Dozens of men and women watched me carefully as I entered the dimly lit room. After returning each of their fierce gazes with one of my own, I sat down on the sofa warily.
"I was wondering when you will come find me," The women sitting in the sofa opposite me said. The lack of lighting made it hard to see her face. "No need to be so tense, everyone here can be trusted."
"I've heard that too many times already."
"True," she threw her head back and laughed. "But for you to come here means you trust me to a certain extent, right?"
"I trust Miyako-san."
"Ah, is it because she's Shiba Kaien's wife?" She leaned forward and I was finally able to see her face. "Then would you trust his sister as well?"
"You're... Ku-Kuukaku...?" She had a bandage around her head like in the picture I found in Kaien's laptop and she gave me a smile similar to the one that Kaien always wore.
"It's my first time meeting you but my brother talks about you every time he visits us," she commented.
"I see," I commented half-heartedly.
"Before we move on, we need to set some things straight," she said sharply. "I've heard from Miyako Nee-san about how you feel… I'm not holding any grudges against you for what you did. You had to do it, there was no other way. If you try to apologize I'll punch you."
I touched my face self-consciously. Was I that easy to read?
My actions caused her to release another bellow of laughter. When she calmed down she became serious again, "So, what do you want to know?"
"Who are they and where are they based?"
"Ah, straight to the point I see," she tapped her chin before lighting a pipe. I scrunched my nose in distaste at the cloud of poison and fought the urge to cough. "The one leading things here is a girl who goes by the name SY," she said and I widened my eyes.
I remembered that name because it was so weird. It was the name of the person who called Kaien's mobile phone! I suddenly felt glad I didn't pick up the call that time…
"She's around my height, likes to dress in white and has ridiculously long hair," she continued to say despite my reaction. "She's usually at one of our bases in the north of the town."
"I see. Thank you for your information," I stood up.
"Wait, what? You're going there now?"
I nodded once which caused her to sigh and shake her head, "You can't just go charging in recklessly."
"I have my people on standby," I explained to her. "We're getting this done with tonight."
To my surprise, she stood up as well, "Then we'll come as well. I know that place like the back of my hand."
"But you'll get found out," I argued.
"I can come up with a disguise," she shrugged. "You'll need all the help you can get, trust me."
The daughter of the Silver Snake… I can't afford to take my chances.
"…Lead the way."
"I'm not doing this for free, you know," she said cheekily. "Like Miyako Nee-san, I'm expecting you to get all of us out of the clutches of Silver Snake."
"Something is wrong," Kuukaku frowned. "This place is usually crowded at this time of the night."
I looked at the building in front of us. It had 5 floors but only the lights on the first floor were lit. It was around 10 o'clock at night so the moon was our only other source of light. "Did someone find out we were coming tonight?"
"There was a traitor amongst us?" Kuukaku cursed.
Looks like the problem of having betrayers occurred in other gangs as well… Well… There's one right beside me.
"Do you think SY is here?" I whispered. If she wasn't then there was no point in staying.
"There's only one way to find out." We made our way silently toward the building and the others moved to surround the whole place.
"Kuukaku, what are you doing here?" Both of us froze at the voice. Although I've only heard it a few times, I recognised it as Nel's voice. Kuukaku turned around slowly and I stayed behind her while pulling my hood up to hide my face. "There's no use doing that. I know it's you, Kime," Nel placed her arms on her hips. "So you really were the rat…"
Kuukaku shrugged while wearing her carefree smile but her eyes were serious, "Where's SY, Nel?"
"She's not here right now," Nel said.
"Then why are you here? Aren't you always with SY?" Kuukaku crossed her arms. "How do I know you're not lying, Nel?"
"Don't push your luck, Kuukaku," Nel narrowed her eyes. They glared at each other for a few minutes before the wavy-haired girl sighed, "Fine, I came back here to pick something up for SY, anyway. Only you can come in, though. I can't let people from other gangs in."
"Guess it can't be helped. I'll be back in a sec, Ochibi-chan," Kuukaku patted my head as she walked passed.
"Ch-chibi?" I glared at her but she was already inside. I clicked my tongue and leaned against the wall.
Suddenly all the lights in the surrounding area all lit up. I shielded my eyes from the blinding light but I froze when something cold touched my neck, "Step inside, please."
"That voice… Starrk?" I tensed. How was he able to get through the Kings' members who were guarding this place? I glanced around to find them all unconscious on the floor.
Useless! I balled my fists in frustration. I knew I should've brought Ulquiorra along…
"Hurry up and don't try anything silly," he nudged me with the gun and I slowly walked inside the building.
"Looks like all the actors are here," someone announced. The voice was coming from a set of speakers on a desk placed in the middle of the large room. In one of the corners of the room was a security camera that was focused on me. Beside the speakers was a projector projecting an image on the wall.
