Ageha placed a large pot of beef stew beside a small rice cooker on the table.
Kaika leaned forward in her chair and looked into the pot. “What’s with this absurd amount? We can’t eat all this.”
“This should last until tomorrow. It’s better to cook in large batches to reduce my time spent cooking.”
“But you love to cook, don’t you?”
“That’s a luxury now. I need to be on guard as much as possible.” He returned to the small kitchen just a few paces away and grabbed plates and spoons.
“Just don’t burn yourself out.”
“This much is nothing.”
“As expected of my ‘unbeatable warrior,’” she said with a smirk.
“I said that in the heat of the moment. Stop dredging it up.”
“It had a lot of impact. I was shocked, seeing someone so old suffering from 8th grade syndrome.”
“I’m not suffering from such a stupid thing, and I’m not old.” He set the table and sat down in front of Kaika.
“Looks like you’re lively enough to joke around.”
“I could say the same to you.”
“You should know by now that I’m only acting. I already embarrassed myself in front of you more than enough,” she said with a bittersweet smile.
He glanced at her bandaged hands and kept silent.
Kaika looked him straight in the eyes and continued, “I’m actually surprised you’re handling it so well.”
It was obvious what the word “it” referred to. Saya’s death overshadowed everything.
“…I’m not handling it at all.” His face was devoid of expression. “I’m just prioritizing your safety above everything else. Anything unrelated to that can wait.”
“You aren’t thinking of something stupid, are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like killing yourself after getting rid of Kazuki?”
“You can’t kill something that’s already dead.”
“Here we go again with your 8th grade syndrome.”
He smiled at her jab and shrugged his shoulders, but Kaika easily saw through his crude facade.
Such a hollow smile won’t fool anyone.
If you don’t want people to worry, at least try as hard as I do.
He served the stew with rice and started eating. Kaika followed his example and put a spoonful of meat and carrot in her mouth.
I didn’t think you cared for her this much…
The stew was absolutely tasteless. It was cooked perfectly. The meat was mouthwateringly tender, the vegetables were nice and firm, and the sauce was the ideal consistency. However, it was hardly seasoned.
Did losing Saya disable you this badly?
Kaika did not know the cause of this mishap. Seeing Ageha eating as if nothing was wrong, she wondered if he had lost his sense of taste. It was possible that taste did not even matter to him anymore.
Not like I’m doing any better…
With Saya gone, Kaika could not even do the most basic things correctly. Rin had acted as a substitute when Kaika stayed at her apartment, but Ageha was a young man. It was impossible for him to bathe or clothe her, much less fashion her hair. Kaika had tried her best, but her attempt, much like the time she had worn Kureha’s gift for the first time, had failed. Her head looked like a mess, but Ageha had not even commented on it.
Kaika continued to shovel the bland morsels into her mouth. This was no time to be picky, and calling Ageha out on his cooking could further exacerbate his condition. She could not help but sigh.
I’m so tired…
Kaika had bags under her eyes. She had returned to her previous sleeping habits, but sharing a bed with Rin had accustomed her to longer and more restful sleep. Her body was having trouble with the sudden reversion.
Their meal was interrupted by an alarm coming from Kaika’s terminal. It was connected to cameras and motion detectors they had placed around their newly rented house. She immediately checked the display.
“We’ve got company.”
“This is the place, right?” asked a man wearing a grey military uniform and an earpiece.
His partner was dressed in an urban camouflage outfit. They observed the building to their left from inside a parked car.
“Yeah. The caretaker reported that a man resembling Ageha Shikimi is renting this house. All that money and effort spent casting the net finally paid off.”
“Let’s go then.” The man opened the car door.
“Hey, shouldn’t we wait for the new guys? Nikaidou-sama said we shouldn’t move until the strike team is complete.”
“You mean that old fart and that girl? Putting the geezer aside, there’s no way I’m trusting my back to such a green brat.”
“…I gotta agree.”
“Besides, there’re more than a dozen of us already here. What can one man do?”
