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The next few months flowed by in a comforting quietude, the sort of solace the Ishimaru Law Firm needed after their all too exciting prior trial. Still lacking a suit, Kiyotaka kept a relatively low profile, hoping to stall Taeko's plans to buy him a new one for as long as he possibly could.

He'd recently become invested in civil cases, most of which didn't even require him to meet his client in public, let alone attend a day in court, so he spent his mornings filing paperwork and afternoons building cases in his pajamas with Mondo over bowls of cereal.

His feelings for his partner had taken root deep within him, and he sensed—and feared—their growth, though he yet lacked the courage to speak them aloud. These months with Mondo had only continued to show him that he was in far, far too deep.

Mondo had even been the one to suggest he rename their law firm. “Jin's fucking butts nowhere, up in Antarctica for all we know. It's basically your office anyways, pal,” was his eloquent reasoning. And so the Ishimaru Law Firm was born—still a sub-category of Kirigiri Offices, but the only bustling section of the company, equipped with its optimistic attorney, his loudmouthed partner, and their smugly lesbian assistant.

Sometimes Taeko helped out with their paper trials, usually when she was bored or wanted attention, often both. Kiyotaka had gone ahead and crammed a third chair up to his desk at Kirigiri Offices for when she felt like tagging along. Ideally they did not need to force three chairs behind the desk, since Mondo always sat on top of it, but he insisted on having his own chair to utilize as a footrest.

Their civil cases hadn't the same wild, exuberant energies as Kiyotaka's first two trials—both unabashed murders, although Sakura's turned out to be staged—and Kiyotaka found himself missing, strangely, the aura those times had held. While they had wrecked his nervous system and robbed him of sleep for the days he'd slaved over them, he knew he'd made a difference, and he thought often of how he—he—had saved Hiro from condemning himself as a murderer, had shown Kuwata the truth, had found a way to protect Sakura and Taeko from a certain death.

While there still lacked conclusive evidence surrounding the pursuer who had nearly killed his best friend, Kiyotaka dreamed that his efforts to pinpoint their existence may scaffold future evidence that could possibly one day uncover the assassin's identity. As it was, they had evidently removed Sakura from their hit list, as Detective Kirigiri reported no sightings of the pursuer proceeding the conclusion of the trial.

This wasn't yet the amount of change he had been hoping to make to even out the corruption his grandfather had caused upon Japanifornia two generations ago, but he had to admit it was a strong start.

Little did he know that soon his wish would come true and cause him to question his sanity for wanting such a terrifically exhausting lifestyle for himself!

As summer's heat came rushing through Japanifornia, browning lawns and driving Taeko's fashion style to dare reveal inches of her freckled skin, Kiyotaka heard her timid knock at his bedroom door one stuffy morning.

“Kiyotaka? Do you have any terribly droll cases to solve today?”

He stared at his dresser, still debating as to whether he would bother to get out of his striped pajamas today. “Nothing that can't be moved to tomorrow. What is it?”

She knocked a little harder. “May I come in?”

“Go ahead.”

Despite her clingy, teasing nature, she had her own discipline, and she only now peeked into his room. Taeko strolled up to his bed in her socks and hopped down beside him. She had dressed in a black denim tank dress paired with a thin crimson long sleeve beneath whose sleeves draped over her hands. How she wasn't sweating was a great mystery. Her dark hair was done up in a pair of french braids, and for once in her life, she had risked not donning high socks or leggings, allowing her legs to breathe.

“Hello!” she said, kicking her feet.

“Good morning?” He blinked. “What is it, Taeko?”

“Nothing!” Her smile was too large, too tight.

“Taeko, just tell me.” She'd lately been struggling to keep up her poker face around him, and, to her disappointment, had discovered her abilities to lie around Kiyotaka had been dwindling.

“Fiiiine.” She leaned back and spread her arms over his bed sheets. “There is a pop-up carnival off the highway by that one turn today, and I think... that, um...” She chewed her lip. “You and accessory should go!”

Yet still she blushed. Kiyotaka peered down at her. “What, am I taking too long for you?”

“Yesssss!” she wailed. “Just tell himmmmmmm! Why is it so haarrrrd? You should have kissed him months agooooo! So now”—she got up to face him and poked his nose—“now you should ask him to go on a lovely outing with you to the carnival! It is the perfect first date.”

She couldn't quite meet his gaze. Something was bothering her. It couldn't possibly be his confusing relationship with Mondo—not to this extent, so much as she teased him for it.

He wondered how he might coax it out of her. Testing, he said, “Sure, I suppose.” He had never actually gone to a carnival before and experienced a momentary panic concerning what in the world he had just committed to.

He recognized the same anxious pause in Taeko's face—and asked, “Would you like to come with us?”

