It's been said that we will never know the day when the End of the World comes. That moment will be a surprise to us all, and when the apocalypse starts knocking on our door, only our own strength can save us. We will be completely unprepared.
I have to say that I never believed it. I mean, you'd think that you'd be able to see the end of everything coming from a long way off. But then it happened, the world ended in a heartbeat.
And it happened without warning.
"So, do we have a plan, fearless leader?"
Takashi glanced away from the window and shrugged at Saya. "We stay under the radar and play by the rules until we decide." Turning back to the view he added. "But after two days? I'm pretty sure we won't be going anywhere."
She cocked an eyebrow. "Why's that? Do you agree with Shibata now?"
Another shrug, "It's all about momentum, right? The longer we stay in one place, the harder it is to move on."
Saya chuckled wryly. "If you keep having these deep insights into the human mind I won't be able to call you 'baka' behind your back anymore."
He smirked, "But you think I'm right."
"Hmph." Saya nodded imperiously, "Unfortunately, we're all to used to creature comforts to actually enjoy the idea of living like ignorant savages. Too bad being civilized doesn't count for much anymore."
"And even you feel that way?"
"I'd miss the showers."
Takashi laughed quietly for a moment. "Come on, let's wake everyone up. We have work to do today."
"Start gathering information for an escape play, in case I'm wrong about the whole 'momentum' thing. That's what I need you to do for me, Saya."
"What?" She groused. "Nothing more specific than that? Do you want me to find a cure for cancer while I'm at it?"
"A way to fabricate ammunition would be more useful." Takashi said, "Besides, I trust you. More restrictions would just get in your way, right 'super genius?"
After Saya left Takashi looked back out of the window for a moment more. Over the city, the sunlight began to cut the chill of the predawn air, hinting at a warm dry day to come. Takashi quickly got the others up and moving, and he left their 'quarters' to head for the main common room near the center of the building.
During the last scavenge run, one bright survivor had snagged a free standing whiteboard and some markers. The group had used it to carry back an additional brace of supplies, and now there was a dedicated 'task board' in the office building's central hub which all of its residents could look at to find out what chores they had been assigned for that day.
All things told, Takashi found it exceptionally organized. He and Khota had been assigned to scavenger duty that morning, and after informing the group of the other assorted chores they were to perform, Takashi picked up his trusty baseball bat and told Khota to meet him in the lobby. He was on his way there when a familiar voice drew his attention.
"Takashi, can we talk for a sec?"
Takashi's head snapped up to see Rei standing down the hall, an unreadable look on her face.
Rei nodded. Then she nodded again, "Right." She said, "can you come with me for a second please?" Takashi could only follow as she made her way back down the hall at a brisk pace. Both teens missed Saeko, standing around a nearby corner, who watched Rei's actions with lidded eyes.
"You're not planning on doing anything drastic I hope."
"Hmm?" Saeko turned to Saya, who walked up beside her. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, Takagi-san." Saya only snorted in reply.
Meanwhile, Rei and Takashi finally came to a stop a ways down the hall. There were well of the beaten path, the narrow corridor forming a secluded alcove where it met a locked office.
It fit the mood that they should be separate, Rei decided, this was a personal matter after all. She knew that something needed to be said here, and that she needed to be the one to start, but all the same she couldn't find the words.
"Rei?" Takashi asked. He sounded so concerned, his voice warm and soft, dredging up fuzzy memories of past dates and shared sunlight. For a moment Rei wanted nothing so much as to through herself into his arms.
Why had she not seen how much he meant to her, how important his presence was in her own life? She'd been the one to make the mistake when she gave up on him, and now she had to face the consequences.
"I understand," She said. "That I'm the one to let you go in the first place." Best to start simple.
"...Rei, what are you talking about?"
She spun to face Takashi, "Oh no. Don't you dare pull that one on me! This- ...this is hard enough without you lying to spare my feelings."
"I've seen the way you look at her Takashi." Rei murmured, "And how the two of you will just happen to be missing at the same time. I have eyes Takashi!
-And I get it! I get it... I'm the one who let you go, and Saeko was just there; so I know I don't have any right to be angry, and I know it's just like with me and H-Hisashi, and-"
"Rei." Takashi wrapped his arms firmly wrapped around her smaller frame. And it was only then that she realized the she was crying. "I understand. I'm sorry."
Rei sighed, "No, no." She pushed him away gently, "That's not- (she let out a choked laugh)- that's not where I meant to go with that... I just- I just wanted to tell you that I understand. And I want you to be happy, even if it's with Saeko."
