Chapter 9:



Hiro used his arms as a battering ram to charge through the window. Shards of glass flew into the air as he landed right on top of the unaware Fujio. He kicked the rocket launcher away from his hands.

Fujio swung his metal arm at him, but he jumped backward in time. “Who the hell are— No way. You? You of all people?”

Hiro aimed his pistol at him. His hands trembled. “D-Don’t move!”

Fujio got back to his feet and guffawed. “Don’t tell me you actually staged this whole attack? Where’s the thanks I get for letting you bury your old man? Hell, for sparing your life?”

“I-I said don’t move!”

“I even gave you a job. Why in the world would you waste such a golden opportunity?”

Hiro shook his head. “Being someone’s slave isn’t a job, scumbag.”

Fujio whistled. “Ohoho! Sharp words. You here to get revenge for your daddy, then?”

“Shut it!”

“You even brought these girls with you—if you can even call them that. What are they, monsters?”

“I said shut up! Or I’ll shoot!”

Fujio aimed his muzzle at him. “Please, look at you. You look like a mess. Have you even held a gun before? Do yourself a favor and just surrender. You’re not fit for this kind of life.”

Hiro only responded with a cold glare. Every breath he heaved felt heavy.

“Heh. What’s wrong? Scared? You should be. I’d shoot you right here and now, but you actually did me a great favor by bringing those girls in. If you can convince them to stop their attack, I’ll consider sparing you a second time.”

Hiro took a step back and pointed his gun at the boss’s legs.

“Oh? Gonna shoot? You don’t have the balls.” Fujio shot at the ceiling; Hiro flinched backward. “Three seconds. Drop that gun and raise your hands. Three…”

He couldn’t see straight. It felt like the very air was choking him.


His quaking finger hovered over the trigger.


Hiro couldn’t find the strength to shoot. He jumped behind a nearby crate.

Fujio had a hearty laugh. “Looks like I don’t even have to fire. You’re already pissing your pants!”

“Damn it! It’s just one shot. Why can’t I do it?” Hiro tucked the gun inside his pocket. “Screw it! I don’t need this—”


A bullet tore through the crate and left a gaping hole at its center. Hiro ducked below the shot, but it singed a portion of his hair.

“Hiding’s useless!” Fujio kept firing.

Fujio destroyed every crate he hid behind. On the ground, Hiro spotted a loose, charred plank. He picked it up and lobbed it at Fujio’s face. It was easily swatted away with one hand.

The boss snickered. “Are you getting desper— GAH!”

Hiro had hurled his pistol straight into Fujio’s nose. The few seconds of distraction were all he needed. He ran up and rammed his fist into Fujio’s jaw. It was a direct blow, but Fujio stood his ground. He jabbed his own fist into Hiro’s stomach. He keeled over and fell to the ground.

Fujio took aim and shot. A piece of debris scraped Hiro’s skin as he rolled to the side to dodge. Blood splashed into his right eye. Hiro quickly scrambled to his feet before another bullet was fired. It scraped his cheek and left a searing pain.

A golden opportunity presented itself; Fujio had to reload. Hiro hurriedly picked up his pistol from the ground and charged at him. With his full weight, he tackled him to the ground.

Hiro struggled to keep his gun steady. “Don’t move.”

“Tsk. It’s a miracle that I haven’t blown your guts to bits yet. Just how lucky are you? Heh, even so, I bet you still can’t shoot.”

Hiro smacked his cheek with the side of his gun.

Fujio spat out blood and smirked. “See? What did I tell you?”

Hiro struck him with his pistol several more times. Beads of his sweat dripped down onto his foe’s bruised face.

“Pathetic. You came all this way just to chicken out in the end.” Fujio grabbed on to Hiro’s sleeve.

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” Hiro plucked his hand away and pulled the trigger. The bullet flew into the air and pierced through one of the windows.

Fujio burst into laughter. “Nice miss! That was point blank too!”

Hiro aimed at him again. “I said DON’T MOVE, damn it!”

“Enough with the empty threats!” He grabbed the gun and pointed it away from himself. His metal fist slammed into his opponent’s chin with a swift uppercut. Hiro flew into the air and dropped his weapon.

