Episode Twenty Eight - The Rise of a Tyrant
Way before he was ever so phony with his ‘sophisticated’ style, Kuro was an amazing hunter. He was efficient and skilled…and unbelievably, an amazing crewmate. Together with me, Renzo, and Lucille, the Immortal Aces dominated the ranks.
Time went on and Kuro collected a vast amount of Soul, more than any other hunter in fact, but he refused to resurrect. He enjoyed the power of a Baya hunter, and couldn’t return to the life of a normal person.
So, the Elder Council decided to award loyal Kuro with the title of King, becoming the very first Grandmaster King of Baya. His job was to guide the hunters with the laws of the Baya and hunt by the word of the Council, but the devious bastard had other plans in mind.
Growing stronger and proportionately garish, King Kuro saw Fortune City as an endless well of Soul. He constantly obsessed over the power he gained from the life force, watching his body become faster and stronger, and he only wanted more.
Kuro decided the only way to gain more Soul at a faster pace was to contract innocent people, even if it meant breaking the rules of the Baya. He imitated the powers of the Baya Council and created contracts to whomever he wished. The first was none other than Leon Zylo.
Sorry, Zylo. Anyway.
“Kitsune,” Kuro said. The Grandmaster sat on the high seat of his throne. “I have a special contract for you. He’ll be worth eighty thousand Soul, much more than the average bounty. I thought you’d like that. Don’t say I don’t look out for you.”
Kuro hands me the contract, and he continues, “You’ve stuck with me through a lot, Kitsune, and you’ve managed to keep Immortals at the top. Needless to say, I’d like no one else to reap this reward.”
“But, Kuro,” I said. “The contract says he’s guilty of obstructing the peace and… disturbing an old lady? What does that mean?” I was suspicious of the contract the moment I read it.
But Kuro persisted, “Don’t worry about that. The Elder Council deemed him unworthy of his life force. I trust the Aces will see this through, right?”
“I got it.” I…reluctantly accepted.
I knew Leon was innocent. After giving him the twenty-four hours, I watched him. I saw him stress over his notice, crying and sobbing… It was pitiful.
Even during the hunt I could tell Leon had never committed a single criminal act in his pathetic, unaccomplished, miserable existence, other than the unjust squandering of his life.
But contracts cannot be broken, and I had already accepted the contract. There was nothing more I could do other than help Leon accept his inevitable death.
“What I do with my life is up to me. But here you are, trying to take it.” Leon held his iced coffee tightly and his voice stuttered like he was about to cry or something. He sat against the wall of the coffee shop and I sat across from him.
I took a sip of my latte, and tried to console him, “Valid point. But there’s nothing we can do to change that. I have to kill you. All the regrets you had about your life—forget about them. They’re meaningless now. With this contract on your head, you’re finally stopping to look around, and that’s great. But there’s no escaping this. You are going to die. The only thing you can do is accept it. Just accept your fate and be on with it.”
But Leon couldn’t, and he didn’t. He continued running from the hunters, from us, until finally leaping to his own death. I jumped after him, either by habit or reflex, I jumped after Leon with the intent to kill him, but failed. Leon was innocent. He died without a single guilty crime and no one had even benefited from his Soul.
It was a waste.
Word of the failed high-reward contract spread throughout the entire Baya organization, even reaching the ears of the Elder Council. They wanted to keep the news of the Grandmaster’s corruption away from the other hunters, so Kuro and I were secretly summoned to the Council’s court.
“King Kuro, we did not commission such a contract. How did you do it?” They asked.
“You secretly handed this contract to Kitsune of the Immortal Aces. Why?” They continued.
“Were you and Kitsune trying to reap the Soul for your own personal gain?”
It kept going and going.
The Elder Council persecuted Kuro and me for defiling the laws of the Baya and disrupting the balance of the life force. Eventually, they sentenced us with banishment to eternal non-existence.
