Since my last story post here was about 5 months ago, I figured I’d do some stuff with all the new people I’ve created in that time period, and revisit some older characters. We’ve got two sections here:

So, happy holidays, happy end of the decade, and a season’s greetings from ya boi, Pyro. Try not to die, be sure to participate in the polls if you can, and I’ll see y'all in 2020.

Christmas with Nebula Oscillation II

Twas the night before Christmas, and once more, we find ourselves observing another Christmas rush at Espresso Valet. Today was particularly busy, with a line out the door into the frigid Tokyo air. Customers bundled up in heavy coats and fur-lined parkas huddled together for warmth as the beautiful maids of Espresso Valet worked at top speed to fulfill orders and seat them. Owner Rikka Sashinami happened to be in her bunny maid outfit today, hopping through the cafe to fulfill orders and speaking to her customers in an unusually shy demeanor. Airi, the red-headed Isurugi, cooked up a storm in the kitchen, dishing up as many orders as humanly possible with their relatively small kitchen staff. Her blonde twin, Mari, stood outside welcoming new guests and wishing a happy holidays to leaving customers. To combat the cold, Mari had a pair of leggings accompanying her usual white maid dress, though it wasn’t doing much to keep warm. She felt a tap on her shoulder and saw Rio Kurata behind her, wearing similar leggings and a white heavy coat reminiscent of her usual sterile-white lab coat.

“Head inside and warm up, I’ll take over from here.” the straight-faced scientific maid breathed on her gloved hands while rubbing them, trying to keep them warm.

“You sure?” the hot-headed blonde replied, repeating Rio’s motions to keep warm as well.

“The girls could use your security measures.” Rio pointed towards Nao Karino, who was having a hard time rejecting a male customer desperate to get to know her better.

“On it. Don’t die out here, alright?” Mari bumped fists with Rio, who nodded in reply as Mari returned to the warm interior of Espresso Valet. The delectable scent of her twin’s home cooking, freshly-brewed coffee, and the slight sting of alcohol greeted her nose as she turned her attention to the bar.

“Katsuo, on your left!” Katie Kurasaki tossed a shaker to her fellow employee, one of the three “Legendary Butlers” of the establishment. Katsuo caught the shaker without issue, shaking it in tandem with another before quickly straining them into their respective glasses and serving on coasters.

“Apologies for the wait. One daiquiri and one Cosmopolitan. Your curry plates will out shortly.” He bowed to his two guests before the second “Legendary Butler” Takumi Handa arrived with their food, two plates of piping hot curry served with a side of rice and garnished with pickled ginger. A deep, rich scent filled the customers’ noses as Takumi set their plates down.

“Here you are, two curry plates. Enjoy your meal.” He smiled and bowed before stepping away, accidentally bumping into the third and final “Legendary Butler,” Kazuya Kusaka. “Ah, Kusaka! Sorry about that!”

“Ah…” Kusaka took a deep breath before turning to face Takumi. “No worries, Takumi. Fortunately, I wasn’t carrying any food. Do be more careful next time.”

“Of course!” Takumi bowed in apology before sliding towards the kitchen, Kusaka following shortly.

“You think you can handle the bar on your own, Katsuo?” Katie asked her fellow alcoholic, who was currently spooning a mixture into a mug with a few ounces of rum inside.

“Yeah, you might wanna hold Mari back before she actually busts that guy’s balls.” He nodded towards the blonde twin, who was storming towards Nao’s unwanted suitor with a fierce scowl.

“Oh shit…” The half-American waitress rushed over to their location, hoping to intercept the fair-haired Isurugi before things got loud.

“How ‘bout it?” The man asked Nao, holding out a business card. “I can rent us a room at a hotel down the street, and we can spend the rest of the night there once your shift is over.”

“A-as cozy as that sounds, I-I’m afraid I already have plans after-work today.” Nao stuttered, her kind heart too gentle to properly reject him.

“C’mon, what could you possibly be doing once you’re off?” The man continued to press on, stepping closer to Nao, who took a step back.

“I-I’ve got a Christmas party with my coworkers… We’ve spent a lot of time planning it, and I don’t want to miss it at all!” Nao looked over the man’s shoulder to see the approaching Mari, with Katie fruitlessly trying to stop her.

“I’ll show you a better time than they will, trust me.” The man scoffed, completely unaware of the storm brewing behind him.

“Hey asshole!” Mari yelled to the man, pushing Katie aside and grabbing the man by his suit jacket. “Can’t you take a hint?! No means no! You already paid for your shit, now get out!”

“Tch, who said you could come barging in?!” The man retorted, pushing her hand aside and scowling back at her.

“That doesn’t matter. Take a damn hint and piss off already!”

“Make me, bi-” Before the man could finish his retort, a hand on his shoulder caught his attention. “What?!”

Katsuo stared the man down, his face devoid of expression yet filled with immense malice. “Finish that sentence, I dare you.”

“Who the hell are you to butt in?!” The man brushed Katsuo’s hand off before dusting his jacket off.

“I happen to be her lover.” Katsuo nodded towards Nao, whose face lit up as red as the ornaments on the tree in the corner of the cafe. All of the patrons were now fixed on them, waiting for the situation to explode out of control as they enjoyed their meals.

“What, a limp-dicked, dead-eyed asshole like you?” The man stared at Katsuo, clearly irritated.

“So what if I’m limp-dicked? At least I have the balls to respect a girl’s personal space.” Katsuo stepped forward, sizing the uncooperative customer up. “You have ten seconds to leave the premise before I call the police and report you for harassment.”

“Tch! Whatever! This place can go to hell!” With one last remark, the man stormed off, grabbing his briefcase and coat on the way out.

“What a pain in the ass…” Katsuo sighed as he walked over to Nao and gave her a hug. “You alright?”

“Y-yeah… thanks, Katsu-kun…” She nuzzled his chest briefly before breaking the hug. “We need to get back to work! Can’t let all that delicious food Airi-san’s been whipping up get cold!”

“Mhm.” A tiny smile appeared on Katsuo’s face, glad to see his childhood friend’s spirits weren’t deterred by the man’s unwanted advances.

“I had it under control, Katsuo.” Mari pouted and crossed her arms.

“I’m sure you did, but I had to do something before you two started throwing punches.” Katsuo shrugged and returned to the bar to fulfill cocktail orders while Katie ushered Mari to the break room, hoping to cool her head.

“What a pig-headed fool,” Kusaka commented on the scene from the register, sighing. “No respect for anyone.”

“I’m just glad Katsuo managed to break it up before it got worse…” Takumi stared, wide-eyed. “Oh! You told me to remind you that you had an appointment with your friend soon! I cleared everything with Rikka, so you can clock out now if you’d like. I’ll cover for the rest of your shift.”

“Ah… Right, thank you for remembering. I appreciate your efforts, Takumi. Merry Christmas.” Kusaka made his way to the break room to clock out while Takumi took over at the register.

“Merry Christmas, Kusaka!” He waved to his coworker before Rikka showed up. “Hey, boss!”