Her mouth flew open. “Uh! Umm! I mean! No!” Her cheeks swelled pink. “That is ridiculous! I would never dream of attending a fun, outdoor activity with people I care about whose company I greatly enjoy! I would, um...” She chewed her lip. “O-Only if you ask very nicely!”

Kiyotaka choked on his smirk. “Taeko, would you please help me take Mondo on a date?”

“Who is Mondo?” She played coy, eyes unnaturally wide, as she twirled one of her braids.

He rolled his eyes. “Would you please help me ask my accessory out? Taeko?”

“Goodness gracious, Kiyotaka. He is your accessory. Is it really that difficult for you to ask him yourself?”

To his glower, she giggled, bouncing on his pillows. “Okay, okay, I will ask him!”

She then proceeded to call Mondo and insist that he meet them at once in the nearby vacant parking lot. She almost convinced an oblivious Kiyotaka into staging a fake kidnapping before he realized what she was trying to do and had to snag the phone and shut his horrible pseudo-sister's plans down.

Mondo was already at the balloon-adorned front gates when they arrived. He about jumped up at the sight of them and came galumphing over, wrapping one arm around Kiyotaka as the other gingerly tapped Taeko's shoulder. “God, I can't wait to get fuckin' punked by those rigged prize games! Taka, we gotta go get in line for one of those chunky pikachus.”

He was already herding Kiyotaka toward one of the money-sucking booths. Taeko lagged behind, a simpering shadow that clung to Kiyotaka's free arm. Once he'd successfully hustled Kiyotaka into the barren line, a depressed looking pink-haired carny guy started opening up the packages at the front of his booth.

“Why don't you got the fuckin' game set up?” shouted Mondo. He pounded his fists onto the still empty booth for effect.

The carny recoiled. He was wearing this ludicrous lime green pair of overalls that poorly covered his bare chest. “This game's shit! Most people have the sense not to play it!” His voice was whiny and broken up by cracks.

Mondo jumped, barreling his palms into the sleek velvet atop the booth. “We are doing the god-damn bottle toss, and you are going to fucking open it!” If not for the giant grin across his face, the biker would have looked terrifying looming over the poorly set up attraction.

Today he had gone without the sleazy tank top altogether (“Too hot,” he'd complained) and leaned over the booth in a ripped up black vest that proudly bared his tanned, muscular chest. The vest was bedazzled with rhinestones like stars. It matched his sparkly sandals. He'd flared up his outfit with none other than his magenta biker shorts that ended a little too high up on his thighs, because surely the rhinestone vest and the sandals weren't enough on their own.

Kiyotaka looked as if he should be standing the furthest away from this man, not practically attached to him by one of Mondo's massive arms. He'd (reluctantly) switched his pajamas with a button up white tee and incongruous pale yellow pants. Taeko threw a fit about him wearing such “boring colors” that led him to request he hold her purse for her today. He had to ensure she hadn't hidden any loose bottles of crimson nail polish in there, for his own peace of mind.

There they were, all crammed up in the bottle toss booth, the only people insane enough to stand under the hot sun and swelter in the parking lot as the carny inefficiently set up the bottles, then proceeded to trip over them and fall on his butt at least five times.

Miraculously they hadn't died of heatstroke by the time the bottles were ready. Mondo plucked the metal ring from the carny and started lobbing it at the bottles like a bowling ball. “What are you doing?” Kiyotaka shrieked, only to realize partway through that Mondo genuinely was trying his hardest. He had horrendous aim.

After he ran out of tries, Mondo sat there and smiled fondly at the bottle toss. “I love this shitty game. It reminds me that I'm imperfect and I'll never be good at everything.” He pointed out one of the bottles at random. “My brother and I used to fuckin' practice for these. They're rigged to hell and back.” He let out a loving sigh, head falling into his hand. “Memories.”

The carny gave him a weird look.

Taeko tapped Mondo by the shoulder, and he got out of the way for her. She handed a $100 bill to the carny so she could watch him painstakingly count out her change as she swung about in place, letting him know his taste in clothing was horrific and suggesting he try wearing a shirt under his overalls next time.

Then she swung and perfectly landed her ring atop a bottle with the precision of a sharpshooter. The carny fainted on the spot. He was too unconscious to notice when Taeko untied the hair-thin wire she had slung up to the booth's support beams and attached to her ring while she had waited for him to count out her change.

Taeko happily claimed a ginormous stuffed black cat as her prize. “He is so ugly! I will love him forever.” She instructed Mondo to carry it for her, a conversation which devolved into the two bickering over who got to name the cat.

They eventually compromised on “Midnight Fucker,” an elegant combination of their choices.

Once they joined the sea of sweating families that filled out the expanse of blacktop, Kiyotaka lost sight of his assistant in the crowd. He felt it the moment she was swallowed up and rushed into the swarming masses to cry, “HOLD IT!”

