Chapter 1:

Those Who Seek

X = Y

On a warm summer's day — on the 23rd of July, 2015 — two boys burst out of their house whilst preparing for school, mischievously running around, producing an uproar, resounding laughter, to the dismay of their mother. Chasing after the two, she watched them run outside without a single care, nor a single doubt, in the world. Illuminated by the Sun's radiance, their faces shone brightly, and the July winds bolted across their body, providing a unique breeze only the summer bequeathed.

Twins Rei Hirojima and Kei Hirojima had dark, silky, fine, brown hair complemented by light hazelnut eyes. Both were part of the Hirojima family, and their father, Kouma Hirojima, was a Human Resources Manager at Tatashi Industrial. A company located in Toshi City, an hour drive away from their hometown — Machira Town — specialising in creating and distributing cheap technology. Unlike his children, Kouma had black hair and dark brown eyes. He was a tall thin man who possessed a friendly demeanour and a warm smile.

Their mother, Hana Hirojima, shared the same facial features with her children. A kind person with a small stature, she was of average height. Hana disliked raising her voice, trying her hardest to control Rei and Kei despite knowing her efforts were in vain, though she knew they meant no harm.

"Remember not to stay out too late after school! Rei! Kei! Your father's being promoted to a Senior Manager! Make sure to be back so we can celebrate!" she exclaimed, setting her hands around her mouth, cupping her lips, channelling her voice to her children.

"We won't!" they both exclaimed, copying their mother's actions cheekily.

They both glanced at each other and laughed, prompting their mother to laugh. Rei and Kei's school uniform consisted of a teal blazer and trousers, followed by a white buttoned shirt underneath and a red tie. They were both wearing brown formal shoes matching the colour of their hair.

They ran along with their bags to their side, hopping on their blue matching bikes, riding down the streets of Japan ebulliently. They lived in the countryside, houses spread apart, and scarce commercial sectors were present. Rei and Kei passed numerous people, cars, and shops, cycling down the road with heat from the Sun scorching their faces.

"Rei! Did you remember to do the homework for English class?" said Kei inquisitively.

"Homework?! I completely forgot!" said Rei with a surprised look on his face that turned into defeat quickly after. "That's what I get for playing with Kanda. I can't say no to him when he wants to play a quick game of Sprint Force! What do you say? Can I copy it when we get to school?" Rei attempted to mention sneakily, smugness encompassing his face.

"You can but change some things and get some wrong answers so Sensei doesn't notice. If I've got your back, then you must have my back. Okay?" said Kei with a bright smile on his face.

"You bet!" Rei replied, goofily smiling.

Requiring a single glance at his face, Kei burst out laughing, and so did Rei, keeping their eyes on the streets ahead of them, eventually arriving at school.

Metagawa High School had three buildings: a two-story main building, gymnasium, and secondary educational facility, which stood out amongst the other buildings; the main building was a rich dark teal colour.

Many other students were walking past the entrance, entering the main building, minding their day. Inside, Rei and Kei entered their homeroom class, finding two of their friends and classmates. The first was Kanda Haru — a boy who wore glasses and had blue eyes with black hair. The second was a girl called Meya Sonui — she had dark brown eyes and black hair. Instead of a red tie, she had a large red bowtie around her neck, wearing a skirt that went down past her thighs and socks that went up to her knees, emblazoning with beauty.

"Good morning!" exclaimed Meya, standing in front of Kanda, who was seated.

"Good morning!" exclaimed the brothers in unison.

"Do you still have that copy of Sprint Force I lent you, Rei? I reminded you yesterday when we were playing. It's my long-distance brother's copy. He doesn't live here. It's like a three-hour car ride." said Kanda curiously, emotively, showing on his face.

"Yeah! I remembered to bring it this time. Here. I had fun playing Lanel Rover. I heard the Manga he's being serialised in is wrapping up its story." Rei replied, taking the copy of Sprint Force from his bag, handing it over to Kanda, who shoved it into his bag.

"I heard that too. It's a shame that it's coming to an end. I really loved his Emperor Jester form! It looked so cool to me!" said Kei with glee.

"I'm sad to see it go too. But we should be happy that it happened, and not sad that it's finishing. Without an ending, we would not feel as emotionally invested and attached to the character's as we do now. Right?" said Meya with a kind smile on her face.

"I wish that was how life actually worked..." said Kanda in a defeated tone.

