"Ryuuko, did you do something with your hair?" Asumi asked with excitement as she sat on my bed, taking a closer look at my new hairstyle.
"Does-does it look strange?"
"Hmm...it's cute. But you're missing something. Oh! I know!"
Reaching into her pockets she pulled out a pair of hairclips and carefully parted the bangs that drooped over my head.
"There we go. Now we can see your pretty eyes, hehe." She giggled.
"Geez..." I muttered, trying to hide my embarrassment.
"So you're really going to do it. Ah..., I'm so nervous."
"Wh-why are you the one that's nervous? I-I should be the one who...ooh." I held my tummy as I felt the strange feeling of fluttering, as if there were thousands of butterflies flying around inside.
"I know. But it's your big middle school debut! Everyone is going to be able to see how gorgeous you are and then I'm going to have to share you with other people. Haa...it's going to hard. I bet I'm going to have to stand in line just to see you." Asumi sighed as she wrapped her arms around my shoulders.
"You're making it sound like I'm going to be super popular or something. T-there's no way that's going to happen." I retorted, my face feeling hot as it turned bright red.
"Oh, don't be like that Ryuuko. You've got to have confidence! You're so cute, there's no way anyone can resist you. I daresay that you even have a chance of being scouted and becoming a model." She exclaimed as she nuzzled my cheek.
"S-stop it! You're going to mess up my hair." I giggled as I playfully pushed her back. "But...I do hope that I will be able to fit in."
I was quiet for a moment, trying to gather my thoughts. I stared at the bookshelf in my room, crammed full of the books I have read over the years, and winced as the all the horrible nostalgia came flooding back to me.
"Asumi...I really want to change. I'm so tired. Of being pushed away by others, to be isolated from the rest of the class and...of this terrible feeling of loneliness." My voice was shaking as I spoke. Placing my hand on my chest, I tried to steady the feeling of tightness that gripped onto my breast like a bear trap.
"Ryuuko..." I heard Asumi as I felt her gently holding my hand, feeling the softness of her fingers as they interlocked with mine.
"...I'm sorry. To have to make you go through all that with me. I really am. I'm so sorry I made you stay with me for those horrible 3 years." The words choked out from my mouth, my vision getting blurry as tears filled my eyes.
"Not at all. I was very happy." Asumi replied as she shook her head. "I'm glad to have been together with you."
"Uhh...ughh...I...I really don't understand you." I sobbed uncontrollably. The tears kept coming and I couldn't stop it no matter how hard I tried, as it dripped down my face and messed up my hair. "But thank you..."
"Ryuuko, I'll always be with you."
"KENJIROU, INCOMING PROJECTILES TO YOUR RIGHT!" Juntaro called to him as bloodied orbs flew towards the club president.
"KUH!" Kenjirou grunted, barely able to dodge. The bullets like orbs brushed pasted him and landed on the ground with a sickening splat that immediately dissolved everything in a matter of moments.
"PREZ! GOD DAMMIT!" Takuya screamed as he dashed away from the onslaught that rained at him before rushing towards the gruesome geyser of red.
But as if responding to his approach, Ryuuko let out a ghastly wail. The tentacles burst out from her as they wrapped around themselves, gathering the liquid that oozed from her body, and formed a giant sphere of blood before immediately launching it at his direction.
"Oh...SHI-GAH!" Takuya gritted his teeth as he tried to dodge, but a terrible pain came from his stomach, suddenly breaking his concentration as he felled to his knees. The ball of crimson flew at him at frightening speed while he clutched his stomach, unable to move out of the way.
The cannon ball smashed into the ground, leaving a massive crater that melted deep into the earth. Barely making it, Kenjirou was able to grab Takuya and leapt out of the way in the nick of time. The explosion grazed him as it scoured his back, melting bits of his clothes and skin leaving behind an expose of bubbling bloodied mess.
"Prez!" Takuya exclaimed.