The entire throng drew still enough for him to espy her. She'd somehow gotten herself between two emo high school students in matching school uniforms, one holding way too many sharp objects, and the other with an inexplicable container of pills in their arms.

He nabbed Taeko before that kid with the bad attitude and the entire sword could swat at her. He could hear the brewing of a teenaged drama behind them.

“Watch out, Kimura,” said the boy with the three daggers strapped to his back. “It's not my fault if you lose an eye to my shoulder pad.” He was in fact sporting a shoulder pad with spines attached to it. It was difficult to make out at first, partially hidden behind the crimson hood of the boy's hoodie, but it glistened malevolently beneath the sun's heavy rays.

“Whatever, loser.” Then Kimura tensed, her eyes widening. “Wait—For once I didn't mean that. Izayoi—Hey—Wait, you little shit! I have something to... say to... fuck.”

The boy had already been swallowed up by the crowd, and she now stood alone. Her gaze traveled to Taeko, who had stared intensely after the spat, and Kimura glowered at her before stalking away.

As she dispersed, Taeko murmured, “I wonder if she is a lesbian.”

“How would you know?” squeaked Kiyotaka. “You hardly saw her.”

“It is a feeling. In here.” Taeko addressed her chest.

“I'unno, Taeko.” Mondo, having finally caught up to them, hefted Midnight Fucker over his shoulder. “You can't just superimpose your sexuality onto every single person you meet, you know?”

“Shut up, accessory. You cannot stop me.”

“I am not a lesbian!” he shouted back, which garnered odd looks from passerby.

Taeko shrugged. “Perspective. Women are called gay all the time. You may as well be a gay lesbian for all I care, for there is no escaping my label.”

“You're so... fuckin'... I...” Mondo's face screwed up. “I'm pretty sure that's not an insult, but with you, I can't tell at all.”

Kiyotaka broke in before another squabble started up between them. “Hey! Let's check out the duck pond!” The duck pond was nice and quiet, or so the internet had told him. What kind of person could be made to yell at a plastic duck, right?

He should have known that his suggestion would only result with Mondo upended into the duck pond's plastic pool.

After they were banned from the duck pond, Taeko decided she had had enough of men for one day and took Midnight Fucker to ride the dinky train encircling the parking lot. It was to be understood that Midnight Fucker did not count as a man.

And so it took Kiyotaka all of two minutes to notice that he and Mondo now walked alone together, and as soon as he noticed it he couldn't not.

His hand would accidentally brush Mondo's pinkie and he'd explode internally. The crowd would jostle him into Mondo's chest and he'd all but die. His entire body flinched when Mondo's voice teased at his ear—“Alright, what next? I kinda ruined that last one, so you should pick again, Taka.”

The questionable duck pond water dribbled down Mondo's cheek. He'd thrown his hair up with a scrunchie, and flyaways framed the edges of his rough face, a deep brown curtain that drew out the paleness of his violet eyes.

His head was so close to Kiyotaka's, and he—his heart—he had to move away, but making space between them was impossible in this crowd. His gaze skirted back to examine what else the amusement park offered, leaping past scammy prize games and the rattly old roller coaster that looked about ready to take a kid off to their premature grave. There were the spinning tea cups, and the go karts, and all these other safety violations that, Kiyotaka realized, he didn't think he actually wanted to attend.

What in the world was he supposed to do here? None of this... looked fun. Just—dangerous, sleazy. A part of him honestly wished he could take Mondo home with him and solve that new 500 piece puzzle he'd recently splurged on.

Then he caught the crest of metal over the horizon, as if a great machine swooning overhead.

There, looming over the rest of the paltry carnival rides, he caught the regal Ferris wheel. On another day, in another time, he would have refused this safety hazard as well, but Taeko had prepped him. She'd told him this one was really important for him to go on. For some reason. She wouldn't tell him why, just that he had to cram himself and Mondo into it.

And what was he if not hopeful? And an idiot who blindly, happily listened to his liar of an assistant?

He began to point out the Ferris wheel to Mondo when an odd sound veered through the parking lot, dragging his vision down to one of the scam booths. The pale yellow tented booth stood out as a soothing color among the flapping waves of heinous neon draperies. But what drew his eye was that sound, a sharp whistle through the stiff, heady air.

In a fateful second the tent's mellow, lovely color was wrenched with garish orange spots.

Day 1: Investigation: Part 1

“Oh my god. Taka, did you see—?” Already Mondo was surging ahead of him, protecting Kiyotaka with his strong frame from the sudden onslaught of retreating pedestrians. He held Kiyotaka's hand carefully but with enough force to help steer him through the gawking on-lookers. Soon they had approached the booth, and Kiyotaka caught the deadly glint of small, sharp weapons stuck into the back wall of the tent.

