Silently, she watched through the holes in the wall and curtain of rain, watched from inside the room that had become a battleground, as Ken and Reverio went on their way. As the downpour continued overhead and drowned out the retreating wheels of the Ikari family’s car, Chinami’s face slowly drained of even faux happiness and relief… into something far more ominous.
A cold glance was turned towards the prone, unconscious Nightman, eyes like dull rubies almost seeming to briefly gain an inhuman glow, as they narrowed minutely. Glancing at the brown cloak in her hands, Chinami frowned at its already sullied state. The streaks of blood and ash on her arms had already dirtied it beyond reason even from only being shuffled around in her grasp. Wearing it now could hardly make things much worse. And besides, she would sort of be breaking a not-exactly-promise to Reverio if she didn’t.
Exhaling, she smoothly slung the coat over her shoulders, threaded her arms through the sleeves with a light flourish and strode back towards Kiburi and Nightman, broken glass, wood and other debrii noisily tracing her footsteps, as she stopped just short of the expanding puddle of blood around the mauled, yet still breathing Nightman. Glancing at the undead Man in the Suit and then to Kiburi, she asked, “What will happen to Nightman?”
There was an almost feigned disinterest in her tone. Feigned, in that she only cared about one answer.
“I’m unsure what to do with him. I could steal his powers, but they require a lot of set-up from what I am able to sense. I could just let him go as a cripple, a lesson for those who would think to assault my students in such a lame way.” Kiburi begins, before he looks over to Chinami. “Would you like to kill him?” He asks, flatly.“Yes,”
Chinami answered bluntly. She was emotionally drained, cracked. And furthermore, what was there to hide from someone like Kiburi at the end of the day? It occurred to her that, for better or worse, in this matter at least, she might have found a disturbingly kindred spirit. “But… I don’t just want him to die. I suppose it might be considered ‘cruel and unusual’, but I would very much like to make him suffer for the trouble he put me through.”
Her eyes narrowed at Nightman, her lips working thoughtfully. “Headmaster, I wonder… what sort of afterlife awaits him…”
She cupped her chin with one hand. “Are his actions venerated by the god that gave him his Gift, or did he misuse it? Did they intend for him to take this route? After all, such a power… would surely drive corruption into the heart of all but the stoutest man.”
“Corruption, veneration by gods, these things are for those who worry about the repercussions of their actions after death. The gods arm us for their own protection, and for some their own amusement. Many do honestly care for humanity but enough just tolerate us until we prove ourselves to them.” Kiburi begins, as he waved his hand in the air conjuring what looked like a baseball bat lined with thin razor blades, the blades peeking out just enough to split and peel skin rather than properly cleave flesh.
“In this world we must do as we believe, not the gods, not others. Our own paths are carved from the grime and dirt of this rotting mud ball. Here I now gift you a choice, a fork in your path. If you wanna kill him, beat him to death with this. It’ll hurt for the both of you, seeing how you are still a little injured but it will show your conviction for the kill. That you want it. Do you want it?” Kiburi asks, flipping the bat over in his hand to offer it to Chinami all the while smiling.
A small chuff escaped Chinami’s lips in something close to disbelief. Her eyes ran across Kiburi’s form with a look of almost wonder in them. This man… was speaking her language. She almost couldn’t believe it, believe that he -the head of one of the greatest academies in the nation- was being serious. But excessive violence or no, the core of the values he expressed… Yes, that was exactly what humanity needed to be, arbiters of their own destiny. Gifts or no, what right did any higher being have to determine humanity’s destiny? It’s not like the current gods were responsible for their creation. That was the mythical Overdiety’s domain alone. So, in what universe did humanity need the gods or owe them veneration? Wasn’t it the other way around even?
She grinned slyly. It wasn’t a nice smile. “Oh, well, I didn’t ask about the afterlife for some reason as banal as concern over Nightman’s guilt. You see… I’ve wondered for a while now, but I’ve never really been able to test.”
Her jaw worked musingly. “What do you suppose happens if… a soul were to be torn apart?”