"I'm fine! Tch..." Kenjirou huffed as he tried to catch his breath.
"Guys! There's more incoming and it's a large one! You have to move!" Juntaro warned as the two boys turned to the sight of numerous red spear-like objects was being expelled from Ryuuko's body.
Without wasting any time, Kenjirou immediately grabbed Takuya by the collar as they leapt into the giant crater that was formed and hide underneath, listening to the terrible splattering of the red rain.
"This is too much. At this rate, we won't even be able to get close." Kenjirou growled as he looked over to Takuya who was still clutching his stomach in pain. "Hideyoshi! Are you alright?!"
"S-sorry, Prez. Ugh...it still hurts like crazy." Takuya looked down at the mess of discolored skin that was burnt into his abdomen. It was throbbing profusely with every little movement, causing him so much pain he could barely even stand.
"The wound from before...it still hasn't healed? That can't be..."
"It's the air! Remember when you fought that thing earlier? When it released that shockwave that took you down, it was a massive mix of phytochemicals that was somehow able to surpass the virus in our bodies. It was why your wounds were in such bad shape and your bodies were in such pain." Juntaro explained to them. "I'm still detecting a trace amount in the air, with more the closer we are to where that thing was."
"Tch...why didn't you tell us that earlier senpai? What happen to our no withholding information rule?" Takuya barked before wincing as he continuing to grab his stomach in pain.
"Alright, smartass. Hold back on your snark for when we actually have the time. While the phytochemical isn't as bad as before from that attack, there is still enough to have an adverse effect our bodies. My readings are telling me your wounds are healing slower than usual because of that."
"What a pain. So Prez, what do we do now? We're going to be in trouble if this keeps up. We can't be able to reach Takatora, let alone save her."
"Hmph, I know. Closer...if only we could get closer. Dammit..." Kenjirou cursed as he struggled to think of a plan. He peeked out from the crater to scan the horizon. Ryuuko has suddenly stopped moving, instead only weak wails were coming from her bloodied body as it continued to contort and constricted in a gruesome manner.
"She's not attacking. Could it be that she was only reacting to us getting close to her? Does she know what we're trying to do?" Takuya asked as he also took a look.
"Hmph..." Kenjirou grunted in annoyance as his eyes moved over to where Alma and Armadat was. It was hard to see but he was sure that Alma was also glancing back and, no doubt, mockingly smiling at them. They're running out of time...
Watching from afar, Alma chuckled with amusement even as they continued their hold on the colossal creature before them, the melody coming from it now growing louder, as well as the fissures that spread across their floating body.
"tadamrA kniht uoy t'nod ,thgis ciglatson a tahw? Selggurts rieht, noitarepsed rieht; sruo sa emas eht s'ti." Came the same alien sounds from Alma as they spoke. Smiling a devious grin, they turned back to the pinned creature with an emotionless look on their face.
"Ahiman...!" The creature growled yet there was no cognitive in their words, as only the singing from its second head continued.
"Rotiart a em dellac uoy, on tub, ti ton s'taht. Rotiart eht ton saw I, dog eslaf eht yb devalsne gnieb retfa neve seiromem ym niager ot hguone yletanutrofnu erew ohw eno ylno eht saw I esuaceb saw ti daetsni tub. Uoy fo tser eht... esac eht ton saw ti tub emas eht neeb ev'dluohs ti. Ti thgif ot deirt uoy hguohtla ees nac I, gnorts oot raf si uoy nopu tsac sdnuob eht."
"aimA retsis...Yrros m'I. Ma ylurt I. Uoy evas t'ndluoc I yrros m'I, sretsis ruo fo tser eht ron. Sselrewop ym rof yrros m'I. Gnireffus tnerruc ruoy morf uoy eerf ot deliaf evah I taht yrros m'I. Yrros os m'I." Alma spoke solemnly as they looked up into the brilliant skies, the tears of blood continuing to fall from their eyes and stained their cheeks a deep red.