They both got out of the car. It was late at night, and the street was deserted.
The leader, eager to get things over with, pressed a button on his earpiece and said, “All teams, we’re moving out. Team Spider and Zodiac, cover the rear entrance. Team Phantom, join us out here in front. We’ll launch an assault and eliminate the target, Ageha Shikimi. Don’t forget that Kaika Nikaidou must be kept alive if possible.”
“Does that mean she must be unharmed?” asked a voice coming from his earpiece.
“No, one or two missing limbs shouldn’t matter. Our employer even said we can have some fun with her.” He made a lecherous smile.
The teams left their vehicles and moved into position. Team Phantom approached the two men in front of the house.
“Are all teams ready?”
The man’s head was smashed onto the pavement and his brain splattered all over the tarmac.
Crushing a man’s head underfoot, Ageha landed on the street in front of the house. He had jumped from the balcony after Kaika gave him the go signal. She had easily identified the leader of the operation and had ordered Ageha to kill him first.
The man beside the corpse, likely the second-in-command, looked horrified after seeing his leader’s head obliterated.
Ageha did not give him time to recover and smashed his head open with a fierce punch. Brains spewed out, dying his fist crimson. Ageha turned to the next target.
He normally held back when fighting human enemies in melee combat. He used only enough force to kill them because that was more efficient and reduced the amount of blood and meat that splattered on him. However, this battle was unlike those he had fought before.
I have to protect Kai.
Considering that, he had decided to use his full power. Fighting while defending Kaika was impossible. A single bullet going her way would end it all, so he had to make sure all the muzzles were directed at him.
The only way to do that was to become a threat that required undivided attention. His typical minimalist fighting style did evoke terror in his enemies, but that level of fear would likely make them avoid fighting him and go after his weakness, Kaika.
He had to give the impression that turning their backs to him would lead to their immediate destruction. He needed to shed his human skin and unleash his true monstrosity.
He kicked the practically headless corpse towards a group of five mercenaries. They avoided it by diving to the side.
Seeing them scatter, Ageha approached the car parked in front of their house and ripped off the door. He normally used objects as a shield, but a defensive fight would put Kaika at risk. This time, he had acquired a weapon to increase his reach.
Ageha leapt towards the group across the street and smashed one of them sideways using the car door. The impact threw the man onto a concrete wall, breaking his skull on contact. The other four started shooting at him, but he paid them no heed. They were too close for guns to be effective. A quick sidestep by Ageha caused them to lose their target. Using the car door like a battle axe, he cleaved two of the mercs in one swing.
He noticed that one of the remaining two opponents was calling for backup and decided to finish up quickly. With full force, he threw the car door at the one with the radio as he dashed in the direction of the last remaining enemy.
A bullet grazed his ear and ripped off a small piece of it. Ageha ignored the trivial wound and threw an uppercut into the merc’s abdomen. The blow sent the merc flying more than a dozen feet into the air before crashing into the ground.
Ageha turned to confirm if his makeshift tomahawk had hit its mark. The merc was sprawled on the ground. His head was tilted in an odd way, indicating that the car door had collided with his head or neck.
Bullets hit Ageha’s back. A group of ten mercs had appeared from the alleyway beside the house. He was pleasantly surprised by their stupidity. They should have split into two teams and performed a pincer attack, but they foolishly moved in a single pack instead. The death of their leader had probably made them panic. Kaika’s contribution to this fight had become apparent.
Ageha leapt into the air and landed on the other side of the parked car. He grabbed the car’s chassis from the bottom and tipped the car onto side. The makeshift barricade shielded him from a barrage of gunfire.
Ageha ripped off two of the car’s tires and lobbed them over to the enemy group. One of them was so terrified at Ageha’s display of inhuman strength that a tire actually hit him and knocked him out. Ageha repeated this action using the two remaining tires.
