It took me a little bit to muster up the energy to crawl back into the vent after the whole…chocking incident. An unfamiliar exhaustion weighing me down making every move I made jerky and uncoordinated. Eventually, Reborn's Sun Flame infusion took hold and I was able to scurry back into the opening.
Our trip back to the science lab to meet up with Tsuna in the others is characterized by me repeatedly falling into a panic attack followed by Reborn yanking me back out of a panic attack. It is a vicious cycle and I know that when this is over I am going to need to take Takeshi up on that therapy offer.
Because this is just fucking awful.
My neck still looks like a horror movie make-up even after the Sun Flame infusion. Though I will say it no longer feels like I’m swallowing nails every time I so much as inhale too hard. When I asked him why he couldn’t just keep healing it the whole way his answer was:
“As useful as this ability is, it isn’t exactly healthy to use it to replace the natural healing process of your body. It can have some… unfortunate side effects, particularly if it’s not your primary element.”
“Good to know.”
I am going to add this to my ever growing list of magic fire related questions that I am going to ask Reborn when we eventually have our long awaited conversation.
At some point someone, who is much smarter than me, had realized that crazy shit was happening in Namimori Middle School and had pulled the fire alarm. Reborn and I watch from our vantage point in the vent as a stampede of students filters out into the halls toward the nearest emergency exit.
My earlier approximation of Bianchi’s victim count doesn't seem too far off. It’s hard to get an exact count of the casualties while I’m crawling though a ventilation shaft and I’ve counted about a hundred and thirty so far. Most of whom are either passed out on the ground or milling about like dazed zombies. But that doesn't take not account anyone who is still in the cafeteria.
This situation has gotten very bad, very fast. Having innocent bystanders in the mix isn’t going to help us resolve it either.
Someone needs to get them out of here before they get killed.
Unfortunately, no one seems too keen on stoping to help their fellow students out. Hell, even the teachers that rush past don’t seems too keen on helping their students out.
A quick glance at Reborn tells me that he’s deeply unimpressed by the faculty of our school.
I don’t really have time for a detour, but I can’t really just leave shit like this.
Hopefully, this won’t take too long.
I kick open the nearest grate with much less care than I had the last time and drop down into the hall in front of a group of fleeing students stopping them in their tracks.
“YO MINI-SAWADA!” Hollers Ryohei, drawing the attention of people in the next prefecture.
“Mini wha- never mind.” I battle through a momentary burst of outrage. It’s only an inch. I am only an inch shorter than Tsuna that hardly calls for ‘mini.’
Reborn chuckles from his place on my shoulder. I decide to be the bigger person and not bring up the fact that he could literally pass as a babydoll.
“Holy shit Sawada what happened to your neck?” Yamada hisses reaching out toward me to inspect the ... injury.
He doesn’t even make contact before I flinch back so hard I slam myself into the wall. My heart is beating like a hummingbirds and my vision starts to tunnel.
“Calm down.” Reborn whispers.
I’m going to need to deal with this at some point. Preferably not while my school is under siege by terrifying mafia types. For now, I reach down into myself for that bullshit pool of sass and win that I fucking run on and stare down Yamada and Ryohei and the group of jocks in their gym uniforms that are all standing in the hall staring awkwardly at me.
“Not really the most important question right now dude.” I tell them with all the confidence I can muster, “Especially not where we are surrounded by a fuck ton of unconscious people covered in technicolored nightmare goop.”
They all jump and start looking down at the literal bodies in the ground. I guess no one had been looking down until this point, but that doesn’t really excuse how shitty it is to leave someone when they can’t stand up on their own.
“You’re all big strong beefy types.” I continue looking them all over appraisingly.
There are fourteen of them standing around me. And really when you think about it there aren’t that many unconscious people laying about. It would be a breeze for these athletic physiques.
“I need you guys to get all this dead weight out of here before they actually literally die.” I motion down the hall at the trail of bodies that leads back in the direction of the cafeteria. The layer of poison wriggling sludge that coats all of them is probably the most troubling aspect of this for me.
“Sawada we don’t have time for that.” Yamada-sempai says, “didn’t you hear the announcement? There’s a gas leak in the school we need to get out of here!”
“And what?” I ask gesturing emphatically to the nearest person moaning in pain on the ground. “They’re just shit out of luck.”
“The emergency workers will-“
“Will do fuck all by time it actually matters.” I cut him off.
“They’re in trouble now. Right now. And everyone in this city knows that police are useless and the paramedics can never get anywhere fast enough cuz whoever was in charge of city planing was fucking high at the time!”
“These are our classmates, friends, and hell if not that they are our fellow human beings and need help so fucking HELP them!”
And yeah, I’m trying to do the thing. The thing that Reborn inferred that I did to Kyoko and Tsuna yesterday. The thing that I’m not quite sure is a real thing or not but I’m really fucking hoping that it works.
I’m giving them some inspiration.
“LET’S DO THIS TO THE EXTREME!” roars Ryohei bursting with sunshine and sparkles. And like the barbarian he is starts hauling people up and over his shoulders, paying absolutely no mind to his casted arm.
The rest of them spend half a moment staring at him, for ore unleashing their own adrenaline fueled exclamations of extreme-ness. And then all of them are rushing around the hall picking up the victims of the poison cooking and carrying them toward the exit.
I can’t believe that actually worked.
Never thought I could play a bard in real life.
