11

A soft knock at the front door startled Mrs. Rostek, who was just preparing to head to bed. The sun had already sunk below the horizon with the bright moon rising in its place. The short, elderly woman was astonished that any person would be at the door so late at night. "Another UG official," she thought. She grabbed her wooden cane and carefully approached the door. After gently grabbing onto the knob, she pulled the door open. Much to her surprise, she was right.

Standing before Mrs. Rostek was a slender man of Chinese descent that towered over the small woman. His coat was tagged with the symbol of the United Government. He let out a small grin, but Mrs. Rostek knew that there was nothing but sorrow beneath his smile. After all, they did live together in that very house. "Mom..." Yushan spoke, still able to hold his weak smirk. "It's...It's been a while."

Mrs. Rostek almost wanted to burst out in tears. She held them from flowing down her cheeks, but the longer she looked upon Yushan, the more she wanted to let them out. Her voice began to crack as she began to speak to the young boy she once loved. "...Yu..." she spoke softly. The woman was being overwhelmed by mixed emotions, all trying to overcome the other. There was anger that the young boy had left them so early and there was love for the young boy that had cared for her so much.

Yushan hadn't seen her mother since he left the house many years ago. Neither had he angered Aven to the point where she simply ran off. After he looked all over south Goldhart, he finally decided to come to the last and only place Aven could have been hiding: his old home. Just watching his mother cry brought a wretched feeling to his gut. He knew he would regret coming by. "...Is Aven fine?" he asked hurriedly, trying his best to leave as soon as possible.

In between her sniffs and coughs, she responded, "Yes...she came home earlier today without a word...She just shut the door...Never came back down..." She began to cough even louder, alarming the Elite.

Quickly, Yushan stepped inside and picked her mother up gently. "Mom...Be careful." Her emotions were beginning to get to her, one of the reasons why Yushan was afraid of coming by. He carried her towards her room in a rush. On his way to his mother's room, he realized something strange. After all the years he had been away from home, he still had each aspect of the house implanted inside his head. He set Mrs. Rostek down on her bed lightly. Much to his surprise, the elderly woman had already fallen asleep. The warmth of her son combined with her weariness must have taken its toll on her. Yushan smiled and prepared to leave the house, deeming it wise to not disturb Aven despite his entire day's efforts to apologize.

However, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a pair of sharp eyes watch him from the stairs. Yushan wasn't able to make out the appearance of the figure, but he was sure that it was none other than Aven. He pretended not to notice her for he didn't want to bother her any further. Without another word, he left the house and headed towards his office at the Hunter's Core. Tomorrow was a big day. It was the day of Yamazaki Zenkatsu's execution as well as more work for the head of the Hunter's Core.

vvvvvvv

Loud screams of civilians echoed throughout the streets as soon as the sun began to rise up. Many of them were armed with signs that expressed their hate towards the murderer and the mourning of their loved ones. Together, they banded in large crowds and motioned in one group. Eventually, every one of these groups merged into one enormous mob that waited patiently at the center plaza of south Goldhart, the place where Yamazaki Zenkatsu was to be executed.

For hours and hours, the people waited for the murderer to be brought out. Some of the civilians went as far as buying tomatoes from the grocery store for this event. Each and every single one of them craved the guilty blood of Zenkatsu. The thought of the man himself was enough for one to curse the Exile.

It was at about eleven-thirty that Aven had arrived to watch Zenkatsu's execution, which was to happen approximately at noon. Most bounty hunters and Elites were given breaks on days that executions took place. Aven had slept in incredibly late, and if it weren't for Mrs. Rostek's vacuum, she probably would have missed the execution.

Despite the huge crowd, she noticed Katalina's Elite uniform that distinguished her from the surrounding civilians. Luckily for Aven, Katalina was not too far away from the very back, so she quickly dragged the Elite out of the crowd.

"H-Hey! Stop that! Whoever's doing that, I demand you stop!" Katalina roared, unable to turn her head around until she escaped the large crowd. When she turned around, the anger immediately left her. She was delighted to see Aven's face. "Aven! I thought you wouldn't show!"

