“Arashi is in danger.”
Ageha tightened his grip on his mobile. “Where is she?”
He had been heading home after attending a food convention with Rin, Yama, and a few other former restaurant colleagues. Saya, having a prior engagement, could not join him.
“Check your phone.” Kaika’s voice carried an unusual urgency. “Is your earpiece with you?”
“Yeah, but that’s it. I don’t even have my knives.” He took the tiny device from his pocket, turned it on with a light press, and put it on his ear.
The communication device also served as a GPS receiver, allowing his team to keep track of each other.
Ageha pressed a few button on his mobile display. “She’s close.”
Kaika’s reply came from his earpiece. “About five minutes from you by car.”
“Ten with traffic. I’ll take a shortcut on foot. Where’s Saya?”
“On my way,” said Saya, “but the road is congested. Thirty minutes at the fastest.”
Ageha silently cursed the afternoon rush hour as he ran to a backstreet. “Explain the situation.” He jumped onto the first level of a fire exit and then leapt up the stairs leading to the roof, one flight at a time.
A burst of gunfire echoed from the other side of the line followed by Arashi’s voice. “I’m kinda busy.”
“I’ll do the report,” said Kaika. “Arashi is cornered in an abandoned apartment building. She’s injured.”
While checking their relative locations via his mobile, Ageha traversed the rooftops with inhuman speed. “What the hell happened?”
“…I sent her to assassinate Mashiro Oogi.”
“She’s still in Tokyo?”
“She came back on a business trip, to be exact. It was the perfect opportunity. Arashi sniped her vehicle from a building, but the car windows had abnormal reinforcement. I told her to retreat, but she insisted on finishing the mission. She continued firing at the vehicle until it stopped but got injured by return fire. Enemy reinforcements surrounded her in seconds. It was a trap… I-”
“The blame game can wait. Anything else?” Ageha kept a straight path to his objective, leaping or barreling over any obstacles to save time.
“According to Arashi, the enemies are wearing some kind of full-body armor strong enough to stop her automatic rifle bullets. They still took some damage though.”
Arashi used a variety of guns, but her favorites were the grappling-dart-equipped automatic rifle and her enormous bolt-action sniper rifle. From Kaika’s account, she had brought her automatic, which was weaker but overall more versatile. That said, it was still abnormally powerful. Having tasted the impact firsthand, Ageha was certain of that much.
Ageha felt thankful about her choice of weapon this time. If Arashi sniped Mashiro using her bolt-action, she might have succeeded, which he did not want. But more importantly, that also meant she would not be able to fend off enemy assault teams indoors because of the slow reload time.
“How many?” He vaulted over a fence and landed on a water tank. Denting the tank with the force of his kick, Ageha launched himself to the taller adjacent building. With his arm stretched to the limit, he barely caught the roof’s edge.
“More than a dozen.”
“Can you send anyone else?”
“I can, but I won’t. No one can match the current enemy aside from you and Saya. Sending fodder will just lead to their deaths, or worse, capture.”
“What about the local police?”
“Nowhere in sight. Mashiro probably pulled some strings. Not a hard thing to do using the name Butler.”
No choice but retreat.
Ageha strained his alloy quads to propel himself even faster. When he was within a block of Arashi, he heard gunfire and people screaming from below.
I need a better look at the area.
Ageha picked the tallest building nearby and climbed its pipes to the roof. A powerful autumn gust ruffled his clothes as he approached the roof’s edge. Poking his head over the ledge, he zoomed in on the enemies below.
There were four black vans and one damaged SUV parked in front of the abandoned apartment building where Arashi was trapped. The main entrance was guarded by four armored troopers. Though not in view, the rear was likely blocked off as well. Arashi should have been able to sneak out a window, but her injury likely prevented her from doing so.
His bionic eyes met with a camera lens. Flash.
Ageha ducked, but it was too late.
The photographer, Mashiro Oogi, had definitely taken his picture. A camera lens was sticking out of her cracked car window.
