Gakidō, Yomi — Year 2098. The underworld and realm of demons. The tranquil illumination of the sky’s aurora borealis blended perfectly with the distant glow of city lights and towering skyscrapers from the next district over. The air was humid, a familiar warmth that signaled the possibility of rain. More rain. A never-ending torrential shower as if some god did it just to personally piss you off.
That’s what a certain man thought to himself as he sat within a dimly lit pub. The rain had been continuing for five days now and had no intention of stopping.
— Shit, this is just gonna make my getaway even tougher.
Everything tended to fade away when he got lost in thought; all the chatter and laughter from the drunkards and strumpets. Almost as if time had come to a grinding halt.
“Yo! Earth to Mura!? You plan on continuing our game here or what?!”
Mura snapped back to reality. He had this thug on the ropes; the poor bastard threw in everything he had plus his mother if it was possible. Victory was so much of a guarantee that Mura had already begun working on his escape route should things turn rough. With this lot, things would must definitely turn rough.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen. You know, you boys really showed me a grand time tonight. I really appreciate it, truly! I was just lost in the thought of what to do with the thirty thousand sols I already skinned from you.”
“You can shove it up your goddamn ass! Now stop with the snarky bullshit!! That pisses me off more than anything, a guy that bleeds you dry and feels the need to rub it in like that!”
Mura smirked, unfazed by the bandit’s violent tone. He had dealt with this type more times than he could count. Enough alcohol will give any man the courage he already lacked, and these guys were practically pumping it through their veins at the moment.
The bandits behind their boss looked on nervously. They thought this young looking kid would be easy pickings. Some novice to fleece dry never hurt after all, especially after the haul they recently pulled.
“Come on, boss! You can’t let this whoreson get to you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you lose at cards!” shouted one of the bandits in encouragement.
“Shut the hell up, I’m concentrating!”
Mura picked up a shot glass filled with whiskey and with one fluid motion, knocked back the entire drink. He leaned back in his chair, cards in hand and a pleasant warmth sliding down his throat. Mura kicked up his feet on the table and pointed at the bandit leader with his free hand.
“Control your men and make any final decisions now! I’ll raise you!”
The bandits looked on in disbelief as Mura pushed forward a leather sack across the table using his foot. Within the bag was everything he had won to this point, he had bet it all.
“I’ll… Um…” the leader stammered, looking nervously towards the floor as a bead of sweat rolled down his grimy face.
“You’ll… what?” questioned Mura.
“I’ll call, dammit!!! Now lemme see your damn cards!”
The bandit threw down his cards, it was a three of a kind. A pretty good hand that wouldn’t be easy to beat. He lunged across the table at Mura’s hand only to be stopped by him lifting his boot slightly; it colliding with the bandit’s face. All of the chatter and laughing from other patrons in the tavern came to a sudden halt.
“Four queens. Looks like I win… again.”
Mura casually got up from his seat as the leader grit his teeth in a furious anger. Snatching up the bags of money and stuffing them in his coat pockets, Mura placed his cards in front of the bandit’s face while pointing at the queens.
“If you ask me, the resemblance is uncanny! Did you guys model for these or something?”
The bandits in near unison unsheathed their daggers, the razor sharp blades glistening in the dim light.
—Time for that getaway.
“You shitty brat, I’m gonna cut that cocky-ass tongue from your throat!!!”
The bandits rushed Mura at once, but with a well-placed kick he sent the table flying out across the room. With a bone-crunching crash it slammed into the leader’s jaw at full force, sending him hurdling backwards and colliding with his own goons.
“Gahhh shit!!! I think I stabbed myself!” howled one of the bandit thugs in pain.
The sudden onset of violence threw the patrons into a frenzy of hurrahs and cheers as Mura bolted out the tavern door as fast as he could manage. He felt the wet slap of rainwater pelting him in the face from a busted gutter, as if he walked through a waterfall. Cursing the weather inwardly, Mura sped across the muddy cobblestone streets of the slums. He passed by the familiar brick buildings and complexes, recognizing them as the same he passed every day. Pushing past a few stumbling drunks, he felt close to safety.
-Need to make a few more turns. After a left at Dopplus Street, I should be in the clear.
Several minutes later, Mura’s lungs stung as he struggled to catch his breath. His chest heaving as he checked the location in his coat where he stored the money.
“It’s all still there… Damn I can’t believe I pulled that off, I almost shit myself! Never doing that again…”
He disliked small places like that pub. Always hard to get out, extremely cramped and anything could happen when you’re in an isolated bar out in the slums. Mura didn’t plan to push the game that long, but he could tell those thugs were loaded with cash and high spirits.
“I’ll never have to do any of this bullshit again. With this many sols, I’m out! I can finally be out of this hellhole.”
Mura proudly walked down the empty street, brushing the sweat and rain from his charcoal black hair. His finger grazed against the silver ring that hung from his headband, the one that he always had on for good luck. At least the rain was stopping for now, looks like luck was on his side after all.
Approaching a wooden gate built between an alleyway, Mura knocked on the door four times in quick succession before waiting one second and making a final knock on the wood. A deep gravelly voice spoke from behind.
The door eased open and Mura strolled on through to the other side of the alley. It was Grimm doing guard tonight and he looked at Mura, giving him a nod as his fangs flashed in the auroras dancing overhead in the night.
—Old man really should invest in an indoors hideout at some point…
“Where’s Belial?” Mura inquired in an anxious tone.
“I think the boss is busy at the moment, Mura…”
“I don’t give a damn, tell him I’m back. Let him know I got the full amount, every last sol he wanted.” He snapped back.
