In an instant, Sousuke knew that the cottage was no longer safe. Their time living there had come to an end. He didn't know where it was coming from, but the fact that Haru and Chiyo were doubled over in pain meant that the cure was here.
They had to leave.
“Chiyo! Do you think you can carry Haru?” Sousuke asked.
A laboured nod from Chiyo. He was in pain as well, but from what Sousuke had been told, Chiyo could deal with the noise frequency of the cure much better than Haru could. Poor Haru was already a crumpled mess, leaning against Chiyo for support. It pained Sousuke to see Haru looking so helpless...
“I'll go with them!” Kisumi called, “You two grab supplies from the cottage.”
Without a moment's hesitation, everyone sprang into action. Kisumi headed over to Haru and helped him into Chiyo's huge arms, it was a good thing that guy was a giant. The three of them began to head away from the cottage, towards the road, but their pace was slow due to the pain Chiyo was in, so Sousuke knew that him and Makoto would catch up quickly after they were finished in the cottage.
The two of them hurried back inside, grabbing everything they thought needed and stuffing it all into baackpacks waiting at the side of the door. Sousuke cursed that they didn't have more time. Over the last year that they'd been living at the cottage, they'd built up a decent stock of supplies, only to have to leave most of it behind. If anyone found this cottage after they'd left, that person would hit the jackpot. All Sousuke could hope was that they'd leave his parents' graves alone...
“That's all we can fit in the bags, let's go!” Makoto said, after struggling to fasten the last of the backpacks. He shoved it under his arm, with another backpack under his other arm and a third across his back.
The two of them left the cottage with as much as they could carry, Makoto more so than Sousuke, because as much as Sousuke hated to admit it, his shoulder meant that loading himself down was too much of a risk.
As they headed outside, Sousuke looked back at the cottage for one final time. There was a chance that they could take out the machine emitting the cure and come back here, but the compound would only bring more machines if they were developing in this area. In the pit of his stomach, Sousuke just knew that this would be the last time he saw this cottage. The place had served them well, but Gou always warned Sousuke not to get sentimental. After all, Gou and Chiyo had both left their homes in the blink of an eye to help Sousuke and the others.
It took only a few minutes to catch up with the rest of the group. Haru was letting out short, sharp gasps, while Chiyo was struggling to hold back his own cries, so not to draw attention to them. Kisumi's hand was resting on Chiyo's back for support, but he was shaking all over. When Sousuke and Makoto approached, Kisumi turned to them.
“They're getting worse the closer we get to the road,” said Kisumi, “I think the cure is up there... Isn't there any safer route that we can use?”
“There might be, but the road is our best bet,” Sousuke replied, “Wait here with them. We'll go on ahead and see if we can't clear it out.”
Sousuke and Makoto both dropped the bags they were carrying so they could move faster. The only thing Makoto took with him was a trusty shotgun and a length of rope, while Sousuke made do with a handgun, though he put an axe from the cottage in his belt, because Sousuke could never fully abandon the axe, even if he did begrudgingly agree with Gou that the handgun was a more practical weapon. Now that the two of them were armed, they sprinted off towards the road up the hill. They were no spring chickens any more, but in times of crisis, Sousuke found that his body granted him the burst of energy that he needed to help the others.
Before they'd even reached the road, they heard voices. They heard hammering, too. There was construction going on. The two of the crouched low, listening as they approached.
“This is so pointless. There's no zombies this far out in the mountains. Why are they wasting resources by having us setup cures out here?”
“To make a point, obviously. We're close to Iwatobi now. The more ground we can take off the raiders, the less powerful they'll be. We'll have them trapped like rats. I bet that's what the council's thinking, anyway.”
There was a pause, before the first speaker replied in a worried tone; “...Do you think there's raiders out here? If we're that close to Iwatobi?”
“Idiot! There's no one out there except us.”
On those famous last words, Sousuke and Makoto struck. They didn't set out to kill, but they also wouldn't rule that out as an option. The compound guards had proven time and time again to be merciless, so they couldn't risk taking too many chances with them. The two of them sprang out from where they were hiding and each grabbed one of the guards, who were both completely unprepared for assault. The guards didn't even have weapons on them. That made this easier.
Sousuke pinned one of them to the ground, while Makoto managed to wrestle the other up against the machine they were setting up on the other side of the road. Although Sousuke had never seen one of the cure machines in person, he knew right away that this was it. The machine looked crudely constructed, as if many of them had been produced in a hurry. If they destroyed this one, then the compound would replace it soon enough. All that mattered to the compound was that it rendered the zombies helpless. And apparently scared the raiders, if these guards were to be believed.