"Welcome, Kime," the voice's owner, SY, drawled and I realised the image on the wall was actually live footage coming from wherever that sly woman was. She had a mask on to hide her identity.
"You set us up," Kuukaku hissed at Nel who was pointing a gun at her.
"This's what you get for betraying me, Kuukaku," SY sighed I disappointment.
I glared daggers at the camera. If only there was a way to break it… I took a step forward but stopped when I felt Starrk's gun dig into my back.
"Nel," SY spoke up again. "Kill them."
"Both?" Nel widened her eyes. "But Kuukaku-"
"Betrayed us," She interrupted. "We don't need those kind of people."
"Check that large box in the corner, Nel," she interrupted. "It's a present I've prepared earlier. It'll get you motivated."
Nel walked up to it hesitantly and slipped off the black sheet that was covering it.
"Lilynette?" Starrk shouted in alarm.
The three were unconscious and had a strange, compact device strapped to their necks.
"Don't touch it!" Kuukaku yelled while striding over to her, causing Nel to stop and look back hesitantly. "They're bombs."
"Recognising what it is with one glance… As expected of Kuukaku, our bomb specialist," SY said in amusement.
"Please, take them off." Nel looked toward the camera for help. "You said you wouldn't bring them any harm if I-"
"I can set them off with a press of a button, Nel," SY said calmly while waving a remote control. "I'll come and get rid of the bombs as soon as I see you kill them."
"I understand," Nel murmured almost robotically. In a blink of an eye, her hands were already wrapped around my neck.
"Nel, wait," Kuukaku pulled her off me. "There must be another way."
"Why don't you stop hiding behind that camera and meet me face to face, coward," I glared up at the camera while rubbing my throbbing neck.
"Ah, so troublesome," Starrk scratched his head. "But Lilynette's life is on the line so…" I rolled to the side just as he pulled the trigger. Pulling out my knife I rushed toward him but he blocked my attack with his gun. He took out another gun with his left hand and I jumped away before he could shoot me. He shot a few more bullets in my direction but I kept moving to dodge them. I ran up to him and knocked one gun out of his hand and wrapped my arm around his neck. As he struggled, I kicked his other hand and he dropped his gun.
"You call yourself a leader?" I faced the camera while restraining him. "Using methods like this to control your subordinates."
"People work harder when something is on the line," she replied. "Now hurry up, you two. If they're not dead within ten minutes, I'll detonate the bomb."
"Leave it to me," Nel bowed to the camera before turning to face us.
"Nel, stop, this isn't right," Kuukaku restrained her from behind before she could get any closer to me.
"Let go, I can't watch my brothers die like this!" It was my first time seeing Nel being so flustered. Before, she always seemed to calm, distant and calculating. She really cares for her brothers…
"Kuukaku," I said in a soft voice so the camera couldn't pick it up. "How long do you think you'll take to defuse the three bombs?"
She studied them for a bit before saying with confidence, "They're easy. Looks like it'll take me 10 seconds for each, max."
"If you try to disarm it, I'll set the bombs off immediately," SY warned.
"Let go of me," Nel struggled against Kuukaku's hold. "I won't let you put them in any danger."
"They're already in danger," I rolled my eyes. "Collect yourself, you're not helping the situation."
"Like you would care about the enemy," she hissed.
"I'm against foul play like this," I replied and she shut up.
"Hmm? Where am I?" The skinny man on the right sat up slowly before seeing the man lying next to him. "Don? What are you doing sleeping there? What's this around my neck…?"
"Persche," Nel called. She helped her brother out of the box.
"Nel!" He greeted her cheerfully. "My cute, little sister!"
Cute, little sister…?
"You, stay quiet before you make the situation even worse," Kuukaku pulled Perche toward her by his collar and growled before pushing him away again. The camera was in the far corner so SY probably couldn't see, but from my position I saw Kuukaku's lips move rapidly before she finally pushed Persche away from her. He glared at her for a moment before he went back to trying to wake up Don.
"The clock is ticking. There is less than five minutes left," SY announced in a singsong voice.
"No," Nel gasped. She kicked Kuukaku in her stomach. Kuukaku cringed at the pain and leaned against the box as support. Nel then grabbed one of Starrk's guns that I kicked aside before and aimed it at me, "Die!"
"I told you to stay calm, damn it," I cursed. Kicking Starrk's other gun into my hand I shot the lens of the camera before pointing it at Nel. "Don't move."
"Alright, I'm done," Kuukaku announced but sounded oddly panicked.
"Good work," I lowered my gun.
"We need to get out of here fast," Kuukaku ushered. "Hurry up! Starrk and Pesche come carry these two."
