"I thought I'd find you here…"
The past twelve hours proved, to say the least, quite strenuous for the two men known as Denji and Lagos. After Lagos' psychic plague appeared and disappeared to leave an indelible mark on Misawa High School as well as turn the one-stout Denji into a sobbing shell of a man, the two men started brawling with one another to settle their long-standing rivalry with one another. Before the two men could come to a conclusion, the man who started their rivalry known as the Peacemaker reappeared in front of them after seventeen years and explained the purpose of their battle. However, in doing so, the Peacemaker inadvertently turned both Denji and Lagos against them. Though he was a powerful adversary, the two rivals were able to put aside their differences long enough to spike the mad priest on top of his head and render him unconscious long enough for the police to enter the school and arrest him for his many crimes.
In the confusion, Lagos managed to slip away from Denji's grasp yet again, but for the first time in seventeen years, the vigilante didn't feel the need to chase after him immediately. The re-emergence of the Peacemaker made Denji realize that Lagos had just been a pawn in a diabolical scheme bigger than the both of them, and that realization allowed Denji to stay at the school and assist the police with the healing process. This included answering questions for the police, helping the paramedics gather up the injured, and providing comfort to those who were rightfully traumatized by what had transpired.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Denji's assistance was that he did all of this without his trademark mask: the first time he had gone unmasked in public since the day his dear Yuko died. Aside from not having a choice since he lost his mask in the conflagration, taking out the Peacemaker made Denji feel like a new man. He had defeated someone much stronger and smarter than he was, and on top of it all he did it with the help of his long-standing rival: someone that he failed to save years ago. If Lagos could put aside his evil pedigree for just a moment, then Denji believed that he could put his own evil alter-ego to rest without hiding it behind a mask and facepaint.
It was now 6 o'clock in the morning, with the sun just beginning to come up in the sky. The vigilante opted to sleep within the school and get some much-needed rest after a very strenuous afternoon, and when he woke up he did an inspective roaming of the hallways to see if he could find anything interesting. What he found was Lagos' office, and Lagos himself vigorous cleaning it of anything he found interesting. Even though Lagos didn't say a word to him about what he was doing, it didn't take a genius to figure out that what he was doing was preparing to leave the school.
Hearing Denji's voice behind him, Lagos slowly turned around. "Don't you have robbers to chase, hero?" He asked sardonically before going back to his clutter. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm kinda busy right now. We can play some other time…"
"For once, I'm not here to fight you," the vigilante admitted with a thin smile as he walked into the office and looked around at his surroundings. "I just wanted to talk to you face-to-face, man-to-man. We've been at each other's necks for seventeen long years doing the same formula: you run and ruin everything you touch, and I chase while trying to make things better. Now that this mess with the Peacemaker is over, I was wondering where we stand."
"Isn't it obvious from how I'm digging through all my stuff?" Lagos retorted as he picked up his electric clock, looked at it thoughtfully for a couple of seconds, and then tossing it into the heap of assorted trinkets that he was building inside a very large garbage bag held open by two chairs. "There's no way I can look at anyone here without causing suspicion: staying here will only invite the chance of me going to prison for the rest of my life. I don't know about you, but I have better things to do with my life than stay behind bars."
"Like what?" Denji asked curiously, his question sounding so simple despite it having much deeper implications. "What are you going to do with your life now that you don't have to follow the Peacemaker's gospel?"
"…stop running, I guess," Lagos replied quietly as he stopped digging through his things and turned around to face Denji. "When I hightailed it out of the gym so that I wouldn't have to talk to the police, all I could think about was running away and coming up with a new alias in another country. When I thought about it a little more, I realized that there was no pointing in running away anymore. My drug connections have all been severed, and my psychic plague is done for. Now I'm thinking about settling down…"
"…doing what?" The vigilante asked as he put his hands in his coat pockets. "I have no problem looking the other way and letting you run off, but I want to be sure that I won't have to track you down again. If you're going to go right back to committing crimes and ruining lives, I won't hesitate to hunt you like a wolf and take you down as hard and as fast I can."
"I don't know why I'm going to tell you this: maybe it's because in this crazy life I've led since I've been resurrected, you've been like a strict older brother," Lagos said with a thin smirk before giving his answer. "This might sound hard to believe, but there was a time not that long ago that I was thinking about saying 'piss off' to this whole mess the Peacemaker wanted me to do. I found a girlfriend in London, this led to that, and we wound up tying the knot. It wasn't until the last day of our honeymoon that I decided it was a bad idea and I hightailed it out of there."
