The full moon shed its light over the mysterious girl. Her footsteps echoed throughout the alleyway. As she drew closer to Hiro, he noticed her skin to be eerily pale—a sharp contrast to her pink hair and light blue eyes. Despite the temperature drastically falling at night, she only wore a white crop top and black jeans. Golden bracelets decorated each of her wrists.
“Mm! Mm!” Kin kicked his feet around in a frenzy, but his efforts to break free from the tentacles were all in vain. His look of rage and desperation as he continued to scream at Hiro was harrowing.
Knowing full well that staying around would only put him in danger, Hiro clambered to his feet. However, as he was about to turn around and make a run for it, a thought crossed his mind. Clenching his fist, he sprinted towards Kin.
Kin’s countenance quickly changed from teary-eyed contempt to that of a wide beaming smile of hope. That, however, soon faded to a look of shock and betrayal as he watched Hiro reach for his right pocket and take out the detonator. Kin, with all the power he could muster from his lungs, let out an agonizingly long shriek.
As soon as he grabbed the detonator, Hiro sprinted away as fast as he could. He didn’t slow down or turn back—even when Kin’s voice suddenly stopped. Before he could exit to the street, a red blob was tossed ahead of him. It expanded into a giant web that blocked his path. He touched it with his finger; it was sticky and had a peculiar smell, like that of metal.
“Don’t shout, or I’ll kill you,” the girl said with a monotone voice.
Kin, who was vibrant and high-spirited not too long ago, was now a husk of his former self. His body shriveled up into a thin, unmoving corpse; his skin turned deathly pale. Haphazardly, the pink-haired girl tossed his body into the dumpster beside her. The tentacles retracted back into her wrists, and a red blade manifested in her hand. With the other, she formed another red blob. She turned her cold gaze to Hiro.
Hiro looked around frantically; there was no one nearby. Seeing no other option, he threw his hands up. “I won’t make a noise. I promise.”
“Good.” Without warning, she hurled the blob at him. It dispersed into several needles as it traversed the air.
With his eyes glowing a lustrous green, Hiro leaped to the side, narrowly avoiding them. He had no time to rest, however, as the girl sent out a whip from her wrist. He zigzagged his way around her attack and closed the gap between them. She swung her blade at him, but with ease, as though he saw it coming, he ducked down. Grabbing her arm with both hands, he threw her against the wall and bolted further inside the alley.
His only chance to escape now was to rush to the other side. Asking for help—even if it meant begging Bandito—was of utmost importance. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth wide.
A red spear flew just above his head. The girl was catching up faster than he expected. For now, getting out of her sight was the top priority.
After hopping over a wooden fence, he could finally see the other end of the alleyway. As he ran towards it, a foul smell penetrated his nose. Further down, he noticed a dumpster overflowing with black plastic bags. He had no time to stop and observe them, however. A thud from behind led him to turn around; the girl had already jumped over the fence.
Holding his breath, he grabbed one of the bags and tossed it her way. With a single slash of her blade, she tore the bag in half. Severed limbs and internal organs were spewed out, scattering along the ground. The stench of rotten flesh permeated the air. One good whiff led Hiro to hunch forward and gag. The girl lunged at him, but he still managed to evade her attack by the skin of his teeth.
“You’re fast. How annoying.” She aimed her palm at him.
A crimson whip flew just above Hiro’s head as he ducked down. In quick judgment, he reached for a nearby lump of flesh and threw it at her face. As she recoiled backward, he sprinted towards the street. The girl had shot out another whip. Hiro jumped over it, but it followed him midair and wrapped itself around his leg. He was lifted off the ground, dangling upside down. She brought him closer to her.
“Wait! Stop right now!” Hiro’s voice cracked as he displayed the detonator in his hand. His whole body quaked. “There’s a bomb on my leg. Put me down right now, or we both blow up.”
She stared at his leg. “You—”
“I said NOW, damn it!”
Without warning, she dropped him face-first onto the pavement. Afraid she might take the opportunity and strike while he’s down, Hiro hurriedly scrambled to his feet. He clutched the detonator tight and took a few steps back.
“N-Now here’s what’s gonna happen.” He pointed at her. “I step back, you step back, and we both never cross paths again. Okay?”
The girl placed her hand on her chin and scanned him.
“Didn’t you hear me?! I’m going to blow us up! Listen to what I’m telling you!”
“Your clothes…” Her voice was calm. “You’re not the same as them.”
“...What? Same as who?”
“Same as them.” She pointed at a brown hat lying on the ground.
Hiro’s gaze darted back and forth between the hat and the girl. He then glanced at the rest of the body parts scattered around. His mouth opened as he slowly came to a realization. “Are they… all from Bandito?”
She nodded. “Are you one of them?”
“Hell no!” he immediately yelled. He paused to regain his composure. “Why are you killing them?”
“You don’t exactly have a choice. I can press this button any time, you know?”
