-Midmorning at the police station-
Yomi brought the bus to a stop right in front of the police station. As soon as the hulking vehicle was parked, the brunette bolted from the driver's seat. In only a few moments she had the heavy locks undone and pushed the door open in spite of Chihiro's protests. "Kaorin! We're back! Kaorin!" Yomi shouted as she disembarked the armored bus.
"Damn it Yomi!" Chihiro grabbed Yomi by the arm as soon as she caught up to her. "I'm as eager as anyone, but just jumping out like that is dangerous. What if you had been ambushed by a bug?"
"Your concern is appreciated," she sarcastically spat as she wrenched her arm free and hurriedly headed into the station.
Chihiro resigned her trepidation as she started after Yomi. "Let's go!" she barked as the rest started off the bus.
The group caught up with Yomi as she stood and stared despondently at the familiar jail cell. They all gathered around to see the same disturbing sight. The cell was left open with nothing more left inside it but a single box filled with garbage. Even more disturbing was the fact that any and all concrete surfaces under one and a half meters were completely covered in chalk doodles. "Wh-what happened? Where is she?" Kagura asked as she stepped into the cell.
"Kaorin! Kaorin!" Yomi desperately shouted as she took off aimlessly.
"Split up and find her!" Chihiro barked as she darted after Yomi. "Don't go anywhere alone!"
Over an hour later, a defeated Yomi and Chihiro returned to the cell to find Kagura, Osaka, and Hiro waiting. "You… did you find anything?" Chihiro desperately asked.
Osaka and Kagura shook their heads as Hiro just kept his gaze downcast. "We couldn't find anything," Kagura said. "We were hoping that maybe she left a message or something behind here… but there's nothing. The drawings are just… they're drawings."
"Damn it!" Chihiro cursed as she turned and punched the nearest wall. Her raw emotions unabated, she withdrew her fist from the concrete slab before slamming it into the wall again and again. "Damn it!" she cursed again as she shook her hand. The seething woman then looked to her hand to find most of the skin on her knuckles shredded by the rough surface.
Kagura grabbed a kit out of her backpack, picked herself up off of the cot, and headed to Chihiro's side. "Don't be so hard on yourself," she mumbled as she put the kit into Yomi's hands and plucked a packet of antibacterial cream from it.
Chihiro leaned against the wall and slid down it until she was in a sitting position before holding her hand for Kagura to tend to it. "Why shouldn't I?" Chihiro challenged as she allowed Kagura to apply the cool yet stinging gel to her hand. "I knew I should have dragged her along with us—kicking and screaming if it came down to it."
"I… I'm the one that fought for her to stay, remember?" Kagura pointed out as she turned to get gauze from the kit only to find Yomi still standing in the same position, still as a statue. Giving out a long sigh, Kagura rose to her feet and pried the first-aid kit from Yomi's hands. "If you want someone to blame, blame me," she shouldered the responsibility as she began to wrap up Chihiro's bloody knuckles. "I… I really thought that it was for the best…"
"Wh-what? Was I holding something?" Yomi asked as she looked down to her empty hands.
"Welcome back," most of the group chimed in unison—a habit that they had developed to let Yomi know after she had suffered a seizure.
"Damn it," the brunette cursed as she struggled in vain to figure out where she lost her awareness.
"Anyway," Kagura loudly announced as she gathered up the first-aid kit. "I don't think we should give up hope just yet. It looks like she packed up and left. There isn't anything left here but garbage."
"There ain't any bones or nothin' either," Osaka morbidly added.
Chihiro grunted as she pulled herself off of the floor. "That doesn't mean anything. Something could have happened to her while she was getting supplies. We didn't leave her much." Letting out another sigh, Chihiro took in all of the chalk doodles. "I can't believe she drew all this."
"This ain't tha half of it," Osaka asserted. "Y'all should see tha other cell. The entire floor's a neat lookin' drawing."
Yomi was compelled to go check it out while Chihiro just moved over to sit on the cot. "Why would she draw this stuff?"
"You idiots!" Yomi barked from the other cell. The group collectively started to move to the other cell as she shouted again, "This is a map!" At those words the entire group rushed over only to be stopped from entering the cell by Yomi. "Don't mess it up by walking on it," she warned as she pointed to the floor. "Maybe Kaorin drew where she went to."
"It's a map," Chihiro agreed as she looked at the floor. "It's not labeled though. I can't tell what it's a map of."
Yomi studied the map for a time. "There aren't any words on it?"
Chihiro shook her head. "There aren't. Where's Chiyo when you need her. She'd probably figure out exactly what this map is in an instant."
"I really thought… it was just a doodle," Kagura admitted as she studied the lines on the floor. "It doesn't make any sense."
"If it's a map, then the police station has to be somewhere and her destination somewhere else," Chihiro presumed. "Where does it start?" she mumbled aloud. "There's a star in the middle… lots of little squares, circles, and x's…." Chihiro abruptly turned to Osaka as a spark of brilliance granted her an idea. "Osaka! Put that camera of yours to some use. Record the entire map. We'll take the bus out and figure out what's what."
