S-CRY-ed Fan Fiction ❯ Evolution of the Lost Ground ❯ Confronting ( Chapter 9 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Warning: language, violence, illicit drug reference
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Chapter 9- confronting
Nezumi, the youth that more closely resembling a rat than a man, hastily leads Genso and the rest of his gang to the alley where he had left Hiro and the girl. It had taken him a couple of minutes to find Genso, but he eagerly reported that Hiro had found the runaway female and that he would hold her until they got there. With a nod and a couple of barked orders, the entire gang was now following Genso and the rat man through the twisted maze of wet alleys.
“This way, leader. They should be just up ahead!”
As they trudge forward Genso sighs at the little man in front of him. So young and eager to please, like all of his pack. But it seems that he'll get to sample that pretty little thing that Hiro had brought for him after all. He's glad; it'd been a while since he'd had a woman and from the looks of her she was just what he needed. Even in her disheveled state her hot little body had been impossible to overlook- the large man liked her dark hair and long legs. She had an incredible set of tits and an ass he couldn't wait to palm as he banged her. He'd been pissed as hell when he'd gotten up to his room only to find her missing. His wrath had sent the men scrambling to the surrounding streets, but he knew it was only a matter of time before they found her and she'd be back in his bed pleading for his mercy. Now he was picturing the lesson in dominance he was going to teach her after this stunt, knowing he was going to take out his aggression when he did- no doubt she'd be a fantastic fuck…
They round a corner and Genso and Nezumi suddenly halt in surprise. Hiro and the three men with him lay sprawled and unconscious all along the alley like so much litter; Hiro's head and face are covered in wet blood. The girl is huddled in the center of the alleyway- her sweater pushed all the way down her shoulders exposing her back. She is wrapped in the arms of a strange-looking teenage boy who is so focused on her that he doesn't hear the approaching gang of men. Only when Genso speaks does he look up from his fragile treasure, “Looks like there's a new player in the game. And judging from Hiro and the boys, it looks like he doesn't know whose turf he's wandered into.”
As the boy leans up and away from the girl, they all get a better look at him. He's older than Genso had originally guessed, at least 18, and he has dark green hair that's just a bit too shaggy to be called short. He has a thin build, but his bare arms are toned and well-muscled; he either fights or works out. His black shirt is a bit too small for him and his pants look as though they have been ripped and repaired several times, but he could just be slumming. A pack of some sort is slung on his back, the strap of which crosses his chest. Genso knows all the people around here and this kid is a stranger.
At the large man's words the teen eyes him and every one of the men standing behind him. He wraps his arms more securely around the girl and, feeling bare skin beneath his hands, pulls her sweater up over her shoulders protectively. She whimpers and tightens her fingers around his upper arms, undoubtedly recognizing the voice behind her. Genso's men move to flank him and the leader considers the situation. If this kid took out Hiro and the others then he might be of use to their gang. However, the kid would have to part with the pretty female, whom he currently seems rather attached to; Genso was always generous with his acquisitions, but only after he'd sampled the merchandise first. He decides to try the boy, “I'll be happy to show you how things work down here. For now, though, you've got something that belongs to me.”
At this the youth narrows his eyes menacingly, “She's not your property.”
Genso smiles, some of his suspicions now confirmed, “Actually, she is. My man found her and brought her to me. She's mine, fair and square. You seem like a reasonable guy. Strong, too, to have taken out four of my men; Hiro's one of my best. I could use some muscle like that. Perhaps you were looking for someplace to belong- find some friends, some comrades to watch your back…”
The teen's features morph into a look of disgust, “I would never stoop so low as to join the likes of you. Just a ragtag bunch of thugs. Despicable.”
Genso can only chuckle at the youth's brashness. Beside him, however, Nezumi quietly whines in complaint and wrings his hands nervously. The men surrounding him mutter their desires to bash the kid's face in, however they dutifully hold back, waiting for their leader's signal. Genso continues, “What a shame. But I figured you'd say something like that. You look a bit too attached to that female there. What is she, your girlfriend? You shouldn't let her wander in such dangerous territory. I'd suggest a leash for the bitch.”
At these words the teen's scowl deepens and Genso could swear he heard a feral growl from his direction. Unfazed, he continues, “So it seems you are our enemy. We can't just stand by and let you beat up our friends and steal our property. That's not how we do things around here. So this is what's gonna happen: You're gonna give us the girl. If you don't, we'll have to take her from you, and that won't be pretty. Either way, we're going to beat the shit out of you. But don't worry; we won't kill you- not yet. First, you get to watch me repeatedly fuck your woman there. You'll stand there helpless as she screams your name, hoping you'll save her as I do what I please with her body. Then you'll watch every guy behind me do her, too. They'll-”
“ENOUGH!! You won't touch her!! Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?! This is utterly ridiculous!” The strange teen is growing pale with anger, or more accurately insult. There is an air of disbelief in his words.
Genso corrects him, “No, you don't know who you're dealing with. You don't have an option here, boy. This is my turf and I get what I want, and no scrawny little snot-nosed kid is gonna change that. You may have some skills, but you can't beat all of us. We're gonna take you out and get what's ours.”