"Don't, Takashi." She said, holding up a hand. "Please, don't. Just let me act like a grown up for once in my life." Rei gave him a teary smile. Takashi chuckled wryly in return.
"There" Rei said. "I did it. I'm gonna go back to the room now. See you later, fearless leader."
She began to walk down the hall, but Takashi called her back.
"I'll always be there for you Rei." He said. "And I'm sorry, I'm sorry I wasn't who you needed me to be."
She threw one last smile over her shoulder, "You've always been who we needed you to be." and then she was gone.
Takashi let out a heavy sigh, took a moment to collect himself, and made his way down to the lobby as he had originally intended. Hirano and Isou were already waiting in the foyer with backpacks along with a few other melee weapons ranging from steel bats to two by fours.
Takashi nodded to the others "Is it just the three of us."
"Yep," Isou replied, "The others already left."
The hours slipped by as they cautiously roamed around the city, turning over houses and convenience stores for canned goods and anything else that might be useful. Once completed, the marked the lintel of each house and store with an 'x', a sign for future scavenging parties that the area had already been searched.
It was on their return the apartment complex that Khota spotted something.
"Over there," He said, drawing Takashi's attention to a house a ways down the street. "I think there's someone over there." he murmured quietly.
Takashi settled the bat into a ready grip and said, "Let's go check it out then."
The three slowly made their way over to the house, which sat on the corner of a street, making sure to stay on the sidewalk to avoid being spotted. Takashi heard quiet laughter, not loud enough to draw the attention of them in any case, and he leaned slowly around the corner of the house.
In the street stood two men, decked out in ripped leather jackets and chains and the like. Very stereotypical gangster. But what drew Takashi's attention the most was how they were dousing the wooden buildings on the street with gasoline from four large gas containers. The two unkempt men poured gas over the house and on its first floor as well, from what Takashi could see, before moving on to the next house and repeating the process.
Takashi pulled his head back, motioning Khota and Isou to come closer. "Two men with gasoline." He told them, "It looks like they're trying to start a fire."
Khota flinched, "Are they wearing orange bandanas?" He asked. Takashi nodded. "Shit. They're part of the arsonist gang that's practically taken over this part of the city. Sagi, another sniper, told me how they like luring mobs of them into a building before lighting it on fire."
"The supermarket in Shinagawa last night!" Isou hissed. "I saw it burn down."
Khota nodded, "Usually they give Shibata's 'domain' a wide berth. I don't like how they're so close to us."
"We'll, we're gonna have to do something about that then." Takashi said. "Do you have a gun on you, Hirano?"
The chubby marksman nodded, "Silence pistol, I'll spare you the make and model."
Takashi chuckled wryly, "That works out perfectly then. The two are distracted. Pop one in the head and the other one in the leg. Shibata'll want to know what they're up to."
"The head, huh." Khota stared down at his pistol for a moment. "Done."
He rose smoothly and slipped to the corner, Takashi and Isou behind him, ready to charge around the corner and grab the second man. Hirano stepped out of cover and aimed and shot twice. "Go." He said. With that Takashi and Isou sprinted, reaching the second arsonist right as he started to scream in pain.
A swift blow from Takashi's bat ended that sentiment.
A tentative knock came to her door, "Shibata-sama, Scavenger group two has returned. They have important news."
Shibata set aside her pen. "I see," Pushing the papers on the desk to the side she said, "Send them in."
"At once, Shibata-sama" Her guard replied. She had never told them to address her as 'sama' but she couldn't deny she enjoyed the flavor of such an honorific. Of course, it only made Takashi more interesting as he continued to call her "Shibata-san" despite the glares from her loyal followers.
As her doorman had said, Takashi and two of his group entered promptly, dragging a fourth, unknown man behind them. The last had his arms roughly bound behind his back and a ratty pillowcase over his head serving as a makeshift hood.
"Oh my," She said, amused. "Am I the godfather now?"
Takashi rolled his eyes as he pushed the bound man onto his knees and took of the pillow case. "This guy and his pal were pouring gasoline on houses half a block from here." He said without preamble.
"Hmh? Well then. I suppose I will have to do something about him." Shibata smirked, then she noticed the gag in the man's mouth. "Has he been difficult, Takashi-kun?"
"Crass more like."
"You haven't gotten any other information out of him?" She asked.
"Nothing but a few inventive new swear words."
Shibata chuckled wryly. "Very well. I'll deal with him, meanwhile, please tell Takehito to place more lookouts on the roof, and to send up Sergeant Imahara, if you would." Takashi nodded, and the three left the office.