"All right," Osaka agreed as she moved to enter the cell.
"Do it carefully!" Yomi warned. "Try to get top down shots and don't step on anything until after you've recorded it, okay?"
"Sure," Osaka agreed as she leaned into cell.
-Early afternoon not too far from Toudai-
"This is futile!" Kaorin yelled over the gunfire as she slammed a fresh clip into her rifle.
"Fun usually is!" Asami excitedly replied as she tossed out another flashing firework to cover her own reload. As the bright flashes began, no fewer than four giant insects fell upon it.
Kaorin seized the opportunity to cripple a couple of them, quickly emptying her clip into their vulnerable sides. "This isn't for fun!" she shouted as she brought a firework of her own to the stub of a cigarette in her mouth, eliciting a spray of sparks as the fuse lit. "We've gotta get to Toudai somehow!"
"This route ain't gonna cut it!" Asami yelled as she deftly executed the rest of the small group. "As fun as it is killing crawlies, we ain't got the ammo to keep this up."
"Let's get out of here before more show up!" Kaorin desperately urged.
The duo retreated together a couple of blocks away and took shelter where a pickup truck had slammed into a building's wall, creating a small corner to hide in. Kaorin sat with her back to the spot where the engine and wall met while Asami sat on top of the truck so she could survey the area. "It doesn't look like anything is giving chase," Asami noted. "How boring."
"Just… hurry up and reload," Kaorin scolded as she refilled her own spent clips one round at a time. "We've got to find another route."
Asami instead dumped her spent clips down onto Kaorin. "'One of us has to keep an eye out'," the undersized blonde did her best impression of Kaorin. Although Asami registered some sort of complaint from her friend, she paid it no mind as she stood as tall as she could. "You know, our best bet would probably be to get to the roof of one of these tall buildings. We could survey the area and find a good route… and snipe some bugs!"
"I hate going into buildings," Kaorin feebly protested. "Between bugs lurking inside, structural damage from the quakes, and you setting them on fire… it just doesn't seem like a safe route."
"Come on. I set one on fire," Asami claimed.
"That I know of," Kaorin accused.
"Hey, fire is fun. Just gotta not burn to death," Asami defended herself. "Ah! Have you heard the noises a bug makes when it's burning to death? It's awesome!"
"Let's try not to torch anything today, all right?"
"You can be so boring, Kaori," Asami complained as she jumped down off of the truck. "Anyway, you got a better idea?" Before Kaorin had a chance to respond, Asami continued. "Didn't think so. So hurry up and refill those clips so we can go snipe some crawlies."
"Our goal is to get to Toudai! Not to entertain you!" Kaorin bit back as she climbed to her feet, marched over to Asami, and shoved her clips into her arms. "Not that it takes much to entertain you," she remarked in a deadpan tone.
Asami didn't even hear the last part as she swung her freshly reloaded rifle about and pretended to shoot things. "Pew pew!"
"Come on," Kaorin resigned as she led the way towards the tallest building in sight.
It took Asami no time whatsoever to regain the lead. "Atta girl! Let's go hunting!"
"Just try not to set this one on fire," Kaorin begged as they left their supplies at the door and turned their flashlights on.
"No promises!" Asami teased as she quickly darted into the building.
Kaorin followed after her with little hesitation. The two women quickly swept the decrepit lobby with their flashlights for threats as they got their bearings. "No bugs?" Kaorin wondered aloud as she kept sweeping her light through the stale dust.
"Don't worry, I'm sure we'll find something fun sooner or later," Asami reassured as she led Kaorin to the nearest stairwell.
"Great," Kaorin sarcastically replied as she moved over to the door to the stairwell. "Ready?"
Kaorin quickly turned the handle and pressed against the door. Nothing happened. "It's stuck!" she stated the obvious as Asami joined in and the duo tried to work together to force the door open. Their best efforts weren't good enough. "It's no use," Kaorin resigned as she stepped back from the door.
"Is there another stairwell?" Asami asked as she leapt away from the door and looked around. It didn't take her long to find an alternate route. "Over there!" she pointed.
"After you," Kaorin insisted as she swept her flashlight across the room.
"Youth before beauty, right?" she gleefully stated as she began clambering through the rubble towards the other stairwell. A couple of seconds later she stopped dead in her tracks as she facepalmed. "That's not what I meant!" she shouted in her defense. "I'm pretty too!"
"Yeah, yeah," Kaorin dismissed. "Just try to focus on making it to the roof without either of us getting killed."
"Just, come on," Asami urged as she made it to the door. This time the door easily swung open. As soon as she stepped through the door, the blonde swung her rifle up and scanned what she could see above her before rushing over to the handrail and making sure no insects lurked below. "Ugh, all clear," she complained, more than a little disappointed that there wasn't anything to shoot. Kaorin finally entered the stairwell as Asami started ascending the stairs.
"Is it weird that there don't seem to be any bugs here?" Kaorin asked.
