Chapter 35:

Ominous Moment


The next day elsewhere in the city, the maid, Sophie, spends her work break playing rhythm games on her gold-plated smartphone in Franz's summer mansion. Her fingers fly across the screen, racking up a massive combo— only for an abrupt phone call to break it. She curses under her breath, but she's quick to compose herself. She fixes her glasses and clears her throat before answering with the perfect customer service voice.

“Yes, how may I help you?”

“Sophie, it’s Nana!”

“Oh, hi, Miss Nana! How a—”

“Is Yuri with Franz!?” Nana interrupts her with clear panic in her voice.

“Miss Yuri? No, I haven’t seen her since that day at the hospital…”

“Dammit… Now I’m really starting to freak out!”

“C-Calm down, Miss Nana! What happened?”

Nana takes a deep breath, but her voice still comes out shaky.

“Yuri… Was supposed to come over for a sleepover last night, but she never showed up. She's been sleeping earlier these days, so she can wake up before dawn and visit Endo before class, so I thought she just fell asleep last night. But I just called and... she's not home... She's been missing since school got out yesterday!”

Sophie gasps.


Alarmed by Sophie's yell, Franz walks in, brushing his hair with a silver comb embedded with fake jewels.

“What in the world was that for, Sophie? Mind your volume!”

Sophie covers the phone with her hand and turns to look at him with tears in his eyes.

“Miss Y-Yuri… Miss Yuri’s missing…!

Franz’s eyes almost pop out of their sockets.


* * *

Ever since Endo tore his feelings to shreds yesterday afternoon, Romeo was nothing more than a zombie. He sat by the riverbank on the dry autumn grass, absentmindedly tossing small rocks into the water. Jojo and Tama sat a few feet away on a higher perch, watching him with concern.

“So you don’t know what happened?” Tama slurps his juicebox.

“Uh-uh,” Jojo shakes his head. “Raging Fist Endo took him away to talk, and he’s been like this ever since.”

“Ya think he beat Romeow-meow up?”

“I don’t think so? He doesn’t have any new bruises on him...”

“Maybe he hit his tummy…”

“Tama!! Shut up! I’m serious! I think Endo musta told him something really awful! Maybe he asked him to join the Kappore gang!”

Tama laughs.

“Pfft. If Kagiya couldn’t do it, I really doubt Endo would have better luck!”


“... Jojo?”

Jojo takes a sip of his drink, then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He stares hard at Romeo.

“... Boss told me somethin’ yesterday. He said… That he was leavin’ the Makai gang ‘cause there’s someone he can’t get close to while he’s in it or somethin’ like that.”

Eh!? He has another best friend!? Boy, you never stood a chance, huh!”

NO! It didn’t sound like that!” Jojo crushes the can in his hand in defense but soon becomes unsure if Tama is right or not. Tama shrugs and sips his juice again.

“Speaking of people Romeo likes better than you, where’s Meru? I thought you said you texted him to come.”

“Wait, aren’t you curious to know who Boss was talking about!? And of course, I texted Meru, who Boss does not like better than me! It's not my fault he never replied to or even saw my message!”

At that moment, they heard a ding coming from Romeo’s direction. They both turn to look at him. His phone screen lights up from where he's left it next to him. Romeo, still tossing rocks at the water, doesn't seem to notice.

“Um, Romeo…?”

Tama tries to get his attention, but Romeo doesn’t seem to listen.


Romeo jolts with a gasp, alert for a second, before turning listless again. He slowly gazes at Tama but doesn’t say anything. Meanwhile, Tama points at his phone on the grass.

“You got a text, buddy.”


Without replying, Romeo reaches for the phone and sees the text is from Meru. On his lock screen, the message preview reads the file attached, but Romeo’s will to open whatever meme Meru must have sent him is at an all-time low. Still, he feels Tama and Jojo’s eyes boring into him from behind, so he swipes to unlock it.

A chill runs down his spine.

The text contains an address and a meeting time of two hours from now, along with a picture of Yuri— blindfolded, with her hands tied behind her back, slumped against a dark storage room wall.

Romeo jumps to his feet, staring at his screen incredulously, his entire body shaking.


Tama and Jojo get to their feet too, slowly approaching him.

“What’s wrong, Boss? What is it?”

“You okay, Romeo?”

Romeo looks at them, his face white with panic.

“Meru… Meru has Yuri!”

Tama and Jojo look at each other, then back at Romeo.

“... Who?”

Romeo adjusts the band over his head in a frenzy.

“I gotta go right now—”

He reaches behind him instinctively for his bat but gasps when he feels nothing there.

Then he remembers.

Shit… Shit!!!

“...Boss? You’re freaking me out…”

Jojo!” Romeo suddenly raises his voice, startling the other two. “Call Meru; see if you can reach him. Ask him what the hell he thinks he’s doing. I need to go right now!”

