Chapter 4 (Choices of blood)
Zack tugged on the tight jacket of his last clean, summer suit. He glanced at Andrew as they neared Nishi-Funabashi station.
With the grace of a flying brick, Andrew danced around an old lady then a young married couple. He huffed, his jiggling belly brushing the passersby as if he were in a hurry to waste his money. Would Andrew really take Miyuki, his girlfriend, to Deco in Shibuya tonight?
Zack’s hand found its way into his pocket, and he pulled out Yura’s business card. He brushed his fingers across it, going through a list of restaurants that wouldn’t seem cheap while not destroying his wallet like Deco would. Global might work. He swallowed. I hope she still wants to have dinner tonight.
Around the station, more random people milled about in an undulating mess. No organization. No eye contact. Just a back and forth of individuals and families moving in every direction. Some strolled into the apartments on his right. A few walked into the pharmacy to his left. Most made their way away from the station down the long road.
He nudged Andrew in the side and pointed at Yaki-NJ’s stand. A grin split Zack’s face, and he sniffed.
Mesquite. Barbecue chicken on a stick. An open grill. The heavenly scent of yakitori hung thick in the air.
Zack’s mouth watered, and he licked his lips. “Your girlfriend doesn’t have to know we grabbed a few sticks of yakitori before you leave.”
Andrew wrung his hands together. “A stick or three couldn’t hurt.” He smiled.
“My thoughts exactly.” Zack strolled over to Yaki-NJ’s stand and waved. “How’s it going,” he said in Japanese.
Yaki-NJ dried the sweat from his face with a white towel then tied it around his balding head like a bandana. He pulled on the collar of his black T-shirt that read, ‘Fuck that. Life rocks. Can you see the squirrels?’ His gray eyebrows arched. “You look much better today.”
Had Zack stopped by here yesterday? He looked up and to the left. The haze of depression was still too thick over most of yesterday’s events. “Yeah. Andrew here —” He patted Andrew on the back. “— did a good job of cheering me up.”
“That is a lie,” Shinji said. “We all know I carried you out of your crybaby state.”
Are you talking to me again?
A smirk tugged at Zack’s lips. Asshole.
“I’m glad you don’t have that I’m going to jump in front of a train look on your face anymore.” Yaki-NJ pulled out two basic yakitori, dipped them in tare-sauce and laid them on the grill.
Zack nodded. “Yeah … .”
“Look. I know how hard breakups can be.” Yaki-NJ turned the two sticks of yakitori. “Especially when the relationship lasted as long as yours did. But you will find better girl.”
“I hope so.”
Zack reached into his pocket again then stopped himself. If he thought too much about tonight’s date with Yura, he would surely fuck it up. Thump-thump. His heart began to beat faster. Was she as beautiful as he remembered? Stop thinking about it! Thump-thump-thump. Better question, was she as sweet and caring as she appeared to be?
Andrew shoved past Zack, and a fake-looking scowl covered his flabby face. “Geeez, Zack. You’d think we had all day,” he said in English before looking at the menu. In choppy Japanese, he said, “I want a chicken-and-onions, a liver and a chicken skin.”
Yaki-Nj nodded then dipped Andrew’s order and tossed it onto the grill. “I have to thank you for helping my best customer out.”
Through the corner of his eye, Andrew peered at Zack. “Well, it was only half —”
Zack elbowed Andrew in the side.
Andrew grunted. A moment later, he nodded. “It was only half dirty jokes. The rest was just convincing him that he smelled like shit and had better things to do with his time. Like go on a date tonight with a beautiful girl.”
A turd grew in the back of Zack’s throat. “Now you jinxed me.”
Yaki-NJ laughed, doubling over behind the grill. “I like this one, Zack. You should get him out here more often.”
“I would if his girlfriend didn’t keep such close tabs on him.”
A real scowl tugged on Andrew’s lips. “Better than how —” He snapped his mouth shut and stared at his feet. “Sorry.”
Pain scratched at Zack’s heart, but he forced himself to smile. “No worries.”
Yaki-NJ flipped the yakitori.
Zack dropped two-hundred yen on the counter. The two silver coins clattered before settling in place.
Andrew pulled out three-hundred and forty yen then set it beside Zack’s money. “Your yakitori is the best I’ve ever had.”
