“You two need to try this,” I insisted, handing both boys a small wrap each. “Nervi makes the best sandwiches.”
“This isn’t a sandwich, it’s a wrap,” Yuuki said.
“Well, he also makes good wraps,” I insisted, as I led us over to an unoccupied table. I found myself slightly giddy over the fact that the open-air dining area was actually crowded. There were people here, outside again. The city was beginning to feel normal again.
Yuudai, the younger of the two brothers, shrugged and sat down. “Sandwich, wrap, it smells good.” He took a big bite, and chewed thoughtfully. “What is this? Dog?”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I chided him, even as Yuuki took his own seat. “And this is an abyssal leapeater wrap.”
Yuuki sniffed at the item in his hands with some suspicion. “I thought abyssals were poisonous.”
“Acidic, actually. But it comes off during the grilling.”
The elder boy arched an eyebrow at me, but seeing as how his younger brother was enthusiastically eating his own food with such obvious relish, he sighed and gingerly took a bite. After a moment, he swallowed, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I can’t identify the sauce…”
“No sauce. That’s the acid.”
He whipped his head in my direction, panic in his eyes. “You said it burns off!”
“Yes, and leaves behind flavor. Like cooking with wine.”
Yuudai swallowed, peering at his wrap. “Where did they get the meat, anyway? Eve says abyssals are pretty rare.”
I bit into my own wrap. The strange, smoky flavor that you could normally only get with a very special type of oven was exactly as I remembered it. “Who’s Eve?” I asked, after I finished swallowing my bite—it wouldn’t do to provide a bad example for the boys. “That girlfriend of yours?”
He nodded eagerly. “Eve Am, that’s her. She’s just a nice demon girl.”
“No specific subculture?”
“Nope. Just some horns and a good strong tail.” He nodded at the waitress, sashaying around the tables. “Like that girl, there.”
I grinned slightly. “That’s not a demon, that’s Lily.”
He frowned. “Who—” Then the light dawned. “Lily!? The Lily? Eve goes on and on about her! Why’s she just waiting tables? Shouldn’t she be, uh…” he faltered, not really sure what someone like her was expected to do.
“She likes it,” I explained. “Likes interacting with people on a casual basis like this.”
“Besides,” Yuuki cut in. “What else would she be doing? Sitting in the middle of Necessarius with the Big Boss?”
Yuudai’s frown returned. “She’s a ‘sarian.”
I shrugged. “Not really. Kinda. She’s doesn’t like killing, so she doesn’t approve of their methods, but she respects them, especially Butler.” I smiled, remembering the argument I had walked in on earlier today, shortly after we got back. “He actually tried to get her to move into MC’s bunker, after this whole debacle.”
“Oh.” The little boy—much smaller than his brother, even though he was only a year younger—shook his head. “But you didn’t answer my question! Abyssal meat is rare. Where do they get it?”
“Oh, sorry.” His question had completely slipped my mind as I focused on his girlfriend. “Mostly, Ezio—and his mother, who runs another place—gets it from people like me. Monster slayers. Abyssal leapeaters don’t quite breed true, so it’s not like you can farm them.”
“I forgot you said you’re a monster slayer,” Yuuki muttered around a mouthful of food. I glared at him, and he had the good grace to swallow before continuing. “You’re in some gang, right? Huntsman’s?”
“Gang might be stretching it. It’s just the two of us.”
He put the wrap down in surprise. “Really? Because I looked around on Fundie a little, and apparently he’s actually pretty well-known. Or is that a different Huntsman?”
“No, it’s the same,” I admitted. “It’s a small group, but we do good work.”
“Huh. I guess I should have expected that from the Paladins.”
I paused mid-bite. “…right. I forgot that you would know about that now.”
“The whole city knows!” Yuudai chirped happily. He was grinning from ear to ear. “It was a lot of fun for us, too! We got to point at the tv and say ‘That’s our aunt!’”
“You said it,” Yuuki murmured, blushing into his wrap. “I just tried to stay out of it all.”
I smiled, but didn’t say anything, knowing full well what it was like to be embarrassed like that.
After ten or twenty minutes, we finished up our food and headed down the street.
“So what did you two want to do next?” I asked as I adjusted my sword bag over my shoulder. “There are shops around here, but also a public library, some cafes, AU—”
“AU is the school you go to, right?” Yuuki interrupted. “The college, I mean.”
I shrugged. “Well, technically yes, but we haven’t been going recently.”
“Because of the Composer.”
“Exactly.” I thought about it. “I suppose we should start attending again, but it’s a little hard to care, all things considered. We already have very steady, well-paying jobs. We were pretty much only going to keep Derek’s mother happy.”
“He has a mom?” Yuudai asked with wide eyes. “Like, an actual mom?”
I ruffled his hair. “So do I! Your grandmother, in fact.” My smile faded. “I suppose you’ll want to meet her sooner or later.”
Yuudai looked a bit confused at that, but Yuuki seemed to recognize the expression on my face. “You don’t get along with her?”
