Back in the small village of where Heavenly Springs resided, in the alleyway where Sagara had been two nights ago, Melissa began her pursuit of clues. Back then, she had been observing him since his hectic departure from the village. But then she hadn’t paid too much attention to the surroundings- not to mention it was dark and, unlike Sagara, she didn’t have magic eyes. The buildings between the alleyways were only about five stories high, yet between them a whole division of homeless people could probably hide and plan an invasion of the rest of the village if only they had the time to do so.
The alleyway and buildings around her were silent and empty save for a prowling, black and white cat, who stared at where she was standing. She was invisible now, and in a few seconds, the cat wouldn’t be able to hear or smell her either. It continued to look in her direction, making Melissa feels apprehensive. Cats were tricky ones, and she didn’t have illusions that could fool primal instincts. With a hiss it ran off and she relaxed again.
There was no sign of obvious demon activity anymore. There were no signs of any activity for that matter. The matter of the Dark Scourge leaving little save for the discarded carpet that Sagara had used to help destroy the monster. If that was still there, it meant that no one, especially no demon, had been here to cover up any tracks. That was to be expected. The whole reason the Balance existed was for the important critical mission of cleaning up after every stinking demon that dared step foot in the realm of her great leader.
The alley itself was nothing special, she observed, the only thing particularly interesting about it was that it was exceptionally muddy. “Is this suspicious?” Melissa asked herself, her voice being drowned out by her illusions. In American cities she knew muddy back alleys were considered normal, but she never really remembered seeing areas like this in documentaries involving Japanese villages. She always saw Japanese villages as places of rich cultural heritage. More importantly, she imagined no mud secluded in the back alleys of their abandoned industrial complexes.
As she reached a crossroads in the alley, she recognised the area where Sagara finally noticed the location of the Dark Scourge. It had been hard to see him at that point, since the Scourge had filled the alleyway with its own special blend of darkness, and with the full moon shining brightly on the top of the building where she had been standing, everything below her had been near impossible to see by contrast.
Allowing herself a grin, she came across a set of decent footprints. Having kept track of Sagara for most of his life, she recognised the heavy imprint that belonged to his shoe almost immediately. Close by it was another set, it looked like a girl’s trainer. She concluded that this had to belong to the Natoko girl that had been possessed. Judging by where the other prints had left themselves in the ground, the various sandal footsteps must have come from the elderly people that had chased them that night. Corrupted and panicked, the prints crisscrossed over each other in a dance of fury. She had no explanation to offer for the events of that night. It may well have existed as a sin of lust, but the Dark Scourge didn’t have the ability to affect other’s emotions, only to tear them asunder.
Going further down into the alleyway, following the only real clue that she had, she became aware of three other types of footprint outside of the others. One pair were just bare feet and Melissa quickly discovered them to belong to a man that was currently sleeping off a previous intoxication. The other two sets of footprints were older and much cleaner than the others she had found. She was thankful that people rarely came down this alleyway, since it meant that any marks she may find would more likely to have a point in her investigation- she was also relieved that Sagara hadn’t come down here instead of her, since she knew the fool wouldn’t have noticed any of this and, if anything, would have just walked over some of the few clues that they had.
She kept at it for another half an hour, scanning the alleyway, checking the trashcans and even confirming that the drunkard was nothing more but a drunkard. It was with a heavy sigh that she realised that she had wasted an hour of her time doing this.
Maybe that was for the best though. Maybe in that time, her foolish ward had finally found a way to make himself useful. His task was simple in its own light, and perhaps he had managed to glean some useful information from one of the suspects.
The drunkard choked himself awake and Melissa headed for the exit to the alleyway, pulling out the folder Sagara had given her. She had planned on investigating the False Balance some more, the only problem being that the only ones she could have interrogated about it were now disembodied and probably as willing to converse with her in epithermal form as she could make them with physical forms. She would have to go for the more human address and go from there.
“Aw dammit, Sagara.”
She stared at the address on the sheets inside the folder, the only things in there written down in their native language in what looked like a copy and paste job. She was stuck again.
“Could everyone with a number two on their registration card please come to the front?” the man with the large megaphone shouted, deafening at least a hundred of the participants in the room. At hearing the message, around thirty people quickly stood up and bounced towards the entrance, myself included. Some took it slow and others tried to start the match there and then, eager to get an early start to this pathetic rat race.