“DON’T WORRY MINI-SAWADA WE’VE GOT THIS HANDLED!” Ryohei stops in front of me with a mountain of people on his back and a somewhat strained grin on his face. And then more seriously “But if you’re going though the school can you do me a favour and make sure that Kyoko made it out alright?”
“You got it dude.”
And then I start running again. I don't even bother crawling back into the ventilation system at this point. Stealth would be nice, but I'm starting to get the feeling that time is seriously of the essence.
“You need to be careful with that.” Reborn says after a drawn out moment of silence.
“Yeah, I got that.”
And I do. I really, really do. But there is only so careful I can be if I don't know exactly what I am being careful with.
If he has anything helpful to say on the topic he doesn’t get a chance to say it because we are interrupted by a thunderous roar that shakes the ground and reverberates down the hall. It’s a human voice.
But only barely.
And if I thought that I was afraid before, it was nothing compared to the smothering terror that grips me now. My stomach seizes and my heart rate accelerates.
I crash out on the linoleum hard and scramble desperately toward a wall where, against all reason, I curl myself into a ball in a desperate attempt to protect myself from the crushing presence of whatever the hell that is.
My blood is pounding in my ears.
Heart hammering in my chest.
I’m shaking, shaking, shaking.
Tears sting at the corners of my eyes, and a sob rips its way out of my chest. It feels violent. It feels painful.
I can’t do this.
I need Tsuna.
It’s too much.
I’m sorry that I ever thought that I knew what was going on. This must be some sort of punishment. I don’t understand why else this might be happening.
I want to find Tsuna and get him as far away from this as possible.
I want to find these threats and end them as violently as possible.
I manage to pry open on of my eyes to look into Reborn’s. His small hand rests against my shoulder.
“I am not going to let anything happen to you or Tsuna. You have my word. It’s my job to raise you boys into respectable mobsters.”
I can’t help but giggle at that.
He ignores the rude interruption and continues; “ And I promise you that when I get my hands on the idiot that is responsible for this they will LIVE to regret it.”
“Now get up and get moving Ragazzo.”
Well, I can’t argue with that.
I slowly manage to pull my self to my feet and do as I’m told. Pausing for a moment to readjust the fedora. A hat this cool can’t sit askew.
And then we are on the move again.
I come across a few more students on my way to the science lab and direct them toward my muscle bound minions who should hopefully still be carting people out of the school.
I don’t find Kyoko or Hana though.
I hope they’ve already gotten out of here.
This whole situation is so fucking crazy. I have nothing to go on except what little I remember of Bianchi’s character profile. If I can even trust that at this point. I didn’t think she would do anything to go against Reborn, what with the logic crippling crush that she supposedly allegedly had on him.
“Please tell me that you didn't actually date her.” I whine without really thinking about the words coming out of my mouth. “Please tell me you have higher standards than ‘that’.’”
I feel him tense on my shoulder.
“Date who?” He asks as nonchalantly as possible.
Though I can still hear the hint of cold calculation in his voice.
I said something I shouldn't have again.
“I mean Bianchi.”
“You know; Hayato’s crazy sister, poison cooking assassin who has taken over our cafeteria as a base of operations. That Bianchi. The one that you were possibly romantically involved with for reasons beyond my mortal comprehension.”
I thought the name would have been pretty self explanatory. Am I in a crazy alternate universe where Reborn and Bianchi never met?
“Now why would you think a thing like that?” Reborn replies tightly.
I shrug noncommittally and keep on moving. “I don’t know man, I just suddenly knew it. It popped into my brain with musical accompaniment and terror.”
He’s silent for a moment before he speaks again.
“I wouldn't say we were romantically involved. Bianchi has something of an …overactive imagination. We’ve done a few jobs together over the past few years but that was about the extent of our ‘relationship’ as you so eloquently put it.”
Well, at least that disproves the ‘alternate universe where they never met theory.’ And the whole ‘lovers’ thing too. I don't know why but the thought of them actually being involved irritates me so fucking much.
“So any idea why she decided to attack our middle school?” Because, yes, I am very curious why we have seen the sudden influx of assassin types today. And I don't think the annual hitman convention is being held in town.
There must be an explanation.
“I have some idea.” Reborn says darkly.
“Care to share with the rest of the class.” I say once it becomes clear that he isn’t going to extrapolate.
“Wait until we meet up with the boys.” He replies.
When we finally make it to the science wing the halls are vacant. The fire alarm is still going though, but it sounds more distant on this side of the school. I still haven’t heard the tell tale sirens of emergency response vehicles which is concerning.
I wasn’t lying when I said response times were bad in this city. But they are not usually this bad. Which makes me think that there might be some interference going on.
The door to the science lab is closed and from what I can see through the small window It has been successfully barricaded with a tower of chairs, a bookshelf, and what looks like a cadaver.
So it’s back into the vents I go. Seriously, at this point I think I could probably draw a map of our school ventilation system blindfolded. It’s not too hard to shimmy my way up into the ceiling though the exit hatch presents something of an uncomfortable drop.
The second I tumble though into the lab Tsuna has his arms around me in a crushing hug. He is babbling tearful assurances, apologies, and:
“You’re okay, you’re okay, thank god, I though you were dying. It felt like you were dying.”
I wrap my own arms around him in return and bury my face into his shoulder. It’s stabilizing. I don’t feel like I’m short circuiting and flying apart at the seams anymore. Tsuna is here, so everything is okay.
I slump more into the hug and feel Tsuna stumble slightly.
