❯ Ritual – Chapter 5

[ 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 5

It couldn’t end this way. It just couldn’t! Kaneda gave one final tug on the ropes around his wrists. Unfortunately, they still refused to give. He then tried standing up. Sure, all he would be able to do was hop away, but that was better than nothing. Sadly, he couldn’t manage to do that either. With his ankles bound, he kept losing his balance and toppling over. The farthest he ever got was up on his knees.

The footsteps were getting closer. He now could hear those horrible, slimy red tendrils making disgusting, wet « squish » noises on the ground as they walked. The sweltering heat was becoming more intense. There was now a scent of burning charcoal in the air, and it was becoming stronger by the moment. Tetsuo was almost upon him.

This was it. This was really it. Kaneda was going to die, and he hadn’t even turned fifty yet. Granted, he never really expected to live that long, anyway. But he expected to die from an unfortunate motorcycle accident or from a Clown member that decided to play hardball and bring a gun to a fight. Never in a million years would he guess that he was going to be eaten alive by his former-best-friend-turned-monster. If he had known this was going to happen, he would have never returned that stupid toy robot all those years ago.

His only regret was that he never proposed to Kei. While he never actually bothered with it because she was gone all the time (and rings were expensive), he always wanted to in the back of his mind. Now he was never going to get that chance.

Come to think of it, that wasn’t his only regret. He also regretted never jumping a canyon on his old motorcycle. It didn’t have to be a specific canyon, just as long as it was deep and wide. He also regretted not hiring more people to work at his garage. He wondered what Kai was going to do when he would come into work the next day and find him gone.

Tetsuo was now right in front of him. Kaneda shut his eyes and gritted his teeth, waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop. He wondered how his old friend was going to do him in. Was he going to strangle him to death with those tendrils? Crush him under his hideous mass? Savagely tear him limb from limb? Kill him with some sort of freaky biomechanical weapon he had hidden in that huge body? Poison him to death with some kind of venom that he had developed during his absence? Hey, he had glowing parts now, so why not venom? His imagination was going wild.

Surprisingly, nothing happened. Instead, Tetsuo just sat down in front of him. It was at that moment that a miracle happened. Kaneda felt the ropes around him suddenly loosen. He tried tugging at them again. This time, they slid off without a hitch. It was a good thing too, because he was really starting to get rope burn. He shook off the restraints and sat up. A quick glance at the ropes revealed that they had been cut somehow.

« There, now doesn’t that feel better? »

Kaneda immediately jumped to his feet. In his confusion, he had almost forgotten about…him. He turned to face the beast. Tetsuo was still sitting there, grinning at him.

« So, how’s tricks? » Tetsuo asked.

Kaneda stepped back and stared at the mutant incredulously. « …Huh? » was all he managed to say.

« I said, ‘How’s tricks?' » Tetsuo repeated. « Y’know…how’s it going? What have you been doin’ while I was gone? » He piled his « cape » up behind him and reclined against it like a pillow. A really, really ugly pillow.

Now that he was closer, and because his glowing body provided more adequate lighting, Tetsuo’s mutations could now be seen in better detail. Not that Kaneda actually wanted to. It was like a train wreck; he couldn’t help but find himself staring. That outfit of his had blood vessels lacing in and out of it. Parts of them seemed to be pulsing. In other words, they were actually much like his cape – a part of him rather than actual articles of clothing. Large gears were on either side of his knees and ankles. He still had those wires in his face, but they were harder to see now. They lay just under his skin and had developed branches, making them look like veins. Maybe they were now a combination of both. There were also large wires in his neck.

He had a wide grin on his face. A grin that sent chills up and down Kaneda’s spine. His teeth had been replaced by two rows of sharp fangs that looked like they belonged in the mouth of a crocodile. No wonder he was able to chew through everything so easily. Whatever humanity had been left in him at the time of his disappearance was long gone now.

Kaneda immediately thought about running. He was free now; there was nothing stopping him. It sounded like the smartest thing to do. But was it really? Tetsuo might put up some sort of barrier to keep him from leaving. But if he was going to stop him, why did he even bother to cut the ropes? Tetsuo had to have been the one to do that – there was no one else here.

But even if he could get away, where could he go? Tetsuo had been summoned here to destroy Neo Tokyo again. It wasn’t like he could just go home and go to bed. He’d have to round up Kai and Kei and leave the city – provided Tetsuo didn’t destroy everything before he got the chance.

But most importantly, running away was probably what Tetsuo wanted him to do. It was what he had been wanting for a long time. Kaneda wasn’t about to let this giant freak have that satisfaction, even if it seemed like a stupid move. Instead, he just glared at the psychic and said nothing.

Tetsuo chuckled. « You really thought I was gonna eat ya for a sec there, didn’tcha? » he asked.

« Why wouldn’t I? » Kaneda growled.

« Oh, please, Kaneda, » Tetsuo laughed. « I wouldn’t dream of eatin’ ya. You probably taste terrible anyway! »

Kaneda just snarled.

The monstrous psychic sat up a little. « Still pissed at me over what happened, huh? » he asked. He shook his head. « C’mon now, Kaneda, that was a long time ago. No use livin’ in the past. »

« No use livin’ in the-?! » Kaneda couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Any remaining fear he had of the huge beast in front of him was replaced by rage. « You killed hundreds of innocent people, you turned on me, you tried to kill me several times, you tore up the city, you’re about to do it again…and all you gotta say for yourself is that I’m ‘livin’ in the past’?! Well I’d say I gotta damn good reason for it! »

Tetsuo rolled his eyes (including the ones in his mass). « ‘Innocent people,’ huh? » he said, sounding irritated. « Y’mean those guys followin’ me around with guns, ‘n’ tanks, ‘n’ helicopters, ‘n’…armed satellites?! Yeah, real innocent. » He snorted. « What’d you expect me to do, just let them kill me? »

« I ain’t talkin’ about the fuckin’ army! » Kaneda snapped. « I’m talkin’ about all the random people that got killed during your little temper tantrum! I’m talkin’ the bartender from the Harukiya! I’m- »

« You’re talkin’ about Yamagata, » Tetsuo said blandly, cutting him off.