Her eyes gleamed with interest. “It’s a little too high-concept for me, the answer. And really, what chance does a mortal have of witnessing the results, but as a thought experiment…”
She crouched down next to Nightman. “Suppose that when he dies, I were to… take hold of that fleeing soul… just for a moment… and tear it to pieces... Would it even matter where he’s going? Would such a tattered wretch even be able to go anywhere? Would he be cast into oblivion?”
She hummed. “Normally, I don’t think of myself as a sadistic person, but…”
She laughed lightly. “I’m certainly not doing this for justice, and if there’s even the slightest possibility that I can ensure his suffering truly is eternal… Well, why pass up the opportunity?”“Ah,”
she chuckled. “I don’t suppose you mind healing him enough to be conscious? I can’t imagine this would be very satisfying otherwise.”
“Killing his soul? What a horrifying thought. I like your style, but from my experience there’s very few things that will keep a soul shattered forever. Some gods are bleeding hearts and look down on that as it could deprive a so-called good person from eternity, and deprive their families of ever seeing them again. Imagine, for example, if some nutjob did that to a doctor for shits and giggles. Maybe they’d do it to a father of twelve….or maybe to a spirit wielding girl who did it to their father, meaning you’d be on the receiving end of it depriving your parents of ever seeing you again even if you became a shitter.” Kiburi begins. “...But I do have one of those things in my arsenal. I can heal him, let you beat him, and obliterate him…but it’ll come with a cost.”“Hah…”
Chinami sighed. “Perhaps I was being a little too greedy.”
She shrugged. Most people would have settled for death, but her paranoia screamed at her. Resurrection wasn’t unheard
of entirely as far as she knew, and even the idea of this man having a route back by the slimmest margin was enough to drive a cold sweat down her spine. She wanted him gone
for good, but even getting this far had cost her dearly… If there was a price to be paid, was she really willing to pay any more this day? Shaking her head, she answered, “Like I said, I’m not usually all that sadistic. And really… I’m just pissed off, not stupid. Really truly killing a soul… If there’s a cost for that, then it’s one that I like to think I’m not unwise enough to pay. However…”
Her Spirit reached down, taking hold of the unconscious Nightman’s lower jaw and levering his entire body up till he hung limply before her, supported only by his knees. “Even if I can’t destroy his soul entirely, I think I can do it temporarily.”
She smiled almost pleasantly. “An eye for an eye, one cracked soul to another. Both of us will heal… in time, and neither of us will have it pleasant. I think that -making things even- will satisfy me. As for killing him to begin with? Why, that’s just a matter of course.”
She glanced back at Kiburi. “So, unless there’s anything in particular you’d like to add to his karmic tab personally, healing him enough to hear should be plenty. I’d at least like to afford him a send-off, and somehow, I doubt loose souls have the best hearing.”
Kiburi laughs a bit. “The cost was more to me than karmic, my girl, but it’s good to see one of my favorite students is frugal. You’re gonna go far, kid.” He declares, before stabbing Nightman with his fingers, the flesh around the injection point pulsating as soon Nightman would groan, barely conscious and still unable to move.
Nightman's eyes opened slowly. Mostly he was just confused. He was still there. Kiburi was still there. Chinami
was still there. Finally his faculties returned just enough.
"What more could you possibly desire from me?" he rasped weakly.
Chinami’s ruby eyes closed briefly in thought, as she tilted her head. Her brows scrunched lightly in thought, before jumping in remembrance. “This situation looks familiar, right, Nightman?”
she asked lightly. “If I recall, this is just the way it looked… when you shattered my power. And you know? You said something to me then.”
One finger tapped her lips in consideration, her human arms folded atop one another. “What was it…? Oh yeah! Something like: ‘I will not lie… You gave me no end of grief. You stand as living proof of why I must do this… The world cannot be trusted to people like you. But, despite what it cost me, I suppose I do have to thank you in a way… One cannot grow without first overcoming obstacles… and you were an obstacle like no other.’ That’s how it went… right?”