"Uoy fo yna hcaer ton nac sdrow ym taht wonk I, os neve tub yawa delaes ylleurc os neeb evah taht sgnileef eht desserpxe I dluoc ron, Esimorp siht lla uoy reffo lliw I; Egnever evah lliw I. Segadnob ruoy morf ruoy fo lla eerf lliw I. Yhw s'taht... em evigrof ot evah ton od uoy. Tey ton, enod si deed eht litnu rehtien flesym evigrof ton lliw oot I rof. Em rof tiaw...Sretsis raed ym. Yad lufetaf taht no su neewteb edam saw taht hsiw lanif eht llifluf lliw I!"
With a manically laugh, Alma suddenly snapped their fingers at the direction of the boys.
"So, like, Shougo was late to our date yet he still had the nerve to ask that I hold back on buying too much stuff. He said that his paycheck was cut this month! Can you believe him?"
"Ahahaha! Koto-chii, your boyfriend is such a loser. We keep telling you should've ditched him and gone for a more handsome and richer one."
"I know, Suzuna. But after all he said, he, like, still brought me everything I asked for. Ah...he's so romantic."
I laughed along with the group. The wind from the rooftop blew at the four of us, carrying a strangely relaxing cool breeze despite the harsh sunlight that was blaring down on the school today while we ate our lunch.
"I'm so sick of hearing you talk about your boyfriend, Kotono. Geez, you complain about him so much yet you always keep saying crap like he's the only one or he's so dreamy, like something out of a novel. It's getting boring."
"You're just jealous you can't find the real love that I have, Mifue. Ahh~ I'm, like, so lucky. Speaking of which, what about you Ryuuko?"
"Eh?" I looked up from my juice box in surprise.
"I'm asking about you. Weren't you, like, talking with that guy from class 1-1 last time? How did it go? Come on now, spill it!"
"Ahahaha! Come on, you know there's no way that she would fall for such a janky guy like that. Isn't that right, Ryuu-chii?"
"Y-yeah. Hehehe..." I forced a nervous laugh as I tried to play off the conversation.
"Aww...how boring. Ryuuko, you're so much more quieter than we initially thought. Where was that spunk of yours during our class introduction?"
"I'm plenty spunky still!" I immediately retorted fiercely.
"Ahahaha! There it is! Go Ryuu-chii!"
Everybody laughed loudly as I felt my face turning red from embarrassment. Although I knew they were playing around, it was easy to tell they were actually laughing and making fun of me. Even so, I felt happy as I was still being included.
Was this what I wanted? To be able to hang out with other girls of the same age and class, to laugh and poke fun at each other? It surely must be, right? Yes...it has to be. Afterall, I'm happy aren't I?
"Yo, ladies. Check this out."
Everyone got up and went over to where Mifue was. I felt a lump in my throat, swallowing hard, as I turned to where she was pointing and my eyes met with a scene of a love confession. It was Asumi and a male student from another class, both of them at the back of the school.
"Ugh...It's that girl again, and, like, another of her love session with her boys."
"That poor idiot! Ahahaha! Here it comes!"
It was impossible to hear anything from so far, yet it was easy to tell what was happening. I watched as she shook her head and give a small bow to the boy, before he promptly walked away, completely dejected.
"And boom! What's that now? The fifth one this week? Geez, this would be hilarious if it didn't happen so often. Now it's just boring."
"She really is a hard sell! It's amazing!"
"How can you guys even enjoy any of this. Ugh...that girl. Like, seriously."
"What's riding up your ass, Kotono?"
"I heard from the other girls in her class that she never talk to anyone and the only people she hangs around with are the boys who flock to her, like, some queen bee. Disgusting..."
"Ahahaha! It sounds more like you're just jealous, Koto-chii. But I do agree. She act as if she's better than us. Last time I tried to talk to her, and she just totally brushed me off. What a jerk."
"Exactly. When she's nothing more than, like, some creepy loner. Tsk...I seriously hate her. Ryuuko, what do you think?"
