Ageha secured a makeshift tourniquet, made from Saya’s torn sleeve, around her upper arm. “That should do it.”
The bleeding from her stab wound stopped. The procedure had taken more time than he expected because of the mangled fingers on his right hand. They were alone in the arena’s prep room, so he had no choice but to treat her by himself.
“Sorry for the trouble.” Leaning weakly against the wall, Saya adjusted her position on a long metal bench to let Ageha bandage her injured leg.
“Don’t worry about it.” Ageha splinted her broken knee using a pole he twisted off a table and his own sleeve. “Any better?”
“Yes. It does not hurt as much.”
“Good.” He checked her condition.
Saya looked pale, and her breathing was unusually fast. He touched her face and stroked her cold, clammy skin.
She lost a lot of blood.
“We need to get you to a doctor,” he said.
“I can call for one with my terminal.” She pointed at one of the lockers in the room.
Ageha nodded and stood up. As he approached her locker, the prep room door swung open. Several security personnel rushed in. Ageha quickly moved in between them and Saya. He took a fighting stance as the four men aimed their shotguns at him.
“Move away from Gazelle,” said one of the men in uniform. “Please come with us.”
“What’s this about?” asked Ageha.
“You are to be detained for violating arena regulations. If you do not comply, we will take you by force.”
“Violating arena regulations? What exactly did I do?”
He wondered if it was about the spectator he openly killed in the semi-finals.
“Evidence of illegal conduct in your matches has surfaced.”
Did they find out about the assassinations?
“Call my sponsor Valeriya Varrenikov. I’m sure she will get this sorted out.”
“It was Varrenikov-sama who reported your violations.”
Ageha’s world grinded to a halt.
Ria did what?
The leader of the security team placed a finger on the trigger. “Please come peacefully. We do not want anyone to needlessly get hurt.”
Ageha turned to the young woman behind him. If he fought in such a small room, she would likely get hurt. The enemies were carrying shotguns. According to what they said, they did not bear any ill will towards Saya.
Should I surrender?
He clenched his jaw, unsure what to do.
“Ageha-sama.” Like a splash of cold water, Saya’s calm voice woke him up. “You cannot trust them.”
“…But we have no choice,” he said as he lowered his arms. “Alright, I’ll go with you. In exchange, please make sure she gets treated.”
“Affirmative.” With a sigh of relief, the man motioned to his subordinates.
Two of them lowered their guns and approached him.
He peeked at Saya and said, “Sorry.”
“You must not go with them! Who knows what-”
Ageha grabbed the long metal bench and pulled it out from under her. He swung it horizontally, whacking the two approaching men into the wall.
“Open fi-” A flying bench smashed into the leader.
The remaining guard fired, but the shotgun pellets bounced off Ageha’s alloy arms and body. Saya, who had fallen to the floor, escaped the shower of lead unscathed. The guard ran out the door while calling for backup. Ageha gave chase and silenced him, but not before the transmission was sent.
Ageha rushed back into the room. “We have to get out of here.”
“You do not know how to treat a woman,” said Saya. “A gentlemen pulls out a chair for a lady to sit, not from underneath her.”
“I said sorry beforehand, didn’t I?” He gently collected her from the floor and placed her on his back.
“You could at least carry me in your arms.”
“This way is safer and faster.”
Saya nipped his uninjured ear, her warm tongue wetting his skin. “I know, I just wanted to trouble you a little,” she said with a sultry voice.
Why is she so bold when high?
Disorientation was a sign of shock. Ageha decided to hurry.
He dashed out of the room and down the corridor. After turning several corners, they heard the sound of clacking boots coming from the far end of the hallway. Ageha turned at the nearest corner to avoid the security squad. The footfalls disappeared in the direction of the exit he usually used. He decided to search for another way out.
“Can you loosen your hold a little?” he asked.
“Sorry.” Saya relaxed her cybernetic arm a little, allowing him to breathe easier. Her injured arm hung loosely over his shoulder. “It can be a little hard to control.”
“Hard to believe after seeing your knife-throwing.”
“I have thoroughly practiced that for the past few months. Even then it is hard to fine-tune the power. Ojousama’s new bodyguard taught me how to use this arm in exchange for close combat lessons. I am really grateful to her. This skill has saved me many times.”