Everyone in their homeroom class took a seat. The television, hanging in the corner of the room, flashed a breaking news label across the screen, directing the student's attention to it, and a man in a suit appeared. "We are sorry to interrupt this scheduled programme to bring new information regarding the case of a man that went missing four months ago. He has been found dead outside the Metagawa High School parking area. Police are still trying to find the culprit but so far they have no leads. Criminal activity has increased in and around this area over the past three years. If you see any suspicious or unusual behaviour or activity, please do not hesitate to contact the police."

Everyone's eyes lit up, and they began murmuring amongst each other. A man in his forties, wearing a white buttoned t-shirt with a red tie, opened their class door, entering silently. He was Mr Mirai — their homeroom teacher — and he paid very close attention to the television, watching the broadcast prudently.

"Now now everyone. Calm down and take a seat. The class will start soon," said Mr Mirai in a dull, bland voice.

"No way! That's this school...A murder happened right here!" said Rei in disbelief.

"They never said the murder happened here. They only found the body here. Mother was right. It's not safe to do anything by yourself." said Kei with composure.

"You're still going to go to football practice after school, right?" said Rei in a wondering manner.

"Yeah, of course! We'll have each other to rely on when we go home. We have to anyway. What about the homework you wanted?" said Kei.

"Oh yeah! Quickly! Give it to me!" Rei answered in a desperate, worried voice.

Both Kanda and Meya began to laugh at the apparent desperation in Rei's voice. The day carried on with the four friends, enjoying their time together, eating at a single table at lunch. Meya, Kanda, Rei and Kei began hearing the sound of rumours and voices in the background, which plucked their attention from their meal onto what their peers were conversing on.

"Apparently it was one of the teacher's here." said a girl to her friend behind the four friends.

"I heard that they brought the body here to frame someone. They didn't need him anymore. They already got what they needed." the girl responded to her friend.

"You're both lying. That sounds like such a stupid thing to do. It was obviously a gang. Only they have the power to hide a kidnapping like that! Why would they hide the body for four months and then reveal it now? That's an excellent way to incriminate yourself!" exclaimed a boy behind the four friends, mingling with the girls.

"Are you going to go home with Kanda, Meya?" said Rei.

"Yeah! Like always. You guys live on the other side of this town, so I wouldn't expect you to go with me." answered Meya with a kind look.

"Are you two sure you want to go to football practice? My club finishes earlier than yours, but I still feel uneasy," mentioned Kanda with a concerned tone. "This could just be a one-off incident, but I doubt it."

"You worry too much! Just sit back, remain vigilant, and relax!" said Rei in a lively attitude, presenting a wide hysterical smile on his face.

Three girls approached their table, adorned with black hair and dark brown eyes, encroaching upon black.

"Meya? You're still eating? We have practice for the big play that's coming up in about a week." said the girl called Hibika.

"You have to do that acting thing, right?" said Rei.

"It's not a thing, Rei. The name of our group is Act Time. Do you even remember what we do?" Meya asserted with a playful look on her face.

"Yeah, I do. You act. That's it. Isn't it?" Rei questioned.

"I think you're oversimplifying things, Rei. It's the name of their club, but you want to turn it into an acting agency for this town. I'm correct in saying that, am I not?" said Kei with a smile.

Meya quickly stood up and walked away with the girls.

"Yeah! That's right! I'll see you three later!" Meya said in a light-hearted and cheery voice.

"I guess she's using every bit of time she can to rehearse her lines. It's apparently the biggest event that they've been invited to perform at. It's also the biggest event this town can host." Kanda added. He stood up and left the two brothers behind.

"I'll see you guys tomorrow." Kanda said, leaving them.

School ended, the Sun faded away past the horizon, and it continued to sink deeper and deeper into the surface of the Earth. Both Rei and Kei were in their school's football uniform, both on the same team playing an eleven-a-side friendly game against their school's reserve team. Rei scored a goal, receiving the ball again from kick-off and dribbling spectacularly down the pitch. He passed the ball emphatically to Kei, who was tackled immediately by the other team.

"My bad! I'll do better next time!" exclaimed Kei with a smile on his face. His brother pranced up to him, helping him up.

"He's such a bad player. He's only here because of his brother..." another player murmured on the pitch.

Upon hearing that statement, Kei became disheartened, and his morale dropped, clearly shown on his face. Rei slapped Kei's back, taking him by surprise.

"What was that for? I know I'm not that good, but it's fun to play football." said Kei.

