20

“I knew you’d show up.”

At Shugo’s suggestion, Riku stopped the car just a few meters away from his house. As the street was barely wide enough to allow passage for the red Mitsubishi Lancer, the detective suggested that he stop the car at the nearest possible corner to the Furukawa residence. From there, Shugo was to drop off his backpack, and then come back right away to accompany them to RCPD headquarters.

And while his spectral partner warned him about an old enemy looking for payback, the upstart avenger wasn’t expecting the person who started him off on the business of vengeance in the first place.

“Oh, it’s you,” said Shugo, regarding the old enemy in question with about the same amount of interest with which he was likely to regard a speck of dust on his bedroom wall. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping? What could you possibly want at this time of night?”

The resulting snarl only served to accentuate the already crazed and manic look in his would-be murderer’s eye. “Fuck you, asshole! You’re gonna pay for what you did to me!”

All things considered, it wasn’t the wittiest comeback. Shugo couldn’t really blame him, either; even if he didn’t know exactly what kinds of visions and nightmares the spirit had shown him the night their pact was sealed, he knew enough to know that the wretch in front of him had been treated to a carefully curated collection of his worst memories, nightmares, and primal fears specifically chosen to drive him to the brink of madness. Then again, the specific circumstances surrounding their initial encounter made it difficult for Shugo to muster anything more than limited sympathy for the man.

“I don’t know just what kind of visions she showed you,” the youth said. “And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

Shugo closed his eyes and bowed his head in apparent remorse as though to emphasize the point.

“Of course, if you’ve come back for more…”

When he opened his eyes again, they were burning red.

“…Then why the hell not?”

The man made no noise, but was all but frozen in place regardless. Shugo walked slowly towards him as he prepared to bring an end to the brief encounter. He flicked his right wrist at his side as he prepared to clench his hand into a fist-

“SHUGO!”

-Only to be forced to leap sideways to the right when the man attempted to blast him at point-blank range with a revolver he’d drawn from seemingly out of nowhere.

“Silver bullets,” observed the spirit in an alarmed tone he’d never heard from her before. “Take caution, child.”

“A gift from a friend,” said the miscreant with a maniacal grin as he twirled the revolver, albeit in not-quite-expert fashion. While he didn’t exactly fumble his attempt at gunspinning, it was nevertheless enough for Shugo to pick up on his clear inexperience with the archaic weapon. “And I won’t be having nightmares for a while, either. You didn’t see that coming, did you?”

Indeed, Shugo didn’t. From what little he knew of the subject, silver bullets weren’t anywhere near as effective as myths and folklore made them out to be. While they did have a handful of advantages over conventional ammunition, such as greater penetrative power at close range, the fact that silver bullets were nowhere near as widely available as conventional lead ammunition was very telling. Regardless, the uncharacteristic alarm on the part of his spectral partner wasn’t lost on him, and if she considered something to be a problem…

“That friend of mine knows your other half very well, by the way,” the old enemy went on, laughing. “Better than you, that’s for sure. For one thing, did she tell you just what these silver bullets could do to you, or is this where you learn the hard way?”

He raised the gun to fire a second time…

BANG!

…But it was his own scream that followed the subsequent gunshot.

“He’s not the only one you have to worry about.”

The criminal fell to his knees as he clutched his wounded right shoulder in agony.

Detective Ashihara Riku stepped out of the corner he’d been hiding behind after having pulled the trigger, before holstering his still-smoking Colt M1911, restraining the wounded man in handcuffs, and formally placing the perp under arrest.

——

When they arrived at the RCPD, it was half past midnight.

“Riku told me,” Chief Hikawa Ryoma said, standing up from his desk as Shugo, Ayato, and Ayaka walked into his office. “I’m glad to see you all unhurt. C’mon, guys, have a seat.”

As the youths did as they were told, Shugo thought back to what happened earlier. After Riku arrested and cuffed the miscreant, he called one of his colleagues to take the guy away. The four of them proceeded to the police station as originally planned, only for the detective to excuse himself once they’d arrived.

“Go right on ahead to the chief,” he told them. “There’s something I need to take care of first.”

He then exchanged a small nod with the detective, before the latter went down the hallway to the east wing while Shugo followed the Akizuki siblings up the stairs. Riku had assured him that both the revolver and the silver bullets would be kept safely in their deposit room, and that he’d get the perp to tell them who his accomplice was and how they figured into all this. “Alright, go for it, Detective. Good luck!”

While Shugo was cautiously optimistic, however, the spirit’s outlook was more than just a little less so.

“If the puppeteer pulling his strings is who I believe him to be, we would be wise not to be too hopeful for answers. And should he himself ever cross our path, I need you to trust me to do what I must for the both of us.”

She fell silent after that, though Shugo could’ve sworn he heard a faint whisper.

“Damn you to hell, Yoritomo…”

Before he could comment on it, however…

“Hey, Shugo?” Ryoma prompted as he waved at the young man, a look of clear concern on his face. “Are you sure you’re alright? You spaced out on us for a bit.”

“Huh? Oh, sorry, sir,” Shugo responded with a start. “She and I were talking just now, that’s all. We might have a new enemy to worry about, and if her hunch is anything to go by, it’s likely someone she knows very well.”