How did she know I was here!?
Ageha did not have time to ponder the answer. If his cover was blown, stealth became low priority. He jumped from one rooftop to another until he landed on the one adjacent to the surrounded apartment complex.
“What floor are you on?” he asked.
“I think… the fourth.”
Her condition might be worse than he thought.
With a running start, Ageha leapt off the roof and crashed into the fourth floor window while protecting his face with his arms. The two armored soldiers in the room immediately trained their submachine guns at him. They looked like modern knights with dull grey plate armor. A tinted visor decorated the face of their bulky looking helmets.
Just my luck.
Ageha dashed sideways to avoid their gunfire. After leaving the bullet trail in the dust, he pounced at the closest enemy. Surprised by his beast-like attack, the enemies released their triggers for a split-second.
Landing on the trooper’s chest and pushing him to the floor, Ageha slammed his fist into the enemy’s helm. It felt like hitting a steel beam. Similar to Ageha’s armor, the soldier’s helmet was linked to the shoulder section, designed to mitigate head trauma.
Before he could land another blow, the other enemy shot at him, forcing him to dismount his victim. Although he dodged the bullets, some ricocheted off the wall and hit him in the back.
He staggered forward. Thinking he had been hurt, the enemy ceased fire. Ageha dove at the trooper’s legs and tackled him to the floor. He clasped his hands and smashed them into the trooper’s chest plate like a hammer. His hands bounced off with a loud clang. The impact cracked the flooring beneath the trooper but only left a slight dent in his armor.
Ageha checked on the other enemy, who was almost on his feet.
Are these guys invulnerable?
Due to their unexpected toughness, he decided to make a run for it. The heavily armored troopers did not look fast on their feet, and they were not, at least compared to him.
He checked his mobile and headed for Arashi’s location. After speeding through a long corridor, he heard clanking sounds ahead. He peeked around the corner and saw two more troopers taking position beside a doorway. One of them kicked open the door as the other fired into the room. Arashi was likely barricaded inside.
With no time to hesitate, he darted to the closer enemy. Ageha leapt into the air and slammed a dropkick into the trooper’s back, sending him flying into his partner.
Ageha waved his hand in front of the doorway. “Don’t shoot! It’s me!”
The storeroom had no windows. Behind a toppled and dented metal cabinet was Arashi. She was wearing a soot-covered baseball shirt and stretchable jeans. Biker goggles covered her eyes, likely a disguise. Blood trickled down her right cheek.
He rushed to her side. “Did you hit your head?”
“A bullet ricocheted off the ceiling…”
That was impossible with normal bullets, which would go through the flimsy material. Like Ageha, the bouncing rubber projectiles had also caught her by surprise. Unfortunately, she had not gotten away unharmed.
Ageha picked up the cabinet and tossed it at the door to block it off. “Can you run?”
“I don’t think so. Too dizzy.”
“Leave the rifle.” He picked her up by her armpits and pressed her chest against his. “Hold onto me.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs snugly around his waist. Arashi looked like a child clinging to him with all her might.
Because they were running away, their backs would be most exposed to gunfire. It was safer for Arashi to be in front.
Ageha kicked a hole in the room’s wooden wall and went through the opening while protecting Arashi with his arms. He did the same in the next room and came through to the hallway. The troopers quickly picked up on what he did and continued pursuit.
He came upon a large window and broke the glass with his right hand. Ignoring the shards sinking into his artificial skin, he rapidly cleared the frame of sharp fragments to avoid cutting Arashi.
“Hang on tight.” From the window, he jumped onto the balcony of an adjacent building. Then he broke the locked door and went inside.
Unlike the abandoned apartment, this building was populated, though most people had likely evacuated because of the shootout. Noticing a few office workers still at their desks, Ageha dug his nose into Arashi’s neck and hair to hide his face.
“That tickles…” mumbled Arashi.
“What are you doing?” asked Saya. “Your GPS blips are right on top of each other.”
“This isn’t really the time.”
