovers. She drew him into a kiss again as she whispered. "I'll protect you, Hei?"
He was inside her again, making her gasp, her back arching as she tightened her arms around him.
"I will protect you, Rin?" His voice was at her ear, soft and gentle. She moved her hips, encouraging him further. "I swear it?"
Grasping one another tight, they moved slowly, savoring one another. Out the windows, the stars continued to burn bright.
Tamotsu Yanagihara was sat in the records room, piecing through every case he could get his hands on. Something didn't seem to be adding up, he thought grimly. He'd had his suspicions recently, but right now? All these cases?Contractor related nearly to a one, all overseen by Director Horai, and almost all of them inconclusive. Or worse, the scent of corruption had been all over some.
Eric Nishijima had been involved in several, involving issues with Pandora, despite it being an allegedly independent research group. What was he doing in frequent contact with Horai? What was more, in several of the records, he'd been able to trace more links to suspicious deaths and potential associations as far back as Yamanobe Genetics. He'd found the records of Detective Isozaki's murder, and the sudden resignation of his partner Kuno from the force.
He closed the file he was looking at, remembering the rumors of some power 'Syndicate,' that was somehow looking more and more likely all the time now that he thought about it. Who did he bring any suspicions to, though? He couldn't trust any member of the force. To tell anyone would make him a target, or them.
There was one he was one hundred percent certain was on the level?Misaki. He knew he could trust her?but to put her in danger?Tamotsu frowned. He'd held her on his knee when he'd been a little girl, he'd visited the Kiriharas for her birthday, he'd swelled with pride as he saw her graduate the academy and accept her badge for the first time.
But?she was still the chief of her own division, a cop who'd faced danger constantly and someone who'd strangled a Contractor to death with her belt just a short time before. She and Mayu Ohtsuka had recovered from the incident faster than he believed possible. Misaki would gladly risk her life in pursuit of justice?
Tamotsu breathed in, setting the records back aside. He had to think on it, and fast. If he was right, the danger was coming from inside the system?
Eric Nishijima picked up his phone. "Nishijima."
"You have a rat sniffing about," the voice said calmly. "Horai and Maxley are on the line as well."
Nishijima took a breath. "We'll?look into it, Apos. I promise. In the mean-"
"Did any of you bother to find out what Yamanobe was actually planning?" Apos sounded?amused. He took their silence for a 'no.'
"I thought not. As for Evening Primrose, was there any progress?"
"Some," Maxley confessed. "We managed to capture a Contractor in their employ?but he used his power to commit suicide rather than-"
"Contractors don't operate like that," Nishijima protested. "They don't kill themselves when-"
"This one did," Maxley growled impatiently. "It's that woman, Amber. She inspires this sort of loyalty. Hei ditched my unit to follow her, along with half the best Contractors in South America."
"In this case," Horai said in a calm tone, "We'll need access to all the Contractors who might be a part of Evening Primrose for better targeting. Nishijima, can you gain access to the classified files?"
"There's not a chance in the world," Nishijima whispered, rubbing his head. "That's the fundamental province of the astronomy or research divisions?And it doesn't ever leave Pandora."
"Then you'll have to take it by force," Apos sounded amused. "I think it would be a delightful shake up. As long as the primary equipment and personnel aren't damaged?.and there aren't any of those in the astronomy division."
Maxley seemed to consider it. "Military forces in Pandora?you'd need a hell of an excuse?"
"Your special forces are loyal to the Syndicate and more importantly to you, General," Apos said. "But I could make an excuse for you?keep an eye on the news. As for our little rat?I'll have the details sent, General Maxley. Deal with it soon, won't you?"
Misaki looked up as April walked into the room, grinning merrily. "Misaki!" She said cheerfully, bringing out a can of beer and cracking it open. "Can I tempt you?"
"I don't really drink?"
"You don't really live, you mean," April winked, dropping into the seat across from her. "So, this is your home? Nice place."
"Yep?make yourself at home. Thanks for coming over, April."
April turned serious almost right off. "He's worried about you?it's not every day you hear about?what happened. Decade's keeping him busy, though."
"I don't think I've had it as bad as Ohtsuka, but…" Misaki rubbed her head. "Life was so much easier a year ago…no nightmares, no Reaper, no immortals, no angels..."
April set her beer aside. "Misaki, you did what you had to do to save your life and the life of someone else. To a Contractor, that's no choice at all."
"I'm not a Contractor," Misaki said, looking to her.
"You're my friend is what you are," April smiled at her. "Can I let you in on a little secret? We Contractors feel right and wrong the same as anyone else. I've always done my job because I feel it's the right thing to do. I'm able to rationally look at it and decide for myself my options, though. It helps with guilt."
"I'm aware…I didn't have another choice…and the world's probably better off without him…" Misaki sighed. "Ohtsuka took a few days off. She was pretty rattled beside. This whole thing nearly took my mind off Rin."
"So you called me over to have a girl's chat?" April smiled. "That's so bloody human of you. I like it, truth be told. It's nice seeing the great Misaki Kirihara allows herself some vulnerable spots after fighting like such a champion. But if you want my advice…you have to go speak to her. If November did something like that on me, I'd give him the back of my hand for a start…"
Misaki stayed silent. April smiled. "You have to talk to her, Misaki."
"I know," Misaki admitted. "I guess I have issues with trust."
"And here you are, inviting a Contractor into your home! Selective issues." April winked.
Misaki couldn't help but smile. "How do you see it all ending here, April?"
"Logically speaking?" April smiled wider. "In fire. Avalanche's started now, Misaki…pebbles don't get to vote any longer."
Rin had seen Hei off, exchanging smiles and a kiss with him. Her phone rang a short time later. It was the call she'd been dreading for this long.
"Detective, Asogi," Misaki's voice said calmly. "Do you have an hour later?"
"To be booked and locked away?"
"To talk," Misaki said sharply. "I was wondering if I could come over. If nobody else would be waiting for me."
"Just a hacker and a war criminal," Rin said dryly, kicking herself mentally. Sarcasm, Rin? Great way to endear yourself to her at this juncture.
"We need to talk."
"I know," Rin said. "You have my address, Misaki. I'll be waiting…"
Misaki didn't take long to arrive at the Asogi Consulting agency. Rin was standing by the door as Misaki exited the car. "Detective Kirihara," Rin said, trying to be as formal as possible. "Come inside."
Misaki looked to Rin when they reached her office. "How long were you lying to me, Rin?"
"After the incident with Carm-…Havoc. The Reap-"
"His name is Hei. Call him that," Misaki interrupted.
"After Hei…you didn't see what I did, Misaki. He saved her from November 11. He saved me several times…he might have saved all humanity from Yamanobe. He saved you from Wei Zhijun."
"I understand all of this," Misaki said. "Rin, the fact remains, he's accused of crimes that you can't just explain away. This is a system I believe in."
"You've noticed by now something is wrong in the system, Misaki!" Rin couldn't contain herself. "Apos is playing it! You go after Hei, he wins! You arrest me, he wins! He wants us at one another's throats!"
"You've barely told me anything about Apos! Stop expecting me to take what you say at face value, Rin!" Misaki's hands balled into fists.
Rin paused before nodding. "Apos is someone who's always chased immortality. He's as old as I am. Maybe older."
"You said he's chasing immortality. How is he that old?"
"Apos feeds on immortals to extend his life. He's killed thousands of them…hundreds of thousands maybe. He's always situated himself in positions of power, manipulating and controlling people to get what he wants. Sayara Yamanobe, the war in South America, what's happening now…he wants me, Misaki. My time fruit is something he's always hungered for. You want to hear me just say it? I'm scared of him! He's stronger than a regular angel, he's the one behind the Syndicate now…Sayara was a game to him, so imagine what he can do when he gets serious. I won't deny it any longer Misaki, Hei and I are together in this, but he has a stake you can't even imagine!"
The phone rang at that moment. Rin blinked and looked. "Tamo…?"
"Put it on speaker," Misaki said, blinking as well. Rin pressed the phone's button.
"Tamotsu? Tamo, it's-"
"Rin, there's no time. I'm at a payphone…I'm sure they have my cellphone tapped at this point."
"Tamo, we've been over-"
"Rin, there's no time! You're the only person I can trust to take this to her…they might be watching me if I try. She said the name 'Apos,' it came up more elsewhere-"
"Apos…Tamotsu, where are you?"
"A few miles out. Listen, Rin, that Syndicate…the police force…it's-" His breath escaped him in a surprised gasp.
"Uncle Tamo?" Miskai whispered.
"Rin…" Tamotsu's voice sounded strained. "…I think I've just been shot…"
Tamotsu Yanagihara didn't feel pain. He thought that was a bit odd. He felt cold numbness spreading down his legs, and saw the spreading red stain on his shirt. Sniper? It had to be. So he'd been followed. He'd been too careless, after all. And so many rooftops around…why hadn't he considered that…?
"Tamotsu!" he heard her yelling his name. He kept his grip on the phone as he felt his legs buckle, forcing him to his knees.
"Tell me where you are! I'll be right there!" She shouted. "Tamotsu, hang on!"
I really mean that much to you…? He could remember so many years of knowing Rin. He'd never considered himself much more than just another man she'd known in her long, long life. But hearing her now.
"Tamotsu! Tamotsu! Speak to me!"
"Rin…" He whispered her name. "twenty…second avenue…near the cafes…Hey, Rin…?"
"Don't try to talk!"
"That time…we had…" He smiled wistfully, remembering Rin's face…the touch of her hands…the beauty of her smile. He remembered her strength, her resolve, her warmth…
"It was fun…wasn't it…?"
He focused on the one, sweetest memory he had, wanting it to be the last he held to. Her voice seemed to come from far away now. He closed his eyes, drawing in a final breath.
Rin called out his name, the words following him into the darkness like a bittersweet goodbye.
Hei looked up sharply, hearing the excited chatter around…the sky was filled with winged figures. Angels had appeared over Tokyo.
Not now…he thought. In the streets, he saw one woman collapse, hugging herself, looking up with horror. There were perhaps a dozen of the winged monsters in the sky. People were gathering, calling out and pointing as they flew off in one direction.
"Mmm, isn't it delightful?" He heard the voice whisper. He whirled around, staring down the alley at the golden liquid that had taken a familiar form.
"Relax, no need to fight now, Hei." Apos said, smiling gently. "I just advise you move if you want to help Rin. They're heading where she's going to be. You can probably tell I'm not lying."
' "Now, now, that's just rude," Apos said, lips twisting into a sneer. "I kept some tabs, Hei…before, this was a bit personal, but now? I take special care with men who stick their cocks in Rin, you know."
Hei felt his fist clench so tight, his nails drew blood from his palm. "I'm going to kill you." He said as traffic came to a dead stop, people stepping out to see the flights of angels
"You'll try," Apos said with a shrug. "I've heard it all before. You're not special, Hei. I'm eternal. To this point, this has all been a game for me. Try to imagine how insignificant I find you. Can you even contemplate it?"
"Is that what you believe or what you want me to think you believe?"
Apos lost his smile. "You better hurry," He hissed.
Hei moved into the alleyway, all too aware Apos was watching him. He just hoped everyone else was too busy…he opened his back and withdrew his coat and hat…
"Angels?" Misaki shouted, hearing the panicked yells outside. "Did Apos-"
"It has to be!" Rin shouted. "Mimi, are you certain?"
"That's what my feed is getting!" Mimi shouted, looking to Misaki and Rin. "They're…flying towards-"
"Us!" Rin snarled, her eyes glistening with tears of loss and fury. Tamotsu was gone…
"You have to get out of here," Misaki faced her and Rin felt her heart go out to the other woman. All the pain, betrayal and loss Misaki had suffered and she was still keeping herself as strong as possible. There would be time to mourn later..
Carmine breathed in. "Angels…all here…"
"We don't have a way to fight back…not against this many…" Mimi said, shaking with terror. "What…what do we do?"
Carmine then seized the car keys…running towards the door.
"Carmine? Carmine, what are you doing?" Mimi shouted, hearing the door slam. "She…she just…"
"No…no, she wouldn't leave us…" a horrified realization hit Rin. She couldn't mean…
"We get out of her…now. We can't be stationary."
Mimi hugged Genta. Misaki signaled them. "Go, the Angels won't want me-"
"No, they'll just kill you if you're in the way! You're coming with us!" Rin shouted, grabbing her arm.
Carmine knew the roads would be blocked, so she simply activated Misaki's siren, forcing other cars to make way.
She didn't have to go far at all. Not when she wasn't fighting it. She felt the rage, the fury washing over her as she slammed to a stop.
She felt the blood on her hands, staining them anew.
I'm sorry… she thought bleakly.
Oh, god…I don't see another way…it's the only way to save you…I love you…all of you…so much…
Hei looked to the rooftops, leaping across them without caring who saw him now, following the angels as fast as he could force his body. One angel swooped down suddenly, landing to the street. People cried out in shock mixed with awe. One man stepped forward, only for the angel to sweep a hand, knocking his head clean off. The Angel moved on, systematically killing anyone who barred its way. The cries turned to horror as people began to flee. Hei was grateful there were no newscasters yet…
He sprang to higher ground, glancing to where the angels looked. He saw Mimi, having collapsed to the ground, hugging herself as Rin tried to pull her to her feet.
Have to…make it in time…he thought, leaping…when he saw the car..
Everyone else had now been fleeing from the angels after the blood bath in the streets…but this car was making its way towards them. The door opened and Carmine stepped out.
Oh, no…god, no…Hei thought as he saw the look on her face.
She raised her hands and the blue glow appeared.
The vacuum formed suddenly, in the sky, right in the midst of the angel swarm, dragging the entire group into it. The power of the vacuum increased, pulling them together, their roars turning into howls of pain as their bodies were torn to pieces.
On the ground, the remaining angel leaped and slashed, but Carmine barely managed to pull away, catching only a glancing blow, enough to throw her back roughly. Hei didn't waste time, leaping from the roof and throwing a knife through the angel's throat, forcing it back to dust.
Carmine moaned in pain. She saw Rin and Mimi freed from the effect of the angels, the streets deserted with people having fled…it could be mass chaos now throughout the city.
Mimi rushed to her. "Carmine! Oh, god, what'd you do?"
"Had…" Carmine gasped weakly. Mimi leaned in as Hei landed, Carmine whispering weakly. "Hurt…"
"We'll get you-"
"My…my baby…is it…"
Mimi paused. "You're…you mean…oh…oh my god…" she said. "Is it-"
"Hei…Hei doesn't…only…found out…" Carmine's face twisted in pain. "Fighting…it…the Price…I…" Her eyes closed as unconsciousness claimed her.
Hei moved over, kneeling by Carmine. "She used her powers…"
"To save us…" Mimi said.
