Chapter 2

Arata wakes up early like usual on Tuesday. He does his bi-weekly morning training before making breakfast. He walks into his father’s room where Aoi is sprawled across the king-sized bed. “Hey wake up”, he whispers as he gently nudges Aoi. Eventually, the nudging and whispers transcend to violent shaking and shouting. After 15 minutes he manages to pull Aoi out of bed, forcing them to quickly eat and get ready before heading to school.

On their way to school, Arata reminisces on his decision to “work” with Aoi. “I’m still not 100% behind trusting this girl. She could kill me at any moment”. “What’s wrong?” Aoi asks, pulling him out of his thoughts.  “It’s nothing.”, he replies.

By the way…”, Aoi begins. “your life is still in danger.”

“I thought we had an agreement.?”, Arata asks. Aoi scowls. “Agreement?” She flips her hair. “That was just me pitying of you. Either way, that’s not what I meant. The Special Division of the SDF has about 1000 members across the country. It’s only a matter of time until someone else comes after you. Lucky for you, I’m the only one to identify you, let alone locate. It’s why I gave you three months. I’m not letting anyone else claim my bounty.”

“Isn’t this illegal though?”

“How?”

“Like concealment of a criminal. Can’t you be convicted for this?”

Aoi laughs. “A regular citizen could, but not me of course. The thing is, runners are given completely free reign. Since there are so few people who have an affinity for armaments, they can’t afford to get on our bad sides.

“Runners, Armaments?”

Aoi sighs. “Runner is the term used to describe those with the ability to use armaments. She dangles her silver bracelets. These are my armaments. Every runner carries them. That cross around your neck is one too.”Arata looks down at his crucifix. “What is it?”

“How should I know?”, Aoi replies. “Find out yourself.”

Arata frowns. “Well, then how am I supposed to summon it?”

“Each person is different. It took me 6 months to get mine.” Arata groans. “6 months?”

“Yep.” Aoi looks him straight in the eyes with a smile. “Luckily for me that relieves any fears of you going rogue once these 3 months are over.”

“Didn’t you just say everyone is different?”

“Of course. But rarely is anyone as talented as me.” They arrive at school, drawing glances from the class as they enter the classroom together. Arata sits down in his chair.  Aoi walks over and whispers in his ear.

“Also, watch out for any suspicious characters. I know I told you three months, but some are more adept from others. I’ll try to stay around you as much as I can, but I can’t babysit you 24/7.”  She stands back and smiles before walking back to her seat, where she begins to engage in normal conversation as if she didn’t just finish discussing Arata’s impending demise. Arata, being the subject of said discussion, spends the rest of the day in his brainstorming how to prevent it.

At the end of the day, Arata is met by Kyou and Mizuki, both of which wear faces conflicting with curiosity and irritation. Arata opens his mouth to speak before being met with a barrage of questions from both Kyou and Mizuki.

“How did that happen?”, they both ask in unison. “How did what happened?” Arata answers. “You know what we mean!”, Kyou exclaims. “Miyazaki just transferred in yesterday! When did you two get so close?”

Arata squeezes the bridge of his nose. “We aren’t even that close.”, he insists.

“That close? Walking to school together and whispering to each other in public is pretty close for people who were strangers the day before.”, Kyou lectures.

“Not even you and I are that close…” Mizuki sighs under her breath. Arata turns to her. “What did you say Mizuki?”, he asks.

“It’s nothing.”, she mutters. Anyway, Kyou is right. Did you two really meet just yesterday?”

“Yes.”, Arata replies. “Technically I’m still telling the truth.

“Well, you’re very friendly for people you’ve who’ve only known each other for a day.”

If her threatening my life is what you call friendly.”, Arata says to himself. “Anyway there’s not–”

“Arata!” Aoi calls to him from the entrance of the room. “What’s wrong?”, he calls back. “You ready to go home yet?” Arata stiffens as Kyou and Mizuki stare daggers into his soul. He opens his mouth to object before remembering her warning earlier in the day.

“I’m ready!”, he responds, prompting a dropped jaw from Mizuki. “I’m really sorry guys.”, Arata says as he grabs his bag and heads to meet Aoi. “Arata…”, Mizuki utters angrily clenching her fist.

“Who are they?”, Aoi asks. “Just some friends.”, Arata replies. They walk out of the building and begins walking along the road. “Did you tell them about your situation?”

“No.”

“That’s good. I was afraid I would have to kill them as well.” Arata stops cold. “Don’t joke like that.” Aoi turns to look at him.

