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A Hero

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“Psst! Hey, Hideto! Move over a little, would ya?”

He raised his head up from against the mattress fabric and set down the comic book he was reading. From beside him, bed sheets rustled noisily and a lump popped up briefly before him. It took only a second for the light of the flashlight he held in his hands to illuminate the space they both occupied, and the harsh yellow light reflected in the shadowy lump’s eyes.

It was his friend, Senda. Hideto blinked, tawny eyes gazing directly into peanut-colored ones as the boy - no older than 11, of course, seeing that they were the same age minus a couple months - wriggled his way under the covers. The way he moved was somewhat unnatural, and it looked as though he was holding his left arm against his side.

“Hey, didn’t you hear me? Move over!”

Hideto made a noncommittal “mmh” noise and set his arms down on the mattress, scooting his butt over and making more room on the bed for Senda. With the thick covers over both their heads, the only light they had was that of the flashlight, angled slightly upward.

When Senda was situated and satisfied with his space, he flashed a wild grin at Hideto. To him, that meant one of two things:

One: that he got a new high score on the learning game they both played in the computer room. The two of them always competed to see who could beat the other at MathBlaster, but for the longest time Hideto had held the high score and, no matter how many times he was challenged, he never budged from the top.

Two: Senda did something naughty that would get them both in trouble the second someone finds out. Hideto was less pleased about this possibility, given that the two were a pair and even though he considered himself a good kid with a penchant for following the rules, Senda would always make fun of him for being a stickler and a suck-up to the adults. No matter what, he would always be dragged into another one of Senda’s little schemes.

Tonight would be no different, of course. It never was with Senda.

“You’ll never guess what I managed to do,” he gloated, in that oh-so-proud voice of his. He trained his eyes on Hideto, waiting eagerly for a response.

With only the heaviest of sighs, Hideto propped himself up on his shoulder and narrowed his eyes at his friend. “… wh-what did you do, Senda?”

That’s exactly what Senda wanted to hear, and his grin only grew bigger - and toothier! - as he withdrew his arm still pressed tightly against his side. “Get a load of this, dude. You didn’t wanna wait ‘til we turned 16 for one of these babies, did you?”

No matter how badly-lit their area was, there was no mistaking the glint of metal reflecting off the flashlight’s beam of light. It took all Hideto had, and then some, to not gasp loudly, but he still audibly drew in some air through his nose, and his eyes widened on his face. He must have looked pretty funny, because Senda took one good look at him and cackled, tilting his head down to try and contain himself.

“Th-that’s… that’s an arm terminal, i-isn’t it?” Hideto stammered as his mouth fell slightly agape. His companion nodded and set the metal thing down before him. “It was a real… BITCH to carry, y’know,” he put much emphasis on the curse word, causing Hideto to wince just a bit, “it’s super heavy! I couldn’t put it on my arm for very long, ‘cus it’s so big.”

Before he could go on, Hideto reached out and slid his fingers over the metal and the buttons of the contraption. It felt so smooth… the metal so shiny, the buttons so plastic-y and new… He even tapped a few of the keys. They pushed down all right, but they felt smaller than the giant, bulky built-in keyboards in the computer room.

He scarcely had a chance to investigate it when Senda slapped his hand away. “Hey, don’t! I got it, so it’s mine! …But you can play with it if you want, once I learn how to use it.”

Pouting, Hideto pulled his hand back and set it idly on his comic book. “… um, okay. B-but, where did you even get it…? It’s not like you can just… g-go outside. Not like you’d even, want to, but…”

Of all the things Hideto learned to do around Senda, never asking questions was not one of them.

Senda held up a finger, steadily, over his mouth. His stupid grin never left as he made eye contact with Hideto.

“I stole it. From the warehouse.”

Hideto covered his own mouth to stop himself from yelling at Senda.