“Hey hey, Takumi!” She gave him a smile. “Tables 25 and 12 need their checks.”

“Got it!” He got to work printing the receipts for the mentioned tables while everyone worked their hardest.

Fortunately, the day continued on smoothly with no other crazy incidents. As the line outside began winding down and the day drew closer to a close, Rikka closed shop early and had everyone meet up in the break room. Everyone had already changed out of their work clothes, now dressed in their winter outfits and prepared to march out into the cold.

“Good work, everyone!” Rikka’s peppy voice elicited a cheer of relief for the coming party. “Now, Takumi won’t be joining us due to some family business, so let’s wish him a merry Christmas before he heads home for the holidays!”

A few claps, cheers of “happy holidays” and a pat on the back from Katsuo were the last things Takumi received before he had to leave. The rest of the group, being Katsuo and all the girls, listened to Rikka.

“We all know the plan. My house, all-night long! I’ve got a tree, mistletoe, and plenty of booze and eggnog to keep us going. If you pass out or you’re too tired to carry on, we’ll use the same sleeping arrangements as last year. Be sure to get plenty of kisses in with Katsu!” Rikka and the girls cheered, though Katsuo had his hood up and a face mask to hide his blush.

“Again…?” Katsuo sighed.

“As many times as we possibly can!” Rikka cheered once more.

“If you keep this up, I’m just gonna spend my Christmas at home…”

“Aww, don’t be a prude! It’s all just for fun! Don’t worry about us going too far.” Rikka pushed Katsuo against the nearest wall, her hand over his shoulder and leaning against the wall. “Unless… that’s what you want~?”

“Actually, it’s been a while since I’ve had some…” Katsuo looked down in thought, noticing Rikka pressing her voluptuous chest against his.

“Mmm, you’ve been rather bold lately, Katsu~ Calling Nao-chan your lover, enticing me to take you to bed, staring at my chest… Do you need punishment, you naughty boy~?” She whispered into his ear seductively, blowing a little hot air on his ear in an attempt to excite him.

“I think I’ve been quite nice this year, Boss.” He pushed Rikka away from the wall, cracking his neck as he removed his hood. “But, if you’re gonna try this kind of thing on me, you’ll have to do it at home.”

“Right! To my house!” Rikka pointed upwards as all the other girls sighed, finally ready to move to the real party.

After the 20 minute commute, the group found themselves dispersed all throughout the house in varying states of sobriety. Mari, after a single glass of spiked eggnog, was already hammered out of her mind. She was jumping around, demanding more booze while her red-headed twin sighed, sipping on the non-alcoholic nog beside Rio.

“Katsuo! Don’t move!” Mari ran towards Katsuo, who happened to be under one of many mistletoe decorations scattered throughout the house.

“Huh?” He moved backwards slightly, realizing he was under the mistletoe. Mari tackled him to the wall, pinning him against the wall just like Rikka had done earlier.

“I… want my kiss…” She was panting, her face flushed from alcohol and running.

“You didn’t even get under the mistletoe with me.”

“Look up.” Katsuo looked up and sighed, seeing another mistletoe.

“Fuck me…” He cursed under his breath, grateful he didn’t have a drink in his hand when she rushed him.

“If you insist…” She began fumbling for his belt, only for Katsuo to seize her hands and pull her in for a quick peck on the lips. “Mmh…!”

“And that’s all you get. Try anything more, and I’m putting you to bed.” He pulled her away from the wall and forced her to sit down next to her younger twin.

“I apologize for her actions, Katsuo-san.” Airi bowed slightly, sipping her virgin eggnog.

“This is gonna be my whole night, huh…?” Katsuo sighed as he laid down on a nearby couch, tired.

“Unfortunately so.” Airi offered a bright smile as Nao hopped onto Katsuo.

“Katsu-kun! You didn’t have to go that far earlier!”

“Ow…!” Katsuo looked up from the couch to see Nao sitting on his back. “I don’t think anything else would’ve worked on him. Besides, you seemed to enjoy being my hypothetical lover.”

“T-that’s not… Don’t change the subject!” Nao fake-punched Katsuo, sipping hot chocolate with a blush and a pout while Katsuo smirked.

“Myoukouin, you rascal…” Rio sighed, standing up to refill her eggnog. “Take responsibility for playing with a pure maiden’s heart.”

“Would if I could, but I’m currently being squished by the maiden in question.” Katsuo deadpanned, settling into his current position comfortably and falling asleep.

“Oh, sorry!” Nao got up and took another sip of cocoa. “Katsu-kun?”

“Did… he fall asleep?” Katie walked over with a mug of hot cocoa as well, leaning down to check his breathing. “...He totally fell asleep.”

“This guy…” Rio set her cup aside and flipped Katsuo over. Indeed, his eyes were closed and he was snoring softly. “The nerve on him…”

She started shaking him awake. “Wake up, damn it…”

“Rio-san, maybe we should let him rest. He’s been pretty tired as of late.” Nao rested a hand on Rio’s shoulder.

“The night’s still young, he can sleep later” Rio continued shaking him. Upon looking up, Nao found another mistletoe located directly above Katsuo and Rio.

“Rikka-san really went overboard with the mistletoe…” Nao meekly commented on the absurd amount of the fabled ornament located throughout the house.

“I had to make sure we all got our kisses!” Rikka gulped a whole cup of spiked eggnog in one go with a satisfying gulp before refilling. “And how do I do that? Hang mistletoe up everywhere!”

“You need to stop making these Christmas plans with alcohol nearby…” Katie sighed as she and Nao sipped their cocoa.

“Can’t a man nap in peace…?” Katsuo opened one eye and sighed, frustrated. “I haven’t been sleeping well these past few weeks, and I was hoping to get some decent shut-eye tonight.”

“Not when there’s lots of beautiful girls, booze, and mistletoe around!” Rikka sat down lifting Katsuo’s head up briefly so she could provide him a lap pillow. “So~? How does my lap feel, Katsu?”

“Luscious.” He replied as he readjusted to his new conditions. Rio sat down by his feet, having retrieved her nog to sip on.

“So, how bout our kisses?” Rikka asked, her head tilted and a smirk on her face.

“After another power nap,” Katsuo yawned before returning to sleep on Rikka’s lap.

“Let him get some rest. We’ve been putting a lot of pressure on him, in-game and at work.” Katie consoled her friend with a pat on the shoulder. “He’s been testing the new system, and it’s been hard work. The Masamune Armor is placing quite a hefty strain on his body.”

“I bet I could give him a relaxing massage.” Rikka held a devious smirk on her face as she pet Katsuo’s head.

“Don’t get devious with him, manager. Once he starts, he doesn’t stop.” Rio sipped her nog, hiding her jealousy of Rikka’s confidence with her stoic warning.

“Mmm, you know I like ‘em devious, Rio-chan~” Rikka gave her a very mischievous smirk, only for Katie to bonk her lightly on the head. “Heeeeeeeeeeeeey…”

“Let him rest, Rikka. You’ve had plenty of fun with him last year.”

