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KingFisher [God Of Highschool/DxD]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Shirazad, Apr 15, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Ταφος 1.a
    Shirazad

    Shirazad Sapphic StoryTeller

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    Prologue: Ταφος 1.a

    Cheonggyecheon Bridge - Seoul

    I found myself surrounded.

    …an ambush’, I thought.

    It came from out of nowhere, just as I was making my way to the hospital for a visit like I often did most Tuesdays.

    A tentative count of… eight ‘students’ popped up from cover under the stone-arch bridge, behind roadside shrubbery, one even jumped down the stone-bridge onto the dirt-bank from the railing where he’d been standing. More arrived in moments - seven of them, riding on six bikes with a passenger on one, bringing the total to fifteen, that I could see.

    The riders, minus one passenger who stayed seated and contented themselves with spectating from a distance; not a fighter then, I observed - disentangled themselves from their color-themed bikes, red and black with flame decals – tacky, as they arrived onto the scene to join their cohort.

    Four flanked me, two in the front and two to the rear, steel pipes dragging along the ground and aluminum bats in hand. Neither pair made to move against me, seemingly content to keep me boxed in, all the while the rest stayed back a fair distance – spectating or waiting for their turns.

    One amongst the like faces stood out – he was in the back of the group and was making his way to stand in the front

    He had a rat’s nest of black-brown hair, brown eyes, and a thickly built figure that was more muscle than fat - oblong-shaped face, with a hint of stubble on the chin.

    Their leader I correctly assumed.

    He strode forward with a sense of confidence that uplifted others, a well of gravity to him that pulled them within his influence - their confidence bolstered by his sheer presence, and a swagger in his every step.

    “Yo… Seung Gyu-ha,” he called me out, casually and very informally too, “… that you right,” rude of him to address someone without honorifics - it's not much of an issue nowadays but traditions are to be observed… and I was digressing, he was also still talking.

    His voice was rough and rumbled with baritone, indicative of age well past the teen years… he was, paradoxically to my theory of his supposed age-group, wearing a Hag-won school uniform. Pinstriped grey with a red tie - for second-year students.

    Factoring in his physical age and the uniform, he must have been a repeat student, I observed.

    I sighed, drooping my shoulders slightly to dislodge my sling bag and let it fall to the ground. I took a step back, and schooled my thoughts, ignoring the minions’ snickering.

    “Evening…,” I tried to remember his name, but I drew a blank on that front – his face was memorable enough – but he was unfortunately one of many, too many to bother remembering names.

    I don’t quite know when, or how it came about but one day, I suddenly found myself holder to the title of strongest in the area – Jjang. The tale, if there even is one, probably fit the pages of a manhwa better than it did reality no doubt.

    “Today’s the day,” he announced, with the same pomp others before him always have before we began our dance.

    I didn’t even bother escaping, it was par for the course at this point.

    Every now and then, some ambitious few like him gather up and ally to challenge me, in hopes of… ‘dethroning’ me as it were.

    “Sure,” I mumbled as I balanced myself on one leg, tapping the toe-end of my runners against the ground considerately, adjusting and priming myself for the inevitable conflict to come.

    Monotonous as the constant challenges got sometimes, what with beating up the exact same faces day-in and day-out, I treated the experience like the exercise in control that it was. An opportunity to go back to the basics, cementing what skills I’d already mastered by fighting opponents weaker than myself that I’d need to hold back against, so I relished the chance by indulging these challenges.

    I took a step back, mindful of the person immediately behind me as well as the three others in my flank and direct front.

    “I’m going to make you eat dirt today,” he said, throwing his hands up and outwards in a motion signaling the start of our dance, “… after I’m done with you, I’ll be the Jjang.”

    Muscles tensed, as I welcomed the familiar rush of adrenaline.

    The four surrounding me started to circle me like vultures on carrion, their intentions clear and weapons brandished.

    The one behind me attacked first – bleached hair, and top-heavy, wearing the standard pinstriped black-and-grey of our school.

    He was, maybe… ten paces away from me at the start, far away enough to not need to run he’d figured, so he leisurely jogged within range as he built up momentum, and swung down at me with a bat.

    I heard the ~whoosh~ of weighted steel against air, rushing for my head and I ducked down under the swing. Surprised, my assailant gasped and stopped in his steps, assessing and trying to make heads or tails of the situation – he had deliberately kept himself outside my peripheral and hadn’t expected me to dodge at all, much less anticipate him as I had.

    In his moment of surprise, I pirouetted in place and retaliated with a sweeping kicking, connecting the ball of my foot to the back of his knees, breaking his balance.

    [Basic Trip]

    Like a house of cards against a stiff breeze, he crumbled and fell to his knees where his face crashed into my awaiting knee by the chin as I was finishing the last arc of my pirouette.

    [Traditional Knee Kick]

    Eye dazed, and face contorting in confusion he fell unconscious with his back against the hard ground.

    A pregnant pause fell, and everyone stopped, gawking and staring in abject… I’d say terror, but their expressions were much closer to regret.

    No matter, I thought to myself. One down… and what, thirteen I think – passenger not accounted for, left to go.

    I shifted in place, right leg forward and left leg bend by the knee in a stance – just in time to sidestep out of a pipe-swing, and duck underneath an overhead bat-swing from my flank.

    Others made to capitalize on my moment of distraction, as they moved sedately, surrounding me and circling me in such a way that I was forced closer and closer to the canal’s dirt-bank each time they completed a revolution… I imagine they’d hoped to box me in, with the shallow waters of the canal behind me and the wall of bodies in front of me.

    The strategy was not sound, at all… it was flawed beyond reason, but it had miraculously worked – though only because I let it.

    The position they were trying to push me toward was more advantageous to me than it was to them. With the water behind me, I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone approaching from my rear, so I’d willingly fell into their pace.

    Pipe, one of my two most immediate assailants clumsily swung his misshapen pipe my way in a downward slashing motion. Which irked at me something fierce - that was the exact wrong thing to have done with a blunt weapon. I’m not even a weapon user and even I knew that.

    In my indignity, I didn’t dignify Pipe’s attack with a block. I simply stepped into his range and let his falling arm rest against the soft of my shoulder by the unfurled elbow, subsequently arresting the swing’s momentum before it even began building up.

    An elbow jab to his belly and he fell to the ground unconscious in a twitching, dry-heaving heap.

    ‘Too much force,’ I observed with a grimace at the sight by my feet. I re-adjusted myself just in time to intercept his other friend with the bat, who fell within seconds from a deliberately glancing blow to the chin by way of a straight punch.

    I braced myself for a follow up that never came. Couldn’t help but notice how it spoke wonders of today’s group that no one was stupid enough to come charging at me.

    It wasn’t an accomplishment to be lauded or bragged about, but today’s crop was by far the some most… alright I’ve faced in all the times I’ve done this, not great… that went to a select few. I could even see some of them assume almost proper stances and grips on their weapons as they advanced. They were coordinated and seemed to attack in pre-arranged groups which was another plus in their favor.

    Wordlessly, two more approached me. One from my right – behind me, just beyond sight and the other from the front.

    Both were unarmed but somewhat skilled.

    The first of the pair – a punching striker, came at me from the front with his fists tucked inwards as he rushed towards me in an explosion of motion that left a slight dust-cloud in his wake.

    The second - a grappler from his stance, curled his legs in and dipped low before taking off in a standing, rush start – his approach was almost shuffling, unrefined but well-executed regardless. No doubt aiming for my torso with a crash-tackle and most likely hoping to follow up with a shoulder barge driving me to the ground - grapplers, outside a confined ring with strict rules of engagement, were rather predictable like that.

    I recognized their styles - stock-standard Jujitsu and Karate respectively, both of which were of the mall-dojo variety. Both were utilizing the respective versions of movement techniques, not to any degree of mastery, but well enough to provide results.

    The karate-ka arrived first, fist cocked in a winding punch that I side-stepped. The grappler followed suit and slipped to my unguarded rear where he attempted a grapple as predicted, aiming for my torso, and almost succeeded too had I been a moment too late in my counter.

    Before the grappler’s hold cemented, I jabbed him in the gut with my elbow and leaned back into him, pushing him away from me.

    [Basic Elbow-Counter]

    A straight punch whizzed by my cheek, grazing the top-most layer of skin as it harmless sailed by.

    Another one fell, going for my other cheek – I bobbed and weaved under it in a classic, stock standard boxing dodge and fell into a rhythm as I suffered assault from the karate-ka, who favored his fist more than he did his legs, punching at me over and over with reckless abandon, with me ducking and dodging his every attempted strike.

    Futile though the attempt seemed, it worked favorably for him in that I was being forced further back to the edges of the dirt-bank from all the backpedaling I had to do, into his still recovering grappler friend’s tender mercies.

    Behind me laid a trap, I concluded.

    It wasn’t too hard to deduce after a moment’s deliberation.

    I wasn’t sure what the trap was. It was something about the canal, I knew that much at least… in the water itself maybe… no, it probably had to do with the canal.

    I cracked a smile at the karate-ka, a little amused at his group’s attempt.

    I had no intention of driving myself into their trap any further than I’d already done, so I changed pace and went on the offensive.

    A low, flat-footed kick to the karate-ka’s shin had him staggering back and his punch-rush interrupted.

    I returned him the favor with a punch of my own.

    I struck his unguarded cheek with a simple left hook, the blow resounded and he staggered back again. He panicked and tried to pull a crossed-arm guard to his face, which I bypassed completely with a follow-up hooking-uppercut to the chin that went under his elbows and past his guard.

    His grappler friend recovered the next moment.

    No longer gasping and sputtering from the glancing blow to his solar plexus – he charged at me, arms tightly tucked over his belly and just over the armpits. Another bull-rush.

    More joined the melee, six others I think - hard to keep track of people in the chaos that ensued.

    Punches were thrown, weapons swung, and dirt kicked up in a confusing mess of flailing bodies and pained screams as they tried to dog pile me.

    Shouts of, “get him,” “hold him down,” “cave his head in,” and the like were called out as they advanced upon me.

    “… stay in formation dammit,” the sole voice of reason shouted from the sidelines, “stick to the plan – push him into the wat…,” but no one save for me, heard him.

    A kick to the temple and someone fell, I hadn’t had the chance to commit to memory their features, just that they had been unfortunate enough to be within my range at the time.

    Grappler slipped in through the mess of bodies, capitalizing on a momentary opening… an admirable attempt, one that I punished him for. I saw him approach and raised a knee. The moment he got within range I whipped a kick across his face. A harsh ~crack~ resounded as the kick connected at a slight angle. As he was positioned low - in an almost crouch, the sweeping-kick drove him face first into the ground and sent him sliding all the way to the edges of the canal bank.

    [Angled Brazilian Kick]

    I was slipping, and using more force than was necessary.

    I ducked under the swing of what looked to be a hockey-stick and lashed out at the wielder with twins jab to the stomach, before pulling them in towards me by the scruff of their collar to use as a shield against a particularly skilled kicker in the mix, then pushed them back into the mess once they finished serving their use, braving a dropkick to the face in my place.

    [Street Fighting – Human Shield]

    The kicker slipped once his momentum was spent on Hockey stick’s face, he staggered and nearly fell on his rear but he collected himself quite well for an amateur and assumed his stance once again. His moment of recollection, however, had left him open enough for me to attack with an upward kick to the under-chin with the flat bottom of my feet as the striking surface. Bringing my leg high and straight up, he flew into the air and fell into the shallow water with an impressive falling arc.

    [Traditional Taekkyon - Lifting Kick]

    “Holy shit!” someone exclaimed in surprised awe, and a spray of cloudy-water blanketed the area as the kicker fell into the water with a forceful splash.

    I spared a glance the canal’s way curiously.

    Ignoring the sputtering and flailing boy, my eyes wondered further in,

    The water was dirty,’ I observed.

    The local river-canal water was freshwater… treated freshwater. The canal was artificially constructed sometime in the sixties, and was connected to an actual river some few kilometers outside the city limits, which means that it was almost always clear – the beige coloring of the water around the bank was suspicious, suspicious enough I’m surprised it wasn’t the first thing I noticed.

    Further inspection of the dirt-bank revealed drying mud placed in a mount just out of sight under the bridge.

    It looked almost as if someone…

    “Did you dig a trench in the water?” I asked the gathered out loud.

    Predictably, no one answered. The resulting flinch I got from the leader and the silence from his followers was answer enough.

    W-was that the trap they were hoping to catch me with?

    A trench?

    Albeit, an underwater one, bit still.

    How would that have worked out I wondered? What exactly was the intended result?

    I thought long and hard on it and… I suppose if the trench was deep enough, I could get one of my legs… or both, stuck within which would leave me open to assault… not much of an opening, but good enough that If capitalized upon properly, they might manage to get a few significant hits in without retaliation.

    …probably.

    Maybe… if I decided to spontaneously forget how to fight that is.

    The chances of it working were astronomically low I’m not even sure how the plan was conceived in the first place.

    “Really – a trench,” I couldn’t help but laugh at that. Was I fighting the allied forces?

    There were so many things that could have gone wrong. So many things that just did, as a matter of fact, with that plan of theirs. To start, it was too one dimensional and entirely, overly-dependent on me not finding out about the trap until the last moment, much less anticipating it in the first place.

    I anticipated a trap, and I found out about the trap - even if I’d fallen for it, It wouldn’t have helped much, not against fighters of their calibre.

    “tsk,” with his ‘plan’, if it could be called that, having failed before it could lift off, the leader clicked his tongue in annoyance, and advanced towards me, pushing anyone in his way aside with a hand.

    “… what part of distract him did all of you not understand?” he barked. Silence, grumbling and the pained groaning of my waking victims was his answer, “… weaklings, all of you!” he shouted as he advanced on me.