“Sorry bro-bro, I’m going to need to lean on you for a minute.”
He doesn’t argue. Just readjusts his footing to keep us both standing.
“I’ve got you.”
We spend the next few moments in silence as Tsuna lets me cry into his shoulder. I don’t know what I would do without him.
When I finally manage to re-centre myself I push away from Tsuna and scrub a sleeve across my face quickly and aggressively to wipe away the tear tracks. I angle the rim of the fedora down to shadow my red and puffy eyes.
A pretty crier I am not.
“Reborn what the heck is going on!?” Tsuna demand with a shrill edge to his voice. He turns to look at our tutor who has hopped up onto the table next to Hayato and Takeshi.
Hayato is staring intently at a bubbling beaker filled with electric blue liquid. Takeshi is next to him with safety googles on and protective mittens on his hands as he holds out two glass containers.
Takeshi isn’t paying attention to the volatile experiment happening to his immediate left though. His attention is fixated on me. And he looks furious.
I flinch reflexively.
Is he mad at me? What the hell did I do?
Is he pissed that I have his bat? He does get a little possessive of is baseball equipment. He can have the bat back. I got it for him.
“Inari... Who did that to you?” He asks vacantly.
Oh… it’s not ‘me’ he’s glaring at. Its the dark ring of bruises around my neck.
I quickly reach up to cover them but its too late at that point.
Tsuna sucks in a sharp breath as he finally noticed what he had been too distracted to before. And while all this heart warming concern is appreciated we have more important shit to worry about right now than my brief brush with death and my new found fear of asphyxiation.
“See above re-fucking assassins in our school.” I snark in a desperate attempt to diffuse the mounting tension.
“Seriously guys, we have bigger fish to fry than rehashing the less than epic adventure of Inari. We can do that later when we aren’t in danger of dying horrible gruesome deaths.”
I nod my head in Reborn’s direction hoping against hope that he will jump in with an actual explanation regarding our current state of affairs.
“Focus Dame-Tsuna.” Reborn snaps, but it lacks some of the usual bite.
He does manage to divert the attention away from me and my stunning new neck ware which I am extremely grateful for.
“Hey kid.” Takeshi greets brightly, switching moods so fast that it could give a guy whiplash. “Inari says that your a professional hitman.”
Or maybe it’s just the fact that situational awareness isn’t Takeshi’s strong suit. Either way I do appreciate the fact that he is no longer hyper focused on my whole... situation.
Reborn gives me a considering look before pulling Takeshi’s baseball bat out of my hands and handing it over to him.
“Inari is an honest sort.” He says in lieu of an actual answer.
Takeshi takes the bat gingerly and holds it in one of his mittened hands, making sure not to drop the glass beakers.
Reborn gives us all a look over before clearing his throat and continuing to speak.
“The situation as it currently stands is this: Vongola headquarters has suffered a security breach and some ‘sensitive information’ that should have been available to only a select few individuals has been leaked onto the underworlds information network.”
To say that Reborn looks displeased about this would be a grave understatement.
To say that Reborn looks murderous would also be a grave understatement.
“What sort of ‘sensitive information?’” Hayato asks warily still focusing on his volatile concoction.
“The identity and location of Vongola Decimo.”
We all stare.
“Who?” Takeshi asks.
Which is fair because I hadn’t really gotten into the whole title of mafia kingship when I had been giving him the Magical Mafia Cliff’s Notes.
“E-excuse me?” Tsuna squeaks in terror. Because he doesn’t have the same cocoon of ignorance to shield him from the truth of this very dangerous turn of events.
“You heard me.”
“B-b-but that’s ME!” He shrieks
“That also doesn’t really explain the sudden influx of assassins in our middle school.” I interject.
“The price for the head of Vongola Decimo is currently a hundred million.”
That is an absurd amount of money to pay for a teenaged mafia don in-training. That is an absurd amount of money to pay for anything in general.
“Who has that kind of money?” Hayato asks faintly.
He has finally lost concentration on the frothing liquids. The beakers have begun to froth over the edges and onto the table where it immediately starts eating away at the countertop.
Tsuna has gone completely offline. He is just sort of standing there staring vacantly into the middle distance mouthing ‘a hundred million’ over and over and over again. I really hope he doesn’t make himself pass out.
On the plus side; at least he’s not a cheep hit. He’s worth those big bucks and he hasn’t even done anything yet. Not that the price makes it better in any way shape or form.
“Her name is Cassandra Della Rosa.”
I don’t know who that is. But judging by the expression on Hayato’s face she is someone important in the criminal underworld. Still a name doesn’t really give me all the requisite information that I need on this person to hate her adequately.
“I don’t know who this person is. We’re going to need a little more context before we are sufficiently intimidated.”
“She was Federico Ferrino’s lover.” Reborn answers plainly.
That name sounds... familiar? Maybe?
“We know that name.” Tsuna says snapping back to reality. His brow is ruffled in intense concentration as he tries to recall where that name had come up before.
“You should,” Reborn nods, “I showed you his picture the day that we met. Well… a picture of his bones at least.”
That’s who Federico was.
Vongola Nono’s first born son. The first in line for the position of Vongola Decimo.
Only his bones had remained.
“Oh, so what does she have against Tsuna? He didn’t kill that dude. Hell, we never even met him.”
“She doesn’t care about Tsuna in particular. It’s the head of Vongola Decimo that she wants. Tsuna just happens to hold that title at the moment. Cassandra Della Rosa’s goal is to hurt the Family.”
