156. Nagisa Shiota: Yomi (180/47)
March 16, an hour after Itona's confrontation with Shiro
With no moon in the night sky, only a handful of distant street lights give us visibility in this park in Fukaya, on the north end of Saitama prefecture. In front of me, at a T-juncture on the paved path lined by bushes and shaded by sakura trees, and vines and flowers hanging from metal arches, Karma, Kataoka-san, and Takebayashi-kun are standing around a bench, where Itona is lying on his stomach, unconscious and without his uniform jacket.
More than a few of the rest of us are waiting in ambush.
I watch from a crouched position behind an arch you might think too narrow to properly hide someone at a glance, with my hand on a very real knife sheathed sideways at the base of my spine. Just a few moments ago, a conspicuous black van pulled up to the small parking lot out front, and disgorged a group of four armed soldiers from the back. One of Karasuma-sensei's subordinates is exiting from the driver's seat, along with a passenger I don't recognize. He's an older man, probably American, with frameless glasses, gray hair, and developing jowls. A metal briefcase is cuffed to one of his wrists.
The group meets with Karasuma-sensei and Bitch-sensei at the entrance to the park. It's too far away to hear, but the American is obviously impatient. Almost like he's unhappy with being dragged out here at midnight. The eight of them quickly walk towards our classmates, the teachers leading the way with flashlights.
"Is that him, then?" The American asks in English as Itona comes into sight. He turns to Kataoka. I can't see his face, but I'm sure it's full of self-importance. "I am the overall commander of the moon disaster assassination mission. My name is-"
"We are not interested in your name, client." Kataoka interrupts, testily. She speaking in English as well, but the words are a bit awkward in her mouth. "Confirm that we completed the contract."
The man frowns, then turns to Karasuma's subordinate next to him. "Agent Uckai." He says simply, of course mangling the pronunciation.
Captain Ukai kneels down and pulls two halves of some kind of device from his pocket, connecting them with a wire. One part is a plastic box, the other a metal tube, like a Geiger counter. He starts running it right over Itona's body. "You stitched up his wound?" He asks in Japanese.
Takebayashi answers, pushing up his glasses and keeping his hand there. "He had a major penetrating trauma into his thoracic cavity. He was lucky to not suffer a collapsed lung. He will need real medical treatment very soon." Definitely. He was pierced with the same weapon we devised to kill Koro-sensei. It would have opened a hole about the size of a willow leaf.
Ukai nods and finishes up quickly, standing to report to the old commander, switching to English. "No anomalous gamma ray readings. He's clear, as far as this scanner can tell."
The commander nods to him, and turns back to the soldiers behind him. "Take him away."
I feel a bit of worry as the soldiers start to reach back over their shoulders where I can see a set of metal rods probably meant to be combined into some kind of stretcher. But there's no need.
"That is not going to happen." Kataoka says, making all four freeze. She steps in between them with crossed arms and will not be moved by anything.
The old man is taken aback, but he still simpers at her condescendingly. "Young lady, that boy has already relapsed once. We can't take the risk that he will do so again, so we must take him into custody for observation."
"He is our responsibility." Kataoka counters. "We stopped him once, and we will again if we have to. But we will not allow you to make him disappear under any circumstances."
"Commander." Karasuma-sensei joins in. "They have fulfilled the terms of their contract to the letter, and they are as qualified as anyone to watch over this boy. This is good enough."
Ukai starts looking back and forth between his two superiors in confusion.
The old man clicks his tongue. "Enough. I am not negotiating with you. Men!" He raises a hand to the soldiers behind him.
At this point, Ukai speaks up. "Sir, that's not a good idea."
Up until now, Karma's been watching all this with a look of dark amusement, but now he steps forward. "He means that you may feel strong being backed up by a few borrowed soldiers, but you haven't even noticed the backup we've brought."
That puts the commander and his unit on edge in an instant. They start looking around randomly, but of course they don't manage to spot us. One random bush on the opposite side of the path from me rustles, sending them scrambling to form a defensive line around the old man. I almost laugh. They're so full of openings, it's pitiful.
"There is no deal or negotiation here." Kataoka continues. "You have confirmed that we have done what we were hired to do. Give us our money, then go."
The commander remains still for far too long. I start to get antsy, and tighten my grip on my knife. Will the confrontation we've been suspecting happen right here and now? But then he curses under his breath, and reaches into his pocket, taking out a small key. "Fine. But you had better drown us in reports saying he still poses no danger, and on your head be it if anything goes wrong!" He unlocks the cuff around his wrist and the briefcase he's been carrying, and then just drops it on the ground before turning on his heel and storming off. Ukai gives Karasuma-sensei a glance, getting a nod to go with them, and he leaves as well.
"Geez, who was that guy?" Karma mockingly wonders aloud, sauntering over and checking the briefcase. He cocks his head back and forth as he takes in the contents. "Yep, that looks about right." He shuts it again without bothering to count the stacks of bills.
One by one, those of us who were watching hidden start to emerge. Maehara and Okano from the branches above. Kaede from behind another arch. Kimura and Sugino from the bushes. Of course, Chiba is covering us from the roof of a nearby gazebo. He takes a little longer to join us. And then there's me. And I'm just glad we weren't needed.
"We really need to be going." Takebayashi informs us, kneeling to check Itona's pulse. "We shouldn't wait any longer than we have to to get Itona-kun to a doctor. Preferably before he fully regains consciousness."
"Yes, of course." Kataoka tells him, while seeking out Kaede. "Kayano-san, do you have them?"
"Yes." Kaede says, all businesslike. She fishes a wallet out of her back pocket and hands it over. "The ID will definitely hold up. Nobody will be able to tell who he really is."
