Chapter 30:

Volume 1, Epilogue: Start of a Fire

Parable of the Renegades


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AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Hi! Jio Kurenai here!

Congratulations! You've made it to the epilogue! I hope you didn't just jump here. ;)

Any other thoughts I might have will be written in the AFTERWORD which I will publish not long after this. So before you get to that, I hope you all enjoy reading the chapter that will set up an event for volume 2!

As usual, feel free to leave a comment below. It can be anything like a random question, a comment for fun, or any constructive criticism to help me improve!

Lastly, please give yourself some credit by giving that "LIKE" button a click after reading this chapter! I'm always interested to know who's following me and I'd absolutely love it if we could start a conversation too! Likes and Comments will give points to your Honeyfeed badge, so make me recognize your mark by doing at least one of those two! I'll be singing your name in praise if you do both! ;)

EDIT: I included a Twitter Link to some new artwork related to this chapter! Please check it out from the link below after you finish reading.

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11:00 pm.

Trekking down a path of cobblestone, an adolescent boy was close to returning home after spending a few hours at his part-time job after school. His feet were very active, its movements were inconsistent and every few steps he took included a skip that synchronized with an upbeat tune. The hoots of owls and the chirping of crickets were the sounds that rang in the middle of the night, but the boy heard none of that. He was too busy isolating himself from the real world by listening to his favorite anime soundtracks through his earphones.

He had no preference in genre. Even though he couldn’t understand or even bother to look up the translations online, a song would make the playlist so long as it would make his heart race whenever he fantasized a scene to go along with the music like an anime opening.

With how diverse his playlist was, it wouldn’t make a good source for party music whether it played on shuffle or not. When one song from a pop idol stopped playing, another song of digital heavy metalcore might erupt a second later.

After stepping off the cobblestone path and onto the porch of a middle-class house, he hit the “pause” button on his smartphone’s touchscreen before wrapping his earphones in several loops around it.

As soon as the upbeat music ended, so did the boy’s upbeat demeanor. His expression had undergone a drastic change where everything drooped down into a state of melancholy.

Returning home was always the worst part of every day for him. That was when he discarded the fun and silly attitude he wore in front of his friends, which made his life feel more colorful.

Before opening the front door, he stood in front of a window and used it like a mirror. He tucked his shirt into his pants and combed his fingers in one direction through almost every strand of his short black hair. After his fingers grew bored of doing it too many times to count, he checked his reflection.

A face with a hairstyle that looked like he'd be an easy target for harassment stared back at him. Perfect, but not for him.

“I’m home.” The front door opened, and the boy announced his return. Unlike his earlier mannerisms, both the door and his voice had a notable lack of enthusiasm.

“Yo, Davis. What’s up?” A gruff voice greeted him as he stepped foot into the house after scratching his shoes on the carpet outside. “Anything special happen today?”

“Eh, nothing really, dad,” Davis groaned, trying to resist the urge to corpse at how his old man just tried to connect with him by talking like he was twenty years younger.

His father sat in front of a desk, wearing a cotton t-shirt and shorts. Apparently, he was doing some late-night work, and he was dressed to jump right into bed once he was finished or until sleep claimed him first.

“What’s this?” Davis eyed the pile of papers and folders sitting on the edge of the desk to his father’s right before going over there to examine what was on top. “Someone made a huge commission?”

“Yup, one of our best clients is at it again.” His father told him as his pen wrote down his signature on the document in front of him. “This is going to become a big payday for us, and just in time before your summer vacation begins! Make sure you don’t overspend okay?”

Davis ignored his father and held the top document close to his face where he scanned the bare minimum of its details. Specifically, he went for what kind of weapon this client ordered from their family business.

He was set back at the equipment that was being ordered.

“No way… He wants a Burst Strider!?”

It was a recent creation of Davis. They were black leather shoes with a square buckle, which gave them an unassuming design on the outside, but they had a different inside story. Successfully crammed into the pair of compact footwear were the mechanisms of a double-barreled shotgun, allowing a blast of dual shells from a compartment below the heels. Not long after their production, they were mass recalled and tossed into a pile of rejections. The most common complaints from buyers included unbearable heat to the user’s feet after firing a shell, and the hassle of reloading it after firing once. It was a lesson Davis learned the hard way of moving on to designing his next invention right after finishing another. His reputation as a weapon designer took a hit too.

