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Trudge… trudge...

Leaves crunch under the rhythmic plodding of my steps, one at a time. Sometimes the sound is crunched dirt, often times sand but, as of this very moment: leaves, and lots of them. It's interesting, admittedly, to see so many trees in one place left untouched by nuclear fire--but such a setting lends itself to trouble, all manner of types drawn from the sands of the wastes to something just a little more comfortable. It's something I remember as I step forth from a particularly thick grove and find myself near what is undeniably, ostensibly: a farm.

Rows of failed crops. A collapsed well. A barn and accompanying farmhouse... and, strangest of all, a light flickers from its second story, cutting right through the blanket of dark I've marched through up until now. A curiosity like this is just enough to stall my otherwise standard courier mission--deliver package A to point B--but I take my time in surveying the area.

First, questions: if the well isn't in working order, how exactly are the farm's tenets getting water? And, further... why are none of the crops in good shape? The more I think about the situation before me, the more I grow apprehensive of even drawing near. And yet: I'm tired. I've been on my feet all day, ensuring the package I've been entrusted with arrives on time. I'm no machine--not like those Floaters other courier services use. If my feet cry out and my eyelids droop, I feel I've no choice but to rest and begin again tomorrow. But to ensure that... precautions must be taken.

The barn, large space hogging as it is, grabs my attention before the farmhouse itself. Carefully drawing up close to it, I press my ear up against the worn painted wall.

".......... Uuhhhggrrhhgh........."

Nothing makes these sorts of guttural sighs quite like 'Soomers do, the poorest of bastards who've lived through The Numbered Impact only to find their minds warped and addled from power scaling abuse and an overdigestion of increasingly expensive figures (from the old days). The irony of my own Power Leveler usage is not lost on me as I peer through a crack to confirm my suspicion: at least nine 'Soomers shamble around the interior of the barn, bumping into each other, stumbling and tripping and reorienting. One presses against some hay a worn CD of what appears to be a female digital idol's mixtape, and another gnaws on a figurine sporting at least quadruple D's. I round the corner to check the barn door: it's not even barred. They just haven't tried very hard to leave.

Next, I approach the farmhouse, that which offers a sole beacon of light hailing from the second story. Intending to test all the doors, the entrance itself opens easily--completely unlocked. Not outright strange given how many simply left their homes for a moment to check their mail or wave to the neighbors not knowing of the incoming apocalyptic fire. Slowly pushing the door in, I creep inside one step at a time, my eyes bouncing around the room for signs of further 'Soomer inhabitants, whether it be pocky crumbs or the shamblers themselves.

Nothing. Alright. Surveying the foyer, the first object to hit my eyes is a bulky couch sporting decorative pillows reading "Live, Laugh, Anime" and "Home is where the Narto is". I think about my next few steps, then attempt to shove the couch forward. It's heavy--really, really heavy--but it budges just enough to rattle across the hardwood floor beneath and echo a sound throughout the farmhouse. And then... waiting.




Nothing. No activity. I unsheath my jutte and knock it against the walls a couple of times to echo sound throughout the house... but it produces no result. The only occupants here are silence, myself, and a couch. On that note, I pop open a bottle of Power Leveler and down one, feeling tightness and acceleration in my forearms. With renewed strength, I effortlessly lift the couch off the ground and exit the farmhouse, bringing it over to the barn and blocking its entrance (along with a few more pieces of hefty furniture). That secured, I return to the home for further exploration, and find myself in front of a locked door. At first I try the knob but, then remembering the insane strength coursing through me on account of the boost, I casually rip the door off its frame and enter, finding myself standing face to face with a rather striking oak grandfather clock welcoming me, its hands unmoving across a decal of yet another digital idol's features. I glance at the time: inaccurate. I glance at the frame: looks openable. Palming the hatch, I open it up and surprise myself with a rifle and .22LR rounds... along with some sake. I don't usually indulge, but nothing's more helpful in trading than that which binds all men and women together. A scrap of paper is also nestled inside here, reading:

"WhoEVER is leaving this shit here,

do NOT leave this... shit here, bakas! i get how helpful it is to stash gear in this place, but STOP. clean this clock out FAST... or i'll clean YOUR clock! heh....

