A man in his early forties tumbled backward and crashed into a low wooden table, breaking it pieces. A kitchen knife flew from his hand and smacked into a closet before falling to the tatami.
“That’s no good, Yotsuga-san. I get running away, but attacking me with a knife like that…” said a tall blonde woman in a white suit. Her opulent breasts, barely covered by her thin black camisole, jiggled slightly as she passed through the doorstep of the small Japanese-style apartment. Without bothering to remove her shoes, she stepped on the woven straw flooring and sat down on a wooden stool. She cracked her neck and crossed her legs, the flared end of her white slacks creasing underneath her calf.
Yotsuga slowly stood up and glared at the woman, but his body was trembling.
What a coward.
“You two, make sure the neighbors don’t get in the way,” she said as she took out a pack of cigarettes from her jacket.
“Understood, Valeriya-sama,” said one of the two men in suits standing just outside the apartment. He whispered something to his partner and then closed the door.
With a flick of her wrist, Valeriya ejected a single stick from the cigarette pack and wrapped her lips around it. She then took out a silver lighter with her right hand.
“Stop,” said Yotsuga.
She raised an eyebrow. “What did you say?”
“I said stop. This room is non-smoking.”
Valeriya laughed from the pit of her stomach. She had a hard time figuring out if the man before her was unexpectedly brave or simply insane. Having no information to tip the scales either way, she capriciously decided it was the former and put away her cigarette.
“You know why I’m here, Yotsuga-san. It wasn’t easy finding you. I hope you make it worth my while.”
“…I-I don’t have the money yet. But-”
“I knew that much the moment you tried to stab me. I also know you’re about to beg for more time, but unfortunately, I have none to give.”
“Please!” He groveled on the floor. “Just give me a few more weeks!”
Valeriya crossed her arms. “I know you’re a good person, Yotsuga-san. I also know you borrowed the money for a friend. Too bad he disappeared the second you handed it to him, but that’s not my problem.” She closed her eyes and slightly furrowed her brow. “I’m quite sure you intend to pay me back as soon as you can.”
“But no matter how much you believe yourself, there’s no way I can. Unfortunately, I am not a good person. The reality is there’s no way you can pay up before I lose face.”
“…Lose face?” He raised his head and looked at her sapphire irises.
“The money you borrowed is a pittance to me, but that doesn’t mean I can let you skip payment. It’s a matter of respect. If I go soft on even one person, my peers would stop taking me seriously. In my line of business, that’s…” She made circular motions with her right hand while searching for the word. “…suicidal.”
“What can I do!? Please, please give me one more chance! Just tell me what to do!!!”
Valeriya took a deep breath and sighed. “I don’t normally do this, but since you had the guts to try to kill me, I’ll make an exception. You have a daughter, correct? I can give you an extension if you give her to me as collateral. She can even be part of the payment, if you want. Depending on her looks, I can shave off a good amount.”
Yotsuga’s face twisted in despair, and he lowered his head again. While staring at the floor, he shook his head and mumbled something.
“What was that?” she asked.
“…I already sold her.” He hammered the floor with his fist. “I thought I could buy her back immediately if I won in the races!!!” He looked up and wildly flailed his arms while explaining. “I was so close! Listen to me! That race was definitely rigged! Next time, I’ll definitely-”
Cold mercury circulated through Valeriya’s veins.
“Our talk ends here.” Valeriya stood up and kicked him in the gut.
He collapsed into the fetal position, but she mechanically opened him up with polished grappling techniques. She then proceeded to break both his arms with ease.
Valeriya was not against buying children, especially if they were better off bought, but she loathed parents who sold their own blood nonetheless. She could not help it. Valeriya was born fated to never have children of her own.
She had considered giving Yotsuga a chance if he refused to sell his daughter. She had also considered giving him a chance if he agreed to sell his daughter to her, but only if the child was of considerable quality. None of the possible outcomes were influenced by righteousness. All hinged on her whims.
Only the sound of Yotsuga’s raspy breathing could be heard in the small room. His consciousness flickered because of the pain from his injuries. Valeriya looked at him in disgust and decided to end it. She grabbed his hair and pulled him up. Without any hesitation, she smashed her knuckles into his throat. With a muffled crunching sound, the front part of his neck caved in, and his head bent forward unnaturally. What remained was an irrefutable image of death.
