The surrounding area was completely blank. In every direction all that could be seen was a gray expanse. There was a ground so to speak. If ground means something that felt solid that one could stand on, then yes, there was a ground. However that was it. There were no walls. There was no ceiling. There was nothing. Even the "ground" that one would stand on was not really there. You couldn't touch it. You could only stand on it. This room was known as the Grounds and it was currently being used by Shotaro and his mentor, Akira.
Akira was a tall, young man. He had well kept, light brown hair that stopped right above his chin and dull green eyes. He wore blue pants, black shoes, and a black leather jacket that he left unzipped which showed his blue t-shirt underneath. On the right sleeve of his leather jacket was a white arm band. It read, in black lettering, "Black Smile." In between the words "Black" and "Smile" were black lips that formed a large, open smile showing white teeth, the Black Smile's emblem. Akira stood with his hands in his jacket pockets, observing Shotaro as he tried his best to follow Akira's instruction.
Shotaro was standing opposite to Akira. Unlike Akira, who was in a more relaxed state of being, Shotaro's body was flowing with Impetus, a sensation that was far from relaxed. He felt a surging in every vein of his body and his brain felt as though it was swelling. It was a comfortable swelling, one that made him feel glorious.
And then the feeling stopped.
He felt no power and no glorious sensation. The power that was pulsing through his being, seconds before, abruptly stopped and left him feeling like he was just a human again.
"You screwed up," Akira told him.
"Gee, really? I thought I did perfectly that time," Shotaro replied sarcastically.
"Listen kid, Impetus is hard to use. You've got to realize that once it starts it doesn't just keep going. It's going to sway and you've got to learn to sway with it, otherwise it's just going to die down and stop," Akira told him. "Got it kid?" he asked.
"Yeah maybe," was Shotaro's reply.
"Good. Now try and do it right this time," Akira said.
"Now try and do it right this time." What? Did he think I was trying to do it wrong? Shotaro thought.
He looked down at his hand which held a pill bottle filled with capsules, all of which were white and red. He opened the bottle, picked up one of the capsules and flung it into his mouth. As the capsule quickly dissolved in his mouth, Impetus started to flow through his body again and the overwhelming, supernatural feeling of being something greater than human came over him again. While he tried to remember Akira's instructions his mind became lost in the sensation of greatness and power and the flow of Impetus stopped once again.
"Damn it kid," was all Akira could say.
"Hey screw you. I tried alright. This is really hard to do. Maybe if you weren't a crap teacher I'd actually be able to understand what the hell I'm supposed to be doing," Shotaro replied.
Akira sighed. "Try it again."
On the night of the Shattered attack, the same night that the Black Smile claimed Shotaro for themselves, the boy found himself in a room of blackness.
"What? Where am I?" Shotaro exclaimed as he awoke.
The surrounding area was completely dark. He couldn't see anything, not even his own hand in front of his face. After a few short seconds, he realized he was sitting upright in a swivel chair and immediately he understood where he was. A small click was heard and a light from a lamp in front of him turned on. An elderly man in a black suit and black fedora sat behind a desk in front of Shotaro.
"You!" Shotaro exclaimed immediately.
"Good evening, Mr. Minami," Takei greeted.
Shotaro quickly stood up out of his chair angrily, ready to "express his anger" towards Takei but was immediately seated again by a pair of very strong hands on his shoulders.
"Thank you, Cipher," Takei began. "Shotaro, my dear boy, I would prefer if you stay seated while we talk. I know you must be angry, but if you would allow me to explain, everything would be fine," he said to him.
Shotaro said nothing, instead preferring to give him his best death glare.
"Shotaro, I realize that you declined my initial offer to join the Black Smile, but there is something that you must understand. The Shattered are no longer something that you can try to ignore. This is going to become bigger than unexplained murders and disappearances. The Shattered will soon dominate this entire Realm, if we don't do something," Takei told him.
"I already told you that I don't want to be a part of your damn organization," Shotaro replied.
"Stop being so damn ignorant!" Takei yelled. It took Shotaro by surprise. Up until now, Takei had kept himself very composed while talking to him.
"I know Shotaro. I know that you don't care about others. I know that other people's lives don't really concern you," Takei started.
How the hell does he know that?
"But the Shattered problem cannot be ignored anymore. You've been attacked by two Shattered in under a week and you think you can just live the rest of your life without having to ever see them again?" Takei continued.
Shotaro sat silently.
