"-here in the reserve, where the body was found. The body was discovered this morning, by a passing jogger," said the reporter's voice from the television screen.
Shotaro turned off the television set and dropped the remote.
It's only Wednesday and that's the sixth dead body they've found in the area this week. Eerily enough is that all of them were mauled, brutally. It has to have all been the same guy, reports say it's not because of how the bodies were torn up but I think it has to be. Unless there's some group of people out there viciously tearing people apart. It can't be. It's probably a serial killer. They're all sick like that. They pick a certain motif to go with how they do their "work", like characters out a damn comic. Assholes… he thought.
Shotaro got up from the floor stretching and yawning. He swept a hand through his messy, black hair and looked at the clock in his living room.
I should probably head to school now.
Higashi High School: Class 2-A
Shotaro sat with his face down on his desk and a textbook standing upright to cover him from his instructor's gaze. He knew it was only a matter of time before the teacher caught him, but getting in trouble didn't concern him, not so long as he was able to do whatever he wanted to do beforehand. He didn't want to pay attention and preferred it if he could be left alone. School wasn't his thing. It never had been and it most likely never will be.
"And what about you Mr. Minami?" asked the instructor.
And there it was. He'd been caught. Now for the decision: leave class or humor the old man by admitting that he wasn't paying attention and then fall asleep? It wasn't lunch time but Shotaro was pretty hungry and there was no food to be eaten in the classroom, which made his decision pretty clear. Shotaro raised his head from behind the textbook and looked at his teacher.
"I'm sorry. What?" he asked.
"I'm asking if you know the answer to the question Mr. Minami," the teacher said.
"Probably not since I don't even know what the question was," Shotaro replied with a smirk. He was trying to get a rise out of his teacher now. If he was going to ditch class, he was going to leave in style.
"Well Mr. Minami, if you were paying attention you'd kno-."
"Sir, I couldn't help but notice how great your hair looked today. Did you happen to get a new hair piece?" Shotaro asked while proceeding to stand up. The entire class let out small chuckles and giggles at the joke. There were people in the class that found Minami cool and there were others who thought he was an obnoxious menace, but everyone found it funny to joke about Kawaguchi's hair piece so when a joke was made, whether they liked who made the joke, everyone laughed.
"Mr. Minami! Sit down! You are out of line young man!"
Shotaro walked over to his teacher and stared at his hair piece, analyzing it from all angles.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" his teacher asked.
Shotaro blew as hard as he could at the fake hair; messing up the comb over style his teacher had spent so much time and effort on this morning. Shotaro put his hands to his sides and nodded in false approval.
"That's a very good piece my friend. It covers up the baldness very nicely. Much better than the old one, really," Shotaro told him. The class began to laugh a little and Shotaro began slowly heading for the door.
"Mr. Minami I've had enough of your antics. Get over here right now!"
"Um, how about no?" he said as he left the room.
Kawaguchi stuck his head out of the door.
"Where do you think you're going?!" he screamed at him.
"The nurse's office. My throat hurts. I stubbed my toe. You know whatever," Shotaro replied while walking down the hall, not turning around.
Back in the classroom, Mr. Kawaguchi ran his fingers through his hair piece to fix the damage that had been done to it. The class was soon filled with murmuring. Things were being said like-
"Minami is such a delinquent."
"He shows up to school an hour late and then doesn't even pay attention."
"He'll probably be a yakuza one day."
"Nah, he's too much of a clown."
"Yeah but he's still a troublemaker."
"I didn't even think that was funny."
"He's kind of a dick."
"Yeah but he's a funny dick."
The class chatter was interrupted by a loud demand for silence from Kawaguchi so that he could continue on with his lesson.
Higashi High School: Rooftop
On the roof of the school building, Shotaro found his regular crew of "friends." They all greeted him as he approached them, asking him what took him so long and why he decided to even go to class in the first place. Shotaro shrugged off their friendly teasing as he sat down to read a car magazine that he had brought to school with him.
