A/N: Completely separate of Gantz Minus (as I haven't read it) and has no affiliation with it. Takes place before the original events of the Gantz series where both Izumi and Nishi are present. There will be some degree of romantic development later on but the core of the story revolves around my own idea of what happened prior to Kurono and company's venture into the Gantz-verse. Please enjoy.
Chapter O1 ; Death's Descent
She was running fast, so fast that she was out of breath. The sound of footsteps echoed down the empty alleyway like a haunting refrain, and louder than that was the rapid beating of her heart that pounded in her ears. The sense of fear was overwhelming.
He's going to get me.
The hem of her skirt danced around her knees – swish, swish – it was such a faint sound, but she tried to focus on it. She tried not to think about the echoing footsteps behind her that indicated her pursuer was drawing closer, or the fact that their labored breathing was just as loud as hers and the fact that she could hear it meant they were almost upon her. Blink away reality, she told herself, because all of this had to be a bad dream.
Going to get me...
Suddenly she darted around a corner, pausing only for a moment to place her hand against her chest, trying to steady herself. Calm down, she commanded her heart, though it refused to listen. Nervously, she peered around the corner. The street was empty. Her eyes widened. There was a leap in her heart – did she lose him? Had she gotten away?
Then, just as she had begun to feel some measure of relief, she turned to leave and noticed something eerily familiar obstructing her path. Standing as as silhouette with the glaring light of the setting sun sitting behind him, her pursuer appeared with a raised gun.
Startled, she took a step backward. One step, and then two. Two steps, and then three. Instinct kicked in and she scrambled to turn back around the corner she had come out of. A deafening crack suddenly broke through the silence that lingered in the area, and in that brief second she felt a crashing impact in her shoulder that jostled the rest of her body.
Her feet started dragging as she came to a sudden stop, awestruck as she gazed down at her left shoulder. Blood was oozing forth and the pain – it was excruciating. It took a moment for her to register. While she loitered there, another shot rang out. This time it punctured through lower abdomen, sending her stumbling forward as she lowered her hand to the wound.
Tears promptly sprang to the ducts of her eyes as her legs started moving again. Shakily they sprinted down the empty street, passing the trash that was strewn along the way – old bags, cartons, cigarette butts. And, she told herself, if she didn't get away, she would be laying there right along with all of that shit.
Going to get me...
The hand on her abdomen was slick with blood, which was quickly coagulating as it squeezed between the cracks of her fingers where it worked as adhesive to keep them stuck together. She suddenly raised that hand, pressing it against the concrete siding of one of the buildings. Everything was starting to blur and she wasn't sure whether it was from shock or blood loss. But she did know there was a lump in the back of her throat and a burning trail of tears down her cheeks.
I'm going... to die.
It was hardly a sudden, crushing realization – it was more so something that she knew was coming. Ever since she had spotted the shady looking man lingering outside the gates of her school. Thinking about it, she cursed herself for bothering with extracurricular activities. What good were they now? Because she had stayed later and waved her driver on ahead, claiming that she could walk home, now she was going to die. It was all for not.
But even in the last seconds she figured she had, she was clinging to life with all her might. Just a little farther, she told herself. It worked well enough to convince her legs to jostle her body a step or two forward, but then she collapsed upon her knees. Her senses were too overwhelmed that she barely registered the feeling, only vaguely aware where she fell face-first again the concrete.
There was an echo of footsteps again in the background and she figured it was her pursuer – coming to deliver the final blow. She was not sure why it was necessary. No one was going to find her. No one was going to look for her. No, she was going to bleed to death on the sidewalk alone, with her only witness the very person who murdered her.
Regardless of her pursuer – whose identity she still did not know – she closed her eyes. As much as she wanted to live, the darkness was calling her. It beckoned like a demon of temptation that she could not resist. Just give up, it told her.
And she listened.
"Oh, looks like there's one more."