A female with those skills…
A certain teen matching that description came to mind. Ageha got suspicious but decided not to jump to conclusions. His shoddy deductions about Gazelle’s identity had taught him he was not suited for detective work.
Not minding the blood on his cheek, Saya gently pressed against him. “It is not all good, though. I caused problems for Ojousama when I crushed a coconut without meaning to.”
Was she making Rendang or something?
They passed an intersection and heard a shout. “Over there!”
Ageha clicked his tongue and ran away. He could not fight while carrying Saya on his back. Even if he put Saya down in a safe place, engaging the guards would only tighten the noose around their necks. Enemy reinforcements would cut off their escape routes if they dallied in one place.
He felt lucky that the only working cameras in the building were pointed at the ring. Excluding those, photography and filming of any kind were prohibited because the arena’s clientele greatly valued privacy, or so Valeriya said.
Turn after turn, Ageha kept searching for a way to shake their pursuers. He reached a corridor ending in a locked iron gate. He destroyed the lock and opened the door, revealing a flight of stairs. Thinking it was a decent enough place for refuge, he closed the door behind him and jumped down.
Saya had not said a word for a while now. A cold, creeping fear invaded Ageha’s heart, but the warm breaths caressing his ear chased it away.
At the bottom of the stairs, he found a long, dimly lit hallway with numerous doors lining each side. Each door had a small rectangular window large enough to peek through. A red pair of eyes peeped out from one of them.
“You’re not a guard…” said a voice from behind the door. “Did you escape!? Please help me! Get me out of here!”
A chorus of similar pleas started raining down on Ageha.
This must be where the disposable entertainers are kept.
There were no guards. They had probably been mobilized to search for the runaways.
Ageha considered freeing the prisoners to distract their pursuers but decided against it. More escapees could cause the arena administration to take more drastic measures. He wanted to escape the building as quickly and quietly as possible.
Ageha traversed the dark corridor until he reached a dead end. As expected, there was only one path to and from the jail. He backtracked, hoping that none of the guards had managed to trail them. Precious time was ticking away. He could feel Saya’s cheek losing warmth by the minute.
“Hey you! I know a way to escape from here!” said a man from inside a cell near the end of the hallway. “Get me out of this box and I’ll show you!”
They could not see each others’ faces, but Ageha recognized the voice. The information he got from Akane came to mind.
He approached the cell and broke the lock. As he pushed the door open, words of gratitude quickly changed to a shriek of terror.
“Long time no see,” he said.
“A-Ageha!? Why are you here!?” Jin scrambled deeper inside his cell until his back hit the brick wall.
Ageha ignored his question and put Saya down. “I wanted to make you suffer more than Rin did, but I have no time.” He stepped towards his childhood friend.
“Wait!” Like a crab, Jin scurried sideways along the wall until he reached the corner of the tiny room. “I wasn’t lying about the escape route! You’re trying to get out of here, right? I heard the guards talking about a runaway before they took off earlier.” Jin glanced at Saya. “You can’t fight your way out of here while carrying her!”
Ageha did not cease his approach. “That’s a good idea. It gives me an excuse to torture you for information.”
“I said wait, okay!?” Jin raised both hands, signaling for him to stop. “It’s not that simple! Even if I want to, it’ll take a while to explain the route in detail! You don’t have the time for that!”
Jin was right. Aside from the time it would take to squeeze the information out of him, Ageha could not trust its validity. If they went together, his wiley childhood friend had to guide them to safety because his own freedom would be at stake.
I’ll just kill him after we get out of here.
Ageha stopped. “Okay. I won’t kill you for now. Get up and lead the way.”
“That’s not good enough.”
A scowl appeared on his face. “What?”
Jin trembled like a cornered mouse but his voice was resolute. “You have to promise that you will let me go for today. I’m not gonna lead you out of here just to get killed.”
Ageha decided to lie. “…Understood. I can always kill you later.”
Ageha’s twitching eyebrow betrayed his surprise.
“Why are you so shocked? I’m a conman. This is what I do. The only reason you tricked me that night was because you had a mask on. I can see right through your poker face.”
“And I thought I’d gotten better at it too.”
