Chapter 1:

Aoki's Ascendancy

Mirror


Soft drops of water echo about his surroundings and sound out over the cavernous silence. The beads of water collecting among the few pipes above him fall in gradual intervals before they meet the mildew-infused cement below. Taking a deep inhale, he eyes the leather bust in front of him as he draws his knives once more. Bookmark here

He brings his right fist that holds the three serrated knives across his body and to the left side of his face. Head, neck, heart, he repeats within his mind: mulling over the body parts in which he intends to pierce.Bookmark here

The scent of mildew mixed with the saturated wood boxes placed sporadically around has infiltrated his nose, and burns the walls of his nostrils. He brings his fist even further past his left shoulder, having his right elbow nearly grazing his nose. More droplets splashing against the surface of the floor reverberate against the cement. Just as he was about to thrust his right arm out and throw the knives at his target, the door obtrusively swings open.Bookmark here

“There you are, Niko!” A girl with choppy black and white hair announces as she welcomes herself into the room, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.” She makes her way over to Niko - absentmindedly splashing through small puddles along her way. The thick, black leather boots she sports protect her against the moisture. Bookmark here

“What do you want, Junko?” Niko asks the girl, sounding evidently irritated at the interruption, “I’m kind of busy right now.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, you’re busy doing stuff you’re not supposed to be doing, idiot,” Junko upbraids the boy as she reaches him. She stands taller than him, and gives off a strong sense of authority in which Niko perceives. “You’re supposed to be catching up on schoolwork right now, and when I asked Kagome where you were, she said you were down here - not doing schoolwork.”Bookmark here

'Thanks for ratting me out, Kagome', Niko thinks to himself as he grimaces and turns his gaze towards the cement. Niko sighs and closes his eyes before looking back up to the girl in front of him, “Listen, Junko,” Niko starts, “I know you’re my sister and all, and I appreciate you looking out for me…”Bookmark here

Junko crosses her arms as she waits for Niko to continue. “But, I need to be a part of the team! Finishing school and doing math homework won’t prepare me for assignments, training will. How will I ever be good enough to be a part of the squadron if I’m better at solving math equations than I am at throwing knives?!” Bookmark here

Out of frustration, Niko takes the knives in his hands and fiercely throws them towards the leather figure that was now to his right. Junko and Niko both watch the weapons completely miss the target and penetrate wooden boxes to the right of the mannequin.Bookmark here

Groaning, Niko throws his hands to his face in an unpurposefully dramatic fashion. “See what I mean?” Niko tries levelling with his sister, “Who needs school when I should be training?” Junko shakes her head at Niko’s words and turns away from him - walking towards the thrown knives. Bookmark here

“This is what you don’t understand,” She advises her brother as she rips the metal from the damp wood. Grasping the three cold knives in her warm hands, Junko stares down at the weapons and watches the dim light reflect off of the dark surface. Niko watches her back from his position and waits for her to continue speaking.Bookmark here

Bringing her head back up, Junko treks back over to her brother. With her back to the mannequin, Junko brings her right fist - which was clutching the knives between her fingers and knuckles - in front of her chest. In an instant, the knives hurl behind her as Junko propels her arm out and to her right. Niko, in amazement and shock, watches the knives plunge into the mannequins head, neck, and heart in succession.Bookmark here

Niko’s mouth stays agape as Junko joins him back at their original spot. She looks back to her handiwork, yet disdain is clearly written on her features. “It’s more than just throwing knives, Niko,” Junko starts again, drawing Niko’s attention back to her.Bookmark here

“Being on the team is about putting your life on the line to protect people you don’t even know. It’s a sacrifice that makes you question if you value your own life at all if you’re willing to do such a thing. That’s something you’re going to have to understand before I let you come on an assignment with me.” Junko expresses to Niko in a calm and subdued manner. Niko bows his head slightly, taking in what his sister said. A moment later, Junko’s phone goes off.Bookmark here

She fishes out her phone from her back pocket and glances at the screen. Her eyebrows draw in, and her mouth stays neutral. Niko watches her still features as Junko reads over the notification in silence. “It’s dad,” Junko announces stoically, “He’s got another assignment for me.” Sliding her phone back into her pocket, Junko places her free hand onto her brother’s shoulder in a consoling approach.Bookmark here

