Chapter Nine: Friends and Family

Where the heck is Ying?

Mao sank into the sofa while mulling over her subordinate’s location. She occasionally lost track of the teen, even when they were traveling abroad in Tokyo. The constant disappearances suggested Ying was neglecting her duties, or worse, conspiring with the enemy. Ying’s excuses for going AWOL were flimsy at best, but Mei Xing did not scold her. He really was too soft for their line of work.

Mei Xing took a sip of his tea and glanced in Mao’s direction. “What did I do this time?”

“Huh?”

“Your stare is gonna burn a hole through me at this rate.”

Mao looked around the luxurious hotel suite and saw Li Xue playing with Setsu inside the master’s bedroom. That meant she could be abrasive to her overly naive boss.

“Do you know where Ying went?”

“Out for some air.”

“And you just let her go? She’s on guard duty! I know you said Tokyo is safe because this is Nikaido’s territory, but you’re being too careless.”

“I’m not worried. You’re here.”

Mao felt flattered by his trust, but she could not allow that to distract her. “There are situations I can’t handle alone.”

“I understand that.”

“Then why-”

Gunshots echoed from outside the suite.

Mao jumped to her feet and pulled Mei Xing to the bedroom. “Stay here with your family.”

Setsu covered Li Xue’s ears while embracing her. Mao took a suitcase from the closet and opened it. Her alloy claws and a few firearms were orderly arranged within the container.

She tossed a handgun to Mei Xing. “Time to see the results of your training.”

“…Actually, I’ve been skipping those.” Mei Xing showed her a guilty smile.

What an overgrown kid!

Sounds of a gunfight continued outside. Mao had brought a few men for their trip to Japan, but they would not be enough to handle a large enemy force. Based on the frequency of the gunshots, that was exactly what they were up against. Mei Xing’s trust in Kaika’s protection had proven imprudent.

Mao equipped her claws. “Lock the door behind me. I’ll go see what’s happening outside.”

“No, you should wait here.”

“I appreciate the concern, Boss, but this is my job.”

“Listen to me, Mao-”

Ignoring his appeals, she dashed out of the bedroom and approached the main door. She perked her ears to the situation outside. The gunfire waned and then completely disappeared. Marching footsteps came closer. Fighting gunmen in a narrow hallway was akin to suicide, so Mao decided to ambush the enemy. She crouched low beside the door and waited.

Contrary to her expectations, the enemy did not kick or blast the door open. The electronic lock disengaged normally. The only ones who had card keys to the suite were the people inside.

And Ying.

Mao pounced on the teen as she entered the suite, knocking her to the floor. “You traitor!!!”

Ying blocked Mao’s claws with her dual handguns. The alloy blades cut into her pistols, rendering them useless. Mao mounted her and mercilessly swung her right hand at her exposed throat.

“Stop!!!” shouted Mei Xing. “Everyone, stand down!”

Mao flinched to a stop, her poisoned claws mere inches from Ying’s skin.

Ying let go of her handguns. Mao noticed several young men in casual attire standing in the hallway. They lowered their firearms, which were aimed at her just seconds ago.

“…What’s going on here?” asked Mao.

Mei Xing went to her side. “Sorry for keeping you in the dark. Ying and these young men are on our side.”

“Could you get off me now?” asked Ying.

Dumbfounded, Mao slowly stood up.

Ying rose to her feet and faced Mei Xing. “Some of the traitors died, but we captured the leader.”

“Who is it?”

“Ming Tan Wei. He’s one of the leaders named by the traitors we interrogated before. As suspected, your guard detail was working with the enemy. They called in a strike team while they thought I was away, thinking Mao alone would not be able to defend against the attack.”

“Good work, Ying.”

“Thank you for protecting us,” said Setsu, Li Xue in her arms.

“..Was I the only one who didn’t know?” asked Mao.

“Sorry, but I had no choice,” said Mei Xing.

“Are… Are you saying you can’t trust me?” Mao’s surprise slowly turned into heartbreak.

“No, Mao.” Setsu approached her and held her shoulders. “It was my fault. I asked Mei Xing to keep the plan a secret from you.”

“Why!?”

“Because you’re a terrible actress.”

Mao could not deny it. Braids was as socially awkward as anyone could be, and Mao, who specialized in combat, was no different.