“Compared to when we were kids, maybe. I can’t tell if you’re lying with that straight face, but that’s all.” Jin smirked, traces of his fright evaporating. “Not giving away a lie is different from telling the truth. I need to see your sincerity.”
“You sound pretty arrogant for someone with one foot in the grave.” Ageha stepped forward.
“That’s because I finally finished my read on you. You’re desperate.” The conman fearlessly faced him. “Promise, Ageha. It’s not a bad deal. Like you said, you can just kill me another day.”
The scoundrel who hurt Rin was right in front of him, but the door to safety was too far away. He had two options: get revenge for Rin and further endanger Saya’s life, or cooperate with Jin to save Saya and let him live another day.
Ageha did not even have to think. The rage and mortification accompanying his choice threatened to steal his sanity.
“I promise. I won’t kill you today,” he said while gritting his teeth hard enough to almost break them.
Jin nodded with a smug grin. “That’s the expression I wanted to see.” He passed Ageha and stood in front of the open door. “Hurry up.” The conman glanced at the young woman sitting lifelessly on the floor. “Looks like she needs a hospital.”
Ageha placed the unconscious Saya on his back and followed Jin out of the cell. “I also promise to kill you more cruelly than I planned to.”
Without looking at him, Jin said, “Not today, my friend. Not today.”
Kaika’s terminal vibrated.
She looked at the cameriera walking beside her. “Do you mind?”
“I couldn’t care less.”
Arashi followed several steps behind them. There were rows of expensive cars on all sides. Other than that, the arena’s VIP parking lot looked like any other basement parking garage. Kaika could have called her chauffeur to pick them up at the entrance but chose to walk. Chances for her to do so were quite rare, and she appreciated novelty.
Kaika accepted the call. “What is it?”
“Is there anything else? KyberCorp,” said Nishino.
The young girl switched ears. “Perfect timing. I finished preparations just a few minutes ago.”
“How did you get the remaining 16%?”
“Let’s just say I won a bet.”
“As secretive as always.”
“How about your end?”
“Who do you think I am? I’ve been doing this since before you were born.”
“Being old is not something to brag about.”
“I’m talking about experience, you brat.”
“Which I value highly. That’s why I chose to partner with you.”
“Don’t play coy with me. I know you just took advantage of my hatred for Hide-” Nishino coughed, “-Yamahashi and used me for your plans. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes.”
“I never intended to squeeze into sheep’s clothing for you.”
“You don’t need to. I don’t particularly mind being used as long as I get what I want.”
“I appreciate that consistent pragmatism. I wouldn’t use the word trust… Yes, it’s predictable. Ah, I mean no offense.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Kaika’s praise was sincere.
The less unpredictable factors there are, the better.
Nishino snorted, but she did not sound displeased.
“Are you sure he hasn’t noticed anything?” asked Kaika.
“You mean Yamahashi?”
Kaika glanced at Rin. “Yes, I’m with an acquaintance at the moment, so I can’t be specific.”
Rin glowered at her in return.
“He might have some suspicions, but nothing solid,” said Nishino. “That traitorous bastard will get what’s coming to him. I know he’s a womanizer, but I didn’t expect his lack of loyalty extended to business.”
“He was loyal until recently. They must have offered him something impressive.”
“It sure was. I declined KyberCorp’s offer, though.”
“Oh?” A tinge of surprise was mixed in Kaika’s voice. “May I ask why?”
“They approached Yamahashi first.”
The teen laughed. “Come to think of it, you never disliked Saya, did you? You just put her through the wringer because Yamahashi supported her.”
“Fair enough.” She cleared her throat. “How about the others?”
“About half of the directors, with Kogami at the helm, still think you’re trying to take over all the companies listed in your plan. Fools.”
The other directors were so busy undermining Kaika’s plan to buy out NGC’s larger rivals that they had not noticed the speedy acquisition of numerous smaller companies. Those minor companies owned KyberCorp shares, and owning them meant controlling those shares.
“Then it’s about time to withdraw all the funds allocated for the larger targets. We’ll use it to reel in the big fish.”
It was all misdirection. Kaika had never intended to buy out the larger corporations. That was all a ruse to fool the NGC directors and consequently, KyberCorp, their true target. Yamahashi, KyberCorp’s spy, had greedily swallowed false information and passed it to his masters. Because of that, KyberCorp believed that Kaika’s takeover plan was toothless and had not prepared more potent countermeasures.