There was a sharp, wet crunch, as without fanfare, the razor, bladed baseball bat was shoved through the area that once contained Nightman’s heart by her Spirit’s other hand.
As the instrument pierced through the man’s heart, the room seemed to freeze. The walls around them faded to black and Kiburi vanished from her sight. A moment later Chinami would find herself standing next to… herself, watching herself impale the man. A moment later, another Nightman appeared standing next to him
“Not a pretty sight, is it?” he asked, then held up his hand. “Fret not, child. My power will fade soon. More than likely, even before then Kiburi will notice something. Should give us a few uninterrupted moments. The mind can work quickly, after all.” He put his hands into his pockets. “This is hardly what my power is meant for, but I can make do. Would that I could, I’d have done this before you cut me down yourself, but… you are a quick girl, after all.”
Glancing at it all from an outside perspective, Chinami felt remarkably unworried… enough to even surprise herself, despite the situation. Striding forward (was it really striding in what was clearly some sort of mental landscape? It was hard to say), she circled the gruesome scene, feeling little more than a vague, disconnected relief. She knew this was it, that it was over. She’d evened the score. The battle had cost her dearly, but…“No,”
she agreed verbally, snorting. “It isn’t pretty. I told Kiburi, and I’ll tell you as well. I’m not a… Well, okay, I’m a little sadistic, I guess, but not for no reason.”
She sighed, running one hand through her hair. “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. An old parable or something I heard once.”
“Yes,” Nightman interrupted. “And an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. We can trade idioms and justifications all day, but it will lead us nowhere.”
She shrugged. “True enough.”
Working her jaw, despite herself, she felt curious. “Why do this? I get that people like Kiburi exist… that they make use of their power selfishly… But people like Rev… He doesn’t seem the sort. He didn’t deserve to be attacked for no reason. He didn’t do anything to you.”
At the core of it, that was what really pissed her off. She had been living quietly, responsibly. She had all this power, and yet, despite all odds, she had actually been responsible enough to… almost pretend like the Spirit was all there was to it. She didn’t go around tyrannically imposing her will on others, hadn’t allowed it to go to her head… Or, at least, she didn’t think so… hoped so.
She had done nothing to earn this sort of assault either… at least initially. Once negotiations -if they could even be called that- had broken down, it was hard to say who had really struck first between them. “And somehow, I doubt he was the only one… the only person who was -if not innocent- at least not actively abusive of the power they possessed.”
“I did not attack him, at least not in the way you attacked me…” Nightman scowled, but then paused, and raised his hands slightly in capitulation. He sighed and waved away the gruesome display next to them. It was replaced by a pair of chairs, like the ones in his treatment rooms. He took one and motioned for Chinami to take the other if she wished, but did not wait for her to do so before speaking further. “My motivations are no longer relevant. You’ve seen to that yourself, and because of that you no longer get to know them. Pry them from my head yourself if you wish, or I’m sure somewhere in Kiburi’s endless closet of stolen powers he has the ability to do so. Do the work yourself, for I shall not.”
And yet, he furrowed his brow, going on further, “I did used to do this the right way, you know. Or at least the acceptable way. But I failed too many times. Either my own inadequacy, or simply the fact that my words could not protect them from the outside world. So, with my work at an end, allow me to try it the old way one last time. Let me leave you with a bit of advice,” he told her, giving her a granule of the story she’d asked for in spite of himself.
Seeing little harm in it, Chinami sat across from him. “That’s true… but I’m starting to think I may see the disconnect here.”
Closing her eyes, she sighed and nodded. “With this display, it’s obvious now. Your mental power was never one you stole. It’s part of your core set, potentially integral to how it functions. Of course that would shape how you view its use, even if it were to be used entirely altruistically. On the other hand…”
She gestured to herself with a humorless smile. “I am what you might call a free will absolutist. To me, there is no difference between memory manipulation and murder. The sanctity of the mind, soul and core self is paramount, necessary to the civility of humanity itself. In some ways, I see such things as worse than murder, distinctly so, which made your power and methods… even if they may have been intended altruistically at the start…”
She sighed and shared bluntly with him as well. “So, I overreacted. Of course I did. I was terrified beyond what I can put into words. Maybe if I had just given into cowardice and run away… that would have been the right thing.”