“When was tha- Oh, right! The morning after!” Her loudness was met by Nao and Katie shushing her rather aggressively. “Sorry…”

“Fuck it, I’m not getting any sleep here.” Katsuo sighed and rose from his very brief nap, grabbing Rikka’s face by her chin and giving her the mistletoe kiss. The girl in question was incredibly surprised by his forcefulness, letting out a squeak of surprise before settling into the kiss and closing her eyes. Before she could go any further, Katsuo pulled away, leaving a strand of saliva that Katsuo wiped away with the back of his hand. “Happy yet?”

“S-shit, Katsu…” Rikka held a hand to her lips to cover them, licking them before biting her lower lip. “That was… really hot…”

“And that’s all you’re getting from me tonight.” Katsuo sat up and pulled Rio in for a hug, kissing her on the cheek and making her heart skip a beat. “I’m too tired for anything further than these kisses…”

“Myoukouin…” Rio looked over at him, her cheeks now red.

“What’s wrong, Rio?” He looked at her with drowsy, half-lidded eyes.

“N-nothing…” She quickly turned away, taking another sip of her nog to distract herself.

“Mhm… I think I’m gonna turn in for the night. I’m way too tired for this party. I’ll make something for breakfast tomorrow to make up for it.” Katsuo stood up and let out a hearty yawn. “Night, girls.”

“Aww… Night, Katsu-kun!” Nao waved her friend good night before turning to the other girls, who were now exchanging gifts by the tree. “Hey, don’t leave me out!”

Christmas with Crimson Rain Services

It’s Christmas Eve morning, and I can already smell Dad’s signature coffee blend wafting through the air. When you live with a barista like my dad, you get to enjoy the scent of freshly-brewed coffee every morning. It never gets old, especially on a cold morning like today. I hopped out of bed and stretched my arms, yawning as I fumbled into my pajamas. Yes, I sleep in my boxers, leave me alone.

As I walked to the bathroom to brush my teeth, I heard familiar voices that weren’t Mom or Dad’s… Guests already? The clock in my bathroom said it was 7AM. Who could possibly be here right n- Ohh… Right. Haru and her family always come over for Christmas Eve and day, though I always end up playing EWO with Haru. By the time I finished brushing, I heard a knock on the door.

“One moment!” I called out to whoever was outside, washing my face with some water real quick. I grabbed a towel and dried my face before opening the door to see Haru in a white turtleneck and black, camo-pattern leggings. “Hey there.”

“Morning, Sento!” She chirped happily, a bright smile on her face. “You wanna head out and visit Tokime? She said she had a gift for you.”

“That so? Gimme a sec to change, then.” I left the bathroom and returned to my room, grabbing one of my hoodies and putting it on while I swapped my pajama bottoms for black jeans. While I changed, I checked my phone to see its battery life. 100 percent, perfect. I put on my socks and grabbed my phone, stashing it in my pocket after pairing it to my Bluetooth headphones. “Alright, let’s go.”

“You forgot to close the door, you know.” Haru leaned against my door frame, innocently gazing away from me.

“Did you enjoy the show?” I reached behind my door and grabbed a black parka jacket, putting it on over my hoodie as I walked out towards the living room.

“No comment~” She quickly sprung towards me, following me downstairs and making a beeline for the coat rack, grabbing her azure winter coat and putting it out.

“Where are you two going?” Dad called out from the kitchen, pouring several cups of coffee for himself and our guests.

“Gonna hang out with Tokime and Haru today. We’ll be back before it gets dark!” I replied as I grabbed a pair of boots suitable for the snow and put them on.

“Take care, you two! No funny business, you hear?!” Mom was bringing the coffee to our guests.

“Yes ma’am. We’re heading out!” I laced my shoes up and grabbed my keys, tucking them in my parka pocket as Haru put some gloves on and stepped outside.

“Take care!” Mom and Dad yelled back just as I closed the door, locking it and stuffing my hands into my pockets. “Do we wanna eat first? Or should we just go straight to Tokime?”

“Let’s stop by Tokime’s. We can convince her to join us for breakfast!” We departed from my house, walking through the neighborhood to the crosswalk.

“Sure thing.” I led the way, walking through the snow with a small smile.

“It’s snowing! How pretty!” Her eyes were wide with amazement as I pulled up my hood.

“Mhm. Were we supposed to meet Tokime at her house or at her work?”

“Work. She opened the shop today, so it’s just her for right now. Don’t know if she’ll keep it open all day or not.”

“Alright then… Did she already get you your present, Haru?” We continued walking, crossing to the other side of the road and continuing on the snow-filled concrete.

“Yep! You’re gonna love your present, trust me.” She skipped ahead of me a bit, playing in the snow a bit as I scoffed and continued walking.

“We’ll see.” I put my headphones on, playing some music from my phone as I marched through the snow. Eventually, we arrived at the local outlet mall, making our way to the Reeves Airsoft shop. Haru walked through the door first, ringing the bell and announcing her arrival.

“Hey, Tokime! I brought him with me!!” I walked through the door as she bounced towards the cash register.

“Perfect timing, I was getting a little worried you might not be coming.” I approached the register, seeing Tokime sitting behind the counter in a short black skirt with black leggings, a white blouse, a pale cyan winter coat, her signature black choker with intricate double-helical designs, and heeled boots. “Morning, Sento dear.”

“Morning, Tokime. Heard you have something for me?” I held my hands to my mouth and breathed on them, keeping them warm.

“Mhm. Take your pick.” Tokime put a piece of paper with a list of three items. Option 1: My first time. Option 2: A date with me and Haru. Option 3: A pleasant surprise.

“How many am I allowed to pick?”

“Two, max.”

“As tempting as Option 1 is, I did promise Mom and Dad no funny business…” I put a hand to my chin in mock thought. “Let’s go 2 and 3.”

“One date with two cuties and a custom airsoft replica set, coming right up.” Tokime grabbed the paper and tucked it into her pocket before grabbing a box wrapped in black and red hazard stripes with a red bow on top. It was fairly large, large enough to fit an airsoft pistol or two…

“I wanna see your reaction, Sento!” Haru peeked out from behind my shoulder, startling me a bit. Tokime handed the box, which I promptly opened, using my keys to cut open the paper.

“Alright, alright. What do we have here…?” I unwrapped the box, revealing a briefcase with the words “Butterfly Kiss Customs” and “Reeves Airsoft” on it. “Don’t tell me…”

“Open it up and check for yourself, mister Crimson Mercenary.” Tokime had a smirk on her face. If these are what I think they are…

“No way…” I opened the case and found a pair of beautifully-detailed airsoft pistols. They were my in-game handguns, Dusk and Dawn, brought to reality. “How did you…”

“My dad set up a 3D printer in the back, and he wanted me to test if it worked. So, I took a couple of our top-shelf 1911 gas-blowback pistols and remade your brothers in arms. Took some time to get the 3D model just right and getting everything as smooth as they would be in-game, but they should be a 1:1 replica.” Her smirk expanded to a wholesome smile as I picked up Dawn from the case. Its polished chrome slide with the red “Dawn” engraving, that gold coating on the barrel, its custom hazard-striped grips… She even added the fiber-optic front sight and an RMR!