-- Dokuburedo"

Moving on throughout the house, I ascend the stairs and appear in what appears to be an old nursery. The source of the light is discovered: nothing more than a lamp in the window. But why is it on... and what's even powering it? I notice rain beginning to pick up outside, rhythmically tapping the roof of the farmhouse. Scanning the room, a crib is noticed, and curiosity besets me. Drawing close, I look within: a note. I grab it, read it:


A pause. Hesitation. Realizing my blunder of ever entering this damned place, I rush over to the lamp and hurl it against the ground, shattering and killing the light. Then, I hurry over to the window to observe several figures now emerging from the treeline, encroaching upon this position. Running to another window in another room reveals even more figures, revealing even more an ugly truth: I'm surrounded. And maybe fucked.

My breath quickens, and I struggle to calm myself. Knowing that doing nothing will get me killed and panicking will result in the same, I steady my hands and get to work. First, I palm some broken glass from the smashed lamp to cut its wire off and, after a few choice cuts, the wiring is severed completely, and I pull it tight in my hands like a garrote. Then, I load the rifle rescued from the grandfather clock with ammunition. Finally, I run my hand along my jutte's sheath--this won't be the first time it sees action.

Dashing down the stairs, I intend on barricading the entrances, but my muscles struggle to move much of anything, and an empty Power Leveler bottle throws me further off my plan. Sweat beads down my brow, and another glance through a window shows the figures drawing closer. Mustering what little strength I naturally wield, I shove what I can in front of doorways and windows, then duck inside a closet right besides the back porch entrance... and wait.

Footsteps approach.

I stifle my breath.

".... third one this week... wonder what he's got on 'em!"

The door is audibly kicked in. A group emerges: has to be at least three people, maybe four. One of them speaks aloud: "You know, we could just wait 'em out. They have to eat and drink eventually, yeah? Let's just take them then. I've got some Narto episodes on me so--" But another disagrees: "Nah, fuck that, we did that last time and had to sit through a whole season before that roach crawled out. Let's just rush 'em."

My heartbeat slows. I wait. Steps creak to the tune of three ascending upwards... but one remains behind. Further, another group struggles with the barricade I've set up. I have to act. Quietly exiting the closet, I draw behind the men left downstairs. My geta kicked off in the closet, bare feet press forward one careful step at a time while I size up my target: just a man, nothing more. He approaches the furniture stacked against a doorway in an effort to undo it: his attempt to free the blockade is rendered useless as my ripped lamp cord tightens around his throat. He's down, and I drag him into the closet. Before leaving, I quickly look over the corpse: Sons of Shonen getup. Great.

Now, the upstairs.

Carefully climbing up the curled staircase, I inch forward and scan my surroundings. Two men search the nursery--the last is unaccounted for. I watch them carefully as they peek under tables and inside closets, and realize the coming of an opportunity as one announces he'll check the bathrooms "and take a leak, goddamn." As he exits the room, so do I enter, creeping up behind the one remaining who is busy analyzing the lamp's shattered pieces.

"What the...? Where's the fuckin' cord? I swear to... we gotta find another one of these? What--" another quick garroting shortens his complaining. As I finish tightening my grip, the bathroom door unexpectedly swings open, the third figure very quickly taking notice of my presence. He lets out a surprised yell just as I hurriedly swing my sheathed jutte out from my belt and into his face, making him stumble backwards. That's just the opening I need, I think to myself, as I launch upon the intruder and utilize the makeshift garrote once more. Just as I finish choking the last bits of breath out of him, my luck runs out when the nursery doors slam open as the last of the four rushes through the room--clearly alarmed by the yell from before. Allowing slack in the lamp wire, I jump forward to exercise my garrote once more... but he's clearly faster and stronger than the others, I learn, as a quick fist launches me across the room.

Sailing a good ten or twelve feet before I hit the wall with a nasty thud, I'm immediately winded and doubled over in pain. I have to act fast--this feeling will only be amplified if I let this Shonen Son piece of shit get another hit in. Scrambling, I draw the .22 rifle and blast the man in the knee, causing him to scream. He falls to the ground, allowing just enough of an opportunity to lunge forward and slam the butt of the rifle into his head--lights out. He crumples to the ground as loud steps creak out from downstairs, the rest of the Sons having successfully gained entrance to the farmhouse, alerted and coming to investigate. I grab my still sheathed jutte off the floor and run to intercept.