I wanted to tell them, ‘Whoa, shouldn’t I like…get a less severe punishment for this? Nande ya nen!’ I was pretty upset, but Kuro was beyond that.
Unbeknown to the Council was Kuro’s incredible wealth of Soul, rendering him more powerful than the Council had ever imagined. When they decided on his punishment, Kuro raged. Like a beast.
He drew his weapons and raced through the Elders, slaughtering them one after the other. Kuro was so powerful that he opposed the natural laws of the Baya. His weapons were able to shed the life force of even Baya Elders, and take the Soul for his own.
For a moment, I stood there, shocked and distraught, watching my once good friend kill the members of the Elder Council. He was no longer the same crewmate I knew, or the friend I trusted.
“Kitsune!” Kuro was cutting into another helpless Elder. “Get her, she’s running away!”
Vetus Fei was escaping to the platform on the other side of the room ready to transport out, until I approached her. She was calm, though unsure of my intentions. I told her, “Let’s get out of here, now!”
Amid the bloodshed, I managed to save only her, Vetus Fei, from the massacre. Together, we ran through the halls of the Citadel and transported into the city. I hid Fei here on Cherry Maple Road, away from the eyes of Kuro.
When I returned to the Citadel, the King called me to the throne room.
“Where did you take Vetus Fei?” Kuro questioned, his voice calm but threatening. Sitting in his seat, the King glared down at me at the bottom of the short steps. His eyes burned mercilessly.
I didn’t respond.
“Tell me!” he impatiently demanded.
Still, I stood there silent, staring at him through the dark lenses of my glasses.
“You’ve always been so stubborn, doing as you pleased, always priding yourself with that carefree attitude,” King Kuro lectured. “We can be better, Kitsune. We can be free. Don’t you understand that? Don’t you want that? We can be powerful!”
“King,” he corrected.
“…Kuro. You and I know that’s not the reason you’re doing this… I’ve told you before, this isn’t going to bring Lucille back.”
“THIS ISN’T ABOUT LUCILLE!” he roared.
Neither of us said a word, for a moment. He chuckled, then said, “Fine. Until you tell me where you’ve hidden the Elder, you will be prohibited from resurrection. You will no longer be a hunter for the Immortal Aces. And since you and Renzo are so fond of one another, both of you will be joining the New Pirates.”
“Thank you.” And I left.
The Jacks of Spades took the Immortal Aces and renamed the crew Immortal Spades, becoming the new top ranked crew. Since then, Jacks and his hunters have been periodically accepting Kuro’s contracts and stealing their innocent Souls.
Time and time again, I would visit Fei on Cherry Maple Road, bringing new furniture and fruit baskets to discuss new ideas and plans. Eventually, I suggested to Fei to revive Leon Zylo as a hunter, and she agreed.
Reviving hunters require a lot of energy, and without the rest of the Council, took her over a year to finish. For the next twelve and a half months, Renzo and I hunted alongside Juniper as part of the New Pirates, until one day, found Zylo eating a bucket of ice cream on our couch.
Kuro corrupted the entirety of the Baya, destroyed the very fabric of the system, and I could tell no one. If I told you guys, he would’ve killed you all immediately. Instead, the only thing I could do was wait until the time was right.
“That is, until King Kuro contracted Fei.” Kitsune continues, “Which means he’s found her and the conniving bastard thinks he’s clever by forcing us to kill her.”
“Contracts can’t be broken, Kitsune, you know that,” Zylo glares bitterly at Kitsune. “The other crews are gonna come to steal, and sooner or later, someone has to take the bounty.”
Kitsune remains adamant. “Well, we’re gonna have to fight them all, ‘cause there’s no way I’m killing Fei and there’s no way I’m letting anyone else do it either.”
“You mean you expect us to fight every hunter that comes our way? Are you serious?” Juniper exclaims.