“Holy shit, Tokime…” I set the case down and dropped the magazine, making sure it was unloaded as I put the mag down on the counter and checked the slide action. It worked as smooth as it did in-game, and the trigger pull weight was just right too. “It’s perfect…”

“Only the best for my best customers.” I looked at her, seeing her wide smile.

“Isn’t it awesome?!” Haru exclaimed as she waddled to my side. “She made an exact replica of Blizzard for me! It’s got the straight-pull bolt and everything! Functioning scope, smooth bolt pull, bipod, laser sight, everything! You’re the best, Tokime!”

“Thank you, really.” I shot a smile back at her as I returned Dawn and its magazine back to the case, closing it and setting aside.

“Ah, don’t sweat it. Now you don’t have to rent when we go to an airsoft field. It’ll save you a bunch of money.” She shrugged and waved it off.

“About that date…” I brought up her tease from earlier.

“Oh yeah. If you really wanna pay me back, take me out for breakfast. I haven’t eaten anything today, and I’m starving.”

“You gonna close up shop, then?”

“Yeah. You can leave the replicas here, we can pick em up after our little ‘date.’” Tokime walked around the counter to join me and Haru, buttoning her coat up and grabbing the keys to the shop out of her pocket. “Shall we?”

“Where to, then?” I made my way to the shop’s exit, the girls following me.

“Something hot, for sure. Ramen or curry?” Haru put a gloved finger to her cheek in thought.

“Sukiyaki?” Tokime suggested as she locked up the store, tucking the keys in her coat’s inside pocket.

“Hm… I’m not really in the mood for hot pot… Ah, fuck it. Let’s get some ramen.” I led the way to Ichiran Shibuya. By the time we got there, it was almost 8AM, and there was no line outside. “After you two.”

“How generous of you,” Tokime smirked as Haru entered the shop first, taking a brief flight of stairs down to the vending machine where you ordered.

“Ladies first.” I gestured for her to enter next, which she did. I followed her promptly, watching Haru make her selection.

She grabbed a bowl of ramen with a noodle refill, two soft-boiled eggs, extra onions, and an extra serving of pork slices. Tokime and I ended up getting the same stuff, but I grabbed three extra servings of pork and three eggs. Of course, being a gentleman, I paid for all their stuff and mine. After that, we found three booths close to each other and sat down, the staff handing us another little menu asking for our preferences. I circled medium for flavor strength and richness, a whole clove of garlic, thin onions, with pork (obviously), regular red sauce, and extra-firm noodles. They promptly took the menu and tickets, fulfilling our orders behind the scenes while I filled a cup with water from the fountain right beside me.

“How much red sauce did you get, Sento?” Haru leaned back and asked.

“I got regular. I like the spice.” I sipped my water as I waited.

“Hm… I’ll get half then.” She disappeared behind the booth wall again, probably to finish ordering. I saw a staff member stop by my booth with a tray. First, they delivered my sides: the eggs, pork slices, and onion. Then, my ramen. A beautiful gold broth with the red spot of sauce in the center and little bits of onion in the soup. A spoon sat on the rim of the bowl, waiting to be used.

“Don’t you dare eat before us, Sento.” Tokime warned me from my right, glaring daggers at me.

“I won’t, I won’t.” I raised my hands defensively, thanking the staff member before they closed my little window. “But you better hurry, I don’t want my noodles getting soggy.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Tokime waved dismissively as she got up and grabbed some napkins from the dispenser behind us, handing me a bunch before sitting back down. I split my wad of napkins in half and gave one half to Haru, which she took just as her ramen arrived. “Ah, they’re here! Itadakimaaaaasu~”

Haru and I repeat her pre-meal phrase before digging in to our meals as well, the rich, savory broth of the ramen mingling perfectly with the red sauce’s spice. The extra-firm noodles had, unfortunately, lost a little bit of their spring, but they had soaked up that delicious broth quite nicely. God, this ramen will never cease to amaze me… The three of us spent about half an hour there before we returned to Tokime’s airsoft shop. I grabbed my Dusk and Dawn replicas while Haru grabbed her Blizzard replica. Tokime said she’d log in to the game later, so Haru and I departed and returned to my house. I quickly put my replicas in my closet and hopped on my bed, putting on my RiftGear and logging into the game.

I woke up with a volume of the Ultraman manga over my face. It was on the page with Leo and Astra making their debuts, which was the last thing I read in-game, I guess. A yawn escaped my mouth as I removed the book from my face, placing a bookmark on the page before closing it and tossing it on my desk. I immediately saw a client sitting on the couch, a black-haired lady with a bob cut and a black business suit, sitting with her back straight and a briefcase on her lap.

“Uh… can I help you?” I asked her, standing up and adjusting my waistcoat and hood.

“Ah, sorry to intrude.” The lady set her case aside and stood up, bowing briefly. “I’m Noa Subaru, and I have a contract for you.”

“Subaru… You’re with the Hiden-ZAIA Corporation, right?”

“Correct. I’m the secretary to President Hiden and an ARM production overseer for one of our ARM Research Facilities.”

“Right, you guys provided me with my set.” That’s why she seemed familiar to me. She was the one who gave me my current ARM set. “Alright, what are the terms and objectives?”

“A prototype Anima Redistribution Mechanism has been stolen from the facility I’m overseeing.” Noa opened her case and handed me a folder labeled “Sensitive Information.” I took a peek inside and examined the contents.

“This is…” I narrowed my eyes, looking it over to make sure I was reading this right.

“It’s a new model, the first of many ‘Upgrade-type’ ARMs. I need these back before they end up on the black market, or worse.” As she spoke, I continued reading, looking at the last-known location of the ARMs and the picture of the thief who stole them. Once I had all the info I needed, I handed the dossier back to her.

“Is that all you wanted from me?” I reached into the drawer where I store Dusk and Dawn, retrieving them and holstering them on my thighs while tucking their suppressors into a side-pouch on my belt. She put the file back in her case and closed it.

“We’re sponsoring you with HZ-01 and HZ-02, and you’ve both been outperforming our expectations.” Noa grabbed the case and prepared to leave. “Of course, AIM-04 is catching up to you as well. We’ve already submitted this same contract to them, and they should be deployed and looking for the stolen goods. You’re supposedly a better mercenary, so…”

“I know, I know. My partner’s probably still logging in, so you might want to wait here and explain things to her.” I holstered my revolver Stampede behind my waist, grabbed my ARMs, loaded spare mags onto my belt clips, and put on my coat. “I’ll be heading out.”

“Do take care.” Noa waved to me as I left the office and rounded the corner to the garage.