Sagara was different. He waited, perhaps a bit too long, not wanting to get pushed from behind. As the man with the megaphone turned to leave, he got up and jumped after him, flashing his card to the gentlemen as I came up behind him to do the same. After being allowed through, he wandered casually behind the people ahead of him, ignoring me completely, unaware of my presence mere feet behind him. No, that was careless thinking. He knew I was here. He just hadn’t singled me out as significant. Another one of the bustling teenagers sent out here to fight in some meaningless battle of superiority. Such a wasteful fight had nothing to gain for me, but the price for removing Sagara from the competition was high indeed and it had taken much effort just to inhabit this body so I could enter the competition on a day’s notice.
Reaching the fighter’s entrance to the arena, he stood back for a moment in awe at the mass of people cheering on the fighters. There were thousands of them, all here to watch this fight of fools. He grinned and scratched the back of his head, stepping onto the large stage. Was he embarrassed? I asked myself as I followed him up to the stage, my target being literally the last but one to get on was on one of the designated squares the furthest to the outside. From what they had been told everyone had to stay in a separate square until this Battle Royale started. Everyone knew that such crap didn’t mean squat as soon as the bell rang, but falling out the ring did mean disqualification and I couldn’t blame the rats for being nervous that a slip could lose them everything.
There was silence for a moment in the arena, and then a commentator’s voice echoed throughout the dome.
“Ladies and Gentleman, please give the fighters of the Battle Royale tier 2 a loud cheer. Only one of them is coming out of this with a prize.” With this, the frenzy of noises that existed a minute ago respawned in the air, deafening the fighters again. The audience was the only real winners here. Their entertainment would be powered by the creatures that surrounded me and the creatures would suffer in turn. A perfect Balance.
The cage smashes down around me, trapping us all within the arena with each other. Everyone filled with the knowledge that only one would be getting out conscious without humiliation. It doesn’t have to be me. I know that. In fact, a sacrificial push on my behalf may be what is needed to get Sagara out of the ring. A few more moments, the cheers died down, and all the fighters poised themselves, trying as much as possible to get as many opponents into view as possible.
“The match will start in twenty seconds. Anyone who moves out of his or her square will be immediately disqualified. Get ready, fighters!”
That was all that was needed really. Those who fall in the early stages are immediately booted out. The Futabatei of the False Balance would become immediately impotent in whatever he was trying to gain, and I would get my reward. People around me started putting up their guard. Others sit in meditation, praying to that what never existed to bless them for this match. The second ranked smart ones were doing last seconds warm ups (there were no top ranked smart humans here). A few of them, like Sagara himself, were just grinning, getting ready to take everything that came at them.
Strangely, everyone was making a point to stay on his or her square. It seemed nobody wanted to lose it all now on a technicality.
“Ten…nine…eight…” the voice continued. Sagara grinned as he finally got ready, prepping himself and making sure everything was perfect for the match. He still wasn’t paying attention to me, this frail body I inhabited fooling whatever senses he had. He was certainly the moron I had expected, yet I didn’t dare fumble myself. I saw one large child eying him up, intending to go for him first. I would let him, and then both would fall for my master’s sake.
“One!!” Sagara’s knee lifted itself raising him into the air and extending his foot that then connected with my jaw. Shattering, I lurched back under the duress before ejecting into the air. Flying over another two children; both dressed in traditional karate gi, I landed into another. I didn’t see what happened to them, waves of fighters getting in the way of my vision. After this move, others charging him quickly stopped, unsure whether or not to fight him after his display of power. One of them jumped him anyway, while four others started scrapping amongst themselves. The one jumping him would fail to touch the Futabatei, as he stepped sideways and, pushing the boy on his back slightly, caused him to join in with another fight. He watched the boy become distracted and, trying to get back to Sagara, quickly fell unconscious to an elbow at the back of his head.
I slid off the arena floor, hearing a loud cheer for my friction. Tasting the blood that this stolen body contained, I gurgled it as my head hit the ground a moment later, trapping me in the darkness as my eyes fell shut.
“I’ve got him, you guys,” Fujiko cried to the group in joy, shrugging her landlord’s shoulder quickly.
“You’ve seen Sagara?” Gen called back to her, turning round again to see if he could pick his cousin out from the swarm of brawlers. “Let me see,” he asked, offering out his hands to take the camera off of her.
Fujiko moved back for a second, not entirely wanting to let go of her precious camera. Reluctantly, she passed it onto him and he turned round to gaze through the lens.