Our plan is to say we just found him on the street somewhere next to a random piece of bloody metal. The wallet has money in it too, so it won't seem like he's been robbed or anything. Just some bizarre accident, but not worthy of serious scrutiny. I'm sure it was a lot of trouble to go to, but this way we won't have to worry about that commander or anyone else getting ideas about him. We're completely serious about keeping him safe. It will probably take a long time, but some day I hope he'll forgive us for this.
Kataoka-san and Maehara-kun pick up Itona and carry him off to Bitch-sensei's car, with Takebayashi-kun following by their side. She'll drive them to a hospital in the next district over to drop him off. Karasuma-sensei goes to retrieve a van from down the block that he'll be taking the rest of us home in. Most of the rest of us mill around and share yawns, enjoying the park in the quiet of the early morning, this time that so few bother to see. Not me, though. I'm not in a relaxing mood, and I doubt I could yawn or sleep even if I wanted to. So I head out to the lot to wait.
"Tomorrow's the big day." Kaede says, sidling up next to me with a gentle, well-crafted smile.
"Today, you mean." Karma corrects nonchalantly, appearing on my other side with the briefcase. "It's after midnight. Hope everyone gets enough rest. It'd be pretty embarrassing to screw up at this point." He's being flippant as usual, but I think I detect a note of real concern in his voice. Not that he'd admit to it at this point. It's enough that we aren't fighting right now.
"I won't." I say, though not with the force I was trying for. I am tired. I have a lot of doubt. But I have worked so hard for this day. Part of me wishes I could call it quits, but it's far, far too late for that. And I'd be so disappointed in myself for not seeing this to completion. "Not this, not what we've been aiming for this entire year."
Kaede makes a little sound, like she's worried but trying to suppress it. "It's been quite a year, hasn't it?" She says with quiet wonder. "We've found hope, and opportunity, and happiness. Every single one of us have changed the course of our lives."
"Yep." Karma agrees. "I mean, the two of you are about to set off on making yourselves a whole mountain of bodies, and I'm not? So weird."
That's not really what we're planning, I think while showing him my bemused and long-suffering smile. "Well, we have to do something with our free time. And anyone would want to get rid of the people who steer the world in a direction they don't like."
"Do you think it could have gone differently?" Kaede asks. "I mean, some way that didn't leave us trapped in the corner we're in."
I pause, then shrug. "Anything's possible."
"Maybe we could have talked Koro-sensei out of destroying the world. Or just leaving. Maybe if he didn't sabotage those towers, the government would have managed to kill him. Maybe that nuclear bomb attack might have worked. Or maybe we could have found a real cure for him." She continues, answering her own question.
"Not us." Karma says, folding his hands behind his head, sounding annoyed. "We could only have stolen it from somewhere. Not really our win. And letting the government get him? What a freaking waste of time this all would have been if that happened."
That true, isn't it? What I have to do, what we have to do, is almost unbearably painful, but there's more to it than pain alone. They've reminded me of that just now. I stop in my tracks, making them turn back towards me with confused noises. "I don't think I'd have it any other way." I say, and they both blink in surprise. I put my hand over my heart, and lower my head with a nostalgic smile. "We accepted this path, and set out to prove something. That we matter. Society tried to discard us, and that was wrong. So we'll do this unbelievable thing that nobody thought we could. We're not victims, or bystanders. We can achieve anything we set our minds to. For us, that's what all of this has been for. It is the meaning of our story."
My two friends smile back at me, though in both of them I can see a bit of bitterness. But I think we're all basically thinking the same thing, right? It wasn't perfect. Not everyone got exactly what they wanted. But this was good.
"That and money." Karma says cheerfully, holding up the briefcase.
"And the peace and safety of the world. That's not a terrible prize either." Kaede adds.
I giggle. I think we may be selfish bastards, but oh well. We're only human. Weak little people trying to make our way in this crowded, competitive world. To survive, we've embraced and understood weakness, to become assassins. That let us save Itona tonight, more or less, and ourselves soon enough. We just have to get through today, and we'll be fine.
Thus ends Judecca, the story of a group of kids growing into competent assassins, who were capable of getting things done when they put their minds to the task. It's been a rough ride, at times amazing and disgusting and heartbreaking. I feel like there are so many of these amazing kids we barely even know yet. Plenty of chapters I wish I could have written better. But it's been a fairly incredible experience to write this, and see my thinking reflected in the fandom. Then to have people come to me asking my views and opinions about the characters and their abilities. Plus, all the times I had to say "No, I totally didn't know that was going to happen in advance." But this has to be it. I'll never have a better stopping point, and I don't want to keep on doing this until I'm weary of it. So it's time to change gears.
Expect the next chapter of In the World within two weeks of this posting. Craig Houjou will be in it! And all the anime-only fans are wondering who that is. Well, you're about to find out.
Also, and I should have done this a while ago, if you want a bit more story like this, check out TheRoseShadow21's excellent fanfic, Amaranthine. It hasn't gotten nearly the love it deserves. It's sort of an AU epilogue inspired by my chapter 146, the one where Isogai puts together the assassination squad. It's beautiful.
And there's so many stories out there to write. I still want to see a story about Nagisa and Kuroko's adventures as cousins and/or their manzai routine. And how about a My Hero Academia crossover, where class E are all quirkless and Izuku was one of them, and after they graduate they go their separate ways to try to prove themselves in various ways in a society full of superpowers. One that's really been percolating in my head is a Naruto retelling where most of the characters are replaced by members of class E – Isogai is Sasuke, because he's so perfect. And has nobody made a fic where Asano manages to save Ikeda?
It's just sad that the anime is almost over. Once the dub ends the fandom will start winding down. But such is the way of things.
Oh well. Now, everyone drop a review and say it with me. FANFIC CONPURIIIIITO!
Adamant, signing off.