“I’ll handle Servo and Decimware,” said Nishino.
“Wasn’t the latter under Yamahashi’s influence?”
“Who do you think introduced him?”
“I can’t wait to see the look on his face.” Nishino made no attempt to hide the delight in her voice.
“Take a picture for me.”
“I didn’t think you cared about such petty things.”
“You overestimate me, but you’re right. In this case, it’s for Saya.”
Nishino laughed. “Figures.”
“We just got to the car. I have to go.”
“Until the next board meeting then. It should be quite an entertaining show.”
“I can’t wait.” Kaika ended the call.
Her chauffeur opened the door to her bulletproof white SUV.
Kaika looked at Rin and said, “Get in.”
Rin shook her head. “No. Just point me to the exit. I don’t want to owe you any favors.”
“Don’t be stubborn. We’re miles away from the nearest bus stop. I took you here. It’s my responsibility to get you home safely.”
“I’m afraid neither of you will be going home any time soon.”
Both of them turned to the source of the unexpected interference. Akane stood a few cars away from them. Beside her was a tall man with glazed eyes.
“After I went through the trouble of skipping the closing ceremonies to avoid running into people…“ Kaika sighed. “I guess ‘what do you want’ is a stupid question to ask at this point.”
Akane wanted to kill her. There was no other reason for her to be there.
“It is, but I’m not in a rush. If you have any last words, I’ll hear them.”
“You just had to raise your own death flag, huh?”
“Flag? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You need to read more fiction, Akane. Bragging right before a battle never ends well, you know?”
Rin came closer to Kaika and asked, “Who’s that?”
“Just small fry.”
Akane glared at her. “I heard that, you little bitch.”
“Did you want me to keep it a secret from you? Sorry about that. Everyone else already knew so I thought you did too.” Kaika closed her eyes and shrugged. “I underestimated how slow you are.”
“You’re the slow one. Don’t you recognize my friend here?” With her thumb, Akane pointed at her tall male companion.
Alarm bells rang inside Kaika’s head. Akane was Kazuki’s assistant. Though unlikely, it was possible for her to have the ability to recreate his cyborgs or access a reserve unit.
Did I underestimate Akane?
No, I underestimated Kazuki’s trust in her.
“Arashi, prepare for combat!” shouted Kaika.
The scruffy-haired teen instantly got in between her mistress and the two hostiles.
“What’s going on?” Confusion painted Rin’s features.
While keeping her eyes on the enemies, Kaika said, “Rin, run away as fast as you can. You’ll be safer if we go in different directions.”
Rin did not move. She either did not comprehend the situation yet or did not trust Kaika enough to follow her orders despite realizing the danger. Kaika found herself wishing for the former but quickly cleared away such naive thoughts. She grabbed Rin’s hand and tried to pull her away from the enemy, but the young woman resisted.
“Run! Please!” shouted Kaika.
“You really think I’ll let you?” Akane revealed a small controller from her jacket pocket and pressed a button.
The man beside her quivered to life.
Akane pointed at Kaika, who was still struggling to drag Rin away. “Kill her!”
The awakened cyborg swung his arm and hit Akane in the face, smashing her glasses. She flew sideways and slammed into the windshield of a nearby sports car. Her body rolled off the car’s hood and fell to the ground.
Kaika glanced at the woman sprawled on the concrete.
Told you that was a death flag.
Kaika’s chauffeur rushed towards the cyborg and got swatted away. Seeing the danger, Rin stopped resisting Kaika’s lead. While pulling along the shocked cameriera, Kaika turned to check on her bodyguard. Arashi engaged the cyborg with a roundhouse kick, but he easily blocked it.
The young prodigy calculated their odds of survival. She was confident Arashi could easily defeat the cyborg if she had a gun, but bodyguards were not permitted to carry weapons in the arena premises. Kaika recalled how formidable the enemy was based on Ageha’s fight with its predecessor at the Nikaido manor.
Arashi won’t last a minute.
Kaika considered abandoning the teen, but the cyborg, insane from bloodlust, would probably chase them after defeating Arashi. They could not outrun it. There was only one choice.