Truth be told Shotaro never cared much for the clique of people that he hung out with at school. Shotaro actually never cared too much about anybody. Most people at school knew who he was. He was probably the most popular delinquent in the school. He never bullied anyone but he had what the authority figures would call an attitude problem. He wasn't a bad guy as far as everyone knew; he just didn't like being told what to do. Because of this, everyone who knew him either liked him or hated him, but to him, no one else really mattered. Tragedies could happen to people and he would say that he felt sorry but he wouldn't really mean it. He'd never felt concern for others. He lacked a certain level of empathy and it always made him feel rather incomplete. The only exception to his general indifference to everyone was his sister, Tsubaki. She's the only one that he can say that he's ever truly felt compassion for. He could feel no empathy except when it came to her and because of that he held a very special bond with her.
He looked up from his magazine to see his "friends." They were all joking and talking, some of them smoking. Shotaro merely sighed and went back to his magazine.
Now that school had ended, Shotaro could finally make his way home. The sky was gray and cloudy, giving off a sort of ominous feeling to Shotaro. Normally it wouldn't be that way. It's not like every cloudy day made him paranoid, but he had noticed something else too. There was no one else walking the streets. This wasn't too strange a happening. This street wasn't always busy or anything, but it felt a little menacing to be walking alone on a street in the middle of a cloudy day. He couldn't help but feel like something horrible was going to happen.
Okay, so this is a little creepy. I wonder why no one's using this street today, it's kind of strange. Actually it's very strange.
Not much later though, a man began to walk the street behind him.
Alright, now I have some company. Unfortunately, a single, creepy, middle-aged man is not the type of company I wanted. I'd much rather have a crowd of strangers than just one creeping behind me.
The man followed Shotaro for quite a few minutes, which only served to feed his ever-growing paranoia. Shotaro soon spotted an alleyway a few blocks ahead.
This guy just wants to piss me off, doesn't he? Fine, I'll lose him in this alleyway and if he follows me in there I'll ambush him and kick his creeper ass.
As Shotaro got closer, he sprinted into the alleyway. After a few seconds, he peeped his head out towards the street to get a view of the man. When he saw no one, he let out small chuckle. Suddenly, however, the air grew dense and heavy. His heartbeat accelerated and he began to sweat.
What? What is this? Wh- Why am I?
He began to tremble and his breathing grew extremely heavy. He could feel a presence, a powerful presence. So strong was the presence that it would incite fear in him. Shotaro slowly turned around. What allowed him to move was not his strength of will. What allowed him to move was the need to truly feel fear. The being whose presence was so great that its existence alone brought about terror to the very being of Shotaro was not human. The "thing" that Shotaro had mistook for a man stood behind him. It wore the clothes of a man but it was no such thing, not anymore. It was much more muscular and grotesque. It bore claws and fangs and it towered over him. And in the very instance that Shotaro had witnessed its true face it had impaled his chest with its hand. Shotaro eyes widened and blood spurt from his mouth. All that was left was for him to scream in pain but he couldn't do even that. His voice was caught and he couldn't utter a single noise.
Shotaro watched as the blood from his chest slowly dripped down the creature's arm. He held onto the arm that had pierced him and blood gradually trickled down his hands as well. The creature, with nothing left for him brusquely threw Shotaro aside. He landed hard on the street and lay on his side. Blood oozed out of the large opening in his chest and streamed down from the edge of his mouth. And even now as he lay in dying, no final thoughts came to him.
Shotaro awoke in a dark room sitting in a black swivel chair. He couldn't see much but from what he could see there was a desk in front of him and behind this desk sat a person. The person behind the desk turned on a small desk lamp. It didn't illuminate much but it was enough to show Shotaro the face of the person. It was a man, an old man at about fifty or sixty years old, Shotaro estimated. His face was wrinkled and his eyes were a dull brown. He wore a black suit, a black tie and a black fedora. He looked at Shotaro sternly, not saying anything for a few seconds.
"Where am I?" Shotaro asked breaking the awkward silence and staring. The man leaned forward onto his desk and folded his hands, still saying nothing.
What the hell is going on? Am I dead? I swear I died. What is this? He thought.
The man leaned back in his chair and finally opened his mouth. "You don't know what's happened do you boy?" he asked.
Shotaro gave the man a menacing look for not answering his question. "I know what happened. Some guy, some…creature got me through the chest with his hand and-," Shotaro began but was soon interrupted by the man.
"Check your chest boy," he told him.
Shotaro looked down at his chest. He saw the hole that had been left in his school uniform along with the blood that had gotten all over it, but the wound itself was gone.