The boy suddenly calms visibly. He scoops up the girl, who's still bunched in a tight ball, and stands to his full height. He's taller then Genso originally estimated, but just as lithe. “Since you cannot be reasoned with I will fight you, all of you, if necessary. I am a man of honor- I will fight fairly, no tricks. And I won't kill you for being ignorant; I won't have your deaths on my head, no matter how meaningless your lives might be. All I ask in return is that the girl remains untouched until our business is concluded.” He turns his back on the group and begins walking to the wall.
Genso laughs, thoroughly entertained by the stranger's words, “Fair? No tricks? Do you think you can dictate the terms of this fight? Well I appreciate you offering to spare our lives,” his voice drips with sarcasm, “but I'm afraid we can't give you the same guarantee. I told you we take what we want and we don't care how we get it.” With that he nods his head at one man on the edge of the circle and he silently rushes towards the teen.
However, with lightning-fast speed the youth whips around, girl still in his arms, and kicks the assailant across the knees. When he falls, the stranger drops a heel into the man's gut, and then kicks him in the head after he hits the ground. The men surrounding him are stunned in awe, frozen in place. He turns back towards the wall as if nothing had happened and walks to it, carefully bending down and leaning the girl against it in a sitting position. He's very careful with her placement- she's gone unconscious- and he positions her head so that she won't hurt her neck. He pulls the bag on his back over his head and places it next to her.
Finally satisfied with his work, he faces the group surrounding them and then repeats his conditions as if to remind them, “No one touches her.” That said, he widens his feet and raises his arms in an eased fighting stance. He quirks an eyebrow at the leader and mutters, “I can't believe I'm even going to waste my time with you. A pack of wild dogs with no honor. Come on then.”
“Dogs, huh? Then prepare to be torn to pieces!” Genso points to three of his men, who break from the pack and converge on the teen. They position themselves so that one man is on each side, with one in the center. They move to attack simultaneously, but the teen is faster. With shocking speed he chops his hand into the neck of the man on his right, and then balls that hand into a fist and delivers a blinding punch to the man in front. Sidestepping the first two, he bends his arm to bang an elbow into the temple of the last man on his left. By the time he brings his hand back to his side, all three men are falling to a heap at his feet. He wears a stiff frown as he eyes the rest of the pack.
It takes a moment for the gang to realize that their comrades have been defeated by the mysterious fighter using just one arm. Then growls of anger erupt around the teen and Genso sends another three fighters into the arena. The new men unsheathe or flip open large knives before approaching the lone fighter. Rather than planting themselves in fighting postures, they circle the teen and try to taunt him with their blades, but the stranger simply waits. When the first man lunges with his blade, the youth sidesteps his swipe and grabs his knife-wielding wrist in a death-grip, twisting the appendage at a sickening angle. The knife drops, but the man's howls of pain are quickly muted by an elbow between the eyes.
The second attacker lunges for the stranger's back, but before he can register what has happened, his knife has been redirected into the side of the third man. He releases the knife in surprise and his impaled friend staggers and falls. Standing unarmed in front of the youth, he balls his empty hand to punch him, but is jabbed in the gut before he can move. When he doubles over from the blow he catches a knee to the face and falls to the ground in a heap next to his buddies.
Unfazed, Genso sends another three of his men into the fight. Next to Hiro, these three are Genso's best fighters. They should last much longer against this stranger, allowing him to see the mysterious fighter's more advanced moves. He's almost gleaned enough, but wants to be certain of his conclusions. One of the thugs picks up the pipe off of the fat guy that had been sprawled in the alley when they arrived. Another uncoils a thick chain from around his waist, his weapon of choice. The last man grabs another knife from a friend so that he has a blade in each fist.
These men take up a triangular pattern around the young stranger and ready themselves. He eyes each of them in turn and then steps toward the man twirling the chain. The thick, chunky metal is swung at his neck, but the teen catches it and yanks the chain towards him, pulling the attacker off balance; the thug stumbles forward into a waiting fist. As he falls, the youth arms himself with the chain, giving it a single practice swing to test its weight. He looks at the man with the twin blades, but the thug armed with the pipe steps forward instead. The teen shrugs his indifference and the man advances, twirling the pole rapidly in front of his body. The chain flies forward and wraps around the pole, jerking it out of the assailant's hands. In a fluid move the young man twirls the chain around his palm and closes his fist on it. With a quick spin he smashes his metal-shrouded fist into the guy's jaw; blood and a tooth spray from his mouth as he falls.
Even with an attacker still standing in front of him, the mysterious young fighter takes a moment to roll two bodies out of his immediate path with a foot as he unwraps the chain from around his hand. The thug with the twin knives flips one expertly in his hand so that it angles down while his other blade remains angled up. He crouches low and then launches himself at the teen. However, instead of slashing at him he sends a kick dangerously close to the young man's head. The youth blocks with an arm and spins out of range. He stops just short of the cast off pipe and kicks it up into his hand. When the man attacks with the blades this time the teen whips the pipe in a wide sweep and brings it against one of the man's advancing arms. The attacker spins away but is still disarmed. He gains some distance from the teen and then flings the other blade at his head. A quick twirl of the pipe ricochets the knife back towards his attacker, impaling him in the thigh. The man has just enough time to howl in pain before the pipe crashes against his head, knocking him out.
Genso begins clapping after the mysterious fighter steps over the last man he dropped. “Bravo, kid, bravo. That was some show you just put on.” He still has six men left, including Nezumi, but Genso is ready to try his hand with the skilled youth. He's had the opportunity to judge his techniques by watching him fight- the style that he uses leaves no movement wasted. And this fighter is cautious; he is even so careful as to ensure that the blood and bodies fall far away from the girl.