"Forgot about what these losers say. You're good enough to play, and together we're going to get better. Why do you think the coach puts you into the starting eleven every time we go against the other schools? Lighten up, Kei." said Rei in a supportive manner, running away and continuing to play.

"He's the better athlete out of us both. But I'm better than him academically. Now I wish I was good athletically, but it's just a whim. Focus, Kei!" he reflected himself. "If I ask for too much, then what's stopping me asking for the entire world? I should be grateful for what I have and for what I can do."

Following in his brother's footsteps, Kei ran off and continued to play, paltry disheartenment exuding from his face. He received the ball from his brother, finding a pass over the opposition defenders and allowing his brother to score again. They celebrated, the game ending with the brothers' team winning 6-3. Afterwards, Rei and Kei began walking to their bikes locked securely against a metallic bike stand. Rei noticed the upset look on Kei's face.

"Are you still thinking about what that guy said to you, Kei? Forget about him. He doesn't know what you can do. He doesn't even know what you'll become in the future! You're being too harsh on yourself!" said Rei in a happy, brisk mood with an upbeat voice.

"It's not that, Rei. All of this murder and kidnapping is really getting to me. The comments the other guy made definitely did not help with my mental state. I keep on thinking about the possibilities. No matter how small, I always create these weird scenarios within the realm of possibility. Maybe I'm just overthinking and overexplaining. The point is I've already thought of the things that can happen and it's not pretty." Kei rambled.

"Maybe the big words are getting to you, Kei! Hehe!" Rei retorted, smiling and giggling.

They reached the bike stands and began unlocking their bikes.

"I know, but it's just getting to me-" responded Kei, his speech cut off.

"Stop!" said Rei, interrupting Kei's rambling speech. "What's there to be scared about? Nothing like that has ever happened in our lives, so will it ever? It's not a bad thing to think things through, but when you're mind is clouded by it, that's when it becomes a problem? Do you feel me?"

"Well, that's really weird. I'm not going to feel you." Kei responded. "Don't make it weird," said Kei mockingly.

"Hey! Is that supposed to be how I said it that one time to you?" Rei responded with a surprised tone.

They both began laughing, taking their bikes and riding out of the school entrance down the road.

"Maybe I was overthinking things. There's still light in the sky, and this town is relatively small. It's either a town or a village. Who cares what it is. It's home to us, and that's what it will be forever." Kei thought to himself.

They both arrived home and put their bikes against the bike stands, locking them in place. Their mother heard them, opening the door promptly. Rei and Kei saw her, and Kei ran towards her, giving her a tender hug, his arms wrapped around her waist. Rei walked up to where his mother was standing. The hug Kei gave to his mother continued to surprise her.

"Kei? Is everything okay? You haven't given me a hug like this since you were a child." Hana spoke with a perplexed look on her face.

"We're always going to be children to you, mother. Even father treats us like children. We're old enough to make our own decision." said Rei with a grin on his face.

"Not every single decision. There are still things we can't do by ourselves, but eventually, we'll learn to do them. We still act like little children, but it's because it's fun." Kei stated, smiling.

"You two will always be my children. You'll be grown up, and I'll still need to spoon-feed you. I'll make the spoon into an aeroplane, and I'll read you bedtime stories." said Hana as she giggled.

Rei became eminently embarrassed, and Kei gazed at him with lesser embarrassment. They both looked at each other, smiled, and walked inside, taking their shoes off and putting their bags away. Their mother followed them up the stairs to the room they shared.

"I was worried about both of you. Dangerous things are happening outside, and they're affecting the school you two go to. Is everything okay there? Did anything happening to you?" Hana said in a curious tone.

"Nothing too out of the ordinary. I did manage to score six goals today! I'm a star striker, and I put them in the back of the net!" said Rei with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

"Remember to change your clothes! We're going to surprise your father and thank him for everything he's done for us!" said Hana with a smile on her face.

Rei and Kei began changing their clothes. Rei wore a blue t-shirt with a white jacket that had a hood and grey trousers. Kei wore a long-sleeve black top with blue trousers. There were two beds, and the bed closest to the wall was Kei's. The bed that was closest to the door, next to Kei's bed, belonged to Rei. They sat down on them, and Kei brought out Shonen Sprint — a magazine that serialised Manga for male teenagers. Meanwhile, Rei brought out a magazine that advertised many different Martial Art styles from underneath his pillow, catching the attention of Kei.

"Why do you have a magazine about Martial Arts? I thought you wanted to be a professional football player." said Kei in confusion.

