Episode Twenty Five - The Beast Unchained
Before sprinting to Kitsune’s rescue, Zylo, Juniper, and Renzo are rudely interrupted by splintering cards slashing across their faces. At the same time, a streak of colorful glow sticks emerges from behind the hedges and slides in between the New Pirates.
Starlet sweeps Juniper off her feet with a low kick, then slams Renzo against a car with a flurry of her batons.
Zylo throws a panicked swing with his lengthened rod but strikes only the baton guarding her right forearm. She butts his chest with the other, twirls to the other end of the weapon and decks him in the forehead. Zylo stumbles back, but is quickly sent to the ground with a kick to his stomach.
“That’s for yesterday!” Starlet spits.
Renzo crawls to the side, sitting himself up against a parked car. He strives through the aching bruise in his chest and throws out his chain, successfully wrapping the metal links around Starlet’s arm and leashing her immobile.
The third member of Neon Supreme, Marina, emerges to fight. The energetic girl whizzes across the road in a white blouse and teal skirt, and her short brown hair is tied into a small ponytail that barely extends past her neck.
Marina approaches Renzo from beyond his peripherals and swings her blunt sledgehammer toward his bulky, unsuspecting body. The hard, dense iron of the hammer collides with the side of his ribs, crackling his bones before the force slams his thick body to the ground.
“Oh, that must’ve hurt! Looks like you’re out of the game, buddy boy!” She tilts her head to the side and giggles lively like a schoolgirl.
“Renzo!” Juniper winces as the powerful sledgehammer bashes against his body.
She climbs back onto her feet, but only to be stopped short by two cards striking her arm and another to the back of her hand. The sharp pain forces her to lose grip and the guitar drops to the pavement.
“Argh! Goddamn it, Cecile!” Juniper grits her teeth as she tears the card from her hand, feeling the blue substance immediately drain from the wound.
‘Okay, now this is getting really annoying.’
Zylo erupts back into the fight, his eyes burning with a raging glint. He charges toward Starlet, rolls under her swift roundhouse kick, and readies behind her.
“You’re gonna hate me even more for this!” he shouts.
Starlet turns to face him, and watches powerlessly as the speeding side of his elongated steel rod rams against her stomach.
The hard metal pushes against her abdomen, forcing her to scrunch inwards before her body lifts off the ground and flies across the road.
“You jerks! How dare you!” Marina’s sledgehammer strikes the back of Zylo’s shoulder and he falls forward.
Suddenly, his temper explodes and the wrath overtakes him. His vision becomes focused and mind blinded by violent disposition. A burning sensation runs through his body, dragging him deeper into a frenzied rage, and he is unable to suppress it.
Marina follows with a roundhouse kick but Zylo dodges fast as a blur. His body shifts almost like a skipping image, quickly stepping into a powerful backswing and hammering her upper body.
She rapidly steps to retain balance but eventually drops onto her knees, forced to plant the sledgehammer into the ground to rest her injured body. “Eck, you guys suck so much. I hate all of you.”
A shadow casts over Marina, and a guitar comes down over her head. “You’re right. We do suck,” says Juniper.
The last member of Neon Supreme remains camped out on the patio deck of a nearby house. She hurls a hail storm of cards toward Zylo, stabbing his chest, neck, and arms like a volley of pointed daggers.
He screeches painfully and struggles to move, biting his lip with each card plucked from his body. His torso steams bright blue from the numerous injuries, and the fumes nearly cloud his vision, but not his instincts.
Zylo senses Cecile’s direction, and rages toward her like a feral beast. His body moves abnormally fast, quicker than most hunters. He tumbles under a barrage of cards and swiftly returns to his feet moving faster than she can aim.
Passing the lawn and zooming up the steps to the patio deck, Zylo swipes the metal rod clear across Cecile’s body. She is instantly propelled against the wall of the house and crashes noisily onto a pile of potted plants and garden tools.
Zylo stands over her sprawled unconscious body, chest heaving and forehead burning. His hands remain gripping the steel rod in anxious sweat, the handle hot from his intimate touch. Nerves and muscles twitch from the lingering adrenaline coursing through his veins and Zylo finds himself unable to stand still.
The fight continues. Back toward the street, Renzo’s stressed and hoarse voice shouts, “Look out!”
Coming fast from behind Juniper is Elza and Rolly of the Immortal Spades. Juniper swings around but Elza quickly blocks, allowing Rolly to slip by and wail his crowbar against Juniper’s torso. Elza adds a front kick, and a thrusting lunge, and Juniper drops.
“You guys are done.” Rolly sprints in a zigzag, dodging the slow, struggled lashes of Renzo’s metal chain. He rushes beside the Pirate’s slumped body and sends a remorseless whack to his head.
With the heat still rampant in Zylo’s veins, he storms the Spades in fearless wrath. “Ready to die?!”
Elza desperately leaps from Zylo’s powerful swing, and his missed rod smashes across the metal doors of a parked car just behind her. The glass explodes and the entire side of the car is instantly crushed inward before the frantic car alarm goes off. The chaotic, screeching noise howls for attention, but none of the residents would dare step outside at a time like this.