“You’re shaking. You won’t do it.”
“D-Don’t push your luck. Just answer my question.”
She paused to think. “Can I ask you a question first?”
“Wh—” He sighed. “Okay, fine. What is it?”
“I’m looking for someone.” Her hand hovered over her chest. “She’s short. Do you know her?”
Hiro had a perplexed look on his face. “How am I supposed to know?! Do you know how many short people—” His eyebrows shot up. “Does she have red hair?”
Her eyes widened—the first show of emotion he saw from her. “Yes.”
“Is her name Maki?”
She pointed her blade at him. “Why do you know her name?”
“Whoa whoa! Chill! She told me her name herself!”
“Why were you with her?”
“Look, if you promise not to kill me, I can trade information with you.”
After a moment of silence, she lowered her blade. Although he felt a rush of relief, Hiro still did his best to maintain composure. “Okay, I’ll start. Who are you and Maki?”
“Okay… What’s your name?”
“Why did you come here?”
“Are you gonna tell me anything?”
“Secr— No. You tell me what I want.”
“And if I don’t? You’ll kill me?”
“You’ll lose the only person who knows about Maki.”
A cheeky smile painted Hiro’s face. For once, he actually had the upper hand over someone. “How about we make a deal? I’ll help you find Maki. I got some unfinished business with her anyway. In return, I need your help. I don’t know who—or what—you are, but you’re strong. Really strong. You see, Bandito has us all in a choke hold. Right now, he’s making me and my… family work like slaves. If you can, you know…”
“You want me to kill them all?” she asked.
“I mean, looks like you were already hunting them down, right? Then my request shouldn’t be that unreasonable.”
Though her face remained expressionless, he could tell by the subtle change in tone that she was losing patience.
“Now, where’s Maki?” she demanded.
Hiro looked away. “I, uh… I don’t know.”
“You said she was with you.”
“Was. She ran off somewhere, and I have no idea where she is right now. But I can still help! Two people are better than one, right? And she knows who I am, so we can even split up!”
“We won’t split up.”
“Okay, that’s fair. Um… I do know my way around Ushiro. Finding her should be a cinch.”
He lied; he barely went outside of the farm, let alone the village.
“Understood,” she said. “Where do we go first?”
“Um, uh…” While contemplating on their next destination, he heard faint sounds of cheers and laughter. “Wait, that’s it! Come with me!”
She followed him back to the other side of the alleyway. The sticky web that had previously blocked the exit was now reduced to a pool of red liquid. Hiro pinched his nose as he took a quick glance at Kin’s withered body. Good riddance and well deserved, he thought. When he was about to enter the street, the girl stomped her foot.
“Stop,” she said. “Are you trying to escape?”
“No, no! Take a look.” Hiro poked his head out of the corner and pointed at the bar down the street. “Over there. Looks lively. Maybe we can ask some people if they’ve seen Maki.”
She took a step back. “No. I can’t show my face.”
“And I don’t suppose you could let me go by myself?”
He let out an exasperated sigh and tossed her his cloak. “Here. You’re so difficult. Is that good enough?”
She put it on. “It’s sweaty.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I didn’t expect someone to wear my clothes. You ready to go, or not?”
She gave a single nod and followed his lead. Boisterous cheering and the occasional crashing of plates could be heard. When Hiro opened the doors, they were met with a roaring crowd gathered in a large circle. Everyone was yelling out bets and chugging down their drinks.
A loud slam came from the center of the crowd. A tall, bald man with a goatee stood up from his seat. “This is stupid! She’s cheating!” he yelled.
“We’ve checked her several times. She’s not carrying anything,” said the bartender from his station.
As opposed to the lively crowd, the bartender was calmly wiping his shaker with a white cloth. He wore a beige vest and a matching bow tie; his mustache was well-trimmed. Were it not for his gray hair, many would’ve mistaken him for a young man. Behind him was a shelf that contained an assortment of liquor bottles and other ingredients neatly arranged in rows.
The bald man banged on the table. “There’s no way I would lose to a little girl! We’re going again!”
“Hey, who are you callin’ ‘little’, asshole?”
Hiro immediately recognized that voice. “M—”
“It’s her,” the girl whispered as she ran forward. Hiro followed, and the two jostled their way through the thick crowd.
At the center of the bar, Maki was slouching against a table. With one hand, she held a massive mug of beer, and with the other, she was arm-wrestling with the bald man. Beads of sweat trickled down the man’s face; his whole arm trembled. Meanwhile, Maki didn’t seem tired at all. She opened her mouth wide, pretending to yawn. Within seconds, she slammed his hand against the wooden table. The whole bar erupted into cheers.
Maki jumped on top of the table and raised her fist in the air. “Another pussy down! Buncha weaklin’s! Don’t ever call me lil’ again!”