“You're even better than I thought, but I'm going to teach you a lesson now. You might have intimidated my men with your speed, but I'm on to your style, and I know how to counter every move.” Genso removes his faded leather jacket revealing a faded white t-shirt and drops the garment into Nezumi's waiting grasp. He pulls some fingerless gloves from his pocket and pulls them on as he continues his speech, “I'm also on to your condition. You're hurt- you've got injuries from a previous fight. Fighting my men has weakened you- you've slowed down with every new attack. And most importantly, I've figured out your greatest weakness. You've shown me how to defeat you any time I choose.”
The young man merely responds with a bored smirk, “You think you've figured me out, but you don't know a thing about me. Come fight me and see how mistaken you are.”
Genso steps forward and the remaining six men form a more solid semicircle around the two fighters. Nearing the teen, Genso is again reminded of his own massive size compared to his opponent. Crouching into a balanced martial arts stance, Genso readies himself. The youth settles into his own practiced stance and eyes his newest opponent appraisingly. Both stare at each other for several long moments, watching muscles, hands and feet for the slightest hint of movement.
Finally the smaller of the two cracks a ghost of a smile, “Perhaps you would like me to prove that I'm not just a defensive fighter.” Genso minutely inclines his head in answer and the teen advances, sending a solid punch towards the larger man's gut. The larger man spins just out of range with a speed surprising for his size, and then sends a powerful blow towards the smaller fighter's head. The teen ducks out of the way and is almost caught by a second blow aimed for his chest. He blocks it and turns, delivering a stabbing elbow to the large man's back. Genso flies forward, but does not fall. Instead, he turns and attacks with several more punching combinations. He gets very close to landing some of them, particularly the second shots; Genso's style involves feigning one blow to sneak in another right behind it, attempting to cripple his enemy while he is busy blocking or defending another attack. However, his mysterious opponent has been able to predict and counter every one of his moves. Though trying hard not to show it, Genso is getting increasingly frustrated and angry.
After suffering another blinding punch to the ribs by the young stranger, Genso decides that he's had enough. It's time to hit this kid where it counts and end this fight. He looks toward the worried faces of his men surrounding the two and then picks his moment. He sends a volley of punches and then a kick towards the teen, which are easily avoided by a tucked roll. However, as the kid jumps back to his feet, Genso has already changed direction, lunging straight for the girl on the wall. Once he gets to her he can use her against the boy, allowing his remaining men to subdue him. It's not the way he wanted to win, but Genso is out of options.
However, before Genso can reach the girl he runs into what feels like a brick wall, sending him flying backwards past his line of men. Looking up, he realizes that the teen had somehow appeared in a blur between him and the girl and had hit him with more force than any of his previous attacks. The speed and the power- this stranger had been playing him from the start!
Enraged by the affront, the teen yells, “Enough fooling around! This ends now!” From the ground Genso watches helplessly as the mysterious fighter blurs with lightning-fast speed between each of his men, assaulting with a single blow to the head, neck or chest. As he finally reappears in front of him, all six of his men fall simultaneously. The boy steps over Genso and grabs his collar, lifting his upper half off the ground.
Too surprised to coherently speak, the giant man can only sputter, “Wh- wh- who are you?! Wha- what are you?!”
In a frightening voice as low as a whisper, the stranger replies, “I am Ryuho, the greatest fighter the Lost Ground has ever seen. And if I ever see you again I will be the man who kills you. Now get out of my sight!” With that he releases the leader and watches him scramble backwards and out of the alley. He stands to his full height, muttering, “Amateurish street punks. How ridiculous.” Stepping over several sprawled bodies, he makes his way over to the unconscious girl propped against the alley's wall.
At the sounds of Cougar parking the truck in Tachibana's driveway, the front door of the house opens and Cammy steps out to welcome them. Elian climbs out of the cab and shoots the girl a smile as he heads for the door that Cougar has already hastily pushed through.
Cammy returns the smile, “How have you been, Elian? Did you get much damage from the earthquake?”
It takes the boy a second to register that she's asking about their house. “It's alright. We'll have to push all the furniture back in place but other than that the house is fine. How about here?”
Cammy sighs, “I haven't seen all the rooms yet but it looks like we broke some windows. And our coffee table is missing for some reason. I'll let things settle down before I investigate that mystery. I suspect that Kazuma had something to do with it.”
Slightly confused, Elian offers, “Um, that's weird. But I was wondering… is Kanami okay?”
Worry instantly colors Cammy's face, “I don't really know. The doctor said she was fine physically but for some reason she isn't waking up. I don't know what to do for her. Asuka's been using his Eternity Eight to help heal her, but…” She then looks at Elian hopefully, “I know you came here to show us something but maybe after, could you take a look at her? Since you both… have similarities in your Alter powers… maybe…” her words quiet to a whisper as they trail off. She averts her eyes as if she's just asked for something she has no right to.
Elian hastily offers, “I can do that. Maybe there's something I can do. I can try.” He smiles when her eyes brighten and her trademark smile returns. He knows that since Kanami and Cammy have been working together at the dairy farm the two have grown close. Cougar had said that the three girls, Cammy, Kanami and Mimori, acted like sisters whenever they were all together. Elian wonders about the location of the oldest girl. “Is Ms. Mimori here? Urizane said that Ryuho had gone to the city to get her. Have they returned yet?”