“B-but why?! If she and Federico-san were l-l-lovers why would she want to hurt his family?!” Tsuna stumbles over the L-word in his hysteria but it doesn’t really make his point any less valid.
Reborn doesn’t say anything for a moment.
“It is something of an open secret that Nono’s sons killed each other in their bid for control of the Family.”
‘It’s too bad that not all brothers share your sense of loyalty.’ Isn’t that what Reborn had told me?
His face is has retained his default neutrality. But there is something else there in the way that he’s not quite meeting any of our eyes.
A dark heartbreak.
One of those dead men had been his student, hadn’t they?
“They killed their brothers.” Tsuna whispers wide eyed and pale.
“Fratricide is not exactly an uncommon practice in the mafia Dame-Tsuna.”
We all stew on that lovely tidbit of information. Today is really drilling home just how brutal the mafia is, and how little I actually understand about any of this. Despite the ‘advantage’ that I have, I am starting to understand how very little I know at all. A story is one thing. Life is something else entirely.
Right now there are hitman in our school that had come here to kill my brother (or me if they all had the same bad info that Mrs. Nakamura ,or whoever the hell that was, had). They had come to lay siege to a random middle school in Japan to kill a kid who hadn’t even properly inherited his title yet.
These are actual killers that we are dealing with here.
And then I have a truly terrible thought.
“What about Mom!?”
If they had know enough to come to our school they would have known to come to our house. Where Mom would be alone and defenceless.
“Maman is fine.” Reborn says quickly cutting off the panic spiral that me and Tsuna had been quickly descending into. “An associate of mine is in town and will be looking out for her until this mess is resolved.”
We breath a collective sigh of relief.
Well, that solves one problem at least which just leaves us with the current issue of being besieged by assassins.
“Um,” Takeshi cuts in with a raised hand and a smile that falls more into the category of terrifying than cheerful. “I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, but the lady who wants to kill Tsuna is in Italy right?”
After receiving a nod he continues:
“So how do we kill her?”
Okay, so, without the filter of the ‘Mafia Game’ the whole ‘Natural Born Hitman’ thing really shines though. It probably says something tragic about me personally that wholesale murder actually seems like the most logical option right now.
Reborn smirks. He seems to like this option as well.
“Don’t worry Takeshi-kun. Headquarters is taking care of that part of our problem as we speak. Which just leaves our ‘infestation’ here in Namimori.”
Takeshi’s smile brightens considerably and he laughs, “Oh, that’s much easier then.”
A pair of safety goggles smacks him hard in the side of the head as Hayato finally explodes.
“Don't be so laid back about it baseball idiot!” He snaps, “Tsuna-sama’s life is on the line here!”
He punctuates his point with a slam of his foot, but this just makes Takeshi laugh even harder.
“Don't worry, Don't worry.” He soothes, “I'm plenty serious. It’s just exciting right?”
Takeshi’s smile then takes on a sharper edge as he continues, “besides Yukimura-sensei mentioned that I should try to find new hobbies.”
“Murder?” Tsuna asks vaguely.
“They started it.” I instantly snark back.
Reborn claps his hands together to refocus the waning attention of his pack of baby assassins. We quiet down and wait for him to speak again. His hands are clasped neatly behind his back and Leon is perched on his shoulder. There really shouldn't be anything threatening about the way Reborn looks.
He looks THREATENING.
Without the hat his hair is wild and there is a manic edge that is shining though those large black button eyes. There is nothing joyful about the smile that pulls across his face. The faint glow from the pacifier around his neck casts his entire visage into dramatic shadow.
He's basically a murder doll straight out of a Stephen King novel.
“Alright bambini, get ready for your first practical lesson in Mafia Warfare.”
Hayato makes us all goodie bags of destruction. Smoke bombs, flash bangs, knock-out-gas, and honest to god Molotov Cocktails. Mass destruction in a glass beaker (just add fire).
We are one hundred percent going to kill ourselves with this stuff.
It will be glorious.
He disperses them among the four of us at Reborn's instruction.
And then we plot.
“Knowledge is the most powerful weapon that you will ever wield.” Reborn tells us as we commence our round table discussion. “Never rush in blindly unless you have absolutely no other choice.”
He gives me a stern look as he says that last bit. I'm not sure if I appreciate that insinuation. I do have plans… it’s just that most of them are ‘blindly rush in and hope for the best.’
As quickly as we can we go over all we know about our first target.
Poison Scorpion Bianchi; freelance hit-woman. Specializes in poisons and close quarters combat. A former work partner of our tutor Reborn. Psychological profile: obsessive and volatile. Currently camping out in our school cafeteria; located on the ground floor of the main building with,what we can only assume (judging by what I have already seen of her handiwork while I was crawling through the vents), is a virtually limitless supply of poison soup to drown us in.
Poor Hayato looks profoundly unwell just talking about her. I don't blame him. I’ve only had the briefest of encounters with her ‘creation’ and the thought of it makes me want to throw up. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for him growing up as the sole target of her ‘creative pursuits.’
She must have been legitimately trying to kill him. I can’t really think of any other explanation of why she would repeatedly feed her brother the poison cooking she would later go and assassinate people with. There is no way she didn't know what she was doing.
But we’re going to table that until we’re done kicking her ass.
“She is dangerous,” Reborn tells us, “and despite current evidence to the contrary she is smart.”