“She is just… a very trying woman,” I managed diplomatically. “She never really got used to living in a city of criminals. And she’s inside NHQ’s radius, so she’s perfectly safe, meaning she doesn’t really understand how people need to fight to survive.”
“But she’d want to meet us, right?” Yuudai pressed. “Why wouldn’t she?”
I grimaced. “She’s… delicate, in some ways. She doesn’t like being reminded of what she’s lost.”
Yuuki frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, I remind her too much of your grandfather.” I lifted my sword, still in its bag slung over my shoulder, to emphasize my point. “And I’m afraid you two might remind her too much of your mom.” I ruffled Yuudai’s hair again, smiling at his green eyes. “You both look just like her.”
“Oh,” the younger boy said, clearly disappointed. “That’s… I mean, I’m happy we look like her, but if it causes problems, we could get some cosmos…”
I whacked him on the head.
“Hey!” he cried, his upper lip quivering as if he was about to cry. “What was that for?”
“If you want to use the toy maker, that’s fine,” I informed him sternly. “But you don’t need to change just because you want someone else to like you. That just leads to those fourteen year-old girls with D-cups.”
Yuudai settled down a bit, and Yuuki rubbed him on his head where I had hit him. “You’ve got a point,” the elder brother admitted.
“Besides, you especially don’t need to change yourself to make that woman like you,” I muttered darkly. “She’s going to find something to hate. Honestly, your appearances are pretty low on the list.”
“I… see…” Yuuki said slowly. “Well, how about you—”
A man ran out of the shop in front of us at breakneck speed, nearly bowling the three of us off our feet.
“Musashi’s broken oar,” I muttered. “What was that?”
The shop clerk, a young boy about Yuudai’s age, came out of the shop as if in answer to my question. “Stop! Thief!”
“Huh,” Yuuki muttered. “I wonder if there will be a reward.”
I smacked him lightly upside the head again. “Doesn’t matter.”
Then I sped off.
It felt weird, being able to use my power in front of the dozens or hundreds of witnesses, and not have to worry about anybody finding out. They all knew by now. They might not have made the connection between me and the Paladin with super speed, but there was nothing exceptional about having a power.
Though, to be perfectly fair, I probably could have caught up with the shoplifter even without my power. I’m pretty fast all on my own, and he wasn’t too far away when I started running. This also meant that when using my speed, I was able to catch up to him in barely a heartbeat, and quickly get in front of him.
Since to my perspective, it looked like he was moving in slow motion, it was easy to size him up. He was a young baseline African man—not just black, African. The horizontal spike piercing his chin made it pretty obvious. Though I suppose he could have just been a run of the mill black kid interested in his people’s history, the sharp cut of his jaw and the weathered look of his skin made him seem like someone who had experience in an actual tribal lifestyle.
Tucked under his arm was one of those bulk boxes of nutrient bars. The kind of thing you ate as a snack on the go. There would be about fifty in the box; more than enough to feed a young boy for a couple weeks.
I met his eyes. They were strong, but desperate. He was clearly hungry, almost certainly homeless, and probably too busy saving up for a Cannibalism buff to be able to afford to buy food.
Then he blinked, almost too quickly for me to notice.
Wait, did he just—
Then his eyes narrowed and focused on me.
I didn’t even have time to draw my sword. All I knew was that suddenly, he was moving at normal speed—except he wasn’t, not really.
He was just moving at the same speed I was.
He had the good sense to drop the box. To all appearances, it just hovered in midair; it would fall eventually, but at the rate we were moving, that was going to take a minute. Unburdened, he stepped swiftly inside my guard and punched once, twice, straight at my face.
Shocked as I was, my combat instincts kicked in quickly, and I was able to easily dodged his attacks just by taking two steps back.
He kept on the offensive, moving like a boxer—light on his feet, throwing lightning-fast punches with unerring accuracy.
I could probably beat him in a moment if I went on the offensive, but I was hesitant. Partly because I was worried I’d do far too much damage to him—he was just a thief, he didn’t deserve to die, but I wasn’t used to having to hold back—but also because I knew that I could easily outlast him. My reservoir was undoubtedly far deeper than his own; I had barely even tapped into mine, but assuming he was at about the same level I was in my first couple days, he’d be spent soon.
But if he realized that I was trying to wait him out, he might go full power long enough to do some serious damage to me. Stronger than him or not, if he was quick, especially if he had a blade, he could very well kill me.
I wasn’t going to let that happen.
I dodged the first of his one-two punches, then dove forward into the second, tapping a little bit more speed in order to dodge the blow by a hair’s breadth. He was too shocked by the odd maneuver to recover fast enough.
Not that it mattered. I was inside his guard, and faster than him. Before he had a chance to draw more power from his reservoir, I punched him hard in the gut, causing him to double-over in pain. Rather than calling that the end of it, I tripped him up with one foot, sending him sprawling to the ground, and then put my foot on his chest, pinning him with the full weight of my body.
I returned to normal speed—the thief following suit a moment later, when a little bit of thrashing confirmed that he still couldn’t escape—and looked over my shoulder at the kid from the store. “Necessarius.”
He blinked, then nodded and fished out a phone to call MC.
Then the applause started.
