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It's Not Black and White

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It was a pretty normal afternoon in the office.

Seido was scowling, Juuzou was waving his arms around as he told some ridiculous story about their latest mission, Hide was laughing hysterically, and Akira was shaking her head in second-hand embarrassment.

“By the time I finally catch up to them, the ghoul had somehow trapped Seido in a soccer net, left him there and started chasing around the human who threw a brick at him earlier around the soccer field. Seido’s quinque was in a tree and he still won’t tell me how he got stuck under the net but fortunately I was able to stop the ghoul before he did any damage to that idiotic human.”

“Oh my god, Seido.” Hide said between fits of gleeful laughter. “How’d you even get out of that alive? Honest to god, dude.”

“Hey we all make poor decisions sometimes!” Takizawa attempted to defend himself, face aflame in an angry blush as he shot annoyed glances at his mischievous partner. “And – and Joker caught me off guard, okay! He was named that for a reason. Damn ghoul liked to play games.”

“Aaaand he outsmarted you.” Hide finished, grinning from ear to ear. Juuzou was giggling manically.

“Wha-whatever! At least Suzuya got him. That’s one less psychopath 15 has to deal with.”

“And there are plenty more where he came from.” Akira chimed in, not bothering to look up from her computer. These men, they were so juvenile. “So get back to work. Investigator Amon is following up the lead we got on the Insects. He could be calling any minute either verifying their whereabouts or giving us another lead to follow. If we can eliminate the Insects by the end of the summer the 15th ward will be in much better shape.”

“I agree. Back to work.” Seido said, still looking embarrassed.

Hide waggled his eyebrows at him, and Seido flipped him off, eliciting another pleased giggle from Suzuya.

Akira wasn’t kidding. The Insects were a nasty group, and their leader, Black Widow, had evaded detection from the CCG for years by flitting around from one ward to the next before getting caught. If they could bring her down it would be a big victory for Team Mado. Besides, she was one of the nastier ghouls. Eight short rinkaku tentacles, grotesque arachnid mask, S-ranked, enjoyed wrapping her victims in her kagune and feasting on them while still alive. She must have gotten some sort of sick enjoyment from hearing them scream. The thought sent unpleasant chills down Hide’s spine.

Sometimes on the job, Hide wondered if all ghouls were really worth disposing of. Perhaps there were even some nice ones out there? Unfortunately, it was when he received cases like this one that he fully appreciated how necessary the CCG was. The Insects were monsters, unwavering in their cruel ways, feasting excessively, and taking more lives than necessary all for pleasure.

Amon was following a lead on the A-rated ghoul, Tarantula. Hopefully, that lead would help them sniff out the Insect’s nest here in 15. If they were lucky, they might even be able to dispose of the whole gang – B-rated Wasp (lol), A-rated Beetle, A-rated Fire Ant.

This could potentially turn into a relatively big operation.

Which was why there were four First Class investigators and one Special Class looking into things.

Not that Hide was complaining or anything – the badder the gang the bigger the payout once everything was taken care of.

“Akira, what are you even looking at right now?” Hide said, peering over his partner’s shoulder to try to get a good look at her computer screen.

“I’m reading up on other rising problem ghouls in the area. Who knows what our next assignment will be. It’s always best to be prepared.”

Hide groaned. “Don’t get so ahead of yourself.”

“This investigation is wrapping up. Maybe you should read some of these reports too. You can never be too prepared, Hide.” Akira scolded.

“I’ve read those reports like a million times and so have you.”

“Well we all aren’t blessed with your memory. Now shut up and sit down.”

“Okay, mom.”

Akira turned to face Hide and opened her mouth to retort something probably pretty sassy, when suddenly her phone started going off.

“It’s Amon.” She said, looking at the screen. The other three investigators quieted down. “Hello?”

Akira’s facial expression did not change as she listened.

“We’re on our way.” She hung up.

“~oooh Amon-san found the hide-out didn’t he?” Juuzou questioned with an eager giggle.

“Yes.” Akira answered shortly, grabbing her suit jacket from around the back of her chair and shrugging it on in one smooth motion. “They’ve been hiding out in one of the abandoned factories in the center of the ward. We are to meet Amon there and brace ourselves for a long battle. It seems all of the ghouls are in. We should hurry, though, or else Amon might have to face off against them alone, and while he is capable of holding his own against even S-rank ghouls, I highly doubt he’d last all that long if they were to gang up on him.”

