“Put this on. You’ll blend in better,” Kusata says. One of his men hands me a bright pink yukata and beckons for me to take it when I hesitate.
“Look around you. Everyone’s enjoying themselves, and you should look the part. Bright colors are less suspicious.”
“Uh, but why pink? I feel like my color is more of a red, maybe a green if you’re pushing it.”
“Just put it on. You too, glasses boy.” They hand Lamar a yukata and create a wall around us. His is a sensible dark green, of course.
“…Right here? In front of everyone?”
“Our backs are turned. Nobody’s looking.”
“No time to find a place to change.”
“There’s a terrorist attack about to occur, and you are asking me to strip naked in public so I can put on a yukata. And Lamar, too.”
Lamar’s already down to his underwear, though. Nothing I haven’t seen before, but holy shit he isn’t hesitant at all.
“Okay, this isn’t even in the top five most embarrassing things I’ve done this year, so whatever.” I start stripping as fast as possible, trying to summon my Karina energies as much as I can. “The Titans was the worst thing ever, or was that last year? And winning the Rotten Peach’s crossword puzzle contest thing was pretty awful. It’s almost as if my whole life is a series of humiliating—okay, there. I’m naked except for boxers. Uh, how do I put on a yukata?” I hold up the pieces of the outfit and try to figure out what to do with them.
“Morgan, it’s not that hard,” Lamar says with the shrinking patience of a stressed-out parent to a whining child. He turns around to face me and grabs the sash out of my hands. “You just have to—Where’s your boobs?”
I… Huh? Before he can say anything else, I cover myself with the robes and try to sloppily tie it all together. I fail. “Shut up about boobs and help me, please.”
Lamar sighs and ties everything together. Okay, bright pink yukata, on. I’m officially a total Japan dork who watches anime and whatever.
“Can’t believe I never noticed,” Lamar mutters.
“I’m ignoring that because I definitely didn’t care to tell you about it.” I shove him away, my nonverbal way of saying thank you, and the wall of armed men dissipates. “Go beat up Yuri Motokawa so I don’t have to. I’ll take on Nami, er, the fox mask girl.”
I look again at the crowd, and now there’s ten or more people all wearing fox masks.
“She is one of those people, but I don’t actually know which one, so, uh.”
Kusata shakes his head. “Focus and find King. Spread out so we can encircle him. We cannot let the mercenaries create a perimeter around this street, or they’ll destroy the whole parade.”
Speaking of the parade, Atlanta Nebuta is just about to begin. The first floats are parked right at the end of the street, ready to go when the signal is given. It looks like they’re holding off to check the weather. The wind is picking up, and the clouds are so dark now that it’s getting a bit dim. Those lanterns hanging up everywhere might just come in handy soon.
This yukata is really breezy, especially when I don’t have anything on underneath. You know, those poor khaki pants would have done just fine underneath this, because it’s not exactly a tight fit and—Ugh, what am I doing? I need to focus! Nami’s completely disappeared on me, and from the way Yuri Motokawa paces in the distance, it’s either that she sees me coming, or at least expects me to make a move.
A few of Motokawa’s men, wearing their trademark suits, pop up in the periphery of my vision. Her company is not exactly known for its stealthiness, and I imagine the Japanese mafia is exactly the same. Everyone loves wearing suits even in the middle of summer right as they plan to shoot up a parade.
All these people minding their own business, having fun at the Summer Festival without an inkling about what’s really going on here… I’ve got to protect them. I’ve got to be the hero that Atlanta needs.
Lamar’s still in speaking distance from me, and so I tell him, “Keep right beside me. If I run, go in the opposite direction. I’m probably being chased, and you can intercept.”
“What if you’re the one doing the chasing?”
“Uh, still run in the opposite direction, just in case there’s dudes with guns behind me.”
“Got it. I’ll punch them out.” A smile flashes across Lamar’s face, just briefly. All his time training in the junkyard with all those robots might just pay off, even if it sadly means we won’t be able to fight side-by-side again.
“By the way, have you seen a knight in shining armor anywhere?” I ask. “The Crusader is supposed to be around here, but I don’t see him anywhere. I think he got lost.”
“No idea who you’re talking about.”
“Well, I tried.”
We inch closer to Motokawa’s position, hiding just a little bit behind a really tall man and his family of really tall children. Her pacing is measured and just erratic enough that it’s hard to get a read on her. Even if I rushed her, I couldn’t guarantee success; I think she’d react too quickly and punch me in the stomach until I died. Gotta stay cautious.
