Episode Eleven - Home for Hunters
The next morning, Zylo finds Kitsune in the living room eating pancakes with a morning glass of whiskey. He is ever so refined.
Zylo also notices his pompadour is different. The front is combed into a stylish yet modestly short spike. Much better, but Zylo still doesn’t like him.
“Morning. There’s some more pancakes over there if you want.” Kitsune pats his mouth with a napkin.
“Did you do something to your hair?” Zylo stacks a plate with a few pancakes and pours syrup over the top.
“You noticed!” Kitsune sounds almost overjoyed. “Oshare?”
“It looks alright.” Zylo understates. He sits down by the table beside Kitsune and pours a glass of orange juice before starting his meal.
“Not much of a drinker, are you?” Kitsune sips his whiskey.
“I’m not an alcoholic.” Zylo casually takes another bite of the syrup drenched pancake after his passive aggressive comment.
“Neither am I. It’s not like I need it, I just enjoy the taste, similar to how you enjoy orange juice,” Kitsune reasons. “Besides, it’s much better when you can’t die from it.”
“How does that work? Not being able to die.”
“Well, we can get sick, though it’s harder for us to catch. We still get fevers, food poisoning, feel what normal people feel when those things happen. We just…can’t die.”
Realizing his explanation didn’t really explain anything at all, he adds, “Sometimes it’s worse though, that you can’t die. Like, don’t get your ass beat too badly because those injuries can hurt so much that you might just want to die. But no. Instead, you gotta suffer through the pain because you are forever alive. That’s why you should never, ever get stuck in a burning building.”
“Well, that makes this immortality sound terrible.” Zylo finishes his last pancake.
“It is, sometimes. Other times, you can just binge on things and not worry about the consequences, like whiskey. Our bodies are stronger with higher tolerances, and recover faster than regular peoples’ too. It’d take a lot more alcohol for me to get seriously sick.” Kitsune downs the rest of his glass.
“Where we going?” Zylo quickly chugs the rest of his juice.
Kitsune leads Zylo to a small, round platform in the corner of the room. Kitsune steps onto it and pulls Zylo beside him. “Okay, Zylo. This platform takes us to the Citadel. Everything is at the Citadel.”
Standing on the platform facing the living room, a bright blue light glows from under his feet. Almost instantaneously, their room transforms into an enormous circular chamber with tall marble columns reaching toward the high ceiling. There are various framed paintings and sculptures with about fifteen more round platforms along the dark cherry wood walls.
Hanging on the high ceiling is a huge chandelier that glimmers with glass crystal flowers refracting the dim light into curious shapes on the walls and marble floor.
“Did…did we just get teleported?”
Kitsune steps off the platform and walks through the circular room. “Yeah, It’s trippy at first, but transporters are extremely convenient for getting into the city. Only works with enhanced life force, so that means hunters.”
Around this magnificently designed room are an abundance of people walking back and forth, heading down the various branching hallways.
Kitsune leads the way through. “Welcome to the Citadel. This is where we get our contracts, eat, train, socialize, whatever and so on.”
The room is noisy with chatter and laughter but Zylo can’t help but feel uneasy. “Are all of these people…hunters?” Zylo makes eye contact with a number of people as he speaks.
“Yes, from different crews. That’s Ramen Blues, over there is half of the Concrete Brawlers,” Kitsune points, “and that’s Metal Monkeys.”
At a distance, Zylo immediately recognizes the huge elephant man, Bull, walking over from one of the hallways. Zylo shivers with goosebumps and he lowers his head. Though he enjoys running into old attempted murderers, Zylo hurries after Kitsune toward a different direction.
The pair traverses a grand hallway, decorated similarly to the previous room. Numerous paintings and high vases line the dark cherry wood walls. The lights are a dimly lit orange revealing a majority of the hallway while leaving stagnant shadows.
“Here’s something to understand,” Kitsune stares straight ahead, “on the hunt, only the bounty matters and any hunter not on your crew is someone you need to wreck. Here in the Citadel, however, we’re all equals with no quarrels. Remember that.”
Kitsune opens a door along the hall and waves Zylo inside. The wide room has the same décor as the rest of the Citadel with dark cherry wood walls and a marble floor.
The entire room is unnervingly empty aside from a wide altar extending out from the wall at the other end of the room. In front of this altar is another platform looking exceptionally smaller. Zylo can’t help but feel there is more to this room than he sees.