Takashi deposited his loot from the scavenge run and made his way back down to the common room. Hirano was called to the roof, along with a few other sharp eyed individuals who had gained the position of sentry. There was a tense atmosphere within the building now, though. The others had seen him bring the man up to Shibata's office, and now people were whispering to each other, no doubt theorizing about what had happened.
Instead of staying dispel, or affirm, the rumors, Takashi sought out the rest of his group.
He found them in the unofficial 'rec room', where Shibata's group stored games and such that they'd found throughout the office building and surrounding areas. For the most part the room was pretty empty, and in function it served as a second common room more than anything else.
"You know," Isou commented, "If this were America they'd at least have a foosball table in here."
Takashi smiled thinly. He could tell that Isou was still on edge from their meeting with the arsonists, thought there was little time for that now. Shibata's reaction, her slight air of surprise, had confirmed Takashi's suspicions. Something dangerous was going to happen.
He called brought everyone together quickly, even Rika was in the room, talking with Shizuka no doubt, and he told them what had happened on the scavenge run. "Be ready for anything. I feel like the storm is coming." He said.
"That's really vague, you know," Saya replied. "You can't give us anything more specific than that? I mean, if we were a group of arsonists, how would we try and 'end' Shibata?"
"Only one way of course," Saeko said. "If you are correct, Takashi, then we should expect a fire." The whole group grimaced.
"You'd think there would only be so many ways you could burn one place to the ground" Saya remarked.
"They were dousing the houses in gasoline, one by one." Takashi said. "It's not a stretch of the imagination at all to imagine that they would do that to a whole city block. And The three of us didn't stop to check how many buildings they'd already done." He shook his head. "That's why I said be ready."
"Gasoline in its liquid form doesn't actually burn." Saya said suddenly, drawing everyone's eyes to her. "It's the vapor as the gasoline evaporates that will catch on fire, and it's not like the vapor will just hang around forever. Even though it's been colder and humid as always recently, the gasoline will eventually all evaporate and disperse into the atmosphere. Whatever it is they're planning, they'd have to do it soon."
"Way to kill the mood, Takagi," Rei murmured.
"Isn't there some American idiom for that, 'I speak the truth and nothing but the truth'?"
"Ah," Isou said, "Something like that."
Takashi looked out the window, where the sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon.
Some time later, Rika joined Hirano on the rooftop, toting her well used rifle over her shoulder. At the leader's instructions, she set up her tripod her tripod on the east side of the building. It was closing in on dusk now, but there was still more than enough light to see by even if the shadows were equally prevalent. She shared a brief greeting with Khota before focusing on her task.
It was Khota who caught the first glimpse of them. "Boss," He called over his shoulder, "People from the arsonist group to the southwest." The older man was next to Khota in an instant, looking through is binoculars.
"Two of them huh? What do they got there?"
"It looks like a road flare..." Hirano replied. "I think they're gonna- shit-!"
"Pop 'em kid! Quickly before the wackjobs light another house on fire."
Khota steadied his aim. Two shots, "Got them." He said.
The overseer nodded. "I doubt we're done just yet. You!" He gestured to a random lookout, "go inform Shibata about what just happened. The rest of you keep your eyes peeled for any more hostiles." The man must have been an ex SDF member or something, to talk like he did. "You have orders to fire on sight once you confirm the orange bandana which serves as their sign."
The lookouts waited in tense silence, scanning the streets for movement even as the one house about a block away went up in flames. One of the sentries asked "Shouldn't we do something about the fire?"
The chief shook his head. "Left be it should burn out by itself." He replied. "We just need to make sure that the freaks don't start any more fires to go along with it.
"Do they do this sort of thing often?" Rika asked.
"Often enough," Another sentry said, "But never so close our office building. Usually they're far enough away that we can't get a bead on them." It was then that another house, to the North West this time, began to smoke. "Shit, there are more of them. That building's even closer than the last one!"
"Catch them before the light the damn things!" The chief bellowed "Do you want to see another inferno?!"
Rika managed to spot another group of targets. Her gun fired once into the coming night. "Got another one, over to the east." She reported calmly "His buddy ducked behind cover, I can't get an angle on him, and there are more farther out." Shifting focus she fired twice more.
Another sentry spoke "There's three more to the south as well!" He fired three rounds, "Fuck! Missed. Glasses, get over here!" Khota managed to peg one, but the others slipped out of sight.
"There are more of them out there." Rika noted, "At least five to each side of us." Some of the lookouts on the North wall began firing, ending with a triumphant cry of "got him!"
"Stay focused! They're making a major move on us!" The chief bellowed "I need to report the situation to Shibata-sama. The rest of you, try and keep them off of our asses for as long as you can! Once it gets full dark we won't be able to see shit." And then he slipped off the rooftop.