Hide winced at the thought of Amon battling the entire gang, and Seido looked determined to come to his boss’ (re. hero’s) rescue. Juuzou was smiling as always.

“Let’s hurry then!” Seido gushed, practically rushing out of the office, yanking an amused Hide by the arm of his jacket and pulling him onwards in his haste. Juuzou giggled as he followed his colleagues out the door.

...

It didn’t take long for the remaining four doves to meet up with their boss, but by that time the unfortunate scenario Akira had mentioned was already playing out. Amon was fending off Wasp, Beetle, Fire Ant, and Tarantula all on his own. He shouted, as he caught sight of the newly arrived back-up squad, blocking attacks from every side before going down.

Seido and Juuzou were the first ones to run in, the latter cackling manically.

With his almost super-human speed, Juuzou managed to sweep in and engage Tarantula in combat, guiding the ghoul away from the others with the use of his Jason quinque. Meanwhile, Seido disarmed Wasp, coming between the other ghouls and a bleeding Amon, who was struggling to stand again.

“Hide, go after Beetle.” Akira commanded, nodding off in the direction of the A-ranked ghoul, who seemed to have already taken some damage from Amon, judging by the ghoul’s crushed and bleeding left hand.

“I’m on it!” Hide replied, impossibly cheerfully. However, at this point Akira no longer batted an eye at his unusual positivity. They’d been partners for long enough that she’d grown accustomed to it.

Hide knew he tended to stand out in the CCG, with his bright hair and equally bright personality. But he couldn’t help it. What was the point in life if not for having fun? Especially in their line of work, it was important to keep a positive attitude, and Hide was practically always bursting with positive energy.

He had joined the academy after high school, taking advantage of one of their programs which completely paid for his college on the condition that he came to work for the CCG for at least six years after graduation. Turns out, Hide had a knack for investigating.

Having been the class clown in high school and possessing a naturally devious mind under his sunny personality worked out pretty well for Hide. Apparently, pranking ability was directly proportional to investigative talents. He was a natural, and in only two years he had made First Class – which was quite the accomplishment if he did say so himself.

“Be careful.” Akira cast her apprentice a meaningful look.

“Of course!” Hide replied with a bright smile. Akira nodded, before rushing into the chaos and diverting Fire Ant’s attention away from Amon and Seidou.

Meanwhile, Hide engaged his quinque as well, sprinting towards the building. Beetle had disappeared down a dark hallway, but the trail of blood left by his injured hand was enough for Hide to pursue.

Cautiously, Hide made his way through the building, following the trail left behind by the bleeding ghoul. It took a lot for the blonde to desensitize himself enough to kill most ghouls, but he didn’t think he’d have much of a problem killing this one. Just last week, they had found the remains of an entire family – two parents, four kids, one grandmother – completely and purposelessly slaughtered, no evidence of eating, just murder for the sake of murder. RC cells found at the scene match the RC cell DNA structure for Beetle in the CCG’s database. Hide was an empathetic kind of guy and to some extent, he could condone the plight of ghouls. However, some of them took things too far. Some of them were brutal and sadistic. Some of them really were the monsters they were made out to be. Beetle was one of those ghouls.

BANG.

“Fuck!”

Hide swore as, from out of nowhere, the ghoul dropped onto his path, boots loudly clanking against the metal of the platform. The ghoul advanced with a growl the second his feet hit the ground. Quickly, Hide dodged an onslaught of strikes from the ghoul’s koukaku dagger.

“Die CCG scum!”

Beetle warranted his A-rank, Hide would give him that.

“Ah!” Hide breathed, backing up as he dodged attack after attack, blocking a few with his own quinque as the ghoul forced him to retreat. He was careful to maintain his footing, not wanting to make a fatal error and give the ghoul the upper hand, especially while fighting astride such a narrow metal platform. While the strip of metal did have a railing on each side, Hide really didn’t want to test its strength any time soon.

Hide huffed, ducking low while the ghoul struck down, his koukaku getting stopped by the railing as Hide rolled out of the way.

Beetle growled lowly, his kakugan practically burning in rage. “I fucking hate investigators. I’ll kill you all!”