“I needed the traitors to underestimate me,” said Mei Xing. “And the best way to do that was to show everyone your dissatisfaction towards me.”

“What for?”

“To catch the mastermind behind all this. I intentionally let the traitors go free to find the one pulling their strings. I expected them to make contact with him, especially if they think I’m a naive idiot.”

“Couldn’t you just torture the traitors for that information?”

“Even if they spill the name, it’ll be their word against the mastermind’s. I can’t get rid of someone based on hearsay, particularly if he’s higher up in the ranks.”

Higher up?

“I gave Ying the task of investigating this because of your positive evaluation of her performance. That’s why she was often on the move without informing you. I apologize if that led to misunderstandings.” Mei Xing scratched his hair. “I also asked her to assemble a team of trustworthy people as an extra precaution while we’re here in Japan.”

“Sorry for pointing a gun at you, Miss Mao!” One of the young men at the doorway bowed.

The rest of his comrades followed suit. “Sorry!”

“They’re my brother’s friends,” said Ying. “He was popular with the newbies.”

“You invited this attack?” asked Mao. “You endangered Li Xue’s life?”

“I trusted that everyone, including you, would definitely keep us safe. I rented the entire top floor of the hotel for that purpose. Ying’s team was secretly staying in the other rooms. I know this is an extreme path to take, but I needed more evidence. Now that we’ve captured one of the leaders in the act of betrayal, I can finally make my move.”

“I’m having trouble understanding all this…” Mao felt like she was in a daze, desperate to catch up with everything going behind the scenes.

“We don’t have time to discuss it right now. First, we have to get out of here while Kaika is holding off the local authorities. We fly home tonight.”

The following day, their private jet landed in China just before dawn. The sun was already at its zenith when the interrogation of the captured traitors finished. This time, Mei Xing had personally observed the process in place of Chen.

Mei Xing summoned all the accused traitors back to headquarters. Some went along willingly, while some had to be collected by Ying and her team. It took two days to gather everyone in the interrogation room. Mao and Ying, along with her team, accompanied the dragon head for the confrontation.

Mei Xing clasped his hands behind him as he walked to and fro before the traitors. “I gathered everyone here because we’ve caught a traitor who tried to murder me and my family. He gave up the names of his allies during interrogation.”

The mid-level leaders gathered in the room looked at each other while desperately trying to hide their worry, some more successful than others.

“It goes without saying he named all of you.”

“Lies!” said one of the leaders.

“Where’s the bastard who said that!?” shouted another.

“He isn’t in a presentable state,” said Mao.

The leaders fell silent, but soon one of them stepped forward. “This is just a plot to incite infighting among us! How can you trust the words of someone who tried to kill you!?”

“It’s because he tried to kill me, actually. Think about it. Most society members consider me an inept nuisance, especially after I let all of you go unpunished. Killing me sounds more like he wants to help the Soaring Serpent Society, not destroy it.” Mei Xing scratched his head. “On the other hand, all of you have been named by three different people. His story corroborates the one from the two spies we captured before. That’s conclusive. You are all traitors.”

Ying and her team drew their guns and trained them on the leaders.

“Wait! Listen to us dragon head!”

“I’m loyal to you and the society!”

Pleas for mercy filled the dimly lit room. Mao observed Mei Xing’s pained face.

It’s not an easy choice to kill.

But you have to do it, Boss.

Mei Xing closed his thin eyes for what seemed like forever. After a long sigh, he looked at each of the traitors’ faces one by one, as if etching them to memory. “I will give you all a choice. Those who still wish to work for me, kneel right now and beg for forgiveness. Those who cannot accept me, leave the building. I give you my word that you will not be harmed. However, we’ll be enemies when we meet again.”

“Boss!” said Mao.

Mei Xing stopped her with a subtle wave. “Now choose!”

I can’t believe this!

Didn’t you learn anything after being betrayed twice!?

Mao swallowed her vexation. It was pointless to oppose Mei Xing when he had that stubborn expression.

Three men left the room. With tearful voices, the remaining traitors groveled at Mei Xing’s feet and begged for forgiveness.

Mei Xing smiled. “I forgive you.”

The men cheered and swore oaths of loyalty to the dragon head.