“I’ll be back in a bit.” Kitsune turns back toward the hall.
“Wait! What do I do here?” Zylo glances back to the empty room.
“Just stand on that platform, and the rest is easy.” Kitsune waves and leaves.
Zylo delicately places one foot onto the platform more cautiously than a soldier worried for landmines. He steps with the other and immediately, the platform glows. Zylo nearly jumps when a female voice speaks into his mind.
‘Welcome, Zylo of the New Pirates. Like all hunters, you are a unique individual with a special purpose. As Leon Zylo, you perished in a selfless attempt to save Rachel, the girl you loved. You were chosen to be reborn as a Baya hunter for this noble deed. As Zylo, you must serve your duty to Baya, and you will receive a most worthy prize. Reincarnation or resurrection.’
‘This is your new life, Zylo. Understand the life of a hunter, and you will understand yourself.’
‘I understand. Thank you.’
The altar suddenly glows purple, gradually growing brighter with each passing second before fully blinding Zylo’s vision in colorful light.
When the light fades and his sight returns, Zylo is surprised to find lying at the center of the altar a pair of two-foot-long shimmering steel rods.
The voice speaks again.
‘This weapon is the medium for your power. Reacting specifically to your Soul, Zylo of the New Pirates, can the power of this weapon be activated and used. Your weapon only has the power to kill and reap the Soul of your sanctioned contracted bounties. To any other citizen or hunter, this weapon inflicts shallow physical damage, but no more than rendering them unconscious. Hunt wisely.’
‘This is your bonded weapon. Your weapon represents your strength, and will only be as powerful as you allow them to be. Understand yourself, and you will unlock its potential. Treasure your weapon, and your weapon will save your life.’
The voice doesn’t speak any further.
Zylo picks up the rods from the altar and immediately feels a strange familial attachment. Almost like an extension of himself, another limb, and he wonders how he could’ve lived so long without them. Zylo grips each one tightly in his hands, feeling stronger, capable, and safe.
He holds them close to his face, examining every aspect and detail of his beloved weapons, then notices corresponding grooves on the ends of both rods. Placing them on top of one another and he is able to rotate and connect them into a longer extended rod.
“That’s neat,” he says, swinging and twirling the weapon in the air.
“So, I guess you’re officially one of us now?” Kitsune is standing by the door.
‘How long was he there for? That creep.’
Kitsune casually walks over and hands Zylo a card. “This is your cash card. You can use it to pay for things like groceries, snacks, drinks, clothes if you want. Privileges of being Baya, but you only get a certain amount a month, so spend smart.”
Zylo slips it into his pocket.
“Double rods? Not bad,” says Kitsune. He draws the lead pipe strapped to his belt and stares at it intently, gently running his fingers affectionately along the metal. “What do you say? How ‘bout we try them out?”
Kitsune walks over to the wide empty space in the center of the room and waves Zylo over.
Despite his reluctance, Zylo disconnects his rods back into separate pieces and follows after him.
‘Does he expect me to fight him? I’m clearly at a disadvantage here. Oh no, his eyes. He’s serious.’
Without hesitating, Kitsune leaps forward, swinging his pipe aimed at Zylo’s chest. In an attempt to block, Zylo stumbles to the side and clumsily taps away Kitsune’s powerful attack.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Kitsune waves in anticipation, “Come at me.”
Standing straight again and recovering his composure, Zylo tries to relax but can’t. The adrenaline is already coursing through his body, drawing him into the heat of battle.
Still, he isn’t sure how to fight Kitsune. In fact, he isn’t sure how to fight anyone. The last time he passionately fought someone was in middle school, in a petty squabble that involved lots and lots of scratching and a number of wild, uncoordinated attacks.
Neither of them makes a move. Instead, they circle around one another, keeping their distance and exchanging glances. Though Kitsune continuously waves Zylo over, lulling him to attack, Zylo remains distant.
With a desire to motivate him, Kitsune decides to break the silence and charges toward Zylo. He leaps into the air and swings down the pipe as he lands.
From fear and his natural instinctive response, Zylo immediately closes his eyes while blindly covering his face with both rods in the shape of an X.
A half second later, he feels the incredible force of Kitsune’s pipe slamming metal against metal. The colliding steels grind and grit, and Zylo nearly falls over.
By the grace of some eternal deity, Zylo manages to block the attack, and he exerts a push to drive Kitsune away.
