I flipped the light switch and the ceiling lamp flickered. It was a cheap inn that I was staying in. I filled up the bathtub with hot water while scrolling through all the text messages and missed phone calls. My clothes fell to the ground and my hair was clipped up. I sank into the water, deeper and deeper until my lips were submerged. Steam was rising and covered the walls and the mirror. I don’t know how long I was in the bathtub, but it was time for dinner by the time I got out. The knock on my door confirmed it. I threw on my black yukata and left the bathroom. The food was simple, and I finished all of it. I didn’t realise how hungry I was until I had my first bite. My dirty clothes were in a laundry basket as I was making my way to the coin-operating washing machines. I stared at it as it was rumbling and spinning. The machine came to a halt, and I collected my clothes. Once I entered my room, I hung them up on the drying rack in the bathroom. I heard a second knock on my door. Whoever it was didn’t wait for me. The door opened and he entered my room.
“Please make it quick. I want to sleep.”
“That will depend on you, Ayumi.”
Yu closed the door behind him.
“I don’t know why you’re here.”
“I should be asking you that. Why are you staying in an inn after getting released from a prison?”
I sat down on the edge of my bed and looked up to him.
“The school has been suspended for now. And probably for forever.”
“Yes, but we are still allowed to stay in our dormitories.”
I pulled my hair behind my ear.
“What happened, Ayumi? You have to tell me for me to be able to help you.”
“Nothing happened. I’m fine.”
A faint smile appeared on my face.
“You don’t look fine. And neither of us think that you’re fine. Everyone is waiting for you at school.”
“Then you should have brought them with you. Or did you want to keep it a secret that you tracked my phone?”
He let out a sigh and shook his head.
“Look, I’ll only say it once, so listen carefully. You’re my friend and I care and worry about you if you like it or not.”
I exhaled through my nose. I couldn’t help but laugh a little.
“I’m being serious Ayumi!”
His voice was stern. He walked closer to me.
I lowered my head and cracked my knuckles.
“Was this all you wanted to say to me?”
He didn’t answer. Was I supposed to feel bad?
“Everything will be okay.”
I tried to reassure him.
He grabbed me by my shoulders and forced me to look him in the eyes.
“Do you really think that?”
I swallowed the spit that had collected in my mouth. It felt like my throat was closing up. All I could do was to nod my head. He let go of me and left. I was again all by myself. I turned off the lights and went to bed. I had an early start the next morning and left the inn before the sun was up. Nobody was on the train with me. It would take me a while to get to where I wanted. I barely slept at night and dozed off. It gave me an opportunity to talk to the little girl with no name, also known as my Paroxys. We were standing in water. The sky was red.
“Can I trust you?”
“Of course. I’ll protect you.”
“What about Xykoss?”
“He’ll protect you too.”
The uneasy feeling that I was holding in my heart refused to go away. I wasn’t sure if I could believe her words. But I had to, especially today. The announcement told me that I had reached my destination. It was still dark outside. Yesterday’s wind had disappeared. Everything felt still. No person could be seen as I got closer and closer to my goal. I walked up the set of marble stairs and heaved open the large doors. The air was dusty and the brown, wooden benches were empty. Eien was standing next to the piano and his slender fingers were playing random notes. They echoed and danced within the empty space between us.
“Are you religious?”
I asked and took a few steps closer to him to let the door shut behind me.
“No. But I thought that a place of worship would be perfect for today’s showdown. Because one of us will not leave this hallowed ground alive.”
The sun was slowly rising.
“I’m glad that you came.”
His voice was harmonious with the piano notes.
“You gave me no choice. What did you say to me again before you ran away? That I have two options. I can either give you Xykoss or kill you before you kill my family.”
He chuckled and continued playing the piano.
“In my humble opinion I gave you fair choices. Of course, there is another way. Become one of us, but you already refused that offer.”
“I rather save people and not kill them.”
His chuckle became a laughter.
“We will see about that at the end of today. I don’t understand your fascination and obsession with saving people. Why should we be obligated to use our powers for others, just because they are not strong enough themselves? I don’t owe them anything.”
“The same thing can be said about hurting or killing someone.”
I loosened my tie and threw it on the floor. He played one last note on the piano and with it all the beautifully stained-glass windows shattered into a million pieces and fell like snowflakes, splitting the rays of the sun.
“Xykoss. Devour those who stand in my way.”
A big shockwave escaped my body and I immediately jumped to attack. Half of my vision was shrouded in red. He blocked me with his arm and pushed me away. I materialised my hammer in my hand. The military had returned it to me, but the little girl with no name held on to it for me. I swung it behind me to extend the handle. He leaped through the air, but I dodged him by doing a cartwheel backwards to then spin my body to give my hammer some momentum. He blocked it again with his shin, but the impact propelled him into the wall behind him. I was relentless and followed to keep attacking him. He managed to parry every single of my attacks.
“Tell me one thing, Moriuchi Ayumi. Why can’t you just let me have Xykoss? I mean, you having your own Paroxys will mean that you won’t die if you give him to me.”
I twisted the knob on my hammer to turn it into the claw.
“Or are you holding on to him in remembrance of your dead father?”
“I’m not handing him over to you because no good will come out of it. And I don’t want to be the accomplice of a murderer or be part of your disgusting experiments.”
He grabbed me by my arm and pulled me closer.
“I don’t think you realise how the world works. Are you fooling yourself? You came here with a purpose. And that purpose is to kill me and take my Paroxys, is it not?”
His lavender eyes widened, and a deranged grin was plastered on his face.
“I am capable of snapping the thread that connects the host with their Paroxys, ultimately causing death to the owner. It’s like I’m an upgraded version of your principal as he can only lock away a Paroxys for a single day. What we both can not do is preventing someone from becoming an Inliner. But you know who can? You, Moriuchi Ayumi. By taking and making the Paroxys your own and controlling it with your own Paroxys. The blow of becoming an Inliner and the consequential force that comes with it; you’ll be able to take all of that away for them. Because you have fully awakened now. You’re the upgraded and perfected version of me that I always desired. We both are collectors. The only, small flaw that you have is that your uncapable of snapping that fateful thread. That is where my Paroxys comes into the equation. But for you to get hold of my Paroxys, you’ll have to kill me first.”
His grip firmed and he pulled me even closer.
“That is the only way. Because we both refuse to give in to the other.”
My heart was beating fast. I tried to strike him with my claw, but he was quicker and punched me in the stomach. I instinctively bent over as a result of the pain. He then elbowed me in my back, and I was smashed into the ground. I was too slow to react to defend myself. My hair was grabbed by his hand, and he flung me up into the air. He jumped after me to kick me in my ribs. I flew across the room and crashed into the piano. It made a dissonance of continuous musical notes. I spit out some blood and took out the broken wooden piece that got stuck in my shoulder.
“Let me take over.”
It was a whisper. Xykoss howled inside of me after hearing the little girl’s voice.
“No, I can handle it.”
I stood up and took off my bomber jacket.
“Are you sure? I can kill him for you. Isn’t that what you want?”
I circled my shoulders and made my back straight.
I answered her and ran towards Eien.
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