Cammy's face falls again, confirming her concern for the missing woman. “No, not yet. When she didn't show up with the others at the dairy farm I knew something was up, but it wasn't until we got back home that Asuka finally told me that she'd gone to the city. I really hope she's okay and that she and Ryuho hurry back.”
Elian tries to reassure her, “I'm sure they're on their way back right now.”
“Yeah.” Cammy sounds unconvinced, but puts a small hand on the boy's shoulder, guiding him to the door. “Let's go inside.”
He dutifully obeys and enters the house, finding Cougar, Urizane and Tachibana talking in the front room. He catches the tail end of the conversation.
“-don't think we should wait for Ryuho to get back. If the message is that important I say we see it now and have Elian play it again when he and Mimori get back,” Urizane declares.
Tachibana concurs, “I agree. If this thing is as big as you say it is, we can't sit on it. We've got to get moving- come up with a plan.”
Cougar raises an eyebrow at the young man before saying, “Perhaps we can get some answers that way as well. I know I've got some questions that I'm dying to ask some folks.” Cougar can't help but smirk at Tachibana's oblivious look.
As Elian and Cammy approach the group he asks, “Are we ready? I can do this whenever you guys want.”
Urizane says, “Assume the position, Elian. Cammy, can you go get Kazuma? He's still hovering over the girl.”
Cammy nods and disappears down the hall, reappearing moments later with a haggard-looking Kazuma. Running a hand through his messy hair, the teen mutters, “Let's just get this over with.” Noting Elian's position in the middle of the room, Kazuma plops in his favorite spot on the sofa right in front of the boy. Cammy perches on the arm rest next to him and Urizane seats himself on the other side. Tachibana remains standing behind the sofa.
Taking their positioning as his cue, Cougar begins an introduction, “Most of you should be familiar with Elian's Alter ability. After the storm started hitting the level of ridiculous I asked Elian to scan it and see if anything was out of the ordinary. He was able to find out that the typhoon was actually being manipulated by some sort of Alter power, and that the location of that power was somewhere out in the ocean to the east of us. He was also able to accurately predict the arrival of the earthquake shortly after, which he noted was also powered by something akin to an Alter.” Cougar pauses and looks from the group to Elian, “Right kid?”
He sighs at the `kid' remark before confirming, “So far, so good, Cougar.”
Tachibana interrupts before Cougar can continue, “So someone was artificially building the power of a smaller storm? And a smaller earthquake?”
Elian fields his question, “Actually, I think that the earthquake was started from scratch.”
Tachibana nods and continues, “And you found the source of that power to be located out in the ocean?”
Elian answers, “Yes. From the significant distance I'd guess that whoever was responsible was on a boat or a ship.”
Cougar continues, “After Urizane left for the dairy farm, Elian was able to intercept a message heading to the source of the disturbance and record it. Everyone here needs to see it because all of us are directly affected.” He directs a particularly pointed stare at Tachibana, who returns a bewildered look.
Elian takes over the explanation from here, “The message is mostly audio with a short video feed that I'll put on the television.” Kazuma utters a `hey, cool' as the boy continues, “There's no way to know the identities of the people sending the message or the `Commander' who received it, but I can tell you that it came from the Mainland. Are you guys ready to see it?” He notes with satisfaction that he has everyone's rapt attention, even the easily distractible Kazuma.
Without another word Elian summons his Alter power and surrounds himself in the giant glowing orb. He begins typing on the virtual keyboard spread before him and the room soon fills with the sound from the message; everyone listens intently.
`What is it, Base?'
`Greetings, Commander. One of our sources has turned up some intelligence regarding the target. Some video footage was secretly recorded during a meeting between several AIMED members and the French and British Ambassadors to Japan. The audio is of poor quality, but I assumed you wanted to see it even before we attempted to refine and translate, Sir.'
`You assumed correctly. Play what you have for me.'
Tachibana's TV soon flickers on and the video of the auditorium begins to play. As the camera lens focuses on the girl in the pantsuit behind the podium, Tachibana lets out an audible gasp and Kazuma blurts out, “Hey that's Mimori!... What language is she speaking?” To his disappointment, everyone ignores him. The video pans from Mimori to the ambassadors and then over to a tight-lipped Tachibana. The real version visibly blanches behind the sofa but remains still as Kazuma is again quick to point out the obvious, “That's you, Tachibana! What were you guys doing there?” Intending to quiet him, Cammy lays a hand on Kazuma's arm, but her fingers are minutely shaking. He manages to remain silent until the video ends. The voices return and Cammy utters a tiny `Oh!' when Mimori Kiryu's name is spoken.
Urizane is about to ask a question when the subject of the message switches to the legendary Alter users. As Kazuma hears himself being blamed for the typhoon and earthquake, he shouts, “What the HELL?!” before being violently shushed by the others nearby. When the transmission finally ends, a palpable silence settles on the room as everyone ponders on all of the implications of the message. Undoubtedly finished first, Kazuma looks at Elian and asks, “What kinda shit was that?! They're trying to blame us for all this storming and shaking when they're the ones who did it? Where is this `Commander' guy? I'm gonna bash his face in!!” He stands and starts punching a fist into his palm.
Cougar rolls his eyes- he'd seen this coming, “He's in the middle of the ocean somewhere, Kazuya. But we need to come up with a plan instead of going off half-cocked.”