"…that means one thing." Hei said, pausing for a moment.
"What is he-" Miskai started, as Hei reached a hand over to gently cover Carmine's face.
"I'm sorry…but she'd want it this way. If not for-"
"Hei, don't!" Mimi screamed. "She's pregnant!"
Great chapter...the ending...new dilemma...
Hei froze in place, hand extended towards Carmine's face. Misaki's eyes were wide as she realized the implications of what Mimi meant…the Black Reaper and Havoc had conceived a child.
"Carmine," Hei whispered, looking to her face. Her breathing was irregular, her face pale. She was suffering from withdrawal, from the need to pay her Price. His hand began to tremble. Had this gone so wrong in just the last half hour? The world had been flipped upside down, with panic in the streets, angels in the sky and Carmine lying there, her hand pressed against her stomach even in unconsciousness.
"Mimi….Mimi, how do you know?" Rin whispered, wiping cold sweat from her forehead.
"Sh-she told me…" Mimi managed. "Just before she passed out. She was worried about…oh, God, Hei…you can't…"
"I don't have another choice. She'll kill again. It isn't Carmine any more. It's Havoc-"
"She was worried about the baby! Hei!" Mimi shouted. "Maybe she's different now!"
His hand remained outstretched, hovering above Carmine. He turned, gazing with the cold, bone-white face of his mask towards Rin and Misaki. Misaki was frozen in place, her entire world having come crashing down around her. Rin looked to him. And she realized.
"Hei…" She managed before he stood up, glancing once again at Carmine.
"Hei, use my blood! Physically, I'm young enough!" Mimi shouted. "I can't die, so you-"
"It has to be…" He whispered, in a daze. "You're too old…it won't work." He looked up and Rin realized. Misaki's eyes widened and she shook her head.
"No. No. No, you can't! Reaper….BK-201….Hei! Please-"
"I can't let her die. Not with…it doesn't…it doesn't have to be lethal. Just enough…" He managed. Misaki's hand went to her gun.
"I can't let you. I won't let you…"
His hand snapped out, and a wire wrapped around Misaki's gun. Hei yanked and the gun flew out of her hands into his. He ejected the bullet from the chamber and released the clip before throwing the gun to the ground. He didn't spare another word before he turned and Rin, leaping off into the crowd.
Misaki turned to Rin, face twisted in horror and disbelief. "Rin…Rin, dear god, we can't…"
Rin's shoulders were shaking. "You think I want this?" She shouted. "One of my best friends just died…my city is under attack…one of my best friends is dying in front of me! Hei is doing this so we don't have to! It's his child!"
"That doesn't make this right!"
"There is no right answer now!"
"Stop it! Just stop it!" Mimi shouted, hugging Genta to her, tears in her eyes. "Don't take this out on one another…you're both hurting right now…but Carmine…"
"You heard Hei," Rin whispered. "It doesn't have to be lethal…this doesn't have to…" Her voice trailed off, and the words seemed to echo in her mind, empty and worthless.
The world seemed to have collapsed in on itself. Kaori could hear the screams and see the people running past her. Never in all her five years had she imagined a sight like this, and it chilled her to the bone. She'd been in the park when it started, and while the other children had their parents, her mother seemed to have been lost in the crowd and no matter how loudly she called, mama didn't come from the crowd. The creatures that had filled the sky were gone, but they'd left chaos in their wake. She'd barely avoided being trampled when she tried to step into the street. Now, she could only huddle away from the crowds and hope someone came.
She heard something behind her, turning to see the man in black. She had no time to react as he leaned down. He seemed to be wearing some kind of white, clown-like mask.
"I'm sorry." She heard, before his hand went to her head. She felt something, more impact than pain.
Then the darkness came and she knew no more.
When Hei returned, Misaki was standing there, fist clenched, teeth bared and her head lowered. Rin's face was expressionless. She saw Hei and turned away, refusing to look at him. In the chaos, it'd been easy to weave between the crowd, taking his cargo with him. She couldn't have been more than five or six.
He made sure nobody was watching. He didn't look as Mimi hid her eyes, Rin wrapping an arm around her old friend, refusing to look at Hei as he drew his knife.
He thought of Pai's smile. It'd been so long since he'd seen it…he remembered the last true smile she'd given him the night the stars vanished. He could remember when she'd been this girl's age. Control yourself, he said harshly in his own mind. He wished he could give Carmine the end she'd wanted, but this changed things. He had no idea what he'd do when she woke up…if she was Havoc again.
He raises his knife to the girl's wrist and cut, immediately placing it over Carmine's lips, tiny red drops falling on them. Carmine's eyes fluttered beneath the closed eyelids and her tongue ran out, catching each drop.
"Carmine…our child…" Hei whispered. "I'm sorry…" He managed in a strangled growl. "I'm sorry…"
He lowered the girl's wrist. She hadn't even flinched, so deep was the sleep he'd put her in. Even in her sleep, Carmine reached up, grasping the wrist and fastening her mouth to the wound, sucking hard at it. Small sounds escaped her, gasps of near ecstasy as she took the blood inside her.
Hei was breathing quicker, daring to look at the others. Rin refused to meet his gaze, Misaki's face was a mask of fury, disgust and hopelessness. Carmine's hands tightened on the arm, her mouth sucking greedily.
"I'm sorry…" Hei whispered again. "Carmine…that's enough…" Her price had been paid…it had to be enough now. Carmine ignored him, continuing to drink. "Carmine!" His voice raised, the mask obscuring his hopelessness.
"Make her stop!" Misaki shouted. The girl had gone pale, so much blood had been lost now. Hei pulled at her arm but Carmine's grip tightened, her eyes flickering open. Hei lashed out, striking her head quickly. Carmine slackened and Hei pulled the girl free, removing a wire and tying it quickly around the girl's arm, forming a tourniquet.
Rin was at his side. "Let me see," She whispered, putting two fingers to the girl's neck. "It's faint…and the bleeding…Mimi, rip your shirt!"
Mimi did so without argument, Rin wrapped it as a makeshift bandage. "I'll keep pressure…"
"Let me-" Hei started, but Rin faced him.
"You've done enough," She said, her voice flat. "Just don't, Hei…please…" A note of pleading entered her voice as she looked to Misaki. "Medical attention. Misaki."
Misaki managed to regain her composure, nodding once. "Carmine…is she-"
"She'll be alright now…" Hei said, as Carmine stirred, green eyes flickering open.
"Wh…wh…" Her tongue ran over her lips, tasting the warm, salty, red fluid left there. "I…"
Hei turned to Rin. "I had no-"
"I know." She said. "I know you didn't. I know you did what you had to, I know I would have done…just…don't say it…please…
He wanted to take the damned mask off, to let her see the pain and regret in his eyes, but that would have exposed Misaki to Li Shengshung's true identity, so he did nothing. Misaki had her phone out, calling in. the police had been called to restore order in the streets with the public. Mimi was holding Carmine's hand.
"Did I…" She whispered. "Did you…"
"Nobody died," Mimi said quickly, Genta giving a whine. "Nobody."
"But…my Price…you paid my…"
"You're pregnant." Hei said, looking at her.
Carmine's eyes widened. "Hei…you…"
"Is it you, Carmine? Or is it Havoc? Look me in the eye."
She managed to sit up, looking at her hands. "I...is the child…is it alright?"
Hei's shoulders sagged in visible relief. "She'll be fine. Misaki is going to get her help-"
"Take off that fucking mask and look me in the eye," She whispered.
He knelt in front of her, pulling the mask up, out of Misaki's vision. "Carmine-"
She raised her hand as if to strike him, but her hand shook and then lowered. "I didn't know how to tell you….but you should have just killed me…Havoc's alive. I feel it, Hei. I feel the anger…it's still here…it's taking all I have."
"I'm sorry," He whispered, and she saw pain twist his face. "Carmine, I'm so sorry, but I couldn't-"
"Innocent blood," She whispered. "That's what it took, Hei. I'm a Contractor…if I have a child…if Havoc has a child…if I use them ever again…I could kill our-"
"Stop talking like that!" He couldn't bear to hear it. "Carmine, please."
"You can't let me use them ever again, Hei. I can't do it. You have to-"
He pulled the mask down, looking to Rin. Rin came over. "Carmine, please…there's been enough today." She put her hands to her shoulders, Misaki having stepped out of sight, moving to get the girl to safety as she called the ambulance. "You saved our lives, Carmine. We have to mask the best-"
Carmine buried her face in her hands, shaking. Mimi hugged her tight. "They can't know, Hei. The Syndicate can't know."
"They won't…I promise-"
"Hei." Rin whispered. He met her gaze, removing the mask, knowing his back would be to Misaki if she returned.
"I know." She whispered, shaking her head. "But…it doesn't change what we just did."
He was silent for a moment. "I'll go."
"Just…give us time," She managed the ghost of a smile that faded away quickly. She couldn't meet his gaze. He pulled the mask back down.
"This was Apos. He'll try again." Hei turned to Carmine. "The city's in uproar. Mao and Huang'll be staying out of it."
"Get out of sight," Rin whispered. "Just meet back in an hour, Hei. "
He looked to Carmine, kneeling by her. "Carmine…" He took her hand as she breathed in and out, trying to steady herself. "I'm sorry…We'll make this-"
"The only way this works…is if I never see this child…if I never know where it is…" She whispered. He said nothing.
He looked to Rin and Mimi, breathed in and swept off.
Nishijima sat back, breathing in and out. "Relax," Laura smirked, leaning back in the car. "Just enjoy the show, will you?"
"I don't find chaos as thrilling as your employer," Nishijima said, gazing out the limousine's windows. "I like things ordered and neat."
"Boring," Laura chuckled, leaning back. "Just have a cover story ready. I want to see the look on Rin's face when we get there."
Nishijima adjusted his glasses. "You really have something against her, don't you."
"She survived," Laura growled. "No mark's ever done that before."
"Truly, my heart bleeds," Nishijima commented, folding his hands before his phone rang. "Sir?"
"Eric," Apos's voice said pleasantly. "Wait fifteen minutes. Then go where I said."
"Oh, and Eric? Make sure to take Havoc alive. There's something very special involved in this."
Nishijima rubbed his head, looking to Laura. "Fifteen minutes, take Havoc alive. Everyone's ready."
"Good," Laura grinned.
"One thing, Apos," Nishijima said into the phone. "How do we know she won't use her powers on us?"
"Be very quick about it. And let Laura handle that."
Nishijima swallowed back a retort before Apos hung up. "Alright," he whispered, trying to fight his anxiety. The fifteen minutes passed at a crawl before he finally nodded. The situation seemed to have stabilized outside. Laura opened the door, grabbing her sidearm and tucking it into her holster. The soldiers from the Syndicate were wearing casual clothing now, but all armed and ready. Laura gave the signal. Nishijima wanted to stay in the safety of the car, but he knew he had to see this through. He opened the door and followed Laura out, trailing behind at a leisurely pace.
He saw them approaching the building again. Rin Asogi, a teenage girl with lavender hair, and with them…He smiled icily. Havoc. We have you now, he thought.
Laura gave the signal. Rin looked up, seeing the people around. Laura stepped out. "Rin," she said with a smirk."
"Laura," Rin spun to face her, a knife in her hand. Havoc looked up, seeing Laura and freezing, her eyes going wide.
"I don't have time for this today," Rin growled. "One of-"
"The old cop? Who do you think shot him, Rin? Kirihara's out of range, don't worry, by the by. We need a hero cop to look good after all this."
"Alex?" Carmine whispered.
"Hey, Car. Stay calm, you won't get hurt. We have a dozen guns on you, Rin. Not even you're this good…"
"You and me, Laura." Rin said, voice tight. "You want me, so let's-"
"Business today, Rin. Not pleasure."
"Too many people around, Laura. You can't-"
"You're harboring a war criminal, Rin. Think anyone'll bat an eye?" Laura raised her gun, Rin raising the knife. "Give her up."
"Alex," Carmine stepped forward. "What the hell are you-"
"The name's Laura now, Car," Laura answered. "Rin? Play this smart. Apos says you can walk away."
Carmine's eyes flashed and she started to raise her hand. Immediately, every man drew his gun. Nishijima scrambled backwards, but Carmine hesitated, hand shaking.
"No more taste for blood, Car? Plenty of kids around…"
Carmine's teeth pressed together before one man raised his gun and fired. The dart hit Carmine in the neck. Her eyes widened and she staggered, raising her hand again…only to collapse in a heap. Rin turned, raising the knife, but she hesitated, seeing the guns.
"There, Rin, don't want to get anyone caught in the crossfire?" Laura said mockingly as Rin lowered her hands, the girl at her side glaring, the dog with her growling angrily.
"Take Havoc," Laura ordered. "By the by, Rin? Apos wants you to try. He's looking forward to it."
Apos heard the phone ring and he picked it up. "Eric?"
"Havoc is secure."
"Free, as per your orders. Laura…accomplished this effectively."
"Oh, I know she did. I was observing this time. Eric, that something special? Keep Havoc under heavy sedation. She's pregnant after all."
Nishijima paused. "She's…she's what?"
"Pregnant. Are there any instances of a Contractor giving birth, Eric?"
"No…no, not at all…this is new. This is a first. We can witness a Contractor…and HAVOC of all the….but sir, why leave Rin?"
"Rin is important. I'll deal with her in time. It'd be too boring to take Havoc without her making the token attempt, Eric." He knew Nishijima would hate that. "Offhand, publicly…?"
"Pandora will be blamed. Your Angels will be products of an experiment…an attack. We'll be able to invade and gain the access to the research division that we need."
"Well done, Eric. Put the Reaper on an assignment, keep him busy. Right now, they'll hardly be in a position to-"
"The Reaper…you mean Hei-" Nishijima paused. "It's his child."
"Don't second guess me, Eric. He'll die. But first he'll know pain like he's never believed."
"Yes, sir…your diversion with the Angels worked perfectly…it's a shame they're gone."
"Gone, Eric?" Apos chuckles, walking to the window above the courtyard of the castle, ignoring Tajimamori's baleful gaze. "Whatever made you think I sent all the Angels I've cultivated? Amber's little gang forced me to accelerate operations."
Apos smiled, gazing at the courtyard. "Not a fan of surprises, Eric? When The Gate is dealt with, you'll see. But since you asked…"
His red eyes gleamed as he gazed down at his army.
"About five thousand…"
Eric Nishijima gazed at the unconscious Contractor. Laura stepped up next to him as the other scientists swiftly secured Havoc to the table. One withdrew a syringe, testing the dosage. Nishijima fixed him with a look. "You're sure this dosage is safe?"