Civilians won’t stop those guys.
The rubber bullets are probably for that.
Or to catch us alive.
Ageha considered his options. He could head down and exit from the lobby, but there was a good chance the enemies had already surrounded the building. Going to the roof was a better idea, but vigorous movement worsened Arashi’s condition. Despite their brief time on the run, her face had already turned a few shades paler than when he found her.
“Take the storm drain,” said Kaika. “There’s a large one in the basement.”
“Understood.” He used the stairs to descend to the basement and ripped open the protective grills covering the drain.
“I’ll send you a map of the sewer system in the area. I’m not sure if the GPS will work properly underground, so let’s set a rendezvous point. Let’s see… Saya, head to the Oobashi building underground parking lot. You two should exit the sewer at drain A51. Saya will pick you up there.”
Ageha gave up on replacing the warped grill and entered the sewer with Arashi still stuck to him. The place stank, but they had no other choice. They continued deeper into the sewer at a quick pace until Arashi asked for a break. As soon as Ageha put her down, she vomited on the floor.
“Probably a concussion,” said Kaika. “She needs treatment ASAP.”
Because Arashi’s condition worsened with excessive movement, their pace slowed significantly. Wary of pursuers, Ageha continued to carry her in front while supporting her buttocks with his arms. That position would have been taxing to a normal person, but Arashi’s weight was no different than a baby’s to him.
“Ageha…” whispered Arashi.
“What is it?”
“I have something to tell you… Just in case I don’t make it.”
Ageha unconsciously held her tighter. “Don’t be stupid. You’ll be okay.”
“But I am stupid, so please listen.” Arashi removed her goggles and wiped the blood on her face with her sleeve. Then she touched her right ear before wrapping her arms around his neck again.
She turned off her earpiece?
Realizing she wanted a private conversation, Ageha decided to turn off his own device. “Kai, Saya, we’ll be offline for a few minutes. Don’t worry, we’re fine.”
With a light press, the faint buzz from his earpiece disappeared.
Arashi nodded, her lips brushing his collar. “I think I love you.”
“…This isn’t exactly the best place for a confession.”
Or time. Or position, for that matter.
“I’m serious.” She tightened her embrace and inched her lips closer to his ear. “I’m not really sure… what love is. But I think… No. I love you, Ageha.”
Her words hit his heart like a hammer and then seeped into the cracks. It was the most straightforward confession he had ever received. The women he had dated in college played coy until things got physical. Rin had blurted out her feelings in a fit of guilt, while Saya had ordered him to love her under the influence of painkillers. Arashi’s voice carried an unwavering determination, one he had not heard before.
At that moment, Arashi felt truly precious to him. Words of acceptance surged from his chest but caught in his throat. He liked Arashi, maybe even loved her in a familial way. To Ageha, that was enough to return her feelings just to keep her from getting hurt. He knew more than anyone that wounds in the heart bled more and healed slower than physical ones, if they healed at all.
But he had to turn her down. There was someone else already inside him, and hurting her was the last thing he wanted.
“I’m sorry, Arashi, I-”
“But I’m okay with the way things are now. I’m happy when I see you and Saya happy. I’m happy when you take my challenges. I’m happy when you carry me back after beating me. I’m happy… very happy that you spend time with a dumb girl like me. So I’m okay. I just wanted to tell you how I feel before it’s too late.”
“…Are you sure?”
“…No. But that’s already more than someone like me could ask for. I… don’t want to be greedy. I’m scared to want more. So this is okay.”
“Okay.” He caressed the back of her head with his fingers. “Thanks for caring for something like me, Arashi.”
“No.” She shook her head, rubbing her cheek against his jaw. “Thank you.”
They stopped speaking for a while. Only the sound of Ageha’s footsteps on the wet ground echoed within the cavernous sewers, but there was no awkwardness. A comfortable silence enveloped them.
“At any rate, you’ve certainly gotten better at talking.”
“I practiced that confession… a lot. With Mitsuki.”
