Chapter 6:



Cold winds howled; desert owls hooted. No clouds dared to conceal the moon in its full beauty. A myriad of stars surrounded it like subjects bowing before their king. The only visitors that paid visit to the empty streets were the occasional rodents and stray felines. It was serene—much in contrast to the boisterous bar.

Hiro and the girls didn’t stop until they made it to the village square. Maki trailed behind them. She heaved heavy pants as she leaned against a nearby lamppost.

“You guys are… too fast. What are y’all in a hurry for?”

“What do you mean?” Hiro asked. “We were getting away from that mess.”

“That you caused,” the pink-haired girl added.

Maki chuckled. “Hell yeah, I did.”

The girl chopped her on the head. “Why were you there in the first place?”

“Haha! You won’t believe it!” She tossed her arms up. “See, I found this random guy, and he was challengin’ people to some arm wrestlin’. So, bein’ the honorable woman that I am, I wanted to show him up. I used my trusty robobees to weaken him so I could beat him down and let him know who’s boss!”

“So you cheated.”

“Yes. Of course I did. Anyways, then that old guy back at the bar, remember him? He came to me after my glorious win and told me that if I could pull off that same stunt over and over again, we’d earn tons of cash. Now, I don’t give a damn about money, but when I saw those big buff dudes waitin’ in line to wrestle some arms, I thought to myself: I wanna ruin their fragile manly pride. And uh, here we are! The rest is history!”

Hiro sighed. “Charming story.”

She bowed in an elegant fashion. “Thank you, thank you. I always aim to please… me. Anyways, Hiro, fancy seein’ you with Haruka of all people. Small world, huh?”

He cocked his head to the side. “Haru…ka? Is that her name?”

The girl’s eyebrows slightly furled. “Look what you did, Maki.”

“What? You never told him?” Maki shrugged. “I mean, I told him mine. It’s not like this hobo’s gonna figure out who I am. Plus, I didn’t tell him my last name.”

“We weren’t supposed to show ourselves in public in the first place.”

“Psh! We’ll be fiiine! Besides, what’s this guy gonna do? Call the nonexistent police? But hey…” She smacked Hiro’s back. “It’s great to see you again, buddy! Not gonna lie, you seriously pissed me off by not comin’ along, but—”

“Don’t touch me!” Hiro slapped her hand away. “You don’t think I remember that you’re the reason I’m in this whole mess in the first place?”

Maki wiggled her finger at him. “Tsk tsk tsk. There you go again pinnin’ the blame on me for your problems. I even got you and your friends an easy ticket out. You should be grateful!”

Hiro fell silent. His lips quivered as he muttered, “...Grateful? Grateful?! My friend died yesterday. Their boss shot him. I had to bury him this morning.”

“Oh…” Maki lowered her head and patted his arm. She then cheerfully grinned. “Oh well! You win some, you lose some! No use cryin’ over spilled milk.”

“HUH?!” He pointed his finger at her face. “What the hell did you say?!”

She put her arms forward. “Whoa whoa. Chill there, partner.”

“No. I’m not standing for this disrespect.”

“Okay, that’s it!” She stomped her foot. “One: you started this mess when you rejected my poor cry for help. Two: I literally gave you the easiest escape ever. Why the hell did y’all not take it? And three: I didn’t even kill him! Those bozos did! This is misplaced anger, and I ain’t sittin’ here and takin’ all this crap!”

Hiro covered his face. A short chuckle escaped his lips. “So what? I can’t even blame you? What am I supposed to do, then?”

“Blame the bozos, duh.”

“And get myself killed! And everyone I know too! Of course! Of course, that’s what I should do!”

She shrugged. “I mean, doin’ nothin’ is an option too.”

He fell to his knees. “Haha… You’re right. I should’ve done that…”

Haruka leaned over to Maki. “We’re wasting our time here. What do we do now?”

Maki placed her hand on her chin. “Hmm… Did you find anythin’ useful while I was gone?”