Already he was blustering with questions. Mondo squeezed his hand. “What kinda fucking coincidence,” he muttered. Kiyotaka peered at the slick objects sticking out the wall and saw that they had merely been a part of the balloon popping attraction. He breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone knew the balloon darts were too dull to even pop a measly balloon, let alone scratch a human being.

But then—he glanced back—

—and the unnatural tilt of the body consumed his vision. Its torso was slammed across the front of the booth, the legs dangling precariously over the ground in a manner so stiff, so rubbery that there couldn't possibly be any life left in them. They peeked beneath a lovely sky-blue skirt that brushed over the ground, and flecks of blood dotted the upper edge of the skirt, where fabric tapered to reveal a blushing midriff. What showed of the crisp white shirt was spotted a dull pink.

Two wide-eyed men stood before the body. One was still holding its limp hand. He was a straight-backed alabaster man in a crisp white suit and with blinding white hair. Slowly, slowly, a fragmented gasp escaped him, alongside a name. “Chisa.

His companion wore a matching white suit, but he'd tastefully chosen to dismember its sleeves and leave his hefty brown arms exposed. His wavy dark turquoise hair cast shadows over his brooding face, and it contrasted heavily with his outstretched scream: “FUCK!”

The woman lay silent and unmoving between them. So gently the pristine white man drew her limp form to him, struggling to straighten what could not be undone. In the back of her head, around swathes of her long, peachy orange hair, was embedded an articulate silvery knife. Sounds without sense escaped the man as his brown-skinned companion punched the booth wall.

“That looks a helluva lot like a weapon that kid we saw would own,” Mondo helpfully pointed out. The kid with the shoulder pad, and the emo eyes. Had he taken out his teenage angst on this poor woman?!

The men now shielding the body had apparently come to the same conclusion. The white one gingerly squeezed the bejeweled hilt of the embedded knife. “This... This couldn't be Sohnosuke's..!”

“The apprentice kills the master's girl,” growled his companion. His hands instinctively fisted. “C'mon, Munakata. Let's go beat the shit out of—”

“S-Stop. Sakakura. Cease.” Surprisingly, the beefy Sakakura obliged. “W-We don't know that. Sohnosuke... Sohnosuke wouldn't... h-his own teacher..?”

Sakakura moved to stand in front of his friend, shadowing Munakata's body with his own as he stared out over the vacated parking lot. Few had dared inch closer to the scene of the crime. Few had balls like Mondo's.

For a moment Sakakura stared down at the bare-chested biker, but once he'd peeked behind him to notice Kiyotaka, Sakakura shrugged and turned back to his companion. “I can't tell who killed her.”

“Sakakura, it takes a lot more than—”

“Yeah, but, you'd think a killer would be a lot easier to recognize!” Sakakura glared out at the receding throngs of families and friends. “Who the fuck... Who the fuck killed our best friend?” He let out a breath like a bellow and laid a hand across Munakata's back—only to flinch and grab it back. “I... shit! I just wanna punch someone!”

In a tired, practiced tone, Munakata replied, “You can't just go around punching people who make you mad or confused. The world isn't your personal boxing ring.”

Sakakura fumed. “You don't know that. It's not like there's a television show or anime or some shit out there where someone like me did that and it cost them their life.”

As the on-lookers thinned out and the last of the frat boys finished taking selfies from afar with the corpse, Kiyotaka found himself gripping his court record so tightly his knuckles had gone white. The moment he let himself, he was jotting down details of the case thus far.

A bedazzled silver knife was embedded in the back of the victim's head. However, the entry point was small, and Kiyotaka was already wondering if that had been the true cause of death when he had seen so much—more blood drench the booth's surrounding tent. He could make out from what little he saw of the victim's cradled body a blood-drenched front, and he wished he had Mondo's courage to edge any closer.

It didn't appear that any of the balloon darts were besmirched with blood, so Kiyotaka figured he could assume they had not been involved in the crime (how could a dart pop a person's skull when it struggled to puncture a balloon?) though he wondered if the murderer had chosen this booth to strike for any particular reason. Perhaps they had even hidden this knife in with the darts prior to the murder.

Mondo watched him furiously jot down his notes. “Damn, Taka. We ain't even in this trial.”

“M-Maybe we will be.” Kiyotaka's ambition was getting a little ahead of him. They hadn't had a murder trial in close to three months now, and he didn't know how to admit that he was a little morbidly excited to sleuth out this next one.

Kiyotaka could not possibly describe what happened next in words, so his pen laid useless in his hand. He witnessed what appeared to be a man with spiky hair in a suit—of sorts—chasing down and promptly ordering some black-clad men to corner the very boy he had seen earlier. The boy had been standing just beyond the crime scene, half watching it, as goth kids were wont to be attracted to dead bodies.