Fujio regained his footing. He raised his robotic arm, but it fell back down. “Tch. One of the bolts came loose.” He lifted the arm up with his other hand and directed its muzzle at Hiro.

Suddenly, a red blade spun toward him and sliced his metal arm off. Hiro looked several feet to his left; Haruka gave him a quick thumbs up. He nodded in response.

“Getting help from your friends?” Fujio cupped his hand over the remainder of his arm. “Fight me one on one, coward! Then maybe you can have half the balls your old man did!”

Hiro snapped. “Keep Miles out of your damn mouth!” He mustered all the strength he could with his legs and charged toward him.

Fujio haphazardly threw a punch at him. Hiro ducked down and swept his feet with a low kick. The boss tumbled down to his rear, and Hiro pounced on him.

Fujio caught his fist. “Oho? Did I strike a nerve?”

“Shut up!” Hiro grabbed his hair and smashed the back of his head against the floor. The floor cracked as he mercilessly repeated it. Fujio grasped his arm, but failed to pry it off. His grip loosened with every blow.

He raised Fujio’s head up for another blow, but was stopped in place. Haruka had wrapped a whip around his wrist.

He snapped his head at her. “What do you want?!” His voice was hoarse.

“Don’t kill the target.”

“A— Ah…” Hiro looked down at the boss. Blood oozed from the back of his head. His eyes rolled back; he desperately gasped for air. “S-Sorry, I… I got carried away, and…”

She let go of his hand and knelt beside Fujio. “I don’t think he can speak anymore.”

“I’m sorry…”

“It’s okay. I saved another one just in case.”

Hiro clenched his fists until they turned pale. “If so, can I ask you to leave? I want to… finish the job.”

“Don’t do it.”

He slowly cocked his head to her. “Huh? What did you say?”

“Don’t kill him. It’s not worth it.”

“You’re telling me that now?! When you let me tag along in the first place?! It’s not like he can give you any info anymore! Let me have this!”

“You don’t know what it’s like to kill someone. It changes you.”

“Shut up! You know nothing about me!”

She shook her head. “I don’t. But killing is never worth it.”

“Then why do you do it, huh?!” He looked behind him. Piles of withered remains filled the warehouse. “I don’t wanna hear that from someone like you.”

“You’re only going to hurt yourself.”

He grabbed Fujio’s collar. “If there’s anyone who’s done the hurting, it’s him! He deserves way worse than this!”

She reached forward to touch him, but immediately drew back. When she saw that he didn’t budge, she slowly held his hand with her cold, blood-stained ones. “Once you kill, you can never go back.”

He shook her hand away and stood up. “I don’t know. It’s just that it… It felt good. Like, really good. I was finally getting back at him for everything he’s done.”

“I was watching you earlier. You can’t even shoot a gun. Killing isn’t for you.”


“Let me kill him. I’m already used to it.”

It took a minute for him to calm down. He then spat at Fujio’s face. “Fine. I’m tired of seeing his ugly mug anyway. Do what you wanna do.”

Haruka stabbed the boss’s neck with a needle. All that was left of him was a husk of skin and bones.

Hiro looked at her in disgust. It didn’t make sense. Why would someone so vile and abominable tell him not to kill? She was a fake—a hypocrite.

Maki’s boisterous voice interrupted his thoughts. “WOOOO! Look at all this stuff!” She joyfully strolled from corpse to corpse and stuffed their wallets and jewelry into her bag. When she noticed Fujio’s arm in the ground, she stuck her tongue out. “Ew. You tore through the joints. This thing’s garbage now.”

Haruka stood up and licked the blood off her finger. “I’m not sorry.”

“I already knew that.” Maki waltzed to Hiro. “So, how’s the— WHAT?” She gasped loudly when she saw Fujio’s corpse. “What happened to the plan, guys?! He’s dead!”

Hiro rubbed the back of his head and looked down. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t stop myself.”

“Whoa! You killed that bozo?”

“It was me,” Haruka said. “Do you even care that he’s dead?”

She shrugged. “Meh. I got my own mission. Speakin’ of which, where are my pierce rockets?”

Hiro pointed at the crates behind him. “I saw their boss messing with one of them over there.”

“YES! I’m comin’!”

Maki darted away from them. Haruka walked back to the other side of the warehouse, and Hiro followed her. Beside the entrance, he saw a Bandito member stuck against the wall. A large lump of red slime kept him in place. His mouth was shut tight by the same substance.