“Stop!” Zylo raises his hands in the air to surrender.
Kitsune doesn’t accept. He kicks off the wall and takes another swing, but Zylo frantically sidesteps away before the blow lands. The pipe continues into a series of persistent jabs.
“Get away from me!” Zylo shouts, growing aggravated. He continues stumbling back, eyes wide with tense fear and forehead drenched in agitated sweat.
“The hunters aren’t going to hold back!” Kitsune is relentless and couldn’t care less about Zylo’s plea. Rushing forward and swinging fast, his pipe clangs loud against the rod once more.
Zylo grunts as he blocks, but an unexpected punch runs into his gut and he crumbles over clutching his stomach. “Stop!” he furiously clenches his teeth, stepping back from Kitsune. His vision becomes focused and his arms grow impatient.
Following up, Kitsune throws a forward kick, his heel thumping hard against Zylo’s chest and knocking him to the ground with a heavy thud.
Almost immediately, Zylo’s primal instincts erupt within him and his eyes burn with intense anger.
‘I’m gonna kill him!’
He roars like a feral beast, scrambling back to his feet and charging toward Kitsune wildly swinging his rods in a fit of rage. Though the attacks are quickly deflected and blocked, Zylo slams his shoulder against Kitsune’s chest and rapidly pummels his sides.
Kitsune is thrown off by Zylo’s sudden aggressiveness, and hesitates before kicking a knee into his stomach. He then pushes Zylo off by the shoulders.
‘I’m gonna fucking destroy him for everything he’s done!’
Zylo continues. Eyes glowing with maddening purpose, he returns swinging his rods in powerful focused attacks, each one bearing all of his hatred against the resisting pipe. The force is strong and Kitsune is continuously pushed back from each impact.
In one final act of fury, Zylo grits his teeth and leaps high into the air, slamming both rods onto Kitsune’s defending pipe. Sparks erupt from the sudden friction, and a breeze of wind rushes between them.
For a second, Zylo is suspended in the air before the force of the attack throws Kitsune off his feet, sending him barreling across the room and finally hitting the wall.
Zylo lands back onto his feet taking numerous short breaths. His anger is already subsiding and his previously clouded mind, refreshed. Looking down at his trembling hands, he sees his palms red and fingertips wrinkled from tightly gripping his weapons.
“Damn! Bikkuri shita!” Kitsune shouts with excitement, “Now what was that?” Getting up from the wall unscathed, he walks over to Zylo and casually pats him on the shoulder. “That’s the end of training. Come on.”
Kitsune brushes off his pants and calmly heads out of the room.
Pausing for a second and still catching his breath, Zylo rubs the part of his chest that caught Kitsune’s kick. It’s sore. Not much difference there. His arms on the other hand have a slight uncomfortable ache, possibly from exerting such violent strength.
He felt the tension release when he was fighting, all the hatred and anger pouring from him and expressed through his steel rods. Zylo was overwhelmed with the repressed desire to kill Kitsune. How surprising.
‘I’ll get there, Rachel. Soon, I’ll be strong enough.’
He places both rods into his back pocket and hurries out of the room.
Together, Kitsune and Zylo walk back to the main chamber and branch off toward a different hallway leading into another large room with significantly brighter lighting.
Covering an entire wall of this wide room is an enormous panel displaying times, dates, names and street locations. Several groups of hunters noisily converse among themselves while staring up at the abundant data.
“I’m going to assume those are all different contracts and bounties up there.”
“When you assume, you make an ass out of me, because that is correct. The crews follow a rotation to be assigned as the default crew for the bounties. If you’re currently not a default crew for any contract, you can use this board to see what bounties you can try to steal.” Kitsune waves his hands across the categories, “Heat times, bounty rewards, and Baya crews registered for the same bounty are listed over there.”
“So, when you guys came to get me, who would’ve claimed my Soul? You or Renzo?”
Kitsune answers, “We would’ve split some of it, but the one that makes the killing blow gets a portion more. Of course, the crew members decide among themselves. We’re in it together, after all.”
Zylo scans the panel for a few moments more trying to understand every important detail available. He points to a separate wall with a numbered listing of what appears to be crew names. “What’s that?”
“Rankings,” Kitsune replies.
Zylo scans the list. Number one is Immortal Spades, second is Red Wreckers, and third is Lightning Royalty. He continues down the list to find the New Pirates at an outstanding number eight. Great, Zylo is stuck with the duds.