He really isn’t happy with her right now. His dissatisfaction rings out with ever frigid word that he speaks.
“What do you think the chances are that she, you know, just killed a fuck ton of our classmates and is currently sitting on a throne of corpses?” I ask tentatively.
The looks of horror and panic that I receive in return are not entirely unwarranted. But I can’t be the only one thinking about the potential body count that we’re facing, right?
“High,” Hayato says.
At the same time Reborn says, “low.”
The look at each other. Ex-partner vs. Brother/ex-victim; who knows the crazy assassin lady best?
“Her technique is messy and has a wide area of effect, but historically she has kept a relatively low body count when it comes to civilians and bystanders. At most they will be out with a bad stomach flu.”
Hayato sighs but nods in agreement.
Somewhat upsetting but, not as much as it could have been.
“So how do we deal with her?” Tsuna asks, his voice is wavering with barely suppressed nerves. “I mean, if her favourite weapon is food and she in the cafeteria, that's the worst place we could fight her right?”
“Good observation Tsuna.” Reborn says.
Tsuna lights up at the genuine bit of praise from our tutor.
“Unfortunately the chances of us rooting her out are slim to none. Which is why we’re going to have to be smart about this.”
He looks us all up and down.
“Two teams, one for assault one for distraction. And Inari and Hayato-kun will need to be on separate teams.”
The two of us share a confused look.
“You boys mentioned that there were two men in green suits. Ones that only you can see?”
Ah, our creepy crawly friends.
“What about them?”
“I'm not fond of uninvited guests and if we are going to be interrupted I would prefer to see it coming.”
That makes sense.
“I’ll be on the assault team.” Tsuna bursts out suddenly.
We all jump and stare at him.
His lips are drawn into a tense line and he is trembling. He doesn't look particularly excited to be volunteering for this job.
“I’m doing this.” He says as he gives me this uncharacteristically severe look.
“Are you sure? You don't look particularly keen to-”
“If I don't do it you will do it.” He cuts me off, “and I really don't want you to do it so I'm going to do it.”
“Okay, okay I got it. Just don't hyperventilate.”
“I’ll go with you Tsuna-sama!” Hayato jumps forth clasping Tsuna’s hands between his own his eyes shimmering with unshed tears of devotion.
“So that leaves me and Inari as team distraction.” Takeshi laughs as he slings an arm around my shoulder. “Sounds like fun.”
Reborn gives us all a nod of approval before jumping up onto Tsuna’s shoulder. He beckons me over with a wave of his hand and I step in. Only to have him swipe the fedora off of my head and place it snugly back onto his own.
For a brief moment I consider protesting, but it looks better on him anyway. And who knows, maybe Bianchi wouldn't be able to recognize him without the signature hat.
“We are going to be utilizing the ventilation system in order to get the drop on her. We will wait for the two of you to start the distraction before we move in for the attack.”
“Have fun crawling thought the vents guys. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of spiders left in there for you.” I say with an exaggerated smile and a wave.
Someone else can have all the fun of getting up close and personal with the school ventilation system for once. Me and Takeshi would be taking the direct route and strolling down the hall, like the nice distractions that we were.
Tsuna just glares at me.
“Stay safe please.” He says and then he hops up onto the table and scurries into the vent.
“You too bro-bro.”
Hayato gives us a quick salute before following him in.
And then there were two.
Tsuna is going to be fine. He has the lord and master of chaos at his side so there is no way he isn’t going to be fine. Me and Takeshi on the other hand, are another matter entirely. I don’t particularly want to go back crawling in the vents again, but I also do not want to run into the scary priest guy or whatever it was that was roaring earlier.
We hadn’t really come up with contingency plans for all the hostiles currently besieging our school. I'm not even sure how many mafia types are currently here either. If Mrs. Nakamura was actually an assassin the whole time there is a chance that the entire faculty is made up of assassins.
An unlikely scenario, but it is a possibility.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Isn't that what people say?
If today has taught me anything it is that I need to be more prepared. This isn’t fun and games, this is serious and there are lives on the line.
My train of thought is rudely interrupted by another one of those earth shaking roars tearing though the school.
If Takeshi minds that I am digging my nails into his arm he doesn't mention it.
“Come on,” I say tugging him toward the maintenance shaft that will take us back to the ground floor. “We better hurry up.”
The school has pretty much been evacuated at this point. We do encounter a couple stragglers though and usher them out as best that we can. We also have a brief run in with Kusakabe, Hibari’s hulking second in command. He directs our attention to a collection of about fifteen interlopers who have been beaten bloody and duck taped to the walls.
“I had a feeling Hibari would be on the warpath.”
There was never any chance that he would let a literal invasion of his territory go unchallenged. Blunt instrument of destruction and all that. He pretty much only knows how to do the one thing. Destroy the enemy.
“That would be putting it lightly Sawada,” Kusakabe says.
He looks us both over and notices the bruises around my neck, our makeshift implements of war and raises an eyebrow.
“Your getting in on this?”
“You bet, we’re off to take down one of the mini-bosses now.”
“Uh-huh.” This asshole always looks so unimpressed with me. If I wasn't so busy right now I would teach him a lesson.
“If you happen to run into Kyoya could you do me a favour and make sure that he hasn't gotten himself shot?”
“I’ll add it to the list.”
And we’re off again.
I will say, it is nice to be on the same side as the Disciplinary Committee for once. Para-military regimes made up of juvenile delinquents are actually quite useful when combating actual gangsters.