"Penny," Denji identified who Lagos was talking about, to which the Texan raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "I spotted a picture of her in your apartment in Berlin. Jeanne told me who she was, and I just thought, 'What an absolute shame: such a good-looking young woman having her heart broken by someone as remorseless as Lagos. I wonder how many tears she sheds at night worrying about him…'"
"Heh…I'm kinda wondering that myself," Lagos said with a light chuckle. "She's pretty weird, that's for sure: probably why she and I hit it off so well. I guess the least I can do is head back to London and see I can convince her to take me back. I suppose I could use my powers of suggestion to persuade her…but that would take the sport out of it. If I want to make this work, I'm going to have to forget using that little skill of mine."
"…at least that option is still open for you," Denji replied distantly before looking out Lagos' window to see the dim sky gradually become brighter as time passed. "When I was young, I made a very bad decision, and because of that decision, my girlfriend is dead. Now there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about what my life would be like if she stayed alive." A grim smile formed across the vigilante's face as he said that. "I know for sure that if she were still alive, I wouldn't have become Denji and I certainly wouldn't have been chasing you for all these years."
"Yeah, well…fate can be a real bitch sometimes," Lagos said with a shrug before turning around and going back to his room cleaning. "Look at it this way: if she stayed alive, what would you be doing with your life now? You'd probably be just another pro wrestler doing nothing but traveling and fighting: doesn't sound that much different from what you do anyway. The only difference is that you'd have someone waiting for you at home wondering if she'll get a call saying that you landed on your head and you're going to be a wheelchair for the rest of your life."
"I guess," Denji said underneath his breath as he rubbed the back of his head. After giving the room one last look around, the vigilante turned around and headed for the door. "If that's all you want to say to me, I guess I might as well leave you alone. You take care of yourself, Lagos: as long as you're willing to let other people live their lives in peace, I won't report you to the police and let you live yours…"
"Actually," Lagos interjected as he reached into his pocket, causing Denji to stop at the door and turn back to his former rival. To the vigilante's surprise, the Texan wound up pulling out two things that he was unable to find the evening before: his mask and his voice recorder. "I found these lying around while I was out my way out of the gym. I figured it would be a waste to just leave them there for someone to pick out, so I went to the Laundromat and cleaned up your mask…figured I would run into you at least once before I left, so I thought 'Why not?'"
Throwing the two items at Denji with an underhanded toss, Lagos watched the vigilante catch them easily and look at them in slight amazement. Pulling the voice recorder out of the mask, the vigilante turned it on to make sure that it was still working after being drenched in the rain. While it activated as easily as it always did, he noticed that there was a new recording on it: one that he didn't remember taking. Pressing the "play" button, the vigilante listened intently to the voice that came from it.
""(I don't know who's going to be listening to this when this is all over, but my name is Asanee Kobashi. I'm a sophomore at Misawa High School who is watching one of my childhood heroes and my girlfriend trying to kill each other. Today is the day of the school festival, but something went wrong: now everyone is attacking each other and what was supposed to be the day I confessed my love to my girlfriend has turned into the scariest day of my life.
"(I have in my hands what I think is the cure to all of this madness. I was told that my girlfriend was the key to all of this, so I think if I use that cure on her, everyone else should be fine. The problem is that I'm going to have to go through my hero to do it…and I honestly don't think I can. That's why in case I die trying to save everyone, I'm going to leave this recording to those who care about…Mom, Dad…I love you both very much. Take care of Elisa for me…and please, please don't hold it against Denji for what happens next.)"
The vigilante frowned as he stared at the voice recorder in his hand. It took him a moment to process what he was talking about, but he realized that the recording had to have been taken when Denji, under the influence of his "Riot" alter-ego, attacked the possessed Elisa Gates. Asanee, being a good boyfriend and an even better human being, spoke into the voice recorder that he probably found lying on the ground after falling out of Denji's pocket before attacking Denji and protecting the girl he loved. It was a very painful reminder of how much the vigilante owed Asanee for not only snapping him out of his rage, but for keeping him a free man and not reporting him to the police.