"I do. I was just thinking about becoming a Martial Artist if I didn't make it. There's no harm in learning how to defend yourself. You learn so many things, and you learn how to fight which is the best thing about it. No one would mess with you and you'd actually get things done. You'd bask in the glory yourself rather than sharing it with your team which isn't a bad thing. It shows how hardworking you are. To the top!" exclaimed Rei. Clenching his fist and thrusting his arm into the air, Rei expressed seriousness, dynamic in manner, refining his determined resolve.

"Oh I get it." responded Kei with a sense of realisation.

"Look here. These are the places you go to learn fighting styles like Taekwondo, Karate, Judo and other unique, or lesser-known styles. Didn't you want to become a biologist or something like that?" said Rei with a questioning countenance.

"A detective. You need biology to get into it. The mystery shows you see on television seem exciting enough, so I wanted to become a forensic scientist and eventually a detective. I hope it's as satisfying and interesting like it is there." said Kei nonchalantly.

"Your grades are better than mine so I would expect that much! I'm literally the most average student. In our last end of year exams, I was literally in the middle, and you were close to the top. Keep up the work, brother!" said Rei in an enthusiastic voice.

"Rei! Kei! Your father is home! Come downstairs!" Their mother shouted.

Both ran out of the room, down the stairs. Their father was waiting there for them. Rei stood right in front of their father and put out his fist with a smile.

"Hello, father!" said Rei in a happier voice.

"Hello, Rei. I hope you haven't been giving your mother too much trouble." said Kouma, their father, fist-bumping Rei.

"We have a surprise for you, so follow us!" said Kei in an excited voice.

"Follow them, dear!" said Hana, grabbing Kouma's hand and taking him into their dark living room. She switched on the light, and to Kouma's wonder, there was a cake on the table with decorations around the room, coupled with food and letters on the table written by his family.

"Surprise!" shouted Rei and Kei. They grabbed party poppers and aimed them at his face. They exploded with confetti and covered Kouma, who was inappreciably startled.

"What's all this for?" said Kouma in a confused tone.

"You got promoted, didn't you? Mother told us, so we decided to celebrate the occasion," said Rei, grinning and rapturous.

"Ah yes, I did. It's not that big of a deal. But thank you. Rei. Kei. Hana." he said with a proud smile.

They celebrated as night began to fall, with the two boys eventually sneaking outside without their parents knowing, climbing down their window athletically. They took their football and played near the forest behind their house. They lived at the end of the street, and beyond that were trees and forests which lead to mountains. Their parents sat inside their home on the sofa, watching television.

"How is your work going, dear?" said Hana with a sweet, soft voice.

"Work? Nothing's changed really. But the boys seem to have. They were just learning to ride their bikes two or three years ago. They've really changed." said Kouma with a sense of pride. "Which one do you think is the mother's boy?" Kouma added.

Hana giggled to herself and responded with a smile. "Kei! Rei likes being around you more, Kouma. I gave them the same amount of attention, but Rei was always the more adventurous one. He decided to go off on his own journeys and he likes being around you more."

"These things happen. Kids always want the complete attention of their parents. They don't want to share it. I was the same with my parents. There's nothing to worry about if that happens." Kouma added.

There was a sudden knock on the door, and Hana stood up to go and check who it was.

"I'll see who it is," she said in a calm voice. She opened the door but could not find anyone there. She looked around, her eyesight was perfect, and she could see everything. "There's no one here. Who knocked on the door?" said Hana whilst pondering who it could be. She closed the door and walked back to the living room. "Those two are surprisingly quiet tonight. My my. They must be tired from school." she spoke happily, her right hand resting against her face.

The two boys were tired from playing football, and they sat down, both breathing heavily, sweating slightly.

"Don't you think mother will be mad at us for sneaking out?" said Kei in a concerned voice.

"Of course she will! She always is, Kei!" said Rei in a light tone. "If you're worried that we're going to get attacked, then we can go back home. It's getting pretty dark out," he added. "Let's go!" he said with an aura of confidence around him.

They began walking towards their house slowly, but they were still a considerable distance away. Suddenly, a sea of orange and red bursts from their home. Flames began to emerge, rising like the rebirth of a Phoenix, spiralling around, and their entire house became engulfed, like a twister of fire.

"Hey...isn't that our house?" said Rei in a defeated, utterly shocked voice.

" is..." responded Kei with a shocked look.

Both were in disbelief, continuing to stare, running towards their house that had been ablaze.

"Wait! Call the police!" said Kei whilst he ran frantically.