The closet door slid open. A small shadow leapt from the darkness. Despite her surprise, Valeriya’s honed reflexes allowed her to react. The small creature pounced on the kitchen knife on the ground and bounded towards her. She prepared to defend herself, but her enemy disappeared.
A searing pain assailed her right arm. She screamed in agony when the creature stabbed her a second time. Regaining her wits, she parried the third strike with her left forearm and firmly grasped her attacker’s hand.
Valeriya finally got a good look at her enemy.
She could not describe it, her, any other way. Long ebony hair, blazing obsidian eyes, ravenously smiling pink lips. A small child, likely younger than ten, struggled fiercely to free herself from Valeriya’s grasp.
The apartment door flew open.
“Valeriya-sama! Are you alright!?” shouted her subordinate as he rushed into the room. Seeing the deadlock between his boss and a wild animal, he drew his gun and took aim.
“Hold your fire!” screamed Valeriya.
Her subordinate stopped in his tracks. Of course he had. She had trained him herself.
Valeriya looked at the child clinging to her blood-dyed suit. Fury and insanity burned in the girl’s eyes. Her mouth was foaming, and blood trickled down her chin, likely from biting her own tongue. Valeriya instinctively realized that the child was on the verge of breaking. By pinning her down, she had dammed up the girl’s the volcanic emotions, causing them to torch her from within.
The child’s anger was understandable. Valeriya had just brutally murdered her father, a man who willingly gave his life in order to protect his daughter. She released her grip on the girl’s hand.
Her subordinate tried to approach, but she stopped him by raising her left hand. The girl mindlessly stabbed the knife into Valeriya’s right arm over and over, as if she spurned that limb in particular. With tears rolling down her face, Valeriya bit her suit collar as she endured the torture. Clenching her left fist until it bled, she desperately resisted the urge to rip the girl away from her. Her subordinate could do nothing but watch as his boss’s arm got torn apart by the small girl.
After completely filleting Valeriya’s upper arm, the girl lost strength and fainted. Valeriya embraced her with her remaining arm as her own consciousness left her. They crumpled to the crimson tatami and slept while clinging to each other, like a loving mother and child.
“How are you feeling?” asked Valeriya.
The girl continued to gaze out the window. She was sitting up on a large fluffy bed. A tray of untouched food was in front of her.
The white-suited woman at her bedside, her daily visitor, had introduced herself as Valeriya. But to the girl, she was only her father’s killer. Strangely, she felt no hatred for the woman. Whenever she tried to gather enmity against her, all she could feel was emptiness, as if a bottomless pit had been dug out of her heart.
“You have to eat. Even with an IV drip, there’s nothing that’ll beat good food when it comes to recovery. Especially sweets.” Valeriya pointed at the stack of pancakes covered in maple syrup.
That doesn’t make sense.
She was not hurt. There was no need to recover. She had apparently slept for about a week before regaining consciousness. This was Valeriya’s third visit since. Doing the math, she concluded that ten days had passed since her father was killed.
“Those are delicious. I love pancakes, so the kitchen was forced, I mean, eager to perfect them.”
But the girl did not even look at her.
Valeriya sighed deeply and lit a cigarette. She took a puff and blew it away from the bed. However, a few wisps of smoke still made its way into the girl’s lungs. She started coughing violently.
“What’s wrong!?” asked Valeriya with a panicked expression. She immediately put out her cigarette and rubbed the girl’s back gently, but her coughing fit continued.
Valeriya hurriedly called for help. A doctor came and gave the girl asthma medicine. After her symptoms subsided, the doctor handed her an inhaler. Valeriya spoke with the doctor, but they were too far away for her to hear anything.
The girl eyed her captor. Worry wrinkled the blonde’s fetching face. She was undeniably a beautiful woman, on par with popular foreign actresses. However, her right sleeve dangled lifelessly beside her. The girl wondered what had happened to her missing arm.
Eventually, the doctor left. Valeriya walked up to her bed and bowed her head.
“I didn’t know you had asthma. I’m sorry.” Valeriya straightened up and knocked herself on the head. “So that’s why Yotsuga stopped me from smoking that night,” she mumbled. “I should’ve figured that out sooner.”
The girl looked at her curiously.
What does she want?