“It's Kazuma! And Hell, I'm locked and loaded, Cougar! Just point me in the general direction- I'll find the son of a bitch! I'm not gonna let him spread lies like that.”
Cougar has a plan to distract him, “What about the little girl? Are you just gonna leave her unprotected? This Zondo guy's already out there looking for Tachibana. Right?” and he shifts his focus to the silent teen behind the sofa.
Urizane turns around in his seat to stare squarely at Tachibana as well. “Yeah, man. Is there something you wanna let us in on? Seems you've been a bit busy for the last few months or so. With AIMED?” His voice drips with accusation.
Tachibana maintains a look of cool indifference under the scrutiny. “You can ask me any questions you want; I have nothing to hide. Mimori and I just wanted to ensure that the organization was solid before we involved you guys. It wasn't meant to be a huge secret.”
Urizane shoots back, “Well it's definitely news to me! Cougar, did you know?” The look on the speedster's face communicates that he did not. Urizane looks over to Cammy, “Did you know? What am I talkin' about, of course she knew!” The girl drops her eyes to her shoes guiltily. “Well I know Kazuma didn't know. Gee, Tachibana. Looks like it's news to almost everyone!”
Tachibana doesn't falter, “You're welcome to get mad, or you can let me give you answers now. We didn't mean to keep you all in the dark. We were just trying to keep a low profile- for everyone's safety.”
Kazuma cuts in, now following along with the current topic, “Look, I wanna know what this `AIMED' thing is, too, but I'm more worried about this Zondo guy who's gonna be coming after you. Do we know who he is?”
Cougar answers, “We were hoping someone here had heard of him. All we know is what was on the message.”
Cammy pipes up for the first time since the message had stopped, “What about Mimori? What if this guy is already out there? She went to AIMED headquarters- what if he can find it? Or here? We have to make sure Mimori and Asuka stay safe!”
Everyone in the room is instantly reminded of the young woman's absence. Tachibana offers, “We need to find Mimori right away. We don't know how long it will take this man `Zondo' to get to the Lost Ground. By tomorrow it might not be safe to stay here; I don't think I'm a very difficult person to track down. Here's what I propose we do…”
All eyes settle on the teen as he crosses his arms resolutely in thought before continuing, “Cougar. We'll send you to the city to look for Mimori and Ryuho. You'll need to retrieve them and bring them back here as soon as possible. Cammy will give you directions to the AIM office and the keys to one of the vehicles in the barn- maybe the tow truck.” He closes his eyes as if the next statement will hurt, “go ahead and use your Alter.”
Cougar tries to hide the Cheshire grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. Tachibana continues, “Elian, we have some maps of the eastern shore and the coast beyond. You and Urizane can work on pinpointing the location of the `Commander' and his ship. Once we know where they are we can form a strategy of attack. Between the two `Legendary Alter users' and the rest of us, we should be able to take them down. But in the meantime, Kazuma can stay with Kanami to try and wake her up. Perhaps when Mimori returns she'll have some new ideas. My Eternity Eight is helping some, but it doesn't seem to be the answer. Eventually we'll have to leave this house. A friend of ours, another member if AIM, might be able to give us shelter. He lives between here and the city, and he's a really nice guy. I'm sure Hideki will help us out. What do you guys think?” Tachibana looks around at the faces, trying to gauge everyone's reactions.
Cougar nods his head, “I think it's a good idea. I can fetch Ryuho and Ms. Minori from the city and bring them back to this man Hideki's house. Once I get back we can go and take out the ship with the strange Alter power and this `Zondo' guy.”
Kazuma agrees, “Yeah. That should work. We'll move to a safe place and when Mimori gets back she can fix Kanami while we go kick this commander's ass. Maybe this `Zondo' cat will be with him and you can wail on him some, Tach. I say we do it.”
Urizane shrugs, “It's better than anything I woulda come up with. I'm in.”
Elian pipes up, “I'll get you a location, but I also want to try and help Kanami. Maybe I can reach her with my Alter.”
Tachibana looks at Cammy, who is still sitting on the sofa's arm rest. “Cammy, is this okay for you?”
She looks up startled, “I… but I don't have an Alter power.”
Urizane chuckles at her, “but you're part of `Team Tachibana' so you still get a vote.”
As the others nod around her she smiles. She looks back to Tachibana and shyly offers, “I think we should give Cougar the QRV...” She then shoots a look to the master of Radical Good Speed and cautions, “but no lights and sirens!” A pained look crosses Tachibana's face but he slowly nods in agreement. Cougar just volleys glances between the two of them.
Kazuma exclaims, “Cool, that's settled. Cougar, get going. The sooner you get back here with Mimori the sooner I can go kick some serious ass and we can all be heroes. I'm going back to see Kanami now. I wanna make sure she's okay before we have to move her.”
“I'll go with you,” and Elian falls in step behind the retreating ruffian.
Urizane heads towards the kitchen, “I know where the maps are. I'll pull them out and spread them on the table.”
Cammy follows the man into the kitchen, shouting to Cougar over her shoulder, “Follow me. I'll get you set up.” She heads to a peg board full of keys next to the kitchen door and pulls off a set. Cougar follows her out the door and Tachibana soon joins them. Everyone has their tasks and moves into action.