Using this distraction, Ageha sprinted into the alleyway on the opposite side of the house. Along with the flying tires that grabbed their attention, the flipped car prevented the mercs from noticing Ageha’s escape. They continued to shoot at the car, causing it to catch fire. After emptying their magazines, the mercs hurriedly reloaded their weapons as they stared at the flaming spectacle.
By this time, Ageha had already completed his lap of the house and taken the enemies’ back. He launched a spinning kick at one of them. The man blocked it with his cybernetic arm, but that was not enough to kill the momentum. The sheer force of the attack blasted the man onto the burning car, setting him aflame. He screamed frantically, grabbing the attention of his teammates for a split second.
In that span of time, Ageha had already killed two more people by smashing their heads together.
“Aim for his head!!!” shouted one of the men.
Too little, too late.
He had been completely underestimated. These mercs should have been informed about Ageha’s abilities. However, they had not taken into account how the human mind reacted to seeing something stupefying firsthand. Watching a war movie was completely different from being in a battlefield. The enemy had been naive and had not mentally prepared themselves for an encounter with a true beast.
Ageha dove downward and avoided several bullets targeting his head. He then placed both palms on the floor and performed a wide sweeping kick with both his legs extended. The attack shattered the shinbones of three mercs.
As he stood up, Ageha grabbed the leg of a collapsed merc and used him to club two of his reloading allies. Only one merc was left standing, but he screamed and turned tail. Ageha used this chance to finish off the two mercs writhing on the ground due to their broken legs.
The mercs he struck using their ally had managed to stand up, but their guns were still out of ammo. Ageha made short work of them by crushing their windpipes with his fingers.
The only enemy left was the deserter. He had created some distance, but it was an exercise in futility. Lowering his torso, Ageha blasted off into a sprint and easily caught up to the hapless merc. He did not even actively attack and simply ran him over. The merc’s torso was trampled and crushed.
Ageha shook the blood off his limbs. He wanted to rinse off in the shower, but he and Kaika did not have the luxury of time. More enemies were surely coming, so they needed to leave immediately.
Ageha heard a crashing noise from behind him. He turned and saw a merc holding a handgun fall to the ground, along with a large pot of beef stew. The merc knocked out by the tire earlier had apparently woken up and had approached him from behind to get a shot at his head. Ageha was lucky the merc had stopped right under the balcony. He had almost been killed, assuming that the merc could hit his head with the first shot.
“What would you do without me!?” shouted Kaika from the balcony. She was carrying a large rucksack on her back.
“Words fail me.” He smiled, his face still coated with blood.
Kaika beckoned him over, so he jogged towards the house.
“Come fetch me,” she said.
“You can just run down here. If that’s too much of a chore, you can jump down. I’ll catch you.”
“Your arms wouldn’t be much of a cushion, considering they are harder than the ground. Just get over here.”
Ageha sighed and jumped onto the balcony.
“Here’s a towel for you,” said Kaika as she handed him a white towel.
“I just don’t want blood getting on me.”
“What do you mean?” he asked while hurriedly wiping the blood off his body. He was in his battle suit, so the liquid had not soaked in. He had been wearing it under his everyday clothes in preparation for the unexpected, and that had paid off.
“Carry this on your back.” She dropped the rucksack in front of him. “And carry me in your arms. That’s the fastest way.”
Ageha thought for a bit and agreed. Carrying Kaika would be far faster than having her run for herself. He obediently did as ordered.
“Wait, I forgot something,” said Ageha.
Carrying Kaika in his arms, he jumped down the balcony and landed on the street. He walked towards the unconscious man beside the stew pot and stomped on his chest. The man’s rib cage instantly caved in, crushing his heart.
“It took me two hours to make that,” he said.
Kaika snorted. “How petty. It’s not like we could’ve brought it along.”
“Wasting food is a pet peeve of mine.”
Kaika peeked at the man with the squashed torso and then at her prince.
I’m starting to become uncertain which one of us is more of a monster.
Kaika, smiling happily, wrapped her arms around his neck. Ageha, with their entire fortune on his back and his raison d’être in his arms, traversed the city in the dead of the night in search of a new sanctuary.