    “If you want something done right,” he said, motioning for my entourage of attackers to back away, “… you do it yourself.”

    Picking up their incapacitated friends on the way, they proceeded to surround us in a tight circle, maintaining their distance and spectating – which worked out well in my favor, fighting multiple opponents had never been a strength of mine anyway.

    “~Kick his Ass~,” someone in the peanut gallery shouted.

    It was a short, round-faced and black-haired girl with oversized polarized-aviators perched on her face, wearing the tight-fitting girl’s uniform of our Hag-won high school and a fabric carry-case for what I assumed to be a sword slung over her shoulder…, “~Go, Fight, Go~,” she chanted in… Japanese with a flourish, arms spread out wide and ample chest puffed out.

    The girl was either his girlfriend or his sister? Why would he bring her here?… I wasn’t sure which was worse to be honest.

    Hyung-Jun grinned and rolled up his shirt, flexed his exposed biceps then winked at her and she swooned… literally. She slumped into the passenger seat, a hand held over her chest and another to her forehead in an over-exaggerated show of swooning.

    It was so over the top, it almost seemed fake. One-sided affection maybe… trouble in paradise… I didn’t pay much mind to it; their relationship was their business and none of mine.

    ~pop-pop-pop~ he cracked his knuckles, first the right hand then the left in a show of what I assume was meant to intimidate me.

    “… whatever happens, no one interferes,” he said to the crowd, though not really, his eyes were to the girl in the bike when he spoke.

    ‘Curious,’ I thought.

    “Hope the warm-up was enough to get you into high-gear,” he said, as though his previous strategic shortcomings were intentional, all the while the girl kept watching him with blank-faced intent – judging him, and me for some reason.

    “Sorry kid,” he said as he burst forth towards me with frankly impressive footwork for someone his size.

    His style was unrecognizable, it looked to be a Hodge-podge of various disciplines – taking the most useful aspect of many styles and gluing them together into an incoherent whole. It was unpredictable - the only good thing about it, but ugly and easy to take apart with keen observation.

    He threw a punch, and I slipped under it as he overextended, coming out the other end on his side where he attempted to elbow me – I leaned out of the way and backpedaled to safety a few steps away. Left, right, left, right – without relenting, he jabbed at me again and again. I danced to the tune of his body as I weaved out and under each punch thrown, working up a steady and easy rhythm of my own all the while.

    [Jab Rush x20]

    After a while, his arms tired and his breathing became leaden, so he changed pace and threw a left hook blindly. It caught me almost by surprise... almost, but honestly, I’d simply grown complacent and lost myself in the one-two-one-two pace we’d worked up. The blow grazed me right on my left cheek, which stung something fierce from the force - a light welt no doubt forming there.

    “Not bad kid,” he said… complimenting me, I think. Beads of sweat already forming on his brow.

    A single rush attack was all it took to wind him up. All that muscle on him, and not an ounce of stamina in him - it was an all too common problem, limits of the human body I suppose... or the stupidity of muscle heads like him.

    Oblivious to their leader’s predicament, his crowd cheered for him - to them it must have looked as though he was beating me.

    He rushed at me again, fist cocked backward in a painfully obvious wind-up for a hook.

    Instead, he surprised me yet again when he flicked a jab at me – my saving grace was his size, and his prominently defined musculature which, through his shirt, let me see the flow of his muscles as he changed course, shifting and bulging this and that way to accommodate the abrupt action.

    I let the jab pass by overhead, as I brought myself low to a near crouch and burst forward with a flicker of motion into his range, and beyond, slipping to his unguarded back.

    When I came to on the other side, I was already in perfect position to execute the deciding blow - standing in a flamingo stance, right leg firmly planted aground, acting as the central point, and the left raised up to my chest by the knee, tilted at an angle.

    Energy built up as I spun in place, flowing like an electric current from the ground up, passing through the central point that was my right leg… through to the knee, pelvis, waist and to the other leg, going in reverse order until the current of energy reached the tip of my left foot as I finished executing the kick.

    The front of my foot struck the soft bit of his shoulder with a resounding ~smack` as well as the bottom bit of the neck in a horizontal slashing motion.

    I didn’t fully commit the kick and retracted my leg before I could go all the way through, he wasn’t anywhere near sturdy enough to handle it.

    Had I committed just a smidgen more energy into the kick, I’d have risked dislocating his spinal disk, breaking his neck like a twig and twisting his head completely the other way around.

    All the way through, and I might have torn his head off from the shoulders.

    [Gyu-Ha Original – Jeoldangi (Headhunter)]

    There was a good reason I called it ‘headhunter’.

    Hyung-jun fell to the ground, knees first then harshly face-planted into the dirt, most likely unconscious or in a lot of pain if not.

    He spasmed a little when he fell, his legs twitching in little jerky motions before he went still – he was still breathing of course, albeit in heaving and trembling breaths as his unconscious-self fought back bile that was building up in his throat.

    “Oh Shit,” I panicked a little.

    He twitched again, his arm lashing out at nothing as he then proceeded to expel his stomach’s contents into the ground, smearing his face with bile and god knows what from the splash.

    “Oh shit.” Did I break something? I was sure I hadn’t. I’d used the exact amount of force needed to bring him down - height, weight, his musculature and age all accounted for. I’d committed just enough energy to not break or dislocate bone. I pulled back and everything.

    “OH SHIT!” I just about shouted as I dropped to my knees.

    Careful not to touch any of his sick, I tested him for a pulse and got a healthy thrum of blood flowing in return, his breathing was a little heavy but that was just from exhaustion and from lying flat on the ground face first…probably. His neck looked perfectly fine too… no bones sticking out or anything like that, a red welt was forming but otherwise he was fine.

    So why?

    Why was he flopping like a fish out of water?

    “Relax,” a voice said, right behind me – it was the girl.

    How did she…

    “He’s just in pain-induced shock,” she observed, “not many mundanes can handle blows like that. Too much, too soon in the system and the brain just kinda…,”she snapped her fingers and made a ~pop~ noise, “...shuts down y’know… rebooting and all.”

    The girl took a crouch beside me and poked the prone body of her… boyfriend with a pen she’d fished out of her breast-pocket – she did it once, twice then a bit a more and when she finished doing that, she moved on to patting him up and down with her open palm, always in areas around the neck and spine.

    She patted and squeezed the area around his neck, which was now turning an angry red and hummed thoughtfully to herself.

    In between her molestation… there was no other way to describe what she was doing, she sighed to herself and muttered, “…thank the Ancestors, almost drew a blank?”

    When she was satisfied with her ‘ministrations’ she stood up, and pat down her dirtied knee socks.

    “…hmmm, he’ll be out for the next few weeks or so. A crick in the neck, and some severe inflammation for a while but nothing long-lasting,” she diagnosed rather expertly.

    “That last kick of yours… what style was that? Your rhythm was all over the place.”

    …rhythm?

    “I mean… you dodge almost like a boxer, move like a jeja (taekwondo practitioner) and kick like a uh… hmm, like something I've never heard of… its so unique. It sounds almost like French Savate, but not as stiff.”

    … heard?

    “… shouldn’t you be worried about your boyfriend?” I asked her, a little incredulous at her nonchalant reaction to his fall.

    She turned to face me, face deadpan and blank, and my own sleepy expression reflected on her oversized aviators. I needed a haircut, my hair was getting uncomfortably long - almost reaching my shoulders and silver roots were starting to show as well; I’d need to dye it again as well.

    Her blank expression changed to something unreadable, her lips curling upwards into a little grin as she chortled to herself… chortling which turned to giggling, and giggling into full blown laughter.

    “…you thought…,” she said in between huffing breaths, “him and I… no, no, no, Ancestors no.”

    “Chaff like him ain’t worthy of a Kushinada’s hand - especially if he needed a baker’s dozen of armed minions and stupid traps to handle one unarmed fighter… albeit, a genuine one, but the point still stands,” eloquently this time, she added after composing herself.

    “They were raring for a fight with some big-shot around these parts and looked interesting, so I hitched a joyride to see what all the fuss was about.”

    Speaking of - why weren’t the minions attacking me en-mass, I wondered. I was distracted, crouched down and wide open to attack from any side, I might as well be swiss cheese from all the holes in my defense.

    I turned to look behind me, expecting to see the minions advancing on me or at the very least watching in abject terror after I almost seemingly killed their leader.

    What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the massacre I beheld.

    ‘Did she do this?’ I wondered, passing a scrutinous gaze the girl’s way.

    All fourteen had been taken down swiftly with neck-chops and strangleholds, then piled atop each other in the likeness of a funeral pyre. And from the looks of it, not a single one had resisted - there hadn’t been any sounds of conflict or I would have heard nor were there scattered footprints on the ground save for drag marks all leading to the pyre, no sign of a struggle at all.

    The six that I’d already dealt with had not been spared either, they too had been double tapped and knocked back into unconsciousness.

    ‘Ruthless,’ was the only thing I could say about the girl, despite her cheery demeanor.

    “I noticed that you mostly used the basics of the basics,” she said. “I think you could have ended that mockery of a fight much sooner if you pulled out more techniques like that kick.”

    My response was a shrug, I didn’t have an easy answer to give her, at least not one I could put to words… and she didn’t take my silence very well. The lack of a verbal answer seemed to unsettle her, so much so she stared, and stared, and continued to stare at me in silent prompt until it got uncomfortable. Thankfully she was wearing aviators which covered her eyes, so the effect was lessened without eye-contact.

    “Well?”

    “…I could have, yes,” I answered.

    “But you didn’t. Why?” she prompted, moving closer to me… uncomfortably close.

    “... going back to basics,” I answered, deciding to give her my honest answer.

    “… hmmm,” with a step she appeared next to me, in front of me.

    She was right in my face... and poking me, same as she was doing earlier to her… not-ex-boyfriend - patting me down and poking me; chest and belly first, arms next and legs last, “wow - steel washboard indeed,” she said, breathlessly, “you have good form…. solid foundation too…,” then added with incredulity, “-and already a master too, at your age.”

    I raised a brow at her.

    “You don’t talk much do ya,” she stated, her hands and fingers in my face, tracing lines every which way with her thumb.

    “…you didn’t answer my first question too. What style do you practice? And I don’t mean your secondaries, I mean the flowy one you clearly specialize in, the one with the kick,” she asked, still running her fingers in my face and through my hair which she seemed to enjoy the feel of, as she would pinch locks in-between her fingers and comb upwards.

    “I’ll give you an answer if you stop doing that.” If there was ever a point where something went beyond awkward, I was sure we’d long since breached it at this point - she didn’t seem to care though,“…please.”

    She stopped, her palms soft against my jaw and chin. “Just a bit more and I’ll be done,” she said, resuming her ministrations.

    I took her hand by the wrist and pushed her back – the face touching was just getting weird now.

    Impressively enough, she resisted and pushed back.

    She stood at about five feet four, about average height for late-teenage asian girls, and looked as though she weighed half what I did, at least, from what I glimpsed at a glance.

    There was no reasonable way she should have had enough strength to overpower me, but overpower me she did.

    Her hands were soon back on my face again, running down my jaw and over my closed eyes and lips.

    “…half-gaijin. Hmmm…. alright, I can work with this,” she announced as she retreated, hands no longer in my face. She was smiling, “I can do more than just work with this.”

    “…” I wasn’t sure what to make of her rambling.

    “You’re rather handsome, aren’t you?” she announced, fixing an odd stare on me.

    “…thanks,” I replied, uncertainty in my voice – was that a question or a statement. “I think.”

    “You’re strong too. Really strong. A real, genuine fighter…home-taught and unaffiliated with a unique style,” she said, “A real gem in the rough – a potential treasure even.”

    “???”

    “You really don’t talk much.”

    “!!!,” I do talk… just not very often, I let my action speak for themselves.

    “…hey?” she started, “wanna go out with me?”

    A resounding, instantaneous and unflinching “No,” was my reply.

    All I had to do was look to her not-ex-boyfriend on the ground… angry red mark on his neck where I kicked him, face covered in dirt and vomit, and his limbs still twitching like the death throes of a fish out of water - my answer came to me much easier than I thought it would.

    Was I misunderstanding the situation? Most likely… no, definitely, but I didn’t care much for it. I refused to bend to the whims of fickle women, lest I share the same fate with… whatever the man twitching on the ground was called, I’d already forgotten.

    Almost affronted by my refusal, she paused and stared at me – again with that unreadable expression on her face, “…w-why not?” she asked.

    “Got places to be,” I answered dismissively, giving as honest an answer as I could in place of an excuse.

    I had enough weird things in my life already – the constant challenges taking the top, with those weirdos from the supposed ‘national homeless association’ as a close second.

    Despite her admittedly very stunning, pop-star… Idol standard looks - the distinction wasn’t important, she was half-Japanese and half-Korean, going by looks and accent; becoming her ‘boy-toy’ was not something I wanted.

    I retrieved my sling bag from where I’d dropped it on the ground and slung it over my shoulder after a brief pat-down and wiping it with a tissue. It was covered in a layer of dirt and splashes of water, enough to turn the dirt muddy but not enough to seep in and ruin the package within.

    Careful not to get any dirt on my uniform, I pat down the dust off my bag and climbed the steps leading out of the canal walkway, and up to the bridge where I would cross onto the main road and walk the rest of the way to Lord’s Mercy.

    ~tik-tik-thok~ the sound of tapping followed me, up the stairs, and well into the upper walkway before curiosity got the best of me and I turned around to find the source.

    It was the girl again.