The `barn' behind Tachibana's house is actually a large abandoned warehouse full of an odd hodge-podge of things the young man has recovered in his efforts to get supplies for the Lost Ground. It is also a storage space of sorts, temporarily housing shipments for AIM from beneficiaries overseas. There's been quite a bit of turnover in the inventory since Mimori joined them, but she was nevertheless very impressed with the cache Tachibana had accumulated on his own.
There are several assorted vehicles in various stages of repair parked in lines near the bay doors- a school bus, a tow truck, a broken down ambulance and a quick response vehicle from an old rescue squad, a tractor, a fork lift, and a utility truck with a cherry picker on the back salvaged from the electric company. The warehouse also houses tall stacks of crated supplies, such as canned and dry goods and clothing. There is also a large amount of `misplaced' or `donated' merchandise sealed in clear packing material on tall stacked palates. It is atop such a towering stack that a mysterious man conceals himself, watching the house from a nearby high window.
Zondo Demos has found Asuka Tachibana, the young male in his dossier.
It had been rather easy, really. In the very first settlement he'd traveled to, the boy's picture was recognized by one of the locals. They were all too happy to help the friendly `contact' of the boy who'd managed to get them set up with an irrigation system for their crops and a shipment of books for the school that had just been built. No one seemed to know that the youth was an Alter user. Zondo was given directions to the house and even told about the warehouse where the boy took shipments. It had been too easy.
He'd had to work a little harder to find someone who recognized the girl. Apparently she was teaching some classes to the children once a week until the school was finished. None of the locals seemed to make the connection between `Miss Kiryu' and the Mainland princess from the old news stories. The two youths had done a passable job of hiding in plain sight. Only someone who knew which questions to ask might learn the true nature and scope of their business.
Having watched the house for the last 30 minutes, he'd seen a gigantic watermelon erupt in the front yard shortly after he'd taken up his current position. Out of the massive fruit emerged a large fat man of about 20, a young brunette teen with a little girl cradled in his arms, a young strawberry-blonde in an oversized tan coat- also a teenager, and his purple-headed target. They'd all moved into the house quickly, but Zondo noted that his target paid unusual attention to the blonde in the party. 3 minutes later an old, weathered pickup truck pulled into the yard and a tall red-headed man in his early twenties with very angular features and a much younger boy climbed out and went into the house, the boy pausing to talk to the young woman from before.
Zondo remained in position, hoping to learn whether the Kiryu girl was in the house or would perhaps arrive later from some errand. It would be easier for him if both of his targets were in one place. He could just kill them both and be done with it rather than waste his time interrogating one for the other's location.
However, things suddenly take an interesting turn. Three people emerge from the house and now enter the warehouse through the side door- the tall man, the young blonde, and his male target. They approach the line of vehicles and the tall one looks to be practically drooling, “Tachibana! You've been holding out on me, man! Which one is the… uh, QRV?”
The target, Tachibana, rolls his eyes and points to the SUV with the emergency lights mounted to the grill and roof, “It's this one, the `quick response vehicle'. Cammy seems to think that you'll have the most fun with it.”
The girl playfully swats him, adding, “Of everything we have out here it's the fastest. The tow truck runs the best, but you'll be able to fix the QRV's engine with your Alter power, right?”
The tall man's eyes twinkle with delight, “Absolutely! It's magnificent! If you thought this baby went fast before-”
Tachibana interrupts him, “-Just try to bring it back in one piece, Cougar.”
The taller man balks, “Tachibana, I'm shocked! I take excellent care of every vehicle I drive.”
The girl giggles and the younger man shakes his head, “Save it for someone who doesn't know you, Cougar. None of your vehicles ever lasts longer than a single trip. I'm starting to have second thoughts already…”
However, the girl steps forward and hands the taller man the keys, “Here, Cougar. Just bring her back safe. Bring them both. We're counting on you.”
All traces of humor melt from the man's face and he takes her hand in both of his, “I'll be there and back before you know it. I promise. I'll bring them both back safe and sound.”
She smiles up at him, but the tall man lingers a little too long for Tachibana's liking. He wraps his arms around the girl's waist and pulls her back out of the redhead's grasp, “Watch it Cougar, she's spoken for.”
The girl squeaks in surprise and the taller man shrugs, “Can't help it, she's so cute.” He then turns to open the door of the vehicle, “But my heart belongs to only one woman! I go now to reclaim my beautiful raven-haired angel!” and he climbs into the front seat.
Tachibana yells to him, “Wait Cougar, we need to show you the equipment in the back!” He then sighs and turns the girl around in his arms, resting his forehead on hers. “How did you talk me into this?” He lightly kisses her lips.
She smiles up at him and rests her hands on his arms, “It was your idea, remember?”
“I guess it was,” he releases her waist to lazily drape his arms on her shoulders. Under the weight of his arms, though, she winces. He notices and immediately pulls away, worried. “Cammy, are you okay? The fall, you are hurt!”
The girl shakes her head, trying to soothe him, “No, I'm fine. I'm just a little sore, that's all.”
“You need to stop worrying about everybody else and take care of yourself, Cammy. I mean it. Here, I'll go in the house and run you a bath. Start getting Cougar acquainted with the equipment in the truck and I'll be right back.” She purses her lips but he places a finger on them for silence. He then leans down and kisses her silly, his intentions to make her forget her protests. When they finally separate, she wears a grin fit to split her face. He lowers his voice, “If you're good I'll wash your back; maybe give you a massage.”