The suited men... they did something that sounded an awful lot like a howl—an action which scared the emo kid so badly he froze in place, giving the men a chance to handcuff and lead him off.

He stared after the boy and his odd, somewhat official looking procession. Munakata gasped and reluctantly released the victim's body, murmuring a word of apology, before rushing after the defendant and brandishing an entire platinum sword that came breadths away from slicing Kiyotaka's cheek. Sakakura, as if on orders, folded his massive arms across his chest and stared after the body.

The man with the spiked brown hair approached Sakakura, extending a hand. His suit was even harder to describe up close. Something like a dragon was stretched out across it, and it wasn't fully buttoned, leaving a peek at the man's chest.

Mondo pushed Kiyotaka closer to the men in some shameless attempt to eavesdrop. Whether or not they noticed, the two didn't call Mondo out.

“Detective Shi-Long Lang. I'm a sigma wolf.”

Sakakura reluctantly shook the man's outstretched hand. “Juzo Sakakura. My best friend just got murdered.” With his free hand, he pointed at the too-still woman Chisa.

Detective Lang's hands slid into his pockets. “Damn, I hate it when that happens. Feels like being in the business makes you more likely to lose a loved one, uh? Y'know, I've been doing a study on it, actually—in my free time? Yeah, there's like this prosecutor who had three murders occur in his vicinity within a day. I'd look out if I were you. My current theory is that we're trapped in a video game.”

Somehow Sakakura took all of this in stride.

At Kiyotaka's shoulder, Mondo muttered, “Oh, I don't like him. Not a fuckin' video game. There's no way.” His fingers worried Kiyotaka's sleeve as he mumbled to himself.

Lang gazed after the receding forms of his men, the arrested boy, and the sword-wielding Munakata. He breathed out a slow sigh. “Always gets like this after a murder. See, they all expect me to pick out the murderer, but I don't know what the heck I'm doing, so I just kinda choose the first person I see? And well, anyways, I chose the kid, because he gave me bad voodoo energy, but I also don't trust courts of law, so basically, I have no idea what's about to go down.”

With a great dopey fanged smile across his face, Lang sidled up against the booth with the murder victim on his right. He had an oddly contented look upon his face, as if someone who had blinded himself staring into dumpster fires he himself had set over the years and now watched the bleakness spread through his eyes as the borderline senile grin firmly set his mouth into place.

He pulled out a couple pairs of sunglasses, dropped one set across his face, and set the other over the victim's vacant gaze. Kiyotaka almost confused them for eye patches—just two eye patches strapped to his head—because they had this very confusing plastic addition that made an x over Lang's massive forehead.

Then Lang kicked back to enjoy the blistering early afternoon sunshine. “Well, my work is done. Time to take a nap.”

Sakakura took a good look at the half-asleep detective. “I think he's got it covered.” The brutish witness gazed after his lost friend before breaking into a sprint, yowling, “I WILL FIND THE MURDERER OF CHISA YUKIZOME!"

Mondo finally let go of Kiyotaka's sleeve to gape after the wreck. “Shit. I think we've got our work cut out for us.” He rested his hand at the attorney's back. “We gonna go hunt down the defendant, or..?”

Kiyotaka couldn't help but perk up. “Yes! Let's!”

The bagel-munching cop at the back of the precinct warned Kiyotaka it'd be difficult to get a word in with the defendant.

He did not realize that the cop was referring to the external cacophony within the metal box of a room, not the defendant's own sour nature, though that was well and accounted for.

Upon entering the visitation chamber, nobody bothered to notice Kiyotaka and Mondo's additions. The defendant was too busy having a screaming match with none other than a man wearing an entire bull mask over his face. Alongside the mask, he wore a crisp white button-down and clean jeans, with a pair of cowboy boots. His waist-length brown hair billowed down his back.

Kiyotaka came to accept that extremely little about this case was going to make sense.

Then the masked man howled down on the cramped visiting area.


The defendant peered up at the masked man—muscles bulging at his crisp shirt—and stuck out his tongue, tipping his red hood overhead. “Go away.”


“Yeah, try screaming some more. Hopefully you'll blow out your dipshit lungs.”


Kiyotaka's brows raised. He hurriedly jotted down notes.

“You're not my real dad.”

“I'M MORE A FATHER THAN THE CRETINS WHO LEFT YOU IN THAT DUMPSTER!” The Great Gozu stopped a moment to catch his breath and plant his meaty fists to his hips. “Though I'm starting to question whether they had the right idea.”

The defendant flicked down his sleeve to point a rude hand gesture at his adoptive father. Kiyotaka's entire face flushed red. Mondo choked on a laugh.

