The beautiful cherry blossom trees swayed back and forth in response to the light breeze in the peaceful night. The immense, Japanese-style estate was illuminated only by the bright moon dominating the starry sky.
Twigs began to crunch underneath several heavy boots, rapidly disturbing the peace.
“Oi, morons!” a man yelled, just before realizing his own mistake and lowering his voice. “How many fuckin’ times do I gotta remind you to stay the hell quiet?! We can’t mess this up and come back empty-handed again. I don’t want this to be the last time we breathe fresh air… The Big Boss must really want this thing if he’s willing to dispatch a fourth group after so many have failed. He’s never been this persistent about anything before…”
The four men around him nodded in agreement.
The five of them were part of a notorious gang that congregated around the mid to southernmost parts of Japan. They specialized in robbing valuable items and would make a profit by selling them in the Black Market. For their more ‘important’ clients, they would steal specific items upon request and would get rewarded handsomely for their services. This was one of those special arrangements. Because of that, the Big Boss, the head of the gang, would not take failure as an option; not for this particular client… even if it did require them to steal from the Yuusuke Clan.
“So, what’s the plan this time, Robb?” asked one of the gang members.
The man who seemed to be the leader of the small group gave them a devious smile. He eagerly unzipped his black leather jacket and revealed what he had been cunningly concealing around his ribs.
“What do you think about using these to blow ‘em to hell where they belong?” he asked, lightly tugging on the belt of grenades.
Those around him whispered praises to their leader for having been able to acquire such a weapon. It was exceedingly rare for members of the gang, no matter the status or position of the person, to have access to explosives. The fact that Robb had grenades on him proved that he hadn’t been lying; the Big Boss was evidently very desperate for their mission to succeed if he was willing to attract attention.
Robb stepped closer to the men.
“Getting over the wall and into the estate’s simple enough. It’s finding what we want that’s the real problem here thanks to those fuckin’ bastards. We use these against them and they won’t be a problem for us ever again. After we do that, we’ll have plenty of time to search for the item and for anything else we may want for ourselves. This family’s loaded, so there’s plenty of loot to go around for the lot of us. Make sure not to hold back. Oh, and drinks are on me for anyone that can make ‘em scream before they die.”
The determined looks on their faces proved that his short speech managed to greatly encourage his men. Free alcohol was always a perfect way to motivate them.
The five of them stealthily made their way toward the towering wall that surrounded the entirety of the estate in front of them, helping one another climb up with ease.
Someone excitedly shuffled in the darkness of a single room somewhere inside of the estate.
“Heh, I was wondering what was taking them so long to come in. Jaz? Your call,” came a man’s voice from within the obscurity.
“Hmm… This is like, what, the fourth group in less than two weeks?” asked another man. “I appreciate the extra training, but do you really think this bunch will be any better than the last ones, Shion?”
“Wanna find out?” he tempted.
“All I can say is that, for their sakes, I sincerely hope they’re better,” whispered a third person; a woman this time. “This won’t continue to be tolerated.”
“Oh, well, it’s helping us not get rusty, so let’s just go and have some fun!” Jasper exclaimed.
Shion turned to Akhari and asked, “You’ll be our eyes as always, I assume?”
“Of course,” she answered, without a moment’s hesitation.
A single, white light from a small music player illuminated the room that they were currently inhabiting.
“Shion, pick a song for me.”
“Umm, how about Monster? It’s your favorite song, and I’m pretty sure it’s been a while since you last used it to train with.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Jasper responded, quickly searching for it on his palm-sized music device. “Let’s see if we can get them to leave faster than we did with the last group.”
“Then that gives us a time limit of about… thirty-five minutes or so?” Shion mentally calculated.
“Man, that last group sure was stubborn. Okay, so thirty-five minutes or less is our goal, then? Piece of cake,” Jasper smirked, putting the headphones into both of his ears and placing the device that they were connected to into his jacket pocket. “Let’s dance.”
“Ay, Robb. Do you even know where this thing’s supposed to be at?” asked one of the gang members.
“No one’s been able to figure out what it even looks like, so your guess is as good as mine,” he answered. “I can’t believe how vague this fuckin’ job is… Let’s just split up. You four go and look for the item. I’m gonna go kill that blond son of a bitch myself and get him out of our way. I’ll leave the other two to you men.”