The man began to speak again. "I'm going to ask you again. Do you know what happened to you boy?"
Shotaro slowly shook his head. "No, I really don't even know anymore," he replied.
"Good, it is better if you try not to understand until I explain," the man started. "First, I am Takei."
"Shotaro Minami," he replied.
"Oh I know," Takei said. "Before I answer your question and tell you where you are, there's a few things I need to tell you. In case you were wondering, no you're not dead, so no, this isn't the afterlife,"
"Well that's a relief," Shotaro said with a smile.
Takei began again. "The 'creature' that attacked you is what is known as a Shattered. They are beings from a world beyond this one, known as the Withdrawal Realm. They've begun to come here to our world, the Substance Realm, more rapidly. They've come here, killing humans and devouring their souls. I'm sure you've heard of the murders in the news recently. People are getting mauled to death with little to no explanation as to what's responsible."
"But the Shattered are the ones responsible right? Why? What are they doing this for?"
Takei sighed. "I'll tell you this as simply as I can. The Shattered have something called Impetus in their souls. What it is isn't fully understood but it allows for supernatural abilities and it's actually the reason the Shattered are here."
"So what, they want Impetus? But I thought you just said that they already have it?" he asked.
"They do, but the thing is, some humans have it too and that's who they kill. That's why one tried to kill you." Takei said, pointing to him.
"What?!" Shotaro asked, perplexed.
"Tell me, Minami, do you ever feel like you're different than other people? Do you feel like you're missing something? Do you ever feel incomplete?" Takei inquired.
Shotaro simply looked downwards.
I'm missing something? If anything it would probably be empathy. Shotaro thought. He kept the thought in his head. The last thing he wanted to do right now was indulge this man.
"Minami, you're just like us," he said.
"Humans with impetus often feel incomplete until they've learned how to truly release their impetus. As a human, having impetus and not using it is like blocking off a natural bodily function. To completely be what you are, you need know how to release your impetus and we can help you with that."
Shotaro tilted his head slightly. "We? We who?" he asked.
"We the Black Smile, is who I'm talking about," Takei answered. "Minami, the fact that you have Impetus in your soul makes you special. It makes you special just like me and like the rest of the members of the Black Smile."
"Hold on. What the hell is the Black Smile anyway?" Shotaro asked.
"The Black Smile are Archetypes. Which are in the simplest terms, Shattered hunters. They all have Impetus just like you do. Unlike you however, they know how to tap into their Impetus and use it like the Shattered, but instead they use it to kill Shattered." Takei answered.
In silence, Shotaro thought about all that he had been told for a moment. "Okay, so the Shattered came here from another realm to devour the souls of humans with Impetus, like me. But if the Shattered, devour souls then what about the one that attacked me? Why'd it impale me and leave? Why wasn't I torn to pieces?"
"We were able to find and kill the Shattered that attacked you. Instead of eating your soul like the majority does, this one was draining the Impetus from your body. It was somehow siphoning the Impetus indirectly through the wound it gave you. Fortunately, we were able to stop it."
"Why the hell would it do that?"
"We're not entirely sure but I'm sure it doesn't matter. There's something that I'd like to ask you."
Shotaro let out a deep sigh. He knew what was coming now. "And what is it that you would like to ask?"
"I have a feeling you already know, but I'll ask anyway," Takei replied. "Shotaro Minami, would you like to join the Black Smile?"
"No." he answered rather bluntly.
Takei leaned back into his chair slowly. "May I ask why?"
"Aside from the fact that even though I've personally experienced part of what you've told and still find it hard to believe, there are some rather personal issues I have with the whole thing. It sounds dangerous. It sounds unappealing. It sounds cryptic as hell. It sounds sketchy. It sounds way too over my head. It sounds like I'll have to do work. And it especially sounds like I'll have people ordering me around. I don't like it when people act like they're my boss," Shotaro told him in a rather straight forward manner.
"Understandable," was all Takei was able to say. The next moment, Takei snapped his fingers and a hand emerged from the darkness holding something in front of Shotaro's face.
"What the hell?!" he exclaimed as he almost jumped out of his seat. He looked over in the direction of the hand noticed a figure standing there. Upon further inspection, the whole room was filled with people that Shotaro didn't even notice in the room's darkness.