Without saying a word, Denji walked over next to Lagos and pulled out a piece of paper from the printer on top of the desk. Reaching for a pen that was sitting next to his hand, the vigilante pulled the top open and began scribbling a note for Asanee. Although he didn't really have any obligation to do this, and it was likely that Asanee would have preferred if he kept his distance from Denji after everything that's happened to them, the vigilante was compelled to say something, anything, to show his gratitude.
As you can imagine, I've been very hard at work trying to make amends for the horrible things that I did to your school while under the influence of Lagos' psychic plague. I do not know how much good I can do, being that I'm not a formal serviceman who can heal people and comfort people like a professional can, but I think that I should be able to do something to help. However, the reason I am writing this note to you is because I don't think even I can verbally say how grateful I am to you for helping me see the light.
For almost twenty years, I have hid my face of sin behind a mask, trying to make amends for the bad things I've done by helping others. In this line of work, there is rarely any time to make friends, as I tend to come and go from city to city before I can establish any relationships. However, by meeting you and listening to the heartfelt speech you gave into my voice recorder, I can honestly say that I have found a true friend in you. Understand how rare it is for me to say that, as I've always been afraid that when I do make a true friend, I advertently make them a possible target for those who would do me harm.
A few days ago, when I was in Toronto, I met a young man who was the same age as you, who was looking to become a masked vigilante himself. Unlike you, he didn't know who I was so he wasn't doing this out of emulating me, but because he couldn't stand by and watch evil swallow up his city. At first, I saw him as someone whose heart was in the right place but his methods were flawed, so I took him aside and spoke to him about what it meant to be a hero. Looking back on it, I probably did this as a favor to his mother, who is one of those precious few that I can consider a true friend: a company that you are now a part of.
To my surprise, he took my words to heart and did something that happens so rare in this line of work: he solved his conflict without resorting to violence. The young man followed the leader of the group of scoundrels that were targeting his city, and convinced her to change her wicked ways. Because of that, that motorcycle leader is now his first girlfriend, and if fate smiles upon him enough, which I'm sure it will, that first girlfriend will become his only girlfriend he has in his life.
When I first met Elisa, she reminded me of the gang leader that's now the target of this young man's affections: unstable, violent, and perhaps dangerous. However, when you told me what you thought of her, and how you risked your life to protect even if it meant hurting me, I now see that my initial impression of her was most definitely incorrect. You have a very, very beautiful girlfriend and I have no doubt in my mind that the rest of the school will see her as that once they see your wonderful artwork of her. You have a dream to become a professional artist, and you have a dream of making Elisa yours forever: I don't doubt for a second that you'll make both those dreams a reality.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do now that you've helped me exorcise the demon that lived in my soul. I have been a crimefighter for so long that I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to a normal life, but I am going to do my best to find some closure in the life that I left behind when I became a vigilante. My parents are still out there somewhere wondering where their son has been these past two decades, so I think I'll see what I can do about tracking them down and catch up. After that, who knows?
For now, I think I'm going to hang around Tokyo for a bit and regain my bearings. I've been chasing Lagos for seventeen years, and now that the chase is over, I'll need some time to think about what to do next. I'll do my best to stay in touch with you: I'm eager to meet your parents who I'm sure are very proud of you and what you've done for not only me and Elisa, but for the world. As a memento, I'll leave this voice recorder for you to keep: you've earned it and you deserve to show Elisa what you recorded in it. If she still has any doubts about how you feel about her, I'm sure that will erase them.
With the deepest regards,
Brett 'Denji' Borden"
After finishing his letter, Denji looked long and hard at the signature. It had been a very, very long time since he had given his birth name to anyone, mostly due to the fact that he had no intention of going back to his old life. However, when writing the letter, the words just seemed to pour out of him like a cracked dam, and doing so caused him to slip up. For a brief moment, Denji considered using white-out to remove the full name, but it was only for a brief moment. He left the note as it was and put his pen down.
"Lagos," Denji said after a long silence, to which the Texan slowly lifted his head. "Do you know where Asanee's locker is and do you have a key for it? There's something I'd like to leave for him when the school opens up again and he comes back…"
"It's locker 134, key code 1-3-5-4," Lagos replied bluntly as he finished filling up his garbage bag. Sealing it up by tying it together, the Texan lifted the leavy bag off the ground and slung it over his shoulder. "I'm going to throw all this crap in the dumpster before getting my letter of resignation ready. I'll come up with some excuse like a family emergency or something like that."