"Shotaro, I wasn't going to tell you this yet but I feel that you need to know. You already know that the Shattered are here for the Impetus within human souls, but you don't know why they want it do you? It's for balance. The Withdrawal Realm, the world of the Shattered, is falling to ruin. That's why they're coming here to our world, the Substance Realm. They plan to turn this world into theirs and to do that, they need to maintain the equilibrium of the Impetus in the world," Takei explained.
"What's the importance of balancing the Impetus?" Shotaro asked.
"When the proper balance has been reached Wrath and Sorrow will arrive and claim our world for the Shattered," he said.
"I'm sorry, what will arrive?" Shotaro asked.
"Wrath and Sorrow, the Lord of the Shattered," Takei explained.
"So he's the main Shattered in charge?"
"Not quite. To call Wrath and Sorrow a Shattered would be incorrect. It's beyond a Shattered. It's beyond any being and greater than us all. We only know for sure that Wrath and Sorrow, in all its being is the end of us," Takei answered. "That's why we need as much help as possible. That's why we need you Shotaro. The Shattered aren't going to stop unless we stop them."
Shotaro sat silently, taking in all that he'd just learned. To him, it was just like before: a bunch of cryptic nonsense that he'd rather not be a part of. He didn't want to take the responsibility of keeping the world from being terrorized. He was the last person that would take any such initiative, but he soon thought about his life and his sister. He thought about how if he helped, there'd be a chance of keeping the world from turmoil but failing would result in the world turning to hell. But doing nothing would result in the world turning to hell anyway.
"Why me?" Shotaro asked after a moment of silence.
"Why not you?" was Takei's reply.
"That wasn't funny," Shotaro said dryly.
"It wasn't meant to be," Takei replied.
"I mean what's the difference if I do or don't join the Black Smile? There's no guarantee that I'm the deciding factor in this whole thing, so what's the point?" Shotaro asked.
Takei let out a small laugh. "Well you see you really don't have a choice anymore. You're already in the Black Smile; I've just been explaining the true gravity of your circumstances. To answer your question however, it's simply a matter of more forces. It's clearly a lot safer to have many humans that can defend themselves from the Shattered. The Shattered only go after humans with Impetus and only humans with Impetus can become Archetypes, so why not have all humans that can be Archetypes be Archetypes?" he explained.
"Well if that's the case then why don't you just go out and find them, go on a Shattered hunting spree and leave me alone?" Shotaro asked.
"If it were that simple we would, but there are many complications with that. One of the main ones is that we don't know who has Impetus and who doesn't until they've been attacked by a Shattered. Archetypes and Shattered already have their Impetus 'activated', if you will, so it's easy to find them. But Archetypes can't find humans with untapped Impetus like the Shattered can and that makes it difficult for us," Takei told him.
"Listen Shotaro, I know what you must be thinking but it's not going to be that bad at all. After we train you, you'll be on your own to live your life and do what you want. It's just that you'll also be hunting Shattered as well. Just think of it as a part time job, okay?" Takei said to him.
Shotaro merely shook his head. He could deny it for as long as he wanted, but he was a member of the Black Smile now.
"Fine, are we almost done here then?" Shotaro asked impatiently.
"Almost, just a few more things first," Takei said. He went into his desk and pulled from one of the drawers a small device. He pointed it towards Shotaro and hit a button. After a few seconds he put it back into his desk.
"What the hell was that?" Shotaro asked.
"That was an Impetus Reader. It scans your Impetus to see what Nature type you have," Takei answered.
"There're different types of Impetus?" asked Shotaro.
"Yes, there're two. And five different Natures but you'll learn about that later. It takes a while for the Reader to find out. For now I want you to meet your new mentor," he said.
A man from behind Shotaro walked over to the desk and stood with his hands in his jacket pockets.
"This is Akira Otomo, also known as Cipher among the Black Smile," Takei said, introducing the two.
Akira said nothing to Shotaro as the two sized each other up. They looked each other up and down, mentally, and thus, silently judging each other. The words never really left their mouths but they already disliked each other. Akira was the first to speak.
"What's with that stupid look on your face?" he asked, not with any hostility as he held his hand out for a handshake.
"That's just my 'Get a load of this asshole' face," Shotaro said, shaking Akira's hand.
"Adorable," Akira replied dryly with a smile. "We're going to start training early tomorrow so get a good night's sleep kid," he told him as he opened the exit door. Shotaro walked through it and found himself walking through the entrance of his room. He crawled into bed and did exactly as he was told, got a good night's sleep. Inside the black room Takei and Akira chatted.
