Chapter Twelve - Sympathy for the Wicked
“So, about this bounty…I don’t exactly know what to do,” Zylo stresses. It’s his first time and he’s scared, and no one explained how any of this works, and Jacks was mean and disrespectful.
“Don’t worry about it. Just follow along and be my shadow today,” Kitsune reassures. The two return to the main chamber of the Citadel.
“Okay, but since shadowing is the most useless method of learning, is there anything else?”
“Juniper sent the twenty-four hour notice to this one yesterday. Found him in some rundown building in the red-light district, worth thirty-two thousand Soul. She’s already on the hunt, so all we gotta do is help out when the other crews get there. Lastly, we make sure one of us gets the bounty.” Kitsune sounds most serious with the last part. “Questions?”
“Yeah, what did he do?”
“The bounty? Not sure, Juniper picked up the contract. You’d have to ask her.” Kitsune steps up onto the platform, and Zylo follows.
The glowing light surrounds their feet again and almost instantaneously, they appear in a dark and dank empty room.
Kitsune opens the door to reveal a public parking complex.
The fresh breeze hits Zylo’s face and he immediately recognizes the glorious buildings of Fortune City over the wall.
“That’s just one of the transporters in the city. There’s hundreds around with one in nearly every district. For convenience, of course. Hold on.” Kitsune walks toward the exit and takes out his mobile phone, “Hey, where are you?”
Zylo follows after him, running up the incline to the street level. Finally, he is reunited with the excitement of the busy streets he missed so dearly.
The amazing smell of life roams every corner as far as he can see. Around him are crowds of rushing pedestrians and along the road is the incessant honking and cursing of impatient drivers waiting for old ladies to cross. The feeling is incredible.
Inhaling a breath of fresh air, the pollution and exhaust from the cars waft over Zylo’s face, forcing him to cough, as if to say, ‘Welcome back, we missed you!’
A city of life, a city of Fortune. Zylo stands in the street with both arms opened wide to embrace his city.
“Move it, weirdo, I’m walkin’ here!” says a passerby, moments before shoving into him.
“Okay, we’ll be on standby, then. Let us know,” Kitsune hangs up the phone, then turns to Zylo. “Juniper’s still running him, and no other crews spotted so far. Another hour or so and his heat time should be decent enough, I think.”
Heat time grants up to fifty percent more Soul than the regular reward. As the hunt continues, the bounty strives harder to survive, and this increases Soul value. Zylo understands this now.
“How can you guys be sure no one else is planning to kill him before a decent heat time?” asks Zylo.
“We don’t, and it’s a gamble. But contracts come about once or twice a week so they’re not common. All of us want to get the most out of a bounty as possible.” Kitsune starts walking, “Let’s get some drinks and head up to the roof over there.”
Entering the nearest convenience store, Kitsune and Zylo walk directly to the drink aisle. A line is forming at the front, possibly from people forced to have a quick meal before rushing back to their jobs. Others stand nonchalantly by the magazine racks skimming through pages of risqué centerfolds. Granted, there are also comic books.
It feels like ages since Zylo’s been in normal society walking next to people and shopping next to people, and buying a bunch of alcohol next to people. It’s refreshing.
There are endless choices of drinks, too many in fact. Zylo is bombarded with different varieties and swarmed by the many shapes of bottles, colors, and flavors.
Kitsune keeps it simple, reaching for a cheap bottle of sweetened green tea and a tiny bottle of rum. “Not an alcoholic,” he reassures.
“Sure.” Zylo decides on a colorful can of cherry plum wine and adds it to the basket.
After paying with the cash card, the two walk into a shady alleyway beside the store. Without hesitating, Kitsune takes a big gulp from his green tea before pouring the entire snack-sized portion of rum into the bottle. He shakes it up and eagerly takes a swig. “Yeah…that’s good.”
Taking another sip, Kitsune runs up the wall and kicks off before grabbing the ladder on the high second floor, all with one hand. Leaping a few steps up, he climbs onto the fire escape platform.
“Bring back memories?” Kitsune asks, leaning over the railing and drinking another sip.
“No. What the hell are you talking about,” Zylo lies. He stares at the wall, contemplating the best way to reach the fire escape. If he remembers correctly, he failed miserably the last time. Very miserably, and multiple times.
Zylo steps back and pictures himself moving like Kitsune. With the bag of drinks clinging securely to his forearm, he jets toward the brick wall.