"Huh?!" I jumped at the sudden turn of questions that was directed at me.
"Say, didn't the both of you go to the same boring elementary school or something? Do you know her? Come on, let us in on some info."
"Stop it! Don't lump Ryuuko with someone like that. So what if she went to the same elementary school, it's not, like, you knew her or anything, right?"
"Eh? Y-umm...yeah." I hesitated yet agreed with Kotono, nonetheless. A strange feeling of flutter occurred in my stomach as I spoke. Was it because I was lying to them...?
But shaking away the feelings, I turned back to Asumi who stood in the far distanced and saw as she was looking up to us at the roof.
"Uwaah! Koto-chii! Mi-chii! S-she's looking at us! Ahahaha! Gross!"
"Will you look at that. She's even waving to us. Should we wave back then? Yo!"
"Don't you even dare! Come on girls. Like, just forget about her."
Everyone turned away, leaving only me as I continued to look down towards Asumi. She was smiling and waving, no doubt to me, as if waiting for my response but I only stared at her.
Biting my lips, I too turned away without giving her a second glance.
"Ryuuko, are you sure you can't come with us today? Like, come on, let's go check out the new store that opened up."
"S-sorry. I have something to do today. Maybe next time." I smiled wryly as I apologized.
"That's too bad then. It'll be boring without you, but good luck."
"Ahahaha! Bye bye Ryuu-chii! See you later!"
Watching as the rest of them leave, I let out a sigh of relief as I walked away.
"Ryuuko..." Called a familiar voice that caused me to slightly jump.
"H-hey..." I replied as I turned to Asumi who appeared before me, she slowly making her way to where I was. There was a strange tightness that could be felt on my chest as I met with her familiar smiling face.
"Want to walk home together?"
"Sure..." I said, forcing a smile.
"You're a lot more happier now, Ryuuko. You really seem to be having a good time with your new friends." She said while giggling as we walked together.
"Yeah. Kotono, Mifue and Suzuna...they're good people. It's been fun, hanging out with them. The entire class too. I'm...I've really been enjoying it." I replied giddily.
"I'm glad. To know that you're doing so well also makes me very happy too. However, it really is a shame that we aren't in the same class. I would have liked that very much. Good for you that you're so much more popular now." Asumi giggled. She was smiling yet from her voice I could detect a tone of sadness as well.
"What about you? I've heard that you're pretty popular with the boys. And not to mention earlier at lunch..."
"Ah...you saw that, didn't you?"
"You know I did. You even waved to me."
"Heh heh, right. But you have it all wrong. I have no interest in any of them."
"No kidding. They said it was the fifth one this week that confessed to you that you've rejected. Talk about a heart breaker. You're relentless." I laughed. But even as I laughed, Asumi was silent as she only to the ground with a wry smile. "W-what's wrong?"
"Nothing. It just seeing you laugh is...heh heh...so nice. I really am glad for you, Ryuuko."
"Geez, you're still so weird. But, thank you. I'm glad too, to be able to go through such peaceful school days." I exclaimed before suddenly going quiet as I stared at Asumi.
There was no doubt about it. Even with the smile on her face, something was troubling her. After knowing her for so long, it was easy to tell.
"Are you-...are you doing well in your classes? There's been rumors that you haven't been getting along with the other girls or making any other friends." I asked reluctantly, staring into her eyes.
"Is that right? Hmm...it has been a bit difficult fitting in with everyone else. But that's okay. Afterall, I have you don't I? You're all the friend I need, Ryuuko." She replied with a big smile.
"Asumi! While that is flattering, you can't just think like that. I'm really worried about you. The other girls are talking behind your back because of how you distanced yourself from them and that's not good. And I should know how that is like..."
"R-right. But...I'm really not interested in other people." She answered meekly.
"Haa...geez. At least make an effort to try. I did, didn't I? If I could do it, I'm sure you can as well." I sighed, as I got closer and wrapped my fingers around hers.