That girl is either a masochist or just too nice for her own good.
Definitely the latter.
You did a good job, Ria.
Arashi pulled back a little and met his eyes. “Can I ask you a question?”
Looking at her face close up, Ageha noticed her bionic right eye had a slightly paler iris than the left one. He felt amused about discovering something new about the ever-changing girl.
“Sure. Not like I have anything else to do right now.”
“Why did you… help me back then?”
“When you took me to your room… and filled me with your stuff.”
What’s with that erotic phrasing?
“You mean when we first met, and I cooked Chinese food for you.”
After a little consideration, Ageha decided to come clean. “Well… I brought you to my apartment because I would’ve felt bad leaving you unconscious on the sidewalk. As for everything else, you reminded me of Kureha.”
“What’s wrong? Is it your wound?”
“No… It’s nothing. …Who’s Kureha?”
“Kai didn’t tell you?”
She shook her head.
“Kai’s little sister. She was kind of like that for me, too.”
Ageha told Arashi about his time with Kureha and how he lost her.
“What makes her… so special?”
“Special? Hmm… I guess she is. She was one of the few girls I know who never tried to kill me.” He chuckled. “Kidding aside… She felt like family with no strings attached. Kai, Saya, even you know me as a badass assassin, but she only knew me as Ageha. Even when she found out about my other self, she liked me, not the monster.”
“Calling yourself badass is a little…”
“You can even crack jokes now?”
“I just copied Kai.”
“Choose a better role model.”
Ignoring his comeback, Arashi dragged the conversation back on topic. “I think I understand. Kai and Saya are like family to me. And Mom came back… even if she’s very busy. I think… I’m happy right now.”
“…Me too. Maybe I’ve been looking for a family all this time. I realized that when Mei Xing spoke to me about his own family. But a normal family would never work for a killer. I guess our dysfunctional group is perfect for me in that sense.”
“I guess that’s why I keep coming back to Kai even if she keeps pulling crap like this suicide mission.” He gently combed her hair with his fingers. “You’re my family too, Arashi. So please… be more careful.”
“…I take back what I said earlier. Can I be a little greedy?” Arashi pressed herself tightly against him. “If it’s okay… can you give me a hug… from time to time?”
“If you keep it a secret from Saya.”
Arashi nodded happily in his arms.
“You’ve got some explaining to do.” Ageha slammed his palms on Kaika’s study desk.
“‘I just had to do it.’”
“Those were your words. This all started because you went after Mitchell.”
“…But why did you send Arashi alone?”
“Because you refused to kill Mashiro, and Saya had a different appointment. I had no choice.”
“Mashiro is harmless.”
“You have a terrible eye for women.”
“I know.” He stared at her face.
“Don’t get smart with me. You don’t know all the facts.”
“Then explain them to me.”
“Max confronted me with Mashiro’s accusations. I managed to parry them, but he didn’t seem satisfied. Who knows who she’ll approach next. It’ll be very problematic if her father believes her.”
“Then killing Mashiro would practically confirm your guilt, wouldn’t it?”
“That’s why it’s the perfect time to strike. No one would think I’d be stupid enough to do something like that. Most people who know me would agree. I can easily deny it that way. I’m not the only suspect either. That ‘hero’ has many enemies, like the Mitchells for one.”
“Big words, but this is how it ended up.”
“That’s… right. I’m sorry.”
“…I decided to trust you, Kai, but I’m not stupid.” He stared intently into her eyes, as if reading her soul. “I’m not gonna kill her.”
Kaika’s promise to be truthful to Ageha had numerous loopholes, which she took full advantage of. Keeping quiet about certain details did not amount to lying, after all. However, Ageha understood her more than she expected.
She had sent Arashi to kill Mashiro knowing it was a trap. It would have been great if Arashi succeeded, but the ulterior motive was to push Ageha into killing Mashiro. If he thought that Arashi and the others were in real danger, he would have no choice but to act.