"Yes, sir. It's just right to keep her under without harming the child," was the response. Nishijima gave a nod. He knew of Contractors that had given birth before the Gate had appeared, but never one after. What was more, the child of two Contractors? Contractors as powerful as Havoc and the Black Reaper? To a researcher like himself, it sent shivers down his spine. He could only imagine what some of the scientists in the other divisions would say.
"We'll keep nutrients going until she's ready to give birth. We won't miss a single dosage of the tranquilizers, to keep her from using her powers."
"When you're done?" Laura asked.
"Potential vivisection. It's hardly an opportunity to be missed," Nishijima responded. Laura looked to the unconscious woman for a moment.
"You knew her," Nishijima said, allowing a note of curiously to creep into his voice.
"She's my sister," Laura said coldly. "We're not close."
"I see," Nishijima said, trying to keep a bead of sweat from appearing at his forehead. He knew at this distance, if Laura lost her temper, there was nothing he could do to stop her. "Does that-"
"I'm not being paid to feel sorry for anyone. It's her damn fault…opening her legs for the Reaper, helping Rin. She brought this on herself," Laura leaned back. Nishijima decided not to push his luck.
"The money has been transferred to your account."
"I'm more interested in Rin…she'll come. I want her," Laura said, gritting her teeth.
"I'm sure she will,but this place i-"
"She'll find a way. Rin always finds a way to get past…" Laura said. "Don't get in my way when she does."
"Of course not," Nishijima said quickly, looking to his phone. The 'investigation' had begun to the angel monsters that had appeared in the city. He knew what the result would be. The research division would soon yield its secrets to him.
Rin slammed her fist into the wall so hard, she felt the house shake. She was sure she'd just broken something as well. "Mimi, I need you to-"
"Hack Pandora? Way ahead of you!" Mimi leaped into her seat, turning her computer on. "Good god, Rin…the news…"
Rin looked at the screen, seeing the reports. She saw the images: the damage, flashes of hysterical, terrified people, and theories ranging everywhere from religious panic to government experiments." He's just succeeded in causing a global panic. My God." She gritted her teeth, considering calling Misaki, but decided against it. The Syndicate had come perilously close to invading her home and had taken Carmine. What was more, Laura and Carmine had known one another. Carmine had even called her 'Alex.' Rin slammed her fist into the wall again, harder this time.
"Rin, I understand the need to vent, but the wall didn't do anything," Mimi said mildly, reaching to take Rin's hands in hers. "We'll get her back…"
"How much longer can we do this," Rin shut her eyes. "I stood by and let a little girl be bled like that. What does that make me, Mimi? And Tamo…Tamo…"
There had been so little time to consider her old friend's death, so soon after Koki's. Rin collapsed into her seat, Mimi rubbing her hand as she removed her glasses and buried her head in her hands. Apos had unleashed his Angels upon the city, Koki and Tamo were dead, Carmine was a hostage. She had to inform Hei that the woman she had promised him she'd protect- and Hei's own child inside her- had been taken by Pandora. She had already felt the wedge between them from the day's events, so soon after she'd accepted her feelings for him. She had no idea if they'd survive this.
"There was nothing we could do. About either of it, Rin," Mimi brought a hand to her cheek. "You taught me we have to keep fighting, and going on. Always. You can't let Apos win. He does everything he can to hurt you."
"Tamotsu died because he knew me, Mimi. Tamo, Koki and-"
"Koki wouldn't have had a life if not for you. He wouldn't have met Yuki, had a son…you gave him so many years he'd never have had. And seeing you with Hei, Rin…he's different. He's not just the Black Reaper. You've been help to Misaki…you saved Carmine. Tamo didn't die because of you, Rin, he died for you. Don't sit here and start pitying yourself…he'd never forgive you for that."
Rin took a deep, shuddering breath, looking up to face her oldest and dearest friend. She took Mimi's face in her hands and kissed her forehead gently, before pressing their lips together for a moment.
"Mimi…thank you." Rin smiled. "Find me whatever you can from Pandora. If they're expecting us, we're going to give them everything."
"You have a plan?" hope filled Mimi's eyes.
"I'll worry about that later. Right now…it's to hope some people care about doing what's right."
Misaki Kirihara felt she could breathe again. The little girl's life had been saved after Misaki had gotten her medical treatment, with her mother located. Misaki hadn't told them just exactly how she'd lost so much blood from such a clinical cut, though.
Misaki stepped into Director Horai's office, her team waiting outside. She hadn't been able to bring herself to call Rin, sickened by guilt and grief. She hadn't managed to speak to her father yet, though he must certainly have known of Tamotsu Yanigahara's death now. She didn't think she could tell him that not only had she assisted a fugitive, she'd watched as he'd bled a little girl to feed the bloodlust of a war criminal.
Horai was sitting back, hands folded. "Chief Kirihara. You're to be commended."
"There are riots right now, and mass panic, have no doubt. In fact, the United States embassy was attacked, along with the British embassies. Research is showing this was a new assault by Pandora-"
"Pandora?" Misaki couldn't believe her ears. That made absolutely no sense. "Sir,Pandora is a research facil-"
"Research, yes. Most of that research remains classified at all levels under the articles that formed Pandora. We know of other experiments at Pandora. For what purpose, we can only guess, Chief Kirihara. Perhaps something went wrong, or it was an attempt to destroy the two parties at interest in Contractor Research, but nonetheless, this is what happened. Nevertheless, order will be restored soon and these ridiculous theories about the apocalypse are soon to end. Unfortunately, we're likely be dealing with internet conspiracy theories for the next decade, but that isn't why I called you here.
"The reason I called you in, Chief Kirihara is to discuss how I must reward you."
"Sir?" Kirihara blinked rapidly.
"Your actions have led to the apprehension of war criminal Havoc, who is also believed to have been responsible in part for these attacks."
Misaki felt a chill run down her spine. "But…I never encountered-"
"When teams arrived at your location, Havoc was discovered and tranquilized before she could use her powers."
"She's been positively identified. In these difficult times, people need heroes, Chief Kirihara. Do we understand one another? Unless there is something you feel I should know?"
"No, sir. Nothing. I understand," Misaki said softly.
"I'm sorry about Tamotsu Yanigahara. He'll have a hero's funeral. Unfortunately, we've yet to establish motive in his death…it was a tragedy during this rioting."
That wasn't right at all. Misaki had been on the phone with him. Tamotsu had been sniped as he had been trying to warn her and Rin. There was no way a forensics team would miss such a thing, which left one conclusion: Horai was lying. What was worse…it meant Horai was covering for someone. He didn't know Misaki had been there to hear Tamotsu's last words. It took all her strength to keep her face stony.
"Yes, sir. A tragedy," she repeated softly.
"Take the time you need. Your father will need you, Chief Kirihara. You'll be facing a promotion when you return."
She remembered April, November 11…she remembered their advice: trust nobody at first, rely on her instincts. Misaki locked her eyes on Horai's, knowing that behind that calm gaze, was a man of ruthless ambition, one who had contributed to all the death and pain.
"I look forward to it, sir," she nodded once and turned before striding out. Carmine and her child had been taken, and to twist the knife, she was receiving the 'credit' for it. She trusted her team, she trusted Kanami, she trusted November 11 and April, as strange as that sounded, and she trusted her father, but she couldn't in good conscience endanger their lives at this point. That left the one person who had lied to her, and concealed the truth from her.
Ironically, it was the person Misaki now believed she trusted more than anyone else in the world.
Hei hadn't returned in an hour to see 'd gone back to his apartment as fast as he could, filled with self-loathing and anger. He didn't remember how long he'd been sitting there, when the phone rang. He lifted it. "Hello-"
"There's no time," a woman's voice said. "The Syndicate will have you marked."
"Apos is doing this for a reason. You need to get clear. Huang, Mao and Yin are in danger as well. After this, you will all be slated for termination. It's believed there's an attack on Pandora imminent. They're making a move. Get to Rin. You need to get to Pandora. Find Huang, I'll meet you there when-"
The line went head. Hei thought he heard something outside. It was his only warning before his wall splintered and the angel smashed through.
Hei felt like he was struck by a train when it smashed into him, throwing him across the room into the wall. He was sure he felt something give in his back from that. The Angel 's mouth twisted up into a parody of a smile.
"Apos…" it rasped, "Says…hello…"
Hei attempted to rise to his knees, desperately summoning his energy, even as he prepared for death. Fangs bared, talons ready, the angel swept towards him.
Hei forced his body up, rolling away as the angel lunged. Its claw came forward, embedding in the wall. Hei hoped it would find itself halted, but the creature yanked its arm, ripping free of the wall easily. Hei dearly hoped his neighbors would be absent, or too busy partying to hear. If they came to investigate, he could only imagine what the Angel would do.
Hei dove to the side as it came again. It was too fast, and he was too unaware, emotionally drained and exhausted from the day. He looked to the other side of the apartment, rolling again to evade the creature and seizing his knife from the dresser. When the angel came this time, Hei was ready, angling the weapon. The angel's arm swung, but Hei moved to the side, letting the angel demolish the dresser. Hei came forward, stabbing the long knife under through the soft flesh below the angel's chin until the tip burst out the top of its head. Hei pulled, the sharp blade sliding out from the angel's face in a shower of gore. The creature fell forward, already crumbling into dust.
Hei stumbled back, breathing heavily. Already, his mind was whirling. He had to listen to the voice on the phone, and get out of this apartment. He couldn't return, that much was certain. He felt a brief pang of regret, thinking of the old landlady Misuzu, and her kindness towards him. He thought of Irene and the others, who'd all have to deal with his disappearance, but to stay here any longer as Li Shengshung would put them in mortal danger. It had been nothing short of a miracle none of them had lost their lives that night.
Making matters worse was the unprecedented police presence on the streets. After the attack of the angels, nearly every block was populated by police officers keeping peace in time of the riots. Hei would have to move fast. He seized his IDs, his weaponry, and his mask, packing them into a bag quickly, when he noticed the golden light taking form.
"That went as I expected," the soft voice said, sounding amused. Relocating.
"Apos," Hei whispered it like a curse.
"If I wanted you dead right now, I'd have sent a thousand here. You'd be amazed how many people will have a little nibble of a strange fruit when I promise them immortality for it," Apos chuckled. "But I just wanted your attention."
"I'm leaving this place tonight. Everyone else who lives here? They're not part of this."
Apos's mouth twisted in a parody of a smile, "Dictating terms? You only get to do that if you're in a position of strength, Hei."
"You've got what you want. You don't care about them."
"And you do?" Apos cocked his head. "It's intriguing…in South America, you were the most ruthless human imaginable. You must have filled entire graveyards. But now that you're a-"
"I've heard this before," Hei's voice rose. "Stop hiding behind angels and sending projections ahead of you. If you have anything with me, show yourself and let's do this."
"No, I don't think we'll be doing that," Apos chuckled. "I find it hilarious a man who lives in the shadows, making a living by assassinating on behalf of a corrupt organization is calling me out for a fair fight. This is beside the point. You should go to Rin. Tonight."
"What are you-"
Something dark entered Apos's tone. "You really should have kept your cock out of her, it would have made this much better for you. But speaking of where you put it and in whom…well, Carmine was just apprehended. And with a little extra special something, too."
It took all of Hei's strength not to draw his blade and cut at Apos's image. Apos grinned. "Your child, yes. They're going to cut it out of her when it's viable. They're going to cut her apart, while she's alive and breathing. And for the child? I wonder. Have you even considered what your boy or girl shall be like?"
Apos's voice turned mocking, "With your power? With Havoc's? Her thirst for blood? I wonder indeed…I do believe there's a fake Pandora ID in there, Hei. I eagerly await your response."
Hei barely waited for his response. He ran, straight through the shimmering gold image, leaping over the rails to the streets below, taking off into the night.
It was not difficult to evade the police when he took to the rooftops. With his coat now on, he blended all too easily into the night. He forced the raging storm in his head to be silent, pressing logic back into his mind. Carmine wasn't dead. If what Apos said was true, then they'd hold her until they had a viable child to remove…which meant she had months, even if every second was too long for them to hold her.
It was insane, but somehow he trusted Apos's words. The ruthless immortal was too arrogant and sadistic to lie. For some inconceivable purpose, he meant for Hei and Rin to go to Pandora and attempt to save Carmine. He knew there was no chance of a refusal, either.
Hei had to wonder what Amber knew. Her silence was perhaps most disturbing to him throughout this. Evening Primrose hadn't mounted any campaigns, released any messages, or carried out any attacks. He knew, however, that Amber was observing the chaos, waiting for any opportunity to seize control. He had no option now but to find this contact who had called.
He arrived at the coordinates he'd been given, noticing the lack of officers there, he slid a knife into his hands, ready for anything when he heard movement. "Stay there," he said warningly.
"You came alone…not very Contractor," the woman's voice said. Hei turned to see the woman step out of the alley. She was wrapped in a dark coat, long dark hair flowing behind her. "Syndicate Agent as well," she said.
"You warned me," Hei said.
"You're not the only one onto something," the woman said. "I don't have a name, in case you're wondering, Black Reaper."
"I want answers."
"I was sent to infiltrate a Gate cult. The leader is a Contractor. She broke off from the Syndicate as well. They were doing business with Evening Primrose, providing supplies to them."
"And you went AWOL?"
"I had to. My name on my last mission was Shihoko Kashida. I functioned as an assassin for the Syndicate, but on this mission, someone…brought something to my attention."
Hei frowned. "Someone?"
"It involves the Syndicate. The name 'Apos' came out." She focused on Hei. "I was told you're the best hope for survival now."
"For you?" He blinked.
"For all of us," she said urgently. "they mean to wipe out all of us. Every Contractor. That's what they're after. It's why the Syndicate's been using us all this time."
"To wipe out…all of us? The Contractors-"
"I know how insane that sounds. I don't have all the details, but it involves Pandora. Not even the prophet of this religion knows."
"After today, religion might get even more complicated," Hei growled.
"No denying that," Shihoko said. "I tried to warn you, though. Does that count for anything?"
"You'd be amazed how little I can trust anyone right now, Kashida."
"I can understand that," she admitted. "I don't have any proof…except you know the Syndicate. You must know Apos. There's one thing I can offer though…a member of your team. His name is Huang."
Hei paused at that. "You know Huang?"
"I knew him when his name was Kuno. I know how he drinks without ever getting drunk. I know he learned to shoot in the army. I know how he acts like he doesn't care about anything in the world, but he gives more of a damn than he ever lets on-"
"You could have gotten any of that by-" Hei started, before he saw her eyes. There was something he couldn't explain there, a mixture of guilt, pain and something else…something he'd so rarely seen in a Contractor's eyes…Hei stopped.
"What do you propose?"
