❯ Ritual – Chapter 1

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Disclaimer: I don’t own Akira, and stuff. The actual guy that does is Katsuhiro Otomo. I just write about it in my spare time. I didn’t make up the pool van either; some guys on a Japanese TV show actually made one (though I can’t seem to find their names).


Chapter 1

It was the middle of the evening with clear, starry skies. All was quiet along a small two-lane road. There was nothing but the sound of crickets and the occasional car driving by.

It hadn’t been that way earlier. Since early that morning, that particular road had seen more traffic than it ever had. A great number of people had been very eager to leave the city, and the small road had been jammed just as if it were a busy expressway. But now it was late at night, and the traffic had long since died down. All was silent.

But then the silence was suddenly broken – though rather vaguely – by a lone figure walking swiftly through the grass along the road. The figure was dressed in a long cloak, the hood of which was worn up. Though it wasn’t cold, he was wearing a scarf across his face. Periodically, the person would look around, as if to make sure he wasn’t being followed.

Eventually, he wandered away from the road and ducked into a small wooded area. Hidden amongst the trees and the underbrush was an old shack. Though the place looked old and rotting, it was hardly abandoned; the figure could see a light on inside. He took one last look around before creeping through the foliage and slipping in the doorway. As he entered, the light inside immediately went out.

« Did anyone see you? » a voice greeted him.

The figure pulled the scarf down from around his mouth. « No, they didn’t, » he answered.

« Are you absolutely sure? »

« Yes. »

« Alright then. »

« What is it you called me here for? »

« Do you know what tomorrow is? »

« Wednesday? » The figure almost snickered.

« Be serious, now. »

« Yes, I know what tomorrow is. Everyone does. That’s why most of them are trying to leave for a few days. »

« In ways they are wise. But in ways they are foolish, for they will not be able to witness what shall come. »

« What is coming? »

« You know that tomorrow is a special day in more ways than one, right? »

« Yes, but- » There was a gasp as the figure suddenly put things together.

« You’re a quick learner, » the voice said sarcastically.

« …Are you sure this is the right thing to do? » the figure swallowed hard. « Should we really be doing this? »

« Is it right not to? » the voice asked.

The figure didn’t seem to have an answer.

In the darkness, there was a noise of a chair scooting across the floor and heavy footsteps. The owner of the voice had apparently stood up and was now pacing around the shack.

« Now it is true that the first two times brought great calamity, » the voice continued, « but what everyone fails to consider is that great good also came out of them. If neither incidents had happened, we would know nothing of the power that lies dormant in the human mind. Would we be any better off? »

« I…guess not, » the figure said.

« We are the only ones who can do this, » the voice continued. « We are the only ones with the courage and the know-how. Would it be right to go against fate and deprive mankind of its destiny? »

The cloaked man took a moment to get over his shock before asking his obscured leader another question. « But how are we going to do it? It seems impossible… »

« I do not think you have heard about it, » the leader answered, « but there is a certain ‘game’ that has gotten popular among young people in the last few years. They do it as a dare, trying to scare each other. The game is played by performing a ritual. » He paused a second to recall the procedure. « One must place a food offering in front of a mirror coated in human blood. Then one must say a certain word three times in front of the mirror. Then HE will appear. »

Again, the cloaked figure stood there in stunned silence. He knew who this « he » was – but his silence was more due to the method rather than the person in question. They were going to use an urban myth to do this?

« We’re going to use a…game sir? » he asked, confused. « Will that work? »

« It sounds a little, shall we say, ‘ridiculous,’ does it not? » the leader asked.

« Uhhh, no sir! » the cloaked man backpedaled.

The leader chuckled. « I must admit, when I was first informed of it, I doubted it myself, » he explained. There was a rustling of paper in the darkness. Suddenly, he felt something pressed into his chest. He quickly grabbed it. It was a sheet of paper, though it was too dark to read. The cloaked man reached in his pocket and took out a penlight. Turning it on, he could see that his leader had handed him a newspaper clipping. The headline read « Police Baffled in Mysterious Student Mauling. » As he skimmed through the article, he read that the college students involved in this bizarre mishap had been playing the game his leader had just described. He could also see the newspaper’s title at the top of the clipping – this was no tabloid article.

« But after I did a bit of research, » the leader continued, « I quickly found that this could very well be our best lead. »

« What if this doesn’t work…? » the cloaked subordinate asked, still confused.

« Losing your faith? » the leader asked.

« Er…no sir! » the figure retorted.

« Good! » the leader snickered. « But just in case it was, I can assure you that you need not worry about that. We have alternate plans in case something goes wrong. »

The cloaked man seemed somewhat relieved about that. Somewhat.