It was the sound of a woman's voice. Was she still alive? The girl fluttered her eyes open, bewildered to find herself sitting in what looked like a room in an apartment building. Everything seemed like a blur as she whipped her head around – left to right. There were people gathered around what looked to be a bulky black ball. But there were windows on the side of the room and as she peered out... "Tokyo tower," she gasped in recognition.
"That's right," the aforementioned woman affirmed. "And while I don't know about you, little girl, I was stuck in a blizzard in Hokkaido freezing to death. So there is no way in hell I was anywhere near Tokyo when I blacked out."
"You didn't black out," someone else reasoned, "You died. We all died. This is divine punishment."
The incoming information was more than confusing.
"What's your name?" Someone else asked – a middle-aged man with a kind face.
Feeling a little relieved, she responded, "Haruka... Koizumi, Haruka."
"Well, then, Koizumi-san, don't be worried about the situation. The adults here will..." While the man rattled off on how the 'adults' would protect the 'children' present, Haruka took the time to peer around the room. She was startled to find a familiar face.
The black-haired boy glared over at her with his beady, apathetic eyes. He hardly regarded her familiarly, quirking a brow. "Do I know you?" He asked sardonically.
"Young man, that isn't a nice way to address a classmate. You two are from the same school, aren't you? You are wearing the same uniform-"
"Sorry," the boy responded insincerely, "I don't associate with the people in my school, so I wouldn't know if she was."
Haruka swallowed hard at his cold-hearted remark. Perhaps she should have expected it. Even though she had noticed him in school, he always seemed unwilling to acknowledge the outside world – always cooped up in his own. But then, she had not known him for very long. Moreover, she had never actually spoken to him before. It was a little absurd to expect him to know who she was.
Out of nowhere, interrupting the chatter that had suddenly erupted in the room, the "big black ball" as Haruka had inwardly dubbed it, started... singing? "A new morning has come, a morning of hope~" Ah, she recognized it too – from that annoying morning exercise program. One of the maids was always listening to it as she worked.
At last the song ended and glowing letters appeared on the screen, some backwards and arrange awkwardly. Reading it made her feel a little dizzy, but Haruka believed she understood the gist of it. They were all dead – of course, they had to be, she knew because she'd been shot to death – and the "big black ball" had some plans of its own for them.
While others postulated the meaning of this new information. Nishi stood in the corner with his lips pursed. He watched them without speaking, looking completely detached. Haruka's first instinct was to look to him for protection and answers – knowing that he was a classmate. With his cold attitude, she felt a little put off. So instead, she kept close to the endearing old man who was also trying to make sense of it all.
"So what does this mean?"
"Are we really dead?"
"What's with this stupid ball?"
The same questions were swirling around in her head, all unanswered.
Suddenly more information popped up onto the screen. There was a picture of a shadowy-looking... "Lion?" Haruka spoke abruptly as everyone tried to figure out exactly what it was supposed to be. Listed beside it was miscellaneous information that seemed little more than helpful.
"What good is this information?" Another teenager with a buff physique and pissed off look on his face blurted out in frustration.
The woman who had first spoken – who seemed to be from Hokkaido – responded, "Maybe we are supposed to find this thing? Is this some kind of fantasy show? Are there cameras here or something?" It was anyone's guess.
But more questions arose when suddenly three sides of the ball burst open. On the backside, a row of cases labeled with names. On the two sides there were various weapons. Nishi was one of the first to grab one of them, exercising little hesitation. There was no change to the look on his face, no signs of fear or apprehension.
Haruka, on the other hand, felt her legs wobbling beneath her as she stood up. "G-guns? Are we s-supposed to fight that thing?" It seemed like she was reliving the nightmare of her own death all over again.
"That's right," Nishi spoke in a suave voice, "If you capture that alien on the screen there, you'll get a million dollars. Everyone has an hour to do it."