“What’s going on here?” Hiro asked.

“Our real mission. Stand back.” Haruka tore off the sticky liquid from his mouth. He immediately screamed.

“H-Help!” He thrashed his body around to no avail. “Is anyone still out there? Get me the hell away from these monsters!”

“Quiet,” she said.

“What do you want from me? I’m not gonna do anything to you! Just let me go!”

“You have a new client. Who is he?”

The man glared at her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The tip of her whip sharpened into a blade. She placed it just under his chin. “Talk. Now.”

“L-Look! I have no idea! I just carry stuff around and help with deliveries.”

She nudged her blade against his neck. “Stop lying.”

His eyes shied away from her cold, expressionless gaze. “I’m not! I’m serious!”

“Are you sure?”

“Y-Yes! I don’t know anything!”

She stabbed him in the arm. It turned incredibly thin and lost its color. Before the paleness could reach his neck, she drew her blade back.

He wheezed frantically. His teeth chattered. “M-My arm… What d-did you do?!”

Haruka gestured at the bodies around them. “Make your choice.”

“Okay, okay! Just s-stop! Look, I really d-don’t know anything, but there’s a name that’s been floatin’ around here the p-past few weeks: Shimazaki.”

She cocked her head to the side. “The governor?”

“Man, I got no clue. That’s all I got, I swear! Please, just let me—”

Her blade pierced through the center of his neck. Before blood could even spill out, his body withered.

“Hey, you two done over there?” Maki lumbered toward them. She carried a pierce rocket in her arms.

“What took you so long?” Haruka asked.

“Unlike you, I was actually bein’ productive.” She dropped her bag on the floor. “Help me out here and carry it for me.”

Haruka picked it up and poured all the collected loot.

“Hey! Whatchu do that for?”

“We don’t need all this, Maki. I thought you didn’t care about money.”

“This is more than just money! I could melt all this and use ‘em as materials.”

“I’m not carrying them for you.”

“Fine! Then—”

“I’m not carrying you either.”

“Ugh!” Maki stomped on the ground. “You’re so annoyin’!”

While they squabbled, Hiro faced the field of corpses. In a twist of fate, he was no longer forced to flee away or cower in submission. He now had a third choice: to fight. And if he was going to fight, he knew the decision he had to make. He dug his hand in his pocket and clutched the ruby necklace.

“I’m sorry, Granny Jay,” he mumbled. “I can’t stay here anymore. I have to get stronger. Much stronger.”

Maki cupped her hands over her mouth. “Hey, who’re you talkin’ to over there? The dead ain’t gonna talk, just sayin’!”

“Ah, sorry. I was just thinking about things.”

Ooooh! Like what? How cool we were? How sweet revenge was? How fun bein’ a criminal is?”

“Um… Sure. Yeah. Let’s go with that.”

“Hell yeah!” She threw her arms up in celebration.

Hiro took a deep sigh. “I’m still not sure how I feel about you guys being criminals, but… I mean, even the police are taking the side of whoever pays more. If that’s the case, you’re either a criminal or a victim.”

Exaaactly! You either get tossed around or do the tossin’. For me, that’s an easy choice. For you… Well, if you don’t, we’ll kill you, so…”

He locked eyes with Maki with newfound determination. “I was forced to come with you and fight the boss, yes. But from here on out, I’m going to make my own decisions. And that includes joining your gang. I’m tired of being weak. If the world wants to push me around, I’ll push them first.”

“Ohoho! You just became ten times more interestin’! Lionheart’s gonna be a lot more fun with you around.”

“Can we go now?” Haruka asked. “I don’t want someone to see us here.”

“Psh! We’re in the middle of nowhere! Those pussies in the village would never come here. It’ll take forever before anyone finds these bodies.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m not taking chances.”

“Fine, fine.” She stretched her arms all the way up and yawned. “I’m pooped. We’re crashin’ at your place, Hiro. Lead the way!”

He headed down the hill and pointed just beyond the gate. “We parked the truck over there, right?”

“Oh, wait! Hold up! Just one last thing.”

He stopped. “Hm?”

She grabbed his hand and violently shook it. “Welcome to Lionheart, Hiro!”