The rest of the crew is skeptical. Contracts can’t be broken, and bounties must be killed. The rules are simple. The other hunters would chase Fei to the ends of the earth. Even if the New Pirates were to protect her, they couldn’t possibly do it forever.
Kitsune sees the apprehension in their faces. “Look, I know this sounds crazy and I understand the rules, but I’m telling you, Fei is the only person who can actually help us kill King Kuro. Why do you think he wants her dead so badly?”
He looks expectantly at each member of the crew hoping for a response, but receives only blank stares. All their accomplishments as hunters would be gambled away for the sake of Kitsune and the last Elder. Once branded as traitors to King Kuro, they would become enemies to the entirety of Baya and most certainly lose their chances of revival.
Despite all this, Vetus Fei doesn’t display the slightest bit of worry. She lightly sips her tea listening to the crew’s tense conversation, and says, “King Kuro has broken the critical rules of the Baya. Please. Place your trust in me, and I will not let any of you down, New Pirates.”
Juniper raises her hand and utters, “Uh…” then stops herself before saying anything else. She must have changed her mind and decided not to speak.
“Come on, Junie,” Kitsune persuades, “you’re gonna be part of something big, and you’re gonna get to fight…a lot.”
“Mmm…” Juniper mumbles, still reluctant. Her family has moved on from the past, and so has she, true. But another part of her wants to be a normal person living a normal life again. Does she really want to commit to this?
Juniper remains silent.
Seeing her indecision, Kitsune turns to Renzo.
Without hesitation, Renzo nods, “I’m in. Whatever you’re planning, count me in.” And he gulps down his warm tea.
“Really, Renzo?” Juniper is almost agitated by his constant undying loyalty.
He replies, “Kitsune and I gathered enough Soul to revive a long time ago, but he told me to stay with him because he’d need my help. I didn’t know what he was referring to at the time, but I agreed and I stayed. I’m not going to just leave now.”
‘So much faith.’
“Of course, if he’d told me the truth about King Kuro and everything else, I wouldn’t have stayed,” Renzo says. After a pause, he adds, “Just kidding.”
‘Are we really doing this? Are we really going to break the sacred rules of Baya to save an old lady? This is too sudden. I thought we were all in this to get our lives back, to hunt for Soul and finally revive. Now, those days seem long gone, replaced by this even more complex problem.
Though, with everything in Baya the way it is... chances are I won’t be able to get my life back anyway.’
Zylo speaks, “There’s no going back if we do this. We might never get out, and we’ll die as hunters.”
“I know it’s asking a lot, but that’s the plan. Have I failed you so far?” Kitsune asks.
‘No. He hasn’t. Ever. Though he did fail to kill me. But that’s on my account, not really his fault.’
“Renzo and I need you. How ‘bout it, champ?”
Zylo pauses, and so does Juniper. The two glance at one another, shrugging with uncertainty.
Zylo asks, “How are you going to kill him? Unless you were just going to stomp his ass into submission, I don’t see how our weapons can do any more than knock him unconscious.”
“I have a plan,” ensures Vetus Fei. “But it is going to take some time, and I am going to need all of you to help. And there will be some stomping involved, if that suits you.”
Juniper gazes at Zylo with her tender eyes. “Whatever you decide, I’m in if you’re in, Zylo.” Her voice is more sincere than he’s ever heard.
He lightly sighs, “Well, I can’t possibly trust you two clowns to beat King Kuro. You guys couldn’t even kill me! If the New Pirates are going to fight the world, then we’ll do it together.”
Kitsune stands from his seat and clasps firm hands with Zylo, “Arigatou, really,” he smiles.
Vetus Fei refills everyone’s tea cup before raising her own into the air. “It’s decided then. Thank you, New Pirates, and may fortune smile upon you for your noble deeds.”
The crew toasts.Through all strife and adversity, the New Pirates would face it together. Even if it meant fighting swarms of anticipating hunters and the invincible King of Baya, they’d face them head on.