“I thought I never touched them after I admitted them to be duds. Or does this mean you’ve found a way to fix their defects?”

“I never touched them either,” his father continued to take a single sheet of paper from the pile on his right and sign it before putting it away into the growing pile on his left. “But the client insisted the overheating and reloading issues won’t bother him, so I accepted his order.”

Davis should have been happy for one his creations finally getting purchased after a long time, but his lips curled down before they could form a smile. The atmosphere at home was just too heavy. He placed the sheet of paper back on top of the right pile then moved to the other side of the desk.

Checking the pile of already signed documents out of a growing curiosity, Davis saw for himself that this client had a notable fondness for firearms. While the legalization of weapons meant almost anyone could be dangerously armed, legal owners of the most dangerous ranged weapons such as guns were quite rare. A license for wielding a firearm required strict conformation to a set of rules and passing several qualifications with mandatory renewals every year. It was very common for people to break at least one of the rules due to ignorance or lack of concern, which meant having their licenses revoked permanently.

Another detail in the other documents caught Davis’ eye. Almost every weapon had the same description in the form’s “special request” section.

“Are you kidding me?” Davis almost gawked. “Aside from the Burst Strider, the client wants all of his new weapons to be painted gold?”

“He even offered to pay extra for all the paint we’ll need,” his father told him. “I think we’ll need at least fifty gallons.”

Davis let go of his anxiety, shrugged and placed returned the papers he was inspecting back to their pile. “Well, if it makes him happy, then great I guess. Business is business anyway.”

Before he could leave his father and retreat to his room, Davis was stopped. His father had stood up from his chair, put both of his hands on Davis’ shoulders and took a closer look at the way his son presented himself. Even though it was his father doing this rough inspection, Davis couldn’t bear to look him in the eye. He instead closed his own and added more to that by looking away.

His father smiled. “See? Your dad knows what suits you! Now that you’ve cut your hair, we just need to wait for your goatee to grow back and I guarantee you will look very handsome! I told you trying to copy that junk doesn’t suit you.”

Davis bit down on his tongue until he almost drew blood from it. Thankfully, the pain distracted him from snapping. As such, his words came out through his teeth with only a hint of animosity. “Nihan’s fashion sense is anything but junk, dad.”

His father didn’t listen. He was too busy assuring his son that soon enough, all the girls will be “throwing themselves all over him” once he attained the look he envisioned for him.

“Okay,” Davis whispered and nodded once, but only to humor his father and not because he agreed with him.

As he marched upstairs with his bag slung over his shoulder. Davis’ father called out to son, telling him for the nth time to smile more often. To Davis, that reminder was unnecessary. He did smile a lot – just never in front of his parents because lately, they've done nothing to make him feel grateful. Davis repeated to himself the reason he felt so strained from them, especially his father.

“He still won't let me be myself.”

When Davis opened his bedroom door, a room that was very in your face about the otaku culture greeted him. Every space on the shelves was occupied by his collections of manga, light novels, or poseable figurines of his favorite fictional characters. Every space in the walls was an easy way to learn about certain anime series or the trending Nihanese pop idols. It was his safe haven from the authority of his parents.

Anime, manga, or light novels always had something weird and wonderful to tell. They were always so bizarre and absurd, and for Davis, that felt like a breath of fresh air from what was locally created. It also provided him with a sense of escape and made him feel more special or unique than those who didn’t share his tastes. It was no fleeting thought that he occasionally pondered over what kind of a person he would be without them.

Then reality reminded Davis he was only reminiscing about the past.

The room itself had become Spartan with next to nothing in the way of decorations. Every poster that once covered the entire space had been ripped away from the walls or ceiling by an invasion of disgusted human hands. All that was left from them were their fragmented corners thanks to thumbtacks or scotch tape keeping them in place. The figurines and Nihanese manga and light novels would have been next to be thrown into the garbage if Davis didn’t rescue them first.