"Pandora…there's a man there called Dr. Schroeder…his name was mentioned many times in what I saw. He can be the key to all of it."
"I'm going to Pandora soon. You can contact Huang-"
She shook her head sharply. "No," she said quickly. "No, I can't do that. Don't ask me to explain."
And Hei understood instantly. "You're the reason he's in the Syndicate." Her silence was confirmation enough. He hasn't spoken of it."
"It's not something he'd share," she said softly. "It's not safe to talk longer…."
"I'm going to recover Havoc from Pandora," Hei said. "You have a way to contact me-"
"The cat's radio," Shihoko gave a smile. "If you survive this…I'll be in touch."
Rin answered her door when she heard his voice, seeing Hei there, looking shaken, disheveled and battered. "Hei…" she whispered.
"Got evicted," he managed. "Apos sent an angel for me…Rin, I am so sorry I haven't-"
She cut him off, grabbing his hands and pulling him in, wrapping her arms around him tight and holding him in. "They took her-"
"I know about Carmine," He whispered. "There was a mole…she told me everything. I called Huang on the way here…Rin…the Syndicate is moving against Pandora."
"That's what all this was for…damn it, and Apos-"
"He wants us to go there…I don't know why…"
Rin wanted to collapse as badly as Hei did. Losing Carmine to the Syndicate, losing Tamotsu, what she'd had to allow, and Tokyo and Shinjuku in chaos, with the Syndicate assaulting Pandora. Somehow, she managed to keep her feet and she looked at Hei. "Then it can't end well, can it?"
"I don't see any way it can."
"We're going anyways." It wasn't a question.
"We are…" Hei nodded. "I've already gotten Mao, Yin and Huang.
Rin smiled. "Even Guy's noticing something up...must be serious…" she forced in some humor…when Hei put a hand to her cheek.
"No matter what happens, Rin-"
"We're going to save Carmine. We're going to save your child," Rin said firmly. "And if Amber or Apos try anything…" she broke apart from Hei. "Mimi's on the computer now…I was looking for a way when…"
"You did what you had to, for Carmine. I wish I could hate you for it. It'd make it easier, Hei. But…"
She drew a hand up to his cheek. "When this is over…there's going to be an us. We're going to try. We're going to find your sister and forget I'm never aging a day while you're an ex-assassin. We're going to try for a life. You're going to hold your child and show your sister her niece or nephew. Do you understand me?"
He pressed his forehead to hers for a moment…and then she saw him smile at her. "Are you ready to go?"
"Let me get my knives. I still half don't believe that coat is bulletproof.."
"Hopefully we won't find out. Doubt we're that lucky…"
Rin turned and walked down the hallways. When she was halfway down the room, Hei closed his eyes and whispered softly. "I love you."
"What was that?" Rin glanced over her shoulder.
"No time to waste…let's go as fast as we can, Rin."
Nice chapter dude, though a little short.
Hei tapped his radio. "Mao?"
"Coast clear here. Huang?"
"Choppers all over the place, soldiers entering Pandora. Got your work cut out for ya, kid. Yin, keep us posted."
Hei looked to see Rin. Rin looked over. "You know, there's a part of this I haven't quite figured out, Hei. The 'break into Pandora' thing? They kind of know me here."
"I have a civilian ID."
"Which will help enormously with the squad of soldiers we can see breaking in now?"
"Here I was hoping you just wouldn't be that memorable," Hei said, putting the mask on.
"You're about to learn relationships involve sleeping on the couch sometimes," Rin gave a half smile as the two observed from the abandoned buildings across the street. The enforced curfew had kept people away, and in order to get in Pandora, Maxley had simply had his men blow down the walls.
"Touchin' as the drama is," Huang growled over his radio, "The feed from the Syndicate is that they're launching a takeover. The British even have men in the streets to prevent people from getting too close, which means they've got people inside there, too. Horai'll make sure the Japanese don't get near. This is as close as you're gonna get. They've made you an opening."
"Can you give us a readout, Yin?" Rin asked, hearing Yin respond in the comm.
"Dozens inside that I can see. The leader is a general. I can't find Carmine."
"She's in a place with no water…" Rin nodded. "It'll be where they were keeping her before. It was safe, out of the way…Nishijima wouldn't risk her being hurt or caught in the crossfire. Laura's in there, too, I'm sure of it."
Mimi's voice piped in over the channel. "If you're going in, now's your chance. Don't let this slip by, guys. And keep the lovey-dovey to a minimum."
"Huang," Hei said, making sure his mask was secure. "Keep the readout with Mao. Let me know if any surprises come up."
"Will do, kid." Huang hesitated for a moment. "You better come outta there, you know. Don't think I'm ever going to forgive you if you don't."
"Didn't know you cared, Huang," Mao chuckled.
"Fourteen in front of the entrance. Ten of them are on patrol route."
"If we drop the four in front, that'll be just as incriminating as being seen," Rin said. She looked to Hei. "Rooftops?"
Hei wrapped an arm around Rin as they stepped out, throwing a wire to pull them to the roof tops. Holding her tight, he swung up to the next, careful to evade the lights, until they landed, silently, behind the outer walls of Pandora, behind the backs of the guards.
Turning the two entered the hole at the wall. When he felt it was safe to talk again, Hei whispered. "Mimi."
"Reading all the cameras. Nothing in the immediate vicinity. I'll tell you before you approach one, though. You won't get through this without- oh, hell."
"Mimi?" Rin whispered.
"They're rounding up astronomers and researchers…herding them into the main observatory. Most of the soldiers are up there. Maxley, too. I can't read Nishijima now. No idea where Laura i-"
"Calm down," Rin whispered, looking to Hei. "We'll do what we can."
Kanami Ishizaki stepped forward, mouth pressed into a line. "I demand to know the meaning of this!" She stepped in front of the trembling young Indian scientist-she thought she remembered her name as Mina Kandaswami,, that the soldier had leveled a gun at. "Pandora is a neutral territory! It was agreed-"
"That was before you unleashed those things out there," a gruff voice said. The man Kanami figured as the leader stepped forward, removing his hat. His heavy gray mustache gave him an almost grandfatherly appearance, but his steel-colored eyes met hers, showing her lack of pity or compassion. "The United States has a long reach, Dr. Ishizaki. Did you think Pandora could escape the consequences?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about!" Kanami said. "This is a research and diplomatic facility! I am an astronomer who-"
"Sell it to someone who's buying. My name is General Maxley, I'm in charge of these soldiers. British intelligence funneled the information to us. You're to turn over all available data in the research division, beyond the Saturn Ring project."
"I…you can't just step in here and demand…" Kanami found her voice again. "I don't have the authority to issue-"
"You are the highest ranking researcher in Pandora now, Dr. Ishizaki. Do not waste my time, or my men's time." Maxley slid a pistol into his hand. "I assure you, I'm not bluffing."
"You think I'm afraid?" Kanami willed the quiver out of her voice. Stay strong, she told herself. Think what Misaki would do. "This is nothing but international terrorism on innocent people. I don't even have the clearance codes for-"
Maxley raised his gun and shot one scientist in the face. The man fell man, his mouth open in a surprised 'o.' He waited for the terrified screams to die down before he looked to Kanami. "That blood is on your hands, Dr. Ishizaki. For wasting my time."
"Y-you…you…he had a family.." She whispered, her eyes wide.
"Then you can send them your condolences. I will ask you again. If you say no, I will shoot another. And another after that."
"I…only the doctors on the Saturn ring project have-"
"We have information from Segrei Vectrof and Robert Schroeder. Our interest is the gate data from the research and Astronomy divisions."
"I told you…I don't have clearance."
Maxley watched her coldly. Kanami forced herself to stand on trembling legs. Was this how Misaki felt when she'd stood against Contractors? Had she been this terrified deep down? But she'd forced herself to stand anyways. Kanami took a breath.
"Why do you…there's nothing on there. We had nothing to do with-" Mina shouted. Maxley looked to her and then back to Kanami.
"Dr. Vectrof is secure downstairs. I want you to-"
"This isn't about this…" Kanami said. "This is something else."
"It's of no concern of yours, Dr. Ishizaki. Give me the clearance. This is the last time I'll ask."
The gun turned to Mina's head. Kanami's mouth opened and she managed a syllable before one soldier walked forward, whispering to Maxley.
"I see," Maxley. "Nishijima, you spineless bureaucrat." He gave a scowl. "Take five men. Clear them out. If it's him…apologies. Dr. Ishizaki, I'm afraid a matter has come up. We'll continue this conversation soon." He holstered his gun. "Take them out to the observatory deck. Shoot anyone who resists."
"You want us to interrogate her, sir?"
"No. I'll finish that when I'm back. Keep them secure."
"Roger that, General," the soldier nodded and Maxley signaled his men. "Go."
Eric Nishijima was drawing up vivisection plans when he noticed the call. "Nishijima here."
"It's Maxley. Did you hear?"
"General, with due respect, we might be in the same building, but I am a huge distance away from you. Get to the-"
"Intruders. Schroeder and Vectrof are on lockdown?"
"I have every on the Saturn Ring on lockdown, Maxley," Nishijima snapped. "I have Havoc unconscious here, Laura is here somewhere, what are you-"
"Apos called one of my men. He says people are coming. Now. I had to cut the interrogation short."
"You didn't leave the rest to one of your men?"
"Who else would you trust with the codes, Nishijima? If it's Hei, I need to deal with him myself. There's nobody else here-"
"I have the best troops in Pandora besides your men, general. They'll stop him. I'll sound the alarm."
"You don't know Hei, Nishijima. You've read files, but you've never seen-"
"Spare me the melodrama, general. This is Pandora. My place of-"
"Then what are we doing here?" Maxley's voice took on a mocking edge. Nishijima ground his teeth together.
"Doing a job," he shot back. "I am in charge here-"
"SO in charge you needed me and my men to come in and get information that should be a computer away for you."
"There is a place and time for this, Maxley! Kill the Reaper!"
"Way ahead of you," Maxley said. "Send your men. And get Laura if you can." He shut the communications off.
Maxley turned to his men. "He has no idea what he's doing. Get to the top floor. The Reaper can have Havoc for all I care. I'll head to the roof...the only way to handle him is in the open."
Rin looked up as she heard the blare of alarms. "Wonderful."
"They must have known. Damn it, we were so careful-"
"Saw it coming?" Rin said. "They'll consider you the bigger danger." She thought quick. "I'll get to the hostages, Hei. You get to Carmine. We split up here and we meet back."
"Sending me at the worst of it?"
Rin gave a smile. "Got my knives, got my suit, got my immortality. I'll be fine." She gave him a wink. "Draw some fire, would you?"
"Didn't you just say you were immortal?"
"Being shot hurts."
Hei took off down one corridor without another word, Rin taking off the other way. Hei took a breath. He remembered the corridors of Pandora from his infiltration. Rin had told him the way to Carmine.
Hei ran into one open room, just as the soldiers entered it. The men weren't Maxley's, each was dressed in black uniforms, all armed with assault weapons, raised and pointed at him.
"Get out of my way." Hei gave them one chance. The men were professionals, the Syndicate's assassins. They didn't waste time to bandy words. Hei saw there were five of them now, with more doubtlessly to be alerted by what was to come. They raised their guns and fired.
Hei came up with two knives, his body whirling as he danced through the gunfire, his hands snapping out. Gunfire abruptly ceased from two rifles as the holders went own. Their bulletproof coverings did nothing against his knives. Hei snapped a hand out as the clips of the others ran out, locking a wire around one man's wrist and pulling him close. He delivered a lethal jolt before shoving the corpse at another soldier. He ran up, winding the wire around the two soldiers and the corpse before they could react, discharging his electricity through their bodies, their dying screams fading quickly.
Hei pulled the wire out, hoping it gave Rin time to save the hostages. He had a feeling he'd have company soon. Maxley couldn't have had more than a few dozen men, if that. He had no idea how many Nishijima could have. He hoped any of the innocent people at Pandora had been vacated before, or were hiding in their rooms. He looked up, hearing the boots. He moved swiftly, and closed in for battle with his knives ready.
"What do you mean he's unstoppable?' Nishijima screamed into the radio. "You outnumber him thirty to one! You are better equipped, better trained, better….go do your jobs!" he flung the radio into the wall, feeling sweat on his forehead. Calm down, he warned himself. He's locked out, no way inside now. This place was safe-"
Laura stepped in. Nishijima leaped up. "Where did you-"
"Rin is here," Laura said with a grin…and Nishijima saw Apos step out next to her.
"Eric, please don't panic. I plan to deal with Hei personally. Your men aren't going to stop him, of course. On the other hand, the Saturn Ring is protected?"
"Yes,sir…we had Vectrof and Schroeder set away-"
"Hm," Apos frowned. "That's annoying. Amber will move on that. Also, did you check on the British agents?"
"Decade ordered the woman's elimination. Her partner should be-"
"Well done, Eric. I'll drop Laura off at the Observatory. Take good care of Carmine, will you?" Apos smiled. "Tomorrow is when everything changes."
"But the Saturn Ring project isn't until-"
"Change happens in increments, Eric." Apos said. "Laura?"
Nishijima tried to fight back the fear when the golden light rose to consume the two. What did Apos mean? Still, he had nothing to worry about-"
He heard the control panel short out. The door slid open. Nishijima stumbled back in fear. "It's…"
A drop of blood stained the white mask, the only sign of the fight. The Reaper stepped in. Nishijima felt his mouth go dry. Did Apos know? "R-Reaper…"
Hei stepped in without a word…walking to the table to see Carmine there.
"Sh-she's alive, of course!" Nishijima said. "we'd never-"
Then the Reaper saw the computer. 'Vivisection' written at the top…the outline…
Hei turned to face Nishijima. Nishijima stepped back. "Black Reaper…Hei…I mean Hei…you must understand, the scientific possibilities are-"
Hei's hand settled on the computer, which seemed to explode in a shower of sparks.
"Pl-please look at this logically!" Nishijima stepped back to the doorway of the room Laura and apos had come from. "There had never been a child of contractors before…but…but…she's not in a coma! She's just drugged! It's temporary! We can be more useful alive! I swear it!"
Hei walked to Carmine, pressing a hand to her cheek. To Nishijima's shock…his body took on the blue aura as his breathing quickened. "What are you…I have the antidote! I can wake-"
Carmine's eyes seemed to flutter and open She groaned weakly. "Hei…?"
"How did you…?" Nishijima whispered as Hei looked at his own hand, as if shocked at what he had done. Then Hei focused on Nishijima as if remembering him.
"Vivisection." The word was a death sentence.
"We can come to an arrangement! Project Saturn Ring! It's Apos's! He's-"
Hei stepped forward. In his hand was a knife. Carmine looked up, attempting to sit up, breathing heavily.