The first few steps up the wall feel easy and effortless like his body defied gravity on its own. Reaching the highest point, however, he kicks off a bit too hard and his body swishes right past the ladder before he could even grab it.
Kitsune sighs with disappointment, “Well, when you get it, I’ll be up here,” and he slowly makes his way toward the roof.
By the time he walks up the first flight of steps though, Zylo lands the jump. A bit sloppy but his hands grip the ladder and he pulls himself onto the fire escape. Much easier than he thought it’d be.
The pair stares peacefully at the crimson rays of the setting sun. The asphalt beneath their feet is done baking for the day, and the roof starts cooling. Zylo remembers his last sunset spent with Rachel, a day before his contract. That was a different lifetime ago.
Zylo takes a long sip from his drink and basks in the cool breeze brushing over him. How times have changed since then. Here he is, sharing a peaceful drink with the man who once tried to kill him. Zylo would’ve never expected his life to be this dramatically different, but these are joys and surprises of the universe.
“You know,” Kitsune leans his elbows against the railing and slumps forward, “you were pretty strong back there during the spar. I was kind of… surprised.”
“You mean impressed,” Zylo smirks.
“Well, I was holding back of course.” Kitsune, the king of humility.
“You mean, astonished? Captivated even?”
Raising his drink, Kitsune gently taps against Zylo’s can as a toast to his accomplishment. “For your first time, that wasn’t bad. Cheers.”
Together, they take huge gulps, both coping with their issues through the intoxicating liquid.
“Thanks. But…I wanna ask,” Zylo raises an eyebrow, “did you fix your hair because of me?”
Smiling from the corner of his mouth but never looking directly at Zylo, Kitsune says, “Well yeah. It’s been a while since anyone’s said anything, I figure it was time to change it up.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet, Kitsune! You did all that for little ol’ me?” Zylo is surprised to learn his opinion actually mattered, and more than flattered by the gesture.
“Don’t get all wet now. Anyway. Questions about the afterlife?” Kitsune is generous with his knowledge.
Zylo feels like there should be a million questions, but only a few come to mind. “Yeah. Am I to assume that ghosts aren’t real?”
“Aren’t real? We are the ghosts,” Kitsune finishes his drink.
“Well, that answers a lot.”
“There’s nothing supernatural or paranormal about it. A little disappointing realizing this is all there is though, I guess. But this is Mother Nature for you.” He chucks his empty plastic bottle down into the street below, and then his phone vibrates.
Kitsune’s expression darkens as he reads the message, and he relays back to Zylo, “Ikuzo! Time to get a move on!” In a sudden movement, his feet jet across the roof and Zylo hurries after him.
He follows Kitsune’s path across the row of buildings, and never before experienced a greater thrill than seeing his enhanced body in action.
His feather-like body vaults over metal fences and scales high walls with the slightest effort. Even in jeans, his legs swiftly hurdle over air ducts and railings faster than most professional athletes. The feeling is exhilarating, watching his own body breeze through obstacles in movements that felt so difficult before.
Kitsune reaches the end of the block with the row of rooftops coming to an end, but he doesn’t stop. He keeps sprinting to the bare edge before leaping high into the air. His body soars over the one-way street below and his feet land with a heavy thump onto the roof across.
“Can you do it?” Kitsune yells back.
Zylo is confident, and pushes his legs to go even faster. As the edge of the roof comes closer, however, the far distance of the gap becomes immediately apparent. The rooftop is five stories high and the distance is over thirty feet. He’s struck with the possibility of failure, and realizes the fall would hurt… a lot.
A frightened expression of insecurity is plastered on his face, and he panics. Just as he takes the leaping step, his doubted intentions encumber his jump. His body is burdened with skepticism, and inevitably flies lower than it should.
Looking down, Zylo’s body passes over the road but quickly starts to decline. He falls below the approaching roof and slams against the brick wall, frantically reaching out for anything he can possibly grasp.
Still dropping fast, his hand fails to grip the coming window and his wrist slams hard against the concrete ledge. The rest of his body leans forward trying to stick close to the wall while the tips of his sneakers slide through the bricks to slow the falling momentum.
Reaching the next floor down, Zylo desperately throws his arms into the open window and clings for dear life.
Kitsune leans over the edge of the roof and calls, “Hey, meet you further down the block!”
Zylo climbs inside, only to interrupt a nice family dinner by the table. The pungent smell of pickled vegetables sits rampant in the room, but Zylo isn’t curious enough to stay.
