Chapter 20:

"The Illest Villains"


We now return to the perspective of MIZUTAMI KOUJI who considers himself to be a STUDENT OF THE BLADE and captains the HANTEI SQUADRON “THE LADS” with only TWO DAYS UNTIL THE CULTURE FESTIVAL.

A few hours before the warehouse raid scheduled for tonight, students swarm around the high school like bees in a hive. 

The energy present here among the students, it all adds up - my narration doesn't give proper representation to the sheer sensation. To give you a better explanation - some cynics might call the energy fake, an infestation, but I find inspiration and motivation in the dedication and conversation of this newest generation who have a relation to this education situation. There's a reason why there's no hesitation among the global population to consider the Shikishima Culture Festival a popular destination - it has a great reputation. Sure, there's always some frustration, but seeing the decorations and creation at this location really lifts my imagination. 

In any case - the school, with all of its buildings and chambers and hallways and corridors and courtyards, does have some quiet spots.

I’m in a silent hallway in a far-flung wing of the school complex. I stand at one end, my opponent at the other, right at a bend in the hallway. The Nakashima Conglomerate Cold Fusion Battle Glove x19 fits snugly in my hand, purple sparks running up and down its jet black and white stripe patterns. I twirl the wooden katana in my hand. Your sword is an extension of yourself, the drunken master of Kenjutsu Water Style once told me during a moment of clarity. No different than your arm.

When I think of it that way, the purple lightning twirls upwards, into and around the katana. The cold fusion permeates the wood, giving the sword a slight vibration. Is this really how cold fusion works? I don’t know, but I’ve only been taught by a drunken sword master, not a drunken science teacher.

My opponent stands still, empty sockets gazing at me from afar. When you read, become the book. When you travel, become the train. When you wield the blade, become the blade. Know yourself as a wave.

The vibrations rumble as I raise my katana. I’m a good distance from my opponent, but nonetheless - I step forward and slash. The air whistles as the katana cuts right through it, and there it is. The cold fusion energy surges and surges until it erupts from the sword entirely, a purple mass of ball lightning that blasts off from the katana. It thunders down the hall in a flash, smacking into my opponent with a collision hard enough to make the hallway shake.

My opponent explodes into pieces. One by one, the 206 bones that make up the model skeleton crash to the floor. Lightning still runs through them, sending up sparks like solar flares as they lie on the ground.

Student Council President Nakashima Sakura emerges around the bend in the hallway. She examines the demolition with a satisfied look on her face.

“Cold fusion to your liking?”

I flex my sword hand. “This must be what steroids feel like. I heard the Germans make these great airborne ones.”

Nakashima gives me a soft smile. “Follow me, Kouji,” she says, so I do. As we leave, a foot soldier-student with the green armband of the Hantei cleans up the fallen skeleton.

We walk in silence to the student council office. I was mumbling and all awkward earlier today, but since I’ve been around Nakashima for several hours now, I feel far more comfortable in her presence. Or, at least, less likely to go off on poetic tangents about her flowing black hair, her soft obsidian eyes, her graceful movements, like a sleek canoe paddling down a slow river coated in the golden sun of a hundred thousand summers-

“Kouji,” she says.

I collect myself. I stand before her mahogany desk; she sits behind it on an ornate swivel chair.


She picks up a pen from her desk. “My grandfather is known as Nakashima as well. If you refer to both him and I as Nakashima, that might make things confusing. Please, you may call me Sakura.”

When my twin sister Sumiko used to watch anime with me, she’d always complain about that trope when the guy stutters and grows red about calling a girl by her first name. I would answer that a country’s culture can’t exactly be called a trope, but I conceded her point that it was all too exaggerated. Who would really act like that?

“Naka…Naka…I mean, S-S-Sakura,” I say, growing red, stuttering.

Sakura(!) gives me another soft smile and swivels her chair away from me, towards the tall windows behind her. A blood-red sunset stretches across the sky, with seas of crimson drifting across Sakura’s face. Her eyes are half-lidded as she thinks of distant thoughts.

“I’m the heiress of the Nakashima conglomerate,” Sakura says, not to brag or feel superior to me, she just says it like it is because that’s how it is. “The Princess of Shikishima, they call me. My election as Student Council President was a foregone conclusion. The High School Board of Regents are all my allies. I practically run this school.”

She flips the pen around in her hand. “A private chauffeur takes me around the island whenever and wherever I wish. I live in the city's biggest mansion on the top layer of Ichi-Machi. I have dozens of servants, maids, and butlers. I never thirst and never hunger. I mingle with European royalty, Asian celebrities, American stars. Anything I can possibly want is in the palm of my hand.”

The pen flips around faster now, spinning and spinning between nimble fingers. “But mundanity has a funny way of creeping into things. I live a life like this…and I still find it so boring.”

The pen stops. The distant smile on her face never wavers. “None of this truly fulfills me. When I think of stepping into my grandfather’s shoes, of ruling this island, of ruling a colonial empire from Harbin to Mogadishu, I find it repulsive, from both a perspective of imperialism…and mundanity.”

Sakura swivels towards me. I expect her to sit up straight, all proper-like, but she instead slouches and tents her fingers over her stomach. “I want to introduce a little chance and anarchy, Kouji. Flip the board, so to speak. Then maybe Shikishima will really be the torch that lights humanity’s way, not a cesspool of dictatorial, colonial ambition, not something mundane and boring.”

I hold my tongue. You shouldn’t really be calling out of the government like this, but if anyone can, I suppose it can be her.

“What do you think Shikishima should be like, Kouji?”

I hesitate. When she gazes at me, I realize I should give her an honest answer. “I want to use the blade to make Shikishima into a place where my sister can be happy. A place where she can smile. A place full of smiles.”

Sakura taps her fingers together. “You sound like an anime protagonist. But that’s a good answer. If what I’m planning is to succeed, then I need someone like you. Someone who believes and embraces the words they say.”

On the one hand - she likes my answer, which means I’m one step closer to taking her out on a movie date.

On the other hand - my mouth goes dry.

“What are you planning?”

Sakura eyes the globe on her desk. “I hired someone to…retrieve the Jade Magatama from the conglomerate’s possession last night.”

My eyes grow wide. “The Jade Magatama? From the old poem written by your great-grandfather?”

When the Dai-Hashira dreams the dream of the Jade Magatama,” she recites. “The Great Pillar will hold aloft the one roof which unites the eight corners of the world.

I struggle to understand. “You’re saying it’s real?”

“It’s real, and no longer in their possession,” Sakura says. “My cat’s paw who retrieved the gem attempted to use it without proper preparation and suffered catastrophe. She informed me that the jade subsequently fell into the possession of a delinquent gang led by a student with a giant black pompadour.”

“Hair-Trigger Haruki,” I realize with a grimace. He’s an old friend of mine, though we haven’t talked in a long while.

“The Senko gang now holds the Jade Magatama, likely unaware of its true nature. This same gang guards the warehouse you and your team are raiding tonight.”

Sakura leans forward, and I make another realization. I’m in love with a woman I truly know little about. I’m in love with the mask she puts on, the public persona, but I have little understanding of the person beneath it all.

“Kouji,” she says, close enough to smell the mint in her breath and hear the tiny hint of huskiness in her voice. “Retrieve the Jade Magatama for me tonight, and you’ll have made my life a lot less mundane. Retrieve it, and I wouldn’t mind seeing just how exciting you can make my life in other areas, too.”

Steward McOy