Hide did not dignify that statement with a response, instead maneuvering so he was behind the ghoul and switching his quinque to bikaku mode, wrapping the tail end of the whip around one of Beetle’s legs and forcing him to lose his balance.

From that point on, the battle went well for Hide. After a few more minutes of grappling, he finally managed to get the upper hand and eliminate the deadly ghoul with a quick strike to the heart. Hide fell to his knees, panting, as the ghoul slid lifelessly to the floor.

After taking a few more seconds to collect himself, he walked over to the body and put a hand to the communication device in his ear, ready to tell Akira that his mission was complete, when suddenly, with no forewarning whatsoever, the platform gave out.

The only thing Akira heard was his short scream of panic as he fell.

“Hide? Hideyoshi! Crap!”

“Ugh…” Hide groaned, opening his eyes and trying to adjust them to the new darkness of his surroundings. He was alive – very very sore and in a dark pit – but alive so that was good. His communication device and quinque fell somewhere on the dirty floor – less good. Beetle still seemed to be dead. Small victory.

“Hmm… what to do, what to do….” Hide said to himself, staring up at the bright hole in the ceiling from which he fell. Well, it wasn’t likely he would be able to climb back through there. Looks like he’d have to do some exploring instead. All while dragging Beetle’s body behind him. After he found his quinque and communicator.

Dammit.

Hide sighed to himself and took a step forward, freezing immediately at the sound of something crunching under his foot.

Oh. If he broke his communicator, he was going to scream.

Hide lifted his foot, examining the contents left behind on the ground.

Not his ear piece.

Just a severed human hand, no biggie.

No need to panic here.

Hide looked up again, this time really taking a good look around at his surroundings. His eyes were adjusted to the darkness by now, so everything was clearer. He was in a pit, littered with bones.

Bones everywhere, all human, some covered in dried blood, most of them scattered around in a frenzy, as if their owners had been ripped apart limb from limb by an angry ghoul. A lump formed in Hide’s throat. He needed to find his quinque. Now.

This was, undoubtedly, the lair of the Black Widow, and he was in no shape to be facing off against an S-rank ghoul alone. Forget dragging Beetle’s body with him: if she found him here, he was as good as dead. He needed to get out as fast as possible.

With a newfound panic, Hide scanned the pit for signs of his weapon, but found none. All he saw were bones and skulls and more bones. He was so screwed.

“Come on where are you….” Hide said to himself quietly, while searching the floor. He did not like being weaponless on the job. He did not like being weaponless on the job. He did not like being weaponless on the job. He did not like –

“Looking for this?”

Shit – fuck.

The investigator’s entire body went ridged as a cool woman’s voice broke the silence of the lair. His eyes felt like they were bugging out of his head and his blood ran cold. Slowly, and not without a large amount of willpower, Hide turned around.

Standing a few meters away was a tall middle-aged woman with sleek shoulder length black hair and a satisfied smirk on her bloodstained lips. One hand was placed tauntingly on her cocked hip while the other held up Hide’s quinque and earpiece.

The young investigator could not seem to formulate any words – there was a baseball sized lump in his throat and his brain had short circuited.

She’d been there the entire time, hadn’t she?

“Well?” The woman asked, a fake pout adorning her face that couldn’t quite mask the obvious glee in her voice at the prospect of having a first class investigator in such a compromising situation.

“U-uh.” Hide swallowed the lump in his throat as his brain kicked into high speed, trying to think of a solution to his current predicament. He was not going down without a fight – no way.

Maybe the others were looking for him? He might make it out of this one yet. He just needed to do some stalling.

“Oh – uh – yeah!” His voice echoed off the dark walls, not quite sounding as bright as it usually did but hey, he was face-to-face with the deadliest known ghoul in the area with no weapon at the moment, he had a right to be terrified.

Hide forced himself to laugh good-naturedly. Black Widow raised an eyebrow at him, unamused. “That’s, uh, that’s mine. Took a nasty spill from the hallway up there. You guys could probably use a contractor or a carpenter or something to fix this place up! Wouldn’t want any more accidents in your… um… death pit.”

Black Widow glared for a moment, her dark eyes turning black and red. Hide gulped. “Accidents? Like… this?” She asked, dropping his communicator to the ground and smashing it under her foot.

So much for calling for backup. Looks like Hide would just have to stall for as long as possible and hope for his team to come to his rescue, or else he’d likely end up joining the pile of mismatched bones littering the floor.