Then, behind her, more suit-wearing people of Asian descent appear into view, mostly younger and definitely all armed with weapons. Older men show up in their grumpy faces, and they clearly look like they’re ranking mob members of some sort. They’re walking out of a nearby building, as if they just emerged from some secret tunnel to avoid more conspicuous methods of arrival. These old men are clearly the audience for today’s spectacle.
Finally, the moment arrives when Ohata King himself emerges, looking both smug and irritated at once. Today is supposed to be his triumphant comeback, a new start for the man whose unspeakable crimes in Bonin got him banished here in the first place. If I have anything to say about it, he’s going to prison tomorrow.
Only problem is, I’m not sure if I have anything to say about it with all the security around King. Motokawa, all her mercenaries, and all those mafia enforcers. Nami’s out here somewhere too. They’re spreading out to try and get good vantage points to watch and/or participate in the coming massacre, but I imagine there will still be a tight camp around King himself. He does not look combat ready in the slightest.
A couple droplets of water land on the back of my neck. Then a few more on my left wrist. I look up at the sky and realize there’s not much time left.
Lamar looks at me with trepidation. “You good?”
“No. Not at all.”
“Well then? What are we doing?”
“I’m going to bum rush them. Just make a run for King and hope my healing powers protect me from dying as everyone shoots and stabs and punches me.”
“That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard out of your damn mouth.”
“Well then, what do you have in mind?”
“With any luck, Kusata and the Eastern Union guys will peel everyone off. Uh, without a firefight starting, hopefully.”
“Bad odds, but let’s take them,” he says.
I posture myself to run. Bend my back forward. Clench my fists. And—
One step, and then I stop. A familiar whirring sound shoots through my ears. Rocket boots in the air.
Yuri Motokawa sees me and readies herself to lunge without even a moment’s surprise. But she, too, stops. Because a giant shadow passes over us and then—
BRACK! Right on the asphalt of the street, a fully equipped (sans helmet) Mighty Slammer crashes into place behind Motokawa, right in the middle of the mercenaries and enforcers and everyone else protecting Ohata King. She cackles, laughing.
“Guess who?” she asks, shouting, and then begins to whack her high-tech fists all over these dudes. She beats the ever living hell out of them, even as they shout obscenities in Japanese.
Why the hell is Mighty Slammer here? I don’t know! Why would you even bother asking me questions like that at this point?
A few shots are fired. Nobody’s hurt, but the whole Summer Festival ends right there in this moment. Now it’s time for screams and stampedes.
Kusata and his men advance on King and begin taking out the stragglers too far away from the rest of the group. Whatever dudes were going to shoot up the Nebuta parade floats, probably aren’t still in a condition to do it now.
Motokawa turns around to change her opponent, but Mighty Slammer’s prepared for that, too. She launches a special device out of her suit that attaches to a nearby light post. She presses a button, and a powerful magnet activates, sucking in all the bullet casings and stray coins in the vicinity. Most of all, though, it zaps Motokawa’s metallic arm and leg, and she goes flying backwards until she sticks to the pole. She throws some nasty insults and attempts fruitlessly to pull her own arm off, but it looks like she’s out of the fight for good.
As the crowd clears out, I finally spot Nami again, as of course the only fox mask-wearing woman who isn’t running away. She spots me. Nods in acknowledgment that our final showdown is imminent. I think she’s taking our fights a little more personally than I am. I’d just as soon ignore her entirely if it means ending this whole ordeal.
Ohata King is cornered. With Kusata’s men advancing, and Mighty Slammer narrowing the gap, he’s increasingly defenseless. Lamar and I are getting closer, too. Maybe, just maybe, Amy and the Crusader are still around somewhere, too? Either way, it’s not looking good for him.
Sweat forms on his brow. His mustache quivers.
And then, in an act that many would call Morgan-esque, he makes the only sensible solution left—he takes off running away in the direction of the parade floats. Mighty Slammer beats down a few more goons and then makes a rocket boot-powered jump towards the man.
Nami throws off her mask and smirks at me. I sigh.
We both take off running as fast as we can, just as the entire rest of every single group involved does the same (except for Lamar).
The chase for King begins.
This week, I recommend the cool new fantasy adventure story The Glint Spear. It’s kinda like if Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid accidentally stumbled into a tower full of constructs and had also if the Sundance Kid had magical jedi powers.
(And don’t forget about Her Golemancer Girlfriend. It’s #7 on Rising Stars, and needs all the help it can get to reach #1.)
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