Kaika let go of Rin’s hand and stopped running.
“What are you doing!?” asked Rin.
“We’re all going to die if I don’t help her.”
“Are you crazy!?”
“Yes, you said so yourself.” Kaika smiled. “Go back into the main building and find help. Don’t come back here no matter what.” The little girl turned around and ran towards the chaotic battle.
Arashi ducked a hook but took a low kick to the thigh. She backed away, but a truck blocked her path of retreat. Even though she could see the blows, the cyborg’s absurd speed and power was overwhelming her. Like Ageha, the enemy ignored pain and self-inflicted damage. Though not obvious from her face, Arashi felt pain like any normal person. That pain limited her ability to maximize her ARMS. It was impossible for her to keep up with the berserker unarmed.
I have to even the odds.
“Arashi, roll under the truck!” shouted Kaika.
The teen lowered herself to the ground with incredible speed, dodging the cyborg’s high turning kick in the process. She then rolled under the truck, continuing all the way to the other side.
“Use the vehicles for cover! Target only the enemy’s head!”
“Roger!” said Arashi.
Kaika jumped into a red convertible in search of something Arashi could use. She found a green fist-sized ball with two black dots for eyes displayed on the dashboard. Kaika grabbed the toy, pushing down the wing-like flaps on each side, and checked its material. The ball was made of lightweight metal. Though slightly lacking in heft, it was sufficient.
The cyborg jumped on top of the car Arashi was using for cover, taking the most direct route to chase her down.
Kaika threw the ball away from the two combatants. “Fetch!”
Arashi darted towards the ball, the cyborg hot on her heels. She caught it and jumped over a car in front of her. The cyborg crashed into the side of the vehicle but quickly pulled himself out of the wreckage.
I can’t believe the tricks I taught her would actually be useful.
The two combatants faced each other with the wrecked car in between them. Arashi faked right and then ran left. The cyborg fell for the feint and got delayed. The teen dashed away from her opponent, but his speed allowed him to gain on her quickly.
She turned around and threw the metal ball. The enemy covered his face with his forearms, but the ball flew in a completely different direction. The projectile bounced off one of the parking lot’s cement pillars and smashed into his ear. Arashi took two large strides and leapt forward. While in the air, she spun horizontally and whipped her leg out. The stunned cyborg could not dodge and was forced to block the attack with an arm. His guard was blown away, exposing his face. Arashi landed on the ground and followed up with a side kick to his head, but the cyborg managed to duck it.
As expected, that wasn’t enough.
Kaika continued searching for another way to help her bodyguard. She found a toolbox in the open trunk of a wrecked car. The contents were jumbled up, so she picked up and tossed away the items one by one while searching for anything useful.
No, too short.
Who am I kidding?
Maybe she could throw this screwdriver?
But the enemy raised his arms to block the metal ball earlier. Arashi’s bank shot was not possible using a screwdriver.
I need something else.
Kaika tossed the screwdriver behind her as she continued to search for a way to win. The sound of combat continued to echo behind her. Arashi was fine as long as that persisted.
Deeper in the car’s trunk, Kaika found a bottle of coolant.
This should do.
Holding the bottle with both hands, she shouted, “Arashi, come closer!”
“Dangerous!” said Arashi as she weaved to avoid a one-two punch combination.
“That’s an order!”
There was roughly thirty paces between them. Kaika needed to be close enough to throw the liquid-filled bottle accurately.
“Roger!” Arashi feinted a front kick, which the cyborg tried to block with his leg. She then stepped on the cyborg’s knee and used it to flip backward. She twisted in the air, landed facing Kaika’s direction, and sprinted.
Kaika used her index finger to trace out the path she wanted Arashi to take. The route passed right by her and increased the chance of her getting hurt, but there was no other choice. She noticed the worry on Arashi’s usually blank face.
You’re such a worrywart.
Kaika went around the wrecked car and ducked behind the front bumper to hide from the enemy’s view. The cyborg had tunnel vision, so her exchanges with Arashi had probably gone unnoticed.
A few seconds later, Arashi passed in front of her. Kaika lobbed the plastic bottle in the cyborg’s path. Her timing was perfect. The bottle hit the cyborg’s face, but contrary to her expectations, it bounced off.