"Heh heh...that's true. I've always admired that about you, Ryuuko. You're so strong. When you told me about how you wanted to change yourself in middle school, I was totally blown away. I had no doubt you would be able to do it, but to see you now really is amazing." She giggled gently. I felt her fingers tightly curled with mine, a slight trembling from her hand as we walked closely together. "I'll try. But...promise me that you won't leave me."
"What are you even saying? Y-you're my best friend. I would never abandon you. Wasn't that our promise from before?" I answered as I squeezed her hand tightly for a moment before relaxing again.
"Ah, you remembered? I'm so happy."
"I will never leave you, as long as you never leave me." I happily stated. "We'll always be together."
"Of course...oh, but enough of such things. Ryuuko, how has the work been going for your new story?" She asked with excitement.
"Oh, that. It's getting there. Still, it is the first time I've tried writing anything so I don't really know how well it will be." I replied, shyly playing with my hair as I answered her. "But it's definitely enjoyable. Hehe...I didn't know writing was so fun. I guess I owe you an apology, for calling you crazy for suggesting such a thing to me earlier."
"Isn't that so? I had a feeling you would enjoy it. Hmmhmm...maybe now we'll finally be even and you'll forgive me for giving you such a great aspiration?"
"Aww, don't get so carried away. I still haven't forgiven you just yet. I've just started writing, after all." I rebuked.
"Make sure you let me read it, okay? If it's written by you, it will no doubt be a masterpiece."
"It's not going to have any type of gore or the violence that you enjoy so much just, so you know you crazy girl."
"Eeeeh? That's lame. But still, I'm sure it'll be wonderful and I'm very looking forward to reading it!"
"Yes, yes. Heh heh. And what about you? Are you not going to write as well?"
"I think I'll refrain from now on. Ryuuko, did you know? I found a very interesting club that I've really enjoyed. I've joined the kendo club!"
"Uh...sh-should I be scared? You know that you don't actually use real swords or anything like that nor are you supposed to hurt other people." I said nervously.
"Oh you-! I know that, hmph! What do you think I am?" She puffed her cheeks in frustration. "But it's fun. The training and exercise makes me feel as if I could change as well, and learning the way of the sword makes me excited that I might be able to use it to protect you."
"Geez, what are you saying? I don't need any protection." I declared, shaking my head.
"Hehe, of course not. You are strong after all...Hey, maybe you should join too so we can practice together! It'll be fun!"
"And be at the receiving end of your insatiable bloodlust? No thank you! Don't think I've forgotten about that one time we play Zombie Hunter Murdering tag. I was really afraid you were going to kill me, especially when you decided to take that whole zombie attack thing way too far." I scolded her. "Besides, physical activities aren't my thing. And joining a club, wouldn't that mean we won't be able to meet after school anymore?"
"Perhaps. But it's as you said; we'll always be together even if we don't see each other that often, so it's still fine isn't it?" She said with a big smile. My face turned red as I heard her words.
"Geez...how can you even say something like that with such a straight face. You really are a crazy girl." I replied, shying away a smile that spread across my cheeks.
The two of us continued laughing and talking as we watched the twilight colors of the sunset that enveloped the entire world. A moment of peace. A moment of precious memory. Yet, even in this moment of bliss, I could still felt the tight pain in my chest.
Guilt...a feeling of selfishness that was flooding over me no matter how hard I tried to shake it off. Call it a sense of foreboding, as I held tightly her soft hand.
Asumi was my friend, but Kotono, Mifue and Suzuna...they are now also part of my life as well. I knew that if something isn't to be done, a disaster will occur but no matter how hard I rack my brain for solutions, nothing came to mind. I struggled, as I tried to take my mind off such fearful matters.
This little moment of calm right now, was too precious to be spoiled.
Yet...I was still scared. The light of day slowly faded away with the disappearance of the sun into the looming horizons.