We haven’t run into Kyoko yet. I'm hoping that she has gotten the heck out of here. Not that I wouldn't love to have Terminator-Kyoko on our side, but I'm not sure if she can summon her powers of sunshine and pain without the help of the Deathperation bullet.
“I always forget that your friends with those guys,” Takeshi comments suddenly distracting me from my train of thought.
“Hibari and the DC guys. You hang out with them sometimes right?”
“The word your looking for is enemies. You have to care about people for them to be your friends.”
He laughs like its the funniest joke he's ever heard.
“You care, you wouldn't be so worried about Hibari if you didn't care.”
My entire body freezes up and I stop in my tracks to just glare at him. Yes, thank you Takeshi, I really needed that emotional revelation right now at this moment where there is nothing I can do about anything and everything is terrible.
“There’s no point being worried about that asshole,” I finally manage to say, “He has more hit points than all of us combined.”
Takeshi stops and stares back at me with an easy smile and his arms folded behind his head. If I didn't know him better I would say he isn’t taking this seriously.
“You keep using video game metaphors too. You really are worried.”
“Yes,” I hiss at him, “I'm worried. Of course I'm worried. Incase you hadn't noticed this is a worrying situation.”
I rub absently at the ring of dark bruises around my neck and try very hard not to get sucked back down into the panic spiral. I try very hard not to think about how close I had come to dying. And I try very, very hard not to think about the high probability that we may all still die.
“Sorry, sorry. I'd didn't mean anything by it.” He fidgets with the bat testing the grip an slinging it over his shoulder. “I'm worried too.”
God damn it.
I let out a harsh breath and reach out to grab his wrist. Takeshi has taken this whole mafia and assassins thing remarkably well considering that this morning he had no idea about either of these things. I can’t blame him for being nervous. Hell I couldn't blame him if he decided to turn tail and run right now.
“Listen dude, I am like terrified beyond all reason right now. Everything about this situation is fucked beyond belief and I am worried about everyone. I might die, you might die, we all might die. I am terrified. But, I would rather be terrified with you were with me than on my own. And I know that makes me a shitty asshole because a good friend wouldn't want to drag someone they care about into the line of fire with them. So I guess I'm a shitty friend so I'm sorry about that but also not and -”
My developing hysterical rant is cut short by a hand covering my mouth. I squeeze my eyes shut, not really willing to look at him and waiting with bated breath for him to realize what a terrible idea this is and to leave me here alone…
He slowly takes his hand away from my mouth and rests it on my shoulder. And then all my anxiety begins to wash away as a cool calm seeps into me. Steadying the frantic heartbeat that has been hammering painfully in my chest since that ‘Illusionist’ had tried to choke the life out of me.
When I open my eyes all I see is blue.
So that's why they’re called flames of tranquility.
“Same,” He says, “to all of that.”
I don't say anything. I just bask in the calming blue glow, the pure chiming of bells, and the beating of a distant drum.
“Now lets go kick this bitch’s ass.”
There are two large double doors that lead from the main hall into the cafeteria. They are ever so slightly ajar and pressed outward against their hinges and a thick viscous red sludge is oozing outward.
Well this looks perfectly welcoming.
I don't know what mad science was used to create this infinitely propagating nightmare ooze and I don't particularly want to know. But I can’t help but wonder; where do all the bugs come from. Is her secret sauce full of insect larva or something?
“And why did it have to be maggots?” I mutter morosely to myself.
As carefully as we can Takeshi and I creep into position. Taking care to watch where we step so not to slip and fall on our assess. I don't really want to get any more up close and personal with the poison cooking than I absolutely have to.
Once I have my back pressed up against the wall and a clear sight line into the cafeteria I pull out my phone and text Reborn:
We’re ready when you are.
I get a response almost immediately.
From Reborn: We’ll move on your mark.
From Reborn: Remember to use your head brat.
I take a moment to peek through the crack in the door and get a lay of the land.
And well… It’s bad.
It’s really bad.
I had only gotten a brief look when we were here earlier. But at least then the students in here at least looked conscious. There are just piles of bodies littering the floor.
Reborn's assessment seems to check out though, while this does look like an apocalyptic war zone none of them look dead. And really considering the smell and the bugs unconsciousness doesn't seem like such a bad alternative right now.
And there, sitting in the centre of all the chaos is a familiar read haired woman.
Poison Scorpion Bianchi.
She is perched on top of one of the lunch tables that hadn't been upended. She almost looks like a model… if not for the fact that she had a semi-conscious boy held up by the collar of his shirt.
“We’re going to try this one more time.” She says sweetly bringing him up close to her face.
And then I watch as the gentle smile melts away into an ugly glower and she aggressively starts shaking him.
“Where is Sawada?”
“I don't know who that is!” The kid wails in terror.
She smacks him hard across the face and is wails quiet to whimpers and sobs.
Upon seeing this my own adrenaline levels spike and the crackle of electricity begins to crawl across my skin.
“She’s not very nice is she?” Takeshi whispers from his position at the other doorway.
“Not at all.”
This has given me an idea for a distraction. A really bad idea for a distraction. Reborn had told me to use my head after all.
I step in front of the doors and pull them the rest of the way open so that I am standing in full view. I cup my hands around my mouth and I shout:
Bianchi startles and drops the guy as she turns to face me.
“I heard you were looking for me.”