"That kid's got a real attitude on him, don't you think?" Akira said.
"Yes, but that's only a minor disadvantage. He won't be too insubordinate," Takei replied.
"Are you sure about that? He's a little on the wild side. It seems to me that the moment he feels as though he's being controlled by us he'll turn on us," he said.
"He won't. I can feel it. We need him but he also needs us. He may not know it or realize it yet, but he needs us," Takei said as he leaned back within his chair.
"We need him you said? So you've gotten the results from Hellroy?" he asked.
"Not yet, but from what the good doctor's discovered we will not be disappointed."
Akira said nothing as he put his hands in jacket pockets. It was a habit of his. If his hands weren't busy, they were in his pocket. He looked downwards. In the darkness of the room he could barely see below his knees.
"Alright, you know I trust you sir, but can I give some advice?" Akira started.
"Go ahead. You know I appreciate your input," Takei said.
"Don't underestimate unfettered soul," he said.
"Duly noted. Thank you," Takei ended.
"Wake up kid," a voice said to a sleepy Shotaro. He peeked outside his covers to see Akira, hands in his jacket pockets, standing over him. "Come on, get up kid. We have training to do."
"What the hell are you doing in my house?" was Shotaro's response.
"I told you earlier that we have training to do. So get up," Akira said.
"Screw off. It's a weekend and it's way too early for me to be awake right now. Can't you wait until later?" he replied.
"No. Now get up," Akira replied back. Shotaro, not wanting to argue, pulled the covers over his head and tried to go back to sleep.
"What do you think you're doing?" Akira asked. Shotaro didn't answer. Akira merely shook his head as he casually kicked his student out of the bed. Shotaro landed with a loud thud.
"Ow! Damn it man!" Shotaro shouted. Akira said nothing in response and threw a black jacket in his face.
"Get dressed and put that on," he said.
"What the hell is this?" Shotaro asked while examining it. The right sleeve bore a white arm band that read, in black lettering, "Black Smile." In between the words "Black" and "Smile" were black lips that formed a large, open smile showing white teeth.
"That's part of the dress code kid. All the members of the Black Smile wear a black jacket with the emblem on it," Akira answered. He flashed Shotaro the emblem on his jacket.
"I hate dress codes," was all that came out of Shotaro's mouth.
"I'll bet. Now come on," he said. Out of his leather jacket pocket, he pulled a small black key. He walked over to Shotaro's bedroom door and stuck the key into it. As he let go of the key, it twisted itself leftwards and the door opened itself. The door didn't lead into the hallway upstairs like it normally would. The door opened up to a large, blank, gray expanse. Nothing was to be seen. Everything was as it seemed, bleak and empty.
"What just happened? Where are we?" Shotaro asked as he and Akira stepped inside.
"This is the Grounds. This is where we're going to do our training," Akira told him.
"How'd we even get here? What happened to my house?" he asked.
"I used this," Akira said as he held up the mysterious black key. "This is a Grounds Key. It was made by Agents so that Archetypes could have a place to train without being disturbed by Shattered or others," he explained.
"What are Agents?" Shotaro asked.
"Agents are guys like Mr. Takei. They're normally in charge of Archetype organizations. They've got immense power but they don't fight. They use it for other matters," he answered.
So Archetypes are just the muscle? They're nothing but pawns for the big bosses? That might be alright with you Akira but certainly not me. Shotaro thought.
"Anyway, we've got to start and the sooner the better," Akira said.
"That's fine with me. I'm already here, I might as well get this over with," Shotaro replied.
"Wonderful attitude," Akira said dryly with a smile. "Now we're going to start with getting you to tap into your Impetus. You've done it before but you've never done it consciously so listen up. There are five different Natures of Impetus," he started.
"Oh yeah, Takei mentioned something about that. There're five Natures and two types or something?" Shotaro said.
"I'm surprised you remember that kid. Yeah there're two types of Impetus: raw and refined. Don't worry about that. That's not important right now. What I'm talking about right now are the Natures of Impetus. Nature 1 relies on a medium for use of power. Anything with Nature 1 has extremely powerful and exhausting Impetus. Nature 2 relies on self amplifying abilities. They can be pretty powerful and dangerous. Nature 3 is sort of an anti-Nature 2. Rather than using their Impetus amplify themselves, theirs analyzes their target and weakens or neutralizes aspects or whatever," Akira began.
Or whatever? This goon is supposed to be teaching me? How the hell did this happen to me?