I opened it to reveal my steed… the Cardinal Cavalier. This souped-up electric sports bike is built for the roughest terrain and the highest speeds, with a shit ton of blades on it and an advanced thruster system for rampless jumps and a prototype autopilot system. This baby is truly something else. Grabbing my gloves and helmet from the worktable, I put them both on and started up the bike. Its dashboard lit up and displayed the speedometer and battery levels immediately as all the other data booted up. I buckled on my helmet before hopping on the bike and speeding off, the near-silent electric motor working over time to get me up to 97 kilometers an hour in under a second. With the helmet’s built-in Bluetooth headphones, I pulled up a song from my playlist and played it. As I rode, I heard the sound of another bike riding by me. Surprise, surprise, it’s Junji.

“Wassup, Red?” Junji called out from his bike. He tapped the side of his helmet, wanting to sync our headphones through a secure comms link.

“Took you long enough to roll out.” I replied after our headphones synced.

“Nah, the others are already there. It’s just you and me.”

“Why not have them move in, then?”

“They’re scouting the location, feeding me intel.”

“I’ll see you there then.” I leaned forward and revved my bike to the max, boosting forward as I ramped up towards Cavalier’s top speed. Junji revved his bike and promptly followed me.

“Race against time, Red! I’ll beat you there!” Junji was following me to take advantage of the draft I was producing, using the extra momentum to maneuver ahead of me and rush forward.

“I’ll take another route!” I veered off his course, riding through alleys and finding a ramp onto the freeway. I hit Cavalier’s boosters and jumped onto the freeway, letting my GPS recalculate and guide me towards my destination. Didn’t take long to arrive, and sure enough, the rest of Junji’s crew was already there, scouting out the warehouse I arrived at. Their bikes were randomly parked around the surrounding area, but I could recognize them all, Kaho’s especially. I guess Junji needed all hands on deck…

I parked Cavalier on a nearby hilly area and hopped off. Quick, last-minute ammo check. Six 9mm major mags on my left hip, six .45 ACP mags on my right hip, 10 speed loaders for Stampede in my inner coat pockets. Alright… let’s get to work. I can see… three ladies moving in. A girl hauling a massive crucifix with her, a beautiful blonde in navy blue holding two rifles in her hands, and an idol with two swords on either side of her hips. Kaho, Priscilla, and Mukuro are all here too, how nice. No phantom thief in sight, so he must be somewhere else… Umika’s not around either, or else I would’ve spotted her by now… I’ll meet ‘em when I meet ‘em.

Sliding down the hill, I sprint towards the warehouse, channeling my Anima into a Flash Step to get me past the barbed-wire fencing surrounding its perimeter. My momentum sends me tumbling forward, forcing me to combat roll and push myself off the ground to continue my sprint. Wait… Fuck, I left my swords behind! I hit the ground with a power slide, coming to a stop a few centimeters from the warehouse’s wall. No swords means it’s gonna have to be hand-to-hand… Haru, please bring Arc. Please, I’m begging you… As I turn my head, I see all three girls staring at me, preparing to breach the door.

“Yo.” I give them a two-fingered salute as I pull Dawn from his holster, attaching the suppressor to its barrel and flicking the safety off. “Ladies first?”

“About 20,000 years late, Sento.” Mukuro was the first to speak up, her Ultra-Ace rifle in hand.

“I like to think I’m pretty punctual, Mukuro.” I peeked through the window to see who and what was inside. A table with a case on it, about 2 or so guys wearing suits, and one guy dressed extra fancy making a phone call. “What’re we waiting for?”

“We’re waiting for Shiro’s signal. You?” Umika responded, checking her Paradise Lost rifle for any jams.

“Nothing then. I’ll head in first and create a distraction. May the best mercenary grabbed the case.” I winked to the girls before approaching the warehouse’s side entrance. One guard here, no one watching his back. Unfortunate.

I move in close, taking quiet steps towards him before pulling him aside, placing the suppressor to his temple, and putting three bullets in his skull. Carefully, I lower his body to the ground and then peek inside the warehouse from my spot, noticing two figures in the rafters above. One beautiful blonde in wine red with a custom XM8 rifle in her hand and a man with a bullpup rifle beside her. There’s my phantom thief and his darling seductress. Another peek into the warehouse confirmed the headcount of 21 I estimated earlier. The phone guy was walking to the back, his voice getting angrier and louder. Looks like someone’s upset…

Seeing Shiro hold his wrist out towards the front, I realized he’d be signalling the girls to come in. I looked at my necklace and saw the gem glowing dully. Shit, not a lot of Anima for this, huh…? Fuck it, let’s go all out! I removed the suppressor from my pistol, tucked it in the side pouch, then stepped out from my spot. While drawing Dusk from his holster, I yelled out one word and began firing at them.

“Henshin!” Bullets went flying as my necklace reacted to the phrase, coating me in Anima and generating a sleek, skin-tight combat armor with a red, silver, and black color scheme. I felt my coat dissipate into Anima, replaced by a mass of energy similar in appearance that ignited the flame patterns. The guards all turned to face me and fired their rifles while the phone guy’s eyes went wide in surprise as he made a mad dash for the case. I quickly spun around and fired Dusk at him, two .45 ACP bullets aimed straight at his head.

My bullets hit their mark, knocking him down to the ground as the rifles’ bullets bounced off my armor and stung my arm and back. If I had a full Anima charge on this thing, it wouldn’t have stung as much. I’ve got what I got, and that’s all I have to work with. I holstered my guns and ran at top speed towards the case, Shiro and Umika dropping down from the ceiling with their guns blazing while the girls out front breached. I heard Kaho’s crucifix open up and a minigun start revving, which was my cue to grab that case and get the hell out. I jumped, swiped the case, and dived out the window just as the Anima armor disappeared. A tap of a button on my gloves, and Cavalier would be making its way to me soon enough. I opened the case and checked inside to make sure I had what I needed. Three gauntlets with parabolic striping, one white and blue, one silver and gold, and one black and red. My necklace began resonating with the three of them, emitting a faint glow from all four objects. This is it, I’ve got the package.

“Target spotted with the package! Moving to intercept!” I close and lock the case and look up to see more guys in suits running my way. I quickly drew Dawn and fired a few rounds to distract them before grabbing the case and booking it. A rain of bullets soon erupted from the window as Kaho let her Wolfwood minigun run wild.

“Good luck with that!” I shouted back as Cavalier pulled up on the street, the kickstand deploying. Quickly hopping on the bike, I fired a few more warning shots as I secured the case the back of the bike. Before I could head out, someone pulled me off my bike and kicked me to the side. I fired at their leg, bringing them down as I got back up and calibrated the autopilot to return to my shop. Just before I could tap confirm, the person grabbed me from behind and put me in a choke hold.