    She no longer had the fabric carry-case slung around her shoulder, instead, she had it haphazardly stuffed in one of her skirt-pockets where it stuck out… skirts had pockets apparently - I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stare gobsmacked… and what I’d originally assumed to be a sword was held in hand in front of her. Instead of a sword, it was a short straight-staff/cane, with a mostly wooden body and metal-tipped at the end with a wrist strap at the handle end.

    ~tik-tik-thok~ the walking cane probed the area in front of her as she walked close behind with careful, yet confident steps.

    “...are you blind?” I blurted out

    At my question, she stopped and looked at me with a calculating gaze.

    “… If the answer to that question is a yes, will you go out with me?” she asked, lowering her aviators to just below the nose and revealing a pair of unseeing, silver eyes staring blankly at me, all the while, wiggling her brows at me.

    … I felt stupid for even asking.

    I inhaled a sharp breath and turned my back on her as I walked away from her faster.

    Impressively, despite using a walking stick to navigate, she kept up with my pace somehow.

    “Stop following me,” I half shouted as I picked up the pace to a light jog.

    “Where are you going?” she asked, matching me stride for stride.

    “…places,” I replied vaguely, I wasn’t going to tell her where.

    She slowed down mid-stride just as we passed a sidewalk crossing, and did something with her walking stick… running the ball end of it along the bumpy surface of a bright yellow marker on the ground with truncated cones as she passed it by, “You’re going to the hospital, aren’t you?”

    “…,” how?

    “I recognize the road you’re taking,” she answered my unspoken question with a shrug. “If we cross here, we can cut through those apartments…” she raised her cane and pointed the metal-tipped end in the general direction of the renovated commercial district, she was off by a few degrees, but I knew which one she meant - the newly finished complex which took up a whole street, “instead of using the hospital road. It’s a least five minutes shorter.”

    “…fine,” surprising even myself, I didn’t take the opportunity to run as I should have like a sane man. I followed her back to the crossing and watched as she fumbled for the crosswalk button, before she found it and pressed it.

    The moment I got close to her, she attempted to take my hand in hers… and succeeded. How and why, I didn’t know, couldn’t say either, but she was fast… so fast that by the time I reacted, she already had an arm wrapped around mine and her chest pressed against it.

    “Kushinada Mikumo,” she spoke, filling the silence.

    “…”

    “My name,” she added, clarifying,“but… you can call me Miki-chan and I’ll call you Hisui-oppa,” flashing a toothy grin and an Idol standard V-sign by her cheek with her free hand. She had pouty lips I noticed.

    “... come on, I’ll show you the way,” she said, pulling against my hand and I relented, letting the blind girl lead the way.

    When the lights flashed green, I was wrought with many regrets - the least of which, surprisingly and perhaps more worryingly, wasn’t from letting her lead the way.

    ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟​

    Hanguk-eo is not my first language, I don't even speak much of it but I love God Of Highschool. Enough to write this AU crossover with Highschool DxD with mostly expy characters from GoH.

    Seung Gyu-Ha(성규하) - Victorious Summer Jade
    Jjang - the best
    Jeja(제자) - A practitioner of Taekwondo; literal translation is disciple.
    Oppa (오빠) - affectionate suffix used by girls to refer to an older brother or significant other.
    Jeoldangi(절단기) - literal translation is either cutter or guillotine
    Jiu-Jitsu - A grappling based sports martial Arts specializaing in close-range subjugation in which most forms of significant strikes are illegal.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2019
  2. awkane

    awkane Making the rounds.

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    The story seems nice, but is this one of those where the mc becomes a reincarnated devil? :(
     
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  3. taovkool

    taovkool No.

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    So, wait a second. Is this a crossover between GoH and DxD, or a crossover between GoH and Kenichi? You sure you're not mistaking it?
     
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  4. Shirazad

    Shirazad Sapphic StoryTeller

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    Kushinada is a name tied to Japanese mysticism and divinity, like Tsuchimikado and Douman - I always going to use it, and I chose Mikumo for its meaning of Beautiful Cloud. I'd say it was a coincident, but I probably chose the name for the same reason Matsueda Syun did. I haven't finished Kenichi, I mostly just watched the anime and read the manga up to the Pencak Silat prince and dropped it. I'd almost forgotten all about it until now.
     
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  5. zebrin

    zebrin Chopping trees down, and making elves cry.

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    An interesting start.
    I have very little knowledge of the GoH setting, so I am likely to be a little lost until I wiki walk the story or something, but it seems like it might be worth checking out.
     
  6. Zawar

    Zawar Getting sticky.

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    finish it, it has some extremely important things to do with martial art also I myself would enjoy being able to talk to somebody about that series also have him learn or at least try and get him to the level of the demon fist jenzard from kenichi if you want your character to live in the dxd universe
     
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  7. Threadmarks: Ταφος 1.b
    Shirazad

    Shirazad Sapphic StoryTeller

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    Prologue: Ταφος 1.b

    To my surprise, the girl did as promised and showed me a shortcut to Lord’s Mercy. Even better, she’d led me there past the concrete maze that was Seoul’s apartment complex buildings, all the way to the Hospital Road.

    The whole while we walked she never stumbled, faulted or hesitated. She walked with grace, confidence, and surety of self and balance that I wouldn’t have expected from someone without sight… and she was blind, for a moment I’d doubted but the memory of her cloudy silver eyes convinced me otherwise.

    I’d long since stopped questioning ‘how’ when it came to the girl, sometime during our brief journey to Lord’s Mercy. She was an enigma, plain and simple.

    A chatterbox too.

    She was very open with herself I found. She expressed herself openly, and was very flamboyant when she did so, outspoken too and true to her desires, almost to a fault. We were a stark contrast to the each in a way. I was the opposite of all that she was, I think - introspection has never been my strong point.

    ‘Thirteen minutes,’ I thought with slight incredulity. That’s how long it took us to get from the bridge to the Hospital road.

    I’d counted the minutes in my head, double checked on my phone and triple on my wrist-watch.

    Thirteen minutes had passed, and a single breath in-between yet, the girl was still talking.

    It was almost impressive.

    She had a nice voice too I noticed, even if her Hanguk-eo was heavily accented. It was a lilting, melodic, almost bell-like sort of voice that I could have listened to all day if I could.

    My continued silence was obviously grating on her, but she didn’t let that dissuade her – no, not one bit, she somehow managed to talk enough for the both of us.

    I, all the while, kept my silence as she did so, listening to her as she talked about this and that, her focus on the martial arts mostly. The whole time we walked she hadn’t stopped trying to guess what style I used, she seemed intent on rambling and throwing guesses at me until I agreed.

    If she’d asked, I would’ve answered.

    She was also rather intimate with her affections. If not for her blindness I wouldn’t have let her hold onto my arm as she had.

    “… y’know, if you ever consider taking up the sword – you have the build for Angampora. Long legs, strong core…,” she rambled on as she made for a left turn by the end of the road.

    After a point, I started tuning her out – thankfully, this was the last stretch of our journey and we had arrived.

    [Lord’s Mercy Public Hospital] – looming ahead was the hospital’s front entrance, with the name written in bold fat English letters and carved into a concrete.

    “Don’t you have a home to get back to?” I asked her just as we approached the hospital entrance. She was clinging to my arm tightly, chest pressed against my elbow, walking beside me and matching me pace for pace.

    “Sure do,” she answered with cheer, “I have about…,” she paused, face vacant in thought, “about an hour before someone comes to me pick up so…,” she finished with a carefree shrug, “I’ve got time to kill.”

    Of course, she did. She followed me all the way here on a whim after all.

    My phone rang in my pocket. I shrug my hand free from her grasp as I went to reach for it. Opportunistic as she was… fast too, she immediately migrated to my other hand and latched onto the same way she had my right just seconds ago before I could withdraw it from her grasp.

    I could only sigh at my failure as I swiped the touchscreen of my phone unlocked, and another down as I opened the app drawer to find no new messages, just the ones I’d already seen earlier today.

    Why it rang, I had no idea – must have been the age, it was an old, second-hand model after all.

    Messages (2)

    11:12 - 황소(Choi Yoo-Jin): Drop by sometime after school

    “Now, come on. I’ll wait by the concierge while you do your thing… don’t want to impose on your visitation and all,” she added, dragging me to the entrance.

    ‘You’re already imposing,’ I wanted to say, but I stayed my tongue – there was no real polite way of asking someone to leave.

    12:34 - 황소(Choi Yoo-Jin): gotta ask u something

    The moment we reached the entrance doors, she relinquished her hold on me, not quite letting go, not completely - she kept a hand out near my arm as we walked, pulling on it for direction when she couldn’t do it herself.

    We walked through the front entrance, past its glass doors which opened for us upon approach with a hiss of escaping air - the cool from the inside a stark contrast to the warm outside.

    The grey-capped attendant barely raised a brow when I collected a guest pass from her desk, continuing as she always did - book in hand, and phone in the other with feet propped up against the office bin by the edge of her desk comfortably. The position was perhaps a little more scandalous than she’d intended, her… everything was showing – I didn’t have the heart nor the words to warn her.

    “... what floor are you going to anyway?” she asked, hot on my trail as I made for the elevator, gracefully probing the path in front with her cane.

    “Fifth floor.”

    “That’s not too far. You mind taking the stairs,” she asked, somewhat urgently.

    “We could,” I commented, stressing the collective ‘we’ as I scanned the pass and pushed the elevator call button, “but the elevator is quicker.”

    “… stairs please,” she whined, pleadingly.

    “Why?” I asked, curious regarding her reasons for avoiding the elevator - the very thing that was built with accessibility access in mind.

    She paused, staring at me with a blank expression, her aviators covering a significant portion of her face so I couldn’t see much expression, but I knew she was… well, not staring, just facing in my general direction.

    She was trying to make me cave.

    It didn’t work.

    After seconds of uncomfortable staring, she relented and In a show of reluctant acceptance, she sighed, “never mind it, let's just go,” she said, gingerly entering the lift, cane first and by the toes.

    “... I never asked, but where are w-you going?” she asked.

    “Visiting a friend.”

    “...on the fifth floor,” she murmured, running a hand across the metal plate next to the input panel, reading the braille text-plate, “... first is ground and emergency theatre I remember... second is general… third is ni-u-ro-l-blargh,” she cringed, there was a wet spot in the way, “… fourth is care and fifth is… on-c-oh!” she stopped mid-way, hand recoiling as she made contact with another wet spot.

    “Oncology,” I finished.

    “I-uhm… I shouldn’t be, here should I?” she whispered, less horrified and more unsettled – rightly so I felt, she really shouldn’t have followed me.

    Was it insensitive of her to have done so? - yes, yes it was, but…, “No, you’re fine. The person I’m visiting is very… very sociable. They won’t mind,” I assured her.

    “...If you’re sure. I can be very persistent sometimes y’know. Don’t always know when to quit, my aunt sometimes says… ends up with me pushing too far, so…,” she fidgeted and went quiet, uncharacteristically quiet - uncharacteristic from what little measure I have of her personality that is, “...yeah, I’ll try not to get in the way… any more than I already have, that is.”

    “Why did you follow me anyway?” I asked. She was a being of curiosity, such was her nature - I could say that about her from first glance despite not knowing her truly, thus I wasn’t about to begrudge of it but the question was still on my mind.

    “... oh, that,” she started, sheepishly rubbing the back of her neck with her free hand, “yeah… uh, you had the smell of cleaning alcohol, white powder and rubber on your clothes, so I thought you had a relative that works here you were visiting.”.

    ...huh, that was…, “Fair enough,” I acquiesced, leaning my back against the walls of the lift and watched as the above head panel flipped through numbers as we passed floors.

    She must have had really good senses if she could smell something from three days past - sure the shirt was the same one I wore then, but I’d since then washed, and press dried it… which should have drowned out most if not all smells, making it just that much harder for her.

    ~ding~ the lift bell rang as it came to a stop and I paused my observations, disturbed by the noise.

    “Oh, thank the ancestor,” she moaned as she hastily stepped out, stumbling with ungrace as she fought to stand upright.

    “...damn things always give me motion sickness,” she grumbled, slapping a hand to her ears. Outside the lift, she collected herself as the effects of vertigo lifted, and stood at attention, stock still with a hand outstretched in offering to me.

    A little confused, I raised a brow at the gesture.

    Then, a realization set in - it was a show of trust, I thought...it was an assumption at best, but despite my constant, and mostly internal protests of her presence, and let her put a hand around my arm as I led the way.

    I was still uncomfortable with the intimacy she seemed eager to milk from me, but I reciprocated all the same. She fell into step beside me with a small smile - the very same one she seems to have perpetually etched on her face, matching me stride for stride in moments.

    “...,” I greeted the concierge with a nod as we passed her desk by who let us pass without question, though she did raise a suspicious brow our way for a glance before she resumed her work - likely in surprise that I brought a guest with me.

    “Don’t you need to sign in?” Mikumo asked.

    Mikumo?

    Japanese was like Hanguk-eo (Korean Language) If I remembered right… though I wasn’t sure which one of her names was her first or last. I decided to give her the courtesy of addressing her by name – which one, I wasn’t sure, so I opted to use the one she offered… without the added suffix ‘chan’. She didn’t seem to be leaving any time soon so I might as well start addressing her properly.

    “...I do,” but I usually didn’t need to. I was a frequent enough visitor of the ward that most of the staff recognized me by now.

    “... and that's all the answer I’m going to get, isn’t it,” she said, her voice somewhat resigned with a pout.

    “...I come here a lot,” I clarified, hoping to mollify her curiosity.

    She didn’t pry for more after that.

    The rather unfortunate implications in my statement turned the mood somber, and an uncomfortable silence fell, an almost palpable sense of something amiss in the air as we walked, hand in arm, down long winding corridors and past theatre rooms, rooms with fancy machinery for scanning, others for automated and assisted surgery, and others for life-support, all leading to the patient rooms.

