“Arashi?” asked Ageha.
He stopped walking near the train station lobby exit. A few steps away was a sleepy-looking teenage girl with a scarf around her neck. The red knitted cloth was quite long and covered her mouth, making Ageha uncertain of her identity.
She nodded, her back still leaning on the wall.
“Were you waiting for me?”
Ageha knew that they used the same train station, so it would make sense for her to wait here if she wanted to see him.
She nodded again and walked towards Ageha.
“What’s up?” he asked.
She wordlessly grabbed his sleeve and tried to drag him along, but he did not budge. She turned back and looked at him without changing expression. She tilted her head to side.
“Don’t act as if following you is the most natural thing in the world. Can’t you at least explain why?”
“Isn’t it a little late for that?”
It was already past 10 p.m. Ageha was on his way home from work, but Arashi’s firm grip on his jacket stood in the way of that. She looked determined to take Ageha along.
She must be really bored.
Thinking that her languid expression actually matched her thoughts this time, Ageha considered her invitation. He figured she must have a destination in mind because she was pulling him towards the station platform. He did not have any plans for tonight because Kaika had forbidden him from any suspicious activities. Alleviating a girl’s solitude did not seem like a bad way to spend his free time.
He sighed while shrugging his shoulders. “Okay, but let go of my sleeve first. I won’t run away.”
She reluctantly released him and then walked to the train platforms. He followed behind her.
Several train stops later, they arrived at a run-down station. Graffiti-covered walls and broken benches served as a grim reminder that wealth did not curb humanity’s impulse to destroy.
“What are we doing here?”
Without answering, Arashi beckoned with her eyes for him to come along, or at least Ageha thought she did. They walked down an empty street. Aluminum cans and cigarette butts littered the pavement. The buildings around them looked decrepit and abandoned. Seeing the state of this place reminded Ageha of a news report he had seen on television a while back.
He recalled the name of the station they had stopped at. It matched the one mentioned in the news report about a gang that self-destructed in one night due to infighting. The area’s silence indicated that the gang had either died out or abandoned this place.
Ageha was confused as to why Arashi had taken him here. She had said that she wanted to play, but there was nothing interesting or entertaining here.
Maybe she made this place her hangout after it was vacated?
No, that doesn’t make sense.
This is too far from our city.
Ageha’s wariness increased. He felt no enmity coming from Arashi, so he did not think it was anything dangerous, but his unanswered questions put him on guard. He could have simply left Arashi on her own, but his curiosity prevented him from doing so.
Arashi stopped walking in front of an empty building. She pointed downward several times. Ageha attempted to decipher what she meant.
“You want me to stay here?”
She nodded quickly twice.
She ran inside the building right after his agreement. He felt slightly annoyed because of the cold but had no choice except to wait patiently. He already had a rough idea of what this invitation meant, but he had come too far to simply go home without confirming Arashi’s intentions.
Several minutes later, Arashi emerged from the building. A military vest replaced her coat and scarf. The rest of her body was wrapped in dark grey skin tight material. In her dainty hands, which had cutely pinched Ageha’s sleeve just earlier, was a large rifle.
I knew it would be something like this.
He had tried his best to deny the possibility. He did not want another one of his more cheerful memories tainted by betrayal, but reality was not so merciful.
“Did you trick me from the start?” he asked.
She vigorously shook her head.
Right, she’s not smart enough to do that.
Even this invitation had been very crude. It was so incredibly suspicious that it actually seemed innocent, and it was. She had never intended to deceive him. Arashi was simply that clumsy.
“Can’t you reconsider? If you’re doing this for money, I’m sure my employer can top it.”
She shook her head again, her expression still as vacant as ever. Her bored face did not match her outfit or the situation at all.
Ageha’s gaze sharpened, like a falcon targeting a hare. “You’re going to die, you know?”
She smiled. It was an innocent, exhilarated, dazzling smile.
Ageha finally pinpointed why he felt a certain affinity with the girl in front of him.
So you were broken too.