“What're you doing here!” Sousuke roared into the ear of the guard he had pinned to the road. Although it was mostly for show, since they'd already heard what they needed to know from when they were eavesdropping.
“Please don't hurt us! We're doing our jobs!” the guard wailed, “The cure clears out zombies – isn't that what everyone wants?”
“Yeah, it clears them out so you can steal the land from the raiders,” Sousuke hissed.
“It never belonged to you in the first place!” said the guard, “Most of you just stole what you 'own' after the infection broke out. There are people living in the compound who want their homes back. We're making Japan safe for those people again!”
It was a moral debate that Sousuke wasn't prepared to take part in. He didn't particularly side with the raiders any more than he did the compound. But the difference was that the compound was actively trying to kill two of his friends. And their council knew that reformed zombies like Haru and Chiyo were out there, getting murdered by the cure along with the rest.
“Dismantle the machine and leave us in peace...” Sousuke warned.
“They'll only bring more,” the guard pointed out.
“Then we'll dismantle it for them,” Sousuke decided, “Makoto, can you help me tie these two up?”
“All ready on it, Dear,” Makoto hummed, in mild amusement.
When Sousuke looked over, he realised that in the time he'd been having a yelling match with his guard, Makoto had tied the other to the machine. The second guard was too petrified to speak, so therefore probably the more sensible of the two.
“Right... I'll bring this one over as well,” Sousuke mumbled.
It took only a few minutes to tie the other guard to the machine as well. But every minute wasted was another minute that Haru and Chiyo were suffering. They had to turn off the machine now, even if the compound would bring more of them later.
“If only Hayato was still here... I bet he'd know how to shut this off,” Makoto said, as they forced open a panel and realised they had no idea what they were doing.
Sousuke grunted. He didn't need to be some genius scientist to know how to break technology. He held his axe up high, much to the protest of the guards, before driving it down into the open panel of the machine. Wires and circuit boards snapped, but that wasn't good enough for Sousuke. He whacked the axe at the machine again and again, until bits of it started flying away and it began smoking dangerously. When he stood back, Sousuke felt a slight sense of smug pride at the way Makoto was looking at him in awe.
“Reckon that did the trick,” Sousuke announced.
“I'll go check on the others to make sure,” said Makoto, snapping back to his senses, “But what do we do then?”
Sousuke nodded towards the compound van; “Reckon we've got our getaway right here. From what these two were saying, it sounds like the cure hasn't reached Iwatobi yet, so we go there for now.”
“You can't do that! You can't just leave us out here!” cried the noisier of the two guards.
“Eh, you said that the compound would just bring more cures if this one failed. They'll come pick you up,” Sousuke dismissed.
With the decision made, Makoto headed back down the hill to get the others, while Sousuke kept an eye on the two guards. He also used this opportunity to question them, drawing himself up to his full height and towering over them with his arms folded. It was clear who was in charge right now.
“So what's going on in Iwatobi?” he asked, “You were talking about the raiders gathering there.”
It had to be to do with the poster that Gou had found when they'd gone to Sano earlier today, before she'd split off from them to check it out for herself. Iwatobi was the place everyone was travelling to, but the poster made it sound like some crazy cultist was at the centre of it all...
“How can you live around here and not know?” scoffed the guard, “Aren't you a raider as well?”
“Maybe I like to keep my head down. Now answer the question,” Sousuke replied.
“Th-they're trying to start a revolution... But there won't be enough of them,” said the guard, “Even if all the raiders in Japan gather in one place, they won't be able to stop the cure. It's time you guys admitted defeat!”
“Maybe some people don't like to go down without a fight,” Sousuke said, “Now, tell me who's in charge of this revolution.”
He wanted to know if they were friend or foe. But before he could get an answer, the guard who'd been quiet this whole time suddenly started freaking out.
“They've got zombies! Look! Not just any zombies, but the zombies! The ones they tell you about!” the guard panicked.
“So you guys must be the escapees... The only people ever to get away from the compound...” mumbled the first guard. Apparently Sousuke and the others were celebrities now.
“That's us,” answered Sousuke, “So you'll understand that we're experts at running from danger. Not about to stop now.”
With that, he headed over to the others to help them up the hill, ignoring the continued protests from the guards. Haru was walking now, which meant that Sousuke had succeeded in deactivating the machine. Though Haru's steps were still shaky and he looked as drained as if he'd just swam twenty laps, possibly more.