Snorting and growling, Gozu pounded a foot into the concrete. He didn't even stop to grimace. “Sohnosuke Izayoi, you will tell me why your knife was found embedded in the skull of your own teacher on your summer field trip!”

“Because fuck you, that's why.”


Kiyotaka figured he'd better jump in before his defendant was profoundly screamed to death. “HOLD IT!” he cried, and—somehow—Gozu located the patience to shut his mouth. “What's going on here?”

Izayoi snapped first. “Stay out of this, gramps!”

How old did he think Kiyotaka was?

“Excuse his attitude.” Gozu cleared his throat, extended a hand. Kiyotaka reluctantly took it and winced at the crunch in the wrestler's firm handshake. “Call me Gozu. I'm the sorry bastard responsible for this kid. I was supposed to chaperone his school's annual summer trip, but one thing led to another, and now my boy's been arrested for murdering his own teacher.” Gozu snorted, muttered, “His mentor about had a heart attack.”

His mentor, Kiyotaka took it, was Munakata, that man who'd been slinging about the sword. In fact, now that he considered it, what he had seen of Munakata's blade resembled the gilded nature of Izayoi's other assorted weaponry.

“Where is his mentor now?” Kiyotaka asked.

Gozu paused a moment. “Why do you ask, kid?” Kiyotaka flushed. “You don't have anything to do with this case, do you?”

Hurriedly Kiyotaka unpinned his lawyer badge from his shirt. He pinned it on every day, just in case an opportunity such as this arose. “I'm actually a defense attorney. I was hoping to take your son as a client—i-if you'd be willing to accept.”

Again, Gozu paused. Kiyotaka figured emotions were playing across the discouraged father's complexion, but of course that was all hidden behind his elaborate bull's mask. “I'd be honored, sport. Honestly, I didn't think it'd be this easy to find someone so... so earnest to take on such a problematic child's' case.”

Izayoi pounded a fist against the glass. Kiyotaka glanced over to witness the kid blowing a raspberry at him. “I don't give a shit who you think you are, geezer. I say no.”



The chamber grew eerily silent. Kiyotaka's heart pinged at the arrival of that comforting tone.

Mondo stepped out from his partner's shadow to hurriedly shake Gozu's hand. “Hi. Mondo Owada. I'm sort of an adopter of random stray kids, mostly misguided queer and or questioning boys with too much anger and not enough food in their bellies. I, uhhh...” Mondo threw his wet hair back, blowing out an anxious breath. “Don't think yelling your kid's brains out's gonna get him to listen. I'm sensing some, I don't know... misdirected anger here?”

“Huh.” Gozu stalled, taking in the biker. “Now that you mention it, I'm not sure if it's anger, exactly. It's... ah, it's difficult to express.” He waved about his calloused hands. Mondo nodded, brow furrowed. “It's manifesting as anger, as you can see, but maybe it's more... worry? Worry for my son's life?”

Mondo hummed and took Gozu by the shoulder, gently shoving him out of Kiyotaka's way. “Yeah, yeah. Let's simmer on that, pal. Worry cuz he's been accused of murder, right? But do you actually think he killed his teacher?” His warm gruff tone drifted off as he expertly cleared Kiyotaka's path to the surly defendant.

Swallowing tightly, he faced Izayoi. The boy hardly glanced up at the attorney and bunched up his shoulders, casting a gleam across the marbled surface of his spiny shoulder pad. He had a sling affixed to his back that, now barren, must have carried his daggers and other assorted weapons earlier.

As it was, Kiyotaka sensed more than saw the glisten of dangerous metallic weaponry hidden in Izayoi's baggy clothes and menacing sneer.

How in the world was he going to get this literal arms dealer to listen to him..?

Wait—No. Kiyotaka straightened, reminding himself that he had somehow convinced the greatest mafia boss of their time to entrust him with an incredible secret. If just being himself had gotten Taeko to want to live in a house with him, then... s-surely he could reason with this kid..!

He faced Izayoi, said, “My name is Kiyotaka Ishimaru, and I would be honored to take up the responsibili—”

“Fuck responsibilities. Scram, old man.”

Izayoi proceeded to scrounge up the detention center's singular chair—a dingy little stool—prop himself up on it, and smack his grimy high top sneakers on the counter top, shoving his shoes into Kiyotaka's face.

Kiyotaka blanched. New tactic.

“Izayoi, this is a very serious situation you're in. You need an attorney, or you could—”

“Ehh. Don't care. Fuck you.”


A gush of heat billowed up Kiyotaka's face. He crunched an entire fist in his pocket, his arm locked in place and vibrating to keep from shoving screams down this little snot-nosed gremlin's throat.

Well, talking wasn't going to work.

Kiyotaka exhaled slowly, then brushed his fingertips over the other item he always kept pinned to his shirt.