"You really don't know anything about bugs, do you?" Asami chided as Kaorin caught up to her. "When they first showed up, those damned bugs would be everywhere that was dark. I figure that they ended up getting stuck when the sun came up. After they spread out and made nests everywhere, fewer ended up stuck in buildings. Maybe because they couldn't wander too far without straying into other crawlies' territory. Maybe they got smarter. Dunno, really."
"I don't want to hear 'they got smarter'," Kaorin shuddered.
Asami laughed. "Don't worry too much," she reassured. "They're still just animals. If anything they just figured out it's a good idea to head home when the sky starts lightening up. There's a limit to how much an animal can learn. They ain't gonna outsmart me anytime soon."
"You know a lot about those monsters," Kaorin noted. "Do you know where they came from? Just… what are they?"
"I dunno," the small girl shrugged. "They came from, uh… the southwest originally. Maybe they crawled outta Mt. Fuji!"
"Straight out of the bowels of hell—sounds about right."
"Well, this was boring," Asami complained as the duo reached the top of the stairs.
"Boring is good," Kaorin said as the two girls stepped out onto the roof.
"Let's see what we've got," Asami rushed to the nearest ledge to survey the area. "Haha! It's a war zone!"
As Kaorin cautiously approached the ledge, she peered over to find dozens of bugs fighting each other in the streets. "What on earth…."
"There must be two nests really close over there," Asami explained as she tucked her gun into her shoulder and took aim. "They'll keep fighting each other day and night until one of the nests is destroyed. The good news is that they're so worked up trying to kill each other… they won't pay us any mind so long as we don't get in their way." The blonde then exhaled all the air from her lungs before squeezing off a shot.
"What the hell?" Kaorin scolded as she turned her attention to the hordes below.
Asami fired another carefully aimed shot before responding. "Relax, like I told you: they don't give a damn about anything we do—so long as we stay out of sight. They're too busy killing each other."
Although Kaorin couldn't just allow herself to relax, she did have more important matters at hand. "Where is that building?" she mumbled aloud as Asami occasionally fired at the insects below. With little more than a vague idea of what the building looked like and what direction it was in, Kaorin anxiously walked the perimeter of the roof as she scanned the surroundings. Then she spotted it. It might have been covered in rust and scrap metal, but bits of yellow caught her eye. "It's the dozer! The bulldozer!" she shouted as she pointed.
Asami hesitated as she was about to squeeze off another shot before withdrawing the rifle and heading over to Kaorin. "Seriously?" the tiny blonde asked with more than a little skepticism in her voice.
"That big building there must be Toudai! We're not too far away!" Kaorin gushed.
"Got any ideas how to get over there?" Asami asked as she looked to the skirmishes in the streets. "That's smack dab in the middle of their little war."
"You-you're the bug expert! How do we get by?"
Asami shrugged. "I dunno."
"What do you mean 'I dunno'?" Kaorin hissed.
"We avoided the nests and stuff getting this far," Asami pointed out. "As fun as it killing crawlies, if there's too many of them we'll get dead. Unless you've got a tank, we ain't getting through to there."
"There has to be a way," Kaorin persisted.
"Without us being a delightful, screaming snack? Not gonna happen."
Kaorin stared at the building in despair. It was right there, but it was completely out of her reach. "Maybe… is there a way to circle around and approach from the other side?"
The desperate proposal was rejected with a shake of Asami's head. "It looks like the battlefield extends beyond that building."
"C-come on, you can do anything," Kaorin practically begged as she kept her gaze locked on the tall building. "It's right there…."
-Back on the streets of Tokyo an armored bus is surrounded by countless insect corpses-
On board the familiar bus, the vast majority of the girls were panting as the struggled to reload their weapons. "Maybe-maybe we misread it," Yomi suggested. "Are we really sure the star was the police station."
"Look, I just-I don't know, but from now on we avoid the symbols with a cross in a circle," Chihiro announced.
"We figured out that x's are blocked roads, right?" Kagura pointed out. "So that means we're reading it right."
"I-I really hate to say this, but it's been bothering me for a while now. How could Kaorin have made that map?" Yomi gravely asked. "It would have taken weeks of exploring to make something so elaborate."
"Maybe somebody else drew it," Osaka suggested as the group scrutinized the map recording on her camcorder. "A kid or somethin'."
"A kid? Like me?" Hiro asked as he tried to catch a glimpse of the tiny screen through the crowd.
"Why do you say a kid?" Chihiro echoed the boy's sentiment.
"Tha artist can't be all that tall," Osaka claimed as she paused the video and pointed to a frame with Chihiro and Yomi standing next to a wall covered chalk doodles. "It don't even come up tah y'all's shoulders."
Chihiro forcibly grabbed the camera to hold it right in front of her face. Her expression quickly warped from confusion to anger as she realized that Osaka was right. "This… this…"
"Give me that!" Yomi demanded as she snatched the camera. The bespectacled brunette held the camera back for Kagura and Hiro to get a good look as well. "Osaka's right," she grunted.