It didn’t break!?
The material was thicker than she thought.
The cyborg braked right beside Kaika’s hiding place as the plastic bottle flew in Arashi’s direction. The bodyguard spun around and punched it, cracking the bottle and launching it back to the cyborg’s head.
The liquid splattered out and coated his face, momentarily blinding his eyes. The cyborg screamed in fury and staggered. Arashi ignored his cry and sent a spinning hook kick towards his head. Completely by chance, the cyborg dipped his head as he tried to wipe the liquid from his eyes. The attack to missed.
What horrible luck!
Kaika stood up and shouted, “One more time!”
She immediately regretted doing so.
The blind cyborg turned to her voice.
His hand reached for her. Despite her genius, Kaika was just a frail girl with no martial training. She could not react. The cyborg’s cold fingers touched the skin on her face, and the fear of death paralyzed her.
Without bothering to recover from her kick, Arashi tackled the cyborg to save her. Saya had used the same move to take down Arashi in one of their spars. However, the cyborg was about twice Arashi’s size. Unfazed, he grabbed her alloy arm and raised her into the air. Arashi kicked his stomach, but the lack of leverage weakened her attack. He flinched but continued to fumble for her head with his free hand. She kicked him again to no avail as the enemy grabbed her face. Arashi then tucked her knees into her chest to gather power for a stronger kick, but it was too late.
The cyborg stabbed his thumb into her left eye.
Arashi’s shrill scream echoed through the parking structure. Blood spurted from her gouged eye socket. She struggled for a moment, but her body slackened soon after. Releasing her alloy arm, the cyborg grabbed the other side of her face and then stabbed his other thumb into her remaining eye. Arashi woke up and howled in agony. She tried to remove the cyborg’s grip on her head, but pain robbed her of focus and strength. After a few futile attempts to claw at her captor’s hands, her arms fell limply to her sides.
Kaika stood motionless as she confirmed her bodyguard’s defeat.
Why didn’t I just run away?
Was there really only one choice?
If she had abandoned Arashi and focused on running, maybe she could have escaped.
But she had not.
She had chosen not to.
Guess I shouldn’t have called Akane a small fry.
Bragging before battle never ended well, after all.
Faced with inevitable death, she stopped thinking.
“We’re almost there,” said Jin as he stepped sideways along a narrow pathway.
Metal pipes ran along the walls sandwiching them. The gap was barely a foot wide, even narrower at some points.
“You better be right,” said Ageha. He was supporting the unconscious Saya on his shoulder.
Jin turned his head and looked at the pair. The limited space prevented Ageha from carrying the woman on his back. With utmost care, he held her beside him and pulled her along. Watching that made Jin’s blood boil.
Stop acting human, you freak.
Jin’s desire for vengeance had not waned in the least, but there was nothing he could do in the current situation. He already considered himself lucky for being able to defang Ageha for the day. Moreover, the arena blueprint he obtained while investigating Kaika had proven accurate. He decided not to push his luck.
The three of them had jumped through a few hoops, but the door leading to the VIP parking area was right at the end of that pathway. From there, they just needed to sneak out of the building.
I hope the guards at the exit are still busy trying to find us in the main building.
They left the narrow pathway and came upon a locked gate.
“Please,” said Jin while gesturing at the reinforced lock.
Ageha sat Saya by the wall and broke open the lock with his bare hands.
Jin whistled in admiration. “That’s convenient.”
“Want me to rip off your arm so you can get one?”
“I’ll pass on that.” Jin pushed open the door and peeked around the corner. “It’s been a long time since we last did anything together, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“It brings back memories, from when we were kids.”
Ageha remained silent.
Jin looked at him with a melancholic expression. “Sometimes I think about it. What if I’d had the strength to trust you more? Maybe we would still be good friends even now. I… regret it. You were my first friend, you know?”
In Jin’s mind, Ageha was completely to blame for everything. However, dulling Ageha’s thirst for vengeance with cheap words was worth a try.
“…That goes for me too,” said Ageha. “Airi was a girl, and I liked her, so she didn’t count.”
Jin expertly maneuvered his features to show regret. “Why did it come to this?”
The conman displayed the most convincing laugh he could. Leaving a smile on his face, he said, “I said it before, but you really never change.”
