“Maki! Are you o—”
Hiro and Haruka froze in place, speechless at the scene that unfolded before them. There Maki was; her head stuck out of the broken window. She vehemently stomped on the floor and banged her fists against the wall. Eventually, she gave up and let out an ear-piercing shriek.
“Hello?! You guys there? Heeelloooo! I need a lil’ help!”
Haruka sighed deeply and marched to her. “Maki.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Maki was on the verge of tears. “But I wanted to do it…”
“I got curious! I wanted to know if my head would fit! You know me; I can’t stand not knowin’ things.”
“You do a lot of stupid things for someone who knows a lot.”
“Shut up, okay? I get it! I goofed up! Now if I try to pull my head out, I’m gonna get cut, and I don’t like that!”
Haruka turned around. “We should just leave you there. Learn your lesson.”
“Nooooo!” Her voice cracked. “I’m sorry! Get me out, please! I won’t do it again, I promise!”
Haruka stretched out her hand; a small red needle flew from her wrist. It zoomed through the glass window and shattered it to pieces. Now set free, Maki flung her arms into the air and leaped in celebration.
“WOOHOO! I’m out, baby!”
Haruka faced Hiro. “Sorry. I broke your window.”
“Nah, don’t be sorry.” He waved his hand. “You did nothing wrong, but someone definitely did.”
They both looked at Maki.
“What? I’m sorry, okay? The deed has been done. I already apologized, so I have nothin’ more to say. Hmph!” She crossed her arms and refused to look them in the eyes.
Hiro sighed it off and walked back to the kitchen. “Alright, alright. Whatever. Let’s just eat.”
“Hell yeah! Dinner!” Maki dashed to her seat.
A sweet, savory aroma pervaded the air as Hiro and Haruka returned from the kitchen with the bowls of stew. He set them on the table and sat across from the two. Unable to control herself, Maki lifted up her bowl and gorged down her food.
“Amazing!” she said while chewing. “Hey, you’re pretty good, Hiro!”
“Thanks. The recipe belonged to my friend.”
“That so? Get ‘em to pass some recipes over!” Maki wiped her face with her sleeve. “I’m no cook myself, but we got a big one in our team! Literally!”
Haruka elbowed her shoulder.
“Huh? What did I do this time?”
“It’s the friend I was with yesterday before you ran off on us,” Hiro explained.
“Ohhh, the guy who… Oh. Rest in peace to that guy.” She slurped the remainder of her bowl.
Hiro clicked his tongue, but didn’t say a word. Getting on their bad side would ruin any chance of asking for their help.
Haruka calmly enjoyed a spoonful. “Maki, stop stalling. What got you so interested in him?”
Maki’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s right! I forgot about why we’re here. Let’s get down to business. Hiro, I’m gonna keep everythin’ one hundred with you, so I want you to do the same. Clear?”
He tittered. “Still don’t trust me?”
“If you give me a reason to trust you, I will.” The serious tone in her voice caught him off guard.
“Got it. Go on.”
“I’mma keep it nice and brief. I know for a fact that I saw your eyes light up yesterday. How do they work? Why do they glow?”
Hiro looked down at his bowl. “Uh… I mean… I guess it is kinda weird, huh? Apparently, I got it from my mom. Her eyes turned green every time she focused. So it’s just a genetic thing.”
Maki glared at him for a few seconds. “Is that all?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He laughed nervously.
She rested her chin on her hands. “You’re lying to me. You said I could trust you.”
“Wh-What do you m—”
“I guess it was my fault. Maybe I asked the wrong question, so let me try again. Are you one of the Eyes?”
Hiro suddenly leaned back against his chair. “I— How— What are t-talking about? E-Eyes…?”
A self-satisfied smirk spread across her face. “Bingo.”
The Eyes—a phenomenon well-known throughout the four kingdoms. Individuals endowed with glowing eyes were born with certain inhuman abilities. As for who would be born with them and how it all started, nobody knew, but the Eyes have persisted for centuries upon centuries.
“So it’s true?” Haruka asked. “Are you an Eye?”
“Of course he is! I’m never wrong!” Maki crossed her arms and nodded proudly.
“I think I saw a green light from his eyes when I was chasing him. So that’s what it was.”
“Really? You saw them too? Wait, you were chasin’ him and he lived?! There’s no better proof than that.”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, WAIT!” He sprang from his chair. “I’m not an Eye!”
“Psh!” Maki waved her hand dismissively. “As if we’d believe that now.”
“I swear! I’m really not!”