Aven frowned. "Hey...That's mean...I'm not that lazy..." she responded. Quickly, she changed the topic. "So it looks like Zenkatsu's execution is finally going to happen..."

Katalina laughed arrogantly. "Haha! It's about time! Every single person in southern Goldhart has been waiting for this day," she exclaimed. Katalina set a hand on Aven's shoulder and smiled. "Hey, Aven. I know how you might feel about this but...actions have consequences. Zenkatsu killed many, many good people...and now he'll pay for it with his own life."

Aven nodded in understanding. Even if she wanted to prevent the execution, it would almost be impossible to actually succeed. "Yeah...You're right, Kat," she spoke with a smile.

vvvvvvv

A strong fist pounded on the door of Yushan's office in the Hunter's Core. Yushan, who was once again staring out of the window at the blank white wall of a nearby house, didn't tremble at the sudden hammering of his door. "Come in, Cyrus...If I find out that my door is broken, you know what to do," Yushan spoke without turning his head around.

Cyrus pushed open the door and glanced at Yushan. He would never understand why Yushan looked out the window so often and for what reason he did so. "I see you've gotten used to me coming by," he spoke in his usual calm tone. "I have some...troubling news."

Yushan sighed deeply and approached his table. "What is it?" he asked curiously, taking a seat on his chair.

Cyrus stepped forward and set both of his palms on the table. "Lightland is missing." The news surprised Yushan. He remembered being informed that Vance Lightland had been terribly wounded in the battle at the south gate two days ago. Cyrus could see the puzzled expression on Yushan's face. "You don't believe me, do you?"

It would have been difficult for anyone to believe in such a story. "I recall that Elite Lightland was terribly injured after the battle against the intruder...I would like to believe you but...how could an injured man escape from a hospital? That's just unheard of. Are you sure you're not just growing old?" Yushan grabbed a stack of papers and began to neatly reorganize them into clean piles while he awaited Cyrus's reply.

Cyrus sighed and pounded Yushan's wooden desk, knocking the files up into the air for a moment. "This is serious. Elite Lightland is one of our strongest Elites...He may be in serious danger for all we know."

The head of the Hunter's Core was startled by Cyrus's stern behavior. He set the papers flat on his table and set them aside. After a moment of thought, he stood on his feet and looked up at Cyrus's towering body. "Fine. We'll look into matter later, after the execution. It's too crowded for us to head to the hospital, and even if we did make it through, the nurses and doctors have probably joined the crowd as well."

Cyrus nodded in understand. He pulled his arms back and approached for the door. "Fine. Besides, I've been looking forward to the execution," he mentioned.

The commander set his hand on the doorknob, but at that moment, Yushan's voice stopped him. "Looking forward? Not many people say that about executions..." he spoke in an uneasy tone.

Cyrus laughed and turned around, shooting a grin towards Yushan. "Haha. You're right, Yushan," he spoke with a light chuckle. "But this man cut down the pride of Goldhart. You heard the announcements from the speakers yesterday. It would be embarrassing if everyone were to find out that a single man defeated the Magus. That is why I've been awaiting the execution."

Yushan gulped, and sat back down with a sense of unease. Cyrus was a mighty and honorable man, but Yushan knew that beneath his noble covering was a dangerous monster. The Elite grabbed a hand full of papers and began to rearrange them. "...There's a good view of the central plaza on the roof if you really want to watch," Yushan mentioned, focusing on fixing his documents.

"Is there really?" he responded, pushing the door open. He turned his head and looked up at the nearest clock, which was hanging up on a wall above a bookcase. "It's almost twelve, Yushan. Care to join me on the roof?"

Yushan scratched his head and continued his work. Though, after a moment of thought, he decided that he could take a quick break. He had slept late the previous night and awoke early for a long, tedious day of work. "...Sure. I'll meet you up there once I pick up all of these documents you knocked onto the ground. Oh, don't forget to pay me back for the door and all these papers."

vvvvvvv

Suddenly, the roar of the crowd turned up so loud that they could even be heard from miles away. Tomatoes and other fruit began to fly into the air. Guards of the Magus created a path by lightly pushing civilians aside with their shields. In the middle of these guards was none other than the murderer, Yamazaki Zenkatsu.