Yaki-NJ scooped up the coins and put them in his makeshift register. “That’s because my yakitori is the best. Not only in Japan, but throughout the entire world.”
“If I didn’t stop by every day to taste the rainbow and know the truth of your words,” Zack said, “I’d say you were full of shit.”
Andrew wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. Had he been drooling? “I can’t pass by without my stomach throwing a fit.”
Yaki-NJ gave Zach his basic yakitori. “And with the size of your stomach, we wouldn’t want that.” He handed Andrew the three sticks of yakitori.
A piece of chicken caught in Zack’s throat, and a set of violent coughs shook his entire body while he laughed. He held his fist above the counter.
Yaki-NJ pounded it like Zack had taught him a few months ago.
Andrew shook his head and patted Zack on the back with enough force to dislodge the chicken and weaken Zack’s knees. “Ha ha. Funny.”
“I thought so.” Yaki-NJ held out his fist towards Andrew.
“Me too.” A tingling sensation danced across the back of Zack’s neck as if someone were trying to tickle him. His neck scrunched, and he looked to the left.
The usual crowd of parents, children and old people were fleeing the congested area around the station. Behind him, the cutest little girl, no older than six, jumped around playing the Japanese version of hopscotch. She scratched at her neck in the same place the itch currently plagued Zack. Did she live in that twenty-five-story mansion looming over the area? The apartments in a building like that would probably cost him his entire salary not including the moving in fees.
Zack studied the area around the little girl in the white Rirakuma T-shirt.
A woman took pictures or something on her cellphone. An old lady stared at the train tracks as the rumbling sound of an approaching train rolled into Nishi-Funabashi station. A long metal pipe lay on the low wall near the little girl’s head. Had she been playing with it?
After turning back around, he took another bite of yakitori. Well, that’s not strange at all.
“I guess it was kind of funny.” Andrew bumped fists with Yaki-NJ and sighed. “One of these days, I’m going to be skinny.”
Yaki-NJ put another stick of basic yakitori on the grill. “Not if you —”
The itch rippled across Zack’s neck, and he lost Yaki-NJ’s words. Zack fidgeted, scratching to no end. He glanced to the right.
Despite the crowd, a large Japanese man with muscles to match Zack’s and the woman in front of the man appeared to be the only two people there. The bulky man stood a head taller than Zack with shoulder length black hair. His brown eyes glistened under the lamp light and drew attention to the scar running from the center of his upper-lip to his left ear, giving him permanent duck face.
The man’s forearm was buried in a white oval as if he had stuck it into a different room. He drew out a long dagger and angled it towards the woman.
Adrenaline filled Zack’s muscles, and he dropped his half eaten yakitori onto the counter. His fingers fumbled with the buttons of his suit jacket.
Andrew placed a hand on Zack’s shoulder. “What is it?”
As Zack slipped from his jacket and tossed it on the fence beside Yaki-NJ’s stand, he pointed at the large man. “That guy’s going to stab that woman.”
Andrew narrowed his eyes.
Yaki-NJ leaned over the counter and glanced in the big man’s direction. “With what? His fist?”
“Too much to explain.” Zack stepped forward.
The big man slashed through the strap of the woman’s Louis Vuitton purse and snatched it from her. She screamed, and he took off running in Zack’s direction.
A sigh deflated Zack’s lungs. “Guess he is just a big ol Thiefsy.”
As Thiefsy shoved his way through the crowd towards Zack, not a single Japanese person lifted a finger to stop him. Most actually turned away and pretended it wasn’t happening. The white dagger vanished.
Zack squared his feet then punched Thiefsy in the gut before the large Japanese man could make it past Zack.
Thiefsy’s eyes bulged, and he doubled over, gasping for air.
Zack slammed his knee into Thiefsy’s face.
A yelp flew from Thiefsy’s mouth along with a wad of bloody spittle as his head jerked up. He landed flat on his back, staring into the night sky. Was he unconscious?
And that’s that. Zack grabbed the purse and stepped over Thiefsy, returning it to the woman. The itch scratched at the back of his neck again.
“Behind you, fool!” Shinji’s echoing voice clawed at Zack’s brain.