This probably wasn't exactly what Reborn had in mind when he had told me to use my head, but hey, whatever works right?
“There you are Vongola Decimo.” She reaches behind herself and pulls out a plate of something green and bubbling. “Now die like a good little boy.”
The only thing that saves me from taking that plate straight to the face is the literal decade of experience I have ducking out the the way of Takeshi’s wild pitches. Muscle memory for the win.
When it splats on to the ground five feet behind me it starts making a hissing sound and I watch in mute horror as it literally eats a hole through the floor.
That could have been my face.
She just tried to melt my face.
There is crazy and then there is CRAZY and Bianchi has crossed over into the comic book super villain kind of crazy.
The next two plates come flying at me before I have a chance to move. Lucky for me Takeshi’s reflexes are akin to a God’s.
The bat swings through the air makes contact and sends both death platters flying back her way.
And thus begins a high velocity food fight of death the likes of which Namimori middle school has never seen before.
I dodge between the doors taunting her.
She throws her toxic concoctions.
Takeshi launches a counter strike sending them back at her.
And then there is a crack of a gunshot.
An explosion of orange flames.
And Tsuna, clad only in his boxers, with Hayato clinging to him for dear life, burst through the ceiling with the fury of his Dying Will. Landing square on top of Bianchi.
“STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM MY BROTHER!” He roars grabbing her and putting her into a headlock.
I don't have long to celebrate Tsuna’s dynamic entry/ moment of awesomeness or the glorious expression of WTF that forms on Bianchi’s face. That sound is back. That ear splitting scream of electronics followed by the tonal dissonance.
I only have a second to dive tackle Takeshi out of the way before two beams of violent violet light strike the wall where we had been standing.
“I was wondering what those guns do.”
And then there is a sound. Like thousands of glass windows cracking and shattering in a symphony of destruction. I watch in fascination as from the points of violet light embedded in the wall a wall of crystal begins to rapidly grow. Almost instantaneously the walls and doorways are covered in an opaque sheet of violet with jutting spikes and scale like protrusions.
We're cut off from the rest of our party.
This is probably a bad thing.
The voice that is projected through the suit is stilted and robotic. It almost sounds like it's coming through a vocoder.
Like whoever is speaking is talking through these guys.
The splitting pain that crashes through my skull at this thought tells me that I'm about to run head first into a locked plot point. Meaning whatever revelation is about to punch me in the face is going to hurt one way or another.
So, the question is, who is the man in the machine?
“Is it a purely auditory cue that gives them away or is there something else?”
I sit up so I'm half straddling Takeshi and look up at our looming robotic friends.
“Naw, I'm just tuned into your station.” I snark the best that I can from the low ground.
“An irritating oversight.”
“Umm, Inari?” Takeshi asks tentatively, “who are you talking to?”
Right, I forgot he can’t actually see them. I should probably see if I can fix that.
I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. There is every possibility that I'm going to be sitting here looking like an idiot when nothing happens. But, hey, this might actually work and it will be awesome.
Lightning pulses and arcs in my palms and I lunges forward grasping each of them by an ankle. The current unleashes traveling up and across their bodies. They spark and a wave of what looks like television static washes over both of them and then it passes.
They’re both still standing there.
“Oh, there they are.”
I glance down at Takeshi to find him grinning widely at our newly visible friends.
Great, it worked.
I have no idea why or how it worked, but it worked.
“There, now we can all see each other.”
Oh boy, do they look large and imposing from this angle.
“You will make a most intriguing test subject.”
“You'll have to catch me first Mr. Ghost in the Machine,” I challenge like the cocky idiot I most certainly am.
They burst into action with deadly synchronicity. Gauntleted fist swinging down toward us.
But Takeshi is faster.
Their trajectory is knocked off course as he swings the bat in a wide arc above my head catching them both. And just for a fraction of a second it look as if they are caught moving through molasses.
I don't let the moment go to waste. I somersault my way thorough the closest ones legs, hit the wall on the other side of the hall, and use the extra leverage to leap up onto its back.
And I just sort of dangle there, because these things are like seven feet tall.
“That shouldn't be too difficult.” The speaker crackles .
Suddenly, I'm flailing in mid-air as the robot (I am almost positive that they are robots now, arms don't move like that) hoists me off its back by the collar of my shirt.
The world spins as it flings me back over its shoulder and slams me up against the wall of violet virulent crystal. As soon as I touch it it begins to crack and expand crawling over the exposed skin and holding me in place. Pressed this close up I can just barely make out the sounds of explosions and shouting from the other side of the wall.
I hope those guys remember that there are innocent bystanders in there.
“There. I’ve captured you,” It intones flatly. “Reborn isn't keeping up to his usual standards if this is the best you can manage.”
This time there is no thought. No charge. There is just the intense spike of outrage and the accompanying blinding flash of lightning. When I finally manage to blink my vision clear I spot my assailant a twitching mess of fried circuitry broken on the ground.
The crystal that was holding me in place shatters and I fall to my knees and tuck my hands and arms close to my chest. There is a crushing stabbing pain that is running from my fingertips up my forearms. My skin is hot an red and it feels like the worst pins and needles that I have ever had in my life.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” I chant.
“To use yourself as a conduit… you’re not very intelligent are you.” It's not a question the way that he says it, it is a statement of fact.
Irritating fucking asshole.
I glare up at where the other one should be standing, and I have to do a double take. He's not there. There is only Takeshi standing there giving me this very concerned and somewhat exasperated look. The sneaky fuck must have gone invisible again while I was distracted with the other one.
