The five figures that erupted into view stood side by side and shoulder to shoulder with minimal distance apart from one another.
All of us, including Number Twenty-Nine, stood in complete silence awaiting an explanation suspensefully. Jessica, Cherry, and I, alongside Number Twenty-Nine, Linguini, and Caviar, all dropped our stances and turned to face the newly arrived group in shock. They all quickly searched and gazed upon us, almost as if they were there for a specific person. In awe, perplexity, and rage, I couldn’t help but snivel in anger as I noticed a familiar face furthest to the left of the standing group. It was him. The white skin color, the long red hair slicked and tied back into a ponytail, the long-sleeve light grey compression shirt taped onto his muscular body, the black joggers, the shining black bracelet on his right wrist, and the one thing I could never forget. The number faded into the side of his head along with that damn smirk. Without question, it was undeniably the number that killed Spade. It was Number Nineteen.
In complete puzzlement and fear, I gasped uncontrollably. Cherry and Jessica turned to me, noticing my expression, and instantly entered their stances once more. Jessica switched her aim to the new group, and Cherry entered his wrestling stance clutching his gripped hatchet. They knew these guys were bad news. Caviar and Linguini seemed completely bewildered alongside Number Twenty-Nine.
The woman who was alongside the four men looked beside her observing the men.
She scowled, “Only five of us? What the hell! Where the hell is everyone else? Why didn’t Number One show up?”
The man furthest to the right of the group tsked in resentment while frowning.
“Selfish fools. They chose to ignore my call?”
Number Nineteen, in what seemed to be happiness and relievement turned to me and slowly smiled psychotically. His dark red eyes met mine as he lifted his left hand slowly, pointing at me and shouting happily across the short distance between us.
“Hey… hey! You! It’s you! Yes… yes! Oh my god, I’m so glad you’re okay! I thought something happened to you!”
I was speechless and… I was scared. The man slowly broke the group’s formation, taking three steps towards me casually.
“Oh yes! Thank god! I was so disappointed when you left me! I gained so much from your friend! You were supposed to wait your turn like a good little boy!”
I took a step back in fear as soon as he attempted to take another step. Once his fourth step made contact with the dry ground, one of the men beside him halted Number Nineteen’s movement by throwing his hand at Number Nineteen’s chest. Number Nineteen gazed down at the hand on his chest, still smiling crazily. The sun burned hotter as the wind blew over everyone in the vicinity, blowing my cloak.
The man who stopped Number Nineteen’s movement was incredibly calm and relaxed, closing his bright yellow eyes as if he was disgusted by Number Nineteen’s previous words. The man, who still had his eyes shut, had a relatively normal height compared to the other members of his group and appeared to be a white and tan-skinned middle-aged man. He had long patchy dark grey hair frizzled onto his shoulders, an incredibly solemn but stern facial expression with a diagonally-cut scar running from his left eye, a black stubble beard and goatee, wooden geta sandals, and an incredibly muscular physique popping out of what appeared to be a black torn-up and opened kimono with grey-colored triangular designs all over it. The open kimono covered his entire body with rips all over it, displaying more black clothing underneath. As the man had one hand on Number Nineteen’s chest, his other hand was gripped to a long and unsheathed katana that was strapped to the right side of his waist. The weapon, while still sheathed, had a noticeable pitch black-colored guard and uniquely designed hilt coming out of it. The sheath seemed to have a simple brown color to it with what appeared to be random black-painted lines coursing through it. In addition to all of those characteristics, the man had an openly noticeable and vivid scar engraved on the right side of his toned and muscular chest where an opening in his clothing resided. It was a number alongside a hashtag. The number clearly read “#14”.
