In The Fox-Witch's Wake, Part 1: Memory's Oblivion

tagnone

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Chapter 3: The Pursuit

"JUSTICE SLASH!"

The senior boy recoils and holds his wrist, backing off from the juniour boy he had gripped by the shoulder. Said junior takes the opportunity to flee down the hallway.

"Ah! Damn you, what was that for?!"

"If the prefects won't stop you! I will!" The girl readjusts the grip upon her bamboo sword. "Sarada Honoka: Ally of Justice, reporting!"

"You little brat…" The bully reaches into a pocket, clearly reaching for something dangerous.

"Don't get full of yourself just because you have a kendo stick! Take this!" He tears his hand out his pocket, lunging straight towards Honoka-

"JUSTICE UPPERCUT!" Honoka dashes past her assailant as a righteous blur, his arm swinging wildly from the impact and loosening its grip. The object he held flew through the air and hit the floor, skidding to a stop against the wall. Students staring through gaps in their tinted classroom windows gasp in shock.

"A knife! He has a knife!"

"Someone get a prefect, a teacher!"

"Oi… Oi! All of you saw nothing!" The bully looks about and nervously swipes his weapon from the floor, folding it back into the handle as fast as possible and jamming it down his pocket. The stares continue, and he grits his teeth.

"Damn you all! I was just using the flat side anyway! Report me all you like, do you know who I'm under?!" The hallway spectators fell silent.

"That's right! Big sister Saeko's taking care of me! You can even report me to the police, and not even they will do a thing!"

He gives Honoka one last look. "Big sister Saeko will take care of you too, whore." He storms off at last.

"Honoka-chan!" It was Misaki. "You've done it now!"

Honoka laughed and scratched the back of her head. "Haha, really? I mean, Kendo Captain Futsuda said I am a natural…"

"No!" Mizuka cuts in, "What we're saying is, you're letting these little victories get to your head! Saeko has ordered an ultimatum for you to show up at her gang's hideout!" For emphasis, she gestures towards Honoka's desk; its mangled, burnt wooden surface now freshly carved with words like 'DIE'.

"Then…" Honoka shoulders her sword and smirks, "I will just have to stop them, once and for all!"

"Honoka-san! Don't do this! Please cut the hero antics! You'll get harmed for real!" But Honoka was deafened from the rush of her victory thrills…

I am Sarada Honoka! I am a servant of justice! Justice and good are unstoppable and shall always prevail, no matter the odds!

"There. Was. Never. A. Fox." Speaks 'Miss Suko', each syllable of her sentence slowly, firmly leaving her lips barely inches from the old man's ear. His circling, twitching eyes widen and narrow, barely suggestive of a brain no longer in control receiving a new set of instructions, a new set of truths.

"W-what is going on?" Misaki trembles with fear in her voice, "I-I don't think this is a talent search!"

"Who are these people…?" Mizuka whispers hoarsely, her own breathing greatly slowed. "What are they doing?!"

"ID: Seki Yukuoka." Having put the strange black box back into the van, the dark-clad figure now goes over a tablet, its glowing screen bearing numerous names and addresses. He swipes a stylus across the tablet.

"Struck off the list."

'Mister Dai' crosses his arms. "How many occupants reside here besides this ojisan?"

"Grandson, son and daughter-in-law.

"We should call the police!"

Mizuka looks down and shakes Misaki out of her flimsy hopes.

"The police wouldn't even lift a finger against Saeko's gang, what success would they have against these outsiders?"

"No…" Honoka whispers, "What if these people part of some secret government group?! Something like X-files!"

"WELL!" Startled by 'Mr. Dai''s yell, the girls turn back to the corner they've been peeking past, "We've got bigger fish to catch, so for now we'll let ojisan here take care of the gaslighting alongside the internet disinformation campaign. The Sekis should forget about RPC-486's antics soon enough."

"'Antics'? What do they mean by 'RPC-486'?" Honoka looks about. "Hey, hey, wait, did any of you see where the man in black went-"

"KONBANWA!"1 Came a roaring greeting from behind the trio, as a pair of solid rubber boots slam onto the alley pavement from the side of a shed.