While clenching her teeth, Mao looked at Mei Xing.

He met her eyes, still smiling gently. “Mao, kill them please.”

“…Excuse me?”

“Kill them. Their lives in exchange for forgiveness is a bargain. Your claws are a lot quieter than guns. I don’t want to disturb Li Xue’s nap.”

“Y-Yes, Boss!”

Overhearing his order, the traitors began panicking and tried to escape. Ying’s team blocked the door.

Mao methodically killed the traitors one by one. Some tried to fight back, but none could match against her skill. The culling ended in seconds.

After wiping her claws on one of the dead bodies, Mao approached Mei Xing. “Should I go after those who left?”

“No.”

“I know you gave them your word, but this isn’t the time for integrity.”

Mei Xing shook his head. “I have no obligation to keep a promise to traitors. I’m letting them go so they can spread the word of what happened here. They’ll soon find out their allies here are dead, and they’ll tell that story to whoever takes them in. Legends told by enemies are more believable than those from allies.”

“I… didn’t think of that.”

“Moreover, killing every single threat indiscriminately shows fear and insecurity. If I don’t believe in my own invulnerability, who else will?”

I misunderstood this man.

No, I wanted him to remain innocent.

Even though I knew that was impossible.

Not in this world.

I was the naive one.

He knew what he was getting into.

And he was more prepared for it than I ever was.

Mao’s cheeks burned in shame. She bowed her head to Mei Xing. “I’m sorry, Boss! All this time, I thought you were being soft, that you were too merciful… I should’ve trusted you more!”

“If you did that, then the plan wouldn’t have worked.” Mei Xing laughed. “You performed perfectly, Mao, as always. So raise your head.” He gave her a pat on the shoulder. “Remember what I told you about mercy?”

Mao straightened her back. “That I should learn what it means?”

“Yes. Did you come up with an answer?”

“I used to think mercy was a weakness, that it was meaningless in the underworld.”

“Do you still feel the same way?”

“…I don’t know any other answer.”

“Then let me give you mine. Mercy isn’t a weakness. It’s a tool, one of many, like strength or charisma. Its meaning and value are determined by how you use it.”

“That’s…”

Cruel.
More cruel than being merciless.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Come in.” Mei Xing whispered in Mao’s ear. “It’s time for the main event.”

Mao nodded. The traitors they dealt with so far were small fry. The big fish was finally here.

Chen entered the interrogation room and closed the door. He emotionlessly looked at the mutilated bodies strewn on the floor. “What happened here?”

Mei Xing drew a gun and shot Chen twice. One of the bullets missed, while the other hit the old man in the groin. Chen fell to the floor and howled in agony.

“I thought you didn’t wanna wake Li Xue,” said Mao.

“She’s a deep sleeper. A few shots should be okay.” He walked over to Chen.

“What the fuck is this!?” Chen writhed on the floor.

“The traitor Tan Wei named you as the mastermind behind my assassination. He said you worked closely with him to gain the dragon head seat. He also told me you sold my father out. You were the one who tricked him into thinking my family was killed by Kaika Nikaido. You led him to his death at the hands of the Americans.”

“Nonsense! I’ve barely spoken to Tan Wei! I’m completely loyal to you! I swear!”

Mei Xing crouched down and shot Chen’s knee point blank. Screams erupted from the old man’s croaky throat.

“Ying reported that you spoke with him several times in different locations outside of headquarters. She couldn’t get close enough to hear what you spoke about, but that at least confirmed you were lying just now.”

“You believe that Japanese rat over me!?”

“Of course. She saved my life in Tokyo and therefore has no motive to lie. You underestimated me too much. Meeting with a known traitor, no matter how secure the location, is the height of arrogance and stupidity. To be honest, I didn’t think my plan would go this well.” Mei Xing shoved the muzzle of his gun onto Chen’s forehead.

Pure fear warped Chen’s wrinkly face.

“I’ll give you a choice, Elder Chen. Out of respect for your long service, I won’t kill you if you tell me everything you know. Or I can hand you over to our professional interrogator.”

“I’ll talk! I’ll tell you everything!”

“Better hurry then before I change my mind.”

“It was Saya Saionji! She was the one who proposed the plan! She said if I lied to the boss about your deaths, he would self-destruct! Then I could pin your murders on Zhi Zhu and take the dragon head chair for myself!”