Rolly approaches from the flank, but Zylo turns his guard and shields. The invisible force repels the Spade into a stumble, and Zylo immediately lunges with a forward stab. The very tip of the rod thumps against Rolly’s chest and his body drops backward onto the pavement.
Before Zylo turns back, Elza steps into a powerful whack across the back of his head. The attack instantly collapses him onto one knee.
“Damn it! Let me kill you!” Zylo angrily yells as he tries to stand.
Elza continues, jabbing the tip of her umbrella into his back. His body falls forward toward the ground, but Zylo catches himself with one hand on the pavement. He tries to breathe deep but nearly chokes on the spit in his mouth.
The heel of Elza’s foot kicks into his back and his arm bends at the elbow, dropping his even head lower.
“Ah!” Zylo desperately cries out. “Da—”
His voice is quickly muffled when she lands one more strike across his head and his face smacks the ground.
“Stay down, monster of the Pirates.” With the tip of her umbrella, Elza pushes Zylo’s torso and turns him onto his back.
Zylo’s enraged state was costly, pushing him to the limits both physically and emotionally. The withdrawal settles in and suddenly, he feels all the aches and pains of his wounds vibrant through his body. Now, there is barely any energy to move. He stares up at the sky with his blotted vision, zoning out into nothingness.
Elza drags his body and sits him neatly against a car. Her heel presses on his thigh and the tip of her umbrella against his chest.
“Watch.” She nods her head toward a row of houses.
Zylo softly tilts in that direction and spots Jacks pulling behind him a screeching woman.
Tears pour from her eyes as she struggles to pull away, but she is powerless. The bounty, Lorraine Duvelle, worth seventy-five thousand Soul.
Zylo’s only resolve is to make sure the Spades don’t claim her, except he too is powerless. His body is weak, tired, and Elza firmly keeps him down with the umbrella held against his chest, forcing him to watch Jacks’ grandiose display of power.
The girl tries to pull away from Jacks’ grip, but impossible. Her strength doesn’t compare to his hunter body and he easily drags her across the lawn.
Beyond frightened, her shriek echoes through the street, “Stop! What are you doing?! Please stop!”
Throwing her on display, Jacks tosses her into the middle of the road for all to see.
“Stop, please! What do you want?!” The girl screams for an explanation and begs for her life.
‘Pitiful, like all bounties.’
“Look, I’m sorry but I’m tired of you try-hards,” Jacks announces. “This is a message for all you pretenders, you Pirates, to get off my back.” He kicks the girl’s leg, forcing her onto her knees before raising his shovel like an executioner’s axe over the guilty.
“Please…why are you doing this…please don’t…” Lorraine is out of breath, and drained of willpower. Her face is red from tears and her throat dry and hoarse from pleading.
Before Jacks swings the final blow, the wailing sirens of police cars approach from only a few blocks away. The red and purple lights flash through the street to alert the entire neighborhood before quickly arriving at the scene.
“Stop!” They order on the loudspeaker. “Put down your weapons or we will be forced to shoot!”
At that moment, Kitsune’s voice cries out, “PIRATES!”
From the other side of the road, Juniper struggles onto her feet and hurls the guitar with her remaining strength. The weapon zooms over the street toward the woman.
Jacks smiles confidently, and deflects the guitar with a swing of his shovel.
In that same moment, Kitsune lunges over from behind and grabs the bounty, Lorraine Duvelle. Holding her tightly with one hand and the other gripping his pipe, he whispers into her ear, “Rest easy.”
The hard metal tip of his pipe drops onto her head and she falls to the pavement, dead.
Though the Spades were well beyond frustrated, the contract was already lost to them. In a contrasting act of grace, or a demonstration of their ruthlessness, Elza and Rolly proceeded to beat every police officer unconscious, allowing the rest of the hunters to escape from the scene.
The Baya inadvertently left the neighborhood a traumatized battlefield. More police would arrive to find property damage around numerous houses and one unconscious civilian, but no further leads to the hunters. To the citizens of Royal Hills, the hunter fight would be associated to another petty gang squabble.
Kitsune pulls up the rickety truck while Zylo and Juniper toss the unconscious Renzo onto the bed. Juniper sits alone beside the heap of a body and Zylo is privileged with the passenger seat. Once ready, the beaten and battered New Pirates hurry to escape the neighborhood.
“Thought you couldn’t drive,” Zylo says to Kitsune.
“Who told you that?” Kitsune mutters through the immense pain on his face.
Zylo glances to Juniper in the truck bed and she responds with a surprised shrug. “Never mind.”
The drive is awkwardly quiet aside from the grumbling engine of a time bomb they called a truck. There is little conversation at first, especially since Zylo can barely make eye contact with Kitsune without cringing at his bruised, beaten face.
This is the most injured the crew has ever been. Even Juniper, who usually comes out of hunts unscathed, feels the need to rest her weary body. She eventually falls into a nap beside Renzo.