    On the way, we walked past a colorfully decorated play area for children with toys and books littered about.

    A Play Area.

    This was the Children’s area of the Ward.

    Slumped tiredly against the wall as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders, was the sole visitor - a wiry-thin boy wearing ripped jeans, blue converse high-boots, a red-flannel jacket with blue-dyed hair that had been cut short and trimmed by the sides, and a green sleeping mask with the design of a coiling serpent tied around his forehead. With him was a little girl, about… maybe, seven to ten years of age, wearing a pink sundress and a flannel cap on her shaven head, furiously tapping the screen of a heavily padded iPad seated in his lap.

    Both had the most fascinating eyes, amber with crosses for the boy and icy-blue with orange rings for the girl – they looked remarkably alike for siblings I noticed.

    “oppa… oppa, look-” the girl called out to the boy, her brother, with a finger pointed at me and Mikumo, “they’re holding hands Mo-Ri…,” she said with a gasp, scandalized.

    She tittered to herself maniacally, in childish glee before cringing a full-body shudder, “...gross.”

    “Ah-An,” the boy shot her a stern yet fond chiding glare, “You shouldn’t point at people okay.”

    “h~n, sorry oppa,” she hummed her apology with a downcast expression, head down and hands shyly bunching up the edges of her dress. The boy, satisfied with her apology and ruffled the girl’s capped head with brotherly affection, who then snapped her attention back to the blinking lights of the iPad in hand as though she hadn’t just been chastised.

    Looking my way, the boy mouthed an apology and gave a resigned shrug with a ‘kids, what can you do about it’ kind of expression. I acknowledged him with a passing nod and moved on.

    The rest of the journey was short, the corridors weren’t that long nor difficult to navigate past a point. The time wasn’t spent in awkward silence too, thanks to Mikumo filling the silence with chatter, mostly asking personal questions that I either ignored or answered as honestly as I could.

    A sign to my right marked my arrival.

    33C [Choi Yoo-Jin - Ast-G2] – I read the plaque by the door as I knocked, and beside me Mikumo followed suit behind me and ran a hand over it.

    “If you want, you can stay behind,” I offered – she didn’t need to be here, but she’d follow me and her presence, grating though it was, was a comfort.

    She looked to me with an indecipherable expression, hidden behind aviators before nodding to herself resolutely.

    “Can’t back out now,” she said with a strained smile as she neared an open door with sheer white curtains draped over the entrance.

    33C [Choi Yoo-Jin - Ast-G2] - I read the plaque by the door as I knocked, Mikumo beside me ran a hand over it and followed suit behind me.

    ~knock-knock~

    “... come in,” a trembling, weak voice beckoned from within - it was the voice of someone who’d just woken up from a restful sleep… or in this case, a drug-induced sleep.

    “Yo~,” I greeted my ‘brother’ in all but blood and name as I walked in first, my guest trailing reluctantly behind me with a loose grip on my arm.

    “... that you Gyu-ha,” Yoo-Jin returned with a strained smirk, though slurring his words a bit, “... and guest - sorry, just woke up.”

    He was laying on his back - pale-faced, gaunt cheeks and eyes sunken, covered in thick beige blankets with one hand outside, rested atop the blanket, that was attached… rather, taped to a clear tube that was pumping fluids into his system.

    His half-closed eyes seemed to reflect his exhaustion, the dark circles forming underneath indicative of restless sleep.

    Today, like most days, he’d forgone wearing his bandana-headband… the one he gave me after his first round of surgery that used to cover his head to conceal his hair, rather what little of it remained. Just above his right ear, a few centimeters up and a few more back was a bald patch with a freshly healing surgical scar, an ugly jagged thing that formed a misshapen C, red with inflammation and prominent stitches.

    “... she followed me here,” I said as I made to get a chair by the bedside. I pulled one up for my guest too, who sat down in subdued silence, “hope you don’t mind.”

    “Nah, dude,” he slurred and turned to face me, resting on his left, cheek first into the pillow to avoid irritating the scar - it was a monumental effort, but he managed, “glad you’re finally making more friends. Eomma was getting worried for you, y’ know. She came by a few hours ago while you were in school.”

    “...you still call her that?” Perhaps I’m a little biased, having been raised by my sister most of my life, but I don’t think most teenagers go around calling their mothers ‘mummy’, not at his age at least.

    “I’m a momma’s boy at heart,” he announced, slowly and with pride.

    “???,” it was sweet of him, but that’s not something you admit to people, not with the pride he just displayed I’m sure. Mikumo agreed with me, she was chortling to herself at his expense.

    “So…,” he started, “who’s the girl? Your girlfriend? Got to say, I didn’t take you the dating type… did you bring her here for my blessing? Y’know, I always said I’d be the best man at your weddi-”

    I cut him off, “she’s not… also, no to that last part.”

    “I asked him out,” Mikumo interrupted, loudly dragging her chair closer to the bedside in scraping advances.

    For her part, it looked as though she’d forgotten the awkwardness of the past few minutes, a good thing I suppose since she no longer looked like she was curling in on herself - her confidence returned, and enthusiasm renewed. I guess after listening to our short exchange, she must have felt more at ease… it certainly seemed that way, “He shot me down though. Outright just said ‘No’ and walked off. Can you believe that?”

    Yoo-Jin looked to me then to Mikumo, staring at us both interchangeably with tired yet curious, half-closed eyes until the dam broke and the laughter spilled out in laborious, breathy huffs.

    “... ha-ha-ha,” he laughed quietly, “she’s like your exact opposite.”

    I gave him a slight smile of my own and cast a glance to the girl beside me who was vibrating in her seat with barely contained nervous energy.

    It was good to see him laugh.

    Laughing was good, even if it was at my expense - not that I minded. It was a far cry better from what he’s usually like on his bad days.

    It gladdened me to know that I’d done right by Yoo-Jin when I brought Mikumo along instead of chasing her away. I hadn’t been lying when I told her he wouldn’t mind her around.

    “Don’t know how you managed, but you somehow found a girl that can bring you out of your shell,” he said, “and you didn’t even need my help to do it.”

    ‘...help I didn’t need nor want’, I thought.

    “Kushinada Mikumo,” she introduced herself to Yoo-Jin, hand outstretched, cutting me off from my thoughts.

    “Pleased to meet you Mikumo-ssi. I’d give you a hand if I could lift it but…,” he trailed, eyes falling on his trembling hand with the drip attached, “...anyway, introductions - Choi Yoo-Jin, best friend to sleepy eyes over there… Seung Gyu-Ha by the way if he hasn’t already introduced himself to you yet,” I... actually, hadn’t done that, I realized. I hadn't needed to, she insisted on calling Hisui... some kind of Fish in japanese, for reasons that were beyond me.

    “No… he hasn’t, but he didn’t need to. His fans told me all I needed,” she replied.

    “Fans?”

    “Punching Bags more like,” she helpfully clarified with cheer.

    “...have you been fighting bro?” he asked me with a critical eye, “without me?” and added with mock hurt in his voice.

    “No,” I answered, technically I hadn’t been fighting. It was the truth as I understood it. A fight implies conflict with both sides on equal ground - that, the debacle by the bridge had been anything but.

    “It wasn’t really much of a fight, to begin with,” Mikumo beside me added, chattering excitedly as she somehow managed to give voice to my thoughts, “Hisui-oppa was toying with them…”

    “Leave it to the Sleeping-Giant to chat up a girl through fighting… your sister won’t be happy when she hears that,” Yoo-Jin said slyly, with a raised brow and a grin to match - his voice, though tired, was dripping with implied threat.

    The bastard was trying to blackmail me.

    I sighed and rummaged through my bag for his package, an A4 sized manila bag covered in brown tape and postage stamps, with undoubtedly obscene Japanese words printed on the company labels. The logo itself was suspicious-looking enough on its own - I felt dirty just holding it, “... I got weird looks for collecting this for you. Is this something the Nurses are going to scream at me for… again?,” I asked, placing the package inside the uppermost drawer by his bedside.

    “Not if they don’t find out about it,” he said muttering a promise under his breath - something about reading it later, exhaustion creeping in his voice, eyelids heavy and a yawn just barely starting to form.

    Soon he’d be going to be sleep I noticed, still recovering from surgery.

    “... how’re you doing man?” I asked, all pleasantries aside.

    Beside me, Mikumo fidgeted with nervous energy, mouth open but no words coming out - she wanted to say something, but was holding herself back, no doubt feeling uncomfortable again.

    Understandable, this was personal, and the conversation was steering somewhere she couldn’t really follow.

    I would have reassured her, but I wasn’t very used to social situations like these and there wasn't much time left until Yoo-Jin’s occasional bouts of lethargy kicked in again.

    “Fine… Just fine man. Round two was another success,” he spoke slowly, straining to keep his eyes open, “now, just three more to go. It’s the tricky ones left now.”

    A lie.

    I felt the corner of my lips lift, a conscious effort, to form a bitter smile.

    I didn’t call him out on it though. I don't think I wanted to either. He had his reasons and If I really wanted to know the truth I’d just ask the staff, I was listed down as family besides…

    “...so,” he started, almost innocently - diverting the conversation anywhere else.

    Neither of us wanted to address the issue, so I allowed it, “... heard you got part-time Gyu-ha,” he said, a question on his lips - an accusation almost.

    I schooled my expression and gave him a careful reply.

    “... just an after-school thing as a handyman...pays well enough,” and It did, surprisingly - most customers were old people from old families with large estates that needed maintenance.

    It was strenuous at times but made for a good workout, and not too complicated, except for the mandatory need to apply for a working-with-vulnerability work license. I was mostly required to do things like mowing the lawn, trimming overgrown shrubbery, planting flowers for old ladies, and a little bit of upkeep on old cars for the elderly gentlemen – generally boiling down to just keeping old people company while doing miscellaneous jobs.

    And as the age-old adage goes - old families, old money.

    They paid and tipped very… very generously. It also looked great on a resume and college applications.

    “...I’m saving for that Ford I showed you last week.”

    Naturally, he didn’t believe a word I said.

    In my defense, I’m a terrible conversationalist.

    The nuances of verbal communication don’t come naturally to me I’ve been told many times by everyone who’s ever met me. Consequently, that makes me a terrible liar.

    “...cut the shit man,” he hissed, not so hotly with how weak his voice was but the heat was present nonetheless, “I know my mom can’t afford the hospital bill on her own. This is our family’s problem, you got your own life to live so you don't… don’t have to… do…” he slurred his last words as he slowly slipped into unconsciousness.

    His breaths evened, and he fell silent.

    ‘Three minutes plus awake,’ I counted the minutes in my head. It was a good turnout compared to the last time I visited when he kept slipping in and out of consciousness in-between conversation, struggling to form sentences and pronunciation.

    The gaps in-between his texts were somewhat worrying, blank episodes no doubt, but not yet a concern.

    He was still slurring though, hopefully, I prayed, that was from exhaustion.

    Today… today just wasn’t one of his good days.

    “He’s usually chattier than this,” I said with a humorless sigh, turning to face Mikumo beside me as I made to stand up.

    “... that… that’s fine, I really shouldn’t have followed you,” she said, “I’m s-,” she paused, voice trailing, brow twitching and grip tightening on her cane.

    She tensed. Muscles coiling and readying as her head snapped to the doorway, glancing that way sharply and with a hiss she spoke, “we have a guest.”

    I followed her…not so much ‘gaze’ but… something quite close to it. I didn’t have a word for ‘facing the same direction’ but I did notice the same thing she did.

    Indeed, we had a guest in our midst. Have had for a while too I noticed.

    Standing by the entrance of the room was an olive-skinned, tall and immaculately dressed red-haired man… woman… being in all black formal wear - straight black pants, white dress shirt, red tie, and a black vest jacket; and neat rimless specs framing their face, nonchalantly resting against the door as they idled themselves with a silver coin in hand.

    Whoever this person was had been standing there for a while. They were leaning against the doorframe so casually, comfortably and so easily they must have had time to settle into position. There was no rumple of clothing that might have indicated a rush to settle, nor had there been noise to alert – the curtain draped by the door often made a lot of noise when disturbed.

    ~fling~ the coin jumped hands to the other and deftly slipped through fingers masterfully before it jumped hands again. There was something about the action that sparked something in me, something almost primal - an unexplainable sense of… fear in the back of my mind.

    “Greetings,” the man spoke with a courtesy bow, and it was a man I found - it was in the unmistakable way he stood and held himself up - chest out, shoulders square and back relaxed, almost slumped. That, and he had a deep, boyish voice that was so very out of place on his face as it was.

    “!!!,” I raised a brow at the man who invited himself in without prompt and returned his respectful bow when he reached the center of the room in return greeting.

    “I am Judge Eye - alphabetical I,” he introduced himself, “Your recruitment agent from Project G.O.H, here with an invitation for both of you.”

    “???” Judge - it wasn’t his name, I was sure of it. It sounded closer to a title than it did a name… a job description maybe.

    “Project G.O.H?” Mikumo asked, rising to stand beside me with her walking cane in hand, no longer using it to probe the ground.

    As the more outspoken of us two, I leaned back and let her ask the questions.

    “Indeed. The Project is an international combat competition to be held in secret over the course of a month. Both of you have been chosen for a chance to represent your country… congratulations,” the man - Judge Eye, said with an unenthusiastic golf-clap.

    “...right,” Mikumo drawled, giving voice to both hers and my own skepticism.

    “...what’s the price,” she asked, her voice a tad derisive and suspicious. I sympathized, they were well-founded suspicions too.