As if her change in expression was a starting signal, both of them moved at the same time. Arashi took aim as Ageha bolted away while zigzagging to shake off her sights. Fighting a rifleman barehanded on an open field was nigh impossible. He also planned to analyze her battle capability first before striking.
Arashi fired two short bursts. Ageha felt bullets zip by as he reached the entrance of a nearby building. He smashed through the glass doors while covering his face with his arms and leapt into cover.
She’s really good.
Considering how fast he had sprinted, the fact that she barely missed was indicative of her expert marksmanship. He admired and felt jealous of her skill. However, he remembered her age and clicked his tongue.
She’s too young to be that good.
No wonder she broke.
Arashi trailed behind him. She used her cybernetic left leg to propel herself forward, but Ageha was much faster. The hallway floor cracked under the force of his strides.
Arashi caught sight of him just before he rounded the far corner of the corridor. She fired another burst of bullets, one of which grazed Ageha’s shoulder and sent him spinning. His coat and the artificial skin underneath it was ripped open.
What the hell!?
Ageha was taken aback by the impact. The bullet had merely grazed his alloy arm, but the force sent his entire body into a spin. He quickly regained his balance and continued fleeing. He now understood that taking one of her bullets squarely would lead to injury even if it missed his vital parts.
Ageha managed to lose Arashi by bounding up a flight of stairs. He climbed two floors before going into the corridor. It was now a game of hide and seek. Ageha silenced his breathing and focused his hearing. He could not hear the sound of Arashi’s footsteps and deduced that she was still on a different floor. Prioritizing mobility over comfort, he removed his coat and threw it in one of the open rooms.
He stealthily moved along the corridor until he saw a boarded up door. Noticing an open glass window right across from it, he thought that this was an ideal location for an ambush. He smashed the boarded up door, hoping that the loud noise would alert Arashi of his current position. He then quickly went through the open window and dug his fingers and toes into the concrete wall below it. Like a rock climber eyeing his next hold, he took a peek at the corridor. After confirming that his target had yet to come, he closed the glass window and ducked his head.
Arashi soon arrived at the corridor where Ageha lay in wait. Without approaching the room with the broken door, she threw a compact grenade. The grenade bounced off the door frame and then off the wall before hitting the ground in the middle of the room. A deafening explosion erupted.
Vigilantly checking her surroundings, Arashi slowly walked towards the door and peeked into the room. Ageha saw her translucent reflection on the window pane and immediately lifted himself up using his arms. Pulling himself forward with his right hand, he crashed through the window while shielding his face with his left arm. Glass shards flew in the air as he landed on the floor. Arashi turned towards him, her eyes opened wider than usual.
Ageha threw a right uppercut towards her gut, but she twisted her body and avoided the brunt of it. His blow grazed her vest and knocked one of her rifle magazines to the floor.
Was I unconsciously holding back?
Ageha frowned as he analyzed the missed opportunity. He had taken her by surprise. A straight punch to her head would have killed her and ended the fight. Using a slower body blow had been his involuntary attempt at keeping her alive.
Ignoring her dropped ammo, Arashi immediately leapt backwards. Ageha was about to follow her when he noticed a grenade rolling on the ground in front of him. Since it was already on the floor, he instantly deduced that it was not the type that exploded on impact. He kicked the grenade towards Arashi, who had already created a significant distance between them. They both raised their arms to protect their faces. The grenade detonated in the air several feet in front of her and saturated the room with light and sound.
A stun grenade!?
It had exploded right in front of Arashi, so she was likely blinded. Thinking this was his chance to defeat her, Ageha dashed forward while enduring his hazy vision and buzzing eardrums. However, his chase was cut short by a bullet hitting his upper chest. His sweater and skin were blasted off, and his alloy muscle was exposed. The bullet ricocheted, but the impact blew him backwards and robbed him of breath. He rolled on the ground and then quickly dove into an open door to his left. A trail of bullet holes appeared where he had been crouching an instant before.
Ageha wondered why Arashi was unaffected by the flashbang, but something Saya had said before came to mind.
“The more recent models are capable of much more.”
Arashi has bionic eyes.