« We will worry about them when the time comes, » the leader said. « For now, I need you to go and find something out for me. »

« The word? »

« Yes, the word. »

He wanted to scream.

Pulling into the garage was yet another pool van. He wanted to just tear his graying hair out and scream. Or bang his head against the nearest convenient wall. Or do a combination of both. However, he knew not to do that in front of a customer; it was unprofessional. Instead, he just groaned to himself and wished summer would be over sooner.

« I think the filter needs changing, » the customer explained. « Oh, and the tires need rotating too. »

« Alright, I’ll get right on it, » he sighed. « I’ll call you when it’s finished. » He did his best to hide the frustration in his voice.

« How long will it probably take? »

« Oh, a day or two. »

« Will you be closed tomorrow? »

« Nope. »

« Really? Wow. Okay, you have my number right? »

« Sure do. »

« Okay, thanks! »

He waited until the customer left the garage, and was halfway down the street before slumping down on a crate and burying his hands in his face. If there was one thing the nearly 47-year-old Shotaro Kaneda hated working on, it was a pool van.

Pool vans were just that – a combination of a swimming pool and a van. Somebody came up with the idea around the turn of the century, but it wasn’t until a few years ago when some idiot improved on the design and mass produced it that it became so popular. Every summer the streets would be lined with the accursed aquatic vehicles, with the people inside splashing about and playing various water sports. With the way some of the drivers would try to join in, he was surprised there weren’t more accidents. It was even worse if one happened to be a pedestrian, or much like himself, riding down the street on a motorcycle. One was sure to get wet whenever one of those things drove by; utterly soaked if a bad driver was behind the wheel. And if the owner of the van was rather messy, the unfortunate splash victim would find himself or herself coated in algae.

And needless to say, it would be in one’s best interest to stay far away from a pool van containing small children.

But that wasn’t why Kaneda had such a vendetta against them. What he actually hated was working on them. He practically had to learn a new job in order to work on them. He was a mechanic dammit, not a pool boy! Of all the stupid things they had to invent instead of the flying car. Why wasn’t that around, anyway? They had hoverbikes a long time ago…

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a motorcycle engine. He looked up to see Kai, his long time friend and current assistant manager, pulling into the garage. He had a large box strapped to his bike.

« ‘Ey, Kaneda, » he said as he put his bike in park. « I got them cans of motor oil you wanted. »

« Just…put it on the table over there, » Kaneda sighed. « I’ll get to it in a minute. »

Kai wondered to himself what his boss was so put off about. Then he spotted the pool van across the room. « Aw man, not another one of those things! » he cried.

« Yeah, another one, » Kaneda grunted. « I wish people would go back to drivin’ convertibles in the summer. »

As Kai unstrapped the box and carried it over to a workbench against a wall, a question popped into his mind. He was a bit afraid to ask it though; for the longest time, the unspoken rule was « Don’t talk about it ever. » However, maybe enough time had passed for the taboos to wear off…

« ‘Ey, Kaneda…, » he began awkwardly as he put the box down on the wooden table. He turned to find his boss inspecting the pool van’s filter system. Not a good time. « Aw, never mind. »

« …It’s about tomorrow, isn’t it? » Kaneda asked, not looking up from the filter.

« Uh…yeah, it is, » the younger mechanic replied sheepishly. « But that’s okay, I don’t need to- »

« Naw, it’s alright, » Kaneda replied, finally looking up from the van. « That happened a long time ago. What is it you were gonna ask? »

« Really? Well, okay, » Kai said. « I was just wonderin’ if you were, y’know, gonna do anything tomorrow? »

« Nope, » was the answer. « And I’m not closin’ either, so I hope you weren’t plannin’ on bailin’ outta town like the rest of them pussies! »

« I was not! » Kai retorted. Of course, in reality he had considered it several times. « I was just…I did think about goin’ to the crater, though. Like, maybe after work. Were you gonna go? »

« Nah, too many lunatics, » Kaneda replied. « I’m just gonna go about my business as usual. »

Kai just shrugged. « Well…okay, then. »

It had been thirty-one years since the second Akira phenomenon. Quite a few things had changed since then, to say the least.

The city had been rebuilt, but not all of it. Though the second crater had been drained of water, the area right around it had not been restored just like the first one. A lot of people seemed to think it was bad luck to try and build over it. This also meant that the Olympic stadium had not been rebuilt, and consequently, Neo Tokyo had lost the rights to the 2020 Olympics. And it seemed as if there weren’t going to be any Olympic games there for a long time coming, for no one dared make any plans to build it elsewhere in the city.