Her jaw worked. “But I stayed. Some glimmer of altruism saw me concerned enough about those boys to not prioritize my own well being alone… Though, admittedly, I was all but looking for a fight at that point… Two sides of the same coin.. Fight or flight… And look how that turned out.”
She shook her head. “But I’m digressing and wasting our time. I apologize. Say what you must.”
“Look indeed. You, damaged, but with all three of you your minds your own,” he chuckled. “Isn’t that what you value so dearly? You chose the harder path, but upheld what matters to you, sloppily undertaken as it was.” He shook his head. “But that is a conversation I cannot continue to entertain right now, because I saw something else in this moment.”
He stared her in the eyes, “I saw a dog, thrown into a pit and spurred on by its master to kill. You’re a child. If that man saw fit to ensure my end he should have done so himself. But you are much more than a dog, Chinami, and in all the ways that matter, great and terrible. And even a dog can come back from such violence. Look at him, Kiburi, and ask yourself… do you really want to be anything like him?” He gave a long sigh. “It’s easy to slip. With my work threatened I pulled the trigger on that poor boy. I can say it was the heat of the moment, or even that it wasn’t really me with my mind split into three, but that means little in the end. It was something my actions alone led to. In my desperation I became what I was trying to put an end to.
But… I think you have a long way to go before you risk becoming like him. And yet, it can happen in the blink of an eye. For better or worse, my work is at an end, and thus this world is left to you. So, in the meantime, just… don’t become like me.” He closed his eyes, sinking back into his chair as if enjoying one last moment of relaxation. “You’re a smart girl, Chinami. Smart enough to know what that means. At least… I hope so.”
As he spoke his last words, the darkness around them began to rush in, blowing everything away like a puff of smoke until she found herself back where she’d been before, her hand once more wrapped around the handle of the bat.
It was almost like coming down from an adrenaline high, yet strangely muted. The intoxicating sensation of channeling the will to kill had almost entirely drained from her, as to her eyes, the faint spiritual whisps that she knew comprised Nightman’s soul began to rise from the fading body. There was no saving him now, even if she were to decide to have a last-minute change of heart. Even then, she doubted Kiburi would have spared him. No, at the end of the day, Nightman had lost his way, and she wasn’t sure if he could have been brought back from that.
As Nightman’s corpse slumped back bonelessly with a sound Chinami didn’t particularly want to acknowledge, her Spirit cradled the whisps far more gently than she might have been inclined prior. She didn’t know if Kiburi could see souls… but the fact that he claimed he had something that could destroy them… and the fact that he was apparently a Gift stealer as well… and leagues beyond Nightman for that matter… She wouldn’t put it past his capabilities.
There were many things she’d have liked to do with that soul, questions she’d have liked to ask him. If possible, maybe… she could have taken him to a scenic place to release… or taken a last message to whatever family he might be willing to tell her of, but she couldn’t see that going through Kiburi. The flood of sadism and spite that had practically strangled her thoughts moments prior was absent, and she… somehow, didn’t want to let the Headmaster play his own hand.
Reluctantly, Chinami released and watched quietly, as the soul flowed into the ether and the great beyond outside her perception. Whether she liked it or not, Nightman had given her something at the end of it all, evened the scales a little. She’d repay that with this much mercy. “Now we’re square, Nightman.”Good luck. Maybe the afterlife will be kinder to you than this world.
Outwardly, she stretched, popping her back a bit and displaying a bright smile of satisfaction that she suddenly felt not at all. “Well, I’m off!”
she declared jovially to Kiburi, waving lightly, as she hop-skipped over the various pieces of rubble strewn across the room towards the blown open wall. “Barring anything pressing, I shouldn’t miss classes this week. I got healed by that generous blondie, after all. It’d be pretty lame to be absent after that.”