However, Kaika did not want Arashi to get hurt. She had chosen a sniping point close to Ageha’s location so he could quickly come to Arashi’s aid. Thankfully, Arashi’s concussion was nothing serious.
Ageha had figured out Kaika’s true intentions but chose not to accuse her to preserve their delicate “family.” He cared about them, including her, that much. Arrows of guilt skewered Kaika’s heart.
“I’m sorry, Ageha.”
“Just try not to do it again, okay? This was originally my fault anyway.”
Based on the wishy-washy way he phrased that, he truly understood her. That put a smile on Kaika’s face.
Ageha took a seat on a chair. “The enemies were using rubber bullets. That caught Arashi by surprise. I’m guessing Mashiro doesn’t want to kill anyone, even us.”
“That little bitch is underestimating me.”
“You’re the one underestimating her.”
“Didn’t you say she was harmless?”
“Unless provoked. She took a picture of my face when I scouted the area. She knew I’d show up at that exact spot and took a snap. ”
Kaika snorted. “That’s nothing. It’s just inference. Since the one who attacked her car used a gun, she deduced it wasn’t you. You only used knives when you accidentally saved her, after all. When Arashi was cornered, she figured you might come to your ally’s rescue, considering how you killed Mitchell just for grabbing Saya’s arm. Mashiro’s hobby is photography, so she has a good grasp of vantage points. Factoring in your superhuman physical abilities, she narrowed down the spots where you could safely observe the situation. Then she made a guess and lucked out. Lucky bitch.”
“You really hate that girl, don’t you?”
“Well duh.” Kaika tapped her fingers on her desk. “More importantly, was the photo incriminating?”
“I don’t think so. I was just standing on a rooftop near a shootout. Nothing conclusive. Unless those robot soldiers had cameras on their helmets.”
“They don’t, assuming they’re standard models.”
“You know about them?”
“I got the blueprints from Rachel Garvey just an hour ago. I told her I needed info about my ‘business competition.’”
“How generous of her.”
“It wasn’t free. I gave her some state-of-the-art ARMS tech in exchange. Still, it was a good barter. Just goes to show how valuable my engagement with Max is.”
Kaika’s mobile ringtone leaked from her pocket. She took it out and checked the display.
An unknown number?
“Sorry, I gotta take this. You can hang around if you want.”
It was odd for someone not in her contact list to know her number. She was curious who it could be. Ageha decided to wait and stayed in his seat.
“Hello, Ms. Nikaido.”
“Who might you be?”
“This is Nicolas Estrella. We’ve never met in person, but I’m certain you remember my name.”
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. Estrella?”
“Please, call me Nick. It’s been a while since our negotiations regarding the Palawan mines failed.”
“I have no time for games, Nick. State your business or I’m hanging up.”
“I see you aren’t one for foreplay.”
“Depends on my partner.” Kaika hung up.
“Er, is that okay?” asked Ageha.
“Wait for it.”
Her mobile rang again.
“That was quite rude of you, Ms. Nikaido.”
“That so?” She hung up again.
Ageha chuckled as he watched.
The phone rang a third time. Kaika let it ring a few times before answering.
“Okay, I’ll get to the point,” said Nick, irritation clear in his voice. “Would you like to partner up against Valeriya Varrenikov?”
“What do I stand to gain from that?”
“I’ve become the practical ruler of the Philippines, and I have ties with other rebel groups in Southeast Asia. Valeriya wants to use my power for her own goals, which includes stopping yours. Let’s just say I don’t like it when people order me around. If we partner up, we can get rid of Valeriya together.”
Kaika burst into laughter, making no effort to hide it from Nick.
“…What’s so funny?” Nick’s voice grew deep and cold, like a moldy catacomb.
“You are! I’ll be frank. I don’t need you. Deals are made for mutual benefit, but your offer is nothing but a risk to me. This is a trap, isn’t it? Did Ria put you up to this?”
“Absolutely not. Valeriya has no idea I’m contacting you.”