"Nature 4 is a strange. Their power only affects a certain designated area. Most of the time it's around themselves but there are cases when area of effect is much greater. And Nature 5 is probably the most dangerous. They use their Impetus to distort the flow of other people's Impetus and control it as they will," Akira said. "I've only ever met one person who had that type of Impetus," His voice trembled a bit which was slightly unsettling for Shotaro. Normally he had a calm and collected tone in his speech. This was the first Shotaro heard his voice sound any different.
"Who was it?" Shotaro asked.
"Not important, so don't worry about it," Akira told him calmly. "Listen up kid, you've got the same Impetus Nature that I do; Nature 1. So because of that, you're going to have to learn to use your new medium," Akira explained.
"A medium? Like what?" Shotaro inquired.
"Like something to channel your Impetus from," he answered.
"Well yeah obviously, asshole. I mean what does it look like? What is it?" he asked.
"Well it's different for everybody but I can show you mine if you want," Akira said. He took his hands out his pockets and held his arms out. He touched his left and right index fingers and thumbs to each other and the air in front of his hands started to ripple. Soon, the air tore itself open and revealed two, ornate, long-barreled pistols. He grabbed the both of them and began to twirl them.
Geez what a showoff. That was so flipping cool though. And I get to have a medium just like that! Maybe this Archetype crap won't be so terrible.
Akira rested both gun barrels on his shoulders and looked over at Shotaro.
The kid's got that stupid look on his face again. Akira thought.
"You ready for yours kid?" he asked as he twirled the guns which soon disappeared.
"Yes, I am so ready," Shotaro said hardly maintaining his cool.
Akira reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and threw a pill bottle in his direction. Shotaro caught it and spent the next minute staring in disbelief.
"What the hell do you think you doing?" Shotaro asked aggravated.
"What? That's your medium," Akira responded.
"How in the hell am I supposed to use this?" Shotaro asked throwing the bottle at Akira's head. Akira caught it before it made contact with his face and tossed it back to Shotaro.
"You take a capsule and then it does whatever the hell it's supposed to do," he explained.
"You're screwing with me right?" Shotaro asked weakly.
"Nope, now come on kid. The sooner you learn how to use that, the sooner you can stop being useless," Akira told him.
Akira sighed. "Try it again."
"No," Shotaro replied.
"What?" Akira asked.
"I said no. We're not getting anywhere so why should I?" Shotaro answered.
"You're right. Maybe it's best if you take a break. Go get breakfast maybe then you'll be able to do it," Akira suggested while he opened an exit from the Grounds.
"I'm going to take a walk," Shotaro said in a low voice as stepped out from the Grounds.
The exit lead him into the hallway right outside his room. He walked downstairs into his kitchen and grabbed a banana. He checked the time on one of the kitchen clocks. It was still early. No one in the house was awake other than him. He grabbed a few more bananas and stepped outside.
The air outside was cold and thick. It was odd but he didn't let it bother him too much. He began to walk around his neighborhood for a bit. It was much quieter than he was used to. He normally wasn't ever up this early, especially not on a weekend. It was strange to see the area like this. But something was making it stranger than it normally would.
I can't believe the crap that I'm in. I have to learn some stupid nonsense, so I can learn how to fight monsters from another realm or something stupid like that. Damn it, why me? I'm pretty sure any fantasy nerd would be glad to be a part their stupid organization. Let him fight the stupid monsters and leave me alone. That way I don't have to deal with obnoxious old men or asshole "mentors" or learning how to use this mystical Impetus bull.
Shotaro looked around and saw all of the houses. He stared right into the windows of each and every one of them. He envied them. They didn't have to deal with Shattered, directly anyway. And they all got to sleep in this morning. The more Shotaro walked, the more unsettling the air was. It was strangely cold and dense before but now it was no longer ignorable. That's when Shotaro recognized the feeling. The air felt unnatural. The air felt like some sinister Impetus was touching his skin all over. The air felt like there was a Shattered nearby.
Shotaro quickly whipped his arm behind him. He knew a Shattered was following him and this time he decided to get the drop on it. The Shattered however, quickly jumped back to dodge the attack. Shotaro turned around to face it.
"Nicely done pseudo-Archetype," the Shattered spoke. Shotaro's eyes quickly narrowed.
"You! I remember you," Shotaro said pointing at the creature.
"I would hope so. We met only a few hours ago," it spoke.
"You've gotten bigger and stronger it seems. I envy you. I've never been able to get so strong in such a short amount of time," Shotaro teased.
"You lack sense pseudo-Archetype. Most people would be scared," it said.