« Yeah! » Kaneda barked. « Last time I checked, he wasn’t drivin’ around in a tank shootin’ at’cha! Oh, and while I’m at it…who’s the one who smooshed their own girlfriend to death?! »

Mentioning Kaori seemed to strike a nerve. Tetsuo let out an incredibly loud growl in response. It was a deep growl, like something a large predatory animal would make. Kaneda winced, but quickly regained his composure. Even if Tetsuo was going to kill him right where he stood, he still refused to be afraid of him.

« Kaori’s death was an accident. You know that! I’ll thank you not to drag her into this, » Tetsuo snapped, defensively. « And as for Yamagata…I did it ’cause I hated him. I was so sick of him bitchin’ about the way I was ridin’, and sayin’ that I was only part of the gang ’cause of you. He was such an asshole. »

« I don’t care! You don’t kill someone for being an asshole! » Kaneda shouted.

« I know that! Tetsuo thundered, the ground shaking as he spoke. Kaneda swore he saw a plume of fire come out of his mouth and a puff of smoke from his nostrils.

Tetsuo then bowed his head and rubbed his right temple. He shook his head, as if trying to fight off a headache. His furious expression melted off his face. Even his glowing parts dimmed for a second.

« I-I know that, » he said to the ground. His voice was much calmer and quieter – almost pained. « I know that now. I shouldn’t have done it. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. » He looked back up. « In case you didn’t get the memo, I was a very pissed off teenager. »

Kaneda was silent for a long time. Did Tetsuo…just admit to regretting killing off Yamagata? It sounded impossible. He finally managed to let out a, « Wait, what? »

« I shouldn’tve killed Yamagata! » Tetsuo blurted out.

There was an awkward silence.

« I-I know that’s not gonna bring him back or anything, » Tetsuo continued, « but…it’s better than nothing. »

Kaneda wasn’t convinced. « Yeah? Well what’s this I hear about you killin’ some kid not too long ago? » he said, crossing his arms. « If you feel so bad about killin’ people, why the hell are you still doin’ it? »

« That was an accident, » Tetsuo muttered. « I lost my temper. »

« Lost your temper, huh? » Kaneda scoffed. « Yeah, there’s the Tetsuo I know! »

« The kid was fuckin’ crazy! » Tetsuo snapped. He started staring at the ground as he began to explain. It was if he was…ashamed. « Thought he was some kinda wizard, or something. Dressed up like those fuckin’ weirdoes. » He pointed in the general direction that the cult had walked off. « He had some poor chick tied up, and was tryin’ to offer her up as a virgin sacrifice. Pissed me off something terrible! » Tetsuo was just going to leave out the part where the girl reminded him of Kaori. « I wound up roughin’ him up a bit. »

« Some accident! » Kaneda snorted.

« I wasn’t tryin’ to kill him! » Tetsuo retorted. « I just wanted to teach him a lesson or at least scare him off, or something. I tried to shove him against a wall, but he got cut up instead! Look, after I let the girl outta there, I tried to fix him up best I could. I even tried callin’ an ambulance, but… » He started rubbing his forehead. « He died anyway. Akira told me the next morning. »

Kaneda looked confused again. And surprised. « You called an ambulance?! »

« Well, yeah! I couldn’t just let him bleed to death! » Tetsuo replied. « I just made sure I got outta there when the ambulance showed up. »

This didn’t make any sense. First Tetsuo was regretting killing somebody, and now he was trying to save someone he just got through brutalizing? It just didn’t sound right. Maybe he was lying? Yeah…that’s it. He had to be lying.

« Oh, bullshit! » Kaneda snapped. « You think I’m gonna believe all that? Those robe-wearin’ psychos summoned you to destroy the city again, and guess what? Here you are! Ain’t that a coincidence?! »

Tetsuo just laughed. « Oh, please! » he said. « If I stopped takin’ orders from you, do ya really think I’d take ’em from any random stranger that throws a chicken at me? »

Kaneda paused. Well, that did make sense.

« Those fucknuts shoulda saved their money for something else, » Tetsuo chuckled. « My city-stomping days are way behind me! »

« If you ain’t here to destroy the city again, then what the hell are ya doin’ here? » he asked.

« For the food, » Tetsuo said simply.

« The…food? »

« Yeah, there’s no meat where I live. Eatin’ nothing but plants gets really boring after awhile. »

Kaneda was silent again. He still didn’t believe Tetsuo, but he was out of arguments. The only thing he could think to say was, « …Who are you, and what have you done with Tetsuo? »

The psychic let out an earth-shaking laugh. « Oh c’mon, Kaneda, » he chuckled. « Do ya really think I haven’t changed at all in thirty-one years? »

« No, actually, » the older biker snorted.

Tetsuo sighed and shook his head. He started looking at the ground again. « Well, I guess I can understand…if ya still don’t trust me, » he said.

There was a long silence. Kaneda stood there, wondering what he should do. He started to contemplate leaving again, but he didn’t want to turn his back on Tetsuo; if this was really a trap, turning around was a nice way to get attacked from behind.

Thankfully, he didn’t have to think for long. Tetsuo began to speak again.