“I never joke about killing.”, she says gleefully with her signature grin. Oddly enough, the 24 hours he’d known her was enough to tell Arata that Aoi’s smile was her way of conveying that she was dead serious.

⧫⧫⧫⧫

“Nothing in here either.”, Arata grunts as wipes dust off his hands. It’s Sunday, yet he spent the past hour stifling through old documents in his father’s study. “What you up to?”, Aoi asks poking her head through the door.

“Not much. Just the only reason why you’re keeping me alive.” Aoi giggles. “So have you found anything?” Arata shakes his head. “Nothing yet…I just don’t understand. No documents…no photos…no traces of anything.”

“Well if you didn’t know about any of your dad’s excursions until yesterday it’s obvious he hid it pretty well. Arata glances towards Aoi, realizing she is wearing nothing but a t-shirt. He quickly turns away. “Don’t walk around my house looking like that.”

Aoi examines her attire before looking back up. “What’s the harm? It’s just the two of us.”, she shrugs.

“Why do you say that as if we’re brother and sis–” Arata is cut off by the sound of his doorbell ringing. “I’ll go see who it is.”, Arata says as he walks out of the room. He reaches and opens the front door, revealing Kyou and Mizuki waiting. The door slams shut.

“ARATA!” Mizuki yells from outside. He doesn’t mind her. Instead, he’s sprinting upstairs. “Who was tha– HEY!”, Aoi screams in opposition as Arata hoists her over his shoulder. “Put me down, you idiot!” She yells as Arata carries her into his room.

“Don’t leave this room”, he says quickly before shutting the door. “I can’t let them see her.”, Arata mutters to himself as he makes his way back to the front door. He opens the door slowly. “What’s up you gu–”, Arata begins a greeting, but is interrupted by Mizuki’s heel crashing into his skull, which had been waiting in the air since the moment the door cracked open.

“What was that?”, Mizuki scoffs, now inside. Arata is on the couch with a bag of ice on his forehead. “Honestly Arata, I don’t know what you were expecting from Mizuki pulling something like that.”, Kyou laments as he tends to Arata.

“Sorry about that, I wasn’t expecting company. I was in the middle of… something.” Mizuki sits down across from Arata. “Now what would that something be?”, she inquires. Arata gulps. “It’s nothing important.”

“Anything that would result in you slamming the door in our faces isn’t exactly normal.”, Kyou responds. Mizuki shakes her head. “Honestly… ever since you started being around Miyazaki you’ve been acting weird. Are you sure you don’t have any special connection to her?”

“Trust me… there’s nothing between–” Thunk. Arata is cut off by the sound of the refrigerator closing. All three of their heads turn towards it to see Aoi, still dressed in an oversized t-shirt. “Oh sorry”, she says. “I got thirsty. I’ll be waiting in your room”, she says to Arata before heading upstairs.

“Alright…first off, let me say this is a misunderstanding.”, Arata states as a poor attempt at damage control.

“Oh Really?”, Mizuki exclaims, trying to suppress her rage without success. “Arata, you lucky bastard.” Kyou curses. Arata turns to see him cradled in the far corner of the living room, rocking back and forth.

“So, why don’t you tell us what’s going on? Mizuki questions, glaring at Arata. He lets out a deep sigh. “Alright. Miyazaki is… my cousin.

“Huh?”

“Yeah.”, Arata says nervously. “Her parents are out of the country so they sent her to live with me. Anyway, what’s up with you two? Do you need anything?”

“Nothing in particular. I had a thought you were lying to us the other day. Looks like I was right!”, Mizuki jeers. Arata can see the rage reignite in her eyes. “Oh that’s right!”, Arata exclaims! “I forgot we have something really important to do.”, Arata says as he forces Mizuki and Kyou towards the door. “I’m really sorry guys.”

“Hey Wait!” Mizuki shots. “Arata!”, she screams in resistance while being pushed through the door. Kyou, still drained of any life, offers no resistance. Arata locks the door and waits until he sees them walking down the street, observing Mizuki kick down his garbage bin.

Letting out a breath of relief, he slumps against the door.  “Hey, are you sure you don’t want me to just kill them?” Arata looks up to see Aoi sitting on the couch, twirling one of her daggers. “They seem to be a nuisance.”

“Go to hell”, Arata says exasperated hush. Aoi stops spinning her dagger and looks towards him. If I did I would take you with me you know, she says with a smile that sends a shiver down Arata’s spine. “I’m going to go take a shower, he says as he gets up and walks upstairs.