Mei Xing pulled the trigger. Chen’s head snapped back and lay lifeless on the floor. His unfocused eyes remained wide open as blood trickled from the hole on his forehead.

“Don’t insult my friends.” Mei Xing spat on Chen’s corpse.

“Wouldn’t it have been better to hand him over to the interrogator?”

“Will you really question every single thing I do?” Mei Xing smiled wryly.

“I-I’m sorry, Boss.”

“I was kidding.” He chuckled. “Chen’s confession about Saya was his final revenge against me for foiling his plan. He wanted to ruin my relationship with NGC. We can’t trust anything a vengeful man says, even under torture.”

“…How can you be so sure?”

“What use are friends if not to trust?”

Is trust a tool as well?

What about friends?

Mao’s thoughts fizzled out before leaving her lips. She knew Mei Xing held some things sacred. To him, family was anything but a tool. Surely trust and friendship were the same. A mysterious longing for him compelled her to believe so.

Zhang Wei Long once told her that the most formidable leaders were surrounded by followers who mistook their fear for love. Mao finally understood what that meant.

 

***

Setsu stared at her ringing mobile.

Saya?

She felt something was off. Though the butler knew her number, they rarely spoke on the phone. There was also the issue of timing. Earlier that afternoon, Mei Xing told her about Chen’s betrayal and confession of Saya’s involvement. Her husband believed Saya was completely innocent, but Setsu was not as trusting. Her years in managing a business had taught her that every person had many faces.

Setsu answered the phone. “Hello?”

“Good evening. This is Saya.”

“I know.” Setsu giggled. “You’re in my contacts.”

“Oh right. I am sorry.”

“Stop talking like that! I’m not your boss.”

“You are the wife of Ojousama’s partner, as well as my senior. I must speak appropriately.”

“S-Senior?”

“I-I mean, you are slightly older-”

“O-Older?”

“I-I am sorry! I did not mean to be rude.”

“Relax, Saya. I’m just teasing you.”

“…When did that become everyone’s pastime?”

“Shikimi-san was advertising it last time he came over.”

“So mean…”

“Is that why you’re calling? Did you have a fight? I’m sure he teases you because he likes you. Men are such kids.”

“We did not have a fight.” Saya coughed. “Actually, I called to ask for some advice. You are the only person I can ask about this.”

“Oh? Now you’ve got my complete attention.”

“Well… Ageha told me… that you and Mei Xing are in what most people would call, um, an o-open relationship.”

“That’s right.”

“I wanted to ask why you decided to do that, and what it is like.”

“Hmm… Shikimi-san is popular. Did he cheat on you? Or did you find someone else?”

“He did not cheat! Me either! No cheating! None at all!!!”

“In that case, you’re thinking about someone else, someone you also care about, am I right?”

“Yes.”

“Then my relationship with Mei Xing isn’t a good reference. Even though we’re in an open relationship, neither of us have slept with other people since we became a couple. We haven’t found the right person to invite into our family yet. I have a feeling your case is a little different.”

“…Maybe.”

“All I can say is you shouldn’t get hung up on conventional family structure. Do you trust Ageha’s feelings for you?”

“Yes.” Despite Saya’s flappable tone so far, her latest reply was as firm as bedrock.

“Then there’s no reason to feel insecure. Don’t worry about doing the right thing and focus on what you think is the happiest path for everyone.”

Setsu could clearly feel how much Saya loved Ageha. That made her dangerous. If it was for him, Saya would be able to do anything, including betraying Mei Xing. Though she harbored that suspicion, Setsu hoped that was not the case. She personally liked the hardworking and innocent young woman a lot. However, to protect her family, she could not dismiss the possibility.

I’ll do a bit more digging later.

“…Thank you for the advice, Setsu-san. I think I know what to do.”

“Anything for a friend.”

 

***

“What time was she coming?” asked Kaika.

Ageha looked at the digital clock on the train station wall. “Tsubasa’s bullet train arrives in two minutes. I’m still surprised you got her to come to Tokyo.”

“Wasn’t it because of your unreasonable ARMS requests that she had to fly over? As impressive as her personal lab is, it can’t compare to NGC’s facilities.”