"Murderer!" a young woman yelled, spitting onto the murderer's cheek. She then followed up by grabbing a tomato and nailing him across the face, staining his bandages with the color of blood.

The crowd insisted on beating on the man themselves, but the guards kept them in check. However, a few punches and kicks got through, bruising Zenkatsu's body and staggering his movements. The guards didn't care though. "Move it!" one guard demanded, slamming Zenkatsu's back with his shield.

It was truly a horrifying sight in the eyes of anyone who could see the pain that the murderer was going through. However, not a single soul in Goldhart could wipe the dirt from their eyes. Each and every one of them were blinded by the events of the past. They did not see Zenkatsu's pain, only Zenkatsu the murderer.

Aven watched Zenkatsu's march to the center platform in the middle of the plaza with distaste. She turned her head and examined Katalina, who didn't seem to be too bothered by the crowd's actions. However, for a moment, Aven thought she had caught a glimpse of a horrified expression on her best friend's face.

"What's wrong, Kat?" Aven asked, hoping that Katalina had seen the dreadfulness of the execution. "Do you see now?!"

Katalina pointed over towards the guards' position. "Look closely over there...How disgusting!"

"I know right!" Aven responded with an excited smile. "Don't you see how wrong this is?!"

Katalina squinted, frowning at whatever she was glaring at. "Just look at him...With his smug face and his useless body."

Aven's mind went blank upon hearing Katalina's words. "Wait...Huh?!" She stood on a higher platform and looked even closer at the guards. The bounty hunter scanned the area for anything that would bring distaste to Katalina, and eventually, she found the source. "Oh..."

A young man in casual clothing and uniquely combed hair following the guard's march towards the execution platform. In his hands were a plastic straw and a bag of watermelon seeds. Wave after wave of black seeds shot out of the straw and pelted Zenkatsu in the face repeatedly. The bounty hunter was discomforted at the sight of him.

"Fabian..." she groaned. She sighed and sunk her head down, disappointed that Katalina hadn't achieve the same thoughts she had.

Katalina flailed her arms around, enraged by Fabian's actions. "C'mon! I mean, just look at him! HOW DID THIS FOOL GET TO BECOME AN ELITE?! Why aren't the guards doing anything about that annoying prick?!" Those around her began to stare at the Elite. Aven flushed red in embarassment. "Aven! I know referring people to become an Elite is possible, but...is un-referring someone possible too?"

Aven placed her hand on her own face and sighed. "No, I don't think so, Kat."

In a burst of anger, she grabbed onto Aven's shoulders and began to shake her around violently. "Why, Aven, why?! Elites are supposed to work for the benefit of the capital!" Katalina pointed a trembling finger towards Fabian. "Look at him! Look at him! I don't even know anymore! Look at what he's contributing to our society! All he does is eat, sleep, and spit shit at people!"

Aven looked over Katalina's shoulders and noticed that the guards and Zenkatsu had finally reached the platform. The murderer was stained from head to toe with red tomato juice, which hid the numerous bruises on his body and the stains on his bandages. The bounty hunter grabbed onto Katalina's cheeks and began to pull on them. "Quiet, Kat! The execution is starting!"

"...Why'd you pinch my cheeks," the Elite muttered, letting go of Aven's shoulders. She rubbed her cheeks and turned her head towards the execution platform.

Aven shrugged. "They looked puffy today," she responded, giving Katalina a thumbs-up.

The guards, finally finishing the escort, each took separate positions to defend the platform. An older man stepped forward with a small note card in hand. Zenkatsu, without the help of any guards, willingly stepped forward and dropped to both knees.

The man examined his note card and carefully examined the crowd. "Today...You all crowded here for one purpose..." The voice was incredibly familiar. While many remained clueless as to where they have heard the voice, some immediately realized that his voice was the same as the one they would heard in the announcements through the speakers. "...to witness this man, Yamazaki Zenkatsu, be executed."

The crowd cheered and once again began an uproar. They threw more fruit at Zenkatsu, and occasionally, one of the fruits would be misfired and nail the speaker or one of the guards.