« Look. Kaneda…I don’t think you’ll accept this, but…if you really want proof that I’ve changed, then this is it: I’m sorry. »

Kaneda gave him a sideways glance. He wasn’t completely surprised Tetsuo said that; after all, he just apologized for Yamagata’s death. He just wasn’t sure how to respond to it. Tetsuo had done a lot of horrible things back then – things Kaneda wasn’t sure if he could forgive. He still wasn’t sure if Tetsuo could really be trusted right now.

Tetsuo didn’t seem to be finished. « I’m sorry…I tried to kill you. I always thought…you were treating like a kid. I carried that grudge for years – I lashed out when I got my powers. But I know now…that’s not what you were tryin’ to do. »

That almost made Kaneda feel guilty. But he still didn’t know if Tetsuo was telling the truth or just become really good at acting, so he kept his mouth shut.

« I’ll understand if you can’t forgive me, » Tetsuo said. « I don’t think there’s really anything I can do to make up for it. »

Kaneda gave him a confused look. « Are you…dyin’, or something? »

Tetsuo looked up. « Huh? »

« Are you dying? » Kaneda repeated. « Y’know, are you about to not be alive anymore? »

Tetsuo sighed. « Lemme guess…you think the only reason I’m apologizin’ about everything is ’cause I’m about to die, ’cause that’s what they do on TV, right? »

« Uh…yeah. »

The mutant shook his head. « I’m perfectly healthy…y’know, for a blob, » he said, smiling a little. « The apologies are just something I’ve been meanin’ to say for a long time. »

Kaneda just stood there a moment in contemplation. He wasn’t sure if he should really accept that apology or not. On one hand, a simple « I’m sorry » just didn’t seem to do justice – he hadn’t really apologized for everything, anyway! On the other hand, Tetsuo was still his oldest and closest friend – even if he had turned into a monster.

He suddenly found himself thinking about all the fun they used to have together, before this whole fiasco happened. Riding on motorcycles together, hanging out in bars, playing hooky, dodging the cops, all those kinds of things. Then he was reminded of the good times long before that, back when they were just children. Going to school together, playing on the playground, drawing things on the asphalt with chalk…even the event at the water fountain that started it all.

He then wanted to kick himself for reminiscing. That was all too long ago; it didn’t matter anymore.

« Can’t decide? » Tetsuo chuckled. « Take your time. I got a few hours. »

Kaneda jumped, then turned to the mutant to glare at him. « How did-?! » he started to say, but then he figured out how Tetsuo knew about his indecision on his own. « Just stay outta my head, wilya? »

He thought over the apology one last time. Common sense was screaming at him not to. The things he had done were just too awful, and he was probably here to do it all over again. However, his sentiment kept nagging at him to give Tetsuo another chance. He seemed sincere enough, and he pretty much paid for all his misdeeds by getting turned into a gooey monster. Kaneda just didn’t know what to do.

« I’ll…I’ll think about it, » he said.

Tetsuo shrugged. « Even that much’s better than I expected, » he said.

This time, it was Kaneda’s turn to divert his eyes to the ground. All this talk of apologies and reminiscing reminded him. They reminded him of those nasty old questions again. Had he really been a bad friend? Was he the reason Tetsuo looked like…that? Was the destruction of the city actually his fault? He shut his eyes. No, he wasn’t going to think about that, not here, not now. It almost got him in trouble once before…

Tetsuo must have noticed something. « Something wrong, Kaneda? » he asked.

« It’s nuthin’! » Kaneda snapped at the sudden response.

Tetsuo rolled his eyes again. « You’re pissed for some reason other than me, » he argued. « Don’t hafta read your mind to know it ain’t nuthin’! »

« Well, it’s none of your damn business anyway! » Kaneda growled. « And don’t even think about readin’ my mind anyway! » He was tempted to cover his ears, but he was pretty sure that wouldn’t stop telepathy.

Tetsuo shook his head. « Let’s not start this again! » he sighed/ « Look Kaneda, why don’t you just try sayin’ it? »

Kaneda stared at him like he was insane.

« It sounds cliché, yeah, » Tetsuo said. « But you’re man enough to do it, right? And it’s not like I have anybody to tell it to. »

Kaneda was silent for a moment. Well, it was true that Tetsuo couldn’t rat him out. But still, did he want to admit he might have been wrong too…to his former best friend, of all people? The guy who tried to kill him over the very things he felt guilty about?

Well, Tetsuo did just apologize himself…twice! Assuming he was sincere, of course.

« I…I, » he started.

…Must be insane! he mentally finished.

« Yeah? » Tetsuo asked.

« I…probably should apologize, too, » Kaneda mumbled, staring at the ground.

Tetsuo raised an eyebrow. « …Wait, what? » he asked.

« I said I’m sorry too! » Kaneda spat.

Tetsuo was dumbstruck. His eyes nearly bulged out of his face (and mass).

« Maybe…maybe I wasn’t such a good friend, either, » Kaneda continued, after seeing Tetsuo’s response. « And I’m probably the reason you’re…a blob thing. »

« Damn…! » Tetsuo replied. « I…I, uh…holy shit! I got enough psychic power to make myself like this, but I never saw that comin’! »

« Yeah, well don’t make me change my mind! » Kaneda muttered.

« No, no, I’m not gonna do anything like that, » Tetsuo said. « And really…ya don’t need to apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong – it was all me. And the blob thing woulda happened anyway. »

« It was? »

« Yeah. I mean, gettin’ shot up didn’t help but…I still woulda been a blob by morning. »

« How do ya figure? »

« I’mma psychic. I get visions about those kinda things. »

« Ah…yeah. »

« So don’t worry, ya didn’t make me mutate. »

« Good! » Kaneda felt relieved. He thought he was going to regret saying all that, but it turned out to be a good idea after all. He actually started to smile a little.

Tetsuo leaned forward and lowered his voice. « And ya didn’t help destroy the city either. » He winked.