“Don’t mind me! Just passing through!” He bows apologetically for a half second before sprinting toward the door.
The father is not amused, and jumps from his seat reaching for a knife. “What are you doing in my house! Na ga!” he shouts, chasing the intruder into the hall.
“I’m sorry! Mian hae!” Zylo sprints out of the door and races back to the roof in a whiff. He spots Kitsune several buildings down and rushes to make up for lost time.
He quickly races past graffiti-covered walls and swoops under laundry clothes lines. His impatient hands scrape along rough ledges while his arms and legs slam clumsily against the walls he strives to climb. The invincible body starts to ache.
Minutes later, Zylo realizes that despite his fierce determination and added effort, Kitsune is even farther ahead now.
‘Damn it…why can’t I keep up?!’
Huffing and puffing, Zylo’s breath shortens and something he didn’t expect to happen, happens. He gets tired. His hands sting from numerous cuts and his legs burn from over exertion. Dense sweat covers his forehead and chest but Zylo pushes on, his willpower tested.
“Are we almost there yet?” Zylo shouts, throat dry and voice hoarse.
Just ahead, Kitsune finally starts to slow down. “Come on,” he says, waving Zylo over.
They walk past the roof of an old video store to the adjacent rundown apartment building. Entering from the stairs, they find Juniper standing over a man with a red number 7 printed on the back of his purple jacket.
“Split Se7ens tryin’ to steal?” Kitsune looks over the unconscious body.
Juniper turns to greet them and nods, “Yeah, Cody. First one I spotted.”
“Is he from another crew?” Zylo pants, struggling to catch his breath.
“Yeah.” Juniper slowly but confidently heads down the dark, creaky hall. “He’s around here, somewhere…” the darkness engulfs her as she walks further down. “I can feel him.”
Zylo and Kitsune follow Juniper through the building. The halls are dark, dingy, and damp with a stagnant odor. There are no lights aside from the faint rays of the set sun fading past the shattered windows of the abandoned rooms. Shards of glass are scattered everywhere and trash bags are torn open with roaches and rats scurrying about.
“The guy lives here? Pretty sure he’d die on his own sooner or later.” Zylo is hesitant to go any further. His inexperience scares him, fearing the potential dangers lurking around every corner.
“He raped and murdered a woman in one of the buildings nearby. Dude is violent. I even had to beat him off me when I gave him his twenty-four hour notice.” Juniper boldly treads through the dark hall. “No one touches him but me.”
Kitsune’s eyebrow rises with suspicion. “Did you have to beat him? Or did you want to?”
Juniper glances back and grins wide.
They continue scouring the halls searching the grimy discolored rooms. Old wooden chairs and cabinets create a perfect environment for spider webs and rat nests.
“He’s close.” Juniper walks a little faster, and Zylo hurries behind. Somehow, he feels the bounty is near as well.
Their feet creak along the floorboards, signaling their presence with each step. Kitsune isn’t concerned with the noise, and continues brushing roaches off his shoes. “God, I hate this place.”
Suddenly, the thumping of rapid footsteps resonates through the hall behind them. Kitsune springs around, immediately unbuckling his pipe and standing firm.
Zylo peers down the dank hallway but sees only the grim darkness they traversed moments ago. Concerned with the danger lurking in the shadows, Zylo grips his rods and steps closer to Kitsune.
“Kitsune, you and Zylo deal with them,” Juniper orders. “I’ll move on ahead for the bounty.”
Kitsune nods and fearlessly breaks into a run down the hallway seeking danger. Zylo is left with little choice and reluctantly chases after him.
Sticking close, Zylo grows more anxious the further they go. The footsteps become louder and the fear tugs at his shoulder, urging Zylo to check behind him.
His instincts are correct. A man leaps out from one of the rooms and tackles Zylo to the ground, mounting over his chest and immediately pummeling his face.
“Zylo!” Kitsune races back to his partner but a mysterious shadow lunges toward him with a hockey stick. His natural reflex dodges with ease, and he smiles, “Hello there, Violet.”
Wicked and cynical, her deranged grin creeps through the darkness as she circles Kitsune. Her face reveals sporadically from the shadows as she paces with violent lust.
Violet of the Split Se7ens.
Her nose and lower lip sparkles with numerous piercings while her eyes are colored dark purple. Both sides of her head are shaved, leaving the center row of her long purple and red hair tied into a dragging ponytail.
