“<I’m Kichirō. And you are?>”
“…iiiiii. Oi, Kichirō. You awake?”
“I am now.”
Kichirō looked around for his brother. Yoshirō was leaning up against a wall on the far side of the warehouse, just like he had been five hours ago. Nothing had changed, for better or for worse. Same as always.
Kichirō sighed. Did he think he was still on guard duty, or had he just dozed off like that, unmoving? It was getting hard to tell if he was asleep or awake these days.
Yoshirō opened a single blank white eye, staring back at Kichirō. Then he closed it again.
“Jesus christ…” Kichirō muttered. “Ren, when was the last time you saw him sleep?”
“Hm? Why you ask?”
“Because I can’t remember what it looks like when he’s asleep anymore. How long has it been?”
“It been a month, I think.”
“Jesus fucking christ…” Kichirō trailed off.
He clenched his fist up against his head and felt the unpolished stone bite into his skin. He uncurled his fingers just to look at it one more time. The Cintamani stone. The fake, the false stone of miracles. A fleeting illusion of almightiness that men would and had killed for, himself included. When he’d sought it, he thought it could save his brother. He thought it could redeem him. And after all the blood he’d shed for it, it had turned out to be completely useless.
Kichirō stared unflinchingly into the rough facets of the stone. He tried as hard as he could, tried to find an image of his past self trapped in the crystalline matrix of the stone. Something of him preserved. But there was nothing. His face curled into an unrecognizable snarl. The stupid mud-red stone couldn’t even show him his reflection, much less save his brother. What was he supposed to protect with this?!
He felt an overwhelming urge to destroy the stone right then and there. To smash it into pieces and just go home, back to Japan, and put an end to this stupid, asinine quest. There was nothing he could do for his brother anymore. What was the point in endangering everyone’s lives trying?
What’s the point in not trying at all?
He was sure his brother hated him for what he’d done. More than sure. Yoshirō didn’t have to be able to speak to tell him that. What he’d done was unforgivable. Odds were that even if he succeeded, he’d still go to hell for what he’d done to his little brother.
You’d better make the most of the time you have left with him then.
The stone stared back at him, cold and unfeeling. How much blood had been shed over this thing already? Could he really wipe away his debt when the stone was just as guilty as he was? Could two wrongs really make a right just this once?
Is anything really “right” in this fucked up world?
Kichirō sighed, his grip on the stone weakening. He needed to bear with it. This was his last chance. If not to make things right, then to fix them at least. He just had to be patient a little while longer, with both his brother and the blasted stone. Until then, any grievances he had were irrelevant.
“Kichirō? What’s wrong?” Ren asked. “This not like you.”
Kichirō sighed. “It’s nothing, Ren.”
It was time to change the topic of conversation. Deftly making the transition to Japanese, he asked, “<Moreover, when did you decide to start speaking in English when we’re alone? There’s no one here to hear you, you know.>”
“” she said. “”
The back door clicked, and two lycans quietly entered the warehouse. A man and a woman, both five-seven with messy, unkempt hair. One was unusually short and the other was unusually tall, and they both smelled like wet fur.
“That not necessarily true.”
Kichirō studied them carefully. They’d hired the Four Beast Gang, a group of local lycans, to help them escape the city with the stone. They were an organization of a few thousand that recognized the authority of the bird, the snake, the lion and the dog, and whose lieutenants and generals all bore the traits of those animals. These two must have been the ones in charge of this hideout.
Aside from their height and generally messy state of dress, the two were complete opposites. One, the man, was incredibly pale while the woman had a crisp dark tan. Their hair were opposite shades of brown, one dark and greasy and the other practically sunbleached. Most importantly, the man’s ears were canine, the woman’s distinctly feline.
“Hey, what’s all this now?” the man said, dropping his grocery bag. “You sayin’ something about us, mate? The Four Beasts are being awful kind letting you people use one of our hideouts. You should show us a little more respect. You wouldn’t want us to throw you back to the Allesandris, now wouldya?”