“H-Huh? What!? Wait, Boss!”

Romeo dashes to the top of the riverbank as fast as he can.

“I’ll follow him, Jojo!” Tama pats Jojo’s shoulder. “See what you can find out. I’ll make sure he stays out of trouble!”

“R-Right. Thanks, Tama.”

* * *

“Are you sure we’re going the right way, Sophie!?”

Franz and Nana sit in the back of a gaudy, expensive car that is speeding down the roads. Their eyes are glued to Sophie's phone in Nana's hand, where a dot blinks on a map.

“Yes, Master! This should be the fastest route!” Sophie replies from the driver’s seat, flooring the gas far past the speed limit.

“Unbelievable!” Franz exhales. “We’re practically driving an entire city away!”

“I… I don’t understand…” Nana’s voice is quiet and shaky. “Why would Yuri be so far away? She never leaves town unless she’s with her family…”

Franz shakes his head.

“I don’t know, but we’ll soon find out. In the meantime, how impressed are you that my quick thinking saved us all a wild goose chase?”

Nana glares at him.

“What, you want praise for putting a tracker on her phone? You’re a major creep, you know that!?”

Franz stammers but quickly clears his throat, running his fingers through his hair.

“A-Anyway, let’s clear up what I’m sure is a simple misunderstanding with my Yuri as soon as we find her, yes? There’s no need to panic—”

“We’re here, sir,” Sophie suddenly says as she hits the brakes. The sudden motion smacks Franz’s head against the window.


The limousine stops in an empty parking lot on the outskirts of town. A dilapidated, abandoned shopping mall looms over it, blocked off by old caution tape on every side. An aged notice on the partially broken, glass entranceway makes it clear that the place is no longer open to the public, as the poor foundation could collapse at any minute. The notice has a demolition date, but years have already passed since.

Sophie reads the notice to Franz and Nana as they catch up to her from the car. She looks at Nana, still holding Sophie’s gold-plated phone with her eyes fixed upon the flashing dot on the screen.

“It… It must mean she’s inside…”

“Yeah…” Nana responds without looking at Sophie. Franz slowly turns his head towards the building— eerie and spooky despite it being broad daylight.

“O-One of us should go in to look for her, yes?”

Nana raises her head.

“Yeah, someone should,” she says, pointedly looking at Franz. Franz turns his head away and immediately looks at Sophie.

“Well then, my servant, why don’t you—”

Nana clears her throat loudly, glaring at him. Franz coughs.

“W-What I meant to say was that I, the real-life Prince Francis III, would be honored to go instead of you lovely ladies.”

“That’s what I thought,” Nana crosses her arms.

Franz holds back from glaring back at her, and instead, carefully pushes the one good glass door open before walking inside. Creeping darkness roils throughout the dust-ridden inside, with only the light filtering through the windows of the shops providing dim visibility. Not far from the entrance are two thick pillars, and between them stands the doors of an elevator. Beside each pillar are old, non-functional escalators.

Unnerving echoes resound through the first floor. Franz takes a few cautious steps forward, calling out Yuri’s name quietly, almost as if he were hoping nothing too scary would hear him.

“... Yuri? Are you here, my love?”

Suddenly, the sound of something breaking startles him, and he yelps. The sound comes from the floor above, drawing his attention upwards. Forcing himself forward, he slowly inches toward the escalator, realizing what the echoes are: the faint sound of chatter and laughter from above. Someone is up there.

“Yuri!? I’m coming for you…!

He rushes up the escalator, each step a loud clank against the metallic steps, but as the second floor comes into view, he stumbles to a gradual stop, eyes wide.

Before him sits a vast array of thugs, lazing about the floor and unfinished surfaces while laughing and joking with sharp grins. One by one, their gazes fixed on him, as if an ocean of sharks smells a scared little fish.


“Who the hell are you?” The one closest to the escalator suddenly speaks. Franz jolts.

“I-I-I’m, my name, is Franz, I’m looking for— f-for…”

“...You looking for the girl?”

Franz stops trembling and gasps.

“Y-You know where Yuri is!? Where!?”

The thug suddenly bursts out laughing.

“The hell? You one of Bloody Bat Romeo’s pals? Haha! No frickin’ way! Look at you! You’re so scared, you’re about to piss your pants!”

“Huh? That nickname—”

Franz doesn’t have time to react to that familiar name he heard from Oue before the thug straightens up and cracks his knuckles, walking slowly towards him.

“Welp, we were warned you guys were comin’. Guess we’ll just start with ya while we wait for the main course.”


“Hey, Boss? Can I handle this one?”

The thug looks back towards a pile of crates stacked high at the center of their gathering. Sitting upon the very top, Amon lounges like a king.

“... Do what you want.”