Hide took a deep breath, channeling his inner Shawn Spencer. Time to suddenly develop the power to talk himself out of getting murdered. Hell yeah.

“Yeah… kinda like that you could say. Though that didn’t really look like an accident. Sorta seemed like you did that on purpose – rude. What if I broke one of your – ” Hide took a moment to look around, searching for something to break. “ – Skulls!” He finished.

Black Widow shook her head, taking a slow step forward. Hide couldn’t help the step back he took in response. “You know what I like about you humans?”

“Our impeccable taste in home décor? If you want, I could refer you to an interior designer to liven this place up for you a bit. It may be a little costly but I could totally get you the friends and family discount.”

Black Widow smiled a shark-like, sharp lipped smile that had her eyes dancing with evil delight. “No… I don’t think that will be necessary. What I like about you humans, is how differently you react when face-to-face with certain death. Most of you scream and run away, some try to fight, some simply freeze and stand there absolutely petrified while I tear out their intestines – ”

“ – that was an unnecessary image – ”

“But sometimes… I get a fun one.” By this time Hide was backed up against the farthest wall, the ghoul a mere inches from his face and his quinque forgotten on the other side of the room.

“You investigators are always very entertaining.” She continued, cupping his face almost lovingly, demonic eyes sparking with amusement when she saw him jump. “You’re all so much braver – probably because you’re trained to deal with the supernatural or something – but either way, you all provide something different.”

Black Widow paused then, stepping back to give Hide some breathing room and catch his breath before the sound of ripping flesh stopped his heart all over again. Eight shiny blue rinkaku kagune sprouted from her back.

“A lot of times I get angry investigators, shouting about how horrible and evil I am and how one day I’d meet my match.” She feigned a sigh, flipping her sleek black hair over one shoulder dramatically in a very ‘woe is me’ sort of motion.

Suddenly, Black Widow blinked, looking surprised. Then, she laughed.

Hide had to take a second to realize he’d voiced his opinion aloud. Oops.

“I’ve always had a flare for the dramatics.” She explained. “That’s why I love moving from ward to ward. I love seeing the look of shock on the faces of the investigators I meet in each place as they realize I’ve moved into their territory. I love ripping the places to shreds – marking it as my own, if you will – before picking a new destination and starting all over. But above all else, I absolutely adore putting you ghoul killers in your place.”

Something slid around Hide’s ankle, and he had to take a moment to realize it was one of her kagune. He jumped, trying to jerk away. She simply held on tighter, stepping closer, eyes burning with murderous satisfaction.

“Aren’t you going to shout about your friends’ victories? Or how you will be avenged? Aren’t you going to tell me I’m going to be put in my place?” She asked sweetly, blood stained lips dangerously close to Hide’s jugular.

“A-ah… no?”

Black Widow huffed. “That’s good. I’m tired of hearing that crap. I’m in my Fifties, you know. Not many ghouls live that long. I think that’s a testament to my skills. You don’t stand a chance, kiddo.”

“Kiddo? I’m not twelve.”

“You’re a strange one. It’s not often I get the kind that likes to make jokes in the face of danger.”

“W-well you’re welcome. For ch-changing up your routine or whatever.”

The grip on his ankle hardened. “I’ve always hated that kind.”

Ah, shit.

Suddenly, Hide was lifted in the upside down, held up only by the single tentacle wrapped around his leg. He braced himself for whatever was about to come next, trying not to think about it too hard and failing miserably. All he could think about was getting smashed against the wall, or slammed roughly into the ground, or being impaled by another tentacle. Oh god, what terrible ways to die. He did not want to die. He was not ready for this.

Hide couldn’t help the scream of terror that left his throat as he suddenly felt himself moving again. His blood was rushing in his ears and he was certain he was about to lose several internal organs, but to his pleasant surprise, he instead found himself slammed once more against the ground by the sheer force of gravity and nothing more.

Black Widow had dropped him.

Something was screaming, but Hide was too hopped up on adrenaline to tell if it was coming from him or not. Instead, he scrambled off the ground, trying to make a break for his quinque lying on the other side of the room but stopping when his left foot kicked off the ground. A sharp pain shot up his leg.

His ankle was definitely broken.

Barely able to move, Hide looked around with wide eyes, wondering if it would be worth trying to crawl to his quinque.