"S-so what does this mean?" Kagura puzzled. "If Kaorin didn't draw it, who did?"
"A guest or a squatter," Yomi spat. "I'm hoping it's the former."
"Does this mean the map—" Kagura started, only to be cut off by Chihiro.
"We're on a damned wild goose chase!" Chihiro snapped as she stomped towards the driver's seat. She only sat there for a couple of seconds before furiously attacking the steering wheel and everything else within her reach. "God dammit!"
Kagura bit her lip as she looked to a seething Yomi. "We can't… just give up. There has to be something we can do."
Yomi didn't say anything as she shoved her way past Kagura. She marched up to Chihiro and yanked her out of the driver's seat before Chihiro could get the engine started. "We're not giving up!" Yomi sternly announced. "We still have places on the map to look! I don't care if it is a long shot! It's the only lead we've got!"
"And you want to throw it away?" Chihiro bit back as her usual confidence quickly melted away. "If we check everywhere on the map then… then we'll have to assume that she's… Kaorin is… gone."
"Yeah, well… too bad," Kagura ineloquently argued. "We still have to check everything… everywhere! What if she's in trouble and needs our help?"
Chihiro grit her teeth as she climbed back into the driver's seat. "I just… I—"
"I don't want to think about it, either," Yomi spoke up as Chihiro choked. "Let's just focus on deciphering the map, okay?"
"Fine," Chihiro grunted as she started the engine. "Where to?"
-Somewhere in the city streets-
"Shit!" Kaorin screamed as she grabbed her rifle's bolt and struggled in vain to pull it back. "It's jammed!"
Asami quickly threw a flashing firework before ducking under her rifle's strap. "Here!" she shoved her rifle into Kaorin's hands before snatching her shotgun from her nearby luggage. After pumping a shell into the chamber, the undersized blonde quickly fired a slug into a bug getting dangerously close to Kaorin as the confused woman struggled to drop her jammed rifle so she could use Asami's. "Keep at it!"
As soon as the inoperable weapon clattered to the ground, Kaorin pressed another firework's wick to her cigarette. Once the sparks hissed to life, she tossed the tiny object at the small cluster of insects around Asami's firework. She then emptied what was left of the clip as Asami kept shooting any interlopers that crawled out of the shadows. After dropping the clip, she foolishly tried to jam one of her own clips into the weapon. "Damn it all! I don't have your ammo!" Kaorin scolded as she let the rifle drop to her side and drew her sidearm. "We need a plan!" she shouted as she began to fire at any of the many insects that kept coming out of the woodwork.
Asami grabbed Kaorin's wrist as she ran by. "This way!" she ordered as she dropped a couple of flashing fireworks to cover their retreat. The small girl led Kaorin to a nearby overturned truck. "Squeeze in there," Asami ordered as she shoved Kaorin into the small space between the large vehicle's cab and trailer. The blonde followed immediately after, cramming Kaorin into the tight space.
"Wh-what the hell?" Kaorin protested. "We're trapped!"
"They won't be able to get us," Asami claimed as she awkwardly slid shells out of her pocket and into her shotgun. As she did so, the bugs swarmed on the girls' position. The first insect slammed jaws-first into the truck with enough force to leave two dents. Its jaws then snapped closed uselessly leaving scratches in the metal. Even with its jaws closed, it could not work itself into the tiny crevice. It uselessly snapped at the hunkered duo as it tilted its head, but try as it might it could not rotate its head far enough to reach inside. "See?" Asami gloated as she pumped a shell into the chamber. As the bug got clever enough to try to reach in and snare the girls with one of its legs, Asami rewarded it with a well-placed shotgun blast.
"Argh!" Kaorin shouted as she squirmed about to get her hands to her ears. "That's loud!"
"Yeah, tiny little echo chamber," Asami claimed as she worked the pump and again aimed out at the writhing insects. "Lots more where that came from."
"Good," Kaorin claimed as Asami periodically took a potshot at the insects. "I was afraid that you left most of your ammo behind."
"Uh…" Asami stammered before letting out a nervous laugh. "I guess I forgot about that. How much ammo you got?"
"Are you kidding?" Kaorin screeched. "My gun's jammed and lying in the middle of the street! This is your rifle!"
"Huh," Asami mumbled after dropping another insect. "I've got a few shells and two clips left," she announced as she tried in vain to do the math in her head. "That's like, 70 rounds for… twentyish bugs. Like ten rounds a bug, I can make that work."
"That's way off! It's more like three rounds a bug!"
Asami laughed aloud as she fired her last shell. "This is gonna be fun!"
"I've got two clips and whatever's left in my pistol. Don't you have a pistol?" Kaorin frantically tried to find a way out of the bleak situation.
"We're not that desperate!" Asami grinned as she placed her shotgun aside and tried to free her rifle from Kaorin. Loading in a fresh clip, she turned her attention back to the swarming insects. "Those pea-shooters suck at stopping the jumbo crawlies anyway." In no time Asami spent the entire clip and exchanged it for her last one. "Light up! We'll need a few flashers!"
