Chapter 25:

Thorn Whip Kagiya


Boss!!Bookmark here

Jojo rushes over to where Romeo hit the floor. Romeo sits up, dizzy, rubbing his bleeding nose.Bookmark here

Kagiya steps closer, his eyes locked on Romeo and blazing with fury. He reaches behind his back, slowly revealing a black, spiked whip, and Romeo's eyes go wide. He just barely manages to roll out of the way as Kagiya's whip strikes the ground.Bookmark here

CRACK!Bookmark here

“You never called!”Bookmark here

CRACK!Bookmark here

“You never checked on me!”Bookmark here

CRACK!Bookmark here

“And worst of all, you never told me you joined Makai! HOW DARE YOU!?Bookmark here

Over and over, Kagiya strikes the ground, the spikes of his whip just barely grazing Romeo with every desperate dodge. Romeo digs his heels into the ground, finally able to swing his bat out as Kagiya's whip comes down and wraps around it. Kagiya violently yanks his whip back, and Romeo grits his teeth, kneeling on the ground, his grip firm.Bookmark here

“...I told you, I didn’t want to join any gang... but you kept trying to make me join the Kappore!”Bookmark here

“So Kappore was out of the question but Makai wasn’t!? How does that make any sense!?”Bookmark here

Kagiya tugs on his whip just hard enough to rip it free from Romeo’s bat, recoiling backwards. The two snarl at each other, at each other's necks like feral cats.Bookmark here

Jojo, standing much closer to the action than he ever intended, watches them with his jaw on the floor.Bookmark here

“B-Boss… Are you okay?”Bookmark here

“Hey, hey, Kagiya!” Tama raises his hands as a sign of peace, slowly approaching Kagiya from behind. “Put the whip away, will ya? Don’t you wanna hear him out first?”Bookmark here

Kagiya whips his head over in Tama’s direction, furious.Bookmark here

“...You. You traitorous little worm. Are you part of Makai now, too!?”Bookmark here

Tama starts sweating bullets. He keeps his usual smile on his face, but it has an obvious twitch.Bookmark here

“N-No way! I’m just friends with these guys! They just both happen to belong to the Makai gang!”Bookmark here

Why are you with them? Have you no pride?”Bookmark here

Hey! I have lotsa pride! But, um… Oh, right! Romeo! Romeo took my lighter! Yeah! Ooh, he got me good…”Bookmark here

Kagiya gasps.Bookmark here

“He took Sparky? How?Bookmark here

“Does everyone know your lighter’s name!?” Jojo suddenly interjects, ignored. Bookmark here

“Listen, Kagiya,” Tama slowly lowers his hands and takes another step forward. “Nobody really wants to fight you. I mean sure, Romeo’s here to kick your ass, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Don’t you wanna know why he’s doing this? You’re gonna liiiike it!”Bookmark here

Romeo behind them slowly gets back to his feet, wiping the blood from his face with his sleeve and readying his bat in front of him.Bookmark here

“Leave it, Tamaya. If he doesn’t wanna talk, that’s fine with me.”Bookmark here

Kagiya looks at Romeo over his shoulder, then looks at Tama again.Bookmark here

“My grandfather started the Kappore gang a long time ago,” Kagiya points the handle of his whip at Tama. “This gang rightfully belongs to me and no one else. The fact that I haven’t been at the top since the beginning is a disgrace, and it’s all Raging Fist Endo’s fault for stealing that place from me.”Bookmark here

“Eh?” Tama blinks. “What’s this all of a sudden?”Bookmark here

“I could have taken him down before his faction got too big,” Kagiya continues, “but I held back because I met Romeo, and, after seeing for myself how powerful he was, I wanted to build the strongest gang in the country with him as my right-hand man.”Bookmark here

He turns quickly on his heel to attack Romeo with a speedy crack of his whip, only for Romeo to jump out of the way. It strikes a festive, discolored sign, causing it to crumble.Bookmark here

“I could have been the Kappore leader so many years ago! But now it’s too late! And it’s all your fault!Bookmark here

Shit… He’s still as fast as I remember…Bookmark here

Romeo scrambles to his feet with his bat as Kagiya's whip comes down on him just as fast, kicking out of the way. He dashes toward the carousel and circles behind it, Kagiya in hot pursuit, just barely blocking another strike of his whip with his bat.Bookmark here

“I get it, you’re mad. But what did you expect!? I was never going to join and you were never going to stop trying to make me join!”Bookmark here