Zylo is no different, carrying wounds and injuries in all areas of his body. The back of his head is even bulging with an uncomfortable welt, bothering him every time he leans back.
Despite all this, Zylo’s mind is elsewhere. There was something strange, something different about this contract that his instincts urge to inform. He wonders if Kitsune feels the same.
“There was something about that bounty…” says Zylo. “It didn’t feel…right.”
Kitsune remains silent.
“Wonder what she did to get contracted,” Zylo adds.
“Don’t worry about it. Just be glad we got it and the Spades didn’t.”
A moment passes before Zylo finally answers, “…I guess.”
The truck continues swerving in and out of lanes, constantly passing cars and racing down the highway. Kitsune wants to be home already.
Zylo asks, “What did you say to her? Before you killed her?”
Kitsune is silent for a short moment, then answers, “I didn’t say anything.”
“It’s been a hard day. Just forget about it and rest up.”
The truck goes down the highway following the endless curve of the road. Unexpectedly, the truck approaches an exit, one that Zylo immediately recognizes.
“Wait, turn onto that,” he points to the traffic sign.
“Lotus Lane Drive? Why?” Kitsune is reluctant to turn and more eager to get home.
“Just do it already!”
He quickly changes lanes, abruptly butting in front of another car and falling under the hateful scorn of their contemptuous honking.
The truck exits out of the highway and merges on to Lotus Lane Drive. Following the road eventually leads them to a familiar neighborhood and suddenly, Zylo’s memories are revived.
They pass the very same street he traversed every morning before getting to work. The familiar aroma of food lingers through the truck window, acting as a catalyst for the many fond experiences to burn anew in his mind.
“Let me off here. I’ll see you back home later.” Zylo pops open the door and hops out onto the street.
Kitsune waves, then speeds away.
Lotus Lane Drive, the street he lived on for countless years. Not once did he return during the past twenty-one months.
Not once. Though the prime of his past life was spent in this neighborhood, that period was also the biggest regret of his life. Leon was a failure, and Zylo is his redemption.
He treks down the block inhaling the sweet scent of food the entire way. The memorable dim sum restaurant is crowded with customers as usual, and the other merchants are just as noisily peddling their goods as Zylo remembers.
Eventually, he turns the street corner and spots his old apartment. The building looks exactly the same as he remembers—bland and significantly more impoverished than the modern condominium adjacent.
Zylo decides to wait by the entrance until a tenant opens the door to leave. Sure enough, no more than five minutes later, a woman walks out with her dog.
Zylo blurts, “Hi, sorry, I forgot my keys, thank you so much!” He slips his foot through the door before the woman has time to reply, and runs up the stairs.
The interior has been redone with freshly painted walls and newly designed tiles. Zylo climbs to the second floor, only to find his apartment unrecognizable. The door has been cleanly replaced with a slick and shimmering fresh mahogany wood.
‘Wonder how long the new tenants have been here… They must’ve thrown out all my stuff…’
Zylo sighs. A lot has changed, but so has he.
Now, this apartment is only filled with distant memories, and the reality leaving no resemblances to the past. There is nothing left for him here, and he doesn’t want to waste any more time. He leaves in a somber mood, and continues up the stairs to the roof.
Perhaps it’ll be even more disheartening there.
That morning after waking up beside Rachel, he climbed these very steps to the top to await his fate. He would die later that day, but never expected to return nearly two years later.
He pushes open the door and memories of that frightful morning fleeing from Kitsune and Renzo flood back to his mind a fresh image.
How strange. He hasn’t felt so weak in such a long time.
The view he once admired remains the same. The beautiful city skyline sits in the distance, calm and removed from the busy turmoil of the streets below. By now, he’s seen the city from too many perspectives to even compare aesthetics.
Little did he know, this roof would prove to be the beginning of a new journey. In some ways, he still wishes the contract for his life to have been a prank. Things would’ve been so different, so tame, so relaxed and having little to do with death. His lifestyle wouldn’t be as exciting, but wouldn’t be as grim either.
As a hunter, Zylo went down a different path, turning his enemies into friends, and himself into a raging monster. He no longer fears the fight nor hesitates to murder a bounty. Maybe he’s lost touch with his humanity, or maybe he’s embraced the true life of a hunter.
Either way, none of that matters. Bounties are cruel and pathetic criminals, and Zylo knows he is no better.
‘I blatantly saw the ruthless hatred consume my mind and control my body. I’ve felt it grow over these past few months, but I’ve ignored it. Today, the rage overtook me, and I only regained control after it was beaten from me. What is happening?
And her, the bounty. No, Lorraine. She begged for her life. Her desperate cries echoed with fear and confusion but unlike the rest, I felt sympathy… She was different, different from the other bounties.
Lorraine Duvelle… She possessed something that felt vaguely familiar, something I abandoned long ago to follow the path of the hunter.’“Lorraine Duvelle,” Zylo mutters into the wind, “why did you reek of innocence?”