BLOODY BAT ROMEO
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.
“Are we...there yet?”
“Nope,” Tama responded, fresh and unaffected by the climb. “But don’t worry, we’re close!”
“You didn’t have to come, you know,” Romeo responds without looking back at either of them.
“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!”
And every day I regret admitting it just a little bit more.
“So you haven’t been here before, huh?” Tama interrupts Romeo’s growling. “Not even when you guys were a team?”
Romeo shakes his head.
“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.”
“Sssso…” Jojo asks in a quiet voice, “How did you guys end up together?”
Romeo stops climbing the path to look at him, squinting. It startles Jojo, but Romeo just turns away and keeps walking.
“I’m not gonna tell you if you’re just gonna get all weird about it.”
“Weird!? Huh!? What do you mean, weird!? How would I get weird!? Boss!? BOSS??”
Tama bursts out laughing.
“I think that’s exactly what he means! You get all friend-jealous. It’s not a good look, Jojo!”
Huh. Tamaya might not be so bad to have around, after all.
No sooner he thinks this, Romeo feels Tama’s arm circling over his shoulders.
“So how did you guys get together, huh?”
Romeo slaps his arm away.
“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.”
Tama nods with interest.
“I see. It’s hard to picture that now, though.”
“I know. He’s insufferable.”
Tama laughs and pats Romeo’s back. Jojo grits his teeth.
“It’s not fair… I wanna team up with Boss, too.”
“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!”
“...No, I won’t.”
Jojo looks down, sighing.
“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…”
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.
“Ah, we’re here!” Tama suddenly rushes ahead.
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.
Romeo takes a quiet step forward.
“...What is this place?”
“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.”
Romeo and Jojo approach the entrance slowly.
“Is this his hideout?” Jojo scratches his head. “...It’s kinda creepy.”
Romeo pushes open the front gate with ease.
“It’s not locked. Let’s go.”
Tama quickly rushes behind him.
“Hey, Romeo, don’t you need to prepare or something first?”
Romeo pauses, then reaches behind him to pull out his bat from his coat, wrapped neatly in bandages.
“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!”
“...Oh, that. Not really.”
“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.”
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.
“It’s so foggy up here… W-What if he’s not around? I say we come back another day—”
“You can go back if you want.”
“N-No! I’m here to help you out, B-Boss!”
Romeo rolls his eyes.
“Then stop complaining and help me find him.”
Tama, who had rushed towards one side of the park, zips back just as fast as he left.
“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?”
Romeo looks at him with suspicion.
“We’re not gonna get ambushed if we go there, will we?”
“You’re ex-Kappore. How do I know you’re not in cahoots with Kagiya?”
“What the—!? Why would I!? I want you to win, too! I even gave you Sparky!”
“...You could have another one on you.”
“No! I refuse to cheat on Sparky!”
“Um… guys…” Jojo nervously interrupts them. Romeo and Tama both look at Jojo, who's trembling and pointing ahead. “What’s that over there?”
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.
Tama takes a cautious step forward, placing his hands on his hips and squinting.
“Hmm… It’s a carousel, I think? You’ve never seen one?”
“Not that! THAT! The thing on top of it!”
Romeo slowly lifts his head.
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.
“Yoohoo!” Tama fearlessly waves at the figure. “Are you a statue? Are you a person? Helloooo?”
The figure suddenly speaks up.
“...Romeo? ...Bloody Bat Romeo?”
Romeo feels a chill down his spine like a flash of lighting.
“Huh!?” Jojo rubs his eyes and tries to get a better look at the figure.
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.
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.
“Whoa…” Jojo exhales as he observes him from head to toe.
Tama waves at him. “Long time no see, Kagiya!”
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.
“It’s… It’s really you… I thought I’d never see you again…”
Romeo blinks in surprise when he realizes Kagiya’s eyes are welling with tears, loosening the grip on his bat.
The next second, Romeo's sent flying back by Kagiya’s punch to his face.