Grimm scratched the back of his head cautiously, then shrugged and went up a flight of creaky wooden steps into an old warehouse. Mura flung the bags of cash onto a nearby wooden table with an audible thud. Crossing his arms, he tapped his foot while toning out the commotion going on inside.
After a few seconds, the door swung open and a small, impish man waddled out. Liver spots littered his bare scalp as his icy blue eyes peered down at Mura before growing wide in excitement. The old man took a puff from his lit pipe and blew it out into the air.
“Mura, my boy! What’cha doing this time of night, chasing some tail?”
“Nothing of the sort, boss.” Mura replied, his demeanor suddenly more stiff and respectful.
“Well I freakin' was!” Belial spat as he hobbled down the stairs one at a time before reaching the bottom. Several bodyguards stepped out from the shadows to protect their boss.
“Imagine you’re on Death’s doorstep like meself and suddenly, a succubus flies down from the heavens above~”
“Alright… I’m imagining.” Mura said with a monotone voice.
“She starts kissing ya, in ways you could never imagine! Even letting you fondle her luscious chest and everything—“
“Sir, with all due respect... I brought you everything. Every last coin you asked for.” Mura interrupted, already having endured enough of his boss’s pointless babble.
Belial’s bushy unibrow arched upwards. His curiosity had been peaked. There wasn’t any possible way the boy could have collected everything his boss had requested per their arrangement.
“All one-hundred thousand? One-hundred thousand sols?”
“Earned the rest of it tonight. It’s all there, plus the rest that I stole over the last year.”
“Bollocks! None of my men have collected that much in their entire tenure working with me, much less a year as you claim!”
Mura grabbed the sacks in frustration and dumped out their contents on the table. Numerous silver coins and notes embroidered with a golden hue spilled out onto the ground, eliciting gasps from those nearby.
Belial’s eyes widened at the sight. He then grinned as smoke escaped from his crooked, yellow encrusted teeth. He waddled over to the money quickly, pushing Mura aside so he could count it. A few minutes later, he paused and nodded.
“Well my boy, you actually did it! You paid off your debt!”
Mura felt a wave of joy wash over him. He was finally free from the life of a common cutpurse, a fate he had never once relished. Belial calmly picked one of the notes off the table meanwhile, looking at it in his wrinkled hand.
“Hey boy, you know who’s on the thousand sol bill?”
Mura paused, taken out of his moment of self-congratulation. He knew the answer without even having to give it a second thought. Everyone knew who it was.
“It’s Tiamat, the legendary demon hero. Why?”
“Then you know what makes this bill so special, right?” Belial said, smacking his dry lips before taking another hit of his pipe.
Mura studied the piece of paper over, thinking for an answer. Was there something else on the note? It read “Yomi Empire” on the bottom like every other bill. It also had the normal denomination amount with a sol symbol before it; a Latin “esh” superimposed overtop a capital S.
“No… enlighten me.”
“You see, boy, Tiamat is what’s so special! Why? Cause she was a one of a kind—” Belial croaked out with a grin.
A pit of despair washed over Mura’s spirit, sinking into the recesses of his body and soul.
“—And just like her, boy… You’re also one of a kind. The fact you gained this many sols in one year? It’s incredible! You’ll make me a rich man if I keep you around, and I can’t let my cash cow just walk on out on me now!”
Belial and the others cackled with laughter as Mura’s fingers clenched into fists. He picked up the short old man by his robes, lifting him off the ground.
“You said I could be free with this amount! I worked my ass off to get this—“ Mura shouted before a sudden rush of pain flooded his jaw.
The fist of one of Belial’s bodyguards slammed into Mura with full force, knocking him backwards to the ground. Mura scowled up, spitting blood out onto the mud as Belial dusted himself off.
“You forget yourself, boy! I didn’t have to save your whiney ass as an infant, ya hear?! I raised you these past eons out of the goodness of my generous heart, even put you to work and taught you the tools of a proper thief!”
Mura drowned out every last utterance of bullshit that fell from his mouth. It was all too much for his mind to comprehend right now.
—I’m going to be his slave forever…
“Ya know, Mura? I’m still a nice guy, really, I am. Aren’t I, boys?”
“Yes boss, the absolute pinnacle of a paragon if I ever saw one!” Belial’s toadies chimed in.
“So see? I’ll cut ya some slack, kid. I’ll let you off the hook and leave our little family here… for five-hundred thousand more sols.”
Belial choked on his laughter as the other men howled along. Mura managed to pick himself up and turn his back on them. Nothing would come from attacking them or just leaving. They’d hunt him down and kill him for sure.
“Don’t worry, Mura! If you made all that in a year, five hundred thousand should be nothing to a pro like you!”
Mura had already left the hideout, slamming the door and walking down the street until his walk gradually turned into a running sprint. He ran and ran until his feet gave out and he didn’t know where he was in the Old District any longer. Mura collapsed from exhaustion and slumped against the wall of a dilapidated brothel.
With a sigh, he looked up hopelessly at the bustling city of Ashuradō in the distance. The imperial palace, Batō Kōkyo standing unparalleled in its majesty than any other building in the horizon.
“Maybe I ought to just fight for a living? That might be nice, good way to vent aggression or something.” Mura mused to himself. An elderly woman came down the street, looking at the mud-covered Mura slumped against the brothel.
“Oh dear, another poor vagrant! Here sonny, don’t go drinking it away.” The old lady said, tossing him a silver coin.
Mura looked down at the dingy coin that had splashed into a puddle next to him.
“Four-hundred thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine to go.”