“What a joke. Let me explain something to you. You’re out of your league. If Ria trusted you enough for you to be useful to me, you’d use her nickname when referring to her. However, if you did use it, chances are you’re working with her to trap me. See? There’s no way for a partnership between us to exist because I shoulder all the risk. If you had any brains, you would’ve figured that out before going through the trouble of getting my personal number. In the first place, a partnership is only possible between equals. We are not equals.”
“…If you let me explain-”
“If this isn’t a trap like you said, then you’d be an untrustworthy traitor and an idiot. I’ll pass.”
“What did you say..?”
“I said you, the fool who thinks he’s all that after becoming the king of a backwater island, are an idiot. Don’t tell me you can’t even understand you’re just one of Ria’s pawns? For all I know, this entire proposal is just you dancing on the palm of her hand. Or maybe you do understand your pitiful position? Tired of being Ria’s patsy, so you scurry over to me?”
“She didn’t use me! I used her! You’re no except-” He caught himself, but it was too late. His gasp was audible through Kaika’s mobile.
“…What a disappointment. That ended quicker than expected. Word of advice, if you’re planning to secretly use someone, you should probably avoid saying things like that. And another suggestion, Nick. Pride is a good thing, but everything in moderation, okay?”
While ignoring the rabid screaming on the other end of the line, Kaika hung up and blocked the number. “I need to get a new phone.”
“That was brutal,” said Ageha.
“Just telling it like it is. Best case, this puts a rift between him and Ria.”
“I heard he was a calmer, smarter guy.”
“I don’t think Nick is stupid at all. I’m sure he expected his offer to get rejected. He’s just trying to get a feel for our side by coaxing info from me. That’s why I stopped him from talking as much as I could. Something I learned from Mei Xing’s pops.”
“He flipped his top though.”
“It’s all about pushing the right buttons. I’m sure he didn’t expect the utter disrespect I showed him. Power changes people. The guy gained too much pride. People like that can dish it out, but they can’t take it.”
“Is that all? You’re not usually that aggressive.”
“That was payback for making Saya cry.”
Ageha smiled at her. “Thanks.”
“Don’t get cocky, Mr. Boyfriend. I’m her mistress first. And last.” Kaika pocketed her mobile. “Anything else? You didn’t stay just to watch me talk, did you?”
“I have one more thing to report. I wasn’t sure if it’s anything important, but better safe than sorry.”
She leaned back in her chair and grinned. “I’m all ears and in a good mood.”
“When Mitsuki clung to me on Arashi’s birthday, she told me, ‘I know the devil’s secret.’”
Kaika’s mood sank faster than a lead weight, but she willed her facial muscles still.
Ageha sent her a curious glance. “Any idea what she’s referring to?”
“Too many come to mind.”
Sakuya checked the time while sitting on a bench in town square. Ken was ten minutes late. She had already beaten up two college students who tried to pick her up, but he was still nowhere in sight.
What’s he doing?
She had invited him to Akiba to buy some FPS games. With her personality more active lately, Sakuya found herself with a surplus of time. More time meant more opportunities for her urges to surface. Shooting games had become one of her pastimes. Killing fictional people served as a temporary fix when it was impossible for her to murder the real thing. Buying the latest games was a good reason to go out with Ken, ignoring the fact that games could be bought digitally.
After taking another look around the area, she checked her emails. She used a separate email address to prevent her other self from getting wind of her correspondence with Ken.
Her blood pressure rose, but she kept waiting at the designated spot. That alone was surprising for the impatient Sakuya. Normally, she would have already left and then murdered Ken later for pissing her off.
Is this also Mitsuki’s influence?
She did not know. Neither did she know why the boy’s company did not bother her. Was it because they shared the same eyes, focused on revenge? Was it because they both wanted to become stronger to achieve their goal? Was it simply because he was the only boy around her age nearby?
All she knew for certain was that being with him was not boring. Sakuya hated overthinking, so she just went with that.