“He’s there,” Fujiko pointlessly pointed towards the crowd of fighters. Some were already unconscious, having been knocked against either the ground or the cage. No one was, technically, eliminated yet, since they had to wait for the cage to lift itself before they could start throwing people out. It wasn’t too barbaric either. The only one had been the poor fool to land so deftly through the bar and out onto the other side of the arena floor. People in the arena were too busy watching their own backs to take advantage of anyone unconscious on the floor. As Fujiko’s finger began to get in the way, Gen finally caught a sight of Sagara.
“Got him,” the landlord of Heavenly Springs shouted out to those around him. The others quickly followed his finger to see if they could catch a glance of the ninja as well. It was near impossible though, Gen had already lost him, his hand trailing wildly. Just as he thought he had got his cousin back in shot again, a girl jumped up in front of the camera on purpose and began to take her top off.
“Give it back,” Fujiko insisted, clutching onto his arm for dear life, getting a grumble of irritation out of the landlord. Otsune just laughed and tried to focus away the parading fat woman. She intended to at least try and enjoy this match. If anything, to keep her thoughts off of everything that was happening.
“Oh no,” Fujiko cried out in alarm, “I think he might be knocked out. He’s on the floor.”
“What?” cried Sarah as she jumped off her seat and bounded over Aki’s head before grabbing the camera off of Fujiko. Otsune could just make him out too, her mind only briefly wondering just how useless these seats were this high up. The teenage ninja was indeed on the floor, and if she looked close enough, she could have sworn he was whistling.
“Boss?” Sarah muttered, dropping the camera onto the floor, eliciting a squeal from the girl next to her.
The cage was up now. I had to find a way back into the arena. There was no time for rituals though and none of the potential bodies were exactly staying still. With the cage up and out of the way, getting back in would be easy, but I knew I had to wait until the Nuets weren’t looking. Their job was specifically to make sure people like me didn’t get back in.
Sagara wasn’t all too concerned with the people that were giving him the occasional glance. He was just grinning at them and nothing more. Those staring in confusion would then either be mercilessly knocked unconscious by the moronic ruffian that had seen them drop their guard or just stare longer, before a body was thrown into them and out of the arena. An excellent strategy to say the least. It appears I had solely underestimated him, but not for much longer.
“What’s he doing?” a blond haired boy of about sixteen years of age asked another boy, as they stood above the whistling ninja.
“I don’t know, I think urrgghh….” the boy replied back confused; as his nose snapped itself in half and made him fall unconscious.
“Hang on,” a third boy said, looking at the second unconscious fighter. “Who did that?”
“I don’t know,” the first, blond boy said alarmed, as his unconscious talking partner fell to the floor. He spun round to check if there was anyone nearby. “It certainly wasn’t urrggh.” The boy remained confused right up until his nose also snapped, where he then proceeded to think about nothing.
“Well, it wouldn’t be,” the third boy said laughing. “It was I, after all.” He continued to laugh as he began to bear down on Sagara. “The Futabatei, isn’t it? Imagine what my teacher will say when he knows I faced you.”
“Excuse me?” Sagara said, as the boy fell unconscious, his own nasal bones now a very simple jigsaw puzzle that Sagara’s fist had no intention of solving. The boy was surviving too well. Roughly fifteen people were on the outside now, currently being swept away by the Nuets. Ten or so lay unconscious on the arena floor. There were three knocked out beside the Futabatei and seven people left in a fighting state, four of these already looked exhausted, having been lucky enough to miss the initial waves but unlucky enough to now get picked on by some of the more stronger warriors. The remaining three were strong. Only human, but still strong. They shone in my eyes, the fat sumo especially. He was shining crimson red, as his soul exploded with the built in rage he had held back in the past few months. It was nice, and at the pace he moved overwhelming him might have been possible if not for the fact he was the target of the other remaining fighters. These two weren’t anything special, though the purple suited one was fast.
Staring at the people below him, currently drowning in their own blood, Sagara seemed stuck in thought, as if wondering if he should throw them out of the ring for their own safety. Shrugging to himself, he knelt down and picked up the three unconscious boys around him and began dragging them off of the arena floor. The crowd was laughing at him. Was this a tactic? If it was, he certainly wasn’t prepared for me as he got ever closer. I opted to grab him as he got close, drag him off when he’s off balance in his bizarre politeness. That was nothing in the rules against that.