“You want me to join you?”, Aoi calls to him. Arata stops and looks back at her. “You’re really funny you know?”, he responds before continuing, leaving Aoi in hysteria in the living room.

⧫⧫⧫⧫

“Yoshida… Yoshida…YOSHIDA!” Arata jolts awake in a confused. “My class is no place to sleep, Yoshida. Save it for lunch break.”

Arata identifies the voice as the teacher’s, who turns around and continues the lesson. Oh yeah, I’m in class, he remembers as he rubs his eyes. His gaze turns to the window as looks outside to see Aoi running on the track, burning every other participant.

“Alright. That’s it for today.”, the teacher shouts. “I want your drafts for your papers in next class”, he says before walking out of the class. Arata rises and heads out to the locker rooms, where he changes into his gym clothes. After that, he walks out the water pumps and splashes water in his face to give him a boost.

Another night was spent rummaging through more of his father’s old files, hoping to find some link to his magic. He found various phone numbers, but when he tried them in the morning he was usually sent straight to voicemail or a recipient who had no idea who his father was.

“Also, I recommend you don’t try to go to the police. Unless you want to be dragged out of your bed in the middle of the night by riot officers”, Aoi had told him. Arata lets out a sigh and makes his way towards the track. He’s the first one out, so he begins to stretch.

“Out of nowhere, a shadow envelops his body, he looks up to see a cloaked individual falling towards him.

Arata jumps out of the way at the last second. The mysterious figure lands on his feet in a crouched position, looking completely unhurt by the fall he just took.

“Who the hell are you?”, Arata demands as the figure rises to his feet. Arata looks around, hoping more people would be coming out soon. He sighs with relief as he sees two coaches walk out of the locker room.

When he turns his eyes back to the unknown person however they are suddenly mere inches away from Arata. The cloaked figure takes a swing at Arata, who easily sidesteps. “Wait a minute. That wasn’t a punch, it was a swipe.”

Arata jumps back and looks down at his neck to see his chain missing. The mysterious person takes off towards the forested area to the side of the track. “Son of…” Arata begins as he takes off after him.

⧫⧫⧫⧫

“This is a trap. This is a trap.” Arata repeats to himself. “The end goal is to kill me, so simply disarming me is pointless. He’s trying to get me into an isolated area. I know that, but I can’t just let him take it.”

 Arata recalls Aoi’s warning to beware of suspicious figures. “Shit”, he curses himself as he sprints into a clearing. The cloaked individual is standing in wait.

“If my guess is correct you want to kill me right?”, Arata calls. No response. “Who are you?”, Arata asks. “I’m asking you–”

“A HARBINGER OF JUSTICE!”, the cloaked individual suddenly exclaims. Arata is taken aback by his sudden tone as he removes his cloak and reveals his face. Behind is a young man, similar in physique to Arata. Lightly colored skin, green eyes, and styled brown hair. He wears thinly framed glasses and a long silver earring on his right ear.

“He looks about my age.”, Arata observed. “Alright harbinger-san, what do you want from me?”

“My name is Hayato Matsui, he introduces. “And I..” he begins as the earring begins to glow similarly to the way Aoi’s bracelets do “…am here to deliver judgment!”

Rather than petrified as he was with Aoi’s appearance, Hayato’s appears to leave Arata dumbfounded. Hayato swings a lance his own height above his head before pointing it at Arata. “I have been sent to execute you for your crimes.”, he proclaims.

“No no no. You lured me into a forest to kill me. No matter your reason there’s no justice in this.”, Arata insists.

“Silence heathen!”, Hayato shouts as he charges forward with alarming speed. Arata rolls away from his first strike and begins strategizing while on the move.

“I’m not going to beat him. My best bet is to get my chain back, get back to school and find Aoi… she can…” Arata pauses. If Aoi’s ultimate goal was to kill him, there is a likely chance she would null her promise now that other pursuers had shown up.

“Three months my ass”, he grunts. He would have to solve this himself. He analyzes Hayato’s body. The chain is nowhere to be seen. Hayato gears up and takes another charge at Arata.

Too deep in his analysis, Arata fails to notice until the last second and is grazed by the lance across his side as he attempts to evade. As he rolls, he sees a glint of silver at Hayato’s left pocket. “There.”