“Me, Ren, Jiro, Kagome, Yuuto - we all completed high school,” Junko offers Niko, “Your second year starts in less than a month, you know. You need to catch up on the work from last year that you skipped out on so you can graduate on time. Start taking school seriously, because I can’t have stupid people on my team.” Niko gives a small smile and a nod to his sister’s words. Junko smiles back - hoping Niko understands why he cannot join her just yet.Bookmark here

Junko lets go of Niko’s shoulder and walks back to the door in which she entered. Halfway along, she turns around to face her brother once more, “And besides, you’re still a kid. Try and enjoy your youth before throwing yourself into a lifetime of work, okay?” Niko rolls his eyes and places his hands on his hips before answering, “Are you my sister or my grandma? You’re talking as if you’re not five years older than me.”Bookmark here

Junko smiles once more and turns to face the doorway. As she exits, Niko walks over to the mannequin to fetch his knives. They penetrated relatively deep into the leather, and he finds himself struggling to pull them out. “There’s no way I could even imagine doing this,” Niko utters to himself in embarrassment, “How’d she learn to do that?”Bookmark here

As Niko battles with a fake person, Junko ascends the staircase. The creaks in the old wood resound against the concrete walls beside her. Her clothes picked up a residual scent of mildew that inhabits the basement of the building. Approaching the first floor, she looks through the frosted window on the door that would lead into a public bar for the people of Tokyo. There were quite a few patrons at this hour, considering it was a Sunday after sunset. Dragging her eyes back in front of her, Junko continues up the wooden stairs.Bookmark here

Reaching the second floor, all that stood in front of her was a metal door. Patting at her pockets, Junko realizes she left her key inside before she went searching for her brother. Approaching the sealed entranceway, Junko knocks twice, then waits five seconds before knocking a third time. Due to the thickness of the door, she is unable to hear anything behind it.Bookmark here

Luckily, the door swings open to reveal her friend, Yuuto Matsuo. The light from inside the room reflects off of his ebony complexion and glows from behind him. If it wasn’t for his taller frame casting a shadow over Junko - who stood on the steps below the door - her eyes would have needed to adjust to the light. Bookmark here

“Did you find him?” Yuuto asks Junko as he steps aside to let his friend in. Junko sighs as she enters the room, and looks around to see all of her friends and fellow squad members present as well.Bookmark here

“Yeah, he was throwing knives at the dummy again,” Junko voiced, “But I got a text from Mamoru. He’s got another assignment for us.” This catches the attention of the rest of the group spread around the room - their heads turning towards the conversation. “Where do you have to meet him?” Asks Ren Jin from the couch to Junko’s left. He is sitting by Kagome Hata, and they have paused the movie they are watching to listen to Junko.Bookmark here

“Ebisu,” Junko answers Ren as she walks over to the kitchen, where she passes Jiro Shimizu at the table. He has playing cards in his hand, and another set of cards is laid across from him - presumably Yuuto’s hand. Bookmark here

Glancing around the kitchen, her eyes finally lay upon her keys. Knabbing them from their spot, Junko turns to face the crowd once more. She swings the ring around her index finger and makes her way back towards the doorway.Bookmark here

Hearing a quick whistle from her right, Junko’s head turns to the noise. Kagome smirks from the couch and tosses Junko’s helmet to her. Junko catches it in a swift motion, and places it under her arm. Bookmark here

Giving a smile in return, Junko jogs out of the door and down the steps - as Yuuto wishes her luck before closing the door behind her. From the inside of the room, a sign is presented on the closing metal door that reads, “Tokyo Prefectural Police Department: Special Operations Task Force,” melded onto the surface.Bookmark here

Junko pushes through the first floor door and is brought into the atmosphere gifted by the bar. Regular patrons, couples, possible underage kids, and the old bartender crowd the small space and fill it with noise. The scent of alcohol and sweat clogs her lungs, and Junko quickens her pace in order to escape it. Weaving through the nearly packed room with her hand in front of her, Junko gradually makes her way out and into the crisp night air that envelops Tokyo.Bookmark here

She takes a deep breath, before sliding on her glistening black helmet that ricochets the streetlights’ glow from overhead. A sharp breeze pushes against Junko’s body, and she is forced to pull her leather jacket closer to her frame. Handling her keys in her left hand, Junko’s gaze lands on her jet-black bike parked on the streetside in front of her.Bookmark here