“Time’s been hard out here,” says Kitsune.
Just then, a voice speaks loud and clear, “In your position, I’d think there was a major recession. Hello there, homeslice.”
This handsomely familiar voice approaches from behind and immediately, a rush of adrenaline races through Zylo’s veins. His hatred for this good-looking person is so well recognized that Zylo draws both rods before even turning to see the man’s face.
Kitsune, however, quickly puts his arm over Zylo’s shoulders and suppresses him as they turn. “Jacks, what are you doing here? I thought you’d be busy stalking high school girls,” Kitsune kindly greets.
From the first sight of him, Zylo jerks his body trying to reach Jacks’ smug, elegant face, but Kitsune forcefully holds him back. The Citadel is a place free of violence after all.
Jacks calmly speaks amid Zylo’s blatant aggravation, “Whoa, why don’t you just relax? Grudges cause wrinkles. Remember that.” He brushes a strand of hair away from his eyes and smirks, “Nice clothes.”
“I see you’re still wearing the same tacky jacket you wore a year ago,” Zylo mocks.
But Jacks is indifferent. “This jacket was custom designed. Top quality leather and some kind of polyester or whatever. You better recognize that, nerd.”
Arm still over Zylo’s shoulder, Kitsune grins, “Everyone here knows your name is Jacks, you gotta stop trying so hard. Dasaiyo.”
“That’s funny, Kitsune,” Jacks starts. “But I think you’re the one who should be trying harder, if you don’t want to be number eight anymore. Oh! Burned?” He smirks with his hand gripping his chin, then leans closer to Kitsune, “Have you…have you seen who’s at rank one? Who’s at rank one, Kitsune?”
Kitsune is undeterred. “The Immortals is only rank one ‘cause I kept it there. But it’s cool, I’m not mad. Now that we have Zylo on our crew, let’s see who’ll be number one in a few months.”
“Immortal Spades has a better ring to it than Aces anyway. It snaps in your mouth.” Jacks leans back and says in a haughty tone, “But, let’s see if you scrubs come anywhere near my crew.”
Just then, Zylo feels a peculiar warmth and heaviness push against his chest. A strange aura looms over, and the room immediately grows silent.
Echoing from the walls is a smooth, articulate voice, “The Immortal Spades and the New Pirates. A friendly competition, I hope?”
As the man approaches, the aura hums stronger. Standing six-feet tall, his face and form looks young and fit. Several strands of his long silver hair are braided with colorful beads, while a black bandana ties the back section into a long ponytail that drapes past his shoulders. His style screams of finesse, wearing a slick black blazer over a clean white turtle-neck shirt with classy dark slacks.
The other hunters clear a path for him, obediently stepping to the side as he passes.
Standing with Kitsune, Zylo resists his powerful instinct to retreat from the advancing stranger. His arm fidgets uncomfortably to the side before humbly placing behind his back.
“Just a friendly conversation, King Kuro.” Jacks voice is significantly shyer than before.
King Kuro looks him in the eyes, “Don’t you have a bounty to attend to, Jacks?”
He reluctantly nods. “Fine. See you chumps later,” and he walks out of the room.
King Kuro turns to face Zylo, and to a lesser extent, Kitsune.
Zylo, however, finds himself unable to make eye contact with the King and instead, stares off beside him and periodically at his outfit.
“So, you must be Zylo, the first bounty to survive a contract and become a Baya hunter! Extremely fascinating…You’re quite blessed, aren’t you, Kitsune?” The King smiles with his eyes never leaving Zylo. His voice is soft, but with lingering power behind every word. “My name is King Kuro and I manage the hunters. Pleasure to have you here.”
He extends a hand and Zylo hesitantly grasps the firm shake.
The King’s hand is warm, and moist. A powerful hand shaker indeed. People say the first handshake makes a lasting impression, well this one definitely set the tone for a very intimate, and wet, relationship.
King Kuro continues, “I look forward to seeing how well you do as a hunter. Maybe I’ll catch you around.” He strides out into the hall and almost immediately, chattering noise fills the room again.
Zylo relaxes, lowering his upheld chest and exhaling a tensed breath. “So that’s King Kuro, the lord and master of the invincible Baya? Seems nice.”
He is only partially sarcastic.Kitsune raises an eyebrow and starts walking toward the board. “Come on. We got a bounty to get to.”