The sentries did their best, but slowly more and more buildings began to catch fire as the arsonists went about their work. In the shadows it became harder and harder to catch a glimpse of their foes, and no matter how good they were the lookouts just couldn't peg all of them.
Nevertheless, the arsonists' master plan became apparent soon enough.
"Two of you from each side, get over to the East wall!" Rika commanded
"What? We can't just let the rest of them get to the building."
"Don't you see what they're doing?" She replied, even as she took out another enemy. "They're trying to close us into a ring of fire! They don't care about the building! If we don't keep an avenue of escape open we'll all be burned alive."
The other lookouts followed her orders rather quickly after that.
Inside, Shibata was being briefed on the situation. The grim expression on her face said it all. "Organize all of our supplies, make sure everyone is up and moving." They'd need to load rations, distribute weapons, and countless other tasks besides if they were to evacuate the high-rise. And she would have to organize it all. "Prepare for immediate evacuation, take only the necessities, food, water, ammunition. Tell everyone to bring spare clothes if they can, but we have to do this quickly."
Shibata sighed as her aid left the office. "I can only hope that we've been given enough time."
Takashi and the others were waiting when the call for evacuation came out. The 'supply lockers' were thrown open and the various weapons Shibata's followers had collected during their stay were handed out. Saeko was lucky enough to get her sword, and Takashi his shotgun (he informed the guards that he knew how to use the weapon, which wasn't exactly a lie), but the rest of the group had to make do with lead pipes, bats, and the odd two by four.
"This way please!" One of the guards shouted over the din "For an orderly line while we distribute supplies! Make your way down to the second floor after you have been provisioned! Be prepared to immediately depart!"
Takashi noted how everyone was moving with a grim determination, no one panicking, no one making a scene about leaving this or that behind, or having to carry too much weight. They'd all been through the panic before, now only one concern remained, staying alive.
Quickly, the second floor began to fill with people, some grasping weapons, others huddled nervously together, but almost all with some sort of back pack or satchel filled with supplies. Takashi even noticed someone carrying the propane stove that they'd grabbed from Isou's house.
There were guards in the room now too, as everyone waited quietly to be told what to do next. It was odd, to see no one trying to take control of the situation, all the same people had noticed the slowly growing ring of fire that was beginning to encircle the highrise. Everyone was feeling tense, but all the same the waited for the final verdict from Shibata.
Shibata had just left the roof after a quick meeting with Rika who told her the situation. "We managed to keep the east side of the building relatively clear, but, well, you can see the rest."
"Is there any chance that the fire will burn itself out?" She had asked.
Rika had shook her head at that. "They've thrown too much gasoline onto the fire, and it looks like almost every house in the area has been doused in gas within the past day. I still don't know how no one noticed..."
"Time for that later" Then Shibata had made her way down to the second floor, with all of the lookouts behind her. Takehito informed her en route the most of the supplies had been distributed, but that the fire was growing larger and more dangerous by the minute. No mistaking it, they had to leave now.
She stopped in front of the crowd and addressed them.
"We have no time here for long winded speeches. We are besieged, by an insane enemy bending the very elements against us. We must abandon our stronghold or risk being consumed in the blaze. We break east, towards the edge of the city. Fighters, cover our advance from the front and sides. The rest of you, do not linger behind! Your salvation is in your own hands tonight." Shibata met each of her children's eyes. "We will smash through our enemies and move onward to a brighter future!"
With that one of her lieutenants took over. "Organize yourselves! Move down to the first floor! We leave in three minutes!"
They ran into the maw of hell. Dancing walls of flame flanked them from either side, growing closer with each passing minute. At the Vanguard, Takashi personally shot more than a half a dozen of the crazies trying to light more houses on fire, Khota was probably in the double digits. Acrid smoke was thick in the air making Takashi eyes water. There were shouts and screams and gunshots arcing through the night. It was like a nightmare, blurred and horrid and never ending. But then they were on the outskirts of the city, and Takashi could barely remember what had transpired before.
They were weary and soot stained and battle scarred, but somehow, they had made it through the flames.
A voice, indistinct though loud enough to be heard, rose above the crowd, "Gather into your groups! Watch men form a perimeter! Report to Shibata who is missing!" Simple enough, funny how they said missing though, instead of dead... He wandered through the crowd lethargically, bumping into random strangers, trying to pick a face out of the masses.
"Takashi. Takashi!" His head snapped up. Over to the side he saw the rest of his group, Rei waving, Saeko smiling wearily, Saya frowning at his lateness. As he made it over to them, Isou, Yukiko, and Shun staggered up as well. They had grim expressions on their faces, and Isou was leaning on Yukiko for support.