Zack’s legs felt like stones, but he forced himself to turn around.
Thiefsy lunged at Zack with a smaller white knife.
As if the world dissolved around the two of them, silence screamed in Zack’s ears. His breath caught. His heart pounded against his chest. Was he scared? Or excited?
Smack! Thiefsy’s thundering footstep cut through the silence like his dagger had cut through the woman’s purse strap. Like his new knife would cut through Zack if it touched his flesh. A long moment later, Thiefsy’s second step landed. Smack! He edged closer.
Zack gritted his teeth and grabbed Thiefsy by the wrist. Zack twisted his body and made his arm parallel to Thiefsy’s, allowing their elbows to touch.
Thiefsy scrambled to slow his momentum forward.
With his free hand, Zack hyperextended Thiefsy’s elbow. Pop!
The white knife clattered to the ground.
Thiefsy howled then jerked his flopping arm free. He reached for the white knife.
Zack kicked the knife through the fence on his right. “I don’t think so.”
Wide eyes. An open mouth. Flaring nostrils. The look of surprise spread across Thiefsy’s face as he stumbled backwards. “Y-yo-you can see it?”
A smirk drew the corners of Zack’s lips up, and he winked, pretending to be calm. “You didn’t think you were the only one, did you?” Did stopping Thiefsy fall into the realm of wearing tights? Or was Zack just doing his duty to society?
“Light, Shadow, Fat Ass or Heathen?”
Is Fat Ass and Heathen a type of magic? Zack’s brow furrowed. “Why would I tell you?”
Thiefsy snorted. “Because, our kind shouldn’t be protecting the Blind. We should be ruling them!”
“How does robbing equal ruling?”
“With the Families choking our kind, you should know better than anyone that we need to gather resources to oppose them.”
Shinji made a spitting noise. “That is, how did you say it, bullshit.”
Zack tilted his head to the left. “That doesn’t make stealing right.”
“Sometimes it is necessary.” Thiefsy grabbed onto his dangling arm and pulled on it. Pop. Did he have to set the bone like that?
That sound. Like when my grandfather … . Nausea twisted Zack’s stomach. A haze muddled his vision, and his throat burned. The back of his neck began to itch. He scratched at the tingling sensation then wiped his eyes. Fire burned in his muscles. Andrew was wrong. It’d be a while before Zack was in good enough shape to return to the ring.
A Piece rolled into a white brush, and Thiefsy took it in his left hand. He ran the brush across his face and along his injured arm. The rabid smile gave him a monstrous appearance. He flexed his right arm as if it had never been injured.
Shinji whistled. “Wow. That is a rare talent.”
What is? Zack took a step backwards. Healing?
“No,” Shinji said. “Healing yourself. Anyone can heal others.”
The crowd had given the two men space while Andrew hung up his phone. Yaki-NJ shook his head, pointing at Andrew. More people flooded from the station and the space around Zack and Thiefsy diminished. Shouldn’t they be running away or something?
Thiefsy massaged his shoulder. “I guess I have to get serious.”
“Scary.” Zack’s voice cracked. He coughed and settled his nerves. He reset his striking stance, rising to the balls of his feet with both fists raised up to his jaw. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“Very well.” Light streamed from Thiefsy’s fingers.
The itch danced across the back of Zack’s neck. He ignored it and charged forward.
Thiefsy’s hands worked, crafting two Pieces with longswords in their center. They hung around his outstretched arms, just below his shoulders.
“Like I’d allow you to make another one of those knives.” Zack jabbed twice, catching Thiefsy in both shoulders.
The Pieces didn’t falter, but they moved down to Thiefsy’s waist. Thiefsy spun and tripped Zack then scrambled backwards. “So, you’re a Light Artist.”
Zack tumbled to his feet. So much for that idea. He sprang forward and threw a hook.
Thiefsy moved like liquid, avoiding the blow as his fingers danced.
“Not bad.” Zack pushed forward with a one-one-two combination followed by a step kick. His boot landed on Thiefsy’s sternum and doubled the large Japanese man over.
Thiefsy clambered for air, and his Pieces wavered, but they didn’t vanish. He took a deep breath and balled his hands into fists, uppercutting Zack.