Stepping out the gap, Chinami closed her eyes briefly, as she allowed herself to be soaked to the bone by the ongoing downpour. With any luck, by the time she got home, most of the blood and ash would be rinsed away.
The front door of a modest, single-story house creaked open quietly, as Chinami padded inside, water sloughing off her as she went and landing cleanly on the porch, thanks to her Spirit’s selective intangibility. The door slipped closed far louder than she’d had quite preferred this particular late evening, and the lock flicking into place with a habitual motion sounded no less conspicuous to her ears.
“Chinami?” came the voice off an older woman from the kitchen.“Yeah, Mum?”
The girl in question winced but padded forward, slipping past the open arch between the main foyer and said occupied room as casually as she could. Her Spirit flickered out briefly to fret over her appearance, super-speed fingers combing through her hair and checking for any remaining semblance of the night's filth on her skin. Her pants were all but a lost cause, but the coat covered the worst of things if kept closed. Satisfied with her preparations, she stepped back into view, glancing over a counter of sorts and the kitchen sink set into the other side of it to see her mother hopping about with kitchenware in hand.
Chinami frowned, her Spirit itching to lunge forward to quell any chance of accidents, as her mother, Harumi, set glassware on the island counter and glanced at the running oven. “You should be using your wheelchair. You’re going to make a mess of things.”“Nonsense,”
Harumi waved her off, precariously twisting on her single leg to slide a large platter of finger-foods into the fridge. “See?”
She sounded far too smug... and far too confident and capable for Chinami's liking.“It only takes one slip up,”
Chinami snorted, eyeing the timer on the over judgingly. One hour… What the hell was she making at this time of night? Well, at least that gave her time to handle her own affairs and then intercede in the nonsense idea of her mother getting that out alone. “You lose nothing by not being reckless. I’m not always going to be around to save you.”
“Chinami, I-” Harumi’s voice trailed off to the sound of footsteps already padding down the hall out of sight. After a quiet moment, she added, almost to herself, “The new coat looks nice…”
Chinami almost slung her filthy, ruined clothes into a hamper, before reconsidering and tossing them to the floor. The garbage was the only place they were bound. Although… perhaps the pants could be salvaged in some manner. Her thankfully intact phone and lighter had been left by her bedside, and preparations done, she proceeded with her best attempt to drain the house’s entire hot water supply.
The hard scrubbing her skin received didn’t quite manage to make her feel clean.
Next on the agenda, after donning a fresh set of garments and wringing out her hair to dry, was to get the coat washed. While the rain and her Spirit’s selective intangibility had done a good deal of the work, there was no substitute for a good cleansing… especially for the smell. After double-checking the coat’s tag for care instructions, she eventually settled on a gentler setting for the wash, wary of worsening the hole damage with a truly thorough deep-clean.
A timely break from that to help her mother in the kitchen and handle the oven nonsense soon informed her that the reason for all this recklessness was a party Harumi would be attending early tomorrow. Hence, her own overeager contributions to the collective buffet. After mildly wishing Harumi the best with that and concealing her own anxiety over her mother driving anywhere alone, Chinami otherwise wordlessly fixed herself some leftover stew, handled her dishes and went to bed.
She’d have liked to say she was asleep the moment her head hit the pillow… but that would have been a bold-faced lie. Between being unable to stand sleeping with wet hair and her overall wired and physically refreshed body, Chinami wouldn’t find herself drifting into the land of slumber till some hours later. Instead, she could only lie awake, half-heartedly flicking through her phone, her head clouded with thoughts of the day… what she could have done better… what she should have…
No-! She had survived
! She was a survivor
! Her caution had paid off! And by alerting Kiburi beforehand and provoking his intervention, she had indirectly saved them all! Rather, in the end, did that not mean that this really and truly was her
victory, despite everything? That despite failing on a direct level, she had still pulled out a win by ripping the rug out from under her opponent and flipping the game board?! She… had definitely won…
But she sure didn’t feel victorious.
Chinami dreamed restlessly.