“Kitsune, I can smell you in here!” her voice growls, just before swinging her hockey stick and striking Kitsune’s shoulder. She quickly retreats back into the darkness, chuckling with irrational joy.
Zylo, trapped under the man’s body, frantically jerks his arms and legs trying to break free. He desperately cries for help but his voice is constantly muffled and interrupted by colliding fists.
Just as the man reaches for the golf club attached to his belt, Zylo kicks his knee into the man’s back. Part of the pressure lifts from Zylo’s chest and he pushes off the assailant.
Scrambling back to his feet, Zylo hurries to catch his breath while softly touching his injured face. From his nose and swollen lip rises a cold blue steam, hissing and evaporating into the air. He quickly wipes his hand across his tender face, finding not blood but this blue ichor around his wound. There’s a peculiar scent, but Zylo doesn’t have the time to comprehend it.
The violent aggressor is Ronnie, another member of the Split Se7ens. A pungent aroma of burned herbs exudes from his coat, but that is not Zylo’s concern.
Ronnie’s savage attacks beat repeatedly against Zylo’s defending rods with no sign of relent. Each hit is undoubtedly powerful enough to beat anyone unconscious, and this maintains a constant worry in Zylo’s mind. His awkward footing becomes less stable with each retreating step and after each clumsy block. Tensions run high and Zylo is overwhelmed with stress and fear, unable to think.
Ronnie, on the other hand, remains merciless. “Lemme hit you!” He breaks his pattern of attacks and jumps forward with a front kick.
Zylo wishes he could react in time but he doesn’t. The thrusting heel slams into his chest, and he is knocked through an old rotting door into a room cluttered with wooden furniture.
Zylo falls to the ground with a hard thump, but quickly climbs back up. “…Damn it…why do I always get hit with the kicks?”
Kitsune is faring relatively better, weaving his body side to side and dodging attacks left and right from his opponent. “You know Violet, I hate to meet you like this. This place…” he says, leaning his chest back from the hockey swing, “it really isn’t my style!”
He sprints forward with a few quick swipes of his pipe and lands a roundhouse kick to Violet’s face.
She stumbles away and holds her pained cheek, screeching, “Oh! You’re gonna get it rough now!” Her arm pulls back and she hurls her hockey stick through the air resembling a javelin.
The weapon flies fast but Kitsune easily deflects with a swing of his pipe. He snickers at her weak attempt, but turns back to find Violet suddenly beside him.
She pounces high onto his chest like a wild cat, wrapping her legs over each shoulder and clinging to him as he stands. In a frenzied rage, she hammers his face while he struggles to carry her weight and maintain balance.
“Get off me!” Kitsune roars. He tries to break his arms free from under her legs, but his vision is clouded by constant, rapid knuckles. Instead, he slams her against the wall hoping to knock her into submission.
The walls crack and crumble, imprinting large indents of her body and scattering clumps of dry wall over the hallway. She eventually releases her grip after one hard crash and falls to her feet, head dazed and reflexes stunned.
Kitsune follows up with a horizontal backswing of his pipe. The thick metal strikes Violet across the stomach and sends her slamming back toward the crumbling wall. Dust sprinkles down from the ceiling like grains of sand, dislodged by the trembling impact.
Wiping the spit from his swollen mouth, Kitsune smiles at her defeat and eagerly lands one more kick to her chin before she finally goes down.
The battle is not over yet. Ronnie swings his golf club violently around the room, smashing through wooden chairs and tables as Zylo clumsily staggers out of the way.
“Get over here, damn it!” Ronnie grows irritated seeing this sloppy amateur survive his assault. He goes for another kick.
This time, Zylo instinctively whacks the incoming leg with his rod, knocking Ronnie off balance. At that moment, Zylo holds his breath and rushes forward with all his speed.
Fast as a blur, he appears beside Ronnie and swings both rods ruthlessly against his chest. The hard bones of his rib cage is struck by the even harder steel of the rods, and he shrieks in pain as his body drops onto the dusty floor.
The room shakes and Zylo stares, awestruck by his strength. “Damn!” He curiously stands over Ronnie whose head is tilted to the side with both eyes closed. Though hard fought, Zylo has won.
“The mark!” shouts Juniper from the hallway.
Kitsune quickly sprints toward the stairs and Juniper zooms past seconds later.
“Wait up!” Zylo calls, placing the rods back into his pocket.