“Calm down. You’re panickin’. Now, movin’ on to my next question.” She tapped on the table repeatedly. “I wanna know what kinda cool abilities you have.”
“There’s none! There’s really none!” Blood rushed to his head. His breaths grew shorter.
“You’re still keepin’ this up? Jig’s up, man. We know what you are.”
“Just answer the ques—”
“LET ME TALK, DAMN IT!”
His thundering voice echoed throughout the room. The girls fell silent.
“I am NOT an Eye! I’m NOT! Okay?!” He trembled as he grabbed on to edge of the table.
Maki let out a low, prolonged whistle. She stared at the ceiling for several seconds, deep in thought. Finally, she turned to him. “Alright, you know what? I’ll play your lil’ game. You’ll crack eventually.”
“There’s nothing to crack.” His voice grew hoarse.
“We’ll see. So, let’s say you’re not who I thought you were. Why should we keep you alive?”
“I-I still know where their base is!”
“So? We can kill you and find someone else to threaten. It’s not that hard.”
Haruka got up from her seat. “Simple. We don’t spare him.”
Hiro hid his head under his arms. “P-Please!”
“At ease, you two,” Maki said. “It seems using force won’t work, so let’s come to an agreement. I’m layin’ all my cards on the table. Hiro, you’re a crappy liar and I have no idea why you insist on doing so.”
He scowled. “I’m n—”
“Whoa there. Let me finish, hot shot. Like I said, I’ll play your game, so I’ll let you take the lead for once. You were negotiatin’ with Haruka not too long ago, right? Whaddya want? Tell me.”
“Y-You won’t kill me, right?”
“Sure, if you hurry up.”
He paused and took a deep breath. “Okay. I need your help. It’s not exactly a big secret that Bandito rules Ushiro. It’s been that way for years. People who try to escape the village get marked as missing and are hunted by the police. I don’t know how, but Bandito somehow got on their good side.”
“You can spare the details. I already have a good idea who those bozos are. What I wanna know is what you want us to do about it.”
His lips quivered. “I’m sick and tired of it all. They killed my friend. They make us work like slaves. They put a damn bomb on my leg! I want them gone! All gone!”
She burst out laughing. “Are you askin’ two cute, adorable girls to kill all those bozos?”
“I know it’s impossible, but maybe there are people you know outside who can help? Or maybe we can get the government involved, or somehow make the police change their minds. We’ll find a way to pay you, I promise.”
“No. That wasn’t what I asked.”
She leaned forward, getting closer to him. “I was asking a serious question. Do you want us to kill them or not?”
He gulped slowly. “Can you?”
“Of course! Who do you think I am? It’d be a cinch! You want that sweet taste of revenge? We could get rid of those bozos entirely. Every. Single. Last. One of ‘em.”
Hiro was dumbfounded. Revenge wasn’t an option he thought was even possible. Up until this point, submission seemed like the only solution. Suddenly that was no longer the case. Hope welled up inside him—hope for a better future for him and Granny Jay. Even stronger than that, though, was the enticing thought of Bandito getting exactly what they deserved.
“Y-Yeah, that would be great. That would be really great.” His voice rose in pitch. “I can lead you to their base right now!”
“Hold it, hobo.” Maki put her palm forward. “This is mass genocide we’re talkin’ about. I hope you don’t think for a second that a nice meal and some directions are gonna cut it. But don’t worry. I got an offer you can’t refuse.”
“What do you want, then?”
“Wanna be a criminal?”
“Maki!” Haruka uncharacteristically jerked her head toward her. “What are you doing?”
“I think it’s obvious what I’m doin’, is it not?”
“I told you! I’m interested in him.”
“That’s the same thing you said when you recruited the loud one.”
“And?!” Maki raised her arms in disbelief. “I was right for bein’ interested. She’s great!”
“No. You just do whatever you want.” Haruka crossed her arms. “You’re ruining our mission. We’re supposed to be a secret.”
“And we’ll stay a secret once he joins us! Besides, you got a better plan? Let me guess: murder every single person you see like you always do?”
“I-I’m sorry.” Hiro rubbed his temples. “Can we start over? I’m confused.”
Haruka shook her head. “Maki, the boss doesn’t like you inviting people without permission.”
“Just leave the boss to me!” Maki held her hand to her chest. “I’ll just do him his usual favors so he won’t get mad.”
She sighed. “Fine. But I’m watching him if he tries anything funny.”
“Haha! I win!” Maki faced Hiro. “Okay, listen up! You see, Haruka and I are proud members of Lionheart, a criminal organization! We’re still kinda small right now, but trust me. We got big, big plans.”