Hopping onto the vinyl seat, Junko juts her key into the ignition. A loud and deep roar echoes off of the walls of the buildings around her - making some envious and curious onlookers peek over. Revving her engine once, Junko kicks the kickstand and speeds away on her bike. The fluid wind runs through the contrasts of her hair. It whips the lengths of her jacket open and her thin, white t-shirt ripples against the air.Bookmark here

The surrounding lights blend into a tunnel of neon as the motion from her bike propels her forward. The reverberation of the engine vibrates against her legs and flows throughout her body. This bike was a gift from Junko’s father on her eighteenth birthday, and for four years, it has been her pride and joy. Junko approaches another traffic light that taunts the color yellow, but she accelerates quickly before it flashes red.Bookmark here

After about ten minutes, Junko finds herself in the relative area of where her father should be waiting for her. As Lieutenant of the Special Operations Task Force, Junko was in charge of acquiring the assignment from their captain - who just so happened to be her and Niko’s father. Their mission, as a team, is to execute the ringleaders of high-risk criminal cohorts that have been running rampant throughout Tokyo for the past twenty years.Bookmark here

Mamoru Fukumoto, the Captain of the squadron, would call upon his daughter as soon as the Chief of Police issues a new assignment for their division - or when an anonymous tip comes through regarding an upcoming, or presently occurring, criminal incursion. Bookmark here

Recently, there have been quite a few assignments surfacing - and the workload of the Special Operations Task Force has more than tripled. Even so, the team’s sole job is to protect the people of Tokyo before those citizens even get the chance to worry about any type of villainous activity.Bookmark here

Glancing around beneath her tinted helmet, Junko takes in her surroundings. It was late at night, and the only light granted to her were the dim, sporadic streetlights and the headlights on her motorcycle. She had slowed down to a civil velocity a few kilometers back, and was gradually approaching the destination chosen by her father.Bookmark here

The destination was almost on the outskirts of Ebisu, but not too far from the hustle and bustle for them to gain suspicion from the surrounding people of the city. Their meetings were always to be done in person - in the event that their phones were stolen and tapped into. The work Junko and her friends were part of was dangerous, but necessary for the greater good of Tokyo.Bookmark here

“Fire hydrant next to…” Junko mumbles to herself as she recalls the monuments Mamoru listed so Junko can pinpoint the location more easily, “... a blinking streetlight.” She finishes as she notices the flickering light ahead, casting light upon a red fire hydrant implanted into the ground beneath it. Hastening her speed just a fraction, Junko makes her way to the alley positioned between two buildings behind the flashing light post.Bookmark here

Pulling her bike to a parked position underneath the light, Junko keeps her gaze away from the alley. She is aware that there’s more than one person situated between the buildings awaiting her approach. Turning her head to the dark space, she counts two silhouettes: one being a taller man with a heavy coat set on his body, and the other being a short and stout man in formal attire. Keeping her stare on the two figures, Junko turns her key out of the ignition and stuffs it in the pocket of her leather jacket.Bookmark here

She knows the taller man is her father and boss, but is yet to know the identity of the adjacent man in tow. Junko throws her left leg off the backside of the bike and juts the kickstand out with her foot to fully park her vehicle. For Junko, the atmosphere is eerie and filled with mystery.Bookmark here

Though for the unnamed man, he is fueled by anxiety and is sweating as if it’s a hot summer day. Junko’s mere aura is enough to rattle this forty-something year old man, let alone what her appearance will do once she unveils her features hidden underneath that mask of a helmet.Bookmark here

The sound from the soles of her leather boots colliding against the sidewalk echo against the full moon. The wind swallowing Tokyo sent a chill down the unknown man’s spine, and he watched this tall, mysterious girl make her way over to him and Mamoru. Approaching the entrance of the alley, Junko stops walking. Bookmark here

Placing her hands at either side of her helmet, Junko reveals her head to the men in front of her. There was still a face mask present in order to retain some sense of privacy - which Junko normally did not wear unless there was another individual present. In this case, her father had informed her earlier that a guest would be joining them tonight.Bookmark here

She relinquishes the helmet, and exposes her pale blue eyes and choppy black and white hair. Her stark eyelashes were naturally white, which only made her eyes stand out more. The freedom granted to her hair makes the strands whip around with the wind. Bookmark here

The top of her head is dusted with her natural white shade - while half of the length is cut short and dyed black, and the bottom-most layer falls long and white. Junko’s pigmentless eyes hold onto the stout man as she observes his every move.Bookmark here