“Oi, that’s not funny. If they find out we had anything to do with this, we’ll be killed too,” the woman said. “So shut it, ya big twit.”
The man snorted. “Better a twit than a twat.”
“What the fuck did you just say?”
“Nothing,” the man said. “Lay off me, wouldya? Christ on a cracker woman… All I’m saying is we’re sticking our necks out for these ungrateful blokes. The least they could do is show us a bit of fucking respect instead of talking behind our backs in that weird fucking moon language.”
Kichirō listened intently. Not to their words, but the meanings behind them. Both the man and the woman exhibited fairly thick English accents, Kichirō noted. The woman’s was Scottish perhaps and the man’s a thick, immediately identifiable cockney. That meant they were probably fresh off the boat. Forced immigration after depopulation. The man with the greasy hair was more than likely one of the survivors of the recent attack led by the Wild Hunt.
“If your god really does exist, he must certainly be a cruel one,” Kichirō said, thumbing bullets into the magazine of his gun.
“What did you say?” the lycan responded. “You bein’ cheeky with me, mate? Come on then! You and me! We’ll see how good you talk shit once I’ve ripped out all your teeth!”
“Etsy!” the woman said, grabbing his shoulders. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! These are our customers!”
“Like I give a fuck!” the lycan said, wrenching away from her grip.
Kichirō sighed. “I was only trying to offer my condolences for what you must have lost in the attack on London. But it appears you don’t want it.”
“Heh. Is that it then? Is that what this is about? This fake pity? May be news to you mate, but I’m fuckin’ Welsh.”
Kichirō raised an eyebrow. “But you were born in London.”
“So what if I fuckin’ was? I’m no Londoner anymore. I lost my home five years ago to the Queen of Blades! Cardiff burned to the ground in bloody fuckin’ cinders!”
“I always think Cardiff would be destroyed by aliens,” Ren pitched in. “You hear it in news all the time. Wrinkly grey lizard-people with black eyes who look like corpses. Always something flying over Cardiff.”
“Yeah well, some fuckin’ little green men would’ve been nice compared to what we got. Fire everywhere, people going half out of their fuckin’ minds while the rest get turned into bloody fuckin’ ghouls… I still have nightmares about that night.”
The man began crying softly, and Kichirō looked away.
“There there, it’s okay…” The Indian woman started patting him on the back like a baby, his muffled sobs absorbed into his jacket. “Let’s go fix you up a nice bowl of soup, we’ll get you sorted in no time.”
“I’m sorry…” Kichirō said. “I’ve never been that good at speaking to people. They only sent me and my team on this job because we knew how to speak English.”
The woman led her… Kichirō still couldn’t decide if he was her friend or not, but she walked him to the door, his sobbing becoming more and more pronounced.
“You’re lucky, you know,” Kichirō said. “She spared you from a far more horrible fate.”
That got the lycan’s attention.
“Are you jokin’? You think those London shits went through worse than we did?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t there. All I know is that three hundred thousand people made it out of Cardiff. A third of that made it out of London. You should be grateful.”
“You… you think you’re so fuckin’ high and mighty, don’t you? You think you got it all figured out, like the rest of us are all just fuckin’ stupid or something!”
“I don’t remember ever saying that.”
“Well I’d like to see you keep talking all that good shit after you’ve had to watch your gran-gran get eaten alive by fucking zombies!”
The woman interjected. “Actually, I think they’re called-”
“I know what they’re called! My brother was one of them, you know. My little kid brother. I had to put him down because he was trying to snack on me grandmum. You know what that’s like, pretty boy? You know what it feels like to kill your own brother?!”
“As a matter of fact,” Kichirō said, locking the slide of his gun in place. “I do. And right now I am trying so very, very hard not to have to experience that again. So while I thank you for your hospitality, if that’s all you had to say I’d prefer it if you would leave us alone. We have work to do.”
The Indian woman looked at him.
“We’ll be out of your hair by morning,” Kichirō assured her.