Chapter 24:

The Second Hideout


The next day, Tama guides Romeo and Jojo to a remote area on the rural outskirts of the city, straight to Thorn Whip Kagiya's hideout. Gradually, the city streets turn to gravel, and fog obscures their vision. The dirt path leads up a hill with a beautiful yet eerie atmosphere. They climb uphill, surrounded by tall trees and wild plants, for what feels like forever. Jojo, who had been wheezing for most of the climb, grows more exhausted with every staggering step.Bookmark here

“Are we...there yet?”Bookmark here

“Nope,” Tama responded, fresh and unaffected by the climb. “But don’t worry, we’re close!”Bookmark here

“You didn’t have to come, you know,” Romeo responds without looking back at either of them.Bookmark here

“Aw, Boss… Now that I know you don’t mean that in a bad way, it makes me happy to know you’re worried about me!”Bookmark here

And every day I regret admitting it just a little bit more.Bookmark here

“So you haven’t been here before, huh?” Tama interrupts Romeo’s growling. “Not even when you guys were a team?”Bookmark here

Romeo shakes his head.Bookmark here

“Back then, he wasn’t one of the Summer Fireworks yet, so he didn’t have a hideout or anything like that. And we were only a team unofficially, because I didn’t belong to the Kappore gang.”Bookmark here

“Sssso…” Jojo asks in a quiet voice, “How did you guys end up together?”Bookmark here

Romeo stops climbing the path to look at him, squinting. It startles Jojo, but Romeo just turns away and keeps walking.Bookmark here

“I’m not gonna tell you if you’re just gonna get all weird about it.”Bookmark here

Jojo gasps.Bookmark here

“Weird!? Huh!? What do you mean, weird!? How would I get weird!? Boss!? BOSS??Bookmark here

Tama bursts out laughing.Bookmark here

“I think that’s exactly what he means! You get all friend-jealous. It’s not a good look, Jojo!”Bookmark here

Huh. Tamaya might not be so bad to have around, after all.Bookmark here

No sooner he thinks this, Romeo feels Tama’s arm circling over his shoulders.Bookmark here

“So how did you guys get together, huh?”Bookmark here

Romeo slaps his arm away.Bookmark here

“I was ambushed once by the Sombra gang, and Kagiya happened to be after them for his own reasons. We didn’t exchange any words— we simply took them down together and it turned out that we worked pretty well as a team. After that fight, he introduced himself to me, and we started helping each other more often than not.”Bookmark here

Tama nods with interest.Bookmark here

“I see. It’s hard to picture that now, though.”Bookmark here

Romeo groans.Bookmark here

“I know. He’s insufferable.”Bookmark here

Tama laughs and pats Romeo’s back. Jojo grits his teeth.Bookmark here

“It’s not fair… I wanna team up with Boss, too.”Bookmark here

“Aw, Jojo!” Tama turns to look at him. “You just have to get stronger! If you get strong, you’ll be able to team up with Romeo one day!”Bookmark here

“...No, I won’t.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

Jojo looks down, sighing.Bookmark here

“After Boss is done with the Summer Fireworks, he’s going to retire. So even if I get strong now, I’m never going to be of any use to him…”Bookmark here

Romeo stops in his tracks, his guilt reminding him that he's hunting down the Summer Fireworks for a reason, and that he’s supposed to stop fighting for good after this. Bookmark here

“Ah, we’re here!” Tama suddenly rushes ahead.Bookmark here

In front of them is a tall, metal gateway overgrown with vines. Above the gate is an old, rundown archway that forms a big welcome banner, faded by nature and deteriorated by the mist.Bookmark here

Romeo takes a quiet step forward.Bookmark here

“...What is this place?”Bookmark here

“It used to be a small amusement park! As you can see, it’s a pain to get to, so it didn’t last very long. Abandoning the park was apparently cheaper than dismantling all the buildings and rides, so... now all the locals consider it haunted and won't come close.”Bookmark here

Romeo and Jojo approach the entrance slowly.Bookmark here

“Is this his hideout?” Jojo scratches his head. “...It’s kinda creepy.” Bookmark here

Romeo pushes open the front gate with ease.Bookmark here

“It’s not locked. Let’s go.”Bookmark here

Tama quickly rushes behind him.Bookmark here

“Hey, Romeo, don’t you need to prepare or something first?”Bookmark here

Romeo pauses, then reaches behind him to pull out his bat from his coat, wrapped neatly in bandages.Bookmark here