Beside the man numbered “#14”, and directly in the middle of the group of five, a taller and younger black dark-skinned man stood firmly. He wore a long-sleeved black hoodie with the hood of the sweater pulled over his black-haired afro-fade-like haircut. He also wore long light grey sweatpants, black high-quality branded running shoes, and what appeared to be white thin laces bound all over the sleeves of his hoodie drifting off of the hoodie into the wind. He had his hands tucked into his hoodie’s front pockets holding no noticeable weapon in sight. In addition, he had light brown eyes, a calm but confident facial expression, and just like the men on his left, an open and vividly seen number. As opposed to the two numbered men standing on his left, he had his number, which appeared to be a black-colored tattoo darker than his skin, composed together with a hashtag on the front right side of his neck reading “#7”.
To the right of Number Seven, and to the left of our view, there was a woman. The woman had long luscious dark brown hair that was pulled back, dark brown eyes, lips that were carefully covered in dark red lipstick, a sleeveless dark brown shirt fitted onto her chest and abdomen, long black pants, and dark brown boots. Her sleeveless shirt was like a crop top as it only covered the top part of her upper body, which henceforth, left her stomach unclothed. Her facial expression was that of an annoyed person, and she wasn’t muscular but also wasn’t thin. She had her hands on her torso which was filled with different shaped blades, and in addition, she had countless blades, knives, and daggers belted all around her waist and thighs. Uniquely, she had a small-sized tattooed number marked on the center of her stomach where the half-sleeveless shirt refused to cover. The black-colored tattoo read “#21”.
Although the women and all of the men openly displayed their numbers on themselves, the final group’s member and individual man furthest to the right of them had no visible number on him at all. The man was a white and tan-skinned man with no facial hair whatsoever. He had long, gelled, and slicked back black hair with uniquely dark purple eyes. In regards to clothing, all he wore was a violet-colored long-sleeved undershirt, long black pants, black shoes similar to that of a bounty hunter’s, and an open white lab coat. That lab coat… seemed familiar… somehow. He had no visible weapons on him, and he had his arms simply drifting at his side. Considering all five of the group’s members were numbers, he had to be a number too. Oddly, his number was not noticeable at all, but what was openly shown was a precisely placed black hashtag on the right side of his right eye that appeared to be tattooed in black just like Number Seven’s number.
While Number Nineteen made his scene and had his movement halted by Number Fourteen, the numberless man simply grinned, gazing upon Number Twenty-Nine like he just won the lottery.
Number Nineteen slapped Number Fourteen’s hand away from his chest, spurting out, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Number Fourteen turned back his head toward Number Nineteen and slowly opened his closed eyes.
He threatened promptly, “We’re here for a job. Don’t interfere with our current purpose. I don’t know you, so just obey and do what you’re here for. Or...”
Number Nineteen’s grin turned into a frown as he responded frustratingly.
All the numbers turned their attention toward the situation as Number Twenty-Nine’s group alongside mine simply listened, not saying a word.
Number Fourteen answered, “Or… I’ll gain what you're worth. You disgusting piece of filth.”
Face to face with Number Fourteen’s now growing anger, Number Nineteen sniveled in rage as body heat began to protrude through his grey shirt. Number Fourteen turned his body completely around to face Number Nineteen and forcefully gripped the handle of his katana, about to rip it out from its sheath. Instantly, completely ignoring the impending clash between Number Nineteen and Number Fourteen, Cherry uncontrollably began to shout out of fear and anger.
“You guys… you’re all numbers! You guys are here for Coal... and you're here for me, aren’t you! We’ll… we’ll kill you!”
Number Fourteen and Number Nineteen instantly terminated their feud and turned to once more face us after Cherry spoke. Number Nineteen’s heat slowly died out as Number Fourteen eased his grip on his katana. The woman, Number Twenty-One, in confusion, responded.
“Huh? Who’s Coal? We’re here for you?”
She turned to Number Fourteen and chuckled alongside him and the numberless man.
Number Twenty-One continued, “Who the hell are you, buddy? We don’t care about you people.”
Leaving her left hand on her torso and lifting her right hand confidently, she pointed her right index finger at Number Twenty-Nine.
“We’re here for you.”
Number Twenty-Nine, who was on edge, responded.
“You’re here… for me, homeless woman?”