"Stop ordering me around already, I'm older than you," Pesche huffed but he and Nel picked Don up while Starrk carried the girl.
As soon as we got outside, there was a deafening explosion that caused the ground to shake. The impact form the explosion knocked us to the ground. The light was blinding and the building collapsed on itself, enveloping us in dust clouds. I coughed at the dust and debris before turning to Kuukaku. "I thought you disarmed it!"
"There was no time," Kuukaku said, surprising me. "Those bombs…they were time bombs, not remote-controlled ones and there were only three minutes left before it would detonate. I only had time to break the lock on the collars and take them off."
"Three…" Nel widened her eyes. "I didn't think she would actually do that…"
"So even if Nel did manage to kill me, the bombs would've went off anyway and kill everyone in the building," I scratched my head. "I'm surprised you can be loyal to that kind of boss."
Nel gritted her teeth, "It's not like we wanted to. We couldn't escape from her…"
"So, after realising we could save your brothers, you decided to change sides immediately? Some sense of loyalty you have there," I accused of her.
"That wasn't the reason why I changed sides," Nel said tensely and I looked at her in surprise. She played with her hair as she talked. "I did this because of Ichigo."
I stared at her blankly. He had something to do with this? What?
Seeing my expression, Nel quickly said, "He didn't have anything to do with this, of course. But I overheard him when he was telling Matsumoto about you before. He made you sound like an angel. He honestly thought you were capable of fixing any problems and, it sounds stupid, but I started to believe him… I still had my doubts of course, but when I heard Kuukaku's plan, I couldn't stop myself from going along with it."
I continued to stare at her in disbelief. So… the plan went so well because of that carrot?
"So, are you two going to go back to her?" Kuukaku asked while I was still trying to absorb the new information.
"I…" Nel looked at her brothers. "I don't know where else we can go."
"Join Kings, then," Kuukaku offered with a grin. "I'm sure they'll treat you better than SY."
"Oi, don't go recruiting people like that," I glared at her. "You're not even a member."
"I'll be going into hiding for a while," Starrk spoke up. "I want this child to grow up without hassles like this again." He looked at the young girl in his hands before bowing to us, "But if you ever need it, I am willing to help you with anything."
"It's fine if you want to do that but… How are you going to support yourselves?" I asked him.
He pondered the question for a while before shrugging, "We'll manage somehow."
"If you need any assistance, you can always come to Kings," I offered. He seemed like a genuinely nice person who was unfortunate enough to get caught in this fight.
"I'll keep that in mind," he nodded his head. "Thank you for offering your help despite my previous conduct."
"It's fine," I reassured him. "You were just following orders."
He opened his mouth but closed it when he glanced at Nel. He then nodded slightly and mumbled, "I'll take my leave now… Good-bye."
We watched him walk away in silence.
"How did he end up joining a gang? He doesn't seem the type to. For one, he seems to be too lazy to do anything."
"Ah, SY took an interest in him because he was a famous marksman in some town," Kuukaku shrugged. "He was reluctant at first but then she found a way to recruit him."
"I don't like her ways. It's not what a leader should do," I frowned and balled my fists. Looks like I found another reason why I have to deal with her…
"I'll hide Nel and her brothers until they can decide on what to do," Kuukaku patted Nel's head. "So you don't need to worry about her."
"If you need it, I can provide a safe house as well," I nodded.
"Thank you," Nel said in a soft voice. "I was trying to kill you before but now…"
"I can't blame you. You had no choice," I shrugged and stretched. "Don't make me regret helping you."
"I won't," she promised.
"Alright, I'll head back now and report this," I left the two and called Ulquiorra.
"I think I see why Ichigo likes her so much…" I heard Nel say.
No, Nel, he changed his mind about that…
A few cars arrived soon after to pick me and the unconscious people up. When I finally arrived home I walked into the lobby with a tired sigh.
Home at last, I thought.
"Welcome back, Kime-sama," Ulquoiorra greeted when I was waiting for the lift to arrive. "It seems like you had a busy night."
"Yeah," I sighed. "That SY girl…I really don't like her. I'll brief you on what happened tomorrow morning," I cleared my throat with a frown. It seemed like the dust from before went into my lungs…
"Are you alright, Kime-sama?"
"I'll be fine after a little rest," I sighed. The lift arrived and the door slid open.
Ulquiorra looked at me with a slight frown, "You look really pale."
"I said I'm fi-" I burst into a coughing fit before I could finish my sentence.
"Kime-sama!" Ulquiorra looked at me in shock and as he tried to reach toward me I started falling.
I heard him calling for me again but it sounded so far away…
My eyes slid closed.I'm just going…to…rest for a… bit…