"H-Havoc! Carmine! Please tell him!" Nishijima stumbled back into the room, falling over his desk, eyes wide with terror. "Her Price! I can take away her Price!"
"You'd say anything." Hei moved closer.
"Apos! Please!" He looked to Carmine beseechingly, finding no mercy in her eyes. "Apos, help!"
Nishijima felt the Reaper's hand seize his face and he was lifted up to stare at the pitiless mask. In that instant, Eric Nishijima realized the depth of Apos's treachery and his own insignificance in the grand plans that would come to pass. He had time to wonder just what Apos truly intended beyond the Saturn Ring. A part of him felt satisfaction; the Contractors would not long out live. Most of him, however, felt empty. cold. Devoid of hope.
The Reaper's body began to glow. Eric Nishijima wondered if it would hurt.
And then all of him became nothing at all.
"Rin…we have to get to her…can you walk?" Hei turned to Carmine.
"Well enough…" she touched her feet to the floor. "coming for me like this…was really stupid, you know. It's not something a Contractor-"
He hugged her tight, cutting her off. "We came to get you out. That's exactly what we're doing."
He felt her hug him back tight. "We really are hopeless fools…but your powers…"
"I don't know…it's never worked that way before…I didn't even think about-"
"I'm this close to the gate…our powers won't get stronger than this…just don't let me kill."
"Never again…I'm sorry...you had to see-"
"He would have done things...to our..." Carmine couldn't finish the word. "I understand."
"Thank you," Hei whispered. He removed the mask, letting her see his face. It was an expression wracked by pain and grief. The one Hei kept deep within himself.
Rin looked to Kanami Ishizaki, removing her knife from the throat of the final guard. "Is there a place you can hide with the others?"
The woman nodded. "Yes…I can seal off the back room with the Stargazer until the real authorities arrive."
"Do that, then," Rin said with a nod.
"You were the one with Misaki…" Kanami said. "Is she-"
"She's fine…we'll talk later…" Rin nodded to the shaken astronomy chief. Kanami nodded, signaling the others.
"Everyone with me! Just stay calm!" She filed them out. Rin had had Mimi place the call to Misaki specifically, knowing she would bring only police she trusted. She hoped to have cleaned up Maxley's soldiers by then.
The golden flash was her only warning. She leapt back, avoiding the swing of Laura's knife. "Do you ever give up?"
"That's it, Rin?" Laura gave a vicious smile. "Nice to see you, too?"
Rin frowned angrily. "What's Apos doing here tonight?"
"Recruiting," Laura came forward, but Rin dodged to the side, slipping a knife into her hand.
"We've been through this dance a few times, Laura. I'm just killing you again."
The assassin's eyes darkened. "Oh, we knew you'd come for my sister after your boyfriend knocked her up." She went low this time, stabbing at Rin's kidney. Shock made the immortal move slower, but she turned, seizing Laura's wrist and flung her across the room.
"Guess we know who has the brains in the family. Where's Maxley, Laura?"
"The roof. He wasn't stupid enough to send his men after the Reaper. Apos has what he wants anyways…terrorist attack…the Saturn Ring ready…"
Laura leaped forward, coming in faster this time, hands moving in a blur. Rin let Laura lead her back, blocking her hits as she went, before she reversed her hand, slashing over Laura's wrist with a knife. Laura snarled, stepping back, and Rin could see the cybernetics from where blood was trickling from the wound.
"You let them fix you up, I see."
"Worth it to kill you…after you destroyed my body." Laura's face twisted in rage as she came forward again, drawing her knife and slashing viciously at Rin.. Rin caught her wrist between her arms and twisted, hearing the crunch of bone and wire together. Laura screamed as Rin threw her back, with enough force to go through the glass doors and onto the observation deck. Laura glanced to Rin and back.
"Enjoy it…while you can…Apos told me to tell you one thing…your first love's gonna die…"
Rin paused as Laura stepped back, grinning. "Yggdrasil will be revealed…the fruits will spread…and not a thing you can do about it…"
Laura stepped back, over the edge, her laughter lingering in the night.
Hei had let Carmine wait behind as he dealt with the soldiers. "Rin, you read?"
"Near the roof…at the observation deck. Maxley's the floor above. I took care of the hostages."
"He can't have many men left. Stay on guard. I'm bringing Carmine to you."
Hei hit the top floor before long, stepping into the night air. Maxley was standing there.
"That wasn't all of your men, General."
"No. I sent most of them out anyways. I wasn't throwing them away on you. I figured you'd find me. Nishijima?"
"That's a shame. We were all played tonight. He didn't care about secret information. We'll just be the United States army assaulting a foreign power."
Hei didn't answer, knife in hand.
"How long was it since South America, Hei?" Maxley drew his gun, aiming at Hei calmly.
"You stayed behind. It's only you and me now."
"Let them drag my name through the mud. We could've ruled the Syndicate/ I knew trusting that immortal, womanish freak was a bad idea. You've improved since Heaven's War, Hei…but you still let women rule your life." He sneered. "Did you ever imagine Pandora'd be so deserted?"
Hei stepped forward.
"Who was it who trained you!" Maxley snarled. "I did it because you were human! And you betrayed us. You joined that woman's group, you became a filthy Contractor!" His voice turned even. "You disappoint me, Hei."
"That's my pleasure." Hei said beneath the mask.
"Your pleasure? You go against the Syndicate, freeing Havoc, risking the world's order, and you call that your pleasure? Think I'll forgive that pleasure, Hei?" Maxley lowered the gun, and from his side, he drew a combat knife.
"I owe you this much. I'll bury you with my own hands." He pointed the knife at Hei.
"Come at me, boy. It's time we settle this."
Hei sprang back, evading the knife that nearly slashed over his chest. Immediately, he retaliated, coming up with a swift stab, but Maxley was as quick as ever. The blade bit through nothing but cold air as Maxley leaped back, too close to the edge of the roof, as if he dared Hei to come for him.
Hei didn't take the bait. Instead, he let Maxley charge again. He moved back, letting Maxley gain momentum. It was a mistake, Maxley too skilled in arms to let Hei surprise him, and he knew Hei too well. The tip of the knife barely avoided flesh, but it caught the edge of the mask, throwing it from Hei's face.
Hei slashed out, giving himself cover as he fell back. Maxley twirled his blade, pointing it at Hei. "You look older. It's in your eyes, Contractor."
Hei found his breath coming in slightly faster. Maxley was on another level from the men he'd killed below. Maxley raised the knife, pointing at Hei's face. "You're being played and you don't even know it."
"The same applies to you, Maxley."
Maxley's eyes blazed with feral rage, but his mouth remained frozen in a grim line. Hei pulled free from the cloak, letting it fall to the ground. Maxley's steely eyes met Hei's. "You're distracted. Thinking of the woman."
"And you're thinking that makes me weak."
"I already know that, Hei!" Maxley and Hei charged as one, and their knives collided, the two struggling against one another. Hei's hand snapped out, but Maxley grabbed it with a gloved hand, negating Hei's ability to discharge electricity through him with the insulating leather.
Instead Hei stepped, kicking out at Maxley's legs. He swept the general down, throwing him to the ground. Maxley rolled aside before Hei could stab through him. Maxley lashed out, booted foot catching Hei in the head.
Hei saw stars, bright lights exploding in his vision. He went back, trying to will strength back into his limbs. He saw the outline of Maxley coming at him, and he pushed his shoulder up, Maxley's knife plunging into flesh. Hei gave a hiss of pain, but the sudden burning agony helped him focus. He kicked out, catching Maxley's leg. He felt something pop and the general gave a roar of pain. Hei's hand jabbed out, and Maxley pulled his head back. One of Hei's fingers scratched something soft and bulbous and Maxley gave a howl of pain, falling back with a hand clasped to a ruined eye. "Damn you!"
Hei took the chance to shake his head and recover, which gave Maxley the time to ready himself. He lunged to where he had dropped his gun.
Hei's hand snapped out, hurling one of his wires. Maxley twisted, the wire avoiding him, but Hei was already moving. He leaped in low, kicking at Maxley's injured leg. Maxley tried to turn, the blow glancing off his shin, but Hei spun suddenly and brought his hand on the back of Maxley's head, throwing the general aside.
Maxley skidded to the edge of the roof, scrambling to seize edge with his hand before he could go over. He groaned weakly, as Hei stepped over him. Hei kicked the gun away from Maxley's grip. Maxley looked up at Hei, teeth bared. "Do it. Go on."
Hei looked down at Maxley calmly. Maxley snarled, legs dangling over the empty air. "I don't have the strength to pull myself back up now?you filthy Contractor. I deserved better?"
"Nothing left to prove, General." Hei said. He raised his foot and slammed it down on Maxley's face, ripping him from his hold on the roof, into the arms of the waiting night.
Hei's blows had ruined his eyes. The only mercy was that he could not see the ground rush up to welcome him to oblivion.
Below, Rin radioed in to Mimi and Mao, informing them of the updates. Mimi had assured her she would have Misaki informed the situation was clear. She was going to get clear as soon as possible. She looked up suddenly, seeing Hei walk into the room, masked, supported by Carmine. "Hei!"
"Mostly alright?the Astronomy chief is looking out for them. I think there are still researches below though. Maxley?"
"Dead. Just like Nishijima." Carmine said, looking up. "We shouldn't stay here much longer. Hei took damage."
Hei shook his head. "I'm fine. Maxley got the worst of-"
Rin cut him off by pulling his mask off, leaning in and kissing him as hard as she could. "Stop putting up a tough front for me," she whispered with a smile. "Let the two of us take care of you for once."
She saw him smile then. A real one. She felt her heart flutter in her chest before she looked to Carmine. Smooth, Rin, she kicked herself internally. Kiss Hei in front of-
Carmine gave her a gentle smile before taking a breath. Rin realized she was looking at the blood on the ground?.staring at it?
"Carmine," Rin said, jolting the other woman back. Carmine nodded. "Right, sorry." She took a shuddering breath. "Doctor Vectrof and Dr. Schroeder are still here. Whatever the Syndicate had planned the entire time, I think they're a major part of it."
Hei frowned. "I know. The Syndicate forces won't stay out here long, so this may be the one chance we have."
Rin looked to Carmine. "Carmine, you're hardly at your best, and you're pregnant, we-"
"Don't give me that. I'm in this with both of you. Nishijima was going to?" she shook her head. "I'm not leaving without the two of you."
"Hands up!" They heard suddenly, and turned, seeing three men with guns drawn. "Where's the general?"
"Dead," Hei said calmly. "Put those down and you can walk out of her tonight."
Rin stepped in front of Carmine protectively. One soldier shouted "No sudden moves!"
They then hear a sound like the snapping of fingers?and all three soldiers fell forward, gaping holes in their backs, as if the flesh had just vanished into nothingness.
Rin and Hei paused, Carmine blinking. "What?just?" she pulled away her gaze from the blood, gritting her teeth to keep control.
"That was like-"
"His power," Hei said. "Wei Zhijun. Let's move!"
They didn't have to go far. Right down the corridor, he was there.
Wei Zhijun, dressed only in a white coat, examined his nails idly. The cold arrogance still shone in his dark eyes, but his face was now hideous. The once handsome, aquiline features were ruined by the hideous burns that covered one side of his face, his once long hair cut short and spiky.
"Black Reaper. And your women." He said, adding the latter as a near after thought.
"We never saw your star fall."
"We're here on our own errand. She doesn't want you to interfere." Wei said.
She. There was no doubt as to who he meant. Hei tensed furiously, his eyes blazing. "Where is Amber?!" he roared.
"Temper, temper," Wei wagged a finger, revealing a jagged cut on his wrist. "She said you'd get like that, too. Well done with the general, though. Amber knew that would happen."
Hei moved forward, but Wei stepped back. "Followed me," he said mockingly, and took off. "Quickly now!"
Hei took off after him, followed by Rin and Carmine, Rin helping Carmine move. The mention of Amber had sent Hei into a near berserker fury.
"Hei, don't rush in!" Rin growled before they reached the center room. In the central room, they could see every floor in Pandora. Hei looked up, seeing on two floors above, Amber staring down at him, Rin and Carmine, smiling.
"We have the doctors, Wei. You didn't have to go this far." Amber said chidingly. She looked younger than before, in her early teens. She folded her arms. The white coat she wore seemed comically big for her, draped around her body and hanging to the floor.
"Hello, Hei. Britta?"
Hei was suddenly aware of a presence before him and he spun. The blond woman had appeared there, reaching to him. He summoned his power, but a blue glow surrounded her before she vanished, Hei's hand striking empty air. Above, Hei could see a bespectacled man with wild gray hair and a small white beard watching in awe.
He heard Rin start to call his name before he spun, lashing out with a foot. The Contractor named Britta had grabbed for him again, intending to teleport him, but Hei kicked her hand aside. She managed to teleport just in time, appearing by Wei and collapsing to a knee before straightening.
"Teleportation?only organic matter from the looks of it," Carmine said, noting Britta's nudity. The woman stood and quickly kissed Wei's cheek before facing Hei. "Good as they say," she said. "Dr. Schroeder, you may want-"
Rin's hand snapped out and two knives flew out. Britta teleported to Amber while Wei leaped back, the knife grazing his shoulder. Hei took the chance, snapping a hand out as a wire bound on the railing a floor above. He pulled himself up to the floor, evading Wei as the contractor flung his blood. Rin was already moving to engage the Chinese assassin when Hei landed in front of Amber.
"What more do I have for you to take from me?!" he roared, grabbing her by the head. Amber looked up at him impassively, her face unreadable.
"Tell me why! Where is Pai?!" Hei shouted, his body beginning to glow. Dr. Schroeder could see the blow glow suddenly spread out, enveloping the building as the very foundations began to shake and tremble.
"Why ask her?" Another voice said. "You know she lies, BK-201!"
Hei looked up as the golden light took shape, and Apos emerged. "I had to come in person. After Rin did that job on Laura?and after Hei did the one on Nishijima and Maxley, well, it makes my job easier!"
"Apos," Amber said calmly. "I was wondering when you showed up." Wei stepped back with Britta, his eyes narrowed.
Hei spun, drawing his knife as Amber sighed. "There's too much to explain, Hei, but this man is your enemy."
"How rude. I would say we're fast friends by now. I just stopped by to deliver a few Time Fruits, and what do I get?" Apos grinned wider. "Everyone together. Hello, Hei. Hello, Carmine. Hello, Rin. And hello, Amber." He spread his arms slightly.
"Yggdrasil's full awakening is at hand. There is nothing you can do to prevent it. This world is going to acknowledge its new order soon."
"Hei-" amber started but Hei snarled.
"Both of you are the same to me."
"That really hurts," Amber said calmly. "You don't understand though."