It seemed a little fishy that he had been silent before yet suddenly offered this information out of nowhere. Was he joking or telling the truth? No one else seemed to care as they reached for a weapon. Even the middle-aged man grabbed up one of the clunky looking shotguns. "You don't have to worry about getting one," he told Haruka, "Us adults will protect you. Children should touch something as dangerous as a weapon."
Although it seemed to piss off the guy with the ripped muscles, no one else voiced any objections. Haruka felt ill-equipped to deal with the situation anyways. And even though she felt a bit guilty about it, she did not mind that she could just cling to the others without taking the responsibility of carrying one of those lethal looking devices.
Then – out of nowhere – people started disappearing. Dissolving was more like it – one at a time they were all fading away from the top of their heads, gradually to the tips of their toes. Nishi was the first to go, then the woman, then the pissed off teen. Before she knew it, Haruka too was dissolving. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, squeezing her eyes shut from the moment it started. Too scary, she thought.
"Open your eyes, crybaby," the ripped teen growled out harshly at her.
Recognizing his voice, and intimidated by him, she fluttered her eyes open and took a step back from him. He just snarled in response and she bowed her head apologetically. "S-sorry."
"Aw, hell. Girls like you are the most annoying."
Ignoring him, since he was now walking away, she looked around to see if she could spot that middle-aged man who had sworn to protect her. As soon as she saw him, she darted over toward him. "Hey, Mister, what should we do?"
"Let's stick together as a group," he offered, looking around at everyone.
The only person who seemed to agree with his line of thinking was the woman. Nishi had already seemingly disappeared alongside one of the other people Haruka had spotted in the room – a man, though she had already forgotten what he looked like, but she knew he had not spoken at all.
With only the three of them, Haruka stuck close.
"By the way, Haruka-chan," the woman said, "My name is Keiko."
"You can call me Hiroshi, Koizumi-san."
Knowing their names made her feel a little more comfortable and she offered them a smile as they trailed down the empty, dimly lit street. "It's nice to meet you." Although I wish it were under better circumstances. "Please take care of me." I don't want to die again. Her inner voice added unnecessary words that she did not speak out loud.
The trio seemed to wander endlessly. "I'm not seeing anything like that shadowy beast that the black ball showed," Keiko said in exasperation, breathing a sigh as she peered around the quiet neighborhood. In the ten minutes they had been wandering around looking around, they had not even spotted any of the others.
"Seems like we aren't making any progress. We should-" Hiroshi was abruptly cut off.
The ground shook nearby and a cloud of dirt suddenly shot up in the sky, alongside flying clumps of concrete – the street? Haruka gasped and dropped into a squat, covering her ears with her hands. Is it an earthquake? she wondered.
Someone grabbed her wrist and Haruka was yanked out of her thoughts as she was strung along with Keiko and Hiroshi who were... Running straight to the accident site? "We should be running away!" she protested.
"That might be the thing we have to catch!" Keiko exclaimed excitedly. "Don't you want the million dollars? That money could feed me and my son – and, I could finally have proper heating in my house. No way I'm passing on this."
"My wife is sick in the hospital. This could really help me, too," Hiroshi agreed.
"Don't you want the money for yourself, too?"
Haruka furrowed her brows. "No, I just want to live..." And her voice trailed off, because she felt a sting of guilt. These people were willing to risk their lives, running into what appeared to be a dangerous situation, for money. Meanwhile Haruka could not admit to them that she happened to be the sole heiress of an impressive estate. Money meant nothing to her. It never had. Money could not buy loved ones that had been lost, it couldn't buy friends. But for these people, it meant their livelihood, drowning in debts and poverty, while she enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. The blue-eyed girl frowned, eyes averted to the ground.
The trio were nearly to the scene, rounding one final corner in their approach before stopping to find... A large imprint in the middle of an intersection. People and policemen had all gathered to investigate what appeared to be a crater.
"Looks like we missed it," Keiko spoke with bitter resignation.