“...L-let'sss... juuusst g-g-get... out offf... heeerrree...” Haru pleaded, as Kisumi helped him onto the road.
“Couldn't agree more,” said Sousuke, “Everyone, into the van.”
It was a snug fit. Four out of five of their group were much taller than most people, with Makoto, Sousuke and Chiyo being broad enough to match. But thankfully, without the cure machine inside of it, the back of the van had more space. Kisumi and the two zombies got in the back without question, while Makoto and Sousuke went up front.
Sousuke started the engine and then they were off towards Iwatobi. He watched the two guards in the rear view mirror until the van rounded a corner and they were out of sight. He let out a deep sigh.
“They told me that there's some sort of revolution gathering in Iwatobi, but I didn't get who was behind it all,” he said, “Maybe we should've stayed and questioned them some more.”
“The longer we'd stayed, the most risk there was that backup would arrive to help them,” said Makoto, “We got out of there with as much of our stuff as we could carry. That's what matters.” He patted one of the bags on his lap for emphasis. They had their supplies, that was good.
“But is going to Iwatobi a good idea?” Kisumi asked, leaning over the seat, “We have no idea if the people starting this revolution will be any more friendly than the compound...”
“You're right there, but it's worth checking out,” said Sousuke “Besides, Gou was heading that way, so we need to look for her. If it all goes to shit, then we've got this van. Hopefully we can get away before too much harm comes to any of us.”
“...H-hope...fuuullyyy...” Haru echoed.
That was another matter. Even if the raiders at Iwatobi would take them in, having two zombies with them was hardly a selling point. Of course they'd never abandon Haru and Chiyo, but it was hard to make people believe that these zombies were 'good zombies' after most people had spent years watching zombies eat their loved ones.
Besides, there was another problem with bringing Haru and it had only just dawned on Sousuke now.
“Hey, so... I know I had my issues with Hayato, but the kid did tend to know what he was talking about. Didn't he say that reformed zombies revert back if they're around the place they were infected?” Sousuke checked. In Haru's case, that was Iwatobi; “...Are you gonna be okay?”
“...The z-zombiiess in... th-thossseee plaaac-ees... make usss w-worsssee...” Haru confirmed, “...Essspeciallyyy... thosee who in-infeecteed us... But I b-belieeeve I'll m-managee... If Ch-chiyooo can le-earnnn to be... aroound me... Th-then I c-caaan l-learn the s-samee of Iwaatobiii...”
Kisumi moved from learning against the back of the front seats and instead sat close to Haru, putting his arms around him.
“I hope you're right...” he said, “If not, then we can't stay in Iwatobi. I won't see you suffer.”
“We might not be staying there anyway, depending on how this goes,” Sousuke pointed out, “I don't fancy getting involved with a cult.”
So far, not picking sides had worked out best for them. When they'd committed to going with the compound it had been nothing but trouble and some of the raiders were just as hostile. Sousuke preferred to keep his head down as much as possible. But then... if the cure was in use almost everywhere, it meant that they were running out of places to escape to. How long could they avoid getting involved until they had no choice?
“...If I... b-beecoomeee daaangerous... d-do wh-what you need... to doo...” Haru said, snapping Sousuke out of his thoughts.
“I hate that... I don't want to put Haru through this,” Makoto said.
“We'll know if he'll manage before we get into Iwatobi anyway,” assured Sousuke, “Remember that time when we were flying over it in the helicopter? Haru started changing back to being zombie-like before we'd even got close.”
“That's true... I just hope that he's going to be okay,” Makoto sighed.
For the rest of the drive there was a very sombre atmosphere in the van. Although sombre was probably the wrong word, Sousuke reckoned, more like cautious. They had only a vague idea what was waiting for them and there were so many ways that this could go very wrong. If it did, then they couldn't flee back to the cottage this time – that refuge was gone. They'd have to find somewhere else. But... they'd cross that bridge if they came to it. For now, they were taking a chance on Iwatobi.
It had been late in the day when they'd set out anyway, having spent most of the afternoon burying Sousuke's father next to his mother. He tried not to think too hard about that. This morning, Sousuke had gone on a very personal quest to reunite his parents in death, and now that evening was rolling in, they were all on the run once more. The pale sky had turned to orange and soon it would set into night.
The closer they got to Iwatobi, the more people they saw. Almost as if the place was being guarded by raiders. Sousuke kept expecting that their van would be stopped, but whenever he caught someone's eye, they just gave him a friendly nod. The raiders thought that Sousuke and Makoto were one of them. They probably wouldn't feel that way if they saw what was in the back.