“As if that sloth would fly all the way here just for that.”

“Good guess. You didn’t shack up with her for nothing.”

“You haven’t told Saya, have you?”

“Who knows?” Kaika mischievously flashed her pearly whites. “Anyway, Tsubasa found her fiance. Allan’s on a trip in Korea. They’ll be meeting in Japan in a week or so. She said booking her own accommodation was a pain, so I offered to take care of her here.”

“…She found him? He was seriously missing?”

“Don’t ask me.” Kaika shrugged.

They were waiting at the railway platform to help carry Tsubasa’s luggage. The gate guard had tried to make them buy tickets for entry, but Kaika’s adorable smile had fixed that in a snap.

The Narita Express appeared from the tunnel and stopped at the platform. A flood of people poured out of the train doors. The wave soon ebbed to a trickle, at which point a silver-haired woman hobbled out. The petite professor in a white lab coat struggled to drag her two huge traveling bags onto the platform.

Ageha walked over and helped her with her luggage. “Long time no see, Tsuba-san.”

“Save the jokes. No energy,” muttered Tsubasa. “Traveling is so primitive…”

“I can tell from your face.” He picked up the bags with ease.

“I know you like showing off, but could you put those down?” asked Kaika. “People are looking. Those things have wheels for a reason.”
Tsubasa looked up at his face. “Could you carry me instead? Walking is a pain.”

He lowered the luggage to the floor. “Okay.”

“What do you mean ‘okay!?’” said Kaika. “Do you want to be mistaken for a kidnapper!?”

“But look at her. She’s exhausted.”

“You’re right… Maybe she’s hot? Tokyo is much warmer than Minnesota. Tsubasa, why don’t you take off your lab coat?”

“Can I?” Tsubasa began unbuttoning her lab coat. “I didn’t think Japan’s laws were so progressive.”

What does she mean?

Ageha’s internal question was answered as soon as Tsubasa wiggled out of her coat.

He frantically pulled her coat back up and overlapped the lapels, hiding her bare skin from public view. “Are you a flasher!?”

“The hell are you talking about?” asked Tsubasa.

“Why aren’t you wearing anything under your lab coat!?”

“Because it’s too hot. The airports were too warm, the plane was too warm, the train was too warm, this entire country is too damn hot.”

“Then lose the lab coat and wear some lighter clothes!”

“If I didn’t wear my coat, I might get mistaken for a lost child and taken to a police station.”

“You’ll be taken there for a different reason with what you’re wearing!”

“Not wearing,” said Kaika.

“This isn’t the time for your quibbling!”

“What’s wrong with it? She won’t get arrested if she keeps the coat on.”

“She took it off just seconds ago! Because of you!”

“Then we can just pretend she’s a child. They won’t arrest a kid for getting naked.”

“They won’t! They’ll arrest me instead!”

“Are you two done?” asked Tsubasa. “I wanna get some rest. I haven’t slept a wink in two days.”

“You didn’t sleep the entire trip?”

“I can’t sleep in moving vehicles ever since Allan drove us off a cliff while I was napping.”

“…I’d really like to meet him one of these days.”

“Confessing to our affair? Not that I mind.”

“No! And mind it a little, for your fiance’s sake and mine.”

Kaika stared into the distance with a wistful expression. “One does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth.”

“Enjoying yourself, you bastard?” An unfamiliar voice intruded on their reunion.

All three of them turned to the unexpected company. A teenage boy about Saya’s height stood with his hands tucked inside his jacket pockets. A hood covered his head, making it hard for the taller Ageha to see his face. Alarm bells went off in Ageha’s head as he prepared for an attack.

The boy came closer, revealing a crazed glare. His eyes were bloodshot, and bluish veins protruded from his face and neck. “I’m sure you don’t know me, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

The boy was wrong. Ageha did know him. He had seen his picture in a file for one of his kills. He was Sumire Minami’s brother, Ken.

What’s he doing here..?

Surprise and confusion distracted him. He saw Ken’s attack coming but reacted a split-second too late. Blood spurted from his neck.

Kaika’s voice pierced his daze. “Wake up you idiot!”

Ken’s folding knife had nicked his throat. If Kaika had not pulled his shirt from the side, his jugular would have been sliced open.

