Chapter 22:

Silent Step Meru


One stormy night a few years ago, two delinquents, both Kappore, scrambled through the dark alleys in terror, skidding through puddles and down the maze-like backstreets in the southern part of the city. Bookmark here

“Shit! Where did he go!? Is he still after us!?”Bookmark here

“You idiot! Don’t look back! He’s gonna get ya—HGAH!!Bookmark here

In a flash, both dropped to the ground. A tall, slender boy stood behind them, gazing at their bodies with cold eyes. His long, wet hair stuck messily to his face, the rain washing clean the fresh blood from the small dagger in his hand.Bookmark here

“.........”Bookmark here

He observed the two thugs writhing in pain on the ground, then turned on his heel to walk away impassively— then stopped. Another boy stood in his way, bat in hand. Though the tall boy seemed vaguely surprised, only the faintest reaction crossed his expression.Bookmark here

“.........Bloody Bat Romeo.”Bookmark here

Romeo looked at him with a frown.Bookmark here

“...So you’re Silent Step Meru. You really live up to your name; quick and quiet like a ghost. Have you been following me?”Bookmark here

Meru didn't answer. Romeo continued.Bookmark here

“For the past few days, I’ve felt someone watching me. I never thought it would be Makai’s strongest.”Bookmark here

Meru tilted his head to the side, unblinking, eyes fixed on Romeo.Bookmark here

“I thought so." Meru's voice was flat. "You baited these Kappore into the alleys to lure me out, didn't you? ...How futile. You could have waited until I found you. There's no chance I would have let you escape.”Bookmark here

“So you knew, but you took ‘em out just because you could,” Romeo stated frankly. Meru didn't deny it.Bookmark here

“You’re an eyesore to the Makai gang, Bloody Bat Romeo. Your presence on our turf draws members of every gang—even Kappore—and we're the ones who have to clean up your messes. You shouldn't be surprised our leader sent me to take care of you.”Bookmark here

Romeo gripped the base of his bat tighter in his hand.Bookmark here

“...Not my fault, not my problem. When someone picks a fight with me, I take 'em down. I don't care about your stupid gang politics.”Bookmark here

Meru readied his dagger.Bookmark here

“Is that so? Then, you should know this isn’t personal.”Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

Thunder cracked across the black skies, rain pouring. Meru lay against a brick wall and gripped his crushed shoulder, struggling to breathe. His dagger lay in some distant puddle behind Romeo, who stood before him. There was a dark, predatory look in Romeo's clouded eyes, his bat resting light over his shoulder, as if ready to strike. He wasn't like Meru; he wasn't out of breath.Bookmark here

Meru hissed and looked up at Romeo.Bookmark here

Tch… This is it, huh...”Bookmark here

“........”Bookmark here

“You really are as strong as they say... Bloody Bat Romeo... I can see why our leader wanted you gone…”Bookmark here

Though Romeo heard him, he didn't respond. Meru looked down again, his fingers digging into his shoulder, and winced.Bookmark here

“...You should kill me.”Bookmark here

“....!?Bookmark here

Romeo blinked, the clouds slowly clearing from his eyes, but the grip on his bat was still strong. Meru didn’t notice; he just continued.Bookmark here

“Amon asked me to take you out, but, when he hears I've failed, he’ll make me disappear. That’s what he always does.”Bookmark here

Slowly, Romeo lowered his bat.Bookmark here

“...Why don’t you quit?”Bookmark here

“Haha.” Meru laughed, clearly in pain. “Don’t you know? Nobody leaves Makai. I’m his dog; he has me on a tight leash, doing his bidding from the shadows. If I’m going to get killed for showing up empty-handed, I’d rather get killed right now.”Bookmark here

“..........”Bookmark here

Romeo observed him in silence, as if expecting Meru to take it back, but, as the seconds ticked by, he realized he was being serious.Bookmark here

“...Are you sure that’s what you want?”Bookmark here

Meru nodded slowly. Romeo sighed.Bookmark here

“.........All right.”Bookmark here

From their reflections in a puddle, Meru saw Romeo lifting his bat, and he saw Romeo swing it down with brutal force. Meru's eyes widened, an instinctive fear of death gripping him as he shut his eyes tight. He braced himself for impact—but all he felt was a spray of water splash him in time with the sound of a sickening crash. Bookmark here