Takashi frowned. "What happened?"
Isou gave him a wry grin. "Oh, you know." He was the only one trying -and failing- to be light hearted, Yuki and Shun looked like the grave. When no one else spoke, Isou sighed and removed his arm from Yuiki's grip. With a dull, world weary smile, he gestured to the ruined bloody mess of fabric at his shoulder. "Bite." He said.
The mood took a sudden swan dive, as everyone looked at Isou sadly. Yukiko is the one who elaborates, "He... he stopped one of them from getting to me." She whispered, "That bite was supposed to be for me."
"Oy, oy! Don't go talking like that." Isou chided. "I knew what I was doing. Besides, didn't I promise to make sure you and your brother got to safety when we first ran into each other?" He looks like a man who's made his peace with death, Takashi was impressed. "Only... Takashi, can you do me a favor?"
Takashi nodded stonily. "Come with me." He said.
That evening he reports to Shibata that his group had only one casualty with a dead look in his eyes. Shibata nods, before pulling him into a gentle, motherly hug. She knows how it feels to fail those who rely on you, and she tells Takashi in a hollow voice that, counting Isou, she has lost sixteen of her children that night. They both have a moment when they find someone who can understand them, if only from a distance. But they both know that they have to keep moving.
They set up camp for the night, distributing food water and blankets as needed. Everyone was too exhausted to complain and just sat down wherever they could find space. Here and there small campfires sprang up, inevitably attracting a larger group to form around them. Look outs were posted, shifts were assigned, and the night passed quietly.
Takashi and the rest of his family rested around one such fire. The rest were sleeping, Rei and Shizuka sprawled out next to each other, Alice across Khota's stomach, Saeko's head pillowed on Takashi's own lap. But he himself couldn't fall asleep. He had too many thoughts hanging around in his head to pack them all up and drift away. Instead, he was staring into the fire before him... just staring into the flames.
The flames taught me something, or perhaps watching them simple reminded me of what I already knew. It was a sight to behold, that miniscule fire warming dozens of bodies. It was nothing more than an ember of the blaze, but in a tiny voice, it told that-
"-One day, every fire will go out." Takashi said, looking over the valley below. "The import thing is that we use our lives to light and warm the world for as long as we can. Understand?"
Two tawny eyes, mirror images of his own looked up at him seriously from beneath purple bangs, which bounced once when the figure nodded. "Hai, Otousama."
Takashi laughed, his age lined face splitting into a cheerful grin as he rested a hand on top of the young girls head. "I knew you would understand Yoake." He replied. "Now, let's go see what your Kachan is up to." Yoake smiled slightly as took her father's hand in hers. The two made their way into the valley below, and entered the village that Takashi had helped build with his own two hands.
It had been six years since their flight from the city. Since that day, due to Takashi and Shibata's combined efforts, not a single person had died.
Well, here it is, the final chapter, much delayed, of my story. This is the first story I have completed and let me tell you, it's been a ride. I admire those people who put out stories two or three or four times longer than mine and finish faster than I did, but, somehow, I made it to the finish line as well. Just so the record is clear, I had this ending more or less planned out till chapter three, though I shuffled some things around in the interim, which is part of the reason why it took so long to write. I knew how the story ended, so I really had no need to find out by writing it, but I got off my lazy ass and did it any way. Yay, me.
There was supposed to be more to the story than this, I had this plan to show each member of Takashi's group slowly descending into insanity as they try and cope with their situation. You can see hints of this if you look, Takashi's bouts of intense rage for example, or Khota clicking his magazine in and out of his rifle, but I never had time to develop those points like I really wanted. So I guess I'm saying that this story could have been more that what it was, but in the end, I still think it turned out better than I ever imagined. It's not a block buster, even on fanfiction where popularity can only be measured by reviews and favorites, but it is undeniably mine. And I want to thank each and every one of you for reading.
If you care to, leave a review, I would especially like to hear any critiques that you might have. What did I do wrong? (other than take a year and a day to post each chapter) and what did I do right as well, just as, you know an ego booster. I would appreciate it.
One more thing before I go, I'll be posting the first chapter of a new HOTD story today. Part of the reason why I updated so slowly is because I was working on chapters of that instead of this one. It's and HOTDxAlien/Predator cross over, the third one in that category I think. So you can find it manually or through my profile if you want to take a look. It's called 'Being Human' and I already have the first five chapters, so, for a few months at least, updates will come relatively quickly. After that, well, you've seen how long it took me to wrap this story up.
That's it, we're done here. I did it (still not sure how I feel about this).