Kaorin tentatively removed her hands from her ears and struggled to get a cigarette in her mouth and light it. "Damn it!" she cursed as Asami squeezed off a couple of shots while Kaorin had her hands off of her ears. "You're going to make me deaf!"
"Better deaf than dead," Asami claimed as she aimed straight up at an insect that was clever enough to try to approach the entrapped duo from above. One bullet through its head put the monster out of its misery. As it fell, it sealed the opening above the two with its corpse. "Go ahead and toss out some flashers! We'll get trapped in here at this rate!"
Kaorin awkwardly shuffled in the tight space to grab a few of the flashing fireworks from her pocket. She anxiously brought the wicks to her cigarette's cherry and only lit a couple of them before fumbling the lot out onto the street.
As soon as the first firework began to flash, Asami grabbed Kaorin's wrist and darted out into the street. "Come on!" she urged as she led Kaorin back towards their abandoned equipment. "Throw another."
"On it!" Kaorin agreed as she dug to the bottom of her pocket. "I only have two left!" she lamented as she lit one and threw it at the near-dozen bugs still crawling about. As soon as she had a hand free, she began taking shots at the beasts with her pistol.
Asami dropped her rifle as she picked up Kaorin's. A few seconds of vigorous tugging on the bolt and she gave up, throwing the weapon to the ground. "You really jammed it good!" the blonde shouted as she again grabbed her own rifle and headed towards her luggage. "Gimmie a few more seconds!"
"It's the last one!" Kaorin warned as she lit her final firework.
"Just do it!" Asami barked as she dumped the large bag into the street. Spying her ammo, she grabbed a box and proceeded to load bullets into her empty clips. As she shoved bullets into the clip, she kicked a bag towards Kaorin. "They'll wise up soon, but keep at it!"
Kaorin looked down to find an entire bag of the flashing fireworks. After finishing off her pistol's last clip, she scooped up the bag and tore it open. "I'm completely out of ammo! There's like ten of them left!" she warned as she tossed out another firework to keep the insects distracted.
"Here!" Asami shouted as she threw a couple of empty clips at her own feet. "Keep them distracted and load ammo for me!" The diminutive blonde then slammed a fresh clip into her weapon and dropped to a knee to steady her aim.
With Kaorin loading, Asami was able to keep up a somewhat steady assault. However, true to Asami's prediction, the flashers showed diminishing returns. One by one the bugs stopped focusing on the flashy distractions and zeroed in on the duo. Although dropping them wasn't too difficult a task for Asami, once a bug had turned to face them it took a great deal more ammo to take them down since their weak spots were no longer exposed. By the time that Asami had taken the group of insects down to five, they had all grown wise of the fireworks' dazzle. "They're coming!" Kaorin panicked as she deployed more fireworks. "The flashers aren't working!"
Asami only fired a couple of rounds before the gun stopped firing. "Clip!" she urged as she dropped the empty clip.
"Eleven!" Kaorin recited the number of rounds she had loaded.
"Not enough!" Asami warned as she slammed the clip into place and chambered a round. "We need a plan C, or D! Whatever letter we're on!" she shouted as she used the entire clip to down just one bug.
As the horde borne down upon them, Kaorin reached for her last ditch resort—a small cylinder Asami had brought back from a supply run not even a week earlier. She pulled the pin and threw the object at the insects. "Flash-bang! Cover your ears and close your eyes! NOW!"
Although caught a bit off-guard, Asami managed to shield her senses just before the disorienting overload of light and noise stopped the bugs dead in their tracks. As she opened her eyes to a blurry and soundless world, Asami spotted the bugs staggering about. In their confusion, one of the four remaining insects bit another, ripping two of its legs off. Seizing the moment without a thought's hesitation, she dropped the empty rifle as she drew her pistol and dashed right into the fray. Ducking under snapping jaws and hurdling swinging legs, Asami managed to unload her entire clip into two bugs, killing one. As she struggled to exchange clips she ran in a dead sprint away from the recovering beasts.
Her ploy worked as she dragged the remaining three away from Kaorin. The tiny girl came to a sliding stop at a rusted out old car. Not even bothering to try the handle, Asami jumped through a busted side-window. Less than two seconds after clearing the window the car gave a great lurch as the bugs caught up and slammed into the vehicle. The force sent Asami reeling as the vehicle tipped up onto its side. "Bastards!" she shouted as she tried to reorient herself. As soon as she figured out which way was up, she spied one of the insects above her. "Lucky!" she gloated as she fired two bullets into the bug's brain through the vulnerable spot on the underside of its head. Glancing about the sideways car she found that while the windscreen was fairly intact, the rear window was completely shattered. "Two on two!" she shouted as she worked her way out of the car. "Those are odds I can live with!"