I jumped up and used the momentum to flip the two of us over, breaking their hold on me as I landed behind them and fired three more rounds in their back. A press of the button on my glove confirmed my autopilot settings on Cavalier, and it raced off without me. Haru can bring it back, hopefully with Arc in hand if she isn’t already on her way. I removed Dawn’s current mag and checked the round count before returning it. 5 more bullets… I see the person in front of me start to get up, so I quickly roll forward, pin them to the ground, and empty the magazine in their face. Tapping the mag release, I flick Dawn to the side and eject the spent mag, quickly loading a new one and taking aim in front of me. A quick sweep to the side revealed a dozen or so armed assailants heading my way, and a quick glance down told me that my ARM is barely even at the minimum charge threshold. No armor, alright.. Let’s get to work.

Charging at the assailants, I fire two rounds at the closest one’s face, rolling forward and sweeping them off their feet so I can add another bullet to their skull. They start firing their rifles, so I grab the guy’s body as a meat shield, rushing forward before tossing the corpse at the next closest guy. While he’s distracted, I see another guy try to get close and punch me, so I grab his fist and twist him into a hold, using his body as a shield while I put three bullets in another guy: one in the ribs, two in the face. The other guys fill my shield with bullets, so I kick him forward and put another round in the back of his head, rushing to the nearest piece of cover and checking my magazine. I fire seven bullets out of twenty one total, so I’ve still got fourteen. I return the mag to Dawn and lean up against the wall, seeing someone’s foot step forward. One shot to the foot, followed by a quick hand-to-hand skirmish where I discombobulate him and uppercut his solar plexus and another bullet to the head. Nine rounds, twelve left. Hearing enemies behind me, I holster Dawn and draw Dusk, aiming with my left hand and eye at the approaching hostile and putting a bullet in his knee, arm, and face. Two plus these three meant five out of Dusk’s thirteen. Eight left.

Slamming my back against the wall, I listen in on my current situation. Gunfire in the warehouse was dying down, so Obsidian Integrity should be wrapping up there. The sounds of grass being trampled intensified, so my enemies must have back-up on the way. I still don’t have my swords… A brief glance at my necklace, and I can feel it’s about halfway full of Anima. I holster both my guns and pull Stampede from behind my waist, checking the cylinder. All eight chambers loaded, let’s blow some heads off. A wave of Anima flows from my hands into the gun as I flick the cylinder back into place, my focus shifting to explosive projectiles. As soon as I see someone step forward, I rush out of cover and put a bullet in their chest, clicking my thumb like I’m detonating a bomb as the Anima casing on that round explodes and turns him into a fountain of blood and gore. I hit another guy with another shot, then land another shot on another faceless villain. Rinse and repeat with the remaining five bullets in the cylinder before holstering Stampede and throwing the shot bodies at other incoming assailants. Again, I click my thumb like a detonator, causing the five rounds to explode violently and take out about half of the first wave that came for me. Just as I whip out Stampede to reload it, I hear a bullet whiz right past the back of my head and hit someone on my right. The empty cylinder ejects as I turn to see another masked guy in a suit on the ground, a bullet through his skull. My attention turns to see Haru on her bike, her Blizzard rifle set up to snipe that sneaky bastard and my swords on the sides of her bike. Jogging towards her, I load a fresh cylinder filled with 12.7×55mm STs-130 bullets into Stampede before flicking it back into place, switching the safety on, and holstering it.

“Please tell me the package made it back.” I greet her with a fist bump before promptly retrieving my two swords.

“Safe and sound. Miss Subaru’s already paid the fee and left.” Haru chambered another round into her rifle as I secured Arc to my back, shifting my arms a little to ensure the swords wouldn’t hinder my movements as I fought.

“Alright. Obsidian’s here, by the way. Beat Junji over here, but the rest of his team’s clearing out the warehouse. You wanna give them back up?” I drew Dusk and flicked off the safety.

“Knowing them, they’ve got that warehouse secure now. I’ll keep supporting you.” Haru held her rifle up, looking through the scope at her next target.

“Got it. No mercy out there.” I nodded to her before running back into the fight. She nodded back before strapping her rifle to her back and moving to find a better vantage point.

As soon as I saw another assailant, I held up Dusk and fired at his knees, then a bullet to the face. Five left. Another guy came up on my left, so I shot out his knees and sliced his head off with my right sword in one quick, simple motion. Flicking the blood off Arc’s surface, I turned around and fired my three remaining rounds at the guy’s ribs and face before using an Anima-propelled jump to rush forward and stab the guy through the chest. I jerked my gun to the side and hit the mag release, sending the empty magazine flying as I removed my sword from the guy’s body and sheathed it. Loading a fresh .45 ACP mag into Dusk, I looked behind my back to see Mukuro stabbing someone sneaking up on me with her own HF Blades: Ultra-Seven.

“You girls are really saving my ass.” I finish the guy off with a shot from Dusk before turning around to face her and casually firing two rounds at someone trying to hit her from behind.

“It’s easy to save you when you’re like Misora.” She flicked the blood off her blades before resheathing them.

“Oi, oi! Misora’s not a damsel in distress. I’m more than capable of handling myself, you know.” I walked towards her, forcing her to back up with a smirk.

“Try saying that again after 20,000 years of training.” She drew one of her Ultra-Zoffy revolvers and blasted someone behind me.

“Okay then, Zero.” I returned the favor and shot another person behind her before drawing Dawn and firing to my right.

“Hey, Zero’s cool!” She drew her other revolver and shot to her left, lining up back-to-back with me as we shot through hordes of faceless guys.

“Oh, for sure. But I’m a Rider guy myself. Gotta deliver a show by Aruto!” I broke formation with a roll, putting a bullet in this guy’s kneecaps before uppercutting him with a .45 ACP to the chin. “Anyone need back-up in particular?”

“No-” A bullet whizzed past Mukuro’s face and hit a guy in the face. “Dammit, Haru… Kaho or Priscilla could use some cover fire, but Priscilla can handle herself.”

“You know she likes to cut it close.” I flipped on the safeties for both my guns before holstering them and checking my necklace, sensing its charge at the minimum capacity. “I’ll help out Kaho then.”

“She’s still by the warehouse entrance. Keep her safe!” Mukuro called to me as I ran for the warehouse’s entrance. Kaho can handle herself, but the thought of her being overwhelmed by these mercenaries motivated me to get to her as quickly as I could.

“Kaho-chan!” I called out to her as she packed up her Wolfwood crucifix and drew a pistol on me. I raised my hands to show I was a friendly. “It’s just me!”

“S-Sento? Sorry, I thought you were…” She put the pistol down, her cheeks flushed in embarrassment as she looked to the ground.

“It’s fine.” I drew Dusk and fired at someone about to shoot her back, running forward and hugging Kaho before flipping around, aiming Dusk at their face, and blasting them with lead. “You alright?”

“Y-yeah… You don’t have to be here… You already completed the contract and all…” Her blush grew brighter in my arms.

“I can’t abandon my friends, now can I?” I let go of her, patting her head gently.

“N-not out here. There’s another wave of guys coming.” She shook her head and brushed my hand off as she hauled Wolfwood away.

“Haru can give you cover fire, if you need.” I followed her, holstering Dusk after engaging the safety.

“I’ll be fine.” She put Wolfwood into the frame of her vehicle, splitting the reverse trike in half to slide the weapon into the gap before reuniting the halves.