I'm looking around wildly trying to catch sight of it again. When I hear the voice again.
And then I focus back in on Takeshi. Or rather, the head that Takeshi has tucked under his arm like s football.
“Like your one to talk,” I snap at the decapitated head. “What made you think this was a good idea anyway? And who the fuck are you?”
The person on the other end of the speaker sighs.
“Honestly, I wouldn't have bothered with any of this nonsense if you lot hadn't interrupted a very delicate experiment last night.”
“It was a very inconvenient interruption.”
No way. No fucking way.
“You were working with the Hammerheads?”
The disdainful laughter that comes from the decapitated head makes this whole scene seem way more evil than it had before.
“‘With them’ vastly overestimates their importance. No, I was outsourcing the production of a highly volatile compound to an expendable workforce.”
Ouch, I almost feel bad for those guys. They obviously hadn't known what the hell they were doing.
“What are you, Lex Luthor plotting to take over Metropolis with your doomsday weapon?” I ask snidely.
There is more chuckling projected through the speaker.
“Nothing so extravagant as that.” They say, “and since you are so interested in my identity; you can call me Verde.”
As soon as he says his name I am steamrolled by half-formed memories slamming into my brain. And I remember - green hair, glasses, lab coat, alligator…green pacifier.
Because it was more than just Reborn who had been cursed. There had been more….
There had been seven.
The pain that explodes inside my head as I try to brute force my way to the sealed information is indescribable and is accompanied by bursts of orange light behind my eyes.
I press my aching hands against the sides of my head in a desperate attempt to try to keep my skull from breaking. I try desperately to reach for more information but there's nothing else.
Except the void.
“Whatever your doing I recommend that you stop. Your heart rate has accelerated dramatically. If you keep this up your going to send yourself into cardiac arrest.” Verde says dryly.
Then it all stops, and I am back in the hall with Takeshi gazing at me with obvious concern. He looks a little banged up himself but nothing too bad. A few scrapes and bruises.
He slowly lifts ups the talking head so he's holding it at eye level and smiles guilelessly into what I now see is a camera where an eye would traditionally be.
“I don't really get what you guys are talking about, are you still going to be trying to kill Tsuna?” He asks, remembering the important part of why we're doing this in the first place.
There is a long pause before Verde answers us.
“At this point the entire endeavour is more trouble than it's worth.” We hear the sounds of typing come through the speaker before he continues, “Vongola is already acting, anyone who tries to fulfill this contract will be facing quite a bit of trouble. Though that probably won't deter the others who have already arrived in this …. Lovely town of yours.”
“That was a lot of words was there a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ somewhere in there?”
There is a burst of startled laughter after the words tumble thoughtlessly from my mouth.
“Oh he must just adore you,” He says. “No, I will not make any further attempts to assassinate Sawada Tsunayoshi.”
“Good.” Takeshi chirps happily and tucks the head back under his arm.
We listen to the sounds of more typing and I start to wonder if Verde has just lost interest in this conversation and forgot to turn off the mic. Is there a way to hang up on our end?
“You should drop the helm now,” he informs us suddenly, “I have set it to self destruct in forty seconds. Once it does the jamming frequency that it is emitting will go down and emergency calls made in the area will go through. Although, I estimate it will be another thirty minutes before the police force arrives.”
Me and Takeshi share a look, turn to the wall of virulent cloud crystals in front of us, back at the robot head, and then nod.
He quickly sets it down at the base of the crystal wall, while I quickly loot the remains of our robotic adversaries. There's not much left of them but the space age guns they had been toting are still in tact so I grab those. And then we scuttle back and duck into the, now vacated, administration office.
“Give Reborn my regards.” Verde says.
There is a drawn out height pitched whine before the helm detonates. The following explosion shakes the foundations and sends us toppling into each other.
When we poke our heads back out into the wall there are shards of purple class scattered everywhere but mostly congealing and melting into Bianchi’s nightmare in puffs of red and violet smoke.
Tsuna and Hayato are standing in one of the doorways wielding chairs. Tsuna has one raised high above his head, while it looks like Hayato was caught in mid swing. They had probably been trying to bludgeon the wall from the other side. They are giving us these wide eyed stunned expressions. We only return the stunned looks and wave weakly at them.
“Hey guys,” I greet with a half hearted wave.
Today has been absolutely fucking exhausting. I'm about ready for this quest to be over and done with. Verde had mentioned something about Vongola making moves; I hope one of those moves moves a clean up crew here to handle the rest of these fucking assassins so that the rest of us go have a four day nap.
Though I wouldn't trade the sight of Reborn having hogtied and gagged Bianchi for anything. She looks so pissed off, it's hilarious.
But hopefully the cavalry will arrive soon and she can be someone else's problem. Because I sure as hell do not want her moving in to our house.
The three of them make their way out of the cafeteria stepping carefully over the coagulated chemical stew of the poison cooking. And dragging Bianchi straight through it on her face. This ticks off two of our assassin problems from the list. I'm not sure how many more there might be mulling around, but all things considered we aren't doing that badly.
Of course, just as I have this vaguely optimistic though a high pitched laugh echoes through the long hallway and a long dark shadow is cast upon us. A dark shadow with horns… and a rocket launcher. And a high pitched voice declares:
As Lambo Bovino, in his cow print pyjama glory, fires a rocket straight at us.