« What the-?! » Kaneda shouted « How the hell di-?! You were readin’ my mind! »

« It’s kinda hard not to, » Tetsuo grinned, « You think awful loud. »

Kaneda rolled his eyes.

Tetsuo stood up and held out his right hand. « Whaddya say? Friends again? Or at least,,,okay with each now? »

Kaneda hesitated at first. But then he stepped forward and held out his own hand in return. « Yeah, sure. Friends. »

They shook hands. Kaneda was sure to avoid those claws as he did so. He expected the mutant’s hand to be cold and metallic, as it looked like it was mostly mechanical. Instead, it was very warm and slimy. When they let go, he actually found his hand covered in some kind of fluorescent orange ooze. He tried shaking it off, not wanting to wipe it off on his pants. He hoped it wasn’t poisonous

« So, gettin’ back to my first question…how’s tricks? » Tetsuo asked. « You still bustin’ Clowns? »

« Nah, they skipped town a long time ago, » Kaneda replied. « Akira’s explosion scared the shit out of ’em, and they took off. So did a lot of other people – includin’ the rest of our guys! It’s pretty much down to me and Kai now. »

« Kai, huh? How’s he doin’? » Tetsuo looked a bit guilty, and Kaneda figured he knew why. Kai was present at that unfortunate incident at the bar. Not only did he see Yamagata get killed, he probably was the next target.

« He’s fine, » the older biker said. « He can’t see worth shit anymore, and I think he’s startin’ to lose his hair. But other than that, he’s been doin’ alright. Works with me in the garage. »

« Garage? You got a chopshop? » Tetsuo had a sly grin on his face.

« Aw, hell no! What kinda guy do you take me for? » Kaneda protested. An awkward pause followed. « Well yeah, okay…it kinda was in the beginning. But now it’s legitimate business. And best of all, it’s my own shop! It ain’t a job as a motorcycle stuntman, but it’s a livin’. »

« Runnin’ your own business, are ya? Good for you! » The mutant gave him a pat on the back. Kaneda tried not to cringe when he felt the back of his shirt become soaking wet from the slime. « You still got your old bike? »

« Sure do. Never let it outta my sight. » Kaneda smirked. « But, uh…I think you’re a bit too big to ride it, now. »

Tetsuo just laughed. « Hey, you ever get together with that girl I saw you with? »

« Uh…which one? »

« Y’know…the one that got possessed and was fightin’ with me. »

« Ah, y’mean Kei. Yeah, we been together ever since. »

« Seriously? I never saw you as the type to settle down, Kaneda. So, what was the wedding like? »

« Uh…actually, we’re not married… »

« …Huh? »

« But we’ve been engaged for ten years, though! »

« You mean to tell me you’ve been goin’ out with that girl for over thirty years, and you never got hitched? » Tetsuo chuckled and shook his head. « Guess I was right about the ‘not settling down’ part. »

« Hey, it’s not like I don’t want to! It’s just…we’re both so busy! »

« I don’t mean to push, but you really should sometime. It’s hard findin’ someone that really cares about you… »

Kaneda was a bit surprised when Tetsuo said that. He never seemed to be the romantic type. But then again, he kept a lot of things to himself so it was hard to tell. Unless…

« You still miss…her, huh? »

Tetsuo didn’t respond. Instead, his breastplate suddenly split itself right down the middle, exposing his chest. It looked like a negative image of the breastplate – red with a white lotus blossom emblazoned in the center.

« She’s always close to my heart, now, » he said sadly, gently putting a clawed hand on the flower.

Kaneda stared at it, puzzled. A moment later, he figured it out and felt a bit nauseous.

« Is that…is that…her?! » he tried to ask.

Tetsuo just nodded. Kaneda tried to stifle a shudder, but it came out anyway.

« Uh…why don’t we just change the subject, here? » Kaneda asked.

« Yeah. Let’s, » the giant replied as his breastplate resealed itself.

« What about you? What’ve you been doin’ all these years? » Kaneda eyed the gigantic living cape. « Looks like you gained a bit of weight since I last saw you. »

Tetsuo chuckled and gave his huge mass a satisfied pat. « I prefer the term ‘well-fed.' »

« I bet you are, » Kaneda snickered. « Haven’t you tried goin’ back to normal size? »

« No, actually. I probably can, but I never bothered to. After awhile, I just got used to it.. Besides, » the psychic smirked, « …I like bein’ big. »

« Bigger is better, huh? »

« Big is beautiful. »

They laughed.

« So uh…where do you live now? I mean, where does that mirror go to? »

« Well…it’s kinda complicated. I dunno if you’d believe me if I told you. »

« Oh, I dunno. I’ve seen enough weird shit in my lifetime to last me the next ten! I don’t think you can do any worse. »

« Well, in that case…Akira actually gave me my own planet to live on. »

« Oh, » Kaneda replied. He couldn’t help but feel just a bit jealous. This guy goes on a Tokyo-destroying rampage, and his own planet for it? Damn, he should do that sometime! « Sooo…what’s it like? »

« It’s uh…well, it’s basically one big jungle. Really hot and lotsa trees. Not a lot to do there, but it’s better than gettin’ chased around by G-men all the time. I mostly just sit around eatin’ or sleepin’. »

Dammit! Life is unfair, Kaneda thought. He immediately tried to shake off his envious feelings, especially since they could be heard. He quickly changed the subject. « What’s it like livin’ with Akira and them wrinkled kids? »

« Not bad. None of them make a lotta sense when they talk, but they’re okay. I talk to Akira most of the time. He helps me out with psychic stuff. » Tetsuo smiled. « We make a great team, him and me. I don’t wanna listen, and he doesn’t wanna give up! » He let out a thunderous laugh. Kaneda swore he felt the ground shake again.