"AAAH!" The three girls scream as they topple one over another, spilling out of the alleyway and into the view of the all-too-aware 'Miss Suko' and 'Mister Dai'.

"What have we here?" The operative leaned down as light glinted off his visor, placing his gloved hands on his lap. "Didn't your parents teach you it's rude to spy on the affairs of others?"

"Ah, ah, ah-" The girls swivel their heads frantically between the black-clad stranger and the approaching 'reporter' and 'cameraman'…

"Now we want to ask you a question: Do you believe in the Fox Witch of-"

"RUN!"


"Ah ha ha ha! I haven't had meat this good and tight in a while!" Laughed a boy zipping his pants back up. He lights a cigarette and takes a deep breath. "With a kenja-taimu2 like this, I just might be able to get back into my studies!"

"Nah, it won't help. You're just an idiot in general!" His friend laughs while buttoning his own shirt back up.

"Oh, shut up!" He flips his pal the bird. "At least I don't have to strip completely naked just to have sex, you complete weirdo!" He then turns towards three girls seated across the gym benches, shooting them a thumbs-up. "Thanks, sisters! Your idea was fantastic!"

Electronic sounds of camera shutterings flutter across the night air from several girls' phones. One of them casually waves him back. "Don't worry about it, Ase-kun~"

The blonde in the middle does not share the relaxed posture of her fellow gang-mates; arms crossed, hunched over and shivering. The girl to her left takes notice.

"What's wrooong, Saeko-chan?"

"I-hurp!" Saeko holds back the urge to hurl, "Chiaki-chan! I… I didn't want it to be this way!"

"Ooooh, that's right! It's your first time seeing such a thing~" Chiaki grabs the strap of a schoolbag, books and stationary shuffling against the motion of being picked up. She holds it up to Saeko's face, tenderly rubbing her back. "A barf bag! How convenient! Vomit in here if you have to~"

Saeko swipes an arm at the bag, batting it away. "It's-it's not just that! We didn't have to go so far as to do… Well, THAT!" She gestures towards the center of the storage shed.

"Is it really so baaaad? You saw what happened! She attacked us first~ All we did was to show her… Her. Place. In. This. World."

"I said to rough her up, not ra-!" The girl to Saeko's right joins in, throwing her arms around Saeko.

"No! Don't tell me, you want to abandon us? You're going to report all your friends to the police? After all we've done for you, and all you've done for us?"

"Kirie-san! N-no…"

Kirie strokes Saeko's cheek softly. "That's good, good. Remember, we're always in it together. No, matter, what."

"That's riiiiight, Saeko-chan~" Chiaki chimed in. "Didn't you say you wanted to be more like ussss~?"

"You're just new to all this, that's all there is to it." Kirie gently grips Saeko's head, turning her to stare straight into her eyes while delicately patting and stroking her hair.

"You've got all the money and influence that we need, and we've got the community that you've always wanted. We've got such a beautiful relationship going, Saeko-chan, haven't we? It would be such a shame, for it to all go to waste…"

Chiaki took this opportunity to whisper softly into Saeko's exposed ear: "You're just new to how we really do things~ We'll sculpt you into the perfect form, and then, you'll be a big sister worthy of leading a real gang, larger than this…"

"I… I…" Saeko glances at the sight ahead of them. "All right. I think it's time we leave before someone notices." The girls get off the gym bench, and walk past the shed doors held open by the boys. Saeko, last to leave, leans against the closing door into the room. Her mouth hangs open as she stares into the room, almost as if to voice regrets or apologies. She closes her mouth, having decided against it.

"Just do our bidding from now on, brat." The doors were closed quietly, and the sounds of Saeko's gang laughing gradually faded away.

All laid still in that room. All was silent, except for the twitching, the suffocated panting and gasping of a disheveled pile in the middle of the room. A shivering hand slowly reaches out, robotic motions grabbing torn and ripped clothing. Slowly, trembling, sliding it all back on in a ramshackle mess.

Honoka slowly forces her way up, wheezing against the pain wracking her body. She slowly turns her head, and stares at the shattered kendo stick at the corner of the room for what could easily be an eternity.