“Sorry. Take Tsubasa and get out of here.” Ageha dodged Ken’s knife thrusts while pressing on his neck wound.

It’s bleeding a lot.


Probably a damaged artery.

“Okay!” Kaika grabbed Tsubasa’s hand and dragged her away from the battle. She took out her mobile and phoned someone.

Help won’t make it in time.

I need to deal with him myself before I bleed out.

However, Ageha did not want to kill the boy. He had promised Sumire that he would take care of her brother. As part of his deal with Valeriya, he had entrusted the boy to her.

Did Ria screw up?

From the look of things, the answer was yes. Ken’s speed indicated extensive ARMS enhancements. His abnormal facial appearance suggested he was heavily drugged.

Worst of all, Ken targeted him, not Kaika. The boy knew about his body and only targeted his weak points. He was Ageha’s sin, his creation.

Ageha blocked the knife with his left hand and lightly kicked Ken in the chest. Ken tumbled backward but got up immediately.

His body is almost completely alloy.

That made it difficult to stop him without killing him. The boy also had drug-enhanced reaction speed, allowing him to keep up with Ageha despite his amateurish martial skills.

Ageha tried to grab his shoulder. Ken ducked and threw a punch at his groin. The blow missed because of Ageha’s timely backstep, but that allowed Ken to land a spinning kick on his left side.

The impact threw Ageha into the train’s open doors. More blood gushed from his neck wound.

He got up and defended against Ken’s barrage but could not retaliate because of the limited space within the railcar. Ken was significantly smaller and more agile than Ageha, allowing him to use the terrain to his advantage.

Ageha unleashed a side kick aimed at Ken’s leg. The boy jumped up, grabbed the train handles, and thrust his feet towards Ageha’s face. Ageha slipped past the kick and embraced Ken’s body from the side to restrain him.

“Stop this! I don’t want to kill you!”

Ken howled like a beast. He spread his jaws open and tried to bite Ageha’s throat.

Ageha was forced to let him go to avoid the feral attack, but he did not neglect sending him a farewell kick to the gut. Ken flew backward and tumbled to the next railcar.

Ageha’s vision blurred for a moment. Noticing the copious amounts of blood soaking his sweater, he decided to stop pulling punches.

I’m sorry, but I can’t die for you.

Not anymore.

He eliminated the distance between them as Ken got to his feet. Aside from enhancing the boy’s reflexes, the drug seemed to dull his pain. Ken met Ageha’s charge with a knife thrust. Instead of dodging, Ageha thrust a knifehand at the boy’s chest. His fingertips reached Ken first, an inevitable result due to the difference in reach. The blow did not have much power but still managed to stun Ken for a moment.

Before the boy could recover, Ageha grabbed his right arm and threw him through the train window. Ken’s body slammed into the far wall and fell on the opposite train tracks.

Like an immortal zombie, Ken still rose despite his wounds. Ageha vaulted through the window and made his way to the boy. After wiping the blood from his eyes, Ken dashed towards the railcar.

I’m not letting you back in that cramped train.

Ageha intercepted him and slammed an uppercut into his body. The boy managed to lower his arm to guard, but the blow lobbed him to the roof of the train. Ageha effortlessly jumped to the roof in chase. Ken tried to push himself to his feet, but his entire body trembled like a newborn fawn.

The tides had turned. Ageha could now safely restrain the boy and figure out exactly what happened to him.

He stumbled to his knees.

I’ve lost too much blood..!

His vision darkened, and his hearing began to fade. He could not put power into his limbs. If he did not recover, the boy would kill him.

Ken screamed in pain while clawing at his chest. Ageha realized he was not the only one with a time limit. Before Ageha could get to his feet, Ken rolled off the train and disappeared into the tunnel.

Ageha powerlessly lay on his back and called Kaika on his phone.

“We’re safe in the car!” said Kaika. “Help is almost here. Where are you!?”

“I’m on the bullet train.”

“Huh? Where are you going?”

“I’m on top of the train. Don’t ask.”

 

***

“Let me go!!!” screamed Ken.

I couldn’t kill him.

Nick finally let me go after him.

But I failed!

He could barely stay conscious from the pain. The drugs had worn off, allowing him to feel the full effects of Ageha Shikimi’s blows. Not only that, the drugs’ after effects singed his nerves. It felt like he was being torched alive.