The chief took a moment to consider the latest development. “I see. Would she be willing to elaborate, Shugo?”

The spirit remained silent in Shugo’s mind for a few moments. As he didn’t doubt she’d heard the question addressed to her through him, he could only presume she was thinking about her answer. Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait long for her explanation.

“Alas, our encounters have been few and far between. As you yourself learned tonight, he has remained content to set thralls and pawns after me, rather than facing me in battle himself. Should the worst happen and he himself steps personally into the field, you would be wise to proceed as though it is I who will be your enemy.”

As Shugo dutifully relayed the explanation, he couldn’t help but feel a chill creep up his spine. Up until now, he and his spectral partner had been all but unstoppable. And up until now, he’d been content to allow mobsters and petty criminals to shoot, slash, stab, and bludgeon him, the better to amuse and satisfy himself at the confusion and fear that followed when they realized that nothing they did would inflict any lasting harm. The discovery that there was someone else out there who had the exact same abilities they did while having no compunctions about involving bystanders and innocents was unsettling, if not downright horrifying.

“The virtues of benevolence, justice, loyalty, and mercy mean nothing to him,” she added, confirming his fears in the process. “He would have no qualms murdering his comrades, or even his own kin, if it furthered his goals.”

Once again, Shugo relayed those words.

“What does that mean, Shugo?” Ryoma asked, not altogether managing to conceal his perturbation.

Shugo took a deep breath. The idea that there was an enemy out there with powers like his own – without reservations about using it on anyone unfortunate enough to cross him – was both difficult to digest and terrifying to take in. Unfortunately for them, it was what it was. A dangerous new foe had made himself known, and he knew perfectly well it’d be in all their best interests to know as much as they could about what they were up against.

And when he finally answered, it was after a minute of tense silence had passed, and in a tone of voice that made it all too clear just how badly he wished what he was saying was untrue.

“It means I’m not the only angel of wrath.”

——

Two and a half hours later, in the RCPD’s interrogation room that had been temporarily converted into a makeshift holding cell…

“Damn it, damn it, DAMN IT!”

The 37-year old detainee yelled the last two words as he punched the wall behind him in anger and frustration, hurting his good hand in the process.

The walls of the interrogation room were rendered soundproof, which prevented even the two policemen standing guard barely a few feet outside the door from hearing his outbursts. As a result, the detainee was left alone to sulk and wallow in his misery for all the good it did him. The knuckles on his good hand were battered and bruised by that time, as were the soles of his feet after having futilely kicked the concrete wall at least a dozen times in the two and a half hours he’d been detained there. And though the medical staff on hand treated the gunshot wound the detective had inflicted on him, this did nothing to prevent his bandaged shoulder from pulsing and throbbing with pain.

All in all, to say that tonight just wasn’t Todaka Tetsuya’s night was a massive understatement.

“LET ME OUT OF HERE!” the detainee screamed at the top of his lungs as he feebly kicked the heavy metal door in a vain attempt to get the guards’ attention. “DON’T ANY OF YOU UNDERSTAND THAT THAT KID’S BEEN POSSESSED BY A DEMON?”

“I’D BE DOING US ALL A FAVOR BY KILLING HIM ONCE AND FOR ALL! HE’S THE ONE YOU SHOULD BE GOING AFTER, NOT ME!”

Tetsuya had been screaming himself hoarse for the past several hours, only to be met with utter silence from his guards who remained oblivious to what he was yelling through the soundproof walls. Kicking, punching, and pounding the walls and the door weren’t much more effective in that regard, either, beyond causing the knuckles on his good hand and the soles of his feet to swell and turn purple. Then again, it wasn’t as if that he cared much by that point. All he had left was his hate and rage he harboured towards that kid and the devil in him for ruining his life, and towards the police for taking his freedom when it was all he had left.

“ARE YOU PRICKS EVEN LISTENING?” he shouted one more time at the door, and at the guards on the other side. “LET ME GO, YOU F-“

The door clicked and swung open as if right on cue.

In walked in the man who’d calmed his nightmares and given him clarity.

“Hello, Tetsuya.”

“It’s about time you showed up!” the detainee said, both elated and relieved that he was finally getting out of there. “Get me out of here, will you?”

The relief on Tetsuya’s face faltered when his supposed liberator just stood there and continued to regard him curiously. “Hey, can you even hear me? Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

Unfortunately for him, his desperate pleas for freedom were met with a responding chuckle from the man he thought was his friend.

“Really, Tetsuya,” the man said in an admonishing tone of voice as he put his hands on the detainee’s shoulders. “While I’m here…”

“Why don’t you just chill out for a while?”

It happened all too quickly.

The look on the detainee’s face went from confusion to horror as he felt the warmth ebb away from his body, replaced by a deathly chill that consumed him.

As he fell backwards on the floor, the last thing he saw was his supposed friend leaning over him with a quizzical expression.

How disappointing…

With that, the stranger finally departed, stepping over the prone bodies of the snoring lawmen on his way out of the police station, all while Todaka Tetsuya – or rather, what remained of him – was left to stare with lightless eyes at the lights above.

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