"So tell me!" He shouted, but Amber was silent.
Apos seemed to phase from his position, appeared by Rin. "And you, my dear?I'm so sorry about Koki Maeno?and Yanigahara?"
He didn't pay attention to Carmine, ignoring her as he would an insect. He dodged back from Rin's knife slash, grinning. "Go on, Hei?kill her! Kill Amber! She's the one who lied to you! The one who's used you! Even now you play at what she wants you to!"
Hei glanced to Amber for a moment. "I plan to?but right now," he flung the knife. Apos raised a hand, smacking it out of the air.
"Unwise as usual, I hoped-" He gasped suddenly as Carmine drove one of Rin's knives through his back.
"Little harlot-" He pulled away, voice contorted more from rage than pain. Amber watched impassively as golden light appeared in his hand, forming into a long sword.
Hei was on him in an instant. Apos looked up, his body started to wrap in golden light.
Hei slammed into him, the light consuming him as well.
Hei hit the ground roughly, feeling the cold wind and the cold stone of the floor. Where am I, he barely had time to register before he looked up, seeing Apos staring at him.
"So you managed to hitch a ride." Apos sighed, tapping the sword on his shoulder. "I don't suppose we can talk-"
Hei drove the knife into his stomach. Apos stared at it. "I suppose n-"
Hei unleashed his powers, and Apos screaming, collapsed to the ground in a twitching, smoking heap. Hei stumbled back, scarcely daring to hope, before Apos rose, his body repairing itself.
"I'll have my pound of flesh for that one?" he whispered. He seized his sword and swung faster than Hei believed possibly. Hei rolled away, realizing they were in a long corridor of?what appeared to be a stone castle, overlooking a snowy cliff. He avoided Apos's next swing, taking off in full sprint. Apos snarled and raised a hand.
Hei heard the beating of wings as the Angels rose into the air.
"Take him?rend him asunder?bring me his head, attached or not!" Apos roared.
Dozens of Angel swooped in as Hei ran, hearing them behind him. He summoned all the strength he had left, hell itself thundering at his heels. Come on, come on, he thought desperately. He dove into one room, seeing the wide chamber as the angels landed on the floor advancing. With the snow, Hei had one advantage. He discharged his power through the floor, having the satisfaction of dozens of the monsters writhing and turning to ashes. But still more came?he fled again, down to the next room, when-
"Enough," the voice said and Hei saw golden light flash over the doors and windows. He heard angels snarling, their fists beating at it. He looked over to see the man in the chair.
He was tall, dressed in dark clothing. His coal-black hair reached to his shoulders. His face was handsome, the man appearing in his late thirties. He fixed Hei with his gaze calmly.
"Who I am is not important. This will not hold them for long. You are the one called 'Hei' then?the Black Reaper. Call me Tajimamori if you need a name."
Hei found the strength to nod. "Apos??"
"I have never seen him like this. He is planning something he's kept even from me. Listen to me, time is of the essence, Hei. You know Rin."
It wasn't a question. Somehow, when fixed by the man's piercing gaze, Hei felt he could trust him. "I am the former Guardian of Yggdrasil. I passed it on to my blood, to Apos. He has misused it. He does not mean to ever surrender control of Yggdrasil. The Guardian's job is to preserve the tree, preserve the world and all its knowledge and secrets. Apos would see them pulled to its own ends."
"I don't understand-"
"Forgive me?" Tajimamori breathed in. "There is so much I have to say and little time. Are you armed?"
Hei held up a knife in response. Tajimamori nodded to a sword on the table. "Not all of his Angels are in here now. He's sent them to?strategic positions. We cannot defeat Apos here, not where Yggdrasil is strongest. As long as he rules Yggdrasil, he is truly an immortal angel as he claims."
"How do you know Rin?"
"A thousand years ago, I found her newly awakened in immortality. I.." he closed his eyes. "Kept my distance. It was safer for both of us. As much as I longed for her?for a thousand years?"
Hei paused?Rin had mentioned a man before. He had no idea it had gone back this far.
"She told me about you?she told me about a man she cares for deeply. I would aid you, Hei. I do not have my old power. Such a barrier took much of my energy?it will take me time to gather enough to send you back."
"There's too much I have to ask you! Heaven's War?"
"It was a power play?Apos orchestrated much of it to seize the Gate. The Gate is linked to Yggdrasil. For what purpose, not even the Guardian knows, but it might hold the truth behind the false stars in the sky, and the Contractors. Apos fears the Contractors, Hei. He fears what they could become. He means to destroy the entire race now, and he can. You must-"
The golden barriers seemed to sunder. Tajimamori frowned. "With me." He said. "I have not fought against young angels in some time!"
Hei had no choice. He thought of Carmine?Rin?Yin?even Misaki Kirihara?Huang,Mimi, Mao, all his comades?and Pai..
Tajimamori signaled him as the angels rushed in?and Hei and Tajimamori ran to meet them.
Hei threw himself to the side, avoiding a talon before Tajimamori drove his sword through the assailant's throat. The angel had time to manage a blood-choked rattle before its body fell to dust. Hei had lost track of how many they had killed, but he knew without the older man, he would have fallen already.
Tajimamori was moving to cover Hei's blind spots, sword flashing quickly to sever the grasping claws of any Angel that reached for him. For his part, Hei had found his rhythm, cutting through the angels in front of him while trusting his back to Tajimamori. With a partner, he found himself unable to discharge his powers through the wet stone, but he compensated with nothing more than speed and skill.
Hei was only human, though, and the Angel horde seemed inexhaustible. What was more, they hadn't seen Apos yet, while the angels continued to rush in. Tajimamori looked up. "Throw a knife through the window," he said. "We need to retreat."
Hei flung one of his knives, aiming it so it struck the large window. He'd left it attached to one of his wires, and pulled it so the knife touched the stone outside. Hei then summoned his power and unleashed it through the snowy foundation of the castle's outside, through any Angel that was luckless enough to cling there, and through any Angel that was touching the victim.
"Jump!" Tajimamori shouted. "Trust me!"
Hei had reservations about throwing himself off the edge of the castle, but he took Tajimamori's words to heart, especially with the barrier gone. He charged forward and leaped out into open air He felt strong arms grasp him suddenly and then he was lifted up out of the fall.
He turned his head, seeing Tajimamori grasping him, red wings sprouted from his back. He folded them and dropped to a dive. Hei noticed the angels weren't pursuing, and he looked to Tajimamori as the man flew them to a lower floor of the castle, entering it through the window. "You're an Angel?"
"Not exactly. The Guardian of Yggdrasil takes on aspects of Angel and Immortal. I'm mostly Angel, but I keep my sanity and humanity." He released Hei who sagged back against the wall.
"I met Rin a thousand years ago, before she truly understood what happened to her. I…kept tabs on her since then."
Hei looked to him. A thousand years? And he had only known Rin for…
"Like I said…" Tajimamori smiled. "She's told me of you. But you've been known to Apos and I before then."
"I want answers," Hei said.
"You deserve them," Tajimamori said, looking up. They heard the beating of wings outside. "We haven't even killed a fraction of them. He isn't having them pursue us for whatever reason, but we should keep moving until my strength is back."
And that without his strength back…Hei thought, remembering the dance of Tajimamori's sword through his enemies. He looked to him. "I have to know."
Tajimamori's eyes closed for a moment. "I erred in choosing Apos as the successor of Yggdrasil. He was born to it, and I thought he would understand the importance and dignity of his role. Instead, he glories in cruelty and sadism. Countless people have died due to nothing more than his appetites."
"Why don't you challenge him? Take Yggdrasil back?"
"I do not have the immortality Apos does. I am forced to eat time fruits from the tree to continue preserving my life and sanity, but Apos has no such restriction. It…amuses him to let me live, but if he cut off the supply, I would become a mindless beast. And if I tried to stop him, he would cut me down as easily as I slew those young beasts back there.
"The truth of the matter now is above all else, Apos is wariest of you, Hei. He has sought to throw you off, to intimidate you and make you believe you are helpless before him. But there are things he doesn't understand. Your powers are amongst those. The Gate is another."
"Do you know? The gate? The purpose?"
"I have a theory. Part of it is something…different. There is an intelligence behind the Gate. I believe it is linked to Yggdrasil and the very foundation of this world. I believe the powers it's bestowed are in part meant to stop Apos before he destroys the balance of this world forever."
"Do you know about Pai? My-"
"Your sister…Apos mentioned her during Heaven's War before his focus shifted to you. You awoke with her powers at the war's conclusion, did you not?"
"Amber betrayed us all, and the Gate…was sealed off."
"Amber," Tajimamori nodded. "I doubt anyone knows more than she does now. Forgive me, Hei, I cannot say what happened to your sister, or why you awoke with her abilities. The answers might well be found in the Gate, or with Amber."
"If Apos and Amber have your answers," Hei clenched a fist. "Neither of them have given anything but lies."
"I don't think that's true. Every best lie contains the grain of truth. I understand the fury you must feel towards Amber, but if Apos stands in opposition to her, you should consider her a potential ally."
"Just because we share an enemy doesn't make us friends." Hei said as they moved, knife in hand. "All of this is a game to her. Everything she's done-"
"You loved her, didn't you?" Tajimamori asked gently. "Such hatred can only come from that."
Hei's fist clenched and Tajimamori nodded. "As for Rin…we share the same feelings for her. She is the most import-"
A wave of force struck Hei suddenly and he was flung back, smashing into the ground. It felt like a sledgehammer has smashed into his ribs. He looked up, seeing Laura having stepped around one corridor, smoke drifting from the muzzle of her rifle. "Bulletproof. I forgot."
Tajimamori had time to turn to Hei before he gasped, blood gushing from his chest as the silver tip of a sword burst through his heart.
"Telling him so much is against the rules, old man." Apos's gloating voice whispered. "I should have done this centuries ago." He twisted the blade and Tajimamori cried out before Apos pulled the blade out, letting his father sink to the ground, clutching his chest.
"Hei…" Tajimamori held his hand up. "Give me your…"
Hei found the strength to move forward, seizing the wounded man's hand. Tajimamori's nails suddenly lengthened and he dug them into Hei's wrist, sharp enough to draw blood. Hei hissed in pain, but Tajimamori held him firm, his own blood running into Hei's wounds.
"It's a shame you're not at your best, Hei," Apos said chidingly. "Laura never would have ambushed you so easily-" He stopped, as the back of Hei's hand began to glow, a pair of wings appearing on the back. The blood running from Hei's wrist suddenly seemed to become…white in color.
"Oh, you stupid old man," He snarled. "Yggdrasil is mine!" He advanced, raising the sword.
"To Rin…" Tajimamori whispered."My time fruit…you'll know…"
Hei looked up at Apos. "Heaven's War…"
"Oh…so he told you a bit of that…? It was a spot of fun there. I'm through taking you lightly tonight, Hei. You're right after-"
Hei's pupils turned red,the blue glow appearing. Laura raised her gun, aiming at him.
Hei suddenly felt his mind turn towards her. It was suddenly inconceivable that she should fire that gun. She should not be able. He reached out with his mind, demanding it of the universe itself that her gun not fire. Laura's finger closed on the trigger…
There was no explosion of a bullet ripping from her weapon, just a click. "Wha?!" Laura shouted as Apos raised his sword. "On second thought, die first!"
It was just as inconceivable that Apos's sword touch him. Hei, still winded, didn't managed to get his knife up in time as Apos's sword swung down, the keen edge of the sword falling to his head-
Apos held up his sword. The upper half of the blade was simply gone. It had vanished the moment it had touched Hei. "…this shouldn't be. You can't-"
Hei focused on Apos with an expression of seething hate and fury. The blue glow spread through the corridor. The castle itself began to shake.
Hei didn't need to touch the stone. He was the stones now. If he desired them to collapse, they would. He had simply ordered the metal of the sword not to be when it had swung on him, and the moment it had touched him, it had simply ceased to be.
He felt more…he felt the snows, he felt the grass of the garden, he felt the roots of the world tree itself…He could see it then, the massive form of the Tree outside, its fruits drifting through the air, ready to bestow immortality to those who consumed them. He felt its branches and roots that spread throughout the entire world.
And for a moment, he saw the true stars and moon in the sky, hidden above the canopy of false stars that represented the lives of all Contractors. For just one, blessed, indescribable moment…Hei felt the very heart of the world itself.
He saw the look on Apos's face turn from surprise to horror. "What are you?!" He shouted. "No contractor should have this power! Yggdrasil is mine!" His face contorted in a feral grimace. "You think you've known pain?! You've seen nothing, you worthless human! Yggdrasil and Rin! They're both mine!"
Hei felt Apos there suddenly, grabbing Yggdrasil, ripping it away until he could feel it no longer. The sudden shock of his perception confined to his own body drove him to his knees. Tajimamori grasped Hei's hand. "Rin is the true Guardian…giv h-"
Apos drove his sword into his father's back again and again, stabbing him savagely. Tajimamori cried out, but reached into the wound Apos made. He tore through his own body and pulled, placing something in Hei's hand.
Hei looked down to a see blood-stained timefruit there. He looked to the dying man as his body began to crumble to dust.
"Farewell." Tajimamori whispered , shutting his eyes as he focused.
Hei's world vanished in golden light.
Hei felt the pavement hit him as the world returned to him. He groaned, pulling himself up. He had the feeling human beings were not meant to travel the way he just had.
Mask, gone. Most weapons, gone. Coat's still on, he noted methodically, patting himself down as his eyes adjusted. It was still night in Tokyo, with nobody he could see on the streets, not even the authorities. He couldn't see or hear any living human soul. He took a look at the streets, getting an idea of where he was when a blue glow caught his eye in a nearby puddle. Yin, he thought.
That meant they had his location now. He gave a sigh of relief. It was only minutes later the car pulled up and the door opened. "Hei! In!" He heard Rin's voice. He rushed into the car, shutting the door. Every single muscle and joint in his body hurt. He found himself running over the events of the last hour more and more.
What had he done? He'd prevented a gun from firing. He'd made solid steel crumble to dust when it had touched his skin. For one moment, he had felt as if he was the king of the world, connected to all that existed. What had happened? What did that have to do with Pai?
"Hei, Hei!" He looked up at Rin. She put her hands to his face and pulled him into a hard kiss.
"You're alright…Yin saw you…I had no idea what had…"
"Kid, back there," Huang said. "We had to leave the other car and get out fast as we could."
Yin was sat in the driver's seat, hand in a bucket of water. Hei thought he could sense relief from her as well. He saw Mao sat in her lap. "Cutting it close enough, Hei," the cat said. "What happened?"
He told them everything…Rin's eyes widened when he mentioned Tajimamori, and shut in pain when he mentioned the man's death at Apos's hands.