Without wasting any time, Robb turned and headed toward the section of the estate that housed the most cherry blossom trees.
However, he didn’t get very far before one of his fellow members called out, “I’ll go with you! You ain’t goin’ alone!”
The man continued to plead aloud before Robb could turn down his offer.
“You know we were close, too. Let me get revenge with you, Robb. That’s the only reason why I even volunteered for tonight. I ain’t doin’ this job for the money.”
The leader sighed as he reluctantly gave in.
“Alright, fine. Do whatever you want. Then, you three!” he pointed. “It’s time for a scavenger hunt.”
As the trio walked in the opposite direction, Robb mumbled, “I think if we go this way, we’ll meet up with that bastard for sure. Let’s try it.”
His partner nodded and followed the man into what looked like a miniature pink and white forest.
“Akhari, which way?” asked Shion out loud, even though he and Jasper were currently alone outside.
“There are three headed toward the west gate and two more headed toward the direction of the shrine,” came her gentle voice from within both of their minds.
“Cool, thanks! Shion, which group do you want?” Jasper asked.
One of his fingers eagerly hovered over the ‘play’ button on his device, awaiting the response.
The toned man with spiky, brown hair and indigo eyes smirked.
“That should be obvious, Jaz. I think the west gate needs some serious tending to, so I’ll head that way.”
The other young man, with a slightly slimmer body, shaggy, blond hair, and cerulean eyes chuckled.
“I’ll race you. I bet you I can beat my guys before you beat yours.”
“Oh, you’re so on! Loser makes breakfast. Deal?”
The men fist-bumped and ran toward their destinations as Monster began to play in Jasper’s ears.
“Where exactly are we going, Robb? I thought we were looking for that brat.”
Robb grunted, squinting his eyes to see if he could make out the exit of the small, cherry blossom forest. The falling petals hitting his face were making his nose itch.
“We are. There’s a certain place in this damn estate that he’ll always show up to when guests arrive. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere this way…”
His friend didn’t understand what he meant by that, but he continued to faithfully follow him regardless.
The magnificent trees became less and less as they came upon a secluded and relatively lonely area. It was surrounded by peculiar statues that led up to a small shrine with a single, wooden sliding door serving as its only entrance.
He took a quick scan of the area with his eyes, while his partner subconsciously mimicked his actions. They looked for anything that might immediately seem out of place there.
Someone began to hum along to a song that neither of them could hear.
The men instinctively turned toward the direction of the sound. Jasper was sitting on top of the shrine, swinging both of his legs back and forth while gleefully studying the two intruders.
“There you are, you little shit,” spit out Robb.
Jasper ignored his comment.
“Tisk, tisk, gentleman. Did you know that only members of the main branch of the clan are allowed on this side of the estate? Everyone else is strictly forbidden.”
Robb grimaced at the sound of Jasper’s voice.
“I know,” he growled back in response. “Why do you think I came straight here?”
Jasper’s eyebrows shot up in response. He couldn’t remember ever telling him that before, much less having ever even met him.
He took off his headphones and placed them, as well as his device, on the shrine’s roof. Something was telling him to pay close attention to these men.
Now that Jasper took a better look at the man who had just spoken, he could just barely recall having seen him somewhere before. However, he couldn’t quite put his finger on where or when. The man had probably been part of one of the previous groups of thieves. There was no way that Jasper could remember each and every one of them since members from multiple different gangs and organizations had been trying to break into his family’s estate since the clan had first made a name for themselves decades ago. But, perhaps this man was part of the same gang that had been trespassing for the past two weeks; something that had never occurred so consecutively before. He knew that they were undoubtedly after something very specific.
The man with clear animosity toward Jasper stepped forward, all the meanwhile, pulling out a newly-sharpened combat knife from inside one of his boots. That was his ideal choice for close-combat fights.
“I’m here for your head, Yuusuke.”
Jasper cocked his head to the side, looking like a genuinely confused puppy.
“But, why? I don’t recall us ever meeting…”
His mellow tone informed them that he was trying hard to bring up some type of memory that would help him to better understand the current situation he was in.
“Did I do something bad to you in the past that I need to apologize for?”
The innocent look in his eyes made the other gang member question the validity of his leader’s accusations. Did they really have the right guy?