Knocking the final unconscious person off the side, he turned round and wiped his hands clean of sweat, only to be met by a person wearing a black with red trim karate suit, launching a sidekick at him. Reacting quickly, Sagara grabbed the leg and threw the person off of the stage, eliciting another cheer from the crowd. The blond haired moron fell passed me, screaming something how he had never planned it this way. There were now only two more left, as well as an unconscious guy. The Futabatei wasn’t sure if he should get rid of the unconscious guy or not, and made me fail as he walked away once again.
The two final fighters that were left standing were a complete opposite of each other. The first was tall, and extremely well built. By the way he was moving I guessed that he was a sumo, despite his young age. The other one was small, and almost considered skinny. Nevertheless he was fast. And at some points it looked like parts of his body were disappearing.
It was too much of a stalemate though. The large guy was too slow to get a hold of the fast guy, and the little kid was too weak to do any real damage to the strong guy. “Stand still, little one,” the sumo complained, the fast guy bouncing around him like a jumping jack. Every time the large fighter’s hands even got near him, he had already moved himself a foot away. Regardless of his advantage, the little guy was just as frustrated.
“Fall already,” he shouted, pounding into the flesh of the three hundred pounds of body fat before him. It was beginning to look like the guy was nothing except flesh. No bones, no vitals. He was like an impenetrable cocoon made of rubber. I wouldn’t be surprised if the smaller guy’s hand began to get sucked in.
Sagara went for the small one first, throwing two straight punches off his back arm before launching a backfist at the boy’s head. The boy dodged them all and jumped back, precariously close to myself and the edge of the arena. He looked in my direction, irritation plastered on his face at the obstacles before him. He muttered something incomprehensible under his breath, before he saw Sagara pacing towards him, leaping into another kick. Planning ahead, he waited until Sagara was too far into his kick to pull out of it, before bouncing to the side and receiving a hook kick to the chest for his efforts. The wind expelled itself from the skinny fighter’s body as he saw Sagara standing in front of him. Sagara took a moment before putting his leg down and blasting his palm into the boy’s chest, causing him to go flying passed me and off the stage. Sagara didn’t have time to celebrate though. Hearing a stomp behind him, he turned around to find the Sumo right next to him.
“It seems we are the only ones left,” the sumo replied, in a deep voice, as he stepped forwards, forcing Sagara to move back to the edge of the stage. “Are you prepared for my revenge for your insults earlier?” The sumo waited patiently for an answer. Sagara just smiled casually, before looking past the Wrestler.
“You’re forgetting that guy.” As the sumo looked around, his lack of common sense guiding his thoughts, he felt a hand on his head as Sagara flipped over his head and landed on the other side of him, his arms bouncing his feet into the direction of the sumo wrestler, striking him directly in the stomach. Standing up properly now, Sagara threw the force of his punch into the man’s throat, it being the only place that didn’t have several layers of fat and muscle protecting it. The sumo gasped raucously at this, his eyes bulging, as if the pressure on his neck would force them to pop out. He lifted his hands to grab Sagara, and his head dropped, the signal to fall unconscious taking a little longer than it should, his body weight going with him to the floor where Sagara now stood.
“On no you don’t,” Sagara said, grabbing the sleeping mass before it fell on top of him. I grinned as I saw my chanced, and approached the two as if watching curiously, the Nuets falling for my supposed intrigue as I waited to strike. As he held the blob up, a noise came from behind him.
He turned around just in time to see the unconscious boy, a man of nineteen years, now fully conscious and getting ready to push both off the side. Pouncing into Sagara’s back like a furious tiger, he almost rebounded straight back to the floor, the wrestler’s weight proving too much for the both of them. Undeterred, he stood up and had another shot, tapping his shoulder for luck, before slamming it where Sagara had been a second ago. The Futabatei, not liking his chances, had bailed out the moment he could, something the last remaining contestant found out too late, now trapped under three hundred pounds of blubber as it collapsed on top of him.
Sagara crouched, motionless, the wind taken from his breath, the room now falling silent around him. Looking around quickly, I saw him on the big screen to the left and felt the same thoughts he did, the crowd equally confused. Did they expect him to push around four hundred and eighty pounds worth of meat off the edge of the fighting stage to get the victory? Of course, he would have to. They were the rules, and as he did it would be child’s play to pull him off alongside the sumo, my own colossal strength would quickly replace his and he would fall powerless to his own exerted force, the only one left in the ring after that being the one remaining boy now trapped under the sumo.
I cursed as the bell rang, my opportunity lost. They had decided to go easy on him.