“Thank you for joining us, Junko,” Mamoru acknowledges his daughter after being in her presence for a moment. Junko bows slightly and drags her gaze onto her father. “This is Katsuro Yoshida. Old friend of mine from high school. He’s here to help us out.” Mamoru adds as he points to the man who has joined them this evening. Yoshida nods and bows deeply to Junko out of respect and fear. “Thank you for coming, I-”Bookmark here

“No need,” Junko deadpanned at the man, holding a hand up to Yoshida, “What’s the assignment, Mr. Fukumoto?” She addresses her father formally, not knowing if Yoshida knows of their relationship or not. Bookmark here

Yoshida stands back up with a shaky exhale. He takes out his handkerchief from his front pocket and wipes at the beads of sweat forming on his receding hairline. Mamoru gathers his weight and lifts off of the wall he was leaning against. His hands stay put in the pockets of his heavy, beige winter jacket.Bookmark here

“Mr. Yoshida has informed me of a possible drug ring being established as we speak,” Mamoru spoke quietly, but loud enough for the two in front of him to hear, “It operates in the basement of an up and coming restaurant in Toshima called ‘Essence.’ This poses a great threat against the public, quite obviously, and it is run by the same man opening the upscale restaurant.”Bookmark here

As Mamoru puts forth critical information about the criminal activity, Yoshida stands off to the side. His face conveys a confused expression, as his eyebrows are drawn in and his mouth is slightly parted. Nevertheless, he keeps quiet out of fear of the two towering individuals in front of him.Bookmark here

“Yoshida caught wind of this activity because he owns a restaurant in Toshima, himself,” Mamoru continues, looking to Yoshida as he includes him in the conversation. Taking notice of this, Yoshida nods aggressively and fumbles while pulling out a business card from his wallet. “Yoshida went to visit his competition, but accidentally caught the individual in suspicion - storing a hefty amount of drug paraphernalia.”Bookmark here

Yoshida hands his business card to Junko, and she accepts it with both hands respectfully. As she looks over the sturdy piece of paper, Mamoru continues his informative tirade, “Daisuke Aoki. He’s powerful amongst the people due to his seemingly likable personality and his future in holding what will be a renowned restaurant. Getting rid of him will not be easy.” Junko places the card in her pocket amongst her keys. She brings her eyes to her father once more, listening in on the details.Bookmark here

“T-There’s a big event for the opening of Essence coming up in-in about three weeks,” Yoshida interjects timidly, and, in turn, draws the eyes of his counterparts his way, “He needs to be g-gone before then.”Bookmark here

Mamoru holds a steady gaze on Yoshida - almost as if he is scolding him for speaking up. Yoshida’s breath hiccups quietly, and he drags his soaked cloth against his forehead. “Is Aoki using this big opening event to cover up for some other drug-related activity? Is that why he needs to be gone by then?” Junko asks, keeping her gaze on Yoshida.Bookmark here

Just as Yoshida is about to answer, Mamoru speaks up for him, “It’s too risky not to assume so. Do you need any additional information, or can you handle the rest?” Mamoru draws the conversation to a hasteful finish as he awaits his daughter’s response. Junko’s eyes meet Mamoru’s, and she answers with a firm shake of her head. Grabbing the helmet from under her arm, Junko places it back onto her head. Yoshida’s eyes open wider as he realizes the meeting is nearing its end.Bookmark here

“Mr. Yoshida, I thank you on behalf of the Tokyo Prefectural Police Department and its Special Operations Squadron. You were a good citizen today.” Junko states as she bows courteously at Yoshida, who shakes his hands side to side along with his head. Bookmark here

“I-It’s fine!” Yoshida stutters out. Junko stands back up and fishes out her keys from her pocket. “Contact Mr. Fukumoto for anything further regarding the assignment,” Junko finishes off the meeting, and makes her way back to her bike.Bookmark here

Mamoru watches his daughter leave his presence and drive off in the direction she came. Sighing a breath filled with drear, Mamoru scratches the back of his neck. “Nice seeing you again, Yoshida,” Mamoru speaks up as he rubs the bald spot on his old friend’s head, “I’ll contact you once he’s dead.” Bookmark here

With that, Mamoru sets off to his own vehicle parked a ways down the street. Yoshida stays within the confines of the two buildings for a moment longer: ruminating over the conversation he just experienced. Pulling the damp, white cloth against his sparkling head once more, Yoshida finally exits the alleyway. Bookmark here

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