Deep breaths, deep breaths… “S-S-Senda,” he sputtered, concentrating on the arm terminal instead of how much he wanted to hit his friend at the present moment, “wh-why did you, st-steal it…?! That’ll get us into, into… s-so much trouble! We might even get banned from the computer room…”

“Nah, nah, see, I thought it all out!” Senda reached over and offered a (not very reassuring) pat on the back. “What we’re going to do is hide it in your room and only take it out at night! That way, no one will ever know it went missing, OR that we were the culprits!”

“D-don’t say it like that…! I’m no culprit, YOU stole it… Why did you even take it, anyway?”

“C’mon, Hideto! You’re not that dense! I wanted to see how it worked! You know, ‘cus all the guys that come in and out of the shelter have these, too! And…”

… he trailed off. That’s odd. Senda never usually goes quiet like he did just then. Hideto blinked again, and then prompted him to continue. “… and?”

“…And, one day, I wanna go outside, too.” Fully expecting a shocked response from Hideto, Senda quickly continued, “Because, there’s demons out there, right? So I want to go and fight them. They’re the reason we’re still stuck down here, so I…

“I wanna be a hero, Hideto! I’m gonna be a hero, and save everybody!”

Silence settled over the two, with Hideto staring right at Senda, and Senda’s hopeful grin falling wry.

Almost half a minute passed before, finally, the redhead murmured.

“… If… if you go outside, then I’m going with you. N-no ifs or buts about it.”

The flashlight was knocked ajar and fell on its side as the black-haired boy lunged and caught the other into an intense bear hug. “I knew I could count on you, Hideto! I just knew it!”

“H-hey! Not so loud…! I didn’t agree to anything, j-just I won’t let you go out alone!”

“We’re gonna be the best demon-slaying team ever! EVER! Y’hear that, demons!?”

“Senda–!! …”



Hideto couldn’t stop crying.

No matter how many times he blinked, his vision would simply become blurry again, obscured by hot tears. They streamed down his cheek in waves and waves, and eventually he simply wiped his face with the back of his gloved hand.

He needed to be able to see. He had to. It didn’t matter that there was a painful, bloody gash pouring blood from his temple, down the side of his face. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t breathe right, that he was hyperventilating and hiccuping and coughing out sobs.


He had to see Senda.

Senda, whose body was augmented in such an ugly, unnatural way. Whose skin was clad with chitin, whose hair was mixed silver with the golden yellow it had become, newly-stained with red at the tips. Whose hand was shaking wildly, holding out something– something circular. It looked glassy. Hideto sniveled, jittery hands reaching out to hold it gently in his own.

Tears plinked against it, dropping off from his chin. Senda’s hand dropped, but not before Hideto ripped one of his hands away from the orb and caught his friend’s hand. His dear, dear friend.

Blood oozed everywhere. Spatter on the wall, a pool on the ground… It was a sickening sight. Hideto wanted to puke.

“I just… I just wanted to be…”

Senda coughed a wet cough. Blood, which had trickled out prior, now flowed freely from his lips and the corner of his mouth. His teeth were stained, and he drew in another wheezing breath.

“A hero…”

One final exhale, and his hand fell limp; his long, clawed fingers curling inward like a dying spider. Though his eyes were unfocused and lidded before, now they finished their ascent as they curled back up into his head.

Hideto clamped his hand over his mouth and held his breath to keep from screaming, but distressed and muffled whimpers freed themselves from his covered mouth. His other hand dropped, letting the orb he held fall and bounce against the ground. From behind him his partner, Rosanna, winced as the sound of glass met hard tile.

She crouched beside him to scoop up the orb with her free hand. In her other was the frog that had once been Bael.

Hideto choked back another sob. After a moment of frenzied thought, he suddenly jammed his hand into one of the pockets lining his protective vest and drew out a small, engraved ring.

The Solomon’s Ring.

With a kind of delicacy most humans could not manage, especially not in this state, Hideto reached back out and took Senda’s fallen hand. He slipped the ring onto the other’s hand, and then carefully, so carefully, set it down on his friend’s chest.

Though he could not voice it then, he hoped Senda knew.

He was a hero. At least, Hideto thought so.