    “Anything you wish for,” the man announced, arms spread outwards in grandiose posturing - his expression still flat somehow, “If money is what the heart desires, then you shall have it.”

    The coin in his right hand disappeared, and he snapped a finger.

    I felt the sensation of something… indescribable pass through my spine, a tingling, electrifying feeling like static but more powerful, hair raising yet not shocking.

    It was a strange and not entirely unpleasant feeling. It was unsettling still.

    In his palms, as though by magic or some otherworldly means appeared… no, materialized… materialized a dirty and worn cloth-bag with a leather-cord tie around it which jingled and jangled noisily with what I can only assume to be coins.

    “Ten, twenty,” he paused for effect - after that little show, I was wary but enraptured all the same, “perhaps thirty million American Dollars, as easy as that.”

    “What was that?” I asked, Ignoring his oddly specific offer of riches; which was suspiciously just enough to pay for quality-of-life treatment for Yoo-Jin at a better hospital, as well as to repay his family’s accumulated debt, “How did you do that… with the bag?”

    He smiled coyly, “Ahhh, that… was but a mere sleight of-.”

    He was going to dismiss it and I was about to call him out, when suddenly… “Bullshit,” someone else beat me to it

    Crass but apt.

    “I may be blind, but I felt you summon that… however you did it. Y’know, you weigh more than you did a second ago. Your step is just that much heavier.”

    ‘How acute are her senses to pick out something like that?’ I wondered, truly fascinated by her almost extra-sensory perception.

    “You’re from the Murim aren’t you,” Mikumo… rather her voice cut through my musing, interrupting the man’s attempt at further dismissal - with a cool, calm and palpable edge to it.

    When I followed the voice, I found that she was no longer beside me.

    ‘[Bo-Bup/Step],’ I observed, the art of movement, a bastardized yet masterful execution of it too.

    I was very openly in awe, gawking in marvel as I beheld the sheer speed she was capable of when I found her standing next to the man, with her cane drawn and pressed against his neck by the metal tip.

    My gaze consciously fell to her legs - long and slender, with very well-toned muscles underneath her sheer stockings, strong thighs and firm rear too - not thick from squatting, but well-defined from… I’m guessing short burst sprinting and stretches.

    Huh… I hadn’t been looking before but she had pronounced calves too.

    Those were the legs of a kicker, even though her stance was wrong.

    Her footing, on the other hand, was something to admire - standing by her toes on one leg, ready to kick off, and with the other flat against the ground bracing itself for abrupt and startling upper body movement.

    It was like looking at a painting in motion.

    ‘Strong,’ I thought, in a beautiful sort of way.

    “What are you?” she hissed, pressing the cane further against the man’s neck, drawing blood from the man with a hiss.

    Her words brought me back from my observations and I watched as she interrogated the man.

    “Youkai? Fallen?... devil?” she accused, venom dripping in her voice, practically spitting out the word ‘devil’ as though it was filth in her mouth.

    Judge Eye lowered his eyes minutely to the cane, his eyes widening slightly at the sight of blood in surprise.

    “No…,” he said carefully, pushing the cane away from his neck with a finger. He strained, but not by much as he backpedaled away from Mikumo, putting some distance between them.

    “I’ll have you know Heiress Kushinada, I’m one-hundred percent human, thank you very much and I’ll appreciate it if you didn’t try to exorcize me. You interrupted me before I could deliver my sells pitch… now I’ll just have to start all over again.”

    “???,” this grown man was sulking.

    “As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted,” he grumbled, “… should you emerge the victor of the melee, the price is ‘One Wish’. Anything you want. Money, land, fame… even good health.”

    “!!!”

    A hot flash of anger passed through me, so briefly, like a glancing knife-cut against hardened skin. I quelled it and raised a questioning brow instead of giving it a voice or acting on it… to think I’d almost believed him before, but now… now I knew he was just here to mess with me.

    I let him speak all the same.

    He wasn’t the first ‘miracle healer’ who’d offered their help with Yoo-Jin, and I doubted he would be the last either - predators like him were a dime a dozen in places of strife like hospitals.

    “I see you’re skeptical. Hmmm, maybe If I showed you ‘that’ I could convince you…,” he stiffened and stopped the back-and-forth with his coin, frowning, though not for long, however, as his eyes then wrinkled with barely concealed mirth having come to some agreement.

    He was trying to be coy and failing.

    I let him continue regardless.

    “Very well… normally, we don’t show this to combatants until they’ve qualified for the national stage, but… I’ve got a good feeling about you two.”

    Mikumo stiffened and started to back away from him, shuffling with both feet flat against the ground - Kendo footwork I took note as she carefully back-stepped away from the man to stand beside me.

    Judge Eye snapped his fingers with another grandiose gesture, the sound of twin clicks coming out as one to my ears.

    I suppressed a bone-deep shudder as the tingling sensation of not-static returned, stronger this time - all empowering, overpowering and overbearing at once.

    Wisps of red-black energy trailed - an aura, rising like smoke from his body. A ghostly, haunting figure then materialized behind Judge Eye in a shimmering haze of light, energy and other-worldly means.

    The figure took the form of a man with long, rugged and unkempt hair held down by a silken cord of twisted cloth around its forehead, with an equally rugged beard to match that was flecked with the salt-and-pepper of its greying hair. It had gaunt eyes and mottled skin, with a middle-eastern complexion that was leaning more towards the sunburn scale of sun-kissed, wearing bland but striped robes with a broken noose tied around its neck.

    In one hand, the figure held the bag of coins and a one half of a circlet made of dull golden-light in the other.

    [Borrowed Power: ********]

    “This is Charyeok,” he said, thumb gesturing to the specter floating beside him.

    “It is prayer given form. A communique with otherworldly denizens. The act of borrowing and bargaining strength from gods, demons and spirits alike.”

    The avatar stared blankly ahead with lifeless eyes, stalwart and unmoving in the air behind him. The dead look in its eye were unsettling in how familiar they looked. Reflected in those pools of grey was sheer and absolute despair.

    I shuddered and looked away, casting my gaze anywhere but in its eyes.

    “Those few in the know call it Borrowed Power.”

    “W-what is it?” Mikumo asked, pulling against my sleeve, “There’s something there, but not... just a void in the space above him.”

    What was it, she asked. If I know that myself I’d probably have an easy answer. I racked my brain, trying to find the best way to explain what I was seeing.

    This was magic or something like it… Borrowed Power in English, or Charyeok, whatever - the distinction was meaningless. It was Supernatural and Otherworldly, that's all that mattered.

    To answer her I could have waxed poetic about the haunting figure of betrayal and regret I was looking at, the floating half-materialized avatar of cowardice and suicidal ideation standing vigil behind the man, or maybe, I could’ve explained what I was looking as bluntly as possible, I was good at that… really, either way would have conveyed a sense of meaning, but no… my mind was elsewhere, something he’d said moments ago, something that I’d dismissed in a bout of skepticism.

    “... land, fame and good health...?” I recalled.

    “... indeed. Astrocytoma was it,” with his half-closed eyes he glanced at the chart that was pinned to the wall beside Yoo-Jin’s bed, “third grade. Nasty stuff... especially in your friend’s case there.”

    “~various anomalous growths close to the language center, and another pair pushing against the motor center ~,” he recited the professional summary of Yoo-Jin’s condition - so casually and callously, “Risky surgery with a phenomenally low chance of survival… and even then, they are guaranteed to return.”

    “!-!-!,” the hand wrapped around my arm was the only thing between my feet and his face turning into a fine red mist painting the wall behind him.

    “Don’t!” Mikumo warned with a hissed whisper, “... he’s dangerous.”

    I withdrew my tensing legs, mindful of the hand still around my arm - it was a calming presence.

    “You would wish for your friend’s good health, no… a simple enough request, if unambitious, but definitely within the Project’s reach,” he said dismissively, and I all the while looked to him with narrowed eyes, “All you need is to win, defeat all who stand before you and you can have your friend in perfect condition with nothing more than a well-worded wish.”

    I closed my eyes and breathed out a sharp sigh as I mulled over his words, considering his offer to participate in this… blood-sport for the chance of winning a magic cure.

    “I see you’re interested,” he smiled.

    A magic cure that I was just now starting to realize might exist.

    “The rules are simple. All Combat Arts are allowed, thus, so are weapons, sharp or blunted - from knives, spears, guns, even fighter jets are allowed if you can appropriate one and somehow fit it inside an arena,” he added, “...but don’t worry for your life. Survival is almost guaranteed by means I’m not yet at liberty to reveal to you, but I assure you, you won’t have to worry about dying.”

    It was tempting. The potential and inherent danger was the only thing that was holding me back from jumping at the chance - something he assured wouldn’t be an issue, but I was hard to trust him on nothing but his word.

    “Can I get some time to think about it?”

    “Of course,” he answered, reaching a hand into the breast pocket of his vest-suit and pulled out a black card, “When you’ve made your decision, just show up at the venue on the card.”

    He flicked his wrist in a jerky motion, ~snap-snap~ and threw the card at me with expert grace. Slowly, as paper wont to do, it glided straight into my waiting hand, another followed it, “… another, for your lady friend,” it was in Braille – how considerate of him.

    “...” I didn’t bid him a farewell, instead, I watched as he turned his back to leave.

    A thought occurred to me, and I called out in a low voice, “...wait.”

    The man stopped in place, swiveled and turned back around to face me as he answered, “Yes?”

    “That power of yours…,” I started.

    “-borrowed power,” he clarified, cutting me off.

    “It can be taught, right?” I asked.

    “It can,” he replied, his tone noncommittal, anticipating and something else too… coy?

    “Will there be competitors who’ll use it?”

    “I suspect a great many either already do or will, once they learn it,” he answered.

    I inhaled a sharp breath and felt something in the pit of my belly drop.

    Uncertainty crept in.

    “Can you teach me then?” I asked.

    If I was considering this, really truly considering fighting in this… bloodsport then I needed every advantage I could get and this was it.

    He smiled thinly, showing his teeth as he cracked a grin… a genuine one, not the fake showman’s veneer he’d worn throughout our brief conversation and he spoke, voice lilted with amusement and an unmasked anticipation, “If you’re anything like the Heiress, you won’t be needing it for a while, if ever... but if you’re adamant and still want to learn…,” he trailed, “then… before the start of the second round – should you qualify of course, and I have no doubt you will, go to the administration office and ask for Judas, your lesson will begin then.”

    Judas - I committed the name to memory and nodded my acceptance. An odd but significant name, one that brought to mind that haunted specter he summoned for some reason, but I couldn’t pinpoint the reason why.

    “Will that be all,” he asked.

    “...,” nothing else needed to said so I kept my quiet.

    He took my silence as his cue to leave and made off with a farewell.

    “Then I shall make my leave,” he said as he pushed the curtain out of the way, exiting the room, “I believe my next appointment is in the children’s ward.”

    He left, and silence prevailed once more for the third time today.

    I was still processing the events that just transpired, trying to rationalize the things I’d seen and learned but nothing really stuck. There was a whole other world beyond this one, of magic and martial arts apparently.

    “Hisui-oppa,” Mikumo almost-quite voice broke through the silence that permeated the room like a blade, spoken low with a sense of reluctance and curiosity - more the latter than the former, to her regret I felt.

    “If you don’t mind me asking…,” she looked away, “what’s uh… whats wrong with Yoo-Jin-ssi?”

    All the tension that had been building up in me disappeared as I turned to face her, regarding her and evaluating what I knew of her.

    I had something I wanted to ask.

    “Question for a Question,” I parlayed.

    The neutral tone of my voice did nothing to mask the nature of what I wanted - something she picked upon as she winced and sighed with resignation to herself, seemingly accepting my offer.

    “I know what you’re going to ask, I was going to try and keep it to myself for as long as I could have but after that man…,” shaking her head she paused, “there’s no use hiding it,” she said, “you don’t have to say anything you’re uncomfortable with. I’ll tell you everything I know later - there’s no need for an exchange.”

    I was glad to hear that, and the sentiment was appreciated but there was no need.

    Before I would have clammed up and kept silent when asked, it’d happened many times before even - Yoo-Jin’s condition wasn’t something I was comfortable talking about, mostly because of the underlying inevitability there always had been.

    I told myself otherwise but I knew - I was simply trying not to think about it.

    This was a step in a different direction from that, a step towards healing - figuratively and literally.

    I sighed, walking towards the entrance, gently pulling Mikumo along who had once again taken my arm by the elbow and retreated her cane to her other hand as she followed me close beside.

    That - her arm in mine, had become normal far too quickly I observed.

    “Astrocytoma,” I said, choosing to confide in her.

    “Bless You?” she replied, unsure - clearly confused by the word. I don’t blame her, I had the same reaction too when I first heard it.

    “You heard h-Judge Eye talk about it?”

    “... oh, right yeah - sorry. It was uh… various growths in some centers and motors,” she said, trailing, “or something…”

    “Close - it’s… tumors growing in various places of the brain,” – then again, aren’t they all, I thought bitterly. I was simplifying it, of course, the real cause was something so complex, so anomalous and so far beyond mine or anyone’s breadth of knowledge, the cause was pretty much unexplainable.

    The Head-Doctor in charge of Yoo-Jin’s treatment was considering writing a research paper with permission from his mother.

    “Some are growing near the bit responsible for language and others near the bit responsible for motion,” I added.

    “Oh… that sounds bad.”

    Bad was one way of looking at it, but it wouldn’t have done it justice - it didn’t even begin to describe the severity.

    “The surgery itself isn’t difficult. Not as much as it would have been a few years back,” thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and national healthcare, “Yoo-Jin is the problem.”

    “... how so,” she hesitantly asked.