“You killed my cousin, you bastard,” Robb cried out. “That ain’t something you can just fuckin’ apologize for and be done with! He was like a brother to me, God damn it!”
His voice cracked toward the end; this was evidently still a very fresh wound in his heart.
“…What? What are you talking about?” Jasper asked, his eyes wide from the sudden claim against him. “I’ve never killed anyone before.”
“Er-Robb? Are you sure this is really the guy?”
The man was still unsure. After all, Jasper didn’t look anything like a cold-blooded killer.
“No doubt about it,” Robb replied, refusing to look away from the young Yuusuke. “I could never mistake those God damn eyes.”
Robb’s partner was still struggling to believe him. What was wrong with the Yuusuke’s eyes? He didn’t get it. If only he had come along that night like he was supposed to.
“Trust me,” his leader whispered in between gritted teeth. “That’s definitely the bastard that killed him. I was there that night… I watched him laugh at Martin as he screamed in pain until he couldn’t take it anymore and then begged that asshole to please kill him… And I… I couldn’t do a fuckin’ thing to help him…”
The undeniable anger in his voice and eyes managed to convince his friend at last. He had never seen Robb like this before. There was no way he was lying.
Jasper, on the other hand, still looked hopelessly perplexed.
“I really think you have the wrong person,” Jasper attempted to rationalize.
He effortlessly hopped down from the roof of the shrine and exposed his bare hands in front of himself, voicelessly stating that he only wanted to talk to them and nothing more.
“I’ve never even been able to kill an animal for food before, even if I was starving… I always get Shion to do all of our hunting for us… So, forgive me for being confused…”
Jasper furrowed his brows. He was beginning to realize that there was no negotiating with either man; there was no turning back for them.
He tried not to make any sudden movements, treating them more like spontaneous and highly dangerous animals rather than mere humans.
Jasper knew that he’d be able to dodge or even catch a bullet or two if the men decided to pull out any guns. Even so, he couldn’t see in the dark as well as Shion could, so it would probably get a little messy if he didn’t do it correctly, especially at such close range as they were. Fighting an unpredictable enemy, with or without light, was never an easy task to begin with. Any other day, Jasper would have absolutely no problems taking them down. But, a man with only vengeance on his mind would have no qualms regarding his own life. He would be willing to do anything necessary if it were for the sake of fulfilling that revenge.
Jasper was aware that he should never be hasty or impulsive; Akhari had instilled that into him many years before.
He slowly rolled up the sleeves of his jacket, intently watching the men. He had no choice but to fight now; he knew that.
“Fine,” he sighed. “Have it your way.”
He silently beckoned the men to come at him with one of his hands.
They clearly didn’t need the invitation, for they were already charging at him with their identical pair of combat knives.
On the opposite side of the estate, the other battle was already underway.
“You guys just don’t know when to give up, do you?” Shion teased.
“Give us the damn item already!” one of the three gang members yelled in clear frustration.
“For the tenth time, I have no idea what the heck you’re talking about! Actually… I don’t even think you know what exactly you’re talking about.”
Shion dodged a punch that came from behind him.
“Whoa, almost got me there. Aren’t you the clever one tonight attempting a sneak attack?”
He regained his footing and positioned himself directly in front of the three men, two of which were about twice his size and build.
The one standing in the center of them signaled to the other two. The trio attempted to attack Shion simultaneously, hoping that at least one of them would be able to land a successful blow.
However, the plan immediately backfired as the young man proficiently leaped up high above them, causing them to unwillingly collide with one another. This served to only further anger the men.
Shion easily landed on his feet.
“Did that really just happen?” he teased. “That was a world record at failure. You guys still need some serious hand-to-hand combat training if you want to challenge us like this.”
Two of them pulled out a pair of handguns, while the third one kept one of his hands stuffed inside the front pocket of his jacket.
Shion pointed at the weapons that were facing him and politely asked, “Hey, would you mind putting those down so they don’t get in the way of me hitting you?”
“You’re gonna die here, you irrtatin’ brat,” countered one of them.
“You know, your gang seems to always say that every time we do this, and yet here I am, still kicking your sorry butts.”
The men tightened their grip on the guns and took aim.
“Good,” Shion thought. “They’re pissed. Their recklessness should make them easier targets now.”