"We could if we had our phones! We left them at our house, remember!" responded Rei.

Keeping their distance, Rei and Kei were as close to their house as possible. Trying not to inhale the smoke, nor come too close to feel the heat from the fire, they stood in front of their home by the small perimeter made of stone surrounding it, gazing at the impending doom.

"What do we do?" exclaimed Kei with a frightened expression. "Mother and father are in there! The police are nowhere to be seen!" he added with fear in his voice.

"I don't know!" responded Rei with an equal amount of worry and terror.

They noticed in the distance that a man, wearing complete black on a motorcycle with a helmet, was walking away. Three others were wearing the same attire, hopping onto their motorcycles located near the corner of an alleyway outside their burning house. Each of them had a bag around their side, and one of them was holding a necklace made of pearls.

"Hey. Isn't that guy holding our mother's necklace...It's the same one she wears..." Rei stated in confusion.

"Are they the one's who did this...They've even covered up the number plate on their motorcycles..." responded Kei in utter defeat.

The sirens from a fire truck in the distance grew louder and louder. The fire truck parked outside of their house; three police cars were following behind. The firefighters moved out of the firetruck and prepped their equipment with haste. They swiftly connected the hose from their storage unit inside the truck to its water supply and began spraying the house with water. A firefighter approached the two boys.

"Are you two okay? Are you hurt?" he said.

"No, we aren't. But our mother and father are in there! Please rescue them, quickly!" said Kei in a panicked voice.

"There are two people inside the burning house! See if you can make it in and rescue them. Go, now!" the firefighter shouted to the others on standby.

A male police officer approached Rei and Kei. He was wearing a standard police officer uniform, had brown eyes and was quite skinny. He had short hair with a shape-up and a skin fade.

"You two aren't hurt, are you? Is this your house?" he said.

"Yes, it is! Our parents are still in there, and they're trapped!" screamed Kei.

"Come with me. It isn't safe here. Did you see what happened?" said the police officer. "Hey. You two..." the police officer added. He noticed that both of them were in despair, staring at the house with tears streaming down their eyes.

"Look! Both of you are safe. We can help you two. We'll find who did this, and we'll give you a new place to stay." he added.

"Do you need help, Sukiga?" said another police officer who walked to them. "Are these the only two witnesses?" he added.

"Yes. This is their house," responded Sukiga, the first police officer.

"Mother...father...What do we do?" exclaimed Rei, furiously wiping tears from his eyes.

"Let's go with the policemen, Rei. There's nothing else we can do..." said Kei in a distraughtly upset voice.

"Make sure everyone else is evacuated so the fire doesn't spread. Ensure that no one else's life is at risk!" said another police officer.

Watching their house continuing to burn, they entered the police car, and now driving to the police department. They gave their eyewitness report after calming themselves down, regaining their composure and speaking to the officers about the events that happened. Time passed, and they left the police department, standing outside.

"I'm leaving, Kei," said Rei in a destroyed and unsettled voice. "Those guys on bikes were the ones who did this. It was a gang, just like that guy said at school," he added.

"Where are you going to go? Shouldn't we let the police deal with it all?" said Kei.

"And what are they going to do about it?" said Rei, raising his voice, speaking in an angry tone.

"Look at what they did to us! You're not stupid...Mother and father...they're gone for good. Everything in the house..." said Rei, frustrated and upset, beginning to shed tears again. "EVERYTHING IS GONE!" he exclaimed. "Whether you like it or not, I'm going to go after them! I'm taking matters into my own hands!" he added with a sense of hatred behind his intent.

"B-But what if...the police need another statement from us? And where are you going to stay?" said Kei in a timid manner.

"You can give the statement. I'm leaving," said Rei, with his head down, sadness disrupting his speech.

"You can't just leave though!" Kei cried to Rei.

"I am. Who's going to stop me? What are you going to do about it, Kei!" screaming back at Kei.

"I'm going to take them down like you, but my own way. I'll find out who did it, and I'll send them to prison! Just you wait!" Kei exclaimed back to Rei.

"We'll see who gets them first then," responded Rei with a defeated look, walking away with his hood up.

Kei persisted, watching his brother drift away. The two twins, raised together by the same loving parents, who experienced similar circumstances in life, doing everything together, would learn the cold hard truth. Traversing down their separate ways initially, the path they walked down was no less convenient or elementary than the other. This day marked the end of the Hirojima family, marking the start of a new journey.

X=Y Cover V4

X = Y