Ken showed up five minutes later, all sweaty and huffing. “Sorry! Nick told me about some important work. I couldn’t get away. Did you wait long?”
Seeing him so desperate, she felt like the wait was worth it. “No, I just got here too.”
Ken dropped to his knee while cradling his head. A low moan spilled out of his throat.
Sakuya tilted her head. “What are you doing?”
“I’m… okay.” He winced while gritting his teeth in agony. “It’s just a side effect… of my medicine.” His body trembled and twitched, as if undergoing a mild seizure.
“Get up then. It’s time to go.”
“…Give me a second. I’m not that okay yet.”
Thick-rimmed glasses perched on her nose bridge, Ying peeked over the light novel in her hands. She paid no attention to the story despite the book’s grandiose title “I’m a Male Chef and Cyborg Assassin Being Swindled by My Much Younger Female Employer Who is a Genius Tycoon.”
Ying’s focus was on her target Sakuya and the boy with her. The boy had a gloomy aura, but Sakuya seemed to enjoy chatting with him nonetheless.
Ying was certain the girl was the same Sakuya who fought and killed her twin brother. It was hard to imagine Valeriya Varrenikov being close to two different girls with the same name. No one else in the society knew that, not even Mao. Aside from her brother, she was the only one who heard the faceless killer’s name that fateful night.
She had been following Sakuya from Valeriya’s building, trailing her even inside the train to Akihabara. Now, she secretly observed from afar as Sakuya taught the boy how to eat a strawberry crepe.
Ying watched them, calm as a cucumber.
But that was only on the surface.
She was really good at controlling herself.
She was really good at following orders.
She would get kicked out of the organization if she could not do that much.
Nevertheless, everyone had limits. Ying’s face contorted, reflecting her innermost thoughts.
What the hell is that..?
After searching for so long…
After I finally found you…
Didn’t you like my brother?
Didn’t you agree to go out with him?
But here you are, flirting with some mangy kid?
My brother, no…
Ying is a hundred times better!
In the first place, Sakuya did not remember Ying. When they met in Kaika’s residence, Sakuya did not recognize her, who had the same face as her brother.
Ying stared at the boy as he wiped some whipped cream off Sakuya’s chin.
That should be my brother’s place!
How could you do this, Sakuya?
Even though Ying loved you.
Even though I love you!
Her fingernails dug into the paperback, scarring the cover as she desperately tried to restrain herself. Realizing that was impossible, she hid in a narrow alley and popped her pills. She chewed and swallowed them, savoring the bitterness. If possible, she did not want to dampen the emotions she inherited from her brother, but letting herself run wild would mean losing her place in the Soaring Serpent Society. She was still sane enough to dislike that.
“Not bad at all.”
Ying turned to the voice and saw a gigantic man with ashen hair. His neatly trimmed beard made him look even more intimidating.
“You blended in perfectly. I wasn’t sure you were tailing them until you ripped up that book.” The man marched towards her. “What are you planning?”
Ying stepped back, frantically thinking of what to do. She was cornered. The alley was a dead end, and the path was too narrow for her to run past the enemy.
She decided to go through him.
Ying noticed a covered metal trash can along the wall to the man’s left and ran to it. Then she hopped on top of the can and looked up. The man sidestepped to block her path, raising his hands to catch her mid-jump.
But she never intended to jump over him. Like a torpedo, she dove headfirst into the space between his legs. Her upper body made it through, but the man’s abnormal reaction speed allowed him to grab the hem of her sweater.
Without panicking, Ying twisted her body and slipped out of her top. Her momentum made her tumble backward and land on her butt. The man rushed to pin her down, but she was half a second faster.
With her sports bra in plain view, she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Help!!! Molester!!!”
The bearded man froze for a moment, giving her a chance to scramble out of the alley. She kept screaming, gathering attention to make sure he could not follow her. A good Samaritan covered her bare shoulders with a khaki jacket featuring an emblem with overlapping wings on the back. Ying thanked her before disappearing into the crowd.