The woman’s motive was a mystery. The girl wondered if she was being nursed back to health in order to be sold. She remembered hearing something like that in that dark closet. The memory of that night surfaced, causing her body to tremble ferociously. Seeing that, Valeriya reached out to her but stopped the moment she turned her head away. Without further conversation, Valeriya stayed with her until night fell.
The girl felt a little less afraid of her. She hated herself for it.
Valeriya visited her every day. In place of a cigarette, she always had a lollipop in her mouth. She told stories about her life, badmouthed her enemies, ranted about her subordinates, and constantly asked how the girl was feeling. She never answered. She never ate the food Valeriya brought her. Despite being injected with nutrients, her body was becoming thinner and weaker by the day.
One night, Valeriya asked her, “What can I do to make you eat? You’re going to die at this rate.”
The girl wanted to say “disappear” but failed. She did not understand why she could not hate this woman. And she hated herself for it.
Valeriya decided to take her outside as a change of pace. She was placed in a wheelchair and rolled around parks, shopping malls, and movie theaters. They visited a restaurant once, but she still refused to eat. They were always alone together because her captor did not bring her men.
On a day with perfectly clear weather, Valeriya took her to the sea. The blonde sang Russian sailor songs as she pushed the girl’s wheelchair on the sand. The wide wheels easily rolled over the fine white grains without sinking. Throughout their trips, her captor kept trying to talk to her, and that day was no exception.
Valeriya pointed at a ship visible in the horizon. “When I was thirteen, I stowed away on a cargo ship like that. After a few days of hiding, the sailors found me so I jumped overboard. I didn’t know how to swim, but I heard that big breasts float in water so I was sure I’d be fine.” Valeriya dropped her shoulders. “The sailors rescued me minutes later. After getting plopped on the deck like a fish, I vocally blamed my breasts for not being large enough. The men on board laughed at me.”
Of course they would!
The girl suppressed a giggle.
“Since then, my boobs stopped growing. I always wondered if they sulked because I shouted at them on the ship.”
You were that big at thirteen!?
“After that incident, they let me ride all the way for free if I let them squeeze my boobs from time to time. They must’ve liked my jokes.”
That’s not free at all!
And it’s your boobs they liked!
The girl found herself liking Valeriya’s stories. And she hated herself for it.
Her hunger strike continued, but not through willpower. It was the opposite. She did not even have the will to eat. Seeing her condition worsen, Valeriya’s health started deteriorating as well. Despite the growing bags under the Russian’s eyes, her thinning neck, and her weakening voice, she continued to care for her. That pained the girl’s heart. And she hated herself for it.
On one of their trips, a man grabbed her from her wheelchair while Valeriya was busy paying for her new clothes. He did not gag her, which was understandable because she always acted like a doll and never spoke. The kidnapper probably thought she was mute. She considered screaming for help.
“I have the girl! I’m headed to the van now! With this, we can finally get rid of that Russian bitch!”
The girl immediately understood who he was referring to. The hatred growing inside her finally reared its head. She quietly closed her eyes and allowed herself to be taken away.
Like always, Valeriya visited her again that night. But instead of her room, they were in a cargo warehouse by the pier. More than a dozen men focused on Valeriya as she confidently walked into the trap.
“I can’t believe you really came alone, and unarmed too,” said a lanky man in a light grey chinese collar suit.
“You were the ones who said I should.” Valeriya shrugged her shoulders.
The men surrounded her as she went further into the building. The girl, sitting on the ground by the far wall, stared at her dumbfoundedly.
The men hurled curses and insults at Valeriya, but she ignored them and continued towards the girl. When they were about twenty paces apart, their eyes met. The girl felt an overwhelming emotion erupt from inside her.
“Why did you come here!?” she screamed.
“To save you.”
“But they’re going to kill you!”
“No they won’t.”
Laughter rumbled around them. None of the men there believed that either of them had any chance of survival.
The girl trembled as she bit her lip. She tried to undo the knots shackling her wrists, but they were too tight. She did not want to see Valeriya get killed. And she hated herself for it.
She hated herself for caring for Valeriya. But that hatred did not stem from guilt towards her murdered father. For some reason, she did not see Valeriya as an enemy, so there was no reason to feel guilty.
Fear fueled her hatred. She was deathly terrified of losing another person she loved, so she had decided to never care for anyone again. Each time she got closer to Valeriya, she loathed herself for failing to resist the temptation of taking that risk, of exposing herself to such danger.