“So that’s your excuse!?” Kagiya cuts through the middle of the ride to catch up to him, gripping the horn of a unicorn to keep himself steady at the ledge as his whip snakes toward Romeo again. “You just disappeared on me because you assumed we didn’t have a future together!?”Bookmark here

Stop making it sound weird!” Romeo blocks Kagiya’s attack again with his bat, the strike loosening the bandages he hadn't had the time to remove. “This is why nobody wants to follow you!”Bookmark here

SHUT UP!Bookmark here

Kagiya jumps down from the ride, closing the distance between the two of them. His whip cracks too fast for Romeo to block it this time, and it cuts deep across Romeo's chest.Bookmark here

“—AGH!!Bookmark here

“Boss!” Jojo dashes towards him, but Tama skids in front of him with his arms out.Bookmark here

Tama!?Bookmark here

“Don’t get involved, Jojo. He’s supposed to do this alone, remember?”Bookmark here

“But…” Jojo grits his teeth, his eyes darting from Tama to Romeo with concern. “Boss is…”Bookmark here

“He’s fine!” Tama beams a reassuring smile. “Don’t you trust him? He’s the strongest delinquent in the city, isn’t he? Besides… if you get hurt, you know he'd be sad.”Bookmark here

“Oh…”Bookmark here

Jojo's shoulders relax, but the worry remains on his face as his eyes follow Romeo and Kagiya chasing each other through the fog.Bookmark here

Far from the carousel by now, Romeo takes advantage of a brief opening to swing his bat into Kagiya's arm— the one that isn't holding the whip. The hit connects, causing Kagiya to stumble and hit the ground.Bookmark here

Ugh… You hit me… You really hit me…!”Bookmark here

Romeo doesn’t approach him, knowing full well how long his whip's reach is.Bookmark here

“Yeah? You hit me first. Like I said, if you wanna do this the hard way instead of talking, I'm fine with that.”Bookmark here

Kagiya glares at him.Bookmark here

“Of course you’re fine with it. Fighting is easier for you, isn’t it?” He staggers back to his feet, holding his arm and hissing in pain. “Letting others know what you’re thinking... You can’t do that, can you? You’ve never been able to. That’s the real reason you didn’t want to join the Kappore gang. Because you didn’t want to get involved with anyone else!”Bookmark here

Romeo’s eyebrow twitches.Bookmark here

“...Shut up.”Bookmark here

Kagiya laughs.Bookmark here

“See? You’re still the same as you were back then! You can’t change, Romeo! You’ve never changed! And you never, ever will!”Bookmark here

I said shut up!!!Bookmark here

Romeo dashes forward and swings his bat into Kagiya's other arm, but Kagiya rebuffs it with a quick crack of his whip. The recoil is enough to cause Romeo to stumble, but he manages to keep his balance. Kagiya clicks his tongue.Bookmark here

“...You’re getting on my nerves. I’m glad I added more spikes on my whip just for this.”Bookmark here

“...Huh? Aren’t you a little too prepared? Did you know we were coming?”Bookmark here

Kagiya rotates his hurt arm to try and will the pain away.Bookmark here

“...I heard Raging Fist Endo was out of commission, so I decided to expand into his territory in central. I fought the pair I thought he left in charge, and they both told me all about your little quest when I won.”Bookmark here

“—Both?”Bookmark here

“Yes, a little kid and a tall guy. The tall one put up a fight, but the tall one instantly surrendered once I started focusing on the little one.”Bookmark here

Romeo opens his eyes wide. An image of Pot sitting on Pan’s shoulders suddenly floods his mind, and his body aches with the phantom pains of Pan's strong kicks from that day they fought behind the hospital.Bookmark here

“...Cooking Pot and Cooking Pan? ...You took them out?”Bookmark here

Kagiya nods. “Like I said, it didn’t take much. Perhaps if I had fought only the tall one I wouldn’t have made it, but he gave up for both of them just so I’d stop hitting his friend. It was touching, but I didn’t care for their silly cooking accessories.”Bookmark here

Aren’t you dressed just as weird…Bookmark here

“Anyway, it’s not like it matters. They weren’t the actual leaders, so I didn’t gain anything from it. It was incredibly satisfying, however.”Bookmark here

“...You’re an idiot.”Bookmark here

Kagiya narrows his eyes at Romeo, offended.Bookmark here

What?Bookmark here

“Hmph. You said you want to be the leader of the Kappore gang, but you treat every Kappore member like shit. What’s that all about?”Bookmark here