Now it was my turn to blink in surprise. Now that I had a moment to stop and look around, I realized that the sidewalks were packed with people—people who were now smiling and clapping in appreciation for my swift take down of the thief.
I blushed and shuffled my feet. I didn’t really deserve any praise like this…
I really didn’t.
Because the second I let down my guard, the thief took advantage.
Suddenly I was on the ground, flat on my back, and he was standing above me, anger in his eyes. Thankfully, he wasn’t in the mood for revenge. He just stooped down and picked up his box at super speed and ran off—
Only to get tackled bodily to the ground.
It happened so fast that I barely saw it happen. It was someone else with speed, no question; no one else would have been able to move that fast. I rose to my feet to see the thief’s face being pushed into the concrete by the man sitting on his back…
It was Yuuki.
He grinned when he noticed me staring at him in shock, but didn’t let up on the criminal.
“You have… super speed?” I asked dumbly.
The grin widened. “I couldn’t think of a way to tell you. I guess this works, huh?”
A distant part of my brain noted that Laura would find this very interesting. The implications of two members of the same family having the same power were staggering. But at the moment, I didn’t care about that. I just cared that my nephew had successfully taken down a criminal. Easily taken down a criminal, in fact.
I stepped forward and tussled his hair again. “Good job,” I said, putting as much gratitude into those two words as I could. It seemed like it worked, because he blushed in embarrassment and turned away, pretending to be focused on the captive.
Yuudai suddenly sped up to my side. I nearly jumped out of my skin. He had speed too? “The shop keeper says the ‘sarians are gonna be here in a couple minutes.” He eyed the African man, who had largely stopped struggling. “What’ll they do with him?”
“Well, that depends,” I mused. “Best case scenario, he just pays for the food, plus the penalty on top.” It was what, double the item’s price these days? No, wait, I think the penalty was just the item’s price, but then you also had to pay for the item, so it came out to double. More if he was a repeat offender. “Of course, I doubt he’d have stolen food if he could pay for it, so he’ll likely have to work it off.”
“Utumwa,” the man spat viciously.
I glared at him, and mustered the fortitude to speak more than a couple words. “I don’t understand… whatever language that is, but I’m guessing it was an insult. It will be a day’s work. Just do it, no complaining.”
“Easy to preach hard work when you’re not the one starving.”
I picked up the box he had dropped and turned it over in my hands, looking for a price label. “Thirty dollars? You couldn’t scrounge up thirty dollars?”
He scowled. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“What, no one would hire you? Those fighting skills didn’t grow out of thin air. Even before the MEE, you could have found a job as a boxer or a hit man or a trainer. Now, with your speed, you should be even more in demand.”
He looked away.
“Honored Paladin?” a voice called from behind me. I turned to see the shivering young clerk, and two large and furry kemos, both with the Necessarian red and black band on their shoulders. “They’re here for the thief. They’ll take him in for processing.”
“Wait,” I said, as the ‘sarians moved forward. There was… an idea, tickling at the back of my brain. Obviously, there was something the thief wasn’t saying. Something that made his life harder than it should be. But whatever it was, he was fast, and quick on his feet. “How much?”
The kemos looked at each other, then at me. The one on the left, the one with vaguely ursine features, spoke. “You mean his penalty? Sixty-six dollars, including tax. But you can’t buy his debt. That’s slavery, and you of all people should know how the Big Boss feels about the slave trade—”
“Not buying his debt,” I said firmly. “Paying it. Puts him in the free and clear.” I pulled out my wallet.
There were six dollars in it.
Oh, right, I had left all my money behind when we left the city, and what little I had picked up when we got back was spent at Nervi’s place, on the sandwiches. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t need to have more cash on me.
“Um… I have money at my dorm. If you’ll just let me run back—”
“No need,” the ‘sarian on the right assured me quickly. “We know who you are.”
“Normally, we’re supposed to take him into custody while you get the money,” his companion noted. “But since it’s you, we can take your word on it.” He pulled out a pad, tapped on it for a moment, then proffered it to me. “Please read it, and sign at the bottom.”
It was basically just a bill, stating that I would pay the sum at the next available opportunity. I signed it, the lawmen left, and the street slowly settled back down into a normal routine.
“Yuuki, get off him,” I ordered once the shock of the whole event had worn off and I had a chance to think again. My elder nephew did as I suggested a little ruefully.
I eyed the thief as he slowly clambered to his feet, still glaring at me. “I hope you don’t think this puts me in your debt.”
“No,” I agreed, handing him back his stolen box of nutrient bars. He took it a little suspiciously. “Your debt is paid. You’re free.” I shrugged. “But… maybe I have a job? You don’t have to take it.”
He narrowed his eyes. “A paying job?”
“A paying job.”
“And no assassinating people?”
“No assassinations. Maybe killing, but no assassinating.”
The baseline looked at me a good, long while, trying to size me up, determine my motive.
“Sefu,” he said finally, holding out his hand to shake.
I smiled, and took it. “Sefu. I’m Akane Akiyama.”
Behind the Scene (scene 229)
This is one of those that builds up to something important, rather than being important itself.