“What’s the deal with these guys, anyway? Why are there so many of them? Who are they working for?” I started asking her questions, since I had a very brief briefing on the situation.

“No one’s sure. Some claim it’s Animus Infernum, others are saying it’s a third-party organization who wants to reverse-engineer ARMs so they can make their own.” Kaho mounted her vehicle, checking her guns to make sure they’re loaded before starting Typhoon up and preparing to head back into the fray. “Whoever they are, they’re clearly backed by some wealthy people. Could be from the Mercenary Guild, actually…”

“I wouldn’t rule them out either…” I put my hand to my chin in thought before looking around to check our surroundings. “Their numbers are thinning.”

“Good, we’ll be able to clean this mess up quick. And uh…” She started poking her index fingers together, suddenly getting nervous again. “Are you, um… free after this?”

“In-game or IRL?”


“I’ve got some time in-game. I’m at home with Haru IRL right now. Her family’s visiting mine.”

“A-ah… Maybe… I can visit you after we log out?” She shrunk down, her shyness hitting hard. I just smiled and pat her on the head.

“You’re more than welcome to. You need my address?”

“Y-yeah.” She looked down, her face red. My smile grew bigger, but a bullet grazed my cheek and cut it open.

“Shit… Meet me at my shop once you’ve debriefed, I’ll tell you then.” I switched back to combat mode as I grabbed my necklace. The Anima charge was above the minimum threshold, but not full. It’s been charging slower than usual today…

As Kaho prepared to ride back into the battle, I ran into the fight at top speed, drawing both swords and using an Anima Rush to Flash Step back into the battle. I pulled their triggers, activating the Formation system as metal blades ejected and began floating around my swords with red lightning sparks. Someone noticed me, but it was too late, I had already cut them down with a single strike, followed by four extra slashes from the Formation Blades. I spun the other sword in a circle, telling those Formation Blades to create a circular shield formation which I used to block a hail of bullets from someone’s assault rifle before dashing forward to stab them. The extra Blades broke formation to mimic my sword’s movement, thrusting in tandem with my strike and impaling the poor fool five times at once. I promptly removed my blades and slashed at another mercenary, my strikes slowly picking up momentum as my strikes turned into a deadly dance. I cut through the enemy’s forces with a stylish storm of swords, hacking and slashing my way through the goons as I forced them up into the air and cleaved through them off the ground.

I could see Haru pick off some of my targets, bullets flying through my blade maelstrom to finish off the poor guys. My final strike was an overhead slash that slammed my final target into the ground. The Formation Blades automatically flicked off the blood on their surfaces as I manually did the same with the base swords, pulling the secondary triggers and returning the extra swords back to the main sword. Finally, my necklace was fully charged! I could feel the Anima start to overflow as I grabbed it.

“Henshin!” The necklace released an Anima explosion as my armor appeared over me once more, my coat eaten away and replaced by Anima wings as I gripped my swords tighter.

“The real hero is here!” I heard Junji’s voice from far away as he hopped off his bike and tapped his own necklace, which generated a scaled, skin-tight armor with a polished obsidian texture to it. Razor-sharp claws formed over his hands as he leapt into the fray, clawing through two mercenaries at once and turning to me. I could feel the smirk on his face under the mask as I flipped my sword and stabbed someone behind me.

“Try saying that after you’ve actually completed the contract.” I retorted his claim as I slashed out the side, turned around, and executed the mercenary I had just stabbed with my other sword.

“Seriously?! How’d you already pull it off?!” He clawed through a couple more rogues, clearly venting his rage.

“Grabbed the case while your team distracted the guards, strapped it to my bike, and had it return to my office, where Haru wrapped things up.” I shrugged nonchalantly as I sheathed my sword and grappled with another enemy, elbowing them in the ribs after pulling them in close and following that with a powerful uppercut that sent them flying into the air. Haru pulled off a headshot and finished my setup for her, so I dashed to the next target, kicking them and myself up into the air before unleashing a quick barrage of punches and holding them out, letting Haru’s bullet punch through their sternum and finish them off.

“Tch… We’ll get you next time.” Junji growled as I kicked him another mercenary to rip in half.

“No doubt about that, chief. You’ve got this in the bag.” I rolled to the side, drew Dawn, and fired three rounds each at two incoming guys. Haru promptly dispatched three more behind me just as I got up and slashed another guy in half with Arc, activating the Formation system and putting up the makeshift shield with the extra blades to block a few shots.

“Don’t patronize me.” Junji grabbed one of his guns, the knuckle-dusters already attached, and punched a guy in the face hard enough to turn it into a bloody pulp. He then removed his fist and fired a bullet in their chest to ensure death before turning to me. “I’m losing money from this contract because of you.”

“Don’t you get way more contracts than me daily?” I fired two more shots behind Junji with Dawn, motioning for him to finish the guy off. He quickly spun and lacerated the poor fool before facing me again.

“Yeah, but I need to complete whatever contracts we do share first.”

“You realize you’re the only one who cares about this stupid rivalry, right?”

“Shut up!” Junji pounced at me, so I crouched down to dodge. He ended up maiming someone who was trying to sneak up on me and kill me. The gauge on his suit’s spine was at a sickly yellow, slowly fading into an orange.

“You’re almost low.” I told him as I stood up.

“Yeah, yeah.” He disengaged his armor, revealing a dark grey suit with a black waistcoat, a dark blue tie bordering on black with dark grey stripes, a dark grey dress shirt, midnight blue blazer, dark grey slacks, and black dress shoes. His personality may suck, but at least the guy knows how to dress sharp. “You’re about to hit that minimum threshold too.”

“Thanks.” I canceled the Anima shell surrounding me, feeling the energy flow in reverse as my necklace absorbed it and my coat reappeared. I checked Dawn’s current round count before checking on Dusk’s. Eight In Dusk, twelve in Dawn. Alright guys, let’s keep it going.

“This last wave has some armor improvements, from what I could tell.” I see Shiro run up to us, loading his special lock-breaching 12-gauge slugs into his pistols’ second barrels. “Had to use my breaching slugs to put them down. 9mm isn’t gonna cut it.”

“Not even Major?” I ask him, checking my current round count. I’ve only used… three out of the seven magazines I came with for each gun.

“Major isn’t gonna cut it either. I tried. I need to get back to my bike, swap my rifle for my sword.”

“How many incoming?” I holstered my pistols.

“About fifty or so. They divided themselves up, so twenty are heading towards us while the rest are about to raid the warehouse the rest of our team is currently occupying. Don’t know if their armor can withstand a High-Frequency Blade, so you let me know.” He tapped my shoulder.

“Go, we’ll cover you.” Junji nodded to him. Shiro nodded back before running to his bike. I drew my swords as Junji got his other pistol out, the two of us advancing on the incoming troops. Junji held his hand to his earpiece, relaying the info to his team.