« Yeah, about Akira…are those, uh…’shadow’ bird things real? »

« ‘Shadowalkers’ y’mean? Yeah, they’re real. They’re the reason this place is so cold all the time. There’s one actually standin’ in front of you. »

Kaneda stared apprehensively at the space in front of him. There didn’t seem to be anything there but a bare patch of ground. He was tempted to hold out his hand, but he had no idea if these things could bite him.

« You ain’t gonna see it, you’re not psychic. » Tetsuo thoughtful for a second. « Or I should I say, you’re not psychic enough? » he added cryptically.

« ‘Enough’? » Kaneda looked back up and was greeted by that creepy, toothy grin. « Never mind, I don’t wanna know. »

He then remembered what that monk had told him in the temple – Shadowalkers could look like anything, but mostly seemed to take on the forms of birds and snakes. He really hoped there wasn’t a giant invisible snake in front of him…

« Why, Kaneda! I didn’t know ya were afraid of snakes! » Tetsuo suddenly laughed.

« Huh? Hey, what’d I say about stayin’ outta my head?! » the mechanic barked.

« Don’t worry, it ain’t a snake, » the psychic snickered. « It’s a bird. The same one that woke you up. »

« Woke me up? »

« That’s what he tells me, » Tetsuo replied. He stared at the space in front of Kaneda and tilted his head, as if listening to something. « …He says those creeps drugged you and dragged you out here. Once the drugs wore off, he pecked you to wake you up. »

The biker remembered feeling like he was being poked by something cold when he came to, earlier. He figured it was either one of the guards kicking him, or some kind of sensation brought on by the drugs. The last thing he was expecting it to be was the invisible beak of the twice-destroyer of Neo Tokyo.

« Of all the people to wake me up, » he muttered. He looked around suspiciously. « Are there any more of those things out here? »

« Yeah, there’s tons of ’em. They’re all over the place, » Tetsuo answered. « They’re just makin’ sure I don’t do anything stupid. » He then turned and said to seemingly nobody, « Which I won’t! You know me better’n that! »

« These things don’t…suddenly explode, do they? »

« Oh c’mon, Kaneda, they’re not bombs! They’re not gonna explode for no reason. »

« So both you and Akira are out here, but nothing’s happening, » Kaneda commented. « Those whackjobs are gonna be pissed. »

« Ah, yeah. I almost forgot about them, » Tetsuo replied, staring off into the distance. « Something should be done about ’em, don’t you think? »

« Whaddya mean ‘do something about ’em’? »

« Well, they only wanna destroy the city a third time for some crazy-ass reason! Don’t they sound dangerous to you? »

« Well…yeah. »

« Well then, somebody should stop ’em before they try something else! And since we’re the only ones that know about ’em…well, you get the idea. »

« Wait a damn minute! You wanna cause a scene and give those fuckin’ whackos what they want?! Who the hell said they’ll try anything else, anyway? »

« They’re fanatics, Kaneda. You really think they’re just gonna give up if they see me go home? »

« Well what else can they do? They just told me they couldn’t summon anybody else! »

« They can try doin’ the Akira Project themselves! That’s their Plan B. I heard ’em thinkin’ about it. »

Kaneda looked horrified at first. But then he just rolled his eyes and snorted. « Yeah right, where they the stuff for that? They even know how to do it? »

« They’ll figure it out eventually. That’s why I better take care of ’em…before somebody winds up gettin’ hurt. »

« Whaddya mean you? »

« Well, if they haven’t told you already, they’re from the original Akira cult. They’re the guys I dropped off the bridge. I guess the fall made them a bit wackier. Guess I should clean up my own mess this time, huh? »

« And how do you plan on doin’ that? Those guys are long gone, and you can’t leave that mirror, right? Even if you could, you just can’t run around the city lookin’ like that! » Kaneda gestured to Tetsuo’s monstrous form again.

« Leave the mirror? » the mutant rolled his eyes and laughed. « I’ll let you in on a little secret…I’m not ‘bound’ to the mirror at all. I can just walk away anytime, no sacrifice necessary!

« And those freaks didn’t go anywhere. They’re all hangin’ out over there, wonderin’ what the hell’s takin’ me so long. » He pointed off into the distance at one of the few dilapidated buildings that had never been cleared out.

« As for how I’m gonna take care of them…, » Tetsuo shot Kaneda that frightening, toothy grin. « I got some ideas. None of ’em are very nice! »

« Yeah, well don’t do anything stupid » Kaneda growled.

« What? I ain’t gonna take out several city blocks just to kick a bunch of psychos around, » Tetsuo retorted. « I got more finesse than that! Besides, I’m surprised you’re tryin’ to defend them. I mean, they did kidnap ya, drug ya, and try to feed ya to me! »

« I ain’t tryin’ to defend ’em, I just don’t wanna repeat of thirty years ago if you get caught! » Kaneda argued.

Tetsuo smirked. « Still tryin’ to look after me after all this time, huh? »

« Uh…no, not really, » Kaneda said, embarrassed. « I just don’t wanna see another giant explosion, is all. »

« Well don’t worry ’bout that, ’cause there ain’t gonna be one! » Tetsuo reassured him. « ‘Sides, I got some help. » He gestured to an empty space.

Kaneda blinked. « Akira, y’mean? »

« Hmm? » Tetsuo looked at the empty spot as if somebody had said something to him. He turned back to Kaneda and said, « Hang on a sec, he wants a word with me. »

The mutant stared attentively at the invisible being while Kaneda looked on. Every once in awhile, something would slip out of his mouth like, « But… » or « Well, then… » Kaneda figured they must be using telepathy. Suddenly, Tetsuo turned back to him.