Kaneda and Kai weren’t left with much to do after the second phenomenon. Not only did the Clowns immediately leave town, so did all the « cavalry » members of the Capsules. It was basically just down to them and Kei. They managed to take on a few odd jobs here and there to keep themselves busy. Most of them involved city reconstruction, since that obviously had the biggest job market at the time. After a few years, Kaneda decided to start his own auto repair garage; after all, he had plenty of experience around vehicles. Those that knew him were a bit skeptical when he started. However, he must have done something right, for he was in business ever since. His cherished red motorcycle even became the shop’s mascot. It on display for a few years inside the garage, but after it nearly got stolen a few times, Kaneda was forced to put it in the back. It could still be seen on the shop’s logo.

Kei, on the other hand, was still on the political front and probably always would be. If there was any kind of political rally in town, she was sure to be there. In fact, many times she was the one organizing them. This kept her quite busy, and Kaneda didn’t get to see her much any more. He had actually gotten engaged to her ten years ago, but had never popped the question. With her long absences, doing so just seemed unnecessary.

As for the psychics, no one had seen hide nor hair of them since. And it looked like no one would see anyone of their ilk in Neo Tokyo ever again, for the first thing Colonel Shikishima did the next day was terminate the Akira Project. To drive the point home, he made it the highest felony he could: anyone caught trying to continue the project or use its data would be immediately executed and the data destroyed. Apparently everyone liked the idea, for even after the government was restored and changed hands through the years, this law remained in place and untouched. Of course, someone could still smuggle the data out of the country and continue on somewhere else; however, no one seemed to care as long as any disastrous results were not within Japanese borders this time.

Despite all this, quite a few people were worried about Akira making an encore appearance tomorrow. This had to do with the fact that thirty-one years had passed between the first and second phenomena. And since this was the thirty-first year after the second blast, most were worried about a third. This is why a good-sized chunk of the city’s population decided to take all their vacations now. Fortunately for Kaneda, this meant it was highly unlikely anyone was going to bring in another dreaded pool van for a few days. Unfortunately, he was still stuck working on this one and there might be a deluge of them when everyone returned.

The two mechanics continued on working, though they had hastily dropped the subject. Despite the fact that so much time had passed, it was still tough to talk about it. This year was harder than most, given its significance. After a few hours of fixing up other orders and grudgingly poking at the pool van, it was time to close up shop.

« So Kaneda…ya sure you’re not gonna close tomorrow? » Kai asked. The garage had almost been completely locked down now. Kai was sitting on his motorcycle, about to leave.

« Aw Kai, when have I ever closed on that day? » Kaneda grunted, almost sounding a bit annoyed.

« I know, I know! I’m just kiddin’! » the younger mechanic replied, holding up his hands defensively. « Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow then. »

« Yeah, later, » Kaneda said blandly, waving.

Kai started his bike’s engine and drove off. Kaneda closed and locked the bay door behind him, as well as turned off all the lights. However, he didn’t leave just yet.

He unlocked the door to the back room, relocking it after he stepped inside. This was the very back room where he kept his pride and joy – the red bike. It was currently in the corner, covered in a dusty old sheet.

Kaneda turned on the light, crossed the room, and removed the sheet. He really hoped the old thing still ran. Sure, it had been completely restored after it took that beating over thirty years ago, but he hadn’t taken it out for a spin in a long time. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time for a test drive.

He unlocked a pair of metal double doors on the side of the room and opened them up. He then guided the bike out into the alley before closing and locking the doors behind him. He started the engine, which fortunately sounded like it was running just fine. He slowly drove it down to the end of the alley before peeling out onto the rather empty street.

He hadn’t meant to be so short with his old friend as they were closing up, but he had been getting a bit anxious. This was something he wanted to get over with, and he wanted to do it alone. He decided to drive his bike there, as he figured it was only appropriate.

It was true that he hadn’t planned on going to the second crater tomorrow. It was also true that he didn’t want to go because he wanted to avoid all the zealots that would be down there. But to say that he was never going to go there at all on this particular anniversary wasn’t quite accurate. Instead, he was going tonight.

« I can’t believe I’m out here. I must be insane! »

The aged biker was now standing at the edge of the crater that at one time had been an Olympic Stadium and a good-sized chunk of the city. At this late hour, it looked like a big black hole in the ground. There was a very eerie air about the place. It was the middle of summer, so of course it was supposed to be hot outside. But here it was cold. Kaneda almost felt like he should have brought a jacket. He also felt like someone was watching him. Like someone was hiding down in that pitch black pit, watching him and waiting. Waiting to jump out and maul him! Or maybe his imagination was just running wild.

By the time he had arrived here, it was already past midnight. Technically, it now really was the anniversary of the second Akira phenomenon. Thankfully, he was all alone. He didn’t care to see what kind of kooks were going to be out here later in the morning. All the halfway sane people had skipped town. Add the fact this was the dreaded year thirty-one; Kaneda shuddered at the thought out what those wackos might be doing down here. Well as long as they weren’t going to be conducting human sacrifices, he figured he might as well just ignore them and let them have their fun.