He looked at each man individually, carefully watching all of their movements.
“I didn’t ask Jaz to enable my blood bond, unlike Akhari did, so all I can do right now is dodge the bullets. I have to be careful.”
Shion hunched his body forward a bit, attempting to get into a better running stance.
“Jasper, Shion,” interrupted Akhari’s voice from deep inside each of their minds again.
“What’s up?” Shion slightly struggled to say out loud.
He was currently in the middle of somersaulting backward trying to avoid the trajectory of four bullets.
“You two need to stay alert. I think they’re carrying some kind of explosive device on themselves from the way they’re restricting some of their movements. They’re most likely grenades or something similarly small, but it seems like only one of the ones near Jasper is carrying multiple at once. I’m guessing the others only have about two or three between all of them.”
“Ah! Good eye,” Shion praised.
Shion was finally able to deduce why the smallest of the three still had his hand inside of his pocket, even while trying to throw punches with his other fist.
“Yeah, thanks for the heads up,” Jasper replied within his mind, as he nonchalantly stuck his foot out to trip one of his two foes.
In the pitch-black room, the slim, yet curvy woman with thick chestnut hair that ran down her back and complimented her indigo eyes sat up against one of the walls. She blankly stared at the emptiness in front of her without once blinking.
“Jasper’s voice sounds… off. For what reason did those men go straight to the shrine? It’s not that simple for outsiders to even find it in the first place. They’ve never intentionally come this deep into the estate before. What exactly are they searching for?… Wait…”
Her eyes slightly widened, but she still didn’t blink.
“Could they want revenge for what happened last time? Oh no…”
Directly in front of the shrine, Jasper was holding down both of the intruders against the ground, yanking the knives out of their hands and tossing them away from the men.
“That makes it four times that you could’ve died today,” Jasper informed the two.
“Ugh, you son of a-”
Jasper sprang off of the men as they just barely missed kicking him off. But, that left him almost no time to react to the numerous bullets that had been fired at him.
Robb tossed his empty gun aside and placed his hand on the zipper of his leather jacket. Jasper laid motionless on the ground, but Robb continued to glare at him.
His fellow gang member came to stand beside him to watch the Yuusuke, as well. He was the only one between the two of them that looked horrified at what he was witnessing. Robb, on the other hand, had been expecting it.
Jasper was groaning while he slowly stood up from the ground and dusted himself off as if nothing had happened to him.
“Aw, man! Akhari just made these for me, too,” Jasper mumbled, looking down at the newly formed holes in his jacket and shirt.
The bullets had undoubtedly hit their target. The small, circular wounds on Jasper’s body were clearly visible through the rips in his clothing, but the bullets themselves were now littered all around him. Not a single one was inside of his body.
“He’s… He’s not human,” the trembling gang member managed to say.
“Yeah, I know,” Robb agreed. “Now do you believe me? He’s the bastard that murdered Martin.”
His partner silently nodded. This was exactly the type of proof that he had needed to convince him.
Jasper furrowed his brows once again.
“I didn’t kill anyone!” he yelled, hoping to somehow get through to at least one of them. “I don’t even know who-”
Both of his hands flew up to his ears and he shut his eyes as tight as they could go. The sudden, agonizing scream of a man in immense pain was making his eardrums feel like they were about to burst from the sheer volume of it. It sounded as if the screaming man was only centimeters in front of him, and he sounded like he was dying.
Jasper managed to open one of his eyes and look around. Both men were staring at him from a distance, clearly puzzled by the Yuusuke’s unexpected and strange reaction. Neither of them was screaming.
“Ugh, c-can they not hear it?” he thought to himself.
But, the screaming sounded so familiar, and there was someone else laughing somewhere nearby. He was able to quickly check behind himself. No one was there either.
“Where is this coming from? Who is it?”
Deep down inside, he felt like he somehow recognized something that he had no memory of; something about the screaming and laughing sounded so familiar. However, he didn’t recall having any missing gaps in his memories from the past several years. Was this just all some sort of hallucination? Or could it perhaps be from the forgotten memories from his childhood?
The sounds abruptly stopped. This made him feel a little disoriented from the faint ring the scream had left in his ears.