    “No one knows why, but for some reason, no matter how much of the growths they remove they just come back,” the current standing theory was some form of rampant-cancerous healing being the cause of the growths and the regrowth. The last time, it was something straight out of a sci-fi superhero movie with the medical staff’s rambling about ‘healing-factors’.

    “...”

    “He’s going to die no matter what the doctors do. No medicine can save him, not even a cure for Cancer, if such a thing existed could do it,” these were the Doctor’s words, not mine and as much as it hurt to admit, it was the truth, “not if it just keeps coming back.”

    “I’ve accepted that,” I said, straining to say the lie that I’d forced myself to believe, “or I had until… this,” I added.

    “...”

    “My question to you then is…,” I paused and considered my words, she obviously knew something about magic and the other-world - I was probably grasping at straws, but this was perhaps my last hope to save my friend, someone I considered a brother in all but blood.

    “Can magic heal Yoo-Jin,” I asked, and I didn’t feel the slightest bit silly for saying that with a straight face.

    She didn’t hesitate and answered with a sort of honesty that I could appreciate.

    “No,” her reply was short, succinct, and addressed the heart of the matter with a very heat to it that gave me pause.

    I hadn’t let my hopes up. I’d kept my expectations low just in case this was her answer to avoid disappointment, and yet… it hit me all the same.

    “And…,” she started, elaborating further before I could wallow, “... you should never rely on it either. The cost to use it is never worth it, not if you have to give up your humanity in exchange.”

    … to give up one’s humanity, the concept was novel to even think about.

    Suspension of disbelief was slow to set in but when I adjusted myself to a proper mindset - one that accepted this new reality of magic and martial arts, the thought honestly sickened me.

    “... devils,” I said - I remember her mentioning them in accusation earlier.

    “Right in one. They have a system that might,” she stressed the theoretical, “... might be able to help your friend, by turning him or you into one of them in exchange for his health as a favor.”

    That didn’t sound too bad.

    If I was willing to participate in a blood sport for someone, then surely thi…

    “If you’re thinking that it's not too bad, then you’re wrong - others before you thought so too, and their stories live on as cautionary tales,” she interrupted my musing harshly, bringing to mind a certain classic English literature reading that I’d heard of in passing but never really got around to reading it, Faust and Mephistopheles in particular.

    “To become a devil is to become a cursed existence. You give up more than just your race - you sacrifice your identity for power, your morals in place of sin, yourself for prestige and Individuality for servitude to whichever King you serve,” she paraphrased, reciting… something.

    She looked to me pleadingly, a desperate warning on her face. A warning that I chose to heed the more I listened to her speak. ‘Losing agency in exchange for servitude,’ of all the possible wrongs listed in particular stuck with me.

    “They are universally reviled by every faction for very good reason, and those who reincarnate or consort with them are usually hunted down and slaughtered by the Vatican and the Church.”

    Her rant summarised - to become one these… devils was a fate worse than death.
    That was good to know. I noted that as something to avoid later in the future. It was something I didn’t want for myself nor Yoo-Jin even if it were my last option.

    “So… the melee is a sham then?” I asked, having just come to the conclusion.

    “I didn’t say that,” was her reply, “It sounds like the real deal, actually. I just wanted to stress to you the dangers of relying on magic. You asked in ignorance and as is my duty, I informed you, one who is new to the Murim, its dangers.”

    Right… Murim as she kept calling it - that was another question I wanted answering, but I would wait until she elaborated further on what she meant by it.

    “That creep didn’t say anything about magic when he spoke,” she started, “he said, if I remember correctly, ‘anything you ‘wish’ for.”

    “Wish,” I too recalled his words.

    “Yeah… Wishes are different from Magic. They’re miracles,” she said simply, with a shrug, “Think uh… the impossible made possible and you get a wish - Lead to Gold, Walk on Water, stop a natural disaster like a flood or a supercell - that kinda thing.”

    “Most magic isn’t powerful enough to heal something like what you just described, if anything, I’m sure they’ll make your friend’s condition even worse, but a wish… those can definitely fix your friend at no cost other than your participation in this tournament as ‘remuneration’.”

    “!!!,” that was all the confirmation and assurance I needed. My mind was already made.

    “You’re going to participate, aren’t you?” she asked.

    I nodded my agreement and she stiffened beside me, hand tight around my arm as she stopped to a halt, which consequently meant that I did too. She was still holding onto me and hadn’t yet let go of my sleeve.

    “Then so am I,” she announced resolutely, turning to me with an unreadable expression on her face, it seemed to exude worry, but with her aviators in the way, it was impossible to discern.

    I agreed easily with a shrug and continued my trek back to the elevator.

    Of course she was going.

    There was never doubt in my mind about that.

    If the prize for the melee was a wish, then I already knew what she was going to wish for… rather, a supposition of what I would have wished for in her place.

    I wasn’t worried for her given what I thought her capable of. My faith in her found root from an offhand account of her potential. It was a gut feeling, a sort of intuition that ebbed my worries for her away.

    ‘She’s strong,’ I thought, looking at her with a sideways glance as we walked.

    Nor was I worried for myself should I inevitably face her in the melee - I was confident in my ability and training, but I didn’t voice my thoughts.

    “I wonder if we can form a team,” she mused out loud, head facing forward with closed eyes behind her aviators as she fell into pace beside me, her hand finding purchase on the sleeves of my arm by the bicep, “I want to help you.”

    huh… that was unexpected. “Don’t you want the wish for yourself?” I asked, stunned, thoroughly confused and taken aback by her declaration.

    I would’ve thought…

    “Nah,” she grinned, “I was born blind y’know. If I wished for sight right now, I wouldn’t even know what to do with it and probably never will - I’m way past the age to learn something so fundamental like seeing from scratch. Besides…” she paused for effect, pulled down her aviators and winked at me, “I already found what I would have wished for - a handsome, strong and sensitive man willing to fight for family and friends, perfect husband material if I do say so myself. It’s exactly what I would have wished for?”

    The slight smile I cracked was decidedly more self-conscious than my usual care-free responses to such propositions, rare as they were in recent times, and came with a healthy red to my cheeks that undoubtedly spread to the tips of my ears.

    That was one way to break the ice I had to concede.

    Her hold on my arm tightened ever so slightly as she drew herself nearer. It was more intimate than I was usually comfortable with from strangers, but I accepted it, just this once I told myself.

    “So… when and where is it?” she asked, just as we reached the elevator again.

    “???” a question unsaid was marked on my face, and in my body language for her benefit.

    “The Tournament dummy,” she said, elaborating as she entered the elevator once again. There was no hesitation the second time, she stepped in with a surety of self and a tighter grip on my hand too as I punched in the floor number.

    I took the playful, nudging blow to my side that followed with barely a flinch, as I reached into the inner pocket of my school blazer and pulled out the black cards I’d received.

    On the back of the card, was a fancy calligraphy ‘I’ and the symbol of an eye superimposed on top, written and drawn on black parchment board in what looked to be gold and silver ink. There were two numbers written underneath, the first - a mobile-phone number, and the second - a local landline.

    The front of the card had what I was looking for, a venue, time and date.

    “This coming Saturday,” I told her, reading the card and handing her the other, “Local preliminaries, hosted at venue… Pyeonja-High, Gym 4, at 1300.”

    Pyeonja-High, a specialist school for girls that closed down eight years ago… it was two train rides away from home, so I was probably going to have to wake up early that day and run to the Metro and catch the eleven-o’clock.

    “Great,” Mikumo beside me exclaimed, stepping out of the elevator with rushed gusto. I wasn’t sure if she was just excited to be outside the lift, she'd been moaning about disorientation while inside earlier, or if it was about what I just said.

    Her smile faltered, and she looked to the front entrance where a woman in grey, belted pleated-pants and a white dress shirt was standing by the concierge. She was stock-still, almost motionless and without expression on her face, if not for the almost-glimmer of emotion that very briefly flashed on her face upon Mikumo’s approach I would have thought her a doll.

    “My ride’s here so…,” she started, pointing her cane to the woman who stood vigil by the entrance, silent and solemn in waiting, “I’ll meet you there Hisui-oppa,” she all but announced and promptly left with a slight bounce in her step and a kiss blown my way.

    A thought occurred to me as I watched her leave beside her… escort.

    I never did get to ask her about the Murim, and she never got an answer out of me either regarding her question.

    “Damn,” I swore as I too made to leave for home, I had preparations to make and a tournament to prepare for.
    ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟ ⍟
    Introduced Charyeok earlier than I'd have liked, but there needed to be an established supernatural element before the merger with DxD really kicks off later on.

     
    wasprider, Ashbrain, DodoDude and 9 others like this.
  8. kabs

    kabs Well thought out cheerful stories turn me on

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    This looks really interesting!! Word of caution though, if you're going to have a lot of OCs, then you'll probably have to minimise interactions with canon characters so that you can develop their characters. Which isn't a bad thing! You could just show fights/observations of canon.
    I'm really interested to see how you cross DxD and GoH.
     
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  9. Threadmarks: Ταφος 1.c
    Shirazad

    Shirazad Sapphic StoryTeller

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    *

    I endured the long stretch of silence aboard the metro and spent the first half hour seated and the rest standing near the exit door, introspecting and with my mood expectant.

    Finding out that Gods, magic and the likes were well and truly real…well, the novelty of that discovery had yet to wear off on my mind, even after three days had passed. I’d expected my life to change in some noticeable way because of it, but alas, the days that followed the revelation passed me by without much interest as they always did.

    I went to school as was expected of a dutiful student. I did my share of odd jobs around the city afterwards and even squeezed in some time in-between to visit the hospital.

    It was all so normal.

    So routine.

    Like Clockwork.

    It made me nervous just thinking of what was out there.

    Nervous, but not out of fear.

    It was out of anticipation.

    A kind of yearning, compounded by my curiosity, that had pushed me into taking the plunge and ensuring my place in the melee. I was skeptical of course, and still am, but curious all the same.

    [Next Stop>> Seoul Stadium]

    With my stop approaching just ahead, I cut my introspections short as the announcement rang, spoken in English for some reason, as I readied myself to disembark.

    I watched the city whizz by in a blur of concrete grey and flashing reflections of sunlight against window panes and the occasional glint of a skyscraper every now and then. In moments the train slowed, and the skyscrapers faded from my sight to make way for smaller buildings, small business centers and a lone train station just ahead.

    This was the Central Station of Seoul, located just behind the Olympic Stadium, and it was here that my journey by public transport came to an end.

    I stepped out of the train and made my way for the school district on foot. Weekends were free transport days, so the barricade was open - there was no need to either tap-in or tap-out of the public transit system.

    I tuned out the hubbub of the crowd around me as I walked sedately towards Pyeonja-High, which was conveniently located nine blocks away from the Central Station – an odd place for a derelict school to be I noticed.

    So close to the heart of the public transport system - It was an easy venue and a prime location for any business looking for easy customers. It made me wonder why no-one had purchased the land in all the years it’s been abandoned. The reason didn’t matter, not to me at least, it was just something that bore notice.

    Real estate had never been of much interest to me – the maths behind it maybe, but not the actual process itself. My interest was only in passing, and only relevant because the place was my destination.

    With only a couple city blocks to go, I picked up pace and broke into a brisk speed walk, taking long strides instead of lazily shuffling as I’ve often been told I do.

    “… hey…”

    I heard someone call out sharply from behind me, across a street near the intersection. The busy intersection I’d just crossed to be exact, and a commotion broke out. Hushed whispers and scandalous gasps, as well as warning grunts from disgruntled people as something… or someone roughly cut through the swath of people milling about in tightly packed crowds without regards for safety.

    “… stop him,” the same voice called out again - female and aged from the sound of it.

    I looked back and cast my gaze into the still disgruntled crowd just in time to see someone push their way out of the scrimmage of bodies and break into a sprint towards my general direction.

    “… someone please, help,” the lady called out again, “…my purse.”

    I looked at the suspect in question, considering, then noticed the fat purse he held underarm like an American-football that he was making off with.

    The culprit neared a public bike rack, rummaged his pockets for something and pulled out a green card… a public transit card, which he hastily scanned at a terminal next to the mounts, allowing him to borrow one of the bicycles for the day.

    He was going to make off on that bike I realised, and once he gets going there would be no one to stop him.

    Damn our Public Transport System.

    So good it’s bad.

    The crowd watched helplessly as the thief made his escape on the borrowed bicycle, struggling to prop himself up on the thing at first. I wasn’t sure if that was due to diminished riding skill, from too long spent without touching a bike or something else.

    “Stop him,” the woman shrieked, pleading.

    I couldn’t see any way to help in this situation, but I was going to try anyway.

    I considered the thief with a glance – the man himself, his build and the environment.

    Thus, to start, I considered the thief himself.

    He was male, with reddish hair hidden underneath a beanie and a very round face – baby fat maybe… no, just excess. He was - like most people to be fair, shorter than me.

    … his build.

    I hazarded a guess regarding his true height – hard to tell from a distance, but I managed it somewhat. Considering his build which was somewhere under the margin of overweight, but not quite, he was still wide around the edges. His legs, thick with slightly more fat than muscle – at a ratio that simply made him look big but not necessarily overweight, and a pronounced belly that stuck out from his one-size-too-small shirt.

    ‘A construction worker,’ I deduced.

    It made sense, in a way. He was nowhere near the average fitness level of someone his supposed level, but his build was unmistakeable – one made for short bursts of strength, spread out over a long period of time with breaks in-between.

    … then the Environment.

    The road he was headed toward was steep too, with a slight rise that stretched for a good few city blocks consecutively, which I hoped would impede his escape.