Heading into the stairway, he watches Kitsune hop down several flights before kicking the bounty against the railing.
Zylo takes the first step down, but someone immediately pulls him to the ground again. Another potent whiff of herbs and Zylo realizes he was too kind.
Ronnie is vengeful, wailing the golf club incessantly toward Zylo’s head. The weapon beats against Zylo’s protecting forearms covering his face, but that is no less painful.
“Kitsune!” Zylo desperately cries for help, but panics when he recalls Kitsune already being several flights below. The golf club continues beating against his arms, but Zylo is pinned with no escape. “Juniper! Help!” he screams at the top of his lungs, enduring the pain with his tenderized arms.
Finally, a merciful savior dashes past and runs a guitar through Ronnie’s chest, instantly knocking his body down flat. “That’s why you make sure they’re down!” Juniper scorns, quickly leaping over the railing of the staircase.
Zylo clutches his wounded arms and stands up slow, looking over Ronnie’s supposedly unconscious body again. He doesn’t take any chances this time and mercilessly kicks Ronnie’s face. Not to say revenge doesn’t feel good, but Zylo has to be thorough.
“What’s his reward now?” Kitsune asks.
“Forty-three thousand, or just about.” Juniper holds her guitar over the man’s head.
The bounty looks pitiful. Likely in his late fifties, the man is balding with wrinkles along the face and creases thicker than train tracks across his forehead. Tears stream down his swollen eyes and over his filthy cheeks while his even dirtier hands hopelessly attempt to wipe them away.
“You’re sure this is the guy?” Zylo asks.
How can anyone kill this man? Even if he’s an alleged rapist or murderer, Zylo would never even consider killing someone as pathetic as this one.
Juniper crouches beside the terrified bounty. “Yes, Johnny Chen, is that right? Committed rape, murder, and we also know about your drug addiction. You’re actually forty something, aren’t you?”
The man doesn’t respond but continues to sob and groan.
“Hey, I asked you a question.” Juniper slaps the man across the face. “Tell my friend here what you did.”
“I can’t…I can’t do this.” Zylo turns away for the stairs, but is shortly stopped by Kitsune’s firm hand on his shoulder.
“The guy’s a criminal. They all cry, they all regret what they did, but they still deserve what’s coming, Zylo. He’s a murderer, and it’s our job. It’s your job.”
Zylo shrugs off his hand. “If he’s a murderer, then what are we? What do we deserve?” He heads up the stairway and hears Juniper’s faint voice saying,
“Let’s finish this.”
The Pirates return to the lounge, and Zylo jumps straight into bed. Not to sleep, not to nap, but to lie there and think.
Suddenly, the life of a hunter doesn’t feel so glorious. There are obligations he isn’t willing to commit to. Zylo has never killed a person, and he believes he never will.
How could he start? Why would he want to start?
“Zylo?” Juniper calls.
He continues lying there, ignoring her.
“Zylo, open up.”
“This is rude, come on!” she continues.
Taking his time, Zylo gets up from the bed and slowly pulls open the door. Juniper is leaning against his door frame with arms crossed while Kitsune sits on the spine of the couch in the living room, eyeing Zylo.
“You knew what this job involved. You swore didn’t you?” she asks.
“Well, you’re going to have to come to terms with this, ‘cause this is what you signed up for.”
“Do you? You’re going to have to claim a bounty sooner or later. Understand that. This is what we do,” she asserts, but Zylo remains silent and continues staring at all directions but her face.
Juniper goes on, “Look, that bounty today, he was scum. He definitely didn’t look all pathetic like that when I gave him his notice yesterday, trust me. All bounties look pitiful just before their time to die.”
“Alright.” Zylo places his hand on the door, urging to end the conversation. “Anything else?”
“No. Kitsune and I just want to make sure you understand your job. There’s no running away from this. If you can’t do it, give up your Soul and be banished from existence forever.” Juniper stands up straight, “It’d be a shame though.”
‘I know this. I don’t want to be banished, but that doesn’t mean anything. I died to save someone, and I definitely don’t feel like killing to live again.’
Zylo silently nods.
“Anyways, that’s all. Oyasumi,” Juniper turns to walk away.
“Night.” Before Zylo shuts the door, he glances back and asks, “Do you think we’re murderers?”
Juniper pauses for a moment, turns back and looks into his eyes, “Yes, yes I do.”Zylo closes the door.