“I don’t know about that.” Ageha made a bitter smile.
Jin went through the door and squinted to see as far as possible into the dark corridor. “The coast is clear. The VIP parking lot is at the end of this hallway. We’re almost there.”
Jin heard a wet sound from his flank.
He saw something sticking out of it.
It was Ageha’s left hand.
Jin lifted his head and looked at his childhood friend’s face. “I-Impossible… You promised..!” Blood leaked from his wound, dyeing Ageha’s wrist red.
Ageha would never break his word!
Ageha had broken promises before. When they were kids, Jin betrayed him for such a failure. But as far as he knew, Ageha had never done so of his own volition. Mustering his fading strength, Jin checked his watch.
“It’s not past midnight yet, if that’s what you’re thinking,” said Ageha. “I got that idea too, but delaying our escape to let the day pass wasn’t possible because of Saya’s condition.”
Pained croaks came from Jin’s throat. “Did you… lie?”
“No, I was completely serious when I promised not to kill you. It made me want to kill myself in frustration.”
“I changed my mind.”
What the hell did he just say?
Disbelief overwrote the agony on Jin’s face.
Ageha smiled wryly as he twisted his fingers inside Jin. “You and Airi were wrong.”
What the fuck are you talking about?
Jin tried to speak, but only gasping breaths came out.
“Turns out I wasn’t a monster at all. I’m just a normal person, like you.” Ageha pulled him back into the room and threw him into the narrow pathway they came from.
Jin got stuck in the small space, unable to move his body.
“And people change.” Ageha lifted Saya from the ground and carried her on his back. Without even a word of farewell, he disappeared from Jin’s view.
The conman wanted to shout curses but the searing pain in his abdomen crippled his throat. His unceremonious defeat mortified him. Fury burned in his chest as he tasted his third defeat from Ageha’s hands. However, that only lasted for the first minute of his stay in that cramped space. The moment Jin realized that he was slowly bleeding to death and no help was coming, he began shaking like a leaf.
Despair gradually ate away at him. His revenge remained unfulfilled. He had not achieved anything. No one would cry over his death, though many would laugh upon hearing about it. He saw looping reruns of the most humiliating days of his life, like an endless nightmare. Torrents of regret hammered his heart, eroding it to sediment.
The pain from his wound gradually worsened. The creeping torture did not allow him to pass out and tormented him enough to desire suicide.
He called out to Ageha, begging for his forgiveness, asking him to end his suffering.
He cried, laughed, and cried some more.
And then he died.
Rin gazed at the horrific sight.
The girl called Arashi hung in the air, convulsing like a fish on a hook. Despite her lack of resistance, the tall man continued to hold her by the head with both hands. Kaika remained rooted in place, looking at them blankly. Unsure why herself, Rin had ignored Kaika’s command to escape. Even so, she was powerless to do anything.
She thought about running away while the man was busy with Kaika. There was nothing she could do anyway. Rin concluded that was the best course of action.
Then she shouted, “Kai! Move!” and ran towards them.
Despite knowing it would mean her death, she could not help it.
Despite knowing she would not make it, she continued to run.
Despite her disdain for what the girl had done, Rin could not bring herself to hate her.
She dove behind the man’s heels, turtled up, and then shouted with all her might. “BANZAI!!!”
Arashi’s limp arms swung up, her alloy knuckles catching the man’s chin. The man’s arms lost strength and released the teen, who fell lifelessly to the floor. Rattled by the uppercut, the man staggered backward and tripped over Kaika’s balled-up body.
Without waiting for the man to hit the ground, Kaika scrambled for the screwdriver she had tossed away earlier. After the man fell on his back, she mounted his chest and stabbed the metal shaft into his eye. The man’s blood coated her hands and spattered on her cheek as she hammered down again and again. Kaika screamed continuously while mutilating the dead man’s face.
Rin finally reached them. Seeing no end to Kaika’s barrage, she grabbed her forearms and stopped her.
The young girl, speckled in blood, released the screwdriver. Her shoulders heaving, she looked at Rin and said, “I told you to run away.”
“I couldn’t just leave you to die!”
“…Thanks for the help.” Kaika stood up from the corpse.
Rin did not remember doing anything helpful.