"Urp… U-urp! Uh, uh, uh… Mmhmbhgluuueeeeeerrrgh!"

My-my name is… Honoka, I'm… Honoka, and I-I, I-

"Skip protocol! All local units: 'Big Three' sighted and fully alert! Pursuit in motion!" The three agents run around the corner, seeing the last of the girls being pulled through a small gap under the brush.

"Stop right there!" 'Mister Dai' attempts to throw himself into the bush, slowly wriggling his way through the cramped space and branches getting in his face.

The girls run from the bushes back into civilization, down an alleyway between shophouses.

"Stop!" Honoka throws her arms out meters before the alley's exit. Two identical vans and one mini-car drive past as furious blurs, all bearing the same logo with black-tinted windows.

"W-who are these people?!" Mizuka hisses between each panting breath, "What's going on?! Did they just call us 'Big Three'?"

"There has to be only one reason: We were the first to interact with Mishio-san!" Honoka looks to the front, waiting for the vehicles to have passed too far to notice them in their rear views, let alone double back in time.

"Go!" Honoka shoves her friends forth, and they run across the streets, footsteps behind them growing closer.

"Come back!"

"They-they're everywhere!" The girls weave their way across alleys and obscured footpaths and into another alleyway in the manner that only lifelong locals would know how to. Honoka and Mizuka step onto garbage cans and hop over a fence, reaching up to catch a struggling Misaki. All being quiet once more they slow into brisk walking paces, catching their breaths.

Honoka chews her nails. "We have to get out of town! Let's try hiding in the fields… Circle around the outskirts and sneak our way back home when it's darker!"

"What if they know where we live?!" Mizuka hisses, "You saw how that guy had that tablet of our names and addresses!"

"We just have to lie low, and, and… keep the lights off, or tell your parents to tell them that you're not in. I'll be fine, mother doesn't know when I come home since she's at the storefront, and father… Well…" Honoka's eyes scan to the sides as they walk past a cross-junction alleyway. Nobody.

"Honoka-chan, Mizuka-chan… I can't, I can't keep up…" The least athletic of them all, Misaki stops to pant wildly. "Mou, I want to graduate as a pop star, not as a marathon runner!" Finishing her panting, she jogs to catch up to her friends, her turn to go past the cross-junction.

A black blur pounces through the side-alley, tackling a stunned Misaki to the floor.

"CAUGHT'CHA!" Yells a new mysterious agent in a distinctively Kansai accent. "Box time!" Frozen in terror, Honoka and Mizuka could only watch as a compatriot comes running straight in, unlatching the bottom to another one of those abnormal black cubes.

"Honoka, Mizuka, help me! Help me!" But what could they hope to accomplish against such mysterious adversaries, with another black-clad individual turning about the corner after them?

"No! Nooooooooo!" Honoka and Mizuka turned and ran. Their last sight of their friend was her futile struggle as the box was lowered onto her head, her screams slowing into slurred moans.

"Why are they doing this?!" Mizuka shouts as she pants and pumps her strained legs far from that scene, throwing herself ever closer to the town outskirts.

"You're going nowhere!" As if from the sky falls another operative who hid among the roofs, impacting the floor right before the girls. Mizuka stumbles in surprise, but manages to weave around and out of the ambusher's grip, continuing to run forwards.

Honoka was not so lucky and ran straight into the figure, inadvertently tackling both to the ground. A gloved hand seizes Honoka by the ankle and forcibly raises her leg up and back, preventing her from getting back up.

"Don't touch me!" Honoka struggles, true fear now washing over her voice. Repressed memories of trauma and panic dominate her emotions, causing her to struggle harder. "Don't touch me! Stop it! Let go! Let go!"

"Honoka!" Mizuka turns to face the screaming. Her friend was flailing towards her, gesturing for her to get away.

"Go! Don't get caught!" Mizuka hesitates, gives Honoka one last look, and turns to flee.

"Slippery little rats, aren't you…" Growled a masked female voice as another operative gags Honoka, reaching into her bag and pulling out her purse.

"We got the second of the trio. ID: Sarada Honoka, striking her off the list. Box her."

Honoka's screams are muffled as the black edges of another box is brought down onto her head…


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