Ageha surveyed the room while coughing. There were no other exits except for the window. While running towards his only escape route, he saw a grenade bounce off the door frame and into the room. He jumped towards the window and curled up into a ball while in midair. The grenade exploded behind him, scattering shrapnel that battered his back. They did not pierce through his ARMS, but the force hurled him out the window.
He reoriented himself as he fell from the third floor and flipped once in order to face the ground. Landing on all fours like a cat, his cybernetic limbs mitigated the impact. He coughed several more times before he was able to steady his breathing. The damage from the gunshot to his chest was not life threatening. He stood up and looked at the broken window, still belching smoke from the explosion.
Arashi’s face poked out. She looked ecstatic.
Okay, now I’m pissed.
Amazing! He’s so strong!
Arashi was looking down at Ageha, who had just fallen from the third floor. He looked unscathed.
I can’t believe he made that jump after taking a grenade blast!
She made no effort to hide her smile. Her true feelings were laid bare. She had finally found the perfect playmate. She could pour out her everything without reservation.
Arashi knew how formidable her enemy was. Choosing a familiar location as their battlefield and not letting him prepare weapons were part of her strategy to ensure victory. Challenging him alone was a little reckless, but there was no way around it. It was simply more fun that way.
She aimed her rifle, but he had already darted out of sight before she could start shooting. This was the first time she had ever fought against someone of this level. Even her father no longer stood a chance against her in one on one combat. However, her current barehanded opponent had survived her attacks and had almost successfully ambushed her. If she had not luckily dodged his body blow earlier, she would have already been defeated.
She flipped a switch on her rifle and shot a grappling arrow at the fire escape of the neighboring building. She then jumped from the window and used the alloy rope to swing down. After smoothly landing on the asphalt, she vigorously shook the rope to dislodge the arrow and reloaded it into her rifle. Time was precious in her pursuit, but considering her opponent’s mobility, she could not afford to abandon the arrow.
Arashi ran in the direction she last saw Ageha. She spotted him turning into a backstreet and gave chase. Immediately after entering the alley, her eyes almost popped out from what she saw.
A huge metal dumpster was flying towards her.
She instinctively ducked. Spreading her legs wide open, she lowered herself as close to the ground as possible, like a spider. The gigantic projectile brushed her hair. Fear started to contaminate the bliss she was experiencing.
What in the-
The loud sound of the dumpster crashing behind her jolted her awake from her dumbfounded state. She was reminded of the existence of a monster capable of such a feat.
She looked in the direction where the dumpster came from, but no one was there. There was no place to hide in the narrow alley. She looked up but still saw nothing.
It can’t be.
She moved to verify her dreaded suspicion: She had not looked up enough.
Craning her neck, she looked straight up and saw Ageha falling from the night sky more than a dozen feet above her. Right after throwing the dumpster at her, he had apparently jumped in an arc more than two stories high and was now hurtling towards her like a ballistic missile.
She managed to hop back and avoid his stomp but lost her balance. Arashi was forced to block Ageha’s followup roundhouse kick with her rifle. His attack broke her gun in half and pushed her away.
Arashi discarded her unusable weapon and pulled out three grenades. She scattered them in the space between her and Ageha to prevent his pursuit. It was suicide to fight him without a proper weapon, so she prioritized rearming herself and sprinted away. Leaving three explosions in her wake, she headed for one of her backup weapon stashes. The hunter had become the hunted.
She eventually reached a box hidden behind a telephone pole and opened it. After quickly grabbing the submachine gun inside, she filled her vest pockets with compact grenades. Before she could finish arming herself, she heard rapid thuds coming towards her. She turned around and saw Ageha charging at her with insane speed while holding a metal dumpster cover.
She reflexively pointed the submachine gun at him and started shooting, but it did no damage to his thick metal shield. Startled by his sudden charge, Arashi was unable to dodge. She instinctively kicked off the metal ram using her alloy foot. The collision caused her to fly backward several dozen feet, but it was better than being trampled by the makeshift bulldozer. She lessened the damage by rolling to a stop. Her submachine gun slid on the ground to her left.