From his bag, Davis took out the second volume of “The demon princess and I are secretly dating in a faraway land while everyone else is expecting us to be having some ongoing epic fight to the death.” He thought reading it again after lending it to Lucas for some time would ease his pain, but the events of that day turned out to be too much for him to handle and the current state of his room was just too depressing whenever he saw it. It wasn’t a safe place for him to read in peace even if he had locked the door.

Crouching down, Davis pulled out one of the storage boxes he kept under his bed. Opening the flaps on top, he took a moment to explore all the manga and light novels he had saved before letting his returned volume join them in hiding. It brought in a strange mixture of ease from memories of getting immersed in their content, but it also brought in a weight to his gut.

His nerves were acting up again. Looking at what he managed to salvage always made him remember that time his father declared his interests to be a waste of time and a bad influence on him as a person before proceeding to tear off every poster that covered the walls and ceiling of the room without any ceremony. Rather than sit and watch his father turn the room he spent so much time and money on into a merchandise wasteland, Davis saved what he could and hid them all in storage boxes meant for equipment.

The last light novel he looked at before returning it into its hiding place in the box was the eighth volume of “Hour Empty Child.” He was still waiting for volume nine and hoped it would hit the stores soon.

One day, Davis promised himself with clenched fists. I will earn enough money to move out of this forsaken place.

After shoving the box back under his bed, Davis allowed himself to fall forward, crashing himself onto his mattress with a bounce. He ruffled his hands through his hair, reverting his clean-cut hairstyle back into something his father disliked. That made him feel a little better.

His muffled voice filtered into his pillow.

“Lucas, you freaking bastard… Were you hiding another side of yourself from me all this time!?”

Davis already felt like life had been antagonizing him for a while, but now another factor made it even worse. His best friend, a shy recluse who should have been unlucky with girls, actually scored himself one before he did? And not only did he score himself a girl so suddenly, but one from Nihan as well? What has been happening lately!?

Speaking of that girl, it was quite a pleasant experience albeit a simple one for her to introduce herself in her native language, Nihanese.

“Oh yeah, there was that.”

Davis held his smartphone above himself after rolling himself onto his back. He had an app that translated words from one language to another, but he used it as if its only function was Nihanese to English or vice versa.

While he couldn’t recall everything Rio said, the last part of her introduction still lingered.

“Let’s see here, ‘Himitsu wa watashi wa ansatsusha to haikyousha desu.’ I think that’s what she said.” Davis thought out loud as he typed some of the words one by one on the electronic keyboard of his smartphone’s touchscreen.

As much as he wished it to be true, Davis could never learn to speak Nihanese by watching anime. The dialogue of the characters was often exaggerated with quirks like speaking in puns or verbal ticks to make them sound more unique. But if there was one benefit anime had on Davis, it helped him get used to processing the Nihanese words he would hear. If it weren’t for that, Rio’s introduction would’ve come out as a speech filled with white noise.

He already knew the translation of “himitsu” was “secret.” There were far too many series where a cute anime girl would waggle her finger in tandem with the tease, “Hi~Mi~Tsu!”

“Ansatsusha” and “Haikyousha” however, triggered a state of alarm once Davis learned what they meant.

He sat up in a flash, adrenaline coursing through his veins in a torrent. His phone shook in his hands after he double-checked the words he typed.

“You’re kidding, right? Did Rio just tell me she is… an assassin… and a [Renegade]!?”

It took a moment, but Davis managed to regain control of himself when he considered the possibility that he may have gotten the words or translations wrong. People didn’t have a perfect sense of judgment and he wasn’t willing to jump to conclusions yet. Walking over to the other door in his room, which was the entrance to his private bathroom. Davis thought he was just stressed and that a nice, warm shower would help him clear his thoughts.

Then he found the answer to his suspicion when he took off his shirt in front of the bathroom mirror. For a few seconds, he couldn’t comprehend the situation. His eyes refusing to blink, he rubbed them a few times then grazed a finger over what he saw. His finger felt ridges.

“Oh God, oh man... Oh God, oh man... OH GOD, OH MAN!!!”

It was no illusion. He saw it right there, sitting on the left side of his chest.

A strange black mark that resembled a heart was trapped within a layer of three circles, which prevented two hollow arrows from trying to pierce it.

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