“And another victim falls before our undefeated champion of the night!” the bartender announced. “To those who placed their bets on ‘less than ten seconds’, claim your winnings right here! Or, you can go double or nothing for the next one! If you do, I’ll give you a shot of our finest blend, on the house!”
A horde of people lined up in front of the bartender. Meanwhile, the pink-haired girl stormed over to Maki. Two guards stepped in front of her, blocking her way. They both wore tank tops and loose cargo pants; their heads were completely shaven.
“Whoa there! Where do you think you’re going?” one of them asked.
“You wanna challenge the champ, you gotta get in line!” the other said. “Hmm, then again, you got a pretty face. Maybe we can talk it over a few drinks?”
“No,” she said.
“Hey, hey!” Maki pushed between the two men and held the girl’s hands. “I’ve been lookin’ for you for ages! Where did you go?”
“You were the one who disappeared,” the girl said. “And you dropped your phone.”
“Oh, I did? I was lookin’ all over for it!”
“And where’s my cloak? You took mine by accident.”
“Oh… Yeah, I lost that ages ago.”
“Why did you even leave? I told you to wait.”
“You were in the bathroom for ages! And it was startin’ to stink up, so—”
The girl clasped her hand over Maki’s mouth and glared daggers at her. If looks could kill, any normal person would’ve been dead—but not Maki. She pulled the girl's hand away from her mouth and stuck her tongue out. It was then that she noticed Hiro standing nearby.
“Oh, hey! It’s you! You’re uh… the hobo!”
Hiro scowled at her. “This is where you went? After ditching us back there? We went through hell ‘cause of you!”
“...Hiro! I remember now!” She lifted her finger up. “Hey, why didn’t you follow me? You left a poor defenseless girl all by her lonesome.”
“You didn’t even wait! You just knocked them out and dipped!”
“Well, duh! It was an urgent matter! It’s your fault for not going with the flow.”
“My fault?!” Hiro raised his voice. “Because of you—”
“Okay, what seems to be the hold up here?” one of the guards asked.
She turned to him and extended her hand forward. “Alright, I’m headin’ out. Mind givin’ me my bag back?”
The guards looked at each other, then back at her. “No can do,” the other said. “You agreed to be here all night.”
“Okay, yeah, but I changed my mind!”
“You can’t just do that!”
“Why not? Actually, askin’ you bozos is a waste of time.” Cupping her hands over her mouth, she called over to the bartender. “Hey! Big man! I’m cashin’ out! Where’s my stuff?”
“Huh?!” After calming the crowd down and calling a ten-minute break, he rushed over to Maki. “What do you mean ‘cashing out’?”
“It means I’m done. Finito. Leavin’.” She pointed at Hiro and the girl. “As you can see, my entourage has come to pick me up!”
“We can’t have that! You see all these people? Look at all the potential earnings!
“Eh, money’s for sissies. I just wanted to see the look on these guys’ faces when they get absolutely destroyed by a girl. Heh.”
“We already made a deal! We’ll hand over your stuff once you’re done.”
“Oh, playin’ that way, are we?” Maki took the chair behind her and hopped on top. She yelled at the top of her lungs. “Attention, everybody!”
All eyes were on her.
“You see that guy?” She pointed at the bald man she had just defeated sitting at the corner of the room. “Look at his ass!”
Emerging from his behind, a machine resembling a hornet flew into the air. The bald man stood up and tried to swat it away, but quickly plummeted to his knees. Foam frothed in his mouth before he vomited on the floor. He mumbled out words, but no one could understand his slurred speech. With eyes rolled back, he fell unconscious, his face landing on his own pool of filth.
The hornet landed on Maki’s finger. “These lil’ things have been druggin’ my competitors!”
“What are you doing?!” The bartender’s voice cracked.
“I’m baffled. Disgraced, even. I thought I was winnin’ fair and square, but nooo! I just found out that these guys were cheatin’ to get your money!” She gestured towards the bartender and the guards.
“What’s she saying, old man?” someone from the crowd asked.
“You think you could play us for fools, huh?!” yelled another.
The bartender was sweating. “Now, now. Calm down. This is all a misunder—”
“Give me my money back, you scam!”
The crowd stampeded towards him. Hiro and the girls escaped in time, but the bartender and his crew were not as fortunate. They were driven back against the wall. In desperation, they tried to fight back, but they were easily overwhelmed. The furious mob dragged them down to the floor and pummeled them repeatedly.
Hiro turned his face away. “You found your friend. Can we leave? Like, now?”
“Hold on.” Maki let the hornet fly out of her hand. “Alright, my baby! Lead me to my stuff!”
It flew underneath the bartender’s counter. Maki hopped over it and retrieved a black cloak and a large metal bag. Despite it being about double her size, she was able to lift the bag up with a single hand. Taking one last look at the chaos that she’d just caused, she stuck her tongue out.
“Alright, let’s get outta here!” She sprinted out of the door, with Hiro and the girl following closely behind.
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