“...Done.”Bookmark here

“I didn’t mean that! I meant, like, don’t you have a speech or something you wanna say to him!? You guys were pals for a while there and then you just ghosted him!”Bookmark here

“...Oh, that. Not really.”Bookmark here

Tama laughs.Bookmark here

“You’re as cold as ever. But I know the truth. I know you’re a real good guy deep down, and that’s why I know you’re secretly wondering what to say when you meet him again.”Bookmark here

Romeo clears his throat and keeps walking through the mossy debris of a once joyous ride without offering a reply. Jojo follows him closely, whipping his head from side to side.Bookmark here

“It’s so foggy up here… W-What if he’s not around? I say we come back another day—”Bookmark here

“You can go back if you want.”Bookmark here

“N-No! I’m here to help you out, B-Boss!”Bookmark here

Romeo rolls his eyes. Bookmark here

“Then stop complaining and help me find him.”Bookmark here

Tama, who had rushed towards one side of the park, zips back just as fast as he left.Bookmark here

Haa… No sign of him, but the fog near that side is thicker, so I didn’t go too far. Wanna tag along and help?”Bookmark here

Romeo looks at him with suspicion.Bookmark here

“We’re not gonna get ambushed if we go there, will we?”Bookmark here

“Huh!?”Bookmark here

“You’re ex-Kappore. How do I know you’re not in cahoots with Kagiya?”Bookmark here

“What the—!? Why would I!? I want you to win, too! I even gave you Sparky!”Bookmark here

“...Sparky?”Bookmark here

“My lighter!” Bookmark here

“...You could have another one on you.”Bookmark here

No! I refuse to cheat on Sparky!”Bookmark here

“Um… guys…” Jojo nervously interrupts them. Romeo and Tama both look at Jojo, who's trembling and pointing ahead. “What’s that over there?”Bookmark here

They follow the direction of Jojo’s finger with their eyes, and in front of them stands a rusty carousel covered in vines. Though it's difficult to see the details through the fog, most of the horses seem to still be in their original places despite how they've been left in filthy disrepair. Nothing about them seems out of the ordinary. Bookmark here

Tama takes a cautious step forward, placing his hands on his hips and squinting.Bookmark here

“Hmm… It’s a carousel, I think? You’ve never seen one?”Bookmark here

“Not that! THAT! The thing on top of it!”Bookmark here

Romeo slowly lifts his head. Bookmark here

On top of the discolored, circus tent-like roof of the carousel stands a shadowy figure resembling a person. The figure is tall, something on its head and something large and puffy at its waist. Romeo couldn’t tell if it was a person or a decoration, but something about it felt familiar.Bookmark here

“Yoohoo!” Tama fearlessly waves at the figure. “Are you a statue? Are you a person? Helloooo?”Bookmark here

The figure suddenly speaks up.Bookmark here

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

Romeo feels a chill down his spine like a flash of lighting.Bookmark here

“...Kagiya…”Bookmark here

“Huh!?” Jojo rubs his eyes and tries to get a better look at the figure. Bookmark here

Suddenly, the figure jumps down and makes a graceful landing despite its high-heeled boots. He straightens up slowly, and the three of them finally get a proper look at him. Bookmark here

Kagiya’s outfit is as outrageous as Tama said it would be: a velvet pirate hat with a feather in it, a frilly shirt with a ribbon tied around his neck, a gothic pirate coat with shiny buttons, and a dark skirt with a rose motif like the ones visual kei artists used to wear back in the day. His hair is long and burgundy, most likely a wig, fashioned into dramatic curls to match his heavy glam makeup.Bookmark here

“Whoa…” Jojo exhales as he observes him from head to toe. Bookmark here

Tama waves at him. “Long time no see, Kagiya!” Bookmark here

Instead of responding, Kagiya steps closer to Romeo until they're standing face to face. Romeo grips his bat tighter in his hand but doesn’t move. Instead, he waits for Kagiya to speak.Bookmark here

“It’s… It’s really you… I thought I’d never see you again…”Bookmark here

Romeo blinks in surprise when he realizes Kagiya’s eyes are welling with tears, loosening the grip on his bat.Bookmark here

“...Kagiya, I—”Bookmark here

The next second, Romeo's sent flying back by Kagiya’s punch to his face.Bookmark here

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