« Sorry to keep ya hangin’ like that, » he said. « We were just discussin’ the details. He doesn’t want me makin’ a big scene, either. » He gave the invisible creature a pat on the back, which Kaneda thought looked rather odd.

« I don’t blame ‘im, » Kaneda replied, looking at the empty space.

« Anyway, it’s gettin’ late, » Tetsuo said. « I better get this ‘payin’ my debt to society’ thing over with and get my ass home before people start wakin’ up. » He sighed, and looked a bit more somber. « Well, old buddy…it’s been great seein’ you after all these years. I’m…glad we were able to talk again. And I got a chance to apologize. »

« Same here, » Kaneda replied.

« Now I dunno if you ever wanna bother seein’ me again, » Tetsuo continued. « I mean, we apologized and all, but I dunno if we could ever be ‘bestest buddies’ like we used to. Still…if you ever feel like…talkin’ to me again, feel free to call me anytime, okay? You know how to get ahold of me, right? »

Kaneda tried to remember what those cult members had been doing. « I think so. »

Tetsuo seemed to brighten up a bit. « Just make sure to get a big mirror, ’cause I really can’t squeeze my way out of a hand mirror. The blood doesn’t gotta be human blood; that’s just another stupid rumor somebody started. And you don’t hafta bother with the food, I’ll know it’s you. »

« Alright, I’ll keep that in mind. » In truth, Kaneda wasn’t sure if he would ever try summoning Tetsuo. As he had said himself, they probably wouldn’t be as close as they were in the « good old days. » At the very least, Kaneda didn’t want that orange goo all over his carpet – especially if it turned out to be a bitch to clean up.

« And uh,….before I go… » Tetsuo lowered his voice. « I just wanna say thanks. Thanks for everything. »

« Nah, don’t mention it, » Kaneda replied. « …And thank you too. »

The psychic smiled, but it wasn’t that hideous crocodile grin this time. It was a just normal smile, like the way he used to smile before the fateful accident ever happened. For a moment, he almost looked human again. « Anytime, » he said.

« One more thing, » the biker added.

« Yeah? »

« Try not to eat too fast. You’ll give yourself indigestion! »

Tetsuo blinked. « What? You don’t think I’m gonna eat those guys, do ya? » he asked. « I wouldn’t do that! » He paused, then added quietly, « Well, maybe their leader… »

He then wrapped his living cape around him, making himself look even more bizarre – a tiny head poking out of an enormous, red blob.

« Before we go, » he said, « you probably need a lift home, right? »

« Well, I don’t think there’s any buses that come around here this time of night, » Kaneda joked.

« Notta problem, » Tetsuo said. « See ya ’round, old pal… »

« Wait, how are you-? » But before Kaneda could even blink, the scenery changed right before his eyes. It was still dark, but it was no longer cold. The ground was replaced by old carpeting, and he was suddenly surrounded by walls. Familiar walls with posters on them. Tetsuo had disappeared, and Kaneda’s dresser had taken his place, He was no longer in the crater; he was at home, standing in his own bedroom!

He was quite surprised. How did he get here? But then he realized it was another psychic trick – he had been teleported home. He walked over to his window and looked outside.

« Yeah, see ya, » he said quietly in the general direction of the crater. « And don’t worry…least I’ll know you did something right… »

« Has anything happened yet? »

The cult leader was growing very impatient. He and the rest of his followers (minus the two frightened henchmen) were sitting around on the roof of an old, abandoned apartment building not far from the second crater. They had been waiting for the Devourer to eat the human sacrifice they had given him and then go on the subsequent bloody rampage. Unfortunately, that’s not what he was doing. Instead, he seemed to be talking to the sacrifice. He had even freed the so-called « Noble One » from the restraints! At first, they had all thought he was just toying with his prey. But this had gone on for a quite awhile; now they weren’t sure what to think.

One of the cult members stood up and looked at the crater through a pair of binoculars he had on him. Both the sacrifice and the huge red beast were both standing up, still talking.

« It looks like they’re still chatting, sir, » he said.

The leader rubbed his forehead. « Perhaps I am just impatient, » he sighed, « but I’m still confounded by the fact that he has not eaten the sacrifice yet. He is supposed to be eternally famished, is he not?! »

He was now rethinking his choice of sacrifice. Perhaps it hadn’t been a good idea to use someone the Devourer had once been friends with. But didn’t the two of them have a bitter fight before they were so forcefully separated? It just didn’t add up.

Meanwhile, the lookout didn’t bother to answer the leader’s question. He was secretly worrying over something he had seen just a few minutes ago. As he had been watching the scene down below, he saw the Devourer and the Noble One actually shake hands. He wasn’t sure if he should tell the leader about this. He either wouldn’t believe him, or he’d have an absolute conniption fit.

The lookout was shaken from his anxious thoughts when he finally saw activity down below. The Devourer had draped his mutated mass around himself for some reason. The sacrifice still remained uneaten, but it was better than nothing.

« Sir? I think the Devourer is about to make his move! » he announced.

The entire cult snapped to attention. The leader himself stood up.

« Excellent, » he said, smiling. « What exactly is happening? »

« Well, he’s wrapped his cape around himself and- » The lookout cut himself off.

« …And? the leader demanded.

The lookout was very hesitant to say anything. The sacrifice had suddenly disappeared. Had the Devourer eaten him? Or had he…?

Suddenly, the fiend crawled out of the crater and out of the binoculars’ range. « He’s on the move! » the lookout shouted.

The leader smiled coldly. « So he has finally feasted on our sacrifice? »

« I…guess he has, » the lookout replied.