She reached for her gun using her closer left hand. Her pursuer was already rushing towards her as she stood back up. She intended to create some distance by bounding away using her cybernetic leg, but it had been damaged by the previous attack. It still moved, but there was no way she could outrun Ageha in her current state. She had no choice but to fight it out here.
Ageha flung his shield at her like a frisbee. It almost scraped the tip of her nose as she dodged it by leaning back like a limbo dancer. A punch came flying towards her face before she could recover her stance. She parried it using her right arm and aimed her submachine gun at Ageha’s face. He effortlessly redirected the hail of bullets away from his head by nudging her left arm.
Dammit, I can’t aim properly with this arm!
She let go of her weapon and spun in place counterclockwise. She caught the falling gun with her right hand and ducked low to avoid Ageha’s hook. After completing a full rotation, she shot at his face from below, but the bullets were blocked by Ageha’s arms. Unlike her custom rifle, the submachine gun did not have the power to stagger him.
A metallic click signaled the end of her attack. Seeing her run out of ammo, Ageha grabbed the barrel of the submachine gun and squeezed it like a soda can. Arashi released her mutilated weapon and launched a roundhouse kick targeting his face.
He easily caught her left leg and pulled her up and off her feet. Ageha held her upside down by her leg as she struggled to get free. She punched his leg, but it had no effect because she lacked leverage.
Ageha grabbed the bottom of her vest and ripped it off. His fingers had also caught some of the skin tight fabric covering her, so the front of her grey skintight suit was torn open. Her snow-white bare chest and belly were exposed to the frosty air.
Ageha flipped the stunned girl right side up and held her alloy arm with his right hand. He then wrapped his free arm around her neck, pinning her to his body in a chokehold.
With his lips right beside her ear, he commanded, “Surrender.”
She shook her head.
No! It can’t end like this..!
Arashi was high from the excitement and terror that Ageha incited within her. She could no longer tell if she was having fun or trembling in fear, but she was sure of one thing. She did not want this festival to end.
“Whatever. Let’s talk more once you wake up.”
Ageha tightened his grip on her neck. Arashi struggled and kicked his thighs using her damaged alloy leg, but his much thicker limbs resisted the attacks.
Her vision slowly turned white as blood stopped flowing into her brain. She could no longer move her body, so using her last ounce of willpower, she squeezed out a word.
Gunshots rang out.
Ageha released Arashi after taking several hits on his back. Arashi quickly grasped the situation and scurried away.
Ageha took cover behind the wall of the nearest building. Arashi used this chance to escape. She knew that her father would follow suit as soon as she had left the area. Leaving her dance partner behind, she bit her lip in regret as she disappeared into the labyrinth of abandoned buildings.
Hours later at their temporary base of operations, Souichi meted out Arashi’s punishment for confronting their target alone.
“I’ve seen you do a ton of stupid crap, but this takes the cake.”
Souichi stepped on Arashi’s head and pressed it onto the ground. She was still in her torn suit, so her naked breasts were being squished onto the cold flooring. She did not struggle because she was too badly beaten up to do so.
“You’d be dead now if I hadn’t noticed that your gear was missing. Now he knows that we’re targeting him. This mission has become much more difficult than it was supposed to be.”
He ground the sole of his boot onto Arashi’s skull. Her usually unkempt hair was now a complete mess. Tears and saliva pooled on the floor beside her face.
“I’m not even going to ask why you went solo. I’ll never understand what goes on in that defective head of yours anyway. But remember, never disobey my orders again.”
He finished off the lecture by kicking Arashi in the gut. She floated a few inches off the ground due to the impact. Souichi had hardly put any strength into the kick, but his cybernetic leg had easily lifted Arashi’s petite frame into the air.
“At least now you know what kind of monster we’re dealing with.” Souichi walked away from her.
No, he’s not a monster.
He understood me.
He fed me.
He showed me amazing things.
He patted my head, just like mother did.
He played with me tonight.
Above all, he’s invincible.
As I thought, Ageha… is a god.
He’s my god.
I can’t wait to see you again.
I can’t wait to kill you.
While plotting to kill her god, Arashi fell in love.