“Final wave incoming, ladies and gents. Armor improvements on this bastards, so 9mm is gonna be ineffective. Kaho, bring out the big guns. Umika, show off Silverburgh. Mukuro, let’s see how powerful Zoffy can be. Priscilla, make sure you’ve got armor piercing on you. Shiro, load up on slugs. Red and I are about to find out how effective swords are on these guys…”

These incoming mercs were different, alright. They weren’t wearing formal suits anymore. They’re wearing full tactical gear, covered head to toe in black, armored helmets, and armed with AR-15s, from the looks of it. They spotted and immediately opened fire, so I brought up the Formation Blade shields again, shielding me and Junji as we charged forward. Our first attacks were simple: I lunged forward and impaled someone while my blades broke formation to follow up while Junji punched one of them in the face and broke their helmet. He followed his attack up with two shots to the face through the cracked visor while I decapitated one of them. My next attack was an upwards slash, my Formation Blades following my attack and cutting through his helmet. The mask fell to the ground, just in time for Haru to put a bullet through his head and neck.

“Looks like HF Blades are effective against these guys!” Junji reported to his crew as Shiro jumped into the fray, his plasma-coated HF blade utterly decimating the competition.

Mukuro swiftly followed him, her dual Ultra-Seven swords in hand as she danced through the crowd with in a style that reminded me of that Ultraman anime awhile ago. She cut through the competition with ferocity, her strikes focused and deadly while retaining a bit of Tokusatsu flair. I sent some of my Formation Blades to impale another mercenary, slashing through his helmet’s visor to blind him and ruin the protection. Kicking him to Shiro, I removed the Formation Blades and brought it up as a shield again, blocking a volley of bullets as I charged at the next target.

My next strike coincided with Shiro’s, as we both stabbed the same mercenary and slashed upwards. We briefly glanced at each other, our eyes meeting in a way that motivated us to one-up the other. Unlike Junji’s one-sided rivalry, Shiro and I have an actual rivalry of sorts. Junji perceives me as one of his greatest rivals for some reason, but our skills couldn’t be any more different. Shiro and I… We’ve both excellent swordsmen, excellent marksmen. Our parents even know each other, and we’ve both got fathers who were involved in a VRMMO incident outside of SAO. Out of the twenty people that Shiro had reported, we were down to five remaining. These final mercs reached for their radios to request back up, but Shiro shot the radios while I fired at their hands, disabling any chance of assistance for them.

“We’re gonna play a little game.” Junji broke through all of their helmets while Mukuro, Shiro, and I kept them all at gunpoint. “You tell us who you’re working for, and we’ll make your deaths as quick and painless as we can. Hold back, and we won’t hold back on beating you with a centimeter of your life.”

“What does it matter to you? You’re all mercenaries too…” One of the responded to Junji, receiving a swift punch across the face from him.

“I asked ‘who are you working for,” not ‘why are we doing this.’ Answer the goddamn question.” He pointed his gun at the guy’s face, flicking the safety off.

“Mercenary Guild, higher-end soldiers.” He replied, his face clearly upset by the current predicament.

“Who hired you?” Shiro took his turn, pointing his right-handed gun Arsene directly to the guy’s face.

“I don’t know. We just received a call for reinforcements and responded.” Shiro fired a round into the guy’s knee, causing him to tense up and scream in pain. “I swear, we don’t know! You should’ve asked the first wave!”

“Goddammit…” Junji cursed under his breath.

“We killed them all, what the hell do we do know…” Mukuro sighed, keeping her Brigadier pistol trained on them.

“One of you have to know the terms of the contract.” I crouched down, pistols in hand. “Tell me, and I won’t have to deprive you of your children.”

“We don’t know, I swear!” The guy in front of me shouted, clearly panicking. “Just let us go already!”

“Guess who’s not having any children?” I shot the guy in the crotch with Dusk, .45 ACP penetrating his groin as he screeched out in agony.

“Fuck! We’re telling you, we don’t know!” He responded again after the pain subsided enough for him to give a coherent sentence.

“No one simply responds to a distress call without learning the terms of the contract. That’s just not how mercenaries work.” I replied to him, holding Dusk’s smoking barrel to his face and placing the hot metal to his skin. He whimpered as I did so. “You always ask for the contract information before you take. Always evaluate the risks of taking the contract before you make your decision. So tell me, who hired you?”

“I-it was an anonymous contract…” Someone else responded. “The guys reported an anonymous contract, and they said we’d be getting a boatload of cash for delivering the cargo. That’s all they said, I swear on my life!”

“You buy it?” I stood up and asked Shiro and Mukuro.

“Mercenary Guild doesn’t do anonymous. Either someone used a proxy, or they’re lying.” Shiro replied.

“Look, all we know is that someone submitted this contract to the guild under a pseudonym. Used the name ‘Horobi.’ That’s it, I swear.” One of them heard us converse and finally spat the truth out.

“Horobi… That doesn’t really help us… Anyone could use that name.” I looked back to Mukuro and Shiro.

“Maybe they’re referencing Rider?” Mukuro suggested. That could be a possibility, but I doubted whether that was the truth.

“Do you know what the client looked like?”

“If you wanted to know that, you should’ve interrogated the first wave of mercs.” They spat back.

“How much were you being paid for this?” Maybe the amount for completing the contract would help…

“Assuming the guild took its cut, we’d be walking off with about half a million each.”

“This Horobi clearly has cash… We’ll have to look into this on our own.” Shiro shrugged, sighing in defeat.

“Yeah…” Mukuro aimed her gun at their heads. “Since they’re of no use to us anymore…”

“Right.” All of us aimed our guns at the mercs and executed them. I holstered my guns after engaging the safeties and pressed the button on my glove, calling my bike to me as I walked away. Haru and Kaho pulled up on their bikes just as I reached the road.

“So… about meeting with you…” Kaho nervously inquired, poking her fingers together again.

“Follow Haru and me, I’ll give you my real life address at my office.” I pat her shoulder and offered her a smile.

“Alright then.” She smiled back as Haru brushed my hand off her shoulder.

“You two can hold hands all you want later.” She looked to the side, trying to hide her pout.

“Alright, miss jealousy.” I teased Haru as Cavalier arrived, my helmet strapped to the back portion where I had put the case earlier. As I hopped on Cavalier, I heard Haru go “hmph~” as I put on my helmet, eliciting a brief chuckle from me. Kaho and Haru put their helmets on before revving their bikes up. “Race you to the office?”

“No way, you’ve got jet boosters on your bike. That’s cheating.” Haru spoke over a comms link, which Kaho promptly joined.

“I’ll race you if you don’t use those boosters.” Kaho chimed in.

“Hm…” I check Cavalier’s charge, seeing it was enough to get me back to the office at top speed from where we were. “Alright, I’ll take that bet.”

The three of us line up on the road, Kaho putting her trike’s two front wheels together into their high-speed configuration while Haru revved her Ninja H2R.

“On your marks!” Haru called.

“Get set!” Kaho followed.

“Go!” The three of us all raced forward on my mark, the wind rushing past our helmeted faces as we headed back to my office at top speed.

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