Now the leader looked confused. And frustrated. « You guess? What is that supposed to mean? »

« Well, he didn’t actually pick the sacrifice up and chew him up, sir » the lookout replied, fighting to find the creature with the binoculars. « He just kind of…disappeared. »

« Well, if he has broken away from the mirror, then it must mean that he has taken our sacrifice! » the leader explained. « At any rate, where is he headed? Is he going into the city? »

« Umm… » The lookout stalled as he continued to search for the monster with no success.

« He’s coming right at us! » another member suddenly shouted.

The lookout whipped the binoculars away from his face just in time to see a long reddish streak charge right up to the building. Startled, he quickly jumped away from the roof’s edge. A second later, a cascade of red biomechanical flesh buried the spot where he had once been sitting.

Tetsuo had scaled the building, his huge body hanging onto it by a multitude of tendrils. His mass surrounded the roof on all sides. Some of it spilled over to cover the stairway, thus blocking all exits. His head loomed high above them, and he had a malicious smile on his face.

The cult members stood there, frozen in fear. None of them were psychics themselves, but one didn’t need to be to know what was coming next. The leader approached the mutant, though he too had a bad feeling.

« M-Master Tetsuo? » he stammered, putting on a shaky smile. « Is…is there something we can do for you? »

« Evil » would have been an understatement for the laugh that came out of the red beast. A plume of fire escaped from his nostrils as he cackled. He leaned over to just above the leader’s eye level.

« Yeah, there’s something you can do! » he boomed, bearing his sharp teeth in a ferocious grin. The air around him suddenly became scorching hot. « Roll around in bread crumbs while I get the oven ready! »

It was a typical late night at the hospital. The place was very quiet – only the occasional drunk who had a few too many or victim of a random late-night mishap had checked in. But other than that, nothing much was going on. That was probably due to all the people who had decided to take a vacation.

The night receptionist busied himself with a computer game. It could get boring here, but it was easy money. Sure, every once in awhile, something exciting would happen this late at night. Like that one college student that looked like he had been mauled by a tiger a few months ago. No one ever could figure out what happened to him.

But tonight wasn’t one of those nights. Tonight was a normal night. Nothing special was happening. His shift was just about up, too.

That’s when he saw something out of the corner of his eye – somebody was here. Lots of somebodies. The next thing he knew, the room was filled with the sound of people talking. The receptionist looked up from his computer to find a large group of people stand around in the lobby. They were all wearing the same thing – dark purple robes. They also all had confused, faraway looks upon their faces.

The receptionist was also confused, Where did they come from? He hadn’t heard the door open, and he swore were not there a second ago.

He was suddenly approached by a young man with a pair of binoculars around his neck. « Can I help you? » he asked.

« Actually, » the guy with the binoculars answered, « I was hoping you could tell us where we are. »

Kaneda gingerly woke up to turn off his alarm clock. He was so exhausted. He was almost tempted to tell Kai he was sick and blow off work. But he knew he couldn’t do that; he had to get that stupid pool van finished.

Last night…had he dreamed the whole thing? It sure seemed like it. Getting captured by an insane cult, meeting Tetsuo again who was not only a bigger blob but also very apologetic, and being surrounded by creepy, invisible manifestations of Akira…it sure didn’t sound real. But the rope burns on his wrists and ankles told him differently. He was also sore all over from all the fighting. The shirt he was wearing from last night was hanging over a chair because of the orange slime on it. He hadn’t wanted to put it in his laundry basket, as it might stain something else.

Just the fact that he was alive and not vaporized was already a good sign. And the fact that his house was still standing. It meant something hadn’t gone wrong, or Tetsuo hadn’t decided to go on a rampage after all. Kaneda walked over to the window and looked outside, just to be sure. The city was intact, and he didn’t see any new craters. It was as if nothing happened at all last night.

He wondered what it was Tetsuo did to those cult members. Did he make their heads explode? Did stomp on them? Did he eat them, like Kaneda joked about? Maybe he didn’t want to know.

After a quick breakfast, Kaneda began to open up shop. He hadn’t had the garage doors open for five seconds when Kai barreled in on his motorcycle at practically top speed. He almost crashed into the far wall.

« Kai, what the hell was that for? » Kaneda demanded.

Kai nearly tripped over himself trying to get off his bike. He looked upset about something.

« ‘Ey, Kaneda! » he shouted. You didn’t drink any tap water today, did ya? »

« Uh, no, » Kaneda answered, confused.

« Good! » Kai said. « ‘Cause I just heard there might be somethin’ in it! »

There was always something, wasn’t there? « Like what? » Kaneda muttered.

« Like somethin’ that gives ya amnesia! » Kai answered.

« Amnesia? »

« Yeah! There was a whole buncha guys that showed up in th hospital last night. They couldn’t remember what they were doin’ for the past couple months, or how the hell they got there! They think they got it from contaminated water. It’s fucked up, I tell ya! »

A whole bunch of guys suddenly losing their memory? Kaneda became intrigued. « Did they say what these guys looked like? » he asked.

« Uh, not really, » Kai replied. « I think they said something them all wearin’ the same thing. »

« Like robes? »

« Maybe. I wasn’t really payin’ attention to that, » Kai said. « I was too busy freakin’ out that they slipped somethin’ in the water that makes you lose your memory! How fucked up is that?! »

So that’s how they did it, Kaneda thought. He wanted to smile, but he knew Kai might start asking questions.

« Yeah, that does sound pretty fucked up, » he said, knowingly. « But I don’t think ya need to worry ’bout the water. They probably got it from somewhere else. »

« What makes ya say that? » Kai asked.