“No. All the goons I found knew nothing about the client. Today was worse; I only found one, and the other happened to be this guy. If I had my cloak, I could’ve moved around more freely.”

“Hey, I apologized for losing it already.”

“No you didn’t.”


“What about him?” A red sword appeared in Haruka’s hand. She pointed it at Hiro’s neck. “Do we get rid of him?”

Hiro squealed as he crawled backward. “W-Wait! That wasn’t the deal!”

“Pfft! You two negotiated somethin’?” Maki asked.

Haruka looked away. “He said he knew you. I didn’t have a choice. Still, it doesn’t mean I have to keep my promise.”

“Hold it, hold it.” Maki stepped between them. “I’ll admit. This guy’s an annoyin’ pussy. But I still want him alive.”


“I know, I know. It’s hard to believe, but I got involved with him for a reason. I’d say what it is now, but…” She stopped talking and stood still.

“...But what?”

“Wait for it…”

A loud rumble echoed throughout the street. Maki held her chin up and proudly patted her stomach. “As you can see, folks. I’m hungry. Hiro! You know a good place to eat?”

He seized his opportunity. “M-My home! I-I can make you guys dinner!”

“Splendid! Lead the way!”

Haruka grabbed her arm. “Maki, what are you doing?”

“Gettin’ some grub, of course!”

“No witnesses, remember? We can’t be too close to him.”

“Pfft! Half the village has seen my face. If you really want ‘no witnesses’, you gotta massacre everybody here.”

“I will if I have to.”

Maki rolled her eyes. “Okay, Miss Gloomypants. But this guy’s worth keeping alive! …Probably. I’ll let you know after we get dinner.”

“No.” Haruka brought her sword closer to Hiro. “We need to find more of them before morning comes. We’re wasting too much time already.”

“No, no, no! Wait!” He leaned away from the blade. “You said ‘them’! You mean Bandito, right? You can look all night if you want. You’re not gonna find any.”

“Maki, can I kill him now?”

“Wait, wait! They have a meeting right now! You won’t find a single Bandito member in Ushiro. I know where their base is, but you have to spare me!”

“See? We need him alive!” Maki pulled Haruka’s hand away from him. “Though, you couldn’t have asked those bozos where their base is?”

Haruka looked down. “I didn’t think about that…”

Maki rubbed her back. “There, there. Killin’ really is all that’s in your head, huh? I guess not everyone can be an all-knowin’ genius like me. Anyways, it’s gettin’ chilly here. Hiro, lead us to dinner!”

He stood up and brushed the sand away from his pants. Once again, he somehow narrowly escaped death. Still, he had to make sure not to look too relieved in front of the girls. “Okay, follow me.”

“Hey, hold on!” Maki jumped back and pointed at his leg. “What the hell is that? Is that a bomb?! Are you tryna kill me?!”

“What? No!” He frantically waved his hands. “Trust me, if I wanted to kill you, I wouldn’t blow myself up!”

“So what? Is this like your fashion sense or somethin’? ‘Cause let me tell you, it sucks.”

“Wh— Are you an idiot?”

“You just found out now?” Haruka asked.

He rubbed his forehead. “Right… Bandito placed this bomb on me to make sure I can’t escape. Luckily, I managed to swipe this remote thingy from one of them earlier.”

As soon as he took the detonator out of his pocket, Maki dashed forward and snatched it from his hands.

He reached forward to take it back, but she was too fast. “HEY! What the hell? Give it back!”

“Oh, please. This thing’s better in my hands than in yours anyway.” She tossed it around in her hand. “Besides, you won’t be needin’ this soon. Do your work, babies!”

Several hornets flew out of her bag. They hovered around the bomb and stabbed it with their stingers. Soon after, the bomb detached itself from Hiro’s leg.

Maki dropped the detonator on the ground. “Well, that’s that. Crisis averted.”

Hiro stared at her with his mouth agape. “Y-You just did that.”

“Yep! Now hurry up! I’m starvin’!”