"Halt!" the speaker spoke, wiping a tomato out his now-stained dress suit. In a short amount of time, the crowd calmed down and paid attention to the speaker. "Now...for those of you that do not know yet, a title is given to outlaws who are deemed too dangerous to live. Titles are-"

The speaker's sentence was cut off by the sudden sound of anger and frustration coming from nearby the crowd. Fabian, who managed to make his way through the crowd by pushing and shoving, jumped onto the stage. He maneuvered right beside Zenkatsu and spit an incredible flurry of watermelon seeds at point blank range. The crowd, the guards, and the speaker all remained silent for the entire duration, all staring at Fabian blankly. Once Fabian's supplies ran out, he quickly jumped back into the crowd and scurried off.

"WHAT THE FUCK!" a feminine voice screamed loudly from far away, upset at what just happened. No one by the platform knew where the voice came from, but they simply set that aside.

"Ahem," the speaker cleared his throat. "As I was saying...Titles are given based on their actions..." A man holding a large cleaver emerged from behind the platform and approached Zenkatsu. "Yamazaki Zenkatsu...Charged with death after slaughtering a hundred soldiers with the help of his allies...Yamazaki Zenkatsu, the Blight of Goldhart!"

The crowd roared once again. All together, they chanted, "Kill him! Kill him!"

The executioner gripped onto his cleaver with great force and pulled it up above his head.

Both Aven and Katalina watched in enthusiasm as the weapon rose slowly into the air. "It's going to happen," Aven thought to herself. "It's going to happen..."

Katalina pushed her head forward, eager to witness the first execution since she became an Elite. "It really is going to happen..."

Up on the roof of the Hunter's Core stood two men, both watching the execution. "It serves him right," Cyrus mentioned.

"I guess so," Yushan responded. He folded his arms and awaited for the cleaver to drop down.

Aven could feel the ambivalent feelings tearing her apart from inside as she continued watching. In one outlook, she saw Zenkatsu as an innocent man only fighting for the equality of the Exile and the United Government. However, on the other, she saw Zenkatsu was a blood-thirsty murderer with no intent other than to kill. She thought for so long that she had forgotten to blink, creating great discomfort for her eyes.

She wiped her eyes with her right hand, trying to ease the pain. However, because of her clouded thoughts, she forgot that her right arm was the arm that was wrapped in the thin layer of metal Magebane. Thought of course, there wasn't enough to severely harm Aven, but it was enough to temporarily give her eyes some strange side-effects.

Aven looked back towards the execution platform after easing her eyes of searing pain. Upon placing her vision on the platform, she noticed something incredible different there. She peered even closer towards the platform. Most everything was the same: the speaker, the guards, the crowd. When Aven finally located it, her eyes expanded. She had the uncontrollable urge to scream, but her shock prevented her voice from being heard. Chills ran down her spine. Her skin went pale. She began to shake so quickly that even Katalina noticed.

"What's wrong?" the Elite asked her friend. When she found that Aven wasn't responding, she repeated her question. "Aven, what's wrong?!"

Aven raised her right hand slowly, keeping her left hand over her mouth. She pointed a finger towards 'Zenkatsu.' "L-Look...Kat...Th-That's..."

Katalina, confused by Aven's words, tried to keep her calm. "Aven...You don't have to watch the execution if you don't want to. It'll all be over once Zenkatsu's life ends."

"Kat!...That's not Zenkatsu!" Aven screamed, grabbing Katalina by the shoulders.

"Aven! Are you okay?! What do you mean that's not Zenkatsu?!"

Aven turned her head towards the platform once again. The speaker finished his last words, allowing for the executioner to finally drop the might cleaver on the murderer. Through the eyes of the crowd, they saw one murderer being served justice. However, through the eyes of Aven, she didn't see Zenkatsu, neither spiritually nor physically. In Zenkatsu's place, Aven saw the scientist Joseph Crawford, begging for mercy at the hands of the executioner. Through her eyes, Aven saw the innocent man sobbing. Through her expanded eyes, Aven saw the innocent man sobbing at his great misfortune. Through her expanded, Magebane-affected eyes, Aven saw the innocent man's sobbing head chopped clean off.