The sound of gunfire drew Asami's attention towards Kaorin. She had apparently reloaded a clip while Asami had the bugs distracted. She was taking out one of the two remaining insects. "So where…" Asami spoke her thoughts aloud as she quickly looked about. The next thing she knew a loud crash urged her to do a 180 just in time to see the car crash onto its roof. "Hello ugly!" the blonde greeted the last standing bug. She unloaded several shots until the bug crawled up onto the overturned car. Asami then shifted her aim and put the rest of the clip into the gas tank. "No earth-shattering kaboom?" she mumbled aloud as her attack proved futile. The excitable girl quickly ducked away and darted towards the nearest alley. Before the bug could give chase, several shots rang out as Kaorin unloaded what was left in her clip into the soft spot on the bug's side.
Asami laughed as she loaded her last clip. "That was a blast! Too bad the gas tank didn't explode. Must've been outta gas."
Kaorin groaned as she motioned back towards the scattered gear. "We have to reload, now!"
"Yeah, yeah," Asami dismissed as she haphazardly discharged a couple more rounds into the gas tank. "I really wanted a cool explosion, though," she mourned as the gas tank failed to so much as catch fire.
"That only happens in the movies!" Kaorin shouted as she started loading again. "Get over here before more come!"
Asami looked to the tedious task of loading bullets with more than a little disdain. "I'm gonna go grab my shotgun," she claimed as she pointed to the pile of corpses around the overturned semi. "Then I'll fix your jam."
True to her word, Asami grabbed and reloaded her shotgun and cleared Kaorin's jam while her companion diligently loaded ammo into clips and repacked the scattered supplies. "So this radio station might be too close to a nest, too, given the welcome we got," the tiny teen muttered as they got prepared to move out.
"It's still a little ways from here," Kaorin argued as they worked to gather up their things. "We might not be able to get to Toudai, but if we can reach a strong enough radio, we can contact my friends and they can come and get us in the bus. This is the only shot we've got left."
Asami snickered. "Atta girl! I'll have you a spine and nerves of steel yet!"
"Let's hurry up and get on it," Kaorin ordered. "The more daylight we have when we get there the better."
"Yes ma'am!" Asami saluted as she grabbed her bag. Before she could take off, her expression rapidly changed. "Ah, company."
Kaorin instantly whirled around as she aimed down the sights of her freshly cleared rifle. Instead of a six legged beast, she found a rusty old pickup truck slowly rolling towards them. "Wha-? Who!?"
"Let's see if we can get a ride!" Asami excitedly gushed as she dragged her bag over to Kaorin before wildly waving an arm to get the driver's attention.
"We-we can't just trust some stranger!" Kaorin argued as she kept careful aim at the truck's lone inhabitant.
The truck rolled to a halt some five meters from the girls. After shutting off the engine, the man slowly opened the door as he showed his hands. He was an outstandingly average-looking guy apparently in his early thirties, although it was clear that he, like virtually everyone else, hadn't had a shower or a shave in quite some time. "Easy with that thing," he called out. "I don't want any trouble. I just-I heard the shots," he explained as he got out of the truck and surveyed the carnage. "I thought—I need help!"
"Help with what?" Asami innocuously asked as she glanced at Kaorin who was still aiming at the man. "We might be able to trade. Riding in a truck sure beats walking!"
"My friend is sick. Hurt," he explained. "I need medicine and bandages. I'll run you two commandos anywhere if you can get me some. Hell, I'll give you the truck!"
"Put that down," Asami hissed at Kaorin before turning back to the man. "We've got plenty of that crap. There's a radio station not too far from here. Take us there and we'll give you as much as you need." The small blonde then put a hand on Kaorin's barrel to force her to lower the weapon. "All right?"
"Radio station?" the man repeated as he tentatively lowered his hands.
Asami pointed to her friend. "She wants to broadcast a message so her friends can find us."
"I-I actually just came from there. That's where my friend is," he informed the small blonde. "None of the equipment works, though. The generators won't run."
Asami turned to Kaorin, "You can fix cars, can you do generators?"
"We shouldn't trust this guy," Kaorin urged. "We can find our own way."
"We end up at the same place anyways," Asami dismissed. She then turned back to the mystery man. "We'll figure something out once we get there."
"S-sure, um… topless girl," he offered as he motioned back to the truck. "Hop in. I'm Masato, by the way."
"Topless girl?" Asami muttered as she looked down to her bare chest. She then pulled her bag in front of her and threw on a simple, white T-shirt. "I'm Asami, killer of all things with too many legs. This fuddy-duddy is Kaori. She's a little high strung, but she's got a good heart."
"Nice to meet you," he greeted before glancing over at a glowering Kaorin. "M-more or less. Let's get the hell out of here before any bugs show up," Masato urged as he looked around at the piles of corpses. "Although… it doesn't look like you two would have any problems killing a thousand of them. It's really amazing."
"It's been forever since I had a car ride!" Asami beamed as she dashed over to the truck and tossed her bag into the back. She then grabbed her heirloom shotgun and held it in the air. "Shotgun!" she shouted as she moved to the passenger door.