"I'll be waiting for you," Denji said before heading out the door while Lagos trailed close behind. "When you get back, we can establish ground rules on where this rivalry of our stands. We can decide what you can do, what you can't do, and what will happen if I catch you doing one of the things that you can't do."
"Yeah, whatever, big brother," Lagos replied with a roll of his eyes as the two of them entered the hallway and went separate directions. "See you in a few…damn, this thing is heavier than I'd thought it'd be…"
As Denji walked down the hallway to find Asanee's locker, he heard the sound of people speaking at one of the rooms he passed by. Stopping at the room he heard voices from, Denji saw that it was a radio that was left on…and what the radio's voice was saying was something that was quite interesting to him.
"(-kidnapping suspect found on Mutoh Way, holding three hostages and demanding safe passage out of Japan. Police are currently preparing for negotiators to come in while they prepare the SWAT team, but the kidnapper seems continues to threaten hostages while the SWAT team mobilizes. We would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to the families of both the kidnapped child and the hostages and wish for their safety. We will keep you up to date on this story as it occurs.)"
The vigilante looked down at the mask that was still in his hand, stared at it pensively, and then cracked a smile. Lagos had asked him what his life might have been like had Yuko never died, and they came to a conclusion that he probably would not have become Denji, but he would still risk his life every day. However, the reality of the situation was that Yuko was dead, and until his time came and his luck ran out, Denji was still the "Light in the Sky" that had millions of fans across the world for either his wrestling career or for his legendary crimefighting exploits.
Slipping the mask back on and welcoming it like the embrace of a lover, Denji quickened his pace to find Asanee's locker and leave him his note. There were a lot of things he wanted to do in Tokyo, namely visiting his old wrestling dojo and seeing what the next generation had to offer, and if they had the same conviction to their dreams like Shane and Asanee had. However, that didn't mean he couldn't stop at Mutoh Way on the way there…
Author's Note: Let me start off by thanking you for reaching the end of this story and taking time out of your busy lives to read this. I realize that I am very long-winded, but I feel that if I make a chapter shorter than others (aside from this epilogue which doesn't need to be very long), I am denying the readers valuable insight into this universe that I have created. Marvel comics once had something called "Marvel Spotlight" where they would detail the histories and backgrounds of their characters that are otherwise not talked about in their actual appearances. Here in fiction writing, the only background that exists is the one that is explained in the text. If I left out any details, I feel that I will have denied you something important.
I have to admit, this story has come a long way from when it first popped into my head talking to some of the other people on MSN and AIM about it. The main idea was that I wanted to create a next-gen universe for Sheol, and it was going to have many of the same themes that Sheol had. For that, I cast Denji as the main protagonist and Peacemaker as the antagonist. From there, other characters began sprouting out from the backstories of older characters. However, not all of the characters I came up with showed up in this story. Originally there was going to be fraternal twins Adala and Henning Steinwald, one being a teenage ninja and the other being a teenage juggernaut of a human being. Also, Penny and Dominique, who only received mentions here, would be given dialogue and chapter time.
I decided to cull them out from the main story as when the plot finally began to form in my head (originally the plot was going to be a Dead or Alive tongue-in-cheek parody, then it was going to be a beat-em-up tribute, until finally I decided it to be a noir-ish drama). I think as a result the story is better and its characters have enough spotlight on them to give them a personality. If I had kept everyone, I think it would have been a little bit crowded.
Needing to be thanked are…
Sorcha, for listening to my ideas and speaking up about how it was sounding very much silly in its early stages. I understand that you're right now very busy with school, but luckily for us Spring Break is just around the corner. We'll have a lot to discuss when you come back to MSN, I'm sure.
Shadi, for providing a second opinion on the plot and characters. Hopefully we'll be able to see each other in person come this fall!
Zero Hour, for providing some critiques in the very early chapters. Now that I've finished the story, I'll head back over there and maybe provide some of my own insight to their stories while they finish reading mine.
Uncivil Republic, for allowing me an outlet to develop the Denji character. Right now the e-fed where he originates from is on indefinite hiatus, but I wouldn't mind seeing a revival!
And you, the reader, for reading.
I don't know where my writing will take me next, but hopefully you'll be with me to find out!