    I looked back to the crowd, where the gathered seemed to mill about in a daze – eyes downcast, a feeling of guilt hanging in the air like thick fog and wandering eyes, all averting each other reluctantly, doing that thing people do when they feel like they should do something, but wont actually commit to their thoughts.

    It was disappointing in a way, but understandable; we had policemen for a reason after all but still…No one else seemed eager to help.

    No one wanted to, I corrected myself.

    I supposed then it fell on me to do so.

    In my haste, I didn’t really come up with a plan, but I readied myself all the same to take off in a sprint, muscles coiled and body low in a crouch assuming a running start.

    To my annoyance, in my moment of decision the thief finally managed to sit himself upright on the bike and had placed the stolen purse in the basket compartment at the front and he took off.

    At first with a slow pedal, his own hefty body straining the lightweight bike, and then with speed as he picked up momentum.

    I took off and followed in a dead sprint, matching him pedal for stride. I wasn’t quite keeping pace with him… but hopefully I was getting there.

    He was still ahead of me by many paces, and with the advantage of him riding a bike, I would need at least a minute’s worth of pursuit to catch up or more.

    I didn’t let that deter me though.

    I picked up pace, taking wider strides and forward bursts of speed as I kicked off the ground by the balls of my soles for that extra factor of acceleration.

    After a while, roughly a minute – barely, had passed with me in pursuit, my earlier assessment proved true.

    High intensity, short-burst sprinting, either on foot or by pedalling… uphill too, with resistance and the added benefit of stress and adrenaline from the thrill and guilt of a successful heist… all that was sure to strain the muscle.

    The effect of fatigue was most likely exacerbated with un-developed muscles.

    It was probably too much to hope the thief gets a leg cramp, but the more likely alternative was welcome anyway.

    With how fast he was going and the pace he’d set for himself, I suspected the thief’s legs felt like they were on fire, and it looked like they did from the full body flinch the thief released when he tried to pedal forward and further uphill once he reached the business district.

    It wasn’t a cramp, unfortunately.

    It was the next best thing though - his own body rebelling against him for this abuse.

    Honestly, riding a bike uphill at such speeds, without stretching or a warmup before-hand even – it was idiocy. I would’ve laughed if it wasn’t self-harming, and if someone’s livelihood and savings weren’t on stake.

    So far, I’d covered two city blocks on foot - roughly a football stadium’s length, and I’d yet to catch up on him, but I was making progress. He was tiring, and I wasn’t - in the end that’s what mattered so I pushed onwards.

    He hadn’t realised I was chasing him too, which worked in my favour – once he was out of public view, I imagined he would grow complacent and slow down to a brisk pedal to alleviate the strain he was feeling right now.

    This advantage would only last me until something urged him to look back.

    “La-cucaracha…”

    “Whoooooa, Prisa… Prisa.”

    Something… like the demented Spanish(I think) chanting and high pitch laughing/cackling behind me.

    ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’ were the questions on my mind.

    The thief slowed midstride, turned and his eyes instantly fell on me and widened, his mouth agape – his surprise wasn’t entirely unwarranted, I was almost keeping pace with him on foot where he struggled on bike. His surprise didn’t last for long, his gaze slipped past and fell behind me… to the source of the yelling, the bell ringing and ululating.

    “Mush horsie, Mush,” a voice called out form behind me. Loud, high, domineering - feminine and very… worringly familiar to my ears.

    “Ya-haa,” another voice followed, boyish and excitable, accompanied by a cacophonous choir of bell ringing, foreign words shouted nonsensically in a high pitch and the sound of sticks banging together.

    What was happening behind me?

    Something in me didn’t want to look, but curiosity got the best of me and I too slowed down, turned my head and was greeted by the strangest sight.

    There were two people - a girl and a boy riding tandem on a bike, chasing after the thief at blistering speeds. The boy was at the fore, manning the bike and the girl was at the back, not sitting atop the designated passenger seat but rather standing on top of it by one foot with the other rested against the boy’s hunched shoulders, balancing precariously all around.

    Both were familiar faces I noted.

    The girl I instantly recognised.

    She was wearing a white dress-shirt; tight against the chest and fell just above the navel, leaving her belly exposed and a scandalously short, black pleated-miniskirt with leopard-print legwarmers covering her ankles, red slippers and above-knee length stockings. Worn on top of the dress shirt was an oversized sweater the colour of red dirt, unbuttoned to leave the front exposed and a red ascot tied around the collar in place of a tie.

    That mane of black hair and those oversized aviators.

    It was unmistakeable.

    It was the girl I met on Tuesday.

    Mikumo.

    Now, the boy…

    The boy I wasn’t familiar with, not truly, at least not as much as I was with the girl beside him, but I recognized him… from the hospital, oddly enough. I recall meeting him in passing the same day I met Mikumo.

    His ensemble was much simpler than Mikumo’s, though no less stylish for it.

    He wore a simple white shirt under a red and black flannel jacket, slim fit jean trousers and black converse high-boots with a sleeping mask just above the forehead, with blue-dyed hair tying it all together.

    Looking at the two made feel underdressed in my formal black and white, with my school blazer and tie to complement. The only thing I had to brag home about were my shoes, second-hand shoes I got from an elderly client but designer… albeit a brand that went under some sixty to seventy years ago.

    Fashion statements aside, I had many questions in mind. Most of which I simply couldn’t articulate due to the nature of the situation.

    “Mush-Mush, faster horse – faster,” Mikumo urged the boy, whistling and prodding him with her walking stick… a different one too from the one I saw her carrying last time we met – it was longer, at six hand spans long with a bandage-covered handle.

    On second glance, it was closer to a wooden-sword than it was to a walking stick – close but not quite. It lacked the false edge most wooden swords had.

    She also held, in the other hand, something that looked to be segmented pieces of metal. Four of them, with small chain links connecting them to each other by the joints.

    A segmented bo staff, I thought.

    The boy, for his part, took the abuse in stride and grinned toothily, shouting a response of, “Alright!” before picking up speed.

    I had completely stopped in my tracks to goggle at the two, a little flabbergasted by the rather comical sight… as did the thief I spied, who had slowed down to a brisk pedal to gape with wide eyes at the two as they advanced in on him.

    I took advantage of his momentary distraction and attempted to reduce the distance between us.

    Seeing me take off seemed to snap him back to reality as he picked up pace once again and attempted to take the nearest turn to his right into an alley, a divide between a general store and a law firm building.

    Attempted…

    A moment, just as he was slipping from my peripheral into that alley, something whizzed past my ear from the left.

    Something hollow from the sound it made as it passed by, and metallic from the dull glint of silver shining along its length, long too.

    A pole.

    No… not a pole. A bo staff.

    Like a bolt of silver lighting, the stave flew and struck true, effortlessly slipping past the spinning spocks of the bike and imbedding itself into the concrete path, effectively grounding the bike to an abrupt halt.

    To throw something with so much force it broke concrete and penetrated through enough layers of it to take root despite said projectile having a flat end… I was more than a little impressed.

    Who had thrown it I wonder?

    I looked back, and my gaze settled on Mikumo, who had a hand outstretched and body curled inward. Like an Olympic thrower, she was poised in a javelinist’s end-pose.

    “Oi, Saru-chan. Did I get him?” she asked.

    The boy slowed down to a halt and surveyed ahead.

    “You… got the wheel?” the boy replied, cautiously.

    She dismounted with a hop, landing with her feet flat against the concrete and dusted herself off with an unoccupied hand.

    “Damn,” she swore, “how far off was I?”

    The boy looked ahead, where the prone body of the thief laid flat against the road and hummed in thought, “…went through the wire bits of the back wheel so… not too far off, I suppose.”

    “I was aiming for the fat bastard’s head.”

    “ah… in that case, you were nowhere near close,” the boy’s assessment was blunt, almost to a fault but she took it in stride and with good humour.

    “Darn.”

    “You’ll get the next one,” the boy offered with a pat to the back.

    I hadn’t stood idly by as they talked. I’d managed to retrieve the stolen purse and pried the pole out of the road, which was no easy feat I found after failing twice. Like uprooting unruly tuft from barren hard-ground, the action had required the use of almost all my strength to pull and just as much to even lift, much less carry.

    It wasn’t that my upper body was weak. I knew my limits better than most and I could say with certainty that wasn’t the case.

    The pole was just that heavy, and not hollow as a matter of fact – it just sounded like it because of the metal it was made of, some alloy mixture of a soft metal like aluminium and a stiff one… probably titanium or tungsten, one of those I imagined.

    The boy eyed me warily when he noticed me retrieve his pole and the purse. In barely a second his caution seemed to evaporate, replaced by a flash of recognition in his eyes.

    “Thanks for the assist,” he said.

    I hadn’t really done much to assist as he claimed, and I was about to say as much when he interrupted me before I could give my thoughts a voice.

    “Lets go return that to its owner and call the cops,” he said, pointing a calloused and scarred finger at the handbag in my other hand.

    “Sure,” I replied. There wasn’t much I could have said to him, not when he was this excitable… a far cry from the picture of depression and grim acceptance I remember from the hospital.

    “Hisui-oppa?” Mikumo said, questioningly.

    She seemed to recognize my voice but wasn’t sure it was me – at least I think she was referring to me. Hisui was her nickname for me If I remember correctly, whatever it meant.

    “Yo Mikumo-ssi,” I greeted her.

    “Hisui-oppa,” she shouted, grinning widely as she proceeded to bodily crash into me in embrace.

    I bit back a grunt and stood my ground. I didn’t bother pushing her away like I did the last time we met… it was a futile effort I found. She was a lot stronger than she looked.

    “…hmmm,” she hummed and buried her face further into my chest. I looked down to her, and glanced her flashed cheeks as she… inhaled

    “???”

    Weird girl.

    “I missed you… a whole week and not a word. I should‘a had Ino-chan give you my number so we could catch up,” she said.

    Her arms were still wrapped around my waist, with her face closer to my chest than was comfortable for either of us and her aviators, with how much of her face was against my chest, stabbed into me painfully.

    “Also, I told you to call me Miki-chan,” she added.

    I wasn’t about to call her that anytime soon.

    “Who’s your friend?” I asked her, slowly but surely prying her off me.

    She resisted at first, but eventually relented, opting instead to hold onto my arm instead of burying her face in my chest like before.

    I didn’t mind that. It beat whatever she’d been doing seconds before. I dare not use the word, but I found her a little creepy. She was too close for comfort but made for good company otherwise.

    “Oh… you mean Saru-chan,” she turned to the boy who had stopped to watch our reunion, “this is Dan Mo-Ri. He clipped me a while back and offered me a ride to make up for it.”

    “I was in a rush,” the boy said with a shrug, “and I said I was sorry.”

    I looked to the boy, and our eyes met – there was a question on my mind, and it must have shown in my expression as the boy raised a brow in silent prompt.

    “Saru?” I asked – the strange, and obviously foreign word fumbled from my lips.

    Mo-Ri looked just as lost as me when it came to the name, in the same way I was about her nickname for me Hisui. He didn’t reply at first, just offered a shrug then pointed to his ears – which were above average sized without looking obscene, rounded and flared outwards instead of lying flat against the side of the head.

    He pinched them by the lobes and pulled down slightly, enough to stretch them a good distance.

    “We’ve met before, Hisui-ssi,” Mori chipped in, extending a hand in greeting which I took and shook in return. I could tell, from that single gesture and exchange, just how much he used his hands. His hands were rough and calloused, and his callouses had callouses of their own. His skin was slightly tan and hardy, with raised bumps along the palm and the tips of his fingers – had it not been for his rail-thin figure I might have thought him a weight lifter because of his fingers and sheer grip strength.

    “Gyu-Ha Seung,” I corrected, “my name.”

    “Ah… I didn’t know… rude of me to use your girlfriend’s nickname without permission like that. I apologize,” he kowtowed, profusely apologizing in a manner that made quite uncomfortable.

    “It’s fine – you can me that if you prefer,” I assured him, and clarified, “and… she’s not my girlfriend.”

    Greetings and pleasantry aside, I handed the pole back to him which he snatched from my hands with unerring ease – no struggle at all in his motion except for the visible ripple of wrist and arm muscle straining. He flashed a grin and muttered a ‘thanks’ before quickly dissembling the pole into sections, the tiny chain links holding them together retracting until the whole became two segmented halves, nun-chucks.

    “…wait, not your…” He repeated to himself with a whisper and a gasp in the middle of fiddling with one of the many side pant pockets, obviously custom made from the uneven stitching for the purpose of holstering his segmented staff in its nun-chuck form on each leg.

    His expression faulted, and his brows rose in confusion and he fixed a questioning gaze on me, on my arm to be specific, the one Mikumo was holding onto. He scoffed and looked to Mikumo for answers.

    “It’s complicated,” she said with a sigh and a shrug.

    “It’s really not,” I refuted, shaking my head in denial. There was nothing to complicate.

    “… right,” he said, drawling the word and narrowing his odd eyes. His scepticism was almost palpable, but he let it go and dropped the matter for the time.

    “Lets go give this back to the owner,” I broke the ice, and took to the front, making way to the city centre with a brisk walking pace. The two behind me followed, Mori on his bike with the purse in his carry basket and Mikumo beside me, not-so-subtly trying to hook her arm around mine.
    **

    I lead us back to the City-centre, near the massive crossing to find an old lady harassing a pair of policewomen. Wailing pitifully something about lost ‘money’ and payment for a ‘spaying’ – an odd combination of words that I paid no mind to as I nudged Saru… Mori that way with the purse.

    The old lady, as I thought, turned to be the owner of the purse. She was a short, squat elderly lady, with a small, rather terrified looking and trembling tiny hairless-dog-creature-thing she dragged around on a leash by her side. Age-wise, I hazarded a guess and thought her to be somewhere in her sixties, what with her silver hair, wrinkles and the noticeable droop to her cheeks.