Kaorin cautiously approached the vehicle as Masato entered the driver's seat. She pulled the blonde aside and whispered to her, "We can't trust this guy. It could be a trap!"
"If he tries anything we'll just shoot him and take his stuff," Asami dismissed. "It's a win-win."
Kaorin was caught off-guard by Asami's seemingly nonchalant statement. "You'll kill him? Just like that?"
"I don't know this guy," Asami muttered. "If he tries anything weird, he won't breathe long enough to get a second chance to try anything fishy."
"… Be careful," Kaorin urged as she reluctantly tossed her luggage into the truck bed before climbing in herself.
"We're all set!" Asami excitedly announced as she opened the passenger door and climbed into the cab.
Masato turned the vehicle on before opening the rear window. "You ready back there?"
"Yeah," Kaorin curtly replied as she kept her resentful gaze locked on Masato.
"Hang on," he called back as he put the truck in gear.
"Man, I can't believe you've lasted this long without a gun," Asami commented as she toyed with her shotgun.
"I-I do have a gun," he claimed. "Two of them. In the glove box."
Asami pulled the glove box open without a moment's hesitation. She found two identical revolvers and grabbed one of them. She popped the cylinder out to find that it held a measly five rounds. "You've been fighting bugs with these pea-shooters?" she mocked as she snapped the cylinder back into place and tossed it back into the glove compartment. "How're you not bug food?"
"We try to avoid them at all costs," Masato claimed. "And you're right, those pistols are damned near useless."
"We?" Asami pressed.
"Narumi and myself. There used to be a couple of other guys with us. We had… we had a… falling out."
"And you ended up with the guns?"
Masato shook his head a bit. "One of them had a shotgun, kind of like yours. He took it with him. I don't think he had very many bullets, though."
"I've met a lot of people since the world ended," Asami mused as she pantomimed shooting something with her shotgun. "I never really got along with most of them for very long. It ended badly from time to time."
"You are a very scary little girl," Masato spoke his thoughts.
"Hey! I'm seventeen!"
Although Masato was more than a bit skeptical of Asami's claim, he wasn't kidding about how scary she seemed. "Noted."
Asami quickly perked up as she leaned over the dash and pointed. "Hey! Is that the radio station?"
"Yeah," Masato confirmed as he moved to park the beat-up old truck. "We're here."
As soon as the truck came to a stop Asami jumped out of the cab and ran around to the side. "Gimmie my bag!"
Keeping one eye on Masato and the other on her surroundings, Kaorin reluctantly passed Asami her bag. "Keep an eye out for an ambush or traps," Kaorin whispered another warning before hauling down her own bag and leaping down to the pavement.
"I barricaded the front doors," Masato explained as he pocketed his twin pistols and led the way. "There's a side door we can use."
The two girls warily followed him into a nearby alley where he opened a door to the radio station. "After you," Kaorin insisted as he held the door open.
Instead of blindly entering, Kaorin switched on her weapon's flashlight and swept the interior as best she could. "Looks clear," Kaorin muttered. "Cover me."
Asami took one last glance about the alleys before following Kaorin into the building. "See anything?" Asami asked as the duo swept the open and rather unimpressive lobby with their lights.
"You two don't need to worry," Masato assured. "There shouldn't be any of those bugs in here."
"We're not checking for crawlies," Asami bluntly informed him. "In any case it really does look like this place is empty. Where's the person who needed the bandages and stuff."
Masato pointed to a nearby desk. Leading the girls to the other side revealed a gruesome sight. A very pale woman with short, black hair was laid out on a mat. Her right arm was mangled and her torso wrapped in bloodied cloth. As Masato reached over to the desk and turned on a battery-powered lamp, the newfound light revealed that even the mat was stained with blood.
"That… this looks bad. Is she even alive?" Kaorin muttered as she knelt down next to the motionless girl and gingerly placed the back of her hand against the woman's cheek. Her skin felt cold and damp.
"You-can you help her?" Masato begged.
Kaorin looked to Masato before focusing again on the woman. "I'll try," she affirmed. "Asami, keep watch while this guy and I try to get her patched up."
Asami pouted a bit. "I wanted to go exploring…."
"Just stand guard! You can play later!"
"Bo-ring," Asami complained.
As Kaorin and Masato worked to remove the makeshift bandages, the woman stirred. "It… it hurts," she feebly hissed as she struggled to open her brown eyes. Kaorin went back to her bag and fished out a couple of pill bottles as well as a fresh bottle of water. She measured out three pain pills and an antibiotic. "This will take the pain away, though you'll definitely be pretty loopy," she insisted as Masato helped his friend to sit up. After passing the pills to the woman, she helped her to drink the water to wash them down. "I'm going to patch you up the best I can, okay?"
"Thank you," the woman softly spoke as Masato eased her back down.
"What happened?" Kaorin found herself asked as she organized bandages and antiseptic. "We should give those painkillers a minute to kick in," she added as an afterthought.