“Your shout woke me up. I may not have moved in time without it.” Kaika approached Arashi and placed a hand on her neck. “She’s alive.”
Despite Kaika’s rather cold tone, her face relaxed after confirming Arashi’s survival.
Kaika checked on her chauffeur, clicked her tongue, and then turned to Rin. “We need to get out of here. Can you drive?”
Rin, unable to keep up with the young girl’s abnormal adaptability, shook her head weakly before she could even process the question.
“I know how, but the SUV’s seats are too high. I’m not sure if I can reach the pedals.”
Both of them turned to the banshee-like scream. Akane, her face draped in blood, pointed a pistol at Rin. Despite her wobbly legs, she displayed a furious grin, like a vengeful spirit driven to insanity.
Rin stared at the half-dead woman and said, “I’m not Saio-”
A gunshot rang out.
Time slowed as Rin fell. She saw a face of unparalleled beauty twist in agony in front of her. A flower of blood bloomed from Kaika as both of them hit the cold concrete. The petite prodigy lay sprawled beside her, like a puppet with cut strings.
Kaika had saved her life. The moment Rin realized that fact, a blazing rage flooded her chest. It traveled through her veins, prodding her limbs to motion. Without thinking of the danger, the cameriera made a mad dash towards the shooter. A few bullets zipped past her, but she did not slow down. She clumsily crashed into Akane, and both of them rolled on the ground. Akane, still holding the gun, ended up beneath her. Rin grabbed Akane’s wrist and wrestled the weapon away from her.
After getting a closer look at Rin’s face, Akane said, “Wait, you’re not Saionji.”
“That’s what I was trying to say!” Fueled by anger, Rin squeezed the trigger.
Akane’s body flinched and lost strength. Dark red liquid slowly saturated the bottom of her white blouse.
Rin tried to get up, but a strong bout of nausea assailed her. She emptied her stomach on Akane’s face.
She tried to kill me!
She shot Kai!
She deserved it!
Rin desperately pushed down her guilt. She had more important things to do than dwell on a villain’s death. After calming down, she stood up and ran to Kaika’s side. The girl’s shoulder was dyed red, but she was breathing.
Rin took off her shirt, folded it up, and pressed it against Kaika’s shoulder wound. She stripped off her leggings and used them to tightly secure the temporary bandage. Rin thanked Ageha in her heart for teaching her first aid after the incident with Jin.
I need to get both of them to a hospital!
She had never driven before, but it was no time to play it safe. Rin carried Kaika and laid her down on the SUV’s backseat. She then returned to the bloody battleground to get Kaika’s female bodyguard.
She turned to the familiar voice.
Ageha was staring at her. He then glanced at the girl collapsed on the ground beside the tall man’s corpse. “Arashi..?” The young sous chef was carrying a beautiful butler, her face paler than ever, on his back.
“You can drive, right?” asked Rin.
“Yeah. What happened here?”
Rin pointed to the SUV. “Kai was shot. She needs help.” She glanced at Arashi. “That girl too.”
With one look, she realized the butler was severely injured. Her arm and leg were bandaged up, and her complexion looked deathly white.
Ageha jogged to the SUV and saw the bloody Kaika. He stopped moving.
Rin tried to lift Arashi but was surprised by how heavy she was. She called out to Ageha for help, but he did not react. She ran to his side to check on him. “What happened?”
But Ageha did not even turn to look at her. His wide back looked like it was about to shatter. A soft murmur escaped his lips, “Kai… Why is this… Everyone…”
Rin felt like a smoldering iron rod was driven through her heart.
You care for them that much.
She tightly clenched her fist in vexation.
Then she slammed it on his head.
“Stop daydreaming and help me!” she shouted.
Ageha’s usual expression returned. “Got it.” He sat Saya on the vehicle’s backseat, beside Kaika’s sleeping face. He then carried Arashi and laid her down inside the spacious rear compartment.
He took the driver’s seat, and Rin rode shotgun.
“Sorry. I lost it for a second there,” he said as he started the car. “And thank you.”
“You can count on me. No matter what. Never forget that.”
Ageha backed up the car. As he drove up the exit ramp, he said, “By the way, I have a question.”
“Why I‘m here?”
“That too, but more importantly,” he said, “why are you in your underwear?”