That fucking monster.

Is this not enough?

I transformed my body, took the drugs, trained myself.

But I couldn’t kill him.

What should I do to get my revenge!?

What mortified Ken the most was the fact that Ageha did not want to kill him. The man had said so himself. The one-sided skirmishes near the end of their fight confirmed that.

What could be more insulting than the target of your revenge caring for your life?

Unable to bear the chagrin, Ken cried out.

“Shut up kid,” said one of the men restraining him. He spoke in English, a language Ken was relatively familiar with from movies and compulsory education.

Forget killing Ageha, Ken could not even escape. His limbs were held by two armored men. Despite his enhancements, he could not get free. The battered state of his body severely weakened him.

Am I going to die like this?

Without accomplishing anything?

I’m sorry, Nee-chan.

I’m sorry I’m so weak.

I’m sorry I can’t avenge you.

A tanned woman in a business suit entered the room. Her face contorted in shock as soon as she saw Ken. “What are you guys doing!?”

“This is the kid who fought Ageha Shikimi at Tokyo station,” said an armored trooper. “We tracked him in the railway tunnels and captured him. It was a pain bringing him all the way here.” The trooper smacked Ken’s head. “He wouldn’t stop struggling.”

“Let him go.”

The trooper laughed. “Good joke.”

“He’s a child, and he’s injured! He needs treatment!.”

“He’s a full body cyborg, Ms. Butler.”

“It’s Oogi. Mashiro is fine.”

“Whatever. We’re already using non-lethal bullets. Next you’ll ask us to change the kid’s diaper.”

“I know you’re not happy about it, but you are under my command.” Mashiro glared at his helmet. “This isn’t a request. It’s an order.”

“…You heard her guys. Please testify for me if the boy snaps her neck or something.”

The team of armored soldiers laughed. The two men restraining Ken let him go.

Huh?

They seriously let me go…

Ken prepared his beaten body for one final struggle. He knew he could not escape, but he could at least take a few enemies with him.

Mashiro embraced him.

“W-What are you doing?” mumbled Ken.

“Don’t be afraid. You’ll be okay. I’ll get you treatment for those injuries.” Mashiro spoke in a tender Okinawan Japanese.

“Are you crazy? I can crush you with one arm.”

“I know. You’re strong. Much stronger than I am. You fought Ageha and survived. That’s proof enough.”

“You know that monster?”

“I wouldn’t call him that, but yes. What I don’t know is how you know him.”

“…So you want information.”

Not like I care.

“No, I want to help you.”

“I don’t want your help. All I want is to get revenge for my sister. All I want is to kill that bastard!”

“So that’s why. But you’ll never be able to do it.”

“I will! I’ll kill him.”

“Impossible. Ageha isn’t just strong. He has influential and intelligent friends. You don’t have those, do you?”

Ken thought about it. Nick, no matter how powerful he was, was not his friend. Ken was just a tool to him, and he was fine with that. Did Sakuya count? No. Even though she was Valeriya’s daughter, that did not translate to any power Ken could wield himself.

Mashiro was absolutely right. He was nothing but a single body.

He weakly shook his fuzzy head. It became harder and harder to think straight.

“Uh-huh. If you did, you wouldn’t resort to this.” Mashiro gently rubbed his back, just like his sister used to.

Nee-chan..?

“Let me help you, Ken. I have the brains and pedigree you need. Ageha Shikimi will get what he deserves. All I ask is you don’t kill anymore.”

“I haven’t… killed anyone. Not yet…” Ken sobbed in her arms.

He never wanted to hurt anyone except Ageha. He was not that kind of person. His sister had always praised his kindness, and he felt proud of that.

“That’s good.” Mashiro sighed in relief. “That’s good. I’ll do my best to keep it that way.”

“…Why?”

“I don’t need a reason to do the right thing.”

Ken felt the tension leaving his body. “Please… help me.”

“I’d be glad to.”

A heavy drowsiness weighed on his consciousness, dragging it into the darkness. His alloy arms hung lifelessly from his shoulders as he rested his forehead on Mashiro’s shoulder. A beloved memory flitted behind his closed eyelids before he fell into slumber.

“I missed you… Nee-chan.”

 

Next Chapter

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