Speaking of what was in the back, Haru seemed to be holding up okay. They all kept an ear out and for a moment, Haru looked as if he was going to start pacing, but then Chiyo put a hand on his shoulder and it seemed to bring him back to his senses. Sousuke didn't envy what those two had to go through as zombies, but at least they were managing.
“So far so good...” Makoto whispered, keeping his voice low, even if no one could hear them from inside the van.
They got all the way up to the gate before they were stopped. A gate. In Iwatobi. That hadn't been there the last time they'd passed over this place. In fact, the little they could see of the town already looked a lot different. There was a tall fence built around as much of the town that they could see, presumably cutting off at the ocean on either side. And the gate was even taller than the rest of the fence. It was also guarded and they clearly wouldn't get through without being searched. Haru and Chiyo would be found.
“Get ready for trouble,” Sousuke said. If he had to, then he'd spin this van around and floor it.
But before the guards could reach them, the gate was opened and a familiar person hurried out. Her red hair danced about behind her as she ran towards the van.
“It's Gou!” Makoto gasped.
If Gou was here and not being held against her will, then that was promising. Sousuke's guard dropped a little as she reached them, but not enough to be stupid. Gou could still have been set up to this, after all.
Makoto opened the passenger side door and Gou dived in, hugging him tightly despite the three backpacks on his lap.
“I can't believe you're all here! We were going to set out to fetch you tomorrow,” she said, before looking into the back of the van, “Even Haru and Chiyo are here, that's great!”
“We're glad to see you all right,” said Makoto, “We were so worried about you when you headed off this morning.”
“I'm sorry about that,” Gou replied, “But I had to find out what was going on and you guys needed to get Mr. Yamazaki's body back to the cottage. How did... that go, by the way?”
“We buried him and they're at peace now,” answered Sousuke, “But then some guards set up a cure machine, so we had no choice but to leave.”
“So they're gaining ground...” Gou mumbled.
It sounded worryingly like she was part of the revolution now. And she couldn't have been here more than a few hours. Sousuke didn't like that.
“Do you trust these guys then?” he asked, nodding towards the gate.
Gou pulled a face; “Trust is a strong word. You'll see what I mean when you get inside. But I think they're our best bet now.”
“And will they take our zombies?” said Sousuke, “If not, then I'm turning this van around.”
“You know, I think that they will,” hummed Gou, pretending to think about it with an air of knowing that made Sousuke uneasy, “They're pretty zombie-friendly in here. But if you want to be absolutely certain, you can ask His Highness's second-in-command. Here he comes now.”
Sousuke looked towards the gate again, where another person was hurrying out after Gou, but not nearly keeping up with her. He realised that he knew this person as well. And maybe in another situation he might be glad to see him, but right now seeing this guy made it dawn on him exactly who was behind this revolution. A crazy cultist who thinks he's the next Jesus? ...Sousuke should've guessed all along.
“You're Dai...suke?” Sousuke said, as the guy drew level with them.
“Daichi, but it's fine,” the guy replied.
Sousuke felt a bit guilty. This guy had technically saved their lives on two different occasions. Without him, they'd have never escaped from the compound and then again from the lab in Tokyo. Yet even so, Sousuke hardly knew Daichi and he hadn't left much of an impression. Daichi seemed to be an unassuming guy with a misguided loyalty towards Hayato. He was quite chubby, but Sousuke didn't think he had many defining features outside of that.
But it wasn't Daichi who Sousuke was worried about. It was the implication behind him being here. Sousuke lent on the wheel of the van. Morbid curiosity was the only thing stopping him from driving away right now. They had Gou in the van with them, so the only people they'd be leaving behind would be Daichi and Hayato. And Hayato's fucking cult of raiders...
“He's behind this then?” Sousuke asked, looking Daichi dead in the eyes.
Daichi paled under Sousuke's glare; “Y-yeah... he is. We were going to come get you soon, but Hayato wanted the place to be safer before we did. He can't guarantee that right now.”
“Like he can guarantee anything with Japan being like it is now,” Sousuke grumbled, “Do the people following him know that it's his fault the cure's pushed them out of their homes to start with?”
“Maybe don't say that so loud...” Gou whispered.
“Hah. Thought so,” Sousuke snorted, “But whatever. I know that Kisumi will want to see his brother, so consider this a family visit. Take us to him, second-in-command.”
And if Sousuke wasn't happy with what he found, there would be a reckoning.