"It's not sense that I lack, it's fear. You're just not scary enough boogie man," he said with devious smirk.
"No my boy, what you lack is sense. Don't worry though, I'll be quick to beat some into you!" it said and in that same moment it seemingly disappeared. When Shotaro laid his eyes on it again, its fist was made contact with his gut and sent him flying.
Well shit, he sure got faster. This time I'll make sure to finish him off though. He thought as he reached into his pocket and opened up the pill bottle. He quickly took a capsule and a rush of Impetus engulfed him.
"Well this is comforting. It's good to know that I don't have to almost kill you for you to be a challenge," it taunted.
Shotaro rushed forward unleashing a flurry of punches. The Shattered kept its guard up, blocking all of them. It then threw a punch to Shotaro's face, which Shotaro immediately blocked. He then responded with a kick to the monster's chest. The creature brushed it off like it was nothing, lifted Shotaro by his neck and threw him to the ground, knocking the wind out of him. Shotaro felt his power begin to waver.
Damn it. I can't keep my Impetus flowing. Keep cool Shotaro; just remember what Akira told you. Impetus doesn't just keep going. I've got to sway with it.
The creature readied its fist to smash Shotaro's face in but before it could Shotaro hopped out of the way. Shotaro could feel his power still flowing through. It was rough and uneven but it was still flowing.
"You know I thought you'd gotten stronger. I guess not. Honestly I'd have to say your performance was a little better the first time I kicked your ass," Shotaro said.
"For a fake Archetype, you're pretty cheeky," the Shattered told him.
"And for a real Shattered, you're pretty weak," Shotaro taunted.
That's it Shotaro, just stay frosty, and keep him on edge. Cipher should've sense him by now. He'll be here any minu-
The Shattered interrupted Shotaro's train of thought by grabbing him by his hair and lifting him over its head.
This is familiar.
"This was fun, but truth be told I've had enough of your arrogant mouth. I would've loved to fight you more but in all honesty you piss me off too much," it said.
"Funny, my dad said the same thing not too long ago," Shotaro quipped.
"What an interesting choice of last words," it said. It threw Shotaro high in the air and began to open its mouth as wide as seemed possible.
Well shit, it's going to eat me whole. Damn it, what a way to die. I'm not even lucky enough to be torn apart. At least then I'd be on the news or something. Now I'm just going to be missing. They won't even find my corpse. No! Screw that noise. I'm not about to die here like this. Where the hell is Cipher? Damn it! Okay, think, how can I get out of this? Shit, all that comes to mind are those stupid pills. Actually now that I think about it I've never taken capsules that only say take one at a time. You usually take them in pairs at least don't you? Alright let's try that.
Shotaro pulled out the bottle again and took another capsule. As he descended closer and closer to the monster's mouth he felt a desperation that seemed to justify the idea that if one capsule wasn't enough, then why not try two? An idea that seemed simple enough to work. And it did. Impetus swelled within him again. This time though his veins, his muscles and even his bones felt a cold chill. His body grew cold and numb and he felt stillness in his soul. It was a stillness that disagreed with him and in that disagreement he could embrace the dissonance. It felt like rough tranquility and it was in that that he felt power. Before he was engulfed by the Shattered, he drew his arm back and threw a ferocious haymaker to its head. The Shattered, instead of being sent flying like Shotaro expected, had its head completely frozen. As the punch froze the Shattered's head, Shotaro hit the ground hard however before the creature could do anything else he ran to it, jumped, and with all his force, kicked the head into small pieces of ice. The rest of the Shattered's body fell limp and dropped to the ground. Shotaro then dropped to his knees, exhausted.
"Good job kid," he heard a familiar voice say. He looked up and saw Akira standing atop the roof of someone's house. He dropped down, landed right in front of Shotaro's face, and helped him up.
"Where were you before?" Shotaro asked.
"I was watching," he answered.
"For how long?!" he asked.
"I noticed the Shattered before you did kid," Akira answered.
"So why the hell didn't you help me out? I could've died," Shotaro said.
"Yeah, you could've died. And if you had, the Black Smile would be looking for a new member. If you couldn't kill that Shattered then it means that we were wasting our time. There are Shattered out there much stronger than that and if you can't you hold your own against a weakling like that then you'd be nothing more than a burden to us. Besides, if I helped out you would've never figured out how to use your medium properly," Akira said with a smile.
"I guess I'm rolling with a tough crew then. That's harsh but I can appreciate that," Shotaro said.
"Yup, welcome to the Black Smile."