"Prez, we can't just hide here! They told us we only have five minutes, and now we're down to less than 3!" Takuya protested angrily.
"I KNOW THAT!" Kenjirou roared, before calmly adjusted his glasses. "Sorry. But yes, I know. However, with the way it is we can't even get close to Takatora. She's reacting to our movements and her attacks are just too devastating."
"Ugh...There has to be something that we can do!"
"If only...if only we could stop her for just a moment and can get close. Dammit." Kenjirou cursed, gritting his teeth as he struggled to come up with a plan but could only draw a blank.
"And...DONE! Ha, looks like I still got it! Guys, I did it." Suddenly came a triumphant announcement from Juntaro.
"Mitsuhide what...what are you talking about?" Both boys turned to his live chat in confusion.
"Kenjirou, when you asked me if I was able to still locate Ryuuko earlier, it gave me an idea. The girl, I remembered, was still carrying around most of the equipment I gave to her before. So while you guys were distracting her I've been running my systems trying to locate them and now, I've finally got it! I've taken control over all the cellular bombs that she was carrying and have been able to reroute them to let out a charge of electricity that if set off, while it shouldn't harm her too much, will be more than enough to stun and stop her in her tracks! Although, it will only be for a moment..."
"Mitsuhide, you...you are a genius!" Kenjirou exclaimed, giving a hearty laugh.
"Holy crap, senpai! That's freaking awesome!"
"Yeah, yeah. I know, I'm the best." Juntaro giving a hearty laugh, as he smugly brushed his hair aside with pride.
"Prez, this is the chance we've been waiting for then! We can do this!" Takuya beamed.
"Indeed. Mitsuhide, how long will it take for you to activate it? How long will it last?" Kenjirou asked.
"I can activate it immediately via remote detonation since I now have full control over them in my systems. However, it'll only last no more than 5 seconds."
"That's more than enough time. Heh, nice!" Takuya smirked, as he peeked out from cover.
"Alright! Mitsuhide, don't activate it just yet. First, me and Hideyoshi will take a running start and when we get close, I'll give the signal. Hideyoshi, I'll take the charge, so you stay close behind me. The moment Mitsuhide stops her, that'll be your chance to rush in and break that thing apart. It's going to be tough, as every second counts. Think you can handle it?" Kenjirou instructed.
"Ha! Who do you think I am? I'm a profession at this kind of stuff, Prez." Takuya laughed as he pulled out his knives and skillfully spun it in his hands. "Leave it to me."
"But a running start to get close means that she'll be able launch her attacks first. If we make even one small mistake, it'll be game over. This is still extremely risky." Juntaro warned.
"Hmph...I know. Ugh...if only there was some way we could protect ourselves against her attacks, even if just for a single moment." Kenjirou growled.
"Looks like you boys could use a little hand, heh heh." Suddenly came a voice in Kenjirou's head.
"What?!" The giant man jumped, cautiously checking the location of the voice before peeking out from their hiding place and to the distance where Alma was. His eyes narrowed as he was met with a hard to make out mischievous grin that was directed at them. "That guy..."
"Prez, what's wrong?"
"Hmph...so that's how it is. I see now." Kenjirou gave a sigh as he adjusted his glasses.
"Huh? What are you-" Just as he asked, Takuya suddenly felt a strange breeze that blew over them. "Prez...something, I just felt something. Was that the wind?"
"It was them. It seems we're getting a little bit of support." He replied. He felt a mix of annoyance as he thought about the fact that they were getting assistance from Alma, yet also relief..
"Tch...they're actually helping us? That piece of shi-"
"Hush! Watch yourself, Mitsuhide. We're not in any position to reject it, as much as it pains me to say. Right now, Takatora comes first before anything. Everyone, are you ready?"
"Ready on your signal, Kenjirou."
"Then let's go!" Kenjirou commanded as he and Takuya leapt from cover and dashed towards the massive stream of bloodied tentacles and painful screams that wailed at them with all their strength.