She swats at him again and answers, eyes full of promise, “If you're good maybe I'll let you wash my back…”
Without another word, the youth jogs off out of the warehouse and into the house. The girl goes to the back of the vehicle and opens the tailgate. The larger man jumps out of the cab and joins her and she points out various tools and bags and such in the back of the vehicle. After a minute of explanations and nods, the man jumps back in the front seat and starts the engine. The girl crosses to the bay door and it slowly rolls open.
Zondo watches as the SUV pulls out of the row of cars and then glows with an array of bright lights. Pieces of the vehicle fly off and dematerialize and new sleeker, more aerodynamic pieces take their places. An elaborate exhaust system punches through the hood and the whole vehicle seems to sink closer to the ground. Fins form on the back sides of the SUV and a ridiculously large spoiler erupts at the back of the roof. The girl waves as the newly transformed vehicle peels out of the warehouse and up the road, kicking up dust in its wake. She shakes her head and smiles, pushing the button to roll the doors back down.
After watching the little scene play out below him on the warehouse floor, Zondo knows exactly how to complete his mission. He silently climbs down from his perch atop the crates and soundlessly stalks the unsuspecting girl as she returns to the row of vehicles. He gets right behind her, stands and waits. Feeling a presence, the girl begins to slowly turn around. Zondo leans down next to her ear and whispers, “Hello there, pretty girl.”
Before Cammy can scream, a large hand is cupped over her mouth and strong fingers wrap tightly around her upper arm. She is yanked back into the hard chest of a tall stranger.
Back in the alley, Ryuho crouches against the building to catch his breath and recover from his fight with the gang of thugs. He had been able to maintain a strong and intimidating façade throughout the confrontation but now he could feel the strain on his already battered body. However, right now he doesn't even care about himself, being more concerned with Mimori; he leans over to inspect her crumpled form. She looks pitiful, propped up against the wall. She's out cold.
She had really scared him when she passed out in his arms after he picked her up; Mimori looked like she'd literally been through hell and he guessed that whatever adrenaline she might have been relying on to fight off her attackers had finally run out once he had arrived. He considers calling on Sheris for help in finding the most delicate way to wake her up but decides better of it. He has nothing against his former partner, but there are times when he wants to just feel like himself and not think about her literal presence in the back of his mind. Like fighting- he had been relieved when he felt her retreat further out of his consciousness as he prepared to take on the gang of men. He preferred to have complete control when it came to combat, and she must have guessed or sensed that. And for some unknown reason, he wanted at least the illusion of privacy while he tended to Mimori. He couldn't really explain it and, at the moment, didn't really want to think about it.
Raising a tentative hand to her face, he lightly brushes the pad of his thumb over her cheek, “Mimori… can you hear me? Wake up. Come on…” Her skin is soft but she's entirely too pale; there is no trace of the pretty little blush that usually colors her cheeks.
Suddenly her eyelids fly open and wide doe-eyes that do not see him dart all around his face. She jerks back, shouting a `No!' but he catches her head before it can slam into the wall behind her. Her arms fly up defensively and her legs straighten out, propelling her along the wall, but he settles over her and grabs her arms, hauling her up as gently as possible, “Mimori, please. Stop it before you hurt yourself. It's me.”
Fatigue once again settles on her and she goes limp in his arms, but rolls her eyes up to his face, this time seeing him, “Me… me who?”
Utterly confounded, he simply remains still and lets her eyes search his features for familiarity. Feeling stupid for saying it, he nevertheless emphasizes, “It's me, Ryuho.”
“Ryu…ho?” There is a hint of disbelief in her thin, breathy voice, “No… you're a… dream.”
Fighting off a nagging frustration, he insists, “No, it's really me. I'm right here and you're safe.”
“Safe…” she echoes. “Always safe… with you… not from you…” She looks as if she will drift back into unconsciousness.
“No, wait! Stay awake, Mimori! I need to know if you're hurt. I need to know what happened.”
He gives her a gentle shake that seems to do the trick. Her eyes refocus and a look of anger and shame clouds her features.
“What happened? He… He tried to rape me…” she looks around and recognizes the alley, “…right here. And back there. Hiro… that bastard… I thought he was so nice…”
Ryuho's stomach bottoms out at her frank statement. He tries to calm her as her agitation grows, “Don't worry about that guy. I took care of him, all of them. They'll never bother you again.”
“…gave me to that big… like a gift… they were going to pass me around… like a cheap whore…” she's growing more lucid now but also angrier. Her fists clench and unclench absently and a tear slides out of the corner of her eye. “He cut my clothes…” at this she looks down at her sliced sweater as if confirming her story in her head. She doesn't even care that it hangs open revealing her bra and the blood that Hiro had dripped on her chest. “…he crawled on top of me… tasted like cigarettes… and dirty skin… I couldn't breathe…”
Ryuho hides his eyes but remains silent, realizing that she's working through her trauma. He doesn't want to hear any of it, wants so much to walk away from her and beat on the guy's unconscious corpse some more. But he stays with her, offering what little comfort he can.