"I'm guessing all these guys are members of the Black Smile?" he said pointing around the room.
"That's correct," Takei answered. "What's being held in front of you is a special cell phone. I want you to take it. There's only one number on there and it's mine. If you happen to change your mind about all this, please give me a call within the next three days. If you're still uninterested, then simply leave the phone alone. It will disappear and with it, every memory you had of the Shattered attack, the things I've told you today, and all of that other 'cryptic' stuff that would prevent you from living the normal life you were living before."
Shotaro grimaced at Takei. He hated people who were always pushy and wouldn't accept rejection, but he wanted to leave as soon as possible so he took the phone and stood up from his chair. Takei stood up from his chair as well and held out his hand. Shotaro took it and shook it.
"It was a pleasure to meet you Mr. Minami," Takei said.
"I'm sure it was," was Shotaro's reply. One of the Black Smile members opened a door on one of the walls of the room and led Shotaro out.
When Shotaro stepped out, he found himself at a local mall, right outside of the men's bathroom.
"What the hell?" was all that Shotaro could utter. He took a look at the phone in his hand. He felt the need to simply toss the phone in the garbage. Whether people lived or died by natural causes or supernatural should make no difference, he felt. It wasn't his problem, how people died or why. Otherworldly creatures are murdering humans now? Whatever, that person was going to die anyway. As he walked over to a trash bin to throw the phone away, he stopped suddenly. Do you ever feel incomplete? Takei's words echoed in his head. He took one more glance at the phone and put it in his pocket.
I'll get rid of it later.
Four days later: Minami Residence
"Alright, I think I'm going to go to bed now, Shotaro," Tsubaki said as she got up to put her dishes away. Shotaro was still eating. When he heard the sink start, he lifted his face from his bowl.
"Oh, hey don't worry about the dishes. I'll do those. Just go to bed," he told her.
"But before mom and dad went out they told me to do the dishes," she said back.
"No, don't worry about it. I'll do it. You go to sleep. Besides, I'm still eating. What sense would it make to wash everything but leave one dirty bowl?"
"Oh yeah I guess you're right."
"Of course I'm right. Big brothers are always right."
Tsubaki simply shook her head. "That was so horribly cheesy," she told him.
"Shut up and go to bed," he said with a smile. Tsubaki was fourteen years old, three years younger than Shotaro. She had long black hair all the way down to her waist and gray eyes, just like her brother. She had a thin face and a slim figure, typical of girls her age. Shotaro watched as she made her way up the stairs and when she was out of sight, he went back to his meal.
He didn't remember anything that had happened on his way back from school four days ago. On that day, when he got home, he threw away his bloodied and torn school shirt and put the cell phone away in a drawer in his room that he never used. Days passed and he went on with his life as usual, trying not to think about what he had been told and what he had experienced on that strange afternoon. And as promised by Takei, after three days, he forgot. His memories of anything strange had simply vanished and even if Shotaro could remember them, he wouldn't miss them.
As he finished the food in his bowl and began to wash the dishes, a loud, piercing scream came from upstairs.
"Tsubaki!" he yelled as he rushed up the stairs. As he entered his little sister's room, he saw a hulking figure towering over his sister. The grotesque creature's appearance sparked a flash of images through Shotaro's head.
A Shattered? Why? Why do I know this? What's with this? I thought my memories of all this were gone? Why are they coming back?
Shotaro stopped his thinking as he noticed that the Shattered was readying itself to attack his sister. As it brought its arms back in preparation to tear apart the little girl, Shotaro sprinted over to the monster, jumped in the air and extended both legs for his feet to make contact with the creature's face. The Shattered staggered back a little, being taken by surprise by the attack. As Shotaro landed on the ground, he turned to his sister, who lay on the floor, terrified.
"Why are you still here?" he yelled. "Go call for help!"
And in that moment Tsubaki ran out of the room as fast as she could. Shotaro meanwhile was staring the Shattered in its face. This one was different than the first one he encountered. This one didn't frighten him into paralysis.
This one is probably weaker than the other one. Not that that matters right now. Shit, I need to figure out how to-
His thoughts were interrupted by the Shattered grabbing him by his mouth and lifting him.
"You must be pretty stupid, thinking that you could stop me," the Shattered spoke. Its voice was low, guttural and raspy.