He made that decision the moment his eyes locked on the back of a figure that hadn’t been there before.

Another ghoul, also rinkaku but with four red tentacles instead of eight blue ones, stood between himself, and the Black Widow, who was still shrieking in rage.

Distantly, Hide grasped that she must have been the one to scream, probably as the new ghoul had ripped off her right arm.

Oh, she was missing an arm.

That was a lot of blood.

Ugh, Hide was in so much pain, but luckily Black Widow seemed to be more focused on the new ghoul than him at the moment. If he could just get to his quinque….

As quietly as possibly, Hide pulled his battered body off the ground, putting more weight on his right foot than his left. He was only able to move several paces before collapsing to the ground again, his muscles screaming in agony.

Where the hell was Akira?

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Distantly, Hide heard the female ghoul growling, her voice low and menacing.

“I asked you nicely.” The other ghoul responded. His voice was even toned, almost bored sounding. “You did not listen.”

Panting, Hide tried to pull himself up again, inching his way to his quinque as the two ghouls had it out, as if reaching the weapon could save his life. Realistically, he knew he was in no shape to do battle against even a C-rank ghoul in his condition, but he would feel better if he had a weapon in his hand.

“Are you crazy?” Black Widow spat, her eyes narrowed menacingly at the second ghoul. “I don’t take orders from self-righteous brats. You don’t own this ward!”

“Actually I do.” The second ghoul spoke up, voice as apathetic as before. “Ward 15 has been under my jurisdiction for nearly two years and I can’t let you kill excessively and draw doves to the area.” He gestured to Hide as he spoke, as if to solidify his point. “I asked you to leave once already, and you did not. So now I’m afraid I have to kill you.”

Black Widow’s laugh pierced the dark room, sending chills down Hide’s spine. The blond had now reached his quinque and was huddled against the wall and hanging on to his whip’s handle for dear life. There was nothing he could do but wait this out and hope the second ghoul deemed him too insignificant to bother killing.

Who was he kidding – he was a dove. Whichever ghoul won this confrontation, Hide was dead either way. His only hope was his comrades. If only they’d hurry up and find him already.

“Oooh, boy, you’ve got some nerve try’na tell me what to do. I don’t take orders from ghouls like you. You’re a disgrace to our species.”

“… Well I see there’s no hope in reasoning with you.”

Black Widow’s response was a low, animalistic growl. That inhuman sound was also the only warning she gave as she charged, fast and angry, at the other ghoul. Hide pressed himself against the wall, trying to make himself as small as possible while the two ghouls dueled.

Black Widow was fast and strong as hell. Her coordination of her kagune was excellent as well, Hide noted. It was no wonder she warranted an S-rating from the CCG.

Though, as the match drew on, it became all the more apparent that while Black Widow was certainly powerful, the other ghoul had her outmatched.

Black Widow was fast, but the other was faster.

Black Widow had more tentacles, but the other’s regeneration was so unbelievably rapid, it was as if every blow she landed was insignificant to him.

Black Widow was strong and well coordinated, but the other had higher stamina.

All in all, they couldn’t have been fighting for more than five minutes before the ghoul with the red kagune snapped Black Widow’s head clean off her shoulders, leaving the elder ghoul’s body to slump lifelessly to the ground.

Hide was stunned, and a little terrified, by the exhibition of raw power shown by the new ghoul. If he thought he was hopeless against Black Widow, he was practically already dead against this new opponent.

Please let Akira find me, please let Akira find me, please let Akira find me. Please –

“Are you alright?”

What.

Hide cracked his eyes open, barely registering the fact that he’d unconsciously closed them as he took in the surprising sight in front of him.

The new ghoul was squatting a few paces away from him and clutching his side, red seeping through his fingers. He was examining Hide with a calculating look in his eye, but no visible signs of ill-intent. In fact, the look in his only showing kakugan was gentle, imploring, and not at all threatening like it had been moments before when he was confronting Black Widow. His pulsing red kagune were still spread behind him, though, offsetting the gentle look in his eye and giving the ghoul a more ominous appearance in conjunction with his creepy black and red grinning mask and bloodstained white hair.

“Um… what?” Hide couldn’t help but ask. At first glance, the ghoul looked absolutely terrifying. Upon closer inspection, he did not look like he was planning on attacking.