She had allowed herself to be kidnapped in order to be separated from Valeriya. If she left her captivating captor, she could escape from her fears. Or so she had thought. It had not occurred to her that Valeriya would risk her own life to save her.
But she was there. And it was too late. To the girl who had no one else, Valeriya was already too important.
“Please… Please don’t die! I won’t forgive you if you leave me too!” she shouted.
Valeriya chuckled with a sinister expression. “I can see it… “ She then grinned with overflowing excitement and shouted, “I can see the ending!”
With an exasperated look, the apparent leader Chinese Collar approached her from the left and said, “Do you even understand what position you-”
He failed to complete his sentence because Valeriya broke his jaw with an elbow strike. She then slid her hand into his jacket and pulled out his revolver. Using his body as a shield, she shot two people with perfect accuracy. She unloaded a bullet into his skinny back and dashed towards the girl. Four men blocked her way.
The other enemies aimed their pistols at her back, but she sidestepped to the right an instant before they fired. Their bullets hit a man in front of her instead. While running forward, she turned her head and shot two more people behind her.
Three men remained between Valeriya and the girl. The closest one threw a straight punch. She weaved underneath it and slipped to his back. Valeriya then rammed his spine with her shoulder while tripping him with her left leg. He stumbled forward, blocking the gunfire aimed at her with his body.
The second man tried to knock her out with a hook, but she parried it as she stomped on his foot. He lost his balance. She pivoted on the man’s shoe, twirled to his back, and used him as cover. Several bullets plunged into the man’s torso. Valeriya darted towards the last man standing between her and the girl.
The lone enemy panicked and raised his handgun despite Valeriya’s close proximity. He aimed at her face and pulled the trigger. She casually tilted her head and let the bullet fly by. The deafening sound made her wince, but the pain did not stop her from shooting him point blank in the chest.
She discarded the empty revolver and scooped up the girl from the ground. While carrying the girl on her shoulder, the blonde bolted to the side, bulletholes appearing in her wake.
“Now!” screamed Valeriya.
Heavily armed soldiers stormed the warehouse. They proceeded to annihilate the remaining opposition. The difference in weapons and training led to a massacre. Less than thirty seconds had passed from the moment Valeriya initiated combat until all hostiles had been eliminated.
What just happened?
The girl had seen everything but was unable to process it. The blood pooling beneath the corpses entered her vision, and a pungent, fishy scent coated her nostrils. She began to convulse. A familiar voice, her own, rang in her head.
“You don’t have to see this.”
“Close your eyes.”
Noticing her abnormality, Valeriya quickly carried her outside, sat her in the car, and embraced her tightly with her lone arm. “It’s alright. You’re safe.”
The girl vomited, spewing water and stomach juices all over Valeriya’s white suit. Wrapped in an unfaltering embrace, the girl’s trembling gradually died down.
After several minutes of silence, the girl squirmed within Valeriya’s arms.
“How are you feeling?” asked Valeriya.
“…You always ask me that.”
“And you finally answered.” Valeriya smiled even though she was on the verge of tears.
“Huh!? Did I miss a flag somewhere!?”
“I mean, I feel terrible.”
“Oh, great! I mean, no, that’s bad isn’t it!?”
“…I thought they were going to kill you.”
With absolutely no hesitation, she said, “Impossible.”
“Putting aside the fact that I’m invincible,” said Valeriya as she tightened her embrace, “I will never leave you alone.”
A crack ran through the girl’s shell of dread. A beam of light shone into her world of silence and solitude.
If it’s this person…
If it’s Valeriya…
“Mitsuki,” said the girl.
“My name.” Mitsuki felt tears dropping on her neck. “Hey, why are you crying?”
Valeriya’s sobs broke up her speech. “But… I tried so hard… and finally… finally..!”
“You knew my name from the start, right?”
“I… I wanted to hear it from you..!”
Mitsuki wrapped her arms firmly around Valeriya’s neck. Neither of them cared about the smell of vomit and gunpowder.
Valeriya was strong enough, permanent enough, to release her from her curse. She had given Mitsuki the courage to care for someone again.
A familiar emotion, one she had abandoned after her father died, began filling her hollowed soul.
She felt happy.
So happy, in fact, that she decided to ignore Valeriya letting go of her and doing a fist pump.
The words “Capture successful!” were a bit harder to disregard, but she managed.