“The winner, ladies and gentlemen, with the chance to go onto the main tournament, Lord Futabatei Sagara!” Everyone continued in silence for a moment, still not fully sure when to react, hoping that someone would start it off for them. Then it began, one person encouraged his friends to start, this happened again with another group, and again. These groups encouraged others to start and before the first person knew what he had started, everyone was cheering. Sagara just grinned.
“Yay!” cheered Aki, an exclamation of joy rising from her body. “He did it.”
“Did they just called him a lord?” commented Otsune, as she remained sitting in her seat, her fingernails dug deeply into her knees and fully paralyzing her. She was impressed, as much as she herself would admit it, although she felt it was a little cheap for him to sit there until the ring became nearly empty.
“Did you get it all, Ms. Fujiko?” Gen asked, turning to the camera girl. She didn’t immediately answer, as she was still focused on the celebrating winner, but her smile gave her answer.
“I got it, no problem,” the girl finally replied, her camera fixated on the winner. “This is going straight on the Internet when we get back.” In the distance, Sagara wasn’t overtly celebrating, but with eyes closed and mouth grinning, it was clear that he was happy with the win.
“That was cool. Killer. Definitely not boring at all,” Sarah said with a whoop of joy, her voice louder than she probably intended.
“Though he did just sit there for half the fight. He must have only hit five people.”
“Eight,” Aki kindly pointed out, before getting back to cheering, the hood of her top not bothering her, even if it was on the wrong side.
“He won, kiddo. That’s all that matters,” Fujiko pointed out, before shouting towards the arena. “Keep it up Sagara! I got three bets riding on you.”
“You bet on him?” Otsune nearly screamed. “I don’t think he’ll like that.”
“Relax, I got bets on Natoko too,” the nineteen year old freelancer replied calmly, disregarding her friend’s statement with a wave of her hand.
“That’s not what I asked,” Otsune had to scream this time, before pausing in thought. “Hang on… where did you bet?” Fujiko looked around, like she was trying to find the answer. She pointed to a plump female who, despite her oversized body, looked very feline due to her cat like eyes and pointy ears that were far too high to be human. The woman was standing by one of the many entrances into the main arena, taking money off of people as they spoke to her for apparently very little reason. Otsune stared at the creature, for that’s what she was sure it was, and just groaned, lying back and trying to ignore everything.
The Internet café ceased being helpful as soon as she realised she had no idea how to type in Japanese text.
The nearby libraries ceased being helpful as she came to realise that the reference books containing the location of the Japanese to English books were also in Japanese.
And all the humans surrounding her were never helpful, most failing to understand her no matter how loud she spoke in her own native tongue followed by a more concise method of shouting louder whilst waving her hands about.
After another hour of wandering aimlessly, Melissa gave up on a park bench.
Even if she did find someone that could speak English, (and from what she was told, most Japanese people should have been able to speak English) it occurred to her all they could really do was recite what was written down on the folder. The remaining contents weren’t suspicious and wouldn’t be a problem, but even in an oral format, the words on the page wouldn’t have been any use to her if she didn’t have a clue what those words meant.
There weren’t even any numbers. The address given was written purely in Japanese symbols. For all she knew the location provided was a named house or even one of the nearby temples. Even worse the top line might even be the name of the person and she’d spend ages assuming it was the first line of the address, not that she could find any street names on any of the roads she had passed so far. And on top of that, unless Fuugosuki was written in there somewhere the location she may have to go to may be too far away to make it in a day, making this all pointless.
If this kept on, there would be no choice but to ask Sagara.
“Why’d that fool have to be cursed like that,” she muttered, a prevailing wind making her grasp hold of the document harder, the temptation to just let it all fly away barely fleeting. “He has no idea how easy he has it.”
She was hungry and had stole some fruit earlier, but still her stomach felt tense. Was there really no other way? She didn’t want to show herself up by asking after all this? He definitely wouldn’t care, she knew that. But asking felt a lot worse, and she had been taught many times that the servants shouldn’t come asking such favours.
She had to solve it by herself, but at this rate it would begin to affect her side of the mission. If she was back in the states fixing it would be a breeze, but that didn’t help at all.
She felt her hand tugging sharply on her head and tried to calm down. It didn’t work and instead her fist slammed down into the bench. She would have to do it. She would have to go to Sagara. Cursing under her breath, she got up, preparing to change her face as she walked and slammed right into a slab of meat blocking her path.
“Yo,” the big guy said.