It was raining again. It always seemed to be raining since that horrible day. However, Himiko didn’t have time to muse over the death of her brother, as she had been steadily since his funeral, where her grief and shock had finally melted into blind rage.
“This place is sacred,” Himiko said, with eerie maturity in her voice. “I won’t defile Yamato’s grave with your worthless corpse. But I won’t ever forgive you, Midou Ban, and when this is all over I will kill you.”
Ban looked at the girl with shock apparent on his face. Her face was a stony, impassive mask, her voice chilling and even. Her eyes, once wide and full of life, were narrow and dark. The light of innocence had been extinguished forever. Replacing wistful dreams of the future were dark plans for the person who had taken everything away from her.
Although the first few days had been spent alone and crying, Himiko was through with tears. She was beyond them. Rage burned in her veins, eating her from the inside out slowly and more completely than her Flame Scent was destroying the enemy at her feet. She still gripped the bottle in her hand, tapping the opportunistic pervert with her foot.
She’d been taught mercy. She’d been taught not to use her killing scents first for anything. But her brother’s words seemed far away now, completely non-applicable in the new life she had to forge with out his comforting presence and wise advice.
Two more men were coming into the alley, exchanging lewd remarks with one another. They didn’t notice the body at Himiko’s feet that had just stopped twitching and writhing in agony, death having finally released him. Himiko took her Disintegration Scent in the hand that wasn’t holding her Flame Scent. She didn’t care if they robbed her or killed her, but she would not let them take her dignity without a fight.
Both men suddenly leapt backward. Twin sprays of blood shoot through the alley, some of it splattering on Himiko, who raised her arms over her face to shield her eyes. She lowered them after a few moments to take in the scene before her: two men on the ground, the letter “J” neatly carved into their chests and through their backs, from the look of the blood spreading beneath their bodies. And standing between the bodies was a tall figure, one hand keeping his hat firmly in place, the other thrust into his pocket.
“Your skills are impressive,” the killer complimented. Himiko could hear the smile in his words. “If you were but a little faster, you would be a most excellent challenge.”
Himiko put her Disintegration Scent away, drawing out her Acceleration Scent. Her brother had stressed that she not use that one at all if it could be helped. “I can get faster if it’s a fight you want.”
The man laughed, an unnerving sound full of genuine amusement. “I don’t doubt you could, but I am not going to fight you today.”
Himiko huffed, looking down at the ground. “Why not? You got better things to do?” She knew it was foolish to challenge a man who had just made two men simultaneously explode into sprays of blood with a decorative flourish, but survival wasn’t high on her list of priorities just then.
“Always,” the man said with a nod. “As do you.”
Himiko looked up at him again. There was something familiar about him. She recognized the smell he carried with him: it was stale blood, a smell that was difficult to completely get rid of without a lot of time and effort. Her brother had carried that taint with him to the grave, despite Himiko’s best efforts to mask it after he had been prepared for his burial.
But there was something else about him. His presence, although foreboding, didn’t raise the red flags that the would-be rapists had. It was like she was used to it. As if it had always been just on the fringes of her life, like a shadow it cast. She put her perfumes away entirely. “Who are you?”
The man chuckled lowly. “Akabane Kuroudo,” he answered plainly. “But I am also commonly known as Dr. Jackal.”
“Kudou Himiko,” Himiko said, by way of introduction. She stepped over the body to get closer to him, craning her neck upward to try to see his face.
“Hi,” she said plainly, looking up at the seemingly gigantic figure before her. He was blocking the sunlight, casting her in shadows. She couldn’t see his face very well beneath the shadowy wide brim of his hat. She could only see his mouth, which tugged up into a smile as he stare down at the little girl.
“Hello,” he returned cordially, reaching up to tip his hat slightly to her as if she were a fully grown gentlewoman. “What are you doing down there?”
Himiko shrugged, opening her hand and examining the straggly stems of the tiny flowers that were clustered in her hand. “Picking flowers,” she explained. “Aniki wanted me to play outside today.”
“I know,” Akabane said with a nod. Before Himiko could ask him how he knew he removed his hat, revealing his narrow dark eyes, his thin facial features, his should-length black hair. He held his hat to his chest and bowed deeply, as if she were some noblewoman worthy of respect. “But I am truly glad to have finally formally made your acquaintance.” He stood up, putting his hat back on before the rain could soak his hair.
“What do you want from me?” Himiko asked, not bothering to be polite despite the fact that Akabane wasn’t being anything but.
“Nothing,” he answered plainly. He looked around her, at the body of the man she’d killed. “This is about what you want, Kudou Himiko-san.”
“I don’t want anything,” she answered automatically. But she knew it wasn’t true. She wanted her brother back. She wanted Midou Ban to die for what he had done to them.
Akabane seemed to take her answer at face value, though. “You should rethink that decision. No offense intended, but you don’t seem to be fairing all too well on your current path.”
Himiko grit her teeth, part of her anger surfacing like steam from a geyser. “I can do perfectly fine on my own! I don’t need you or anyone else to protect me!”
Akabane chuckled, seemingly amused at the girl’s rage. This made her angrier, but he spoke before she could have another outburst. “Indeed, Kudou Himiko-san. But it’s not protection I’ve come to offer you.”
“Then what?” Himiko asked. A possibility struck her mind. “Not that.”
Akabane shook his head. “No. Not that.” Himiko relaxed a little, though her posture was still stiff in her effort to make eye contact with him. “The way I see it you can keep going like this. Aimless, full of anger and hatred with no proper way of releasing the tension it puts on you. And then either you are killed or you finally break.”
“Or...?” Himiko encouraged.
“Or you can start to pull your life together,” he continued. “Rage is a wonderful thing when given a practical application. You are no stranger to hard work and sacrifice, and I believe that with your combination of needs and talents you could find your new place fairly easily.”
“What are you suggesting I do?” Himiko asked with a raised eyebrow.
Akabane gestured toward the end of the alley that he had come in through. “There is always what I do. I find it more than adequate as an outlet for my own needs. With a little guidance you could be well on your way to becoming one of the best in the field.”
Himiko wasn’t sure she wanted a job that could suit the needs of a man who had just killed two men without acknowledging it. Then again, she’d just killed one and she wasn’t at all bothered by it. Maybe he was right: they were on the same page. “What do you do?”
“Are you familiar with the Hakobiya?”
Himiko shook her head. “No. Not really.”
“Then come with me out of the rain. We have much to discuss.” Akabane offered her a gloved hand. She reached out and took it, letting him lead her out into the open. Once they were on the street he released his grip on her hand and began to walk briskly down the street.
Himiko tried to fall into step with him. On the way she got a glimpse of herself in a store window and paused. Akabane froze when she did, although he was already a couple metres ahead of her.
“Is something the matter, Kudou Himiko-san?” he asked her, looking over his shoulder to get a glimpse at what she was doing.
Himiko noticed that there were spots of blood on her face. She began to scrub at the crimson stains with her sleeve, but one stubborn spot below her left eye didn’t seem to want to come off no matter how much she tried to remove it. She stopped scrubbing, touching it with her bare fingers. Odd, it looked perfectly star shaped...
“Could you not call me that?” she asked. “It’s weird.”
“Of course,” Akabane said with a nod, coming up behind her to examine her reflection with her. “Perhaps the name ‘Lady Poison’ would be more to your liking.”
Himiko nodded, finishing her prodding of the stain on her face. “Yeah. Lady Poison. I like that.”