“Y-Yes ma’am!”

He speedily led them to the melon farm. It was supposed to only be a thirty-minute walk away from the village square, but they had to take several breaks due to Maki’s fatigue. To avoid any more delays, Haruka used her whips to carry her the rest of the way.

The delivery truck was parked just outside the front gate. Hiro crouched behind it and peeked over at Granny Jay’s home. Chiho sat by the porch, rifle in hand.

“What’s the hold up?” Maki asked.

“Shh!” Hiro snapped his head at her. “If they hear us, it’s over. They’ll alert the rest of Bandito.”

“Hmm, and that’ll mean no dinner, huh?” she whispered. “Say, how many guards are over there?”

“Just the one over by the porch. But if we screw up, she can—”

She placed her finger over his mouth. “Say no more. Leave it to the pros!”

She summoned a hornet from her bag. It stealthily flew toward the porch. Moments later, Chiho suddenly dropped her rifle and stood up. She grabbed on to the railing and gagged.

“That’s your cue, Haruka!” Maki gave her a thumbs up. “Go do your magic!”

“Understood.” With silent footsteps, Haruka sprinted forward. A spear extended from her wrist. Before her victim knew any wiser, she stabbed her throat. Just like Kin, her body quickly withered into a pale, shriveled mass. Haruka hid the corpse underneath the nearest melon patch.

Maki skipped toward Haruka and lifted her hand up for a high five. “Good job, partner!”

Haruka turned to Hiro. “Where to next?”


“Gimme a sec.” Hiro covered his nose and knelt beside Chiho. He reached inside her pockets until he found Johnny’s detonator. Carefully, he tiptoed to the porch and placed it on the seat.

“Is this your place?” Maki asked. “Looks terrible.”

“Thanks, but this isn’t mine. Come with me before someone notices.”

Hiro’s home stood just beside Granny Jay’s. The unpainted walls were littered with gaps patched up with wooden planks. Several shingles were missing from the roof. The window to the right of the door had a large hole; a piece of paper was taped over it.

Maki couldn’t take her eyes off the hole. “Well, whaddya know? This one’s even more of a dump than the other.”

“Gee, you’re so kind.” Hiro unlocked the door. “Well, I hope you still feel at home.”

“Don’t mind if I do!” Maki rushed inside.

Haruka nodded at Hiro and followed her. She placed his cloak on the coat hanger.

Despite its rather shoddy exterior, the inside was clean and well kept. The checkered floor was spotless and the tables wiped. Magenta flowers bloomed from tiny cacti placed in pots by the window sills. There were two bedrooms; a smaller screen door on the right led to the kitchen.

Maki sat on the floor and tossed her cloak on the floor. “Yuck. Some chump spilled his drink on it. The nerve of some people.”

“You two stay here. I’ll whip up a meal for us,” Hiro said.

“Hold on! Just gotta follow protocols.” Maki put on a pair of yellow goggles from her bag. Numbers and graphs appeared on the lenses when she pressed a button on its side. “Hm… All good! No traps whatsoever!”

“Still don’t trust me, huh?”

“If you were me, would you?”

“Fair point.”

“Alright! What’re we havin’ for dinner?” Maki marched to the kitchen.

“Hold it.” Hiro placed his hand on her head, stopping her in place. “You two stay here while I cook. Kitchen’s not big enough for the three of us.”

She saluted him. “Aye aye!”

The kitchen had a clay floor and char-stained walls. From the fridge, he took out several handfuls of assorted vegetables and brought them to the sink. He was washing them thoroughly when he noticed the girls peeking through the door.

“I can see you, you know.”

Maki burst through the door. “Oh, heeeeey! We were just playin’ a lil’ game of hide and seek! Didn’t expect you to find us so fast.”

“Yeah? Or maybe you’re just terrible at hiding.”

“Wow. Rude.”

“Says the creep spying on me.”

“If there’s any creep in this room, it would be you, hobo.”