Hiro recoiled his head. He scanned Maki from head to toe. She looked like a regular young girl; a criminal was the last thing he thought her to be.
“Criminals… You two are criminals.”
“Then you’re no different from Bandito.”
With a grimace, she held her hand over her neck and pretended to gag. “Rude! Take that back! I don’t want some hobo comparin’ us to a group of hairy ball sacks.”
“Those guys are just low ranks, takin’ advantage of the weak for easy pickin’. Takin’ them out is no issue, but even if we do, who’s to say another pack of criminals won’t just waltz in and do the same thing? It’s not like the government’s gonna just change their minds and help you.”
“Then what can you do?”
Maki formed an x with her arms. “Absolutely nothin’! At least, for the villagers here. You, however, have a once in a lifetime opportunity! Lionheart may be full of criminals, but that’s only ‘cause we hate the system! We hate what the other criminals are doin’ too, of course! So, we choose to fight crime with crime!”
He stared at his unfinished bowl. “And that just automatically makes you guys better? ‘Cause you’re against everyone?”
She guffawed. “Oh, Hiro! You silly goose! It’s not about who’s better. It’s about what we get done in the end! And we don’t plan on stoppin’ at Orin either. Once we get rid of the Blue King, we’re goin’ after the rest of the World Regime! Soon, the age of kings will be as good as over!”
He covered his face with his hands. “I… I don’t know. This is a lot to take in.”
“Yeahhh, well, you better take it in fast, ‘cause it’s either you say yes, or…” Maki pointed at Haruka with her thumb before sliding it across her neck.
“So it’s join you or die. I mean, when you put it that way…”
“Exactly!” She extended her hand to him. “We have a deal, I assume?”
“I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“You always have a choice! Death just happens to be one of ‘em.”
As he reached forward to shake her hand, she instead handed him her bowl. “Deal! Thanks for the meal, by the way! It was scrrrumptious!”
He sighed. “No problem…”
Haruka bowed. “I apologize for her.”
“Don’t be. I’m not in any position to complain.” He took her bowl as well and set them on the kitchen sink. “Actually, what brought you two to Ushiro in the first place?”
Maki gasped and swiftly turned to Haruka. “Can we tell him?”
She looked down at her with disdain. “Really? You wanna tell him now?”
“Come ooon. We got a bit of time, right?”
“Whatever. He agreed to join anyway.”
Maki galloped to her bag and pulled out a gadget shaped like a hexagon. She tossed it up; it stayed suspended in the air. An orange, translucent barrier manifested around it. She gave it a quick punch. A high-pitched sound echoed throughout the room, but the barrier itself remained unshaken.
“This thing here’s called a nanobarrier! Normal bullets and explosives can’t even scratch it. The newest models are even immune to lasers! Ain’t that cool?”
Hiro touched the nanobarrier with his finger. It was rock solid. “I’ve never seen this before.”
“They’re a must-have for defense! Pretty common usage among the military and most criminal groups. I’m sure those Bandito chumps got a few lyin’ around, though I doubt they use them a lot. However! There’s a new weapon out there that totally obliterates this thing, and I heard those bozos have been smugglin’ ‘em around and sellin’ ‘em for mad cheap. Apparently, the police get a cut of the profits.”
“No wonder they’re so tight with them. And this ‘new weapon’ is what you’ve been looking for?”
“Yep! It’s called the pierce rocket, and I want it! I only need one, though. I can just reverse engineer it to make more.” She brushed her hair aside and had a proud look on her face.
“Right. And how do you even know all this? Ushiro is pretty far from the big cities.”
“Oh, that’s a—”
“Secret,” Haruka finished. “Don’t tell him any more.”
“Of course! Of course!” Maki slung her bag over her shoulder and rushed to the door. “Alright, we’re wastin’ too much time. Off to their base!”
“Hold on,” Hiro said. “Let me get something first.”
He entered Miles’ bedroom, which was just to the right of the dining table. A black jacket—Miles’ final gift to him—sat on the desk. Hiro held it in his hands.
“Miles… They’ll pay. I promise.”
He put the jacket on and strode out of the room. For a short moment, his eyes sparkled green. He balled his hands into fists and stretched his arms. A base armed to the teeth with Bandito members—normally such danger would easily deter him. Somehow, he felt calm. After a single evening with these girls, he’d grown to trust their strength.
Haruka and Maki both gawked at him as he marched to the door. He gripped the handle firmly and faced them.
“You girls ready?”
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