Zack caught the blow and spun, backfisting Thiefsy.
Thiefsy’s knees buckled, and he dropped to the ground. Blood dripped down his chin. A feral growl rumbled from his throat, and he glared at Zack.
The burning exhaustion in Zack’s muscles fled. Reinvigorated, he turned his hips and brought his fist down onto Thiefsy’s nose before he could throw his hands up to block. I have to knock him out before my unused muscles give out. Zack rained blows down on Thiefsy’s face.
Blood masked Thiefsy’s nose and mouth until his thick arms covered his entire head.
Zack kneed Thiefsy in the chest then soccer kicked his exposed leg.
Thud. Thiefsy crashed onto his back in the middle of the street. His tense muscles pushed against his shirt, and he moved to sit up with a grin on his face.
What’s this guy made of? Zack leaped into the air to stomp on Thiefsy’s chest when the hair on his arms stood on end.
Thiefsy held a thin white dagger only inches from the bottom of Zack’s foot.
Zack’s mouth dried. His arms shook. He hobbled backwards and fell into a defensive stance, hands out in front of him with his rear foot planted solid on the ground. How did he complete his Piece without moving his hands?
“Are you talking to me now?” Shinji’s voice carried a hint of amusement.
“Well, some people can paint without using their hands.”
You mean with their mind alone?
“Yes. Though, the stress of doing it is far greater.”
I see. Icy spider legs skittered down Zack’s back. An audible gulp climbed past his lips. He glanced in the direction of the metal pipe. Could he hit Thiefsy hard enough with it to knock him out?
Thiefsy climbed to his feet, his two Pieces out to either side of him. “You put up a good fight, but I’m going to make you pay for what you did to my face.”
“Are you mad that I made you look pretty?” Zack forced a smile. He shuffled to the right. Was he fast enough to get to the metal pipe?
Andrew edged forward, his knees trembling.
Zack held out a hand towards Andrew. “Get to the station. I —”
A boisterous laugh bellowed from Thiefsy’s lungs. “You think I’d let your little friend go?”
“He’s not a part of this.” Zack stepped forward. Focus on me. “I came to stop you on my own.”
“Then he’s just unlucky that he knows you.”
“Can’t we —”
Thiefsy threw the tiny white knife then reached into both Pieces, pulling out two more small knives. The blade flipped through the air.
Zack turned and grabbed Andrew by the shoulders, jerking him to the left.
The white knife landed between a random passerby’s eyes. Blood shot from the entry point and covered the sidewalk. As the lifeless body fell, a young couple splashed through the red puddle and screamed.
Zack’s heart fell into his stomach. He wanted to vomit. Dead. Dead. His fault. Dead. His throat burned, and a sour taste stuck to his tongue.
Two more daggers flew forward, clipping an old woman and a young one.
Tears filled Zack’s eyes. “Get out of here!” He pressed Andrew against the fence and leaned in close. “Hide among the crowd or something.”
Zack twisted and danced around, avoiding each attempt on his life at the cost of those around him. Each death compounded the weight on his shoulders. He had to stop Thiefsy, so he slogged towards the metal pipe.
With the white hand, Zack reached towards his Ecstasy Well until the image of his ruined fridge appeared in his mind. He froze.
Eight daggers. Blood covered the streets around him, crimson fountains of death displaying his folly.
The black hand in his mind reached into his Ecstasy Well.
Zack’s thoughts began to slip into the handicapped bathroom, but he gritted his teeth and growled, holding himself in the present. What are you doing?
Shadow flowed from Zack’s left hand. “Helping,” Shinji said, “though, you don’t deserve it.”
Thiefsy’s eyes quivered, and he glanced to the left and right as he scratched at his lower-back. “Shadow?” He glared at Zack. “Where did your friend go?”
Zack shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“While I finish crafting the Chain, you keep him busy.” Without moving Zack’s hand, Shinji crafted the Chain.
“I’m the one that matters, right?” Zack eased to the left.
Thiefsy lobbed a knife towards Zack while huffing. Was Thiefsy tired? “Unless you have an accomplice waiting to —”
Shinji finished the Shadow-Chain and tossed it to the ground beside Thiefsy. Black arms climbed from the Piece and snaked around Thiefsy’s legs.