"Rin-" Carmine asked. Rin shook her head.
"He was…someone important to me," Rin said softly. "He taught me how to read and write…about immortality…we met a thousand years ago. He kept his distance for my sake, but-"
Hei kept his face neutral, but he reached out to take his lover's hand. He didn't know how Rin kept from breaking. Everything that had happened this past year alone would have crushed a lesser human being. She had lost her friends, and now her first love. But she kept pushing on, never once breaking. Her strength, independence and resolution to take the next step forward made him admire her, look to her for strength to draw upon himself.
When he told them about what had happened with his powers, Mao's eyes widened. "How is that even possible? Your powers are electric shocks. You've never shown you can-"
"What about back when we saw Amber? The whole place was shaking.," Carmine said. "Hei, how far do your powers even go?"
"What happened to Vectrof and Schroeder?"
"Amber pulled her disappearing act…we found ourselves outside, and there was no sign of her, or Wei Zhijun, or the blond. I radioed Misaki and the authorities have closed in. The hostages are secure, but this could have bad repercussions throughout. And if Tajimamori is dead, I don't have the same protection anymore," Rin clenched a fist.
"before they disappeared, Schroeder said he knew what caused the disaster in South America," Carmine said. "Hei, do you think Pai-"
"That was when you were already known as the Black Reaper," Huang said. "But your sister, Pai, had the designation BK-201?"
"Hei, her powers were identical to yours," Carmine said. "But…" her eyes closed. "My memories….they're coming back to me…"
Rin blinked in surprise. "The day the gate in South America vanished?"
"When I…awoke my powers again," Carmine shivered, "It came back somewhat. That day…holding the meteor shard, just before it all ended…"
Huang glanced back, realization in his eyes. "Are you really sayin'-"
"It was Pai. Pai was the one working with Amber. She was the one who sealed the Gate."
Yin glanced up suddenly. "Radio," she said, a note of urgency in her voice. "News."
"Huh?" Huang blinked, turning it on. There was a brief burst of static, and then, a voice sounded. Eric Nishijima's voice.
"Terrorist activities launched on Pandora by the United Stated Government in violation of-" the broadcast began.
"I killed him," Hei snarled. "I know I killed-"
"A time fruit," Rin finished. "Apos brought him back before or after Amber came for Vectrof and Schroeder. We know they're working on something for the Syndicate. We just don't know what."
"We need a safehouse," Huang said. "It ain't safe to stay at your place now. Rin, you got connections in the government, can you pull something off?"
"Anything I have there will be cut off by now. It was never more than a few people I'd done jobs for or helped in the past. The Syndicate's bound to have cut that off. Hei's apartment is already compromised and can't fit all of us anyways. That leaves-"
"There was someone," Hei said. "Who warned me. Her name was…Shihoko Kashida."
Huang nearly ran them off the road. "What?!" He roared. "What did you just say?!"
"Huang, calm down!" Mao said.
"The hell I will! What're you doing talking to-"
"She warned me about a lot tonight, Huang. The information was accurate. Do you have a better option?"
Huang was seething silently when the radio continued. "On the next note, the heinous attack on Tokyo was from twisted experiments at what we have found, the secret of immortality and The Gate. The secret of the Divine."
"Mr. Nishijima," the reporter said. "This is quite the claim, can you-"
"Just look outside," was the response.
The dawn peaked over Tokyo's buildings, setting the skies aflame. Rising high in the sky, everyone could see now, the glowing, starry canopy of the world tree, towering high above the Gate itself.
They could see the fruits drifting through the air, they could feel the connection to something far greater. Many fell to their knees, weeping as the angel appeared.
His hair was golden, his wings red as his eyes. His skin was polished alabaster and his beauty was beyond compare. When he spoke, his voice magnified across the world, it was as if his voice was gentle music.
"People of this realm! My name is Apos, and I am the steward of the Tree I have now chosen to make visible to you!" He descended, every camera trained on him. "There are those who have sought to corrupt it, use it wrongly. Many of you have long wondered at the divine, but your prayers have never fallen upon deaf ears!"
He smiled gently. "You can all now feel the kinship you have through the Tree that connects all of your souls to this world! Through the Gate! I am a representative of God Almighty, an Eternal Angel who brings with him the message…"
"We want no war, no pain, no suffering…we want your troubles to be over! We want you to feel kinship to us, through this tree…consider what I have said. We will be watching and bestowing our gifts. Soon enough, you shall see the stars and moon anew!"
Golden light surrounded the angel, and he vanished, leaving a world to marvel at what they had seen.
Misaki Kirihara's jaw hung slack as she saw the people in the streets. Some looked incredulous, some pondered openly if they had just seen special effects, but so many were weeping, falling to their knees, staring at Yggdrasil. What had happened?
"Misaki!" she heard her name and turned, seeing the man making his way to her. "Jack?"
"Quick, no time to waste," November 11 grabbed her wrist. "We're compromised,"
"What are you talking about?"
"The attack on Pandora was the last bloody straw. I hate to admit it, but I was wrong and you were right. They told me to kill April. They're expecting her dead within hours."
"Jack, did you just see-"
"I saw!" He said. "Misaki," he whispered. "I don't believe in God, or angels or demons or anything like that. All I know is Decade and my agency have played me from the start now."
"It's the same with Horai and my agency. Do you think they're working together?"
"The Syndicate, yes." November said. "We have to go as soon as possible. This is the start of the end."
Apos flew into the sky above his castle, arms stretched out towards Yggdrasil. His crimson eyes were wide, his smile split across his face. His father was dead. With that meddling relic gone, he felt so liberated he had to wonder why he'd let Tajimamori live so long.
Deep inside though, he felt it still. The fear Hei had made him feel in that moment. But it was absurd now. He had put the final piece in place. The Syndicate was preparing its final means to wipe out Hei and all Contractors from the world. He had nothing to fear now, he told himself. Nothing at all.
He'd severed Hei and Rin's final protection. There was nowhere they could hide. Oh, humanity would ponder and debate, but he was going to provide proof of divinity. He would be a generous god, extending the fruits of eternity throughout Tokyo. Before he sent his angels to harvest the city, and bring the souls and memories to Yggdrasil for him to devour.
Apos laughed madly. "It's your move, Amber!" He howled to the blue sky. "I've won! I've won the real Heaven's War!"
With the Americans on the defensive, he'd turned nations towards one another's throats. The situation left it wide open for him now. He grinned at Yggdrasil, knowing it belonged to him completely now. All he needed now was Rin.
He turned his thoughts to Tokyo. Let the humans worship him now. The Angel's dawn had begun.
Let the fire of truth rain down.
Misaki Kirihara looked to November 11 as he sat in the passenger seat of the car. "I think it's time you explain yourself," she said.
"Is there any answer that would satisfy you?" The Contractor asked. "I've been having a lot of problems with management of late."
"I could stop the car and tell you to get out," Misaki said.
"Threatening a man who can freeze the blood in your veins at the cost of one day closer to lung cancer if he was of a mind? Misaki, this is why I love working with you." November grinned at her, his ice-blue eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. "I didn't think you'd learned humor on the job."
"I'm serious, Jack. I've been pulled left and right by everyone. You will give me answers or I am stopping the car. I will tell you to get out." She fixed him with a hard look. "And if I do, you will listen."
November found himself rendered momentarily speechless, before he allowed a genuine smile to cross his face. "Fair enough," He said softly. "They were right about it, Misaki. Everything."
"I already know about Director Horai. He let it slip after Tamotsu Yanigahara died. Said something he had no idea I'd know,"
"Make an espionage champion out of you yet," November said with admiration. "Misaki, consider that any action could be dangerous. Not just for you, but your team. Your father as well."
"They already hurt my best friend," Misaki said. "Horai doesn't know I know. Is your superior?"
"I didn't have confirmation until they ordered April's elimination," November admitted, "But Decade is one of them. That means…"
"The attack on Pandora. The American General?"
"Now American international relations are at an all time low, and that's saying something. Nobody believes Maxley was acting on his own. Britain's making a big show of it now. And the entire world looks to be finding religion."
"Which allows them cover for whatever they were planning…" Misaki finished. November nodded.
"the one conclusion I come to is that there's one damn person who knows what's happening and has an actual handle on it."
"You mean Amber."
"Codename February, yes," November said with a nod. "I'm beginning to have my doubts she's just another terrorist. What's more,after April's previous untimely death, I did some digging," He reached into his pocket, removing his wallet and leafing through to remove several photos. "April brought these back with her, of Contractors she saw when February had her. Naturally, February must have given them to April herself."
Misaki spared a look when they stopped for traffic. The first woman was tall and beautiful, with purple lipstick and blond hair brought up into a tight bun, glasses making her features look severe. "I've seen that one before."
"She works at the American embassy. Her name is Britta, obvious alias. Her power is teleportation of organic matter. Next," November showed a photo of a woman with long brown hair that went just past her shoulders. "British attachment, name of Tamara Ashdown. Again, obvious alias. Her powers are matter duplication. Organic or otherwise."
"That explains how they had April's body," Misaki said. "She can make…clones of people?"
"Not with any cognitive function. It's essentially a corpse from the moment of creation. April said her remuneration was agonizing, though."
"No surprises there…were there any others?"
"The one I killed, naturally,: November said with a trace of professional pride to his voice. "The final one? I believe you know Wei Zhijun? Though his face has seen better days."
Misaki gritted her teeth. "So he did survive…"
"The final one," November said, moving on quickly as he could, "Is the one I saw myself. The big fellow, Amagiri. His power…concussive force, remuneration is to eat hardboiled eggs."
"Not at all, think of the cholesterol!" November grinned. "But now that you know this, we need a way to find February herself."
"Oh, so we'll just do what every police agency in the world hasn't?"
"The difference is she wants us to find them. I had an open door policy to Evening Primrose, Misaki. I also have the funny feeling that February knew what moves I'd make. It's why she gave April this info."
"So do we just drive around until she calls on us? Look at everyone in the streets, just looking up at that…thing."
"Is rather eerie," November agreed. Everyone was outdoors…staring at the massive form of Yggdrasil in the distance. Many had looks of awe or fear on their faces, others were weeping. Misaki could see the colorless spores of Yggdrasil drifting all over. "I must admit, Apos holds the cards now."
"Where are April and July?"
"Safe right now," November said. "I figured we should get them before I get my answers. When I know what we're up against…I say, do you mind being my getaway driver?"
"You're going to kill Decade, aren't you?"
"Damned right I am," November's voice went cold. "He used me. He tried to murder my partner."
"She's not just your partner…" Misaki looked him in the eye. "She's your friend,"
November breathed in and gave a nod. "Yes. Yes she is. I didn't even realize how much my team meant to me…before…" He caught himself. "I can't help but think BK-201 is on our side in this."
"And Rin, too, November grinned. "Always the most likely suspects. Misaki, I understand I'm asking a lot on this."
Misaki took a moment to collect herself. November was asking for her permission to commit murder. She'd always upheld the law, and refrained from killing when possible. But she'd done a lot recently she'd never thought she could. She remembered Hans straining against her, fighting for life as she choked it from him…
This wasn't a situation where normal laws applied. This was a war, and one that men like Horai, Nishijima and Decade had waged with no thought that anything could ever touch them. They'd killed Tamotsu as easily as she would have swatted a hornet.
"You leave Horai to me if possible. If nothing else…I know my father is clean. There needs to be some chance to return order to this. Some integrity."
"Deal," November said. "I'll call April."
Misaki nodded. "First…" she took out her phone and dialed a number. She waited four rings before…
"Ohtsuka," Misaki said. "How are you holding up?"
"Oh, I'm fine! Ready for work again-"
"Listen, Ohtsuka," Misaki said, silencing Mayu. "I need you to get on something for me. There's someone I want you to call after you listen to me. Send it to the rest of the team. Her name is Mimi…"
After what seemed an eternity of driving, Hei stepped of the car, taking a deep breath. Huang rubbed his head. "Right out in the countryside, huh?" He looked as Mao hopped out, the cat stretching before they looked around, seeing the compound a short distance away.
"You made it," They looked up and saw Shihoko Kashida waking over with guards. Huang froze, hand trembling at his side. The woman made no sign she recognized him.
"You're going to be public enemy number one now," Shihoko said, fixing Hei with her gaze . She didn't look at Huang, or let her face betray anything. "This is our compound. The Founder is inside. She'll have business with Evening Primrose later. You'll be able to send a message. This might be your one chance."
Hei nodded and glanced to Huang. "You understand we don't trust easy right now."
"I wasn't aware you had a choice," Shihoko said. "Everyone here is loyal."
"And you?" Mao asked
"I was Syndicate once," she said. And Huang's face twisted, rage and pain clear on his features. Out of instinct, Mimi reached out to grasp his shoulder. He seemed to relax at that contact.
"The others will show you in. You're guests, not prisoners," Shihoko said to Hei. "What you did at Pandora…" She looked to Carmine, "It's on the lips of every Contractor by now."
There wasn't much to complain about the rooms. Everyone was situated with guards, and Huang had seemed to calm. Hei was grateful for that small favor.
Rin stepped out from the shower, dressed in fresh clothing and drying her hair. The compound was a simple place, with the occupants living in decent conditions, with multiple rooms with their own bathrooms and beds. Clothes had been provided, as well as food. Rin supposed Hei must have depleted the stores by at least half there, though.
"No. He's not alright," Hei said. "Whatever history they had, it's going to be a problem. Is Carmine…?"
"She's fine…Mimi is on her laptop, managed to get service. They said their high priestess wants to see you soon."
"Gate religions…and Contractors leading them," Hei's lip curled. Rin sat by him.
"I keep forgetting how much you hate what you are." She said, reaching to take his hand.
"They're manipulating these people. We're taking advantage of it just by being here. What other choice do we have?"
Rin looked to him. "I need to ask you something…and be honest with me."
"How…how did he die? Tajimamori?" He saw something in her eyes.
"He died…saving my life," Hei said, grasping her hand with his. "He died…entrusting me with everything. To stop Apos. I have no idea if we can now. Or if we can trust Shihoko's people, or if we have to work with Amber. I'm as lost as you are."
Rin put a hand to his face. "Not lost. We've got each other. And everyone else…" She grinned. "I've even got something Mr. Kurosawa can help us with…"
"You don't say," The barest hints of a smile crossed his face before he fixed dark eyes on her green ones. Rin removed her glasses.
"I haven't…had time to mourn a lot of people, Hei. Tamotsu, Koki…now Tajimamori…I never even knew his name….but I haad…wanted to see him again, for a thousand years. It was so hard. The distance…"
"He said Yggdrasil..was meant for you," hei remembered the white blood dripping into his veins as Tajimamori had died. The Time Fruit given into his keeping…what did it all mean.