Arata rolls to his feet. Clutching his bleeding side, Arata backs into a tree. “Prepare yourself!”, Hayato exclaims. “Stop yelling dumbass.”, Arata responds. Hayato lowers his lance and charges. “Wait for it…” Arata waits until the last moment to move out of the way allowing Hayato’s lance to drive into the tree. He tugs, but it refuses to dislodge. Arata uses the moment to deliver an elbow to the back of Hayato’s head, who falls to his knees stunned.

 

Gotcha.” Arata reaches into Hayato’s pocket and retrieves his chain. “You bastard…”, Hayato mutters as he rises to his feet. Arata is already sprinting back towards the school. “Almost there just need to get back to…Damn!–” Arata curses as he trips and falls into the forest brush. He looks down at the wound on his abdomen, which has opened significantly. Sprinting has elevated his breathing into gasps for air. Frantic coughs have rendered him unable to realize the figure standing directly in front of him. He glances up to see nobody else but Aoi staring down at him.

⧫⧫⧫⧫

Am I going to die here?” Arata studies Aoi’s face, finding no trace of the casual side of her he had grown know over the past week. Her eyes show no emotion. They gaze into each other’s eyes until Aoi breaks the silence with a deep sigh.

“Honestly…”, she begins. “There are only 2 classes we don’t have together and you somehow managed to get your ass kicked while I’m gone.”

“You’re not going to kill me?” Arata asks? Aoi tilts her head. “Why? Didn’t I say I would give you a month?”

“A month? You said 3.”, Arata sputters as he struggles to steady his breathing.

“Oh. Well, I meant 1.”, she replies nonchalantly.

“To hell with that. Even if you did say a month it’s only been a week. Why am I already being targeted?”

“Hmmm.” Aoi pauses and thinks for a few seconds. “I think I know why.”, she responds. At that moment Hayato comes bursting through the brush, one hand on his spear his spear and the other holding the back of his neck. He looks up and sees Aoi staring at him.

“Aoi!” he exclaims, kneeling down on one knee. “You know him?”, Arata asks. Aoi nods her head. “Let me introduce you. This is Matsui Hayato, one of my subordinates.”

“Subordinates?”, Arata asks as he drags himself to his feet.

“Now then…”, Aoi says as he makes her way over to Hayato. “Why are you here?”

Hayato is silent for a few moments before responding. “I was worried.”

“Why?”

“Well, it was taking you an exceptionally long time to return. I was afraid you may have died.”, Hayato answers. Aoi responds by delivering a swift kick to Hayato’s temple. “Died? Me!”, Aoi exclaims. “As if there is anyone outside the organization who could harm me, let alone kill me.”

“My deepest apologies, I was simply– argh.” Hayato grunts as Aoi kicks him again, flipping him onto his back. She stomps down on his abdomen and drives her heel into his chest. Aoi is fuming. “If you ever insult me like that again I’ll have you expunged. Understood?”

“Understood…” Hayato gasps. “Good.”, Aoi says with a smile. “Sorry about that.”, she says as she turns to Arata, who is shocked by the spectacle. “How can she treat her subordinates like that?” He looks over at Hayato, who is still writhing in pain.

“Anyway Hayato, I’ve struck a promise with Arata here. I’ve decided to give him a month before I kill him. Let him try to figure out the reason why his father was killed.” The way she uttered the words so easily stung Arata.

“Make sure to kill anyone who approaches him without my authorization.”, Aoi continues. Arata looks back at her. “Hey, what do you mean by that?”

Aoi rolls her eyes. “Calm down. I meant any runners. Hayato here was really the main exception when I said 1 month because he was the one who located you for me. But there are always those who are more adept than others, so watch out for them.”

“I don’t think I can really trust anything you say anymore.”, Arata says while wrapping his shirt around his waist as a makeshift bandage.

“If that’s the case, don’t be surprised if you wake up in a pool of blood in 2 weeks instead of four.”, she replies as she walks back to school. Arata grunts as he stands. He makes his way over to Hayato who is still struggling to catch his breath and helps him to his feet.

“Well there’s no point in trying to head back to school at this point”, Arata says. “Need a place to rest?” he asks Hayato, who looks at him with confusion. “Why would you help someone… who just tried to kill you?”, Hayato questions through a cough.

“Well you’re not trying to kill me now, are you? With a month to live, I don’t really have much time to worry about trivial things anyway.”

Hayato smiles. “Heh. It looks like Aoi’s began to rub off on you.”, he laughs. “Sadly.”, Arata responds. They make their way to the nearest bus stops. Arata turns to face Hayato. “I need to ask you some questions.”

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