Pipe or — Zack charged, years of martial arts training and experience in a kickboxing ring pushing him forward.
Thiefsy slashed through the arms of Shadow and whipped one of the white knives in front of him, gashing Zack across the ribs.
Pain screamed through Zack’s body, and the world lurched. The hot pavement clawed at his back as he stared into the clouds and clutched his side. Darkness dimmed the street lamps and narrowed his vision.
Thiefsy bit into his lower-lip. “Where is your accomplice? The Shadow Artist.” He threw a pair of knives to the left. Four to the right. Four ahead of him. Two more to the left and four behind him.
Screams filled the night sky. A coppery stink hung in the air and burned Zack’s nose. When he licked his lips, the coin-like taste stabbed at his mouth and made his joints ache. Yaki-NJ leaned over his stand, his mouth working. The little girl picked up the metal pipe. Was she going to fight? No. She needed to run.
“Where?” Thiefsy glanced at Yaki-NJ. “The old man?”
The breath fled Zack’s lungs, and the pain in his side became a distant vision. He scrambled to stand.
Thiefsy released two daggers in different directions. One flew towards Yaki-NJ. The other one flipped towards the little girl in the Rirakuma T-shirt.
As if a sledgehammer slammed into Zack’s chest, he gasped. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he bolted towards the little girl. “Sorry, old friend.”
The little girl glanced up as if she could see the white knife. A squeal burst from her mouth.
Zack dove forward and tackled the little girl, scooping her in his arms. The knife bit into his left shoulder blade, ripping the strength from his muscles. His left arm went numb.
The knife landed in the chest of the woman holding the cellphone. Clatter. Her cellphone bounced off the ground behind him. Boom! Something exploded.
Zack turned, landing on the wound in his back. He gritted his teeth and bit off a screech of pain. I. Can’t. Move.
“We have to finish this.” Shinji’s voice trembled.
The little girl cried into his chest. Black smoke rose from Yaki-NJ’s ruined stand, his severed arm sticking up from the rubble.
Zack convulsed. Was he breathing? An inferno gripped his heart, and he found himself stirring the little girl into motion. “Hide.”
She nodded then climbed off him. She paused behind him and knelt down for some reason. A moment later, she bolted into a little alley beside the massive mansion.
Zack pushed himself into a sitting position.
The fog of death hung over the area. Shit. Blood. Rotten meat. The stench was thick enough to taste. Among the corpses, only two stood. Thiefsy and Andrew.
Thiefsy reached into one of the Pieces floating around him and grinned at Andrew. “Either you’re out of ecstasy or that other foreigner is an —”
Andrew hobbled towards the station. Had he been hurt?
No! Heat raced through Zack’s veins, and a torrent of blood slammed into his brain. Rage contorted his vision, lacing it with red. “I won’t let you take another friend!” He reached into the Ecstasy Well and fought off the Ecstasy Dream with ease. A scream burst from his mouth, and he snapped together the Piece with a forest background and glob of energy across the tops of the trees. The intense power pulsed as the Piece turned into mist and wrapped around his hand.
Shinji whistled. “The strength of your Beam is unreal. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume you had an Artifact.”
Thiefsy glanced at Zack, and his jaw dropped. “A-A-Abomination!”
“Both of you, shut up!” Zack pointed the white glove towards Thiefsy. “You! Out of my sight!” Beeooon! A massive Beam of energy erupted from the white glove and ripped through Thiefsy’s chest. Zack’s Beam evaporated.
Andrew scrambled to the station and up the stairs. He was safe.
Splat. Thiefsy’s right arm flopped towards the tracks. The rest of his body fell forward.
The rage gripping Zack’s thoughts died, and he gasped. What … have I done? Despite his injuries, he stood and stumbled over to Thiefsy’s corpse. No. No. No. No. This can’t be real. No. I know everyone dying was my fault, but I didn’t kill them.
NEE-eu NEE-eu! NEE-eu NEE-eu! NEE-eu NEE-eu! Police sirens cried out down the road.
“Get ahold of yourself. We need to get out —” The blood staining Zack’s hands drowned out Shinji’s voice.
Zack’s mind reeled, and the next thing he knew, he was trudging through the back alleys, taking the long way home.