Jasper straightened up and focused all of his attention on the man unzipping his jacket and finally exposing his trump card; it was as Akhari had just mentioned to him. He pushed the event into the back of his mind for now, trying not to think about what had just happened to him. This wasn’t the time for that. The situation could quickly turn dangerous if he lacked any focus.
The two friends exchanged quick looks with one another. Robb pulled two grenades off of his belt and handed one over to his partner. He gladly accepted it. His resolve was, at last, set in stone, as well.
“This’ll be for you, bro,” they both said in-sync.
They pulled the clips off of the explosives and firmly held down the triggers.
“What should I do?” Jasper thought in desperation. “I can’t stop grenades without Akhari, especially more than one at the same time. What would be the best option in this scenario?… Oh, I see,” he continued internally strategizing. “If they release the triggers even a millisecond apart, then it’ll be my win. If I can manage to buy myself some time, then I’ll have my opening.”
The fact that the two men were hesitating didn’t escape Jasper’s sight. This was his only opportunity.
“Do you really think I’d let you destroy what rightfully belongs to my clan over something as petty and insignificant as revenge?” Jasper began to taunt.
He placed both of his hands behind his back. He planned on preparing his counterattack while the men were momentarily distracted by his words.
“Those little bombs aren’t going to help you, you know? You’ll still lose in the end.”
“I’m almost there,” Jasper thought. “Just one final push.”
“You want revenge against me or my clan? Then, get in line. You’ll never get anywhere with the little strength you have. Even if I am still young, there’s no one left that can match the Yuusuke Clan’s power anymore, so just give it up.”
This intentionally arrogant declaration seemed to finally do the trick.
Jasper noticed that for no more than a split second, the man to his right had very briefly glanced over at the clan’s shrine.
“If he’s debating about throwing it over there,” Jasper thought. “Then the other one will be aiming for-”
Robb released the trigger of his grenade and was immediately followed by his partner; Jasper took evident notice of the clear time difference between the two. It had turned out exactly how he had planned.
“One second,” he whispered.
Thick, red liquid began to pour out of the center of Jasper’s palms and almost instantly hardened around his hands as if he were now wearing scarlet gloves.
As Jasper had predicted, the man who hadn’t once taken his eyes off of him since he had arrived had thrown the explosive directly at him; the other one tossed his toward the currently unprotected shrine. Jasper remained firm where he stood, carefully anticipating where each grenade would theoretically land.
Everything occurred in the lapse of a few seconds.
Jasper positioned both of his hands in front of his chest to catch the small ball of destruction in between his palms and held it tightly near his abdomen. The liquid had continued to harden through it all and had managed to mold itself into an impenetrable sphere around his hands, encasing the bomb within it.
Without missing a single beat, Jasper pushed off of the ground with his legs and dashed as quickly as he could toward the grenade quickly making its way toward the shrine. However, he didn’t have enough time to mimic his strategy from the first one. He knew that he had a one-second interval between the two detonations. He couldn’t mess this up.
The muffled explosion coming from in between his hands made him slightly lose his balance. There was no time to think.
Jasper shifted his body just enough to block the grenade with the left side of his ribs just before going off. He would much rather take the full impact of it than watch his clan’s shrine of countless generations be blown to pieces by a pair of men drowning in the thought of revenge.
Both men had equally horrified expressions painted across their faces as they attempted to make sense of what they were looking at. In the heat of the moment, more out of fear rather than anger, Robb tore the belt of remaining grenades off of himself and tossed the entirety of it at Jasper. He hoped that the explosion from the single one that had yet to go off would instantaneously trigger the rest of them. He didn’t care if he and his partner were also caught in the blast, so long as the Yuusuke in front of them was taken down for good. They were both prepared to die for that cause.
In that very brief period of time, a red substance similar to the one still around Jasper’s hands materialized in between him and the men the exact instant that the second grenade had gone off, immediately followed by the rest of the explosives, protecting the three of them. It resembled, and almost acted like, an indestructible wall.
“It looks like I made it just in time,” stated a fairly out of breath Akhari.
Jasper chuckled from his current position on the gorun, still holding on to what was in his hands.
The wall in between the men liquefied and made its way back toward Akahri, soaking itself into her skin while leaving no traces behind.
“This is no laughing matter!” she snapped at Jasper. “That was too dangerous! What if I hadn’t been here?!”
