What was this guy's problem, she asked herself, kicking the firm, red brick of the wall, and instantly regretting it. Everyone knew this stuff was make-believe, stories they told little kids to make them buy motorbikes when they grew up, something like that. She kicked the wall again, venting her frustration, the cigarette smouldering between her fingers as she sighed and eventually gave up, turning on her heel and leaning back, letting out a sigh.
It was hot, she thought, stupidly hot, hotter than it had been these past few summers. She closed her eyes, lifted the cigarette to her lips, and inhaled deeply, blowing smoke through her nose.
17-years-old, and Amamiya Rin was sick of the weight of the pressure dumped on her shoulders, her parents constantly quizzing her on her grades, her teachers constantly pushing her to do more, and her friends—well, that was a joke. Ever since Kengiro had got involved with the Remodelled Martial Arts Group Z, things had been kind of weird. She had known Kengiro since they were both little, but now it was like he was someone else, and she couldn't tell if it was because of the influence of Group Z's leader, King, and his new friend, Spade, or whether it was just because boys her age were creepy.
She sighed again, banging her head against the wall.
"Why'd you have to be such a dummy, Kengiro?" she murmured. "Everyone knows Kamen Rider isn't real."
Eight or nine years ago, when they had both still been kids, there had a big deal about one of those freaky new religions kidnapping kids or something, trying to brainwash them, to make them soldiers. She remembered her dad talking about that a lot, saying that those new religions were kind of a scam or something and the government never did anything about them. When all that had blown over, someone said it had been because some Kamen Rider put a stop to it, but even then, she hadn't believed that nonsense, and she had been only 10-years-old.
That was what made this situation so frustrating. It wasn't as if Kengiro knew something that she didn't, so why was he falling for this nonsense that King fed him? It made her worry. He was too trusting, if King and his creepy friend took advantage of that, then that would mean trouble, and she didn't trust Kengiro to speak up if something went wrong.
Growing up, Kengiro had always been the quiet one, uneasy around others, never sharing his opinion. By contrast, Rin had been the opposite, making it quite clear to any who got in her way just what she thought of them. At the time when Kengiro joined Group Z, she had thought it was pretty weird considering his history, but she had let it slide, because it was nice seeing him trying to be more manly or whatever, and besides, she wasn't his mother, it wasn't her job to look out for him.
Except that it was, she thought, taking another drag from her cigarette.
Kengiro's mother had left when they were both pretty young, and she wasn't entirely convinced he had ever got over that. She had never directly asked what it was that had caused his parents to get divorced, that really wasn't her place, she thought, but still, there was something there, something that answered why he let himself get wrapped up in things like this.
Once more, she sighed, crouching down and grinding the cigarette out on the concrete. If Kamen Rider was real, she thought, maybe things wouldn't be so messed up, maybe things would make more sense.
She turned her head, looking back towards the school from her lonely place behind the bike sheds, wondering if she could just stroll back through the playground without anyone noticing she had been away. From the inside of her jacket, she pulled out a packet of mints, shaking one free and popping it into her mouth, the universal knowledge that eating mints definitely disguised the smell of cigarette smoke on your breath.
Maybe she should try signing up for Group Z, she thought suddenly. A smile cracked her face, and she reached up and pushed her thick, black framed glasses back up her nose.
"Yeah," she murmured to herself, "that would certainly put King in his place. Let's see him try anything weird when I'm about."
She stood up, yawning, stretching her arms.
"Yeah," she said again, "this could be okay."
In the shadows of the old school buildings behind her, a figure slowly rose up, its mask a rictus grin of decay, dulled eyes bulging, its name etched up its chest.
Without looking back, Rin dug her hands into the pockets of her school blazer, and took a step forward back towards the school.
At her back, the shadow followed.