Haruka tentatively stepped closer, feeling some measure of relief that the danger was gone. At least, for the moment. With all the people around, she felt a little safer. Curiosity got the better of her and she edged closer to the crater that everyone seemed to be peering down at. It took some effort pushing past the people that barely seemed to notice her. But when she finally emerged at the edge and looked down, she wished she had stayed back with Keiko and Hiroshi.
"Ahhh!" A blood curdling scream erupted from her throat that quickly got the attention of the other two that came scrambling through the crowd to her aid.
"What is it?"
Then they saw – down in that crater, crushed into the concrete was the body of that ripped teenager that had departed from them earlier. He had been completely mutilated, blood staining the area around him. His face was nearly indistinguishable, but it was that piercing on his left eyebrow that helped Haruka identify him.
But seeing this – this horrific sight – she couldn't hold it in anymore and started retching. Soon everything she had eaten, mixed in with her stomach bile, poured over the ground. Keiko, although shaken by it, managed to gain her bearings enough to pat Haruka on the back, in an attempt to reassure the young girl.
Reassurance was pointless, however, because with this revelation came a new barrage of questions. What had killed him? Why had it killed him? Was it going to come after them? What should they do? What could they do? At least Haruka could postulate this: that shadowy monster that the black ball had revealed to them was probably the thing that had crushed Muscle Man.
"W-we should... run away," Haruka said suddenly as she wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her uniform.
Peering up at Hiroshi, Keiko asked, "Do you think that kid was lying to us? Do you think we really won't get the money if we get that big thing?"
Having completely forgotten about that, Haruka paused as she remembered. Nishi had been the one to claim that people would get a big pay off if they could capture that thing. She wanted to believe that he was not lying, but... Evidence was pointing to the contrary. This seemed like something completely over their heads.
"I don't know about you, but isn't it worth the chance that it isn't a lie?" Seeming to have resolved herself to the situation, Keiko lifted her hand away from Haruka's back as she took to her feet. "I probably froze to death there in Hokkaido in that blizzard. That means I was already dead before. But my heart is beating now, I'm still breathing – if this is a second chance, then that means maybe I can win money. Maybe I won't. If I don't, I'll just die again. If I do, then I will be rich and alive."
"Right," Hiroshi agreed with a hesitant nod, eyes still glued to the gruesome sight below.
While they were preoccupied in their own conversation, the people around them were clamoring to the scene. "What do you think caused this?" They whispered among themselves. "Wow, that's a huge crater." In awe they all peered down at it, none seeming the least bit as affected as Haruka.
"H-how can you people look down there like it's a spectacle?" she asked indignantly in a hushed voice as she peered around at the amazed look on their face. "That man died and you are all just... standing there watching."
On the mention of that, Keiko waved her hand in front of the face of one of the people standing nearby. "Not that the situation isn't already weird," she said, voice faltering and cracking, "B-but... I don't think they can see us..."
"That may mean we really are dead," Hiroshi speculated.
Haruka's shoulders were trembling. Tendrils of her long, ebony-black hair fell in a curtain across her face as she huddled into a fetal position. She tried, silently, to wish it all away. It was too horrifying to deal with. Too gruesome, too disturbing.
"Come on, kiddo, up on your feet." Using the strength in her arms, Keiko forcefully lifted Haruka back up onto her feet, then took the young girl's hand. "I have a kid at home like you, and I know I would be really sad if something happened to him. I'm sure your parents feel the same, so let's go capture that thing then get out of here, 'kay?"
Feeling a little indecisive, Haruka hesitated, nervously averting her gaze from the fiery look in Keiko's chocolate brown eyes. "I-I... think we-"
"We had better get going or we'll lose him." Lifting the shotgun up into the air, Hiroshi turned and started maneuvering out of the crowd. Keiko followed after him, once again pulling Haruka along.