“I said, are you alright?” The ghoul repeated, voice muffled by the mask.

“I – I think so…. Erm… and you?” Hide offered awkwardly, not entirely sure how to act in this situation.

The ghoul blinked, looking slightly surprised that Hide had returned the question.

However, instead of answering, the ghoul rose to his feet and took a moment to look around the room. Finally seeming to decide on a course of action, he lashed out one of his crimson kagune and tossed the bodies of both Black Widow and Beetle up through the hole Hide had made when he fell.

He turned back to the stunned investigator. “Sorry you got caught in the middle of this.” He offered weakly, stretching a tentacle towards Hide, who instinctively tried to back up even more but only ended up hitting his head against the wall behind him.

“Ow – w-wait! No need to kill me! I’m just – ”

“Whoa calm down, I’m not going to kill you.” The ghoul held up his hands, retracting his kagune. “Er, sorry, I guess I should have explained myself first…. Can I give you a lift back through the ceiling?”

Hide froze. “You’re… not going to kill me?”

“…No.”

“Great!” Hide exclaimed, a little bit of hope easing the tight coil of wariness in his chest. He lifted his hands over his head like a toddler asking for a piggy back ride. “Get me outa here, Mr. Ghoul!”

The ghoul gave him a look that was equal parts unimpressed and reprimanding, with just a dash of exasperation thrown in for good measure. Hide had seen this look on Akira’s face multiple times when she was annoyed at him for something or trying to silence him with just a glare, asserting her authority without a single word. Consequently, he had dubbed it the ‘mom look’. Hide had never met another person who possessed the ability to wield The Mom Look to the same severe degree as Akira.

Discovering a dangerous ghoul that could rival Akira’s potent glare was certainly an interesting twist in his day. Unfortunately, the adrenaline running through his system coupled with this bizarre discovery stunned Hide into hysterical laughter, which did not seem to have been the ghoul’s intention.

A low growl brought Hide back to reality.

“Sorry – sorry!” Hide said, wiping his eyes. The white-haired ghoul simply continued to level him with his unimpressed stare, arms folded across his chest and one foot slightly in front of the other, tapping impatiently on the ground like an angry parent trying to decide the best way to punish their disobedient child.

Hide let out a few more laughs before finally composing himself. “I’m good – I’m good. Sorry it’s just, heh, you remind me of my partner.”

At that, the ghoul’s posture relaxed a bit and his harsh gaze softened, though not without an eyeroll.

“Whatever.” His voice was apathetic as he stretched a kagune out towards Hide once more. This time, Hide forced himself to relax as the appendage wrapped around him, lifting him off the ground and up through the hole in the ceiling. It hurt quite a bit, considering most of his body was littered with bruises from both falls, but it didn’t seem like the ghoul was doing it on purpose, so whatever. Hide would take what he could get. That the ghoul was helping him at all was reason to rejoice.

The investigator hissed in pain as he was dropped next to the bodies of Black Widow and Beetle, landing painfully on his broken foot. He collapsed to the ground the moment he was released, checking himself over for injuries now that he was in better lighting.

A moment later, four red appendages burst through the hole, hoisting their owner out of the pit as well. The ghoul landed gracefully on his feet. It looked like the wound on his side had already healed as well. That was some damn fast regeneration he had.

“Thanks.” Hide managed with a small but very genuine smile. Exhaustion was starting to take over, his adrenaline high dissipating and leaving him with an increasing awareness of all the bumps and bruises littering his body, as well as the tiredness pulling behind his eyes.

The ghoul nodded curtly, a small unspoken ‘you’re welcome’. “Again, sorry you got caught in the middle of this. I meant to eliminate this gang several days ago. Your colleagues are all fine, by the way. They seemed to have been in the process of defeating Tarantula and Fire Ant when I arrived on the scene. I imagine they were victorious.”

Hide nodded gratefully, glad to hear his friends were okay. Hopefully they weren’t nearly as beaten up as he was, though. “Thanks….”

The ghoul retracted his kagune. His eye swept over Hide’s form once more before he inclined his head politely and turned away, casually making his way down the hallway like he did this sort of thing every day. A couple seconds later, he turned a corner and was gone.

‘What a strange ghoul’ was Hide’s last thought before he let the blackness creeping along the edges of his vision finally claim him.