When he opened his eyes, he saw Romeo’s bat right next to him, the concrete beside him freshly cracked. His heart raced at an incredible speed. Slowly, he lifted his face to look at Romeo, who looked as serious as ever.Bookmark here

“...W-What—?”Bookmark here

Romeo pulled his bat away and straightened up.Bookmark here

“There. You’re dead now.”Bookmark here

“.......Huh?”Bookmark here

Meru looked at him, still holding his arm, confused.Bookmark here

“You can’t go back to the Makai gang anymore. Silent Step Meru is dead.”Bookmark here

“Y-You…” Meru began to panic as he tried to process what Romeo was saying. “That’s not how it works! Amon will find me…!”Bookmark here

Romeo brought his bat back to his shoulder, sighing.Bookmark here

“Okay, then I’ll just get rid of him, too.”Bookmark here

Meru struggled to get up to his feet, but the strength in his legs gave out, and he fell back against the wall.Bookmark here

“You… moron... Amon will eat you alive… Besides… he rarely fights his own fights. He’d need a very good reason to fight you in the first place…”Bookmark here

Romeo blinked, silent, until he finally opened his mouth again.Bookmark here

“Fine. I’ll tell him I killed his strongest man, and that I want to take over his gang now.”Bookmark here

HUH!?Bookmark here

“That should be a good enough reason to drag him out.”Bookmark here

“You’re an idiot! You want to get killed that badly!? Why would you even go that far!? There’s nothing in it for you! You don’t even care about gangs!”Bookmark here

Romeo shielded his eyes from the rain with a hand, looking up at the sky— still overcast and ominous, but at least it looked like the rain was finally going to stop.Bookmark here

“...’Why,’ huh. I guess it’s for the same reason I’m a delinquent. Because I can, and it’s the only thing I’m good at.”Bookmark here

Meru, still in shock, just looked at him, and felt his heart skip a beat.Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

“Did you hear!? Bloody Bat Romeo challenged the boss to a fight for control of Makai!”Bookmark here

“No waaay! The Bloody Bat Romeo? Isn’t he a loner or something?”Bookmark here

“Apparently he wants to run stuff now, that greedy little shit. I always knew it would happen.”Bookmark here

“Now that Silent Step Meru’s gone, ya think the boss will actually fight the guy himself?”Bookmark here

“He ain’t got a choice! Apparently, they're going at it in the hideout right now!”Bookmark here

“Shit! Let’s go watch!”Bookmark here

“Yeah!”Bookmark here

Once Romeo issued his challenge, rumors spread amongst the Makai gang like wildfire. Everyone had their own theories regarding Romeo's motivations, but no one knew if Amon would take Romeo on himself until Romeo came knocking at their door.Bookmark here

In the middle of the abandoned building that served as Makai's headquarters, Romeo stood facing Amon, who, for once, was not atop his throne of piled-up desks. They were far apart, as if circling beasts, their eyes fixed on one another. Around fifty Makai members formed a ring around them, yelling for Amon to kill Romeo and placing bets, but neither of them seemed to be bothered by the noise. Bookmark here

Amon took a long drag of his cigarette before speaking in his usual menacing, languid tone.Bookmark here

“...Why do you suddenly want my gang, Bloody Bat Romeo?”Bookmark here

“None of your business.”Bookmark here

“......You got a death wish?”Bookmark here

Romeo readied his bat instead of responding. Amon exhaled a cloud of smoke and shrugged.Bookmark here

“Very well. I’ll humor you.” The crowd of thugs cheered. “If I win, though… you’ll take Silent Step Meru’s place.”Bookmark here

“—Huh?”Bookmark here

“What’s the matter? ...Are you scared?”Bookmark here

Romeo felt a cold sweat slowly beading on his forehead, but tightened the grip on his bat. Bookmark here

“...Whatever. Let’s do it.”Bookmark here

The crowd roared thunderously, and they became the lucky few to witness the short, bloody battle that became Romeo's sole, humiliating defeat.  Bookmark here

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