"I don't even know what that means now," she said. "I just want him gone. But even if we destroy Apos, it won't change the Syndicate being gone."
"No." He said softly. "They'll take a blow, but…I'll be their enemy. As long as you're with me, you're in danger. Carmine, our child, Mimi, Yin-"
"You don't dare pull that idiot martyr clich? on me," Rin said and kissed him suddenly. "I'm one thousand years old. I've lived for danger longer than you know. You aren't the only one who gets a say here, Hei."
Hei didn't respond with words. Instead, he leaned in and kissed her, reaching a hand to her cheek. He suddenly saw the mark on the back of his hand glow with soft light.
Rin pulled him in to the next kiss, lips pressing to his mouth, her tongue parting his lips. "Let's…" She started, but whatever she was about to say died as he kissed her back, both possessed by sudden desire and need to be free of the pain of the past days.
Their clothes were discarded, their bodies bared to one another. Rin's legs were locked around him as they moved, their hands clasped tight. There was no mistaking now, the glow on the back of Hei's palm.
She barely bit back a cry as she climaxed, feeling him spend inside her. She shut her eyes tight and hugged him to her, feeling tears she had suppressed run down her cheeks. He leaned in to kiss them gently. Neither said a word. Neither needed to. For even one moment more, they had eachother. That was enough.
In his own room, Huang looked as a message appeared on his cellphone. The sender was unknown, but the message read in clear bold words: KILL SHIHIKO KASHIDA. KILL THE PROPHET.
The next message followed. AND ALL IS FORGIVEN.
"I told you I wasn't stealing anything!"
"Hey, I'm sorry, I just thought-"
"Hmph, well, I can't make my audition now!" She leaned back with a frown. "Suppose I'll be satisfied with all the money I get from the settlement! What's your name anyways, Gloomy Gus?"
Kuno, huh?" She looked to him and actually smiled ."I'm Shihoko. Shihoko Kashida. Aspiring actress."
Actress. Yeah, she'd been a good one, Huang thought. Every smile. Every word. Every gesture. Every kiss. A lit. All a lie. All to get close. All to deceive him.
How stupid had he been to even consider a Contractor as an ally? They were monsters, all of them. Huang stared at his gun. Kill them and all was forgiven? It was such a good deal. What did he have left to him but survival? What did going against the Syndicate give him but death?
Survival. His lip curled at that. Is that all he had now? A life as a Syndicate errand boy?
Goddamn right it is. Whose fault is that, anyways? You tried, old man. You tried damn hard. Nobody can say you didn't. Not the kid, not Mao, nobody. They'd do the same thing. They're Contractors.
So why are they being more human than you are? The other voice whispered. You've seen them, old man. They're not perfect, but they don't stop trying. They fight, they try, they move on, they fix what's wrong, they look after themselves and all of the others.
Because it benefits them. More human than me-
Look how far the kid went to save her. Right in the heart of Pandora for her and his child. Would you have done that? He was right. You are a coward. And here you are, about to betray the only people-
I deserve this. SHE deserves this. I had people who cared about me. Isozaki was my partner and she-
He remembered the look on his partner's face as his insides had melted. The look of ice on Shihioko's face as she'd walked away. It had been only days later before they'd taken him, with the choice only to work for them without question or lose his memories.
I was scared, dammit. I was so scared.
You're still scared, the voice said. But you don't have to be. You told that angel where he could put that thing he offered you. Show that spine now.
Sorry. No spine here. Just an old man who can't get drunk no matter how hard he tries, who visits his partner's widow out of his own guilt.
Calmly, Huang reached out and picked up the gun. Gloomy Gus, huh? It'd been her pet name for him, as much as he'd hated it. He'd probably hated it for how much it suited him at that. Whenever they'd gone out drinking, he'd been the one to stay sober despite his best efforts, except for a treasured few occasions. He'd loved her.
He still did. And that was why he could hate her so damned much.
Rin reached out to the other side of the bed, but felt only warm sheets. Really hate it when he does that. She sat up and put on her glasses, eyes adjusting to the dark. She saw Hei standing at the window, his arms folded.
"This is the part where I say 'come back to bed' and you give me the sullen, angsty reply where I try to be soothing?" she grinned playfully at him. "Come on, what's on your mind?"
"We know Evening Primrose is coming. Apos is being considered an angel by most of the world."
"I admit these occurred to me, too," Rin's expression turned serious and she stood, not bothering to cover herself. She walked to Hei and put her hands to his shoulders, resting her head on his back.
"He has the world on his side now. I keep looking for a way to beat him, but…"
"You're the Contractor. Nothing rational?"
"No," Hei said softly. "Not a thing. The Syndicate won't ever stop, even if he's gone. I'm not closer to finding Pai."
"Yeah? You found us." Rin smiled at him. "Tajimamori trusted you. Carmine trusted you. Yin has every faith in you. You don't give yourself enough credit."
He turned to face her and put a hand to her cheek. She smiled and leaned against it. "We're going to figure this out."
"You have any ideas?"
"As a matter of fact? If we can expose Apos…"
"Easier said than done…and the chaos it might cause…"
"I know," Rin said. "But right now, no immortal is safe. And whatever they have planned with the Contractors…"
"You think I should ask Amber." Hei said. It was a clear statement. "No matter what, she won't tell the truth."
"I don't think that's right, Hei. Amber speaks in riddles, but…right now, she might be our only ally in this. The only one still alive. I know I'm asking a lot…"
"No…you're right to." He nodded. "This is bigger than my grudge…but I'll deal with it later. I won't let everyone who died have been in vain…I promise."
Mimi grinned cheerfully at Yin, "So, know much about computers?"
"Not with water around!" Mimi said. "And you play a great piano!"
"I studied," Yin said. She was dressed in a bathrobe after a hot shower, wearing her silver hair down. Mimi had to admit she was extremely beautiful. It was hard to believe she was in her twenties, actually.
"You've been talking much more, too. I like it," Mimi smiled. "You have a great smile, too!"
In response, Yin tugged the corners of her mouth up, making Mimi laugh. "That is too great!" She leaned back. "I don't like to admit, though…but I'm kinda jealous of Hei and Rin. You get that way?"
"No." Yin shook her head. "You are…in love with Rin?"
"You could call it that," Mimi smiled. "She saved my life a long time ago. Killed an angel before it ate me…took me and Genta in. We were inseparable ever since. We've both had lovers since, but…" Mimi grinned. "Hei's different. More permanent. I hope he doesn't mind me borrowing Rin every week or so, though." She turned her gaze to Yin. "…You really love him, don't you?"
"Yes," Yin said.
"And Amber told you a lot, didn't she?" Mimi said softly.
"Yes," Yin nodded. The Doll stared ahead for a moment. "Hei…asked me to make up my own mind. To choose my own fate. Nobody ever has. He saw me as an equal. Not a…doll. I want him to be happy. I want him to smile. Amber wants the same."
"But she's…a terrorist…she's hurt people…"
"Yes," Yin said again. "But she's deeper than that. Amber wants freedom for Contractors. She wants equality. Apos would kill them all. That day in South America, when Heaven's Gate vanished…"
"Yin…do you know what happened?"
"Not exactly," Yin said. "Pai sealed the Gate after Hei's team was trapped. But Hei…he's wrong about Amber."
Mao slunk into the room. "Hello, girls," The black cat hopped on the bed, stretching. "How are we looking?"
Mimi gestured to the open laptop. "No problems searching around here. The news outside ain't good."
"When is it ever," Mao sighed. "Update me."
"Well, when you have dead proof of the divine? After the Gate, plenty religions took a hit to begin with, but now? He didn't even go full Christian, so you have heavily Christian and Muslim nations on full debate over what he's going to reveal…but there aren't many actually doubting him. Skeptic communities are the ones most up in arms, but with Yggdrasil there…and the Gate…most people are ready to believe it seems."
"Perfect!" Mao sighed. "Well, at least nobody'll hunt a cat eventually. At least Pandora hasn't shut my brain off."
He paused as Genta darted in front of him. "…good dog." He said as Genta growled.
Mao found himself huddled in Yin's arms as Genta panted smugly moments later. "I hate you," Mao muttered.
"The Prophet will see you now," Hei had dressed and had gone to meet Carmine. They had been greeted by Shihoko. "She just gave a sermon."
"Prophet," Hei said distastefully.
"It's what they believe here, Hei," Shihoko said. "Not very religious, I take it?"
"Whatever the Gate is, I doubt it's from anything I'd like to worship."
Shihoko almost smiled at that. "We're friends anyways here. Evening Primrose worked with us. Works with us," she added. "Not long ago we'd have been enemies."
"Not long ago, we were Syndicate."
"Why work with people who want you dead? Our entire race?"
"So, that's it," Carmine said. "The master plan? We don't fit in, do we? Genocide is just the logical conclusion. And they call themselves 'humans,'" she said icily.
"You two are possibly the most important examples of Contractors now. The idea of a child conceived by Contractors, especially of your power?"
"Our child," Carmine said, "Is important because it is our child. I don't give a fuck about the science, the religion, anything. It pales next to that fact."
"I understand that. I envy your feelings for that," Shihoko said. "But you know it could inherit both your powers, or neither. There is a great deal of potential,"
"We know," Hei said, his black eyes meeting Carmine's green. "I'll meet your prophet, then."
"This way," Shihoko led the two down long corridors, past multiple guard points until finally she opened two large doors. "I'll wait here."
"So you trust Havoc and the Black Reaper, then?"
"I trust in your gratitude," Shihoko responded, leaning against the wall. "Go on."
Hei walked inside, Carmine waiting to make sure there was no interference.
Outside, unseen…red wings beat the sky. On a hill overlooking the compound, the green haired girl looked up with a frown. "It's going to burn. Amagiri?"
"Right," the large, red haired man nodded. "Britta's on it. We'll get out who we can."
"Contractor and human alike," Amber said. "Tamara should oversee it well enough. Wei, too. Foolish to think this was out of Apos's sight."
Dark, winged shapes struck down. Amber heard the cries.
Rin had been speaking to Mimi when she felt the rush of desire. No…
Mimi gasped, falling to her knees as Genta whimpered. Yin said simply. "Angels."
"He found us…" Rin pushed herself to her feet, seeing the terror in Mimi's eyes. They heard the explosion then. "We have to get…clear…"
Mao frowned. "And go where next?"
"Figure…it out…" RIn managed before she drew one of her knives and stabbed it into her shoulder. She cried out, the pain helping her fight off the wave of desire. She grabbed Mimi and slashed her hand. Mimi yelped, but Rin knew she was grateful for I as well.
"Heads together. Find Hei, Huang and Carmine."
"Stick together," Mao said before scratching Genta, having picked up on what they were doing. The dog yelped, but shook her shaggy head.
"Come closer, Reaper, let me see you," Hei heard the voice of the old, old woman in the darkness of the room. "Amber's told me all about you. I remember your work in the war as well."
"So you're the prophet. This is your true form." He saw the woman on the bed. Her wizened lips curled into a smile, gray hair hanging tattered around her face.
"Prophet? Yes. It's a title I took. Originally, I was an operative, much like you. I was sent to infiltrate groups like this."
"And decided to lead one?"
"For no sinister purpose," the old woman chuckled. Hei had a sudden feeling this woman was close to the end of her life, far from the commanding, beautiful blond prophet plastered on the images around the compound.
The first blast shook the room. The old woman shook her head. "Remain there. It will be over soon…Amber has told me how this ends."
"While people die out there?"
"Many deaths will be prevented because of what you do, Reaper. It's a paradox. You share the name with one meant to take life. He fancies himself an Angel, a true herald of God. You seek endlessly for answers within yourself, while he ever hungers for what is above."
Hei stepped to her bedside. "And you?"
She smiled at him, reached out a withered hand to rest on his. "Tell me. What is the difference between a Contractor and a human?"
"Contractors have powers. They kill people."
"Ah, the most obvious answer! But wrong…Yes, we have powers, but does that set us apart so much? Give a human our powers and they could do the same. A human kills with a gun, or a knife, or a bomb…humans can lack the same empathy as a Contractor. I did once."
"Contractors don't dream."
"They say that, but is it true? I've had a dream for a long time now. Contractors and humans living in peace together, openly. I've had it every night. I'm sure you've dreamed, too. Dreamed of what you've lost. Dreamed of new life. Of the life within the one who was once known as Havoc."
Hei breathed in. "Contractors feel nothing. Contractors don't care for others," he knew it was false.
Her smile was kind. "What truly sets us apart is our propensity for rational judgment. But does that mean we don't care? Contractors ever know the rational response, but does that mean we cannot love, or sacrifice or care the same as any human? My Price is that every time I use my powers, I age. But then I saw how my young, beautiful self appealed to my followers, gave them hope for the Gate and the future. I used my powers again and again, knowing full well what would result. Here I lay before you, about to pay the ultimate Price. But I have no regrets. Amber told me this was the day. But this? This is a new beginning."
Her body shimmered, and the old woman was replaced with a beautiful, youthful blond. She smiled, saying in a strong voice. "Come closer, Reaper. There are things for your ears alone.
Huang had felt the burst and had stumbled out, going for his gun when he felt the winged shape descend on him. This was it then. Determined to meet his end well, he raised his head, raising the gun.
The angel's talon seized the gun, ripping it from his hands- and he was damned lucky it didn't take the fingers as well. It then saw his face, cocking its head in recognition.
Huang saw its mouth stretch into a fanged parody of a grin, before it took his hand gently and then put the gun back inside it. The angel pointed one long finger back to the compound.
"You…have a…job to do…" It rasped before it flew into the night sky.
The compound was in flames from the angels having dropped something. Rin heard the shouts, but she needn't have worried.
There was a blast, like a crack of a gun and one angel fell to pieces in the skies, falling to dust. The one next to it followed suit.
Rin then saw each of the winged creatures fall to pieces in the sky. On the ground, she saw the Contractors, each wielding their own power to destroy the unprepared swarm.
"See to the fires," The large redhead leader said. "The Reaper's inside? Amber wants to see him."
Mao blinked. "Why did you-"
"My, my, a talking kitty!"
He turned around and saw Amber grinning down at him.
Shihoko Kashida looked to Carmine. "Just hold on…wait just a few moe moments, we'll have this covered. I'll join them soon."
Carmine growled before she looked up, hearing footsteps. "Huang?" she blinked, seeing the short man walking up. "What's going on, where-"
"Hey, Gus," Shihoko said, as if she'd expected this.
"Not even pretending anymore, sweetie?"
"Carmine. Don't interfere." Shihoko said softly.
She steeled herself as Huang raised his gun and aimed at her face.
Separate names with a comma.