Dashing to the entrance of the twisted staircase, I blast the first two Sons who've just arrived with the remaining two .22s. One's killed instantly--the other shrieks in pain. A third squeezes in between them rushing towards me, gun waving. In quick response, I thrust the emptied rifle into his chest, then grip the railings with both hands and slam my bare soles into them, creating a domino effect rippling all down the stairs. Bringing my feet out from the air and back onto the steps, I fumble, tripping over one of the men's fallen weapons and crashing down the staircase with them.

I slowly rise back up off the ground as I arrive at the base of the stairs and atop a mound of unconscious bodies, taking in my handiwork. I then turn to the right and watch as a barrel rises up at me and fires, hitting me in my side and slamming me against the wall. Labored breathing immediately follows as pain ripples throughout myself. I can't even lift my head to meet the gaze of my assailant.

"Now just what the hell were you doing, baka? Eh?"

I don't recognize the voice, but his tone indicates... I'm guessing squad leader. He continues to berate me while I continue sucking in air.

"You might've put up a great fight... but consider this tournament arc interrupted. You're messing with the Sons of Shonen, believe it."

His footsteps draw closer.

"Oh well. Looks like I'll be dragging you back to camp to answer for all of these dead..."

In one swift motion, I yank the jutte out from my belt, flinging the sheath straight into the leader's face, causing him to drop his gun and stumble backwards. I then rise to my feet to face him: slightly overweight with black hair loosely tangled together... and he's got something sheathed himself. His expression is shock--then, anger.

"What the hell did you hit me wi... how the hell are you still standing? Where's the blood, huh?"

I wonder about that, too. Looking down, I put the pieces together: his bullet ripped right into the parcel I'm supposed to deliver wrapped around me in a messenger bag, but no actual penetration happened. I'm fine, even if the job's fucked now. Feeling my own anger, I take another pained breath, holding my jutte out--poised, my arm loose.

"Ah? The hell is that, a police toy? And why are you holding it all loose like a fan? You're not gonna do much damage that way."

"It's not hot enough right now to need a fan," I respond.

"Tha… huh?"

"It isn't a fan," I affirm.

"... tch." The man draws his katana.

"You wanna be a kid and play with toys or gundam or whatever, be my guest… But I, Dokuburedo of the Sons of Shonen, will show you what a real hero uses."

He swings. I dodge. Thrusting myself left and right, his bladework becomes noticeably sloppy. He yells "to quit being a little baka bitch and FIGHT!", but I continue waiting for an opening. One particular swing reveals my inability to dodge, and so I block with the jutte. Then, another block. Another. Waiting. Another. Then: opportunity. As Dokuburedo brings down his katana with rage, I angle the jutte's kagi to catch its descent, then twisting the blade out from his grip and connecting a solid punch with my free hand right into his nose.

"Grraagghh! You…!" he yells out as he palms his nose. But an expression of anger twists back into a smile as he eyes the blood in his hand. "Hmph…" he gives it a lick. "The blood… will only make me stronger. You can see my energy flowing, can't you?"

"... I can, actually," I respond, as the rain picks up outside and light beams through a window to illuminate Dokuburedo's figure. But then the light stops. "Wait, it's gone now." A loud rumbling is suddenly heard and then, moments later, more light fills the room. "Ah, there's your power agai…" but the light disappears briefly followed by another rumbling. "Sorry, it's gone again. Are you getting a weak signal in here?"

"A weak signa….. GGRRRRR! GRRAAGGGHHH!!" he screams as he charges forward, katana raised.

I lunge forward to swing the jutte into his blade's arc when, suddenly, Dokuburedo grabs the other end of my weapon with his fist. He smirks, offering "You're a thousand years too early--"

The Son is cut off by unsheathing the jutte's kan--it's bottom piece--revealing a stiletto then promptly thrusted into his fat neck.

"I… I don't… believe it," he gasps, blood gushing from his neck.

"Dattebayo," I say in response, then producing the wad of "Sucker" paper and flicking it at his head. He looks up from the ground into my eyes, his glassy, and then slumps over. I hold my stance for a moment, then drop to the ground as well, breathing heavily. I scan the room: pained groans from the staircase travel throughout the farmhouse, but none stir or bother lifting themselves. I survived, but…

The package is ruined.