"She got bitten by one of those monster bugs," Masato revealed. "I managed to kill it and free Narumi but…"
Having stood guard for a good six minutes, Asami had gotten bored with guard duty and decided instead to clean all of the guns. After that she took inventory of the remaining weaponry, declaring that they didn't have left to have any "real" fun. Once she finished that, she disappeared into the radio station as she explored every nook and cranny. Finally, she found her way back to the rest of the group and started digging through the supplies. "I'm starving! I'm gonna go ahead and make something."
"Cook a lot," Kaorin urged. "We have twice as many mouths to feed.
"Are you finished torturing that woman yet?"
"We got her patched up half an hour ago. You'd have known that had you stood guard like you were supposed to!" Kaorin harshly informed Asami.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever," Asami dismissed. "You have any power here or do I need to hook up the car battery?"
"Huh?" Masato muttered as he felt all eyes on him. "Uh, car battery?"
Asami sighed as she fished out the heavy battery. "Man, at least Kaori had a generator and stuff," she complained. "You set up shop here and you don't have anything?"
Masato sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. "Look, we were with two other guys, but… the things they did Narumi… we ended up running off from them the first chance we got. Then Narumi got bit so we had to stop and stay here. That's why we don't have any real supplies. It was a miracle I got that truck running."
"I guess that explains a lot," Asami mumbled as she wired the battery to the hot plate.
"Finding you two was a godsend," Masato enthused. "I really mean it. I owe you two everything."
"Yeah, sure," Kaorin tried in vain not to sound critical, but her skepticism still showed in her tone.
Masato sighed at Kaorin's hostility. "Look, I understand if you two want to leave. This isn't the safest place to stay the night, after all."
Kaorin frowned as she scanned the darkened room. "It doesn't look too vulnerable," she critically analyzed.
"Want me to take care of it?" Asami volunteered. "I should be able to find some bleach or something nearby."
"I'll take care of the food," Kaorin assured as Asami jumped up, dumped out everything from her bag, and started for the door with her rifle in hand. "Bring back anything that looks useful."
"Leave everything to me!" Asami boasted as she headed out the door.
"Wait… what?" Masato puzzled. "What's going on?"
"Asami will make sure that the bugs don't bother us and pick up supplies," Kaorin explained as she reluctantly took over the cooking. "No one in the world knows how to handle bugs better than her."
"What's her story?" Masato let his curiosity get the better of him. "She said she was a teenager."
"She's seventeen," Kaorin claimed as she kept a wary eye on Masato. "And if you want to keep all your insides the way they are, you won't bring up her heritage."
-Shortly after dusk-
"We will have to find tools tomorrow," Kaorin mumbled as she looked over the generators. "Spare parts if we can find them."
"And ammo," Asami insisted. "We need to find more."
"Yeah, that too," Kaorin muttered as she did her best to examine the generator. "This one's in better shape than the other one. If nothing else I might be able to cannibalize that one to fix this one."
"We don't need both?"
"The more power the stronger the signal, I think," Kaorin claimed. "Since Toudai is pretty close, one will hopefully be enough. Still, if I can get both working, I will. We'll need some diesel to fuel them, too."
"That's a lot of stuff to carry back," Asami complained as she counted on her fingers. "Food, ammo, fireworks, cigarettes, tools, parts, fuel, and… ugh, medical supplies."
"Water, too," Kaorin reminded Asami. "If we're lucky we'll have a truck to help us haul it all."
"What do you mean, 'if we're lucky'?"
"I don't trust that guy and neither should you," Kaorin warned.
Asami tilted her head as she put her hands on her hips. "Why not? He's been straightforward with us so far."
"Maybe it's to gain our trust and lure us into a trap," Kaorin argued. "We can't trust him."
"Because in this world you can't trust anyone!" Kaorin snapped.
"What about me?" Asami challenged.
"You… you're different. You know that," Kaorin assured as she shelved her interest in the generators and focused instead at the quirky girl she had spent the last month with.
"Why?" Asami demanded, not unlike a child.
Kaorin grunted as she crossed her arms over her chest. "My point still stands," she diverted the conversation back to her original idea. "Don't trust that man."
"I'll be sure to sleep with one eye open," Asami begrudgingly resigned.
"What do we do now?" Kagura whispered, as not to attract unwanted attention to the parked bus.
"There… there are a few places on the map to check," Yomi claimed. "We'll search them out tomorrow morning."
"Do you… really think we'll find her?" Kagura asked.
Yomi shook her head before turning her gaze to Chihiro. She was hugging her knees and leaning against the bus wall as she quietly wept. "You know that we won't," Yomi bitterly asserted. "We still have to check."
"Then what? We just go back to Toudai?" Kagura protested. "We can't just give up."
"Where else are we supposed to look?" Yomi bitterly argued. "We've searched all around this area."
"We can't just give up," Kagura meekly urged. "We just… we can't."
A/N: Like them or hate them, the new OCs won't have a large role to play. They'll just be background characters not unlike Hiro and Ojiisan.