Number Twenty-One tsked, clearly annoyed. Caviar and Linguini edged themselves slowly toward Number Twenty-Nine as I edged slowly toward Cherry and Jessica reaching them. Jessica lowered her gun. Number Seven and the numberless man remained completely silent, observing the conversation.
Number Fourteen expressed, “Yes. We are here to deal with you.”
Number Fourteen eyed Number Twenty-Nine, not moving an inch and completely ignoring everyone else’s presence including mine.
Number Fourteen resumed, “You’ve been attracting way too much attention recently. You’ve put us all at risk.”
The wind blew fiercely momentarily dragging our cloaks and clothing with the wind. Dirt swerved around us as the boulders and cactuses around us momentarily shook. Number Twenty-Nine didn’t respond, and waiting for what seemed to be an eternity in silence, Number Nineteen screamed.
“Hello! We’re talking to you Twenty-Nine! Are you gonna answer?”
Number Twenty-Nine turned his gaze from Number Fourteen to Number Nineteen and replied.
“Um. No? Am I obliged to? I don’t know you people.”
Number Nineteen replied, “Huh? Are you that dense? You don’t see the numbers!”
Number Nineteen turned his head and pointed his right thumb to the design on the side of his red hair-filled head reading “#19”.
Number Twenty-Nine responded, “I only see that you’re too poor to get a proper haircut.”
The numbers tsked, moaned, and groaned. Cherry and Jessica turned to look at me. They dropped their stances completely. It was like they were waiting for my decision on what to do. Everyone was annoyed by Number Twenty-Nine, except the numberless man. He noticeably began to get angry.
Number Nineteen added, “Walking into the bounty hunter association, openly living in a damn mansion, and showing your face to the bounty hunters! You showed your face to the bounty hunters! For crying out loud, your face is on a bounty!”
Number Nineteen pulled out the paper bounty and extended his arm in front of him, exhibiting it to Number Twenty-Nine.
Number Nineteen added, “Do you not understand how this works? You’re a number! You’re supposed to gain from the shadows, not tell everyone who you are! That’s enough. We’ve all come to an agreement. You put us at risk. We’re here to take care of you. Permanently.”
Number Twenty-Nine raised an eyebrow and replied.
“The poor? Taking care of me?”
Number Twenty-Nine laughed hysterically out loud, placing his right hand on Caviar’s shoulder.
Still laughing, he added, “You hear this, my good man! The poor…”
With his right hand still on Caviar’s shoulder, he pointed his left at Number Nineteen.
“Want to take care of me!”
He continued to laugh out loud, barely keeping himself up from the laughter. Number Nineteen along with all the other numbers sniveled in annoyance and anger.
Number Nineteen replied, “You ignorant son of a-”
Without warning, all of them except the numberless man unsheathed their weapons rapidly and entered a fighting stance. Number Fourteen unsheathed his katana, Number Twenty-One ripped off two daggers from her waist’s belt, Number Nineteen’s grey shirt and bracelet began erupting in body heat, and Number Seven, who was weaponless, simply pulled his hands out of his hoodie’s pockets and entered his own odd stance.
There was one thing that was wrong though. Number Fourteen, Number Twenty-One, and Number Nineteen all turned to face Cherry, Jessica, and I. The numberless man stood emotionless and completely uninvolved, simply watching to see what would happen. Number Seven stepped towards Caviar and Number Twenty-Nine, holding his odd stance, and entered an even odder stance. He threw both of his hands on the floor in front of him, entered a position like he was doing a push-up, and stretched one knee upwards and in front of his body. Now there were two hands on the dry ground with one knee in the middle of them stretched in front of his body like he was about to sprint.
Number Twenty-Nine took his hand off of Caviar’s shoulder and fearlessly walked a few steps forward while speaking with his right hand at his chin like he was thinking.
“You know what? Caviar, Linguini, forget the money. There’s something else I want now.”
Caviar entered his boxing stance while Linguini simply stood aside Number Twenty-Nine with his hands at his back casually. Number Twenty-Nine slowly and without any fear pointed at the group of numbers. He finished his thought.
“I want their memories.”