The religious view of Akira was one of the things that had really changed since then. Thirty-one years ago, the only ones who knew anything about him were people who worked for the government or cult members. Now everybody knew about him. But now, they didn’t just see him as some sort of god; they also saw him as some sort of destructive guardian of Neo Tokyo. A slayer of evil psychics to be more precise.

When the fiasco leading up to the second phenomenon happened, almost everyone had mistaken Tetsuo for a risen Akira. Now they knew better. Somehow, they had gotten ahold of photographs showing Tetsuo in various poses next to a bunch of canisters labeled « Akira. » Where those photos came from, Kaneda didn’t know. They were probably leaked from the military, or they were taken by nosy by-standers with powerful long-range cameras. Either way, the photos had been plastered all over every newspaper and magazine as well as the Internet. Everybody knew now that the red caped terror that tore up part of the city and took out a bridge was some other government experiment gone wrong.

But that wasn’t all they took photos of. There were even a few photos of Tetsuo’s grotesque transformation in the stadium. They were all taken at a bird’s eye view, so they had probably come from a passing military surveillance aircraft. These particular photos were perhaps the more important ones. Religious types would often use these photos to depict Tetsuo as some sort of « man turned monster » and Akira as some sort of « legendary hero » that magically appeared to slay the beast. While there was some truth behind their words, Kaneda wished they weren’t so melodramatic about it. But he guessed that’s what they were getting paid for.

As he continued to stare into the deep, dark pit he remembered just how unreal it all seemed. The day it all started – the day of Tetsuo’s accident – began just like any other day. He got up that morning, had some breakfast, hung around the bar all day, and then went for a ride with the guys. The worst thing he thought would happen was maybe damaging his bike or losing to the Clowns; he certainly wasn’t expecting the world to turn completely upside-down. Probably nobody else did, either. Even now, when the days would get a little too boring, he would worry about it happening again. Not necessarily another Akira-generated explosion, but something equally strange that would totally mess up his life again. Kaneda wanted his weird drama to stay in movies and books, thank you very much.

As for Tetsuo, Kaneda had mixed feelings about him. On one hand, he missed his old friend and wondered what happened to him. Where was he? Was he happier now, wherever he was? Was he back to normal, or was he still that massive, fleshy…thing? Was he something even worse? Was he even still alive?

On the other hand, when he thought about all the terrible things Tetsuo had done, he immediately stopped caring. He had torn up the city and had killed countless people, including Yamagata. The little bastard had even turned on Kaneda – while he was on a mission to rescue him, no less! – and had tried to kill him several times. So all of a sudden he thought Kaneda had been treating him like a kid, did he? Fine time to bring that up! What else had he been hiding all that time? Well, whatever Akira did with Tetsuo, he hoped it was painful. Good riddance.

But then when he remembered those strange flashback scenes while he was flying through that vortex, his sympathy started to creep back. They brought back all the good memories, like when they first met and when they used to go out riding. It also made him think about things he didn’t want to think about. It made him question himself, his actions. Did he do something wrong? Did Tetsuo have a point and he really was too overbearing? Did shooting Tetsuo in the arm trigger that horrible mutation of his? And if it did, did that mean that Kaneda secretly had a hand in killing Kaori and destroying the city?

He shook his head. No, no…it wasn’t like that. Tetsuo was already mutating by the time he got there. He remembered walking in on his trying to strangle Colonel Shikishima with his arm. But did the shot speed it up, or cause him to get bigger than he should? He had no idea.

But it’s not like it mattered now anyway, right? There was no way of going back and finding out what would have happened had he not shot Tetsuo. What’s done was done. Hell, for all he knew, something worse might have happened if Kaneda hadn’t shot him. He might as well stop wasting his time thinking about it.

He sighed. Well, I can’t be sittin’ around here all night, he thought. Guess I better head on home.

He turned away from the crater and walked back to his motorcycle. He sat down and turned on the headlights. But just as he was about to start the engine, he heard an unfamiliar voice behind him.

« …Pardon me, are you Kaneda, Shotaro? »

The middle-aged man whipped his head around. From his bike’s lights, he could see several people standing a short distance behind him. People dressed in monk’s robes. Uh-oh. What did they want? And how did they know his name?

« Maybe I am, maybe I’m not, » Kaneda snapped. « Who wants to know? »

One of the monks stepped forward and gave a low bow. He held out a photograph. In the dim lighting, Kaneda could make out what was on it. It was a photo of him on his bike, firing that laser at Tetsuo in the stadium.

The monk spoke again, this time sounding excited. « You’re the one who stood up to the Devourer! »

Ritual – Chapter 2