“Right, right. You two wanna help or what?”

“Oh! Well…” She nudged Haruka forward. “If it's help you want, then Haruka’s the perfect one for that! Kitchen’s too simple for the likes of me, so I stay as far away from it as possible.”

“Maki, I can’t cook,” Haruka said.

Shh! You’ll be fine.”

“You’re leaving me alone with him?”

“Sorry, but I got a mission to do.”

“What mission?”

Maki placed her hand on her shoulder. “It’s important. Just trust me, okay? You’ll be fine.”

“Maki, I don’t like that smile.”


Hiro cleared his throat aloud. “Sorry to bother you, but I’m not sure how I feel about being alone with someone who was about to kill me not too long ago.”

“No worries! You’re safe with her! For now, at least. You two take care now!” Maki slammed the door shut and ran out.

Hiro and Haruka looked at each other.

There was an awkward silence, which Hiro didn’t want to prolong any further. He returned to the menial task of chopping vegetables. The sound of his dull knife against the cutting board seemed much louder than it actually was. His gaze shifted back and forth between the vegetables and Haruka, who stood still behind him.

He decided to break the silence. “Haruka, right? Sorry that Maki blurted out your name like that.”

She didn’t answer.

“You… alright there? You seem bored.”

Again, no reply.

A drop of sweat fell from Hiro’s cheek. “Um… you can leave if you want.”

“No. I’ll help.”


“To make it faster.”

“O-Okay…” He pointed at the fridge. “If you open the freezer, there should be some beef on the lower right. Mind bringing it over here so I can defrost it?”

“Understood.” She handed him the meat.

“Thanks.” With a nervous laugh, he placed it in the microwave to defrost. He then turned the stove on and poured water inside. When he turned around, he found her staring blankly at his hands. “Um, you don’t have to stay, you know. You can wait outside with your friend.”

She shook her head.

“So you’re just gonna stand there…?”



“What’s next?”

“You wanna keep helping?”

She nodded.

He handed her a knife from the drawer. “When the meat’s done. I want you to chop it into cubes. Can you do that?”

She nodded once again.

“Perfect. There’s a sink over there in the corner. You can wash your hands there.”

After the meat had finished defrosting, she struggled to dice them evenly. Seeing that the chunks were too big, Hiro had to step in and help. They were placed inside the pot, and minutes later, the vegetables were added in. Hiro then poured a pale yellow liquid kept inside an unlabeled glass bottle.

Haruka leaned close to his shoulder and took a good whiff. “What is that?”

“Oh, this?” Hiro took a step away and showed her the bottle. “It’s a special sauce made by a good friend of mine. It’s just a bit of honey, vinegar and random spices here and there.”

“Nice smell.”

“It’s good, huh? My friend—his name was Miles—he used to love messing around with all sorts of random ingredients. Some were really good, like this stew. It was his favorite thing to cook. Others were uh… questionable at best.” He placed his hand over his mouth and chuckled.

“‘Used to’? What about now?”

His smile quickly faded. “Yeah… He’s not around anymore. I briefly mentioned him earlier, but he was killed yesterday by Bandito.”

“I see…” She inched closer to take a few more sniffs. “So what next?”

“N-nothing. We just wait for it to be cooked.”


Hiro already ran out of things to talk about. They stood in silence for a grueling hour until the stew finally finished. With a sigh of relief, he poured it into three separate bowls.

“Well, we’re finally done. Let’s take these over to the other room. Maki must be really impatient right now.” He gently slid one of the bowls closer to her and took the other two.

“Understood.” Haruka’s eyes were glued to her murky reflection in the stew.

They carried the bowls and were headed to the dining room. Suddenly they heard loud banging coming from the living room.

AAAAAHH! This piece of— Screw you!” they heard Maki’s voice cry.

Hiro almost dropped his bowls. Haruka’s red whip saved the stew from spilling.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Might be an attack. Let’s go check.”

“Got it!”

They placed the bowls down on the countertop and hurried to the living room.