These things can talk? Well, isn't that wonderful? It wasn't horrible enough that ferocious monsters were terrorizing me. No, they also had to be able to speak. That's just damn wonderful. Now it can insult me while it tries to kill me.
The Shattered tossed Shotaro up in the air and threw a heavy punch to his gut before he could land, sending him flying into a wall and then face first onto the ground. As he tried to pick his head up the Shattered stomped his head back into the ground. The creature then grabbed Shotaro by his leg and swung him over his head before slamming him into the ground again. Shotaro let out a harsh yell and blood spurt from his mouth. The Shattered laughed at the agony that it was causing and got atop Shotaro. It grabbed Shotaro by the hair with one hand and punched his face multiple times with the other.
As the beating continued, Shotaro could feel something swelling up inside him. At first it seemed completely foreign as he had never felt it before. But he was soon able to recognize it as his soul. To him it felt as his soul start to awaken. He could feel power pulsing throughout his body and he began to feel like a higher being. He felt like something more than human and with this feeling he forcefully shoved the Shattered off of him.
Well I guess this is that Impetus stuff that Takei was talking about. But I don't feel anything supernatural going on. I just feel stronger. That doesn't matter though. All that matters now is kicking this thing's ass.
The Shattered got up from the ground and looked at Shotaro shocked. "So you're an Archetype are you? No, you're not quite at that capacity. You're more of a pseudo-Archety-," it said, getting cut off by an unexpected punch from Shotaro.
The creature was knocked off its feet and hit the ground. As it slowly lifted itself from the ground it spoke again. "That was prett-," it tried to say only to get interrupted again by Shotaro speeding over to him. This time barraging him with multiple, rapid punches.
The Shattered finally retaliated and kneed Shotaro in the chest. It was panting hard now. He had become sufficiently strong for pseudo-Archetype, being able to hold off a Shattered. "You know what? You're pretty damn strong. You must have some crazy type of Impetus. I'm going to love devou-," it was interrupted by a swift kick from Shotaro that sent the Shattered out of his sister's bedroom window.
"You know what? You talk too damn much," he said to the creature but only loud enough that he could hear. He reared his head out the window in hopes of finding the monster, but he couldn't see it. He knew it was gone because he couldn't sense its presence either, something he was able to do earlier when his soul started to swell.
Shotaro ran downstairs to find his sister, sitting in a corner, crying. She let out a small, frightened squeal as her brother; beat up and covered in blood approached her.
"Are you alright?" he asked her.
"I'm so sorry Shotaro," she said as she embraced her brother. "I didn't mean for you to get hurt."
"It's not your fault," he comforted her. "I'm fine. I just want to know if you're okay."
With her head in his chest and still crying she nodded.
"Good. I'm going to come right back down in a second. There's something I need to take care of," he told her.
Shotaro ran to his room and went into the drawer that he never used, and sure enough, the cell phone that Takei had given him was there. He picked it up and called the only number on the contact list: Takei.
"Hey asshole what the hell is your problem!?"
"I'm sorry, who is this?"
"You know damn well who this is Takei!"
"Well I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that this is Shotaro Minami."
"Damn straight it is! What's going on? It's been over three days. I shouldn't have this phone anymore. Hell, I shouldn't even know you're damn name, you filthy liar!"
"Minami please, I implore you to calm down."
"Then give me a damn explanation as to what's going on. My sister and I just got attacked by a Shattered."
"Oh I know."
"You know? What the hell are you up to?"
"You see, when I gave you that phone and told you what I told you, I wasn't lying. Your memories of everything were gone and so was the phone. But that phone is special. It's directly linked to your soul so that the next time a Shattered tried to attack it would help you unleash just a little bit of that Impetus of yours to fight it off. I was only trying to help Shotaro."
"Screw off! I don't want your help! I don't want anything to do with you or the Black Smile or any of this!"
"That's unfortunate Shotaro because now you have everything to do with the Black Smile."
"Hey!" Shotaro yelled into the cell phone but there was no reply. "Damn it!" he yelled as he threw the phone at the wall. And then suddenly, a pair of arms grabbed Shotaro, covering his mouth and restricting his movement. He tried to squirm loose but to no avail.
"Welcome to the Black Smile," a voice said and in the next second everything went black.