The jade katana charm rippled with an unspoken power. Kiyotaka blinked, and the world came crashing through his eyes, rebuilt within an unearthly green tinge.

Even the aloof Izayoi started out of his seat and crashed upon the ground. He scrambled to his feet and dove at Kiyotaka, finding the glass partition that had separated them now missing.

Out came a triad of blades that Izayoi seamlessly held with his two hands. He could poke and stab with one while his left hand, hoisting the other two, served simultaneously as a defensive shield-like pincer maneuver and an offensive swing.

Kiyotaka stumbled back, the wounds peppering his skin. They left behind a transparent green glow that partially blinded him.

Seething, he rose to his feet and swung out his katana, clipping Izayoi across his—

—at the last second Izayoi's gangly teen boy shoulder rose, and the jade blade bounced harmlessly off of his shoulder pad. He swung again and Izayoi's two-bladed hand caught it, locking and tearing the weapon out of Kiyotaka's grip. Kiyotaka's arm buckled, wrenched out of place.

He scrambled to regain his weapon as Izayoi's sharp pointed daggers struck at him blow after blow, each one claiming another stripe across his back. He grabbed his katana—from the wrong angle—cutting up his hands in the process. Kiyotaka hissed in pain, flattening himself as he struggled to pick at the hilt while overpowering throbs rocked over his palms.

He could hardly think through all the stings and bruises and—agony—Izayoi was putting him through. The kid refused to speak, just launched himself at Kiyotaka and in as many seconds as he had breaths in his lungs had disarmed and pinned Kiyotaka to the ground.

A sneer broke across Izayoi's pubescent face. “Hehe, deez nuts.”

Kiyotaka's frustration and pain was momentarily put on hold by the sheer confusion. “Wh—”


He then plucked one of the daggers in Kiyotaka's leg and stuck it between his eyes.

Kiyotaka woke with aplomb, gasping for breath, blinking away the greenish residue of the jade mindscape. He hurriedly located and dabbed at his face with his handkerchief—crimson, in case of accidents.

Although sore, it appeared he hadn't sustained any long-lasting wounds from that humiliating showdown.

Gosh, now what? He'd been bested verbally and in physical combat.

...was there any way of convincing this kid..?

He grimaced as his gaze flickered over Izayoi, awaiting a snide comeback that did not arrive. In fact, the kid stared up at him with a new strange awe. His hoodie fluttered down his back, and his mouth was agape. He even brushed back the dirty blonde bangs that had obscured his silvery eyes.

“I have no idea what just happened, but all of a sudden I think you'd be a killer homie.”

Kiyotaka blinked.

Izayoi smirked, added, “You should train with me sometime. Somethin' tells me you're rusty.”

“I—Hey! You—”

“No, no.” Izayoi raised a finger to his lips and shushed. “I've been doing this since I was a fucking toddler. Don't even try to deny it. I am legally insane. It's the only reason I got enrolled in Weird Kid Academy.”

Growing more bewildered by the second, Kiyotaka took out his court record and began frantically taking notes as Izayoi calmly spilled an uncomfortable amount of personal information.

“Yeah, so, it's called the Ultimate Talent Academy, but we all know better. It's where the crazy kids get shipped off to, the ones with like, fifty mental illnesses that usually manifest in super weird abilities. Like me—I'm fifteen, and I'm a fucking registered blacksmith. My girl, Ruru, too. She can rot your teeth with her sweets. She bakes instead of, like, going outside.

“Our teachers mostly come from the Academy too, and they try to, like, incorporate us in society with these stupid field trips every so often, but they never work, because we're all wacked up and we know it.” Shrugging, Izayoi blew a strand of hair from his eyes. “And now one of my daggers is in Miss Chisa's brain tissue.”

Kiyotaka found his chance to cut in and nabbed it. “How do you think it landed in her skull, Izayoi?”

“Hey. Hey. The guys I deal to call me Noski.” Noski?! “Please, my guy, feel free to do the same.” Kiyotaka decided to promptly forget that nickname. “Now about that dagger... You know, I got no clue. I kind of just shed weapons like a typical housecat sheds fur in the summer? Because, like, I'm clinically insane and just can't stop making and tending to my weapons?” He raised his hands to reveal a makeshift shank out of one of the screws that likely held up the glass partition. It was impossible to tell how Izayoi had dislodged it. “So like, anyone I've ever been in contact with is suspect.”

Kiyotaka frowned, fingers tapping at the counter. “Now that can't be right. There must be some sort of clue...” Izayoi shrugged, dumping his hands into his hoodie's pockets. “Who do you recall speaking with today?”

“Uhhhhh.” Izayoi began scrawling a crude heart into the counter top as the bagel cop looked on, wincing with each metallic shriek. “Miss Chisa, my dead teacher. She asked me to please hand over my weapons before we left the hotel this morning. Who else...” He slumped over, thinking.