While they started down the street again in pursuit of the creature that had demolished Muscle Man, they followed the distant sound of large, earth-trembling footsteps. Haruka squeezed Keiko's hand tightly, trying her best to match pace with the other two. She was quickly running out of breath and silently wondered why the others seemed to be having an easier time than she was. Maybe because she had always been bad at physical activities.
But, suddenly, as she stared at Keiko's hand, she thought back to what Keiko had said. "I'm sure your parents feel the same..." In the heat of the moment, Haruka did not have the opportunity to admit that both of her parents were already gone. From the time she was a child, the only person she could remember was her grandfather who raised her. (Well, more precisely his staff, since he usually kept himself at great distance.)
Maybe to an outsider it would then seem silly to be struggling so futilely to survive. Here was Keiko, a mother fighting to get back to her child, and Hiroshi, a man fighting to get back to his sick wife. Their battles had purpose. All Haruka had was the school activities she immersed herself in, her role as heiress, her position of popularity in the school's infamous femme fatale clique. Although she herself was merely a shadow that they leeched off of because of her riches. She even knew that. The servants, the friends – all of those people around her...
They were rapidly approaching the sound and it shook her from her thoughts. Haruka's chin jerked as she spotted it up ahead. Looming like the shadow of evil, the gigantic creature that resembled some mythical beast from a fairytale, suddenly turned its attention at the sound of their clamoring approach. Although it appeared to be like a phantom, its body opaque, there seemed to be a dark substance rising in thin wisps from its body, like smoke. And it barred its hideously sharp fangs at them, letting forth a fierce, piercing roar that caused the trio to cover their ears in defense.
Hiroshi who had been leading them dropped his gun, and the creature seemed to take that as its cue to charge. The middle-aged man was caught off-guard and while Keiko and Haruka were both able to stumble out of the way, he was immediately caught in the mouth of the beast.
Haruka staggered back into a brick wall, eyes frozen wide open as her jaw dropped in horror. "No, stop!" she screamed at the creature.
But its jaw had already clamped down. Blood spurted forth and spewed across the ground. The short curdling scream that had erupt from Hiroshi was silenced suddenly and the sound of crunching bones echoed through the air. Haruka collapsed onto the ground. A chill ran down her spine as tears brimmed in her eyes.
What do I do? What do I do?
Hiroshi's shot gun was too far out of reach for her to even hope to make a dash for without garnering the attention of the beast. It was completely hopeless. And the stench of death crept up on her; a corrosive scent that probably permeated from the open mouth of that creature as it gobbled up the rest of Hiroshi, gnashing at the last bit of bones and organs. It was putrid and before she knew it, Haruka was emptying her stomach again. The tears and the vomit mixed together in a puddle on the pavement beneath her. She stared at it hollowly, feeling a bit dizzy.
It must all be a dream, she told herself.
She raised her hands jerkily up to her face, pressing her palms over her eyes. "It's just a dream," she mumbled in a quiet voice. Then a little louder. "It's just a dream. It's just a dream... It's just a dream. Has to be a dream."
Then the earth trembled and she slowly cracked her fingers open to see what was happening. The terrifying creature with its ghastly pale eyes and beady black pupils, had turned its gaze toward her. In a purposefully slow way, it was approaching. Keiko was nowhere to be seen, although Haruka could swear she had seen the voluptuous woman just moments ago. Apparently in the chaos she had been smart enough to run.
So this is it, Haruka thought as she resigned herself to death. I should have expected this. I already died once. It was foolish to have hoped for anything to begin with.
And she watched solemnly as the monster opened its mouth. Those steel-trap jaws inched slowly toward her and as it breathed she felt a sudden gust buffet her face. It stunk of the corpses that the creature had undoubtedly consumed. The knots in her stomach twisted and she felt like throwing up again. But when the top jaw swooped over her head, she figured that was the least of her worries.
I'm going to die.
She snapped her eyes shut.