“But I bit him… bit his slimy, lying tongue… and then I got away… through a vent in the bathroom… and I ran…” an air of pride creeps into her voice. She holds her head a bit higher as she continues, “I got pretty far… but he found me… but I fought him! I hit him in the head with a pipe… he was bleeding everywhere... I took out a big fat guy, too. He went down really hard. But then Hiro got up. He was so strong, and I was hurt. I fought him, but he was on top of me, pinning me down and pulling down my pants. I was screaming, and then you…” her eyes, which had been focusing on nothingness, fall once again on Ryuho. “…you came and he disappeared… and you held me… I thought I was dreaming…”
She reaches up a tentative hand and settles it on his cheek. He lets her rest it there and watches her eyes as they slowly rove over every feature of his face. With an air of wonder she whispers, “but you're here…” she looks all around now at the twenty or so men littering the alley behind them, “and you saved me… they're all-”
“-Never going to bother you again,” he finishes for her.
He watches as her features scrunch into a quizzical frown, “How… did you find me?”
“Tachibana told me where to find you.” He decides against elaborating on that story for now.
“Asuka…” She says his name with such admiration that Ryuho finds he's a bit jealous, wondering when the two of them had grown so close to one another. However he pushes these feelings aside to concentrate on Mimori.
“He gave me this to bring for you,” and he pulls the bag he'd been carrying closer to them, “I'm not sure what's in it.”
“My bag! For emergencies… Can you grab me… a wet wipe out of there, please?” She shoves the bag into his hands and rolls over onto her hands and knees. Before he has time to ask her why, she crawls forward and vomits against the wall.
Slightly embarrassed for her, he averts his eyes, concentrating on his task and focusing on the assortment of supplies in the bag. After the sound of spitting, he extends a hand holding a wipe and she takes it without making eye contact. She scrubs at her mouth an unnecessarily long time and then wipes her face, asking “Is there any… water?”
Ryuho checks the bag again and finds that there is indeed a bottle tucked inside. He holds it out for her, but when she reaches with shaky hands for it he takes it back to unscrew the cap. She mutters a polite and slightly slurred `thank you' and then tips it up with both hands. She downs a third of it and he takes it back, replacing the cap. Ryuho watches her rest her head against the wall, close her eyes and take large, gulping breaths. He has so many questions he wants to ask her, but doesn't know where to begin. He decides to start with an easy question, “Do you feel sick?”
She shakes her head slightly, eyes still shut, “No… feel better, actually…”
She then looks down and finally seems to see the blood on herself. Ryuho retrieves another wipe and hands it to her, purposefully looking away as she slowly paws at her chest to clean herself up. Thinking she's a bit more receptive to an inquiry now, he decides not to waste time and asks for the important information, “Are you hurt anywhere?”
Mimori almost chuckles against the wall. Her eyebrows wrinkle in a pensive gesture and she begins rattling off a list, “my face… he smacked me a couple of times… my arm… where the bookcase fell on me… um, … my head… from when I hit the floor… I think…”
Ryuho interrupts her, “You hit your head? Do you think you have a concussion? Is that why you're acting so strangely?”
She shakes her head more emphatically, and her eyes close again, “No… that's the drugs… he gave me… Hiro, that sick prick… I'm all fuzzy now…”
Ryuho is utterly shocked, betraying such in his voice, “He gave you drugs?! What was it? What did he give you?”
Mimori gives a little indifferent shrug, “don't know… powder of some kind… shook it up in the water… I feel… drunk… and floaty…”
He suppresses the urge to beat the man all over again. This guy had played some kind of game with her, and Ryuho suspected that Mimori hadn't been in a position to complain. He continues the inquiry, “Does it hurt anywhere else?”
She takes a moment to stare into nothingness again, “My hip… from when I got hit… by the car…”
He didn't hear her right, “Did you say you got hit by a car?”
She shrugs again, like it's the most natural thing, “Yeah… Asuka's… I leapt out of the way… but it caught me in the hip… this one…” and she spreads her hand open on the side of her left buttock, “hurt like hell…”
Ryuho immediately notes that she is not pointing to her hip. Is there a bruise? Can she walk? Without meaning to speak aloud he mutters, “Perhaps I should look at the injury.”
Mimori sighs and chuckles again, “Why… does every guy I've seen lately… wanna get my pants off?”
Ryuho sits up and sputters, “I-I just meant-”
She continues to goad him, “You're not… fooling me… I know you just wanna… see my tattoo…”
Peels of laughter immediately erupt from the hunched girl and Ryuho realizes that she's just played an insanely inappropriate joke on him. He rolls his eyes at her as she takes deep breaths to recover. Between laughs she needles, “You're such… an easy mark…”
“And you're a riot. I'm guessing you really are feeling better. Can you stand, Miss Comedienne?”
She looks up at him with nearly focused eyes and says, “Don't know… Let's find out.”
Unsure of his own idea, Ryuho decides to play it safe while getting her up. He leans very low, circling her arms around his shoulders and gets a firm hold under her armpits and around her ribs before pulling her up to a standing position. He purposefully holds her up on her tip-toes, and then slowly lowers her weight onto her feet. As he suspects, she favors her right leg, but he refuses to say anything more about her `hip'. “Can you walk?”
“Take it slow… and I'll try and keep up,” is her answer. Securing her right arm around his neck, Ryuho grabs a firm hold on her waist and splints her to his body for support. After a few tentative steps, he finds that she's slow-moving, but able to go in a forward direction. Happy enough with this little victory, he steers her around the bodies of the fallen thugs and leads her out of the alley into the city street.
A/N: So what did you think? Did you like it? Too much fighting? Not enough? Informative? Worried about poor Cammy (you should be)? Review!
Luv you guys!