« Well…uh…, » Kaneda had to think about that one for a moment. « If they’re all wearin’ the same thing, that means they’re in uniforms right? They probably all work at the same place, and they probably got it while workin’! »

« Maybe. But I still don’t trust it, » Kai said. « I ain’t drinkin’ water again ’til all this blows over! »

« What, you mean you actually drink something besides beer? »

« Uh, not really. But just in case I do, it ain’t gonna be water! »

Kai was wagging his finger to emphasize his point. Kaneda noticed he had what looked like a string of black beads wrapped around his arm. Kai must have noticed them too, for he stopped in mid-wag and yanked them off, quietly cursing. He hid the beads behind his back.

« What were those? » Kaneda asked.

« Uh…nothing, » Kai said, sweating bullets.

Those beads looked awful familiar. Kaneda had to think for a second about where he saw them before. Of course! Those people at the temple were wearing them.

« Looks ya got like beads, or something, » he said, trying to peer around Kai. « You get them yesterday? »

« Uh, yeah. How’d you know? » Kai asked, removing the rosary from behind his back.

Kaneda shrugged. « I saw people wearin’ ’em, » he said. « What do they do anyway? »

« Um…, » Kai just gave Kaneda a suspicious look.

« Aw c’mon Kai, I ain’t gonna bite your head off, » Kaneda chided him.

« I think somebody said they stop you from turnin’ into a blob thing like Tetsuo, » Kai explained. « Ya gotta wear ’em on your right arm, for some reason. » He looked to Kaneda. « There somethin’ special about the right arm? »

Unfortunately, Kaneda was far too tired to go into another history lesson. « Uh…not that I can remember, » he said. « Anyway, how ’bout we get Mrs. Nakamura’s pain-in-the-ass finished so we can move on to other things? »

« Uh, okay, » Kai replied, putting the beads down on a nearby counter.

They picked up where they left off yesterday, cleaning the algae out of the van’s pipes. As they flushed the green nuisance out of the vehicle, Kaneda was suddenly reminded of something important. He wasn’t sure what reminded him; maybe it was all the shiny metal lying about?

« Hey Kai, you know of any good jewelers ’round here? » he asked

« Uh…the only one I know of is the one I always pass on my way to work, » Kai answered from underneath the van. « How come? »

« Ah, just curious. » Kaneda said.

Suddenly, there was a loud thump, and the van shook.

« What the hell was that?! » Kaneda demanded.

Kai rolled out from under the van holding his head. Apparently, he bumped it on the undercarriage.

« Are you finally gonna pop the question to Kei?! Is that what you’re doin’?! » he asked.

« Calm down, wouldja? » Kaneda replied. « I haven’t even got the damn ring yet. I gotta see if there’s any I can afford, first. »

« It’s about damn time! You guys have only been seein’ each other for thirty damn years now! » Kai barked. « There’s gonna be a wedding, right? Am I invited? I better be invited to this damn thing! »

« Well of course you’d be invited! » Kaneda rolled his eyes. « Just do me a favor – don’t cry when you’re there! »

« Aw c’mon, Kaneda! Whattya take me for, a crybaby? » the younger biker retorted. Of course, his eyes had begun to well up with tears as he said that.

« But anyway, I can’t go lookin’ for the thing until after work, » Kaneda said. « So let’s this damn thing before someone comes back in with another one! »

« Gotcha, » Kai replied, getting up to get the new filter.

Kaneda idly thought about buying something else while he was at it. A mirror – should he get one? If he did, it would have to be a big one; really big. Where would he keep it? He might be able to keep it in the storage room with his bike. But would it break too easily back there? How much do large mirrors cost, anyway? Maybe he should wait until he found out if that orange residue could come out in the wash first.

While he wasn’t sure about going and getting a giant mirror, Kaneda was sure of one thing: he was proud of his old friend. Proud that he had changed, and was no longer the psychic psycho he fought with before. Proud that he had done the right thing – and didn’t go on a psychic rampage while doing it. Proud the very city that he had destroyed before – and was supposed to destroy again – he had this time sav-

Wait – hold that thought! Out of the corner of his eye, Kaneda saw another vehicle pull up to his garage. A rather large vehicle.

Oh shit, please tell me that’s not what I think it is… he thought.

He slowly turned around. The large vehicle was definitely a van. A van with water in it. Dirty water!

NOOOOOO! Kaneda screamed internally.

« Well Shin, here we are! »

Ryo and Shin, the two thugs-for-hire, had just arrived in Neo Sydney. They were making their way through the airport. Ryo couldn’t be happier; Shin, on the other hand, looked worried.

« Good ol’ Australia! No monsters here! » Ryo said, smiling. « While our old hometown cleans up after that blob thing again, we’ll be livin’ it up here! »

« I dunno, Ryo, » Shin said, nervously. « I was talkin’ to some guy on the plane, and he told me about somethin’ called ‘drop bears.' »

Ryo stopped. « …What bears? »

« Drop bears, » Shin explained. « They’re like koala bears, but they eat meat! The guy told me they jump down outta trees and maul people! » He looked really scared now.

Ryo just rolled his eyes and started walking again. « Oh, please! That’s gotta be the most ridiculous thing I ever heard! Seriously Shin, ya can’t believe everything ya hear! It’s probably just some- »

Unfortunately, Ryo wasn’t quite looking where he was going during his tirade, and he accidentally bumped his shoulder against a shelf of souvenirs out in the aisle. As he stopped to curse and rub his shoulder, a stuffed koala bear balancing on the edge of the top shelf fell off. It landed right on Ryo’s head.

« Ahhh! What the hell-?! » he shouted. He grabbed the toy and pulled it off his head.

« Ah, it’s just a damn stuffed animal, » he said. He nonchalantly tossed it back on the shelf. « People need to learn howta stack these. That’s what they’re gettin’ paid for! Right, Shin? »

Shin, unfortunately, couldn’t answer. He had just passed out.


Ritual – Chapter 4