    The money the thief had appropriated from her, all 200,000-won of it was returned to her, while I directed the local law enforcement to where we’d left the thief lying.

    “Bless you, young man,” she thanked Mo-Ri, peppering him with kisses to the forehead and awkward hugs. To avoid that fate, I left him to deal with the old lady and shuffled back, dragging Mikumo with me and stayed well away from him.

    I watched from afar as he shot me and Mikumo a betrayed glare. Mikumo laughed, chortling and tittering with barely held back giggles, how she knew what was happening was beyond me, but I stopped questioning her senses by now. I, at least looked back, and shook my head in offered condolences as he was accosted by the old lady once again who gave him offerings of paper-wrapped food from her bag.

    After begrudgingly accepting the offering, and successfully extricating himself from her, he made his way back to us and the first thing he did was glare at Mikumo who ignored his indignation.

    “She gave you something?” Mikumo noticed the paper-wrapper in his hand, sniffed and asked, “what is it?”

    Mori hummed thoughtfully, opened the paper wrapper and peaked inside.

    “Kimbap, apparently… a lot of it too. Want some?” he offered, hand outstretched with the paper-bag open.

    “Oooh sushi,” Mikumo crowed, and greedily pilfered a few of the bite sized snacks from him by the handfuls.

    “… If you don’t mind.” I was more polite about it. I clapped my hands together in respectful gesture, giving him thanks for the offering and fished out enough for a handful leaving him a majority of the food stuff.

    With a mouthful of white rice and pickled vegetables, Mori looked to me and asked, “hey, you wouldn’t happen to know where Pyeonja High is would you?”

    I wasn’t surprised to hear that we were headed towards the same place, not at all – It was no coincidence that he was travelling with Mikumo. In response, I took out my little black card, stashed away in the breast pocket of my school blazer and flashed it with a flourish between my fingers.

    Mori grinned toothily and pulled out his own, held in both hands.

    “Show and tell, is it?” said Mikumo, who pulled out her own - which a crumbled mess with all the dots and dashes flattened out, from somewhere in-between her chest.

    “I do,” I wanted to ask where she’d been keeping that but wisely decided against it, I wasn’t sure I’d like the answer, so I ignored her – a surprisingly difficult undertaking considering how closely she was clinging to me like a limpet but one I managed with ease and answered Mori.

    “…seven blocks down that way. I was headed there too,” I pointed a finger towards the back of the shopping district, where the residential district rows began.

    “G.O.H?” I asked.

    He nodded.

    “If you don’t mind walking, I can show you the way,” I offered.

    “Not at all Hisui-nim,” he readily agreed and fell in besides me, to my unoccupied left and Mikumo clinging to my right.

    ‘Did we just become friends?’ the thought, incredulous as it was, came unbidden as I led the way.

    ***

    For a supposedly abandoned school, Pyeonja High was in remarkably good shape.

    The foundation was strong for a building that hadn’t seen a soul in nine years, the greenery neatly trimmed and topiary shaped into a menagerie where a jungle of weeds should have stood, the windows were clear and spit-shined to an almost offensive polish, and the courtyard looked as though it had just recently undergone renovation… as a matter of fact, the whole school, from top to bottom looked like that.

    Guests were greeted at the school gates by security guards whose sole job was to clear the invited through and chase away the curious. The invited, should they be let through, were lead to the school’s main hall where they were given a number – in order of arrival, an electronic bracelet – a black band tied around the wrist with a digital display, an injection of an unknown silvery substance and a smartphone of no brand.

    All that and more, after signing a form that waived the tournament organizers of any legal issues.

    Through the entrance of the meeting hall, down the left-most set of stairs down was the true venue of the tourney – an open spaced underground arena.

    The arena itself was much closer to an amphitheater in appearance than it was to a fighting ring. It had a wide, open space in the middle with borders outlined in paint, looking to have been designed with modularity in mind – I imagined it was for the ease of transitioning from one mode to another without needing to change venue, and a seating area that spoke of a projected crowd numbering in the low thousands.

    Up above the arena were bright floodlights that rained down their luminescence on the gathered who idled themselves with chatter as they gathered into small cliques.

    The three of us walked into the hall, as the people around us talked and chattered amongst each other, and the cacophony of noise melded into a seamless whole. A constant buzz of words noise and incoherent noise, like tinnitus… rather, white noise.

    Mikumo, hung off my arm like a limpet to my right and Mori followed to my left, bouncing in place as he walked and myself in the middle.

    The door behind us creaked loudly as the two sides inched closer together, closing, and slammed together shut with a loud bang that rattled the light fixtures up above the arena.

    Silence fell across the venue, and all eyes were on us within moments. As the closest to the door, it only made sense we attracted attention, but I had a feeling that wasn’t the reason all of the gathered were eyeing me with such intensity.

    I cast my gaze into the crowd and noticed some familiar faces. Not familiar enough to remember by name, just enough to commit to memory their faces.

    I’d fought some of these people before and beat them.

    I quickly made the connection and realized that they weren’t looking at the ‘collective us’, rather, the singular me.

    Whispers broke out and I caught my name being thrown out every now and then.

    “… is that…” “… jjang…” “… sleeping giant…” “…white-horse…”

    There were even racial slurs mixed in too.

    A nudge to my right brought me out of my musing. I turned and got a face full of Mikumo, who was looking to me inquisitively, holding in her free hand the number card we were given at the entrance.

    “Hisui-oppa, what number did you get.” She asked, “… what number did ‘I’ get for that matter?”

    Mori peeked at her number, which was holding back-first with the number facing away from me and towards Mori.

    “You got #143,” he told her, snatching the card from her fingers, turning it over and placing it back with the numbered side now facing me, “… I’m #145. The last number apparently,” he said with a grin, then added a triumphant, “nice.”

    I fished mine out of my pant pocket.

    “#144.”

    “second last… damn,” Mori commented. He looked around the hall, then frowned upon noticing all the eyes on me and my name passed around in whispers.

    “Hisui-nim… everyone’s looking at us… just you, actually,” he ‘whispered’.

    “Ignore them,” I told him, intent on waving the staring aside with disinterest. They’ll stop eventually, I told myself; and whenever people talked of me, about me, they always stop if I ignore them long enough. “Let’s go find somewhere to seat.”

    “If you’re sure,” chipped the voice of Mori as he followed, hands cupped to the back of his head, trying and failing to bite back a yawn.

    “Didn’t get much sleep did’ya Saru-chan?” Mikumo asked with a ‘glare’. She leaned forward, closer to Mori and poked at his chest with her free hand teasingly. “ - you sure you’re up for this?”

    “I got the recommended eight hours, so… enough,” he replied, and adopted a thoughtful expression. Brows crunched and lips pursed. “I just need more than that y’know. I mean isn’t it too short? We should at least get ten hours a day of sleep… hell, I could do with twelve – we all could.”

    ‘Twelve?’ That was a bit too much, I thought. We’d never get anything done if we slept for half a day, every day. Mikumo clearly disagreed, if the look she was giving him was anything to go by.

    “… that’s half a day. Only wildlife sleeps that long… have some diligence Saru-chan.”

    “I have enough diligence. I just think people should get more sleep.”

    “… by half a day,” she said with exasperation, as she looked at him withering glare. Mori shrunk in on himself, then turned to face me with a serious expression, a plea in his eyes all the while, looking for support… I think.

    I personally disagreed with the sentiment, but…

    “I agree.”

    Mikumo slowly craned her neck to look at me, clearly affronted by my answer then scoffed to herself something that sounded like, “… men…,” under her breath.

    It was nice to know that I could go wrong by her, even for something so minor.

    We found refuge near one of the spectator-stands which were unoccupied. Mori took to squatting low on the ground with his back against the wall as he tied his shoes and fiddled with his bo, I leaned against the wall near the stands by my back and Mikumo like always stood beside me, arm hooked around mine as she sightlessly gazed into the crowds.

    People, as they wont to do, pointed at us and whispered. I ignored them all and fiddled with the black wrist-band instead.

    The wrist-band blinked, and the matte-black screen assumed a smooth texture to it and a colour display popped up on display. There was a crack of static up ahead, coming from the speakers followed by a shrill, keening noise of feedback.

    *ping* the black band made a noise. Not just mine either. I saw Mori’s band do the same from where he was squatting, as did Mikumo’s and from there, I assumed everyone else’.

    “~ahem… is this thing on. Ah-ah- can everyone hear me okay?” said a voice from the speakers.

    The crowd stilled and all heads turned to look up to a boxed section of the arena – it was a glass sealed room that was literally mounted to the wall on the right, high enough to be level with the ceiling lights and positioned at such an angel to allow the speaker a bird’s eye view of the action below. The commentator’s box I assumed.

    “… they can hear just fine…,” a distant voice answered the speaker.

    “… right, yes ~ ah… Good afternoon y’all, and welcome to G… O… H…,” the speaker announced excitedly. Judging by the stretch of silence that followed, he’d been expecting some response from the crowd – one that he was denied if the dejected sigh that followed was any indicator.

    “… ok, pay attention y’all cuz I’ll keep this short.”

    “As you entered, all y’all received an injection to the arm and a bracelet.”

    My eyes fell to the upper right section of my arm, the right arm which I’d forgotten had been claimed by Mikumo a while ago. She had yet to let go of it, and as such I only got a face full of cleavage and lacy red when I looked down to my side.

    “The injection was a cocktail o’ Life-support capable bio-nanoparticles. Those nanoparticles flowing in your blood will support your life and sustain it during the upcoming fights which means, you won’t die during the tournament… not from normal means I assure you.”

    ‘Survival is almost guaranteed,’ I recalled the words of the Judge who recruited me.

    This, I assume, is what the Judge meant by that.

    “… Please look to the bracelet you received.”

    I did, as did most of the gathered.

    Mikumo didn’t bother – though she didn’t need to, her bracelet was different from all others anyway. Her bracelet was white instead of black, with a paper-like textured-display instead of the smooth, black, liquid crystal display of others, with raised dots in place of a colour display. For convenience and ease of use, hers had been paired with an earpiece that she’d refused to wear properly, opting instead to having it clipped to her shirt-collar like a brooch.

    “… That is a state of the art, military grade ‘Nano Tech Interface Display’ enabled smartwatch. It receives and sends the information gathered by the bio-nanoparticles in your body and uses that information to calculate your general physical strength, energy, and so on and so forth… nifty innit.”

    Displayed on the screen where the three statistical value placeholders. They read as follows, in order -

    LV:

    HP:

    FS:

    GP:

    “In short, for those of you that are slow on the uptake… treat that as your stat sheet. It shows your HP, Fighting Style, POWER Level,” the speaker raised his voice for emphasis, “and other relevant stats.”

    I found his evasion of the GP value odd, something I took note of but didn’t dwell on too much. Perhaps it had something to do with ‘borrowed power.’

    “You can also get others information through that device if you point it at someone for five seconds. The nano-particles should have settled by now so it’s expected that you can check on each other’s information as you want by now.”

    The devices beeped and shook as the previously empty values filled out.

    To my right I felt Mikumo detach from my arm and watched as she ran a finger across the surface of her device which now had more raised bumps on it. Mori behind me removed his sleeping mask and rose to a stand, sectioned bo fully assembled and held in one hand while the other held up the device to his eyes as he read off the screen his own values.

    “Well… I think that’ll be enough,” the speaker concluded and tapped something on his end.

    All around me, the devices beeped as people used them on themselves and their neighbours. I even saw a few pointing at us, the collective ‘us’ this time, not just me before recoiling away in shock.

    From what little I could infer from hushed whispers and white noise around me, the average level – which was all everyone talked about, was between Six and Seven. An eight was apparently impressive enough to boast about, and a nine made people clear away from you in fear.

    Personally, I found the number values arbitrary. There was more to a fight than numbers and statistics after all – FS was perhaps the only one of four with a valid purpose.

    “Nice…,” Mori said from my side. He raised a hand, with the device facing my way screen first and a grin on his face as he showed of his assigned values.

    “…,” Mikumo was strangely silent, wearing a vacant expression as she tilted her head to the side, cheek grazing the earpiece which was making sounds – announcing in monotone what I assumed to be her assigned values.

    I wasn’t sure about Mori – having just met him formally a mere half hour ago, but I had no doubt in mind that Mikumo’s level value was above average.

    I looked down to my bracelet to inspect my own assigned values. The numbers filled out and words popped up in appropriate sections per value.



    I stared at the bracelet, half in shock and the other half in amusement.

    “Okay. Everybody,” the speaker’s voice returned. He seemed to take a deep breath – the distinct noise of sharp inhalation clear to all over the speaker, readying himself to announce with finality and shouted his declaration like a war-cry, “FIGHT!”

    The overhead speakers cut off with another squeal of static, followed by a brief silence then all hell broke loose.
    ***​

    Kimbap - Korean Sushi roll, usually made with imitation meats or pickled vegetables.

    Baekma(백마 타다 - Baekma tada(white horse riding)) - literally translates to White-Horse and is actually a Chinese word originally(白 (baek, white) and 馬 (ma, horse). Its a term used to fetishize and objectify people of Caucasian(full or half) descent in Korea, particularly women but can be used for men too.
     
    wasprider, nkos, kabs and 2 others like this.
  10. kabs

    kabs Well thought out cheerful stories turn me on

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    Very interesting and I have so many questions. So is this after Ragnorak? Or is it an AU? Is Mori Dan still Jin Mori? Who exactly is our protagonist and how strong is he, and how is he so strong? Is he like Hidetora Tōjō from Beelzebub in that he's just a human who's really good at fighting?
     
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