“I told you! The Kappore gang is my legacy! I’m trying to claim what’s rightfully mine!Bookmark here

“You’re trying to take over someone else’s work, dumbass. You didn’t put in the effort to create this gang, you’re just trying to steal it!”Bookmark here

Kagiya’s nostrils flare with rage. He ignores his aching arm, raising his whip again and assaulting Romeo with quick hits in rapid succession from every direction. Romeo can only block so many strikes from such a close range, gritting his teeth with every hit that cuts into his arms and legs.Bookmark here

“Stop talking! You don’t know anything! YOU! STUPID! TRAITOR!Bookmark here

Within the hailstorm of blows, Romeo catches sight of an opening. He braces himself and raises an arm in front of his face, letting the whip strike it head on as he winces in pain. Still, the whip wraps around his arm just as he expected, and in that moment Romeo yanks his arm back with all his weight, pulling the whip and Kagiya right into him.Bookmark here

Augh!?Bookmark here

Romeo meets Kagiya with a quick, reckless headbutt, and the recoil sends Kagiya crashing to the ground. Bookmark here

Romeo tosses the whip to the side and rubs his throbbing forehead. Bookmark here

“Ouch… You have a hard head…”Bookmark here

Kagiya whines in pain and writhes on the dirt, nursing his throbbing forehead.Bookmark here

Y-You… That was dirty! —Ah! I’m bleeding!” He looks at his hand stained with makeup and fresh blood, trembling. His shock quickly turns to rage, and he begins to crawl towards his whip. Bookmark here

“You’ll see… You’ll pay for this—Agh!Bookmark here

Romeo jams his bat down into Kagiya's back between his shoulder blades, pushing him flat against the ground. Bookmark here

“...Let’s end this now, Kagiya.”Bookmark here

Kagiya’s eyes go wide. He can’t see Romeo from this position, but he doesn’t need to. He’s seen this before: Romeo with his cornered prey. How his eyes grow dark, and how nothing can stop him. His hand, that had been so fiercely reaching for his whip, now shakily grips a fistful of dirt.Bookmark here

“Romeo—”Bookmark here

“—You’re right,” Romeo interrupts him in a quiet voice, surprising Kagiya. “...The truth is, I haven’t changed at all. I keep trying and trying, but... I’ve only made things worse.”Bookmark here

“.......”Bookmark here

“...I’m... doing this so I can finally leave the Makai gang.”Bookmark here

“....Huh…?”Bookmark here

“...I,” Romeo hesitates for a long moment before taking a slow, deep breath, as if bracing himself. This fight with Kagiya made him realize he’s never told anyone the real reason he wants to leave the Makai gang, because he hates opening up, no matter who it is. Bookmark here

With the bat still pressed against Kagiya's back, he finally speaks. Bookmark here

“There’s... someone I want to protect. And I can’t do that while I’m a delinquent. Amon said if I defeat the Kappore’s Summer Fireworks, he’ll let me get out of the gang.”Bookmark here

“Oh…”Bookmark here

Kagiya is taken aback by Romeo’s sincerity. In all the time he’s known him, he’s never once seen him show mercy or stop before the final blow. He'd fully expected Romeo to have knocked him unconscious by now, but instead he finds himself pinned under this stranger; a Romeo he’s never met before. Bookmark here

He feels something shift behind him, and then sees Romeo’s hand reaching down to pick up his whip from the muddy ground.Bookmark here

“H-Hey…”Bookmark here

Slowly, Romeo releases the pressure from his grip, allowing Kagiya to roll slowly to his side and look at Romeo.Bookmark here

“...Are you really going to leave the Makai gang?”Bookmark here

Romeo coils the whip into itself as small as he can make it, being careful with the thorns. He nods without looking at him.Bookmark here

“I’ll take this for now,” he says, then gives Kagiya a look. “Unless you have a problem with it?”Bookmark here

“.......”Bookmark here

Kagiya frowns, but shakes his head.Bookmark here

“...Good. Thanks.”Bookmark here

Romeo turns on his heel to walk back towards Tama and Jojo, no more than silhouettes in the distance through the fog.Bookmark here

“...You’re wrong, though.”Bookmark here

Kagiya’s voice makes Romeo stop in his tracks without turning back. Kagiya continues. Bookmark here

“...You’ve definitely changed, Bloody Bat Romeo.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.