Akhari was furious at him for having pulled such an impulsive stunt.
“It’s fine, Akhari. I knew you were on your way and figured you’d get here in time, like you always do. No harm, no foul.”
She had yet to acknowledge the two mortified men. They had just witnessed someone catch a live grenade with his bare hands, use his own body as a shield to deflect the rest of them from the shrine, and miraculously live to tell the tale. They had no chance against him. They turned around and ran back toward the direction in which they had come from, temporarily abandoning their objective and prioritizing their lives, refusing to admit how hypocritical that was.
“Looks like they’ll be taking a rain-check on their revenge…” Jasper said, watching them leave.
“So, I guessed correctly, then,” Akhari thought to herself.
Jasper opened his hands as he carefully stood up and revealed the shrapnel that had replaced the grenade that he had caught. His hands quickly returned to normal while he brushed off the remnants and exhaustively dropped back down to the ground once again, unable to keep his balance any longer.
He recalled something that one of the men had said to him and frowned.
The gentle look in her eyes that she always had toward him had returned.
“Have we ever met those two men before?”
Akhari averted her eyes without Jasper taking any notice of it.
“Why do you ask? Did they look familiar to you?”
Jasper scratched the side of his head, trying to find the right words to explain himself.
“Well, one of them was insisting that I killed someone close to them, but when I try to bring up any memories, my body starts to react a bit strangely… But, I can’t really remember how so anymore… Weird, huh?”
She glanced down and saw that he was staring at her. He was obviously waiting for some form of explanation or reassurance from her. She had never lied to him before, but now wasn’t the time for the entire truth either.
“I can assure you that you’ve never killed anyone.”
He nodded as if understanding the situation.
“Thank you, Akhari. That’s good enough for now.”
To much of her relief, he decided to let go of the topic for the meantime. The purposely vague response seemed to have satisfied him for the meantime. She figured he must truly be exhausted if he wasn’t questioning any further, which she was very thankful for.
Jasper began to lightly rock back and forth while he softly hummed the song that he had previously been listening to.
“Ah- I forgot my music player on top of the shrine. Ugh, I’m too lazy to get up,” he complained.
“More importantly,” Akhari began, crouching down closer to him. “Let me take care of your wounds. I still can’t believe you purposely let yourself get shot and then willingly collided with a live grenade…”
The blood from the nine bullet wounds had completely soaked through both his shirt and jacket by now.
“Aw man, they’re definitely ruined now. I’m sorry…” he pouted. “But lucky me that you got here just in the nick of time. Your blood took the full force of that explosion. I was prepared to break a few bones and lose some skin while I blocked it, but I wasn’t expecting them to throw the rest of them, too. That could’ve gotten really ugly… and it probably would’ve hurt like hell, too.”
He playfully smacked her hands away as she tried to closer examine the wounds.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’ll heal on my own. You know it won’t take long now that you’re within range of me.”
She debated about ignoring his orders, but reluctantly changed her mind after making sure that no vital spots had been shot or punctured.
Jasper laid back on the soft patch of grass in front of the unharmed shrine and shut his eyes. Not even a minute after doing so, however, he felt a presence other than Akhari’s.
Shion was standing above him resembling an overly-proud parent.
“Hey, Jaz, you still alive down there?” he jokingly asked.
“No, I’m dying,” Jasper grunted.
He was finally beginning to feel the consequences of his actions now that his adrenaline was significantly decreasing.
“Akhari filled me in on what you were up to over here. Man, that was some pretty reckless stuff.”
He helped his friend up off the ground.
“I mean, I did learn from the best,” Jasper boasted with a wink.
“What?! I’ve never been that bad. Akhari would’ve killed me already if I had and you know it.”
Jasper wiped off his pants as Akhari ignored their unsavory satisfaction in themselves and glanced over at the shrine.
“Do you think that group is after the clan secrets?” she absentmindedly asked aloud. “I suppose that’s nothing new for us, though…”
“I don’t know what they’re after,” Jasper answered. “But, if that’s really what it is, then they’ll never be able to find it in there. Plus… I don’t think the two I went up against were too focused on stealing anything this time around.”
“A blond haired, blue-eyed head of the Yuusuke Clan? Now, there’s something I wasn’t expecting to see,” said an unfamiliar voice in English from behind the trio.