“Doesn't that mean Miss Chisa's bag holds all of the weapons the suspect could've had access to, then?” Kiyotaka posed.

Izayoi rolled his eyes. “You think I keep track of all this bullshit up my sleeves? Hell no. I gave her the two swords on my scabbard and called it a fucking day.” He hummed as his eyes rolled to the ceiling. “I walked around with Ruru in the morning—my girl. She's mine though, okay? So don't get any ideas."

Surprisingly, Kiyotaka hadn't a single one.

“We made out on the Ferris wheel for like, an hour. Then she went off to go hijack a bakery or something. Uhh, who else. Oh—Fuck! I know who killed Miss Chisa!”

“You do?” Kiyotaka gasped. Wow—That was fast.

“Yeah, man! It was Seiko Kimura! She's bad news, so it was definitely her.”

Ah. This evidence was in fact the opposite of definitive, but Kiyotaka figured he'd better chase this trail to be certain. “Did you have any contact with Kimura today?”

Actually...” Izayoi gaped. “Yeah! I did! She totally ran into me at the carnival! I bet she stole one of my daggers, made it look like an accident and everything! Man, what a shit. Probably nabbed my dagger knowing I'd look super sus if it was in Miss Chisa's skull.”

Kiyotaka starred the name in his notes. He'd have to interrogate this Kimura girl. In fact—He swore he'd already heard that name today...

TAEKO ! It came to him like a resounding bolt of thunder. Taeko had wondered if she was a lesbian! The girl with the face mask and the too much jewelry and all those pills tucked under her arm. Those pills likely had something to do with the talent that had landed her in the academy.

His heart hammered. He hadn't expected to find a lead so soon—a potentially credible one, as well. His palms positively vibrated with some strange, sinister mixture of excitement and extreme nervousness.

Anyone else?” he prompted.

Izayoi finished scrawling his crude heart, cramming N&R in the margins. Kiyotaka stared at it a moment—not “I” for Izayoi or “S” for Sohno... Noski. He gagged. “Nope! Nobody else. I actually hate talking to people, being a clinically insane person and also an introvert, and all. ADHD, too. Does it show?” Kiyotaka had no idea how to respond to that. “My dad—not Gozu, my other dad—got me some meds for it, and I think they're working? But I'm so fucking trapped in my thick skull that I actually don't know at all. Ruru said I was getting better at listening to her, though.”

Oh— Oh. Kiyotaka understood.

The reason Izayoi spoke so easily with him now was the link they'd made in swordsmanship. It didn't even matter that Kiyotaka lacked all of the boy's frightening expertise. They shared an interest, so Izayoi no longer felt threatened by his presence.

Kiyotaka let out a huge breath, bowing his head. “Right. Thank you, Izayoi—”

Hey! I said it's Noski, dude. Call me Noski!”

He blew out another sigh. “Thank you, Noski , for your testimony. Is there anything else you can tell me about the murder before I investigate on my own?”

Izayoi hesitated. He dragged his gaze over his next scrawled drawing, a stumpy stick figure with poofy long hair and a billowing skirt.

Uh, just—um. Yeah.” He found the contraption to pass evidence between them and placed the shank in it. “Can you give that to Mr. Kyosuke? Or, um, Kyosuke Munakata. He's my mentor.” He glanced up, looked away. “Tell him I said hi or something.”

Of course,” Kiyotaka said softly. He carefully picked up the sharpened screw, adding it to his court record.

Now to somehow extract Mondo from the incredibly emotional conversation he was having with Gozu out in the hallway. Kiyotaka couldn't make out much of it outside of the horrendous sobbing going on out there, and he cringed at the realization that he'd have to wade through it in order to exit the detention center.

I'll meet you tonight at your place,” Mondo hissed around Gozu's emotional outbursts as Kiyotaka tiptoed through the hall. “We'll reconvene, make a plan.” Kiyotaka threw him a thumbs-up on his way out.

He all but ran into a man wandering aimlessly in the waiting room at the front and caught himself before he crashed to the ground. Shaking himself, he glanced up and met the eyes of a man so tortured he actually did fall.

The man didn't offer his hand and simply stared on as Kiyotaka picked himself back up. With a jolt he recognized him—the white-suited mentor of Izayoi, Kyosuke Munakata.

Munakata's foot snapped to the ground, and he brushed back the white hair from his eyes. His hand leapt to the hilt at his belt.

Slowly he stared down Kiyotaka before hissing, “You,” his tone venomous. “You and your platitudes...”

A sudden wind picked up in the small building. Kiyotaka shivered under Munakata's frigid stare as the sword exited its scabbard and pitched into his throat.

To Be Continued...