Author: Alex Williams | Banner: Angela Rizza

Flesh and metal exploded all around him. The only sources of light in this dark abyss he surrounded himself in were the flickering lights signaling the demise of several participants in this very bloody battle. Even his powerful fireballs weren’t reliable in this conflict to shed some light for him and the aircraft accompanying him.

Gamera huffed as he soared through the storm, navigating it as best as he could on top of the hail of sonic beams cutting through the dark storm clouds. Several have hit him through the course of the assault and each hit made him shriek in pain more and more. The Self Defense forces accompanying him weren’t so lucky as they were cut down in seconds and yet, more plowed through the cloudy entrances.

The sentinel wanted to feel sympathy for those throwing themselves against the Shadow of Evil, but he felt nothing. No matter how many times he saw an aircraft explode before his very eyes, he couldn’t feel it.

Gamera couldn’t help but wonder if it was the battle itself that elicited such indifference toward their heroic sacrifices. The Guardian didn’t know how long he had been engaged with the horde of Gyaos for. Minutes? Hours? Days?

He didn’t know.

Was it the reemergence of the Gyaos? The beings twisted beyond anything anyone could imagine; he worked so hard to eradicate them, only for them to show up bigger and stronger in a matter of a few years. He felt a change of personality during his hunt for Gyaos, a change resulting in him only caring about the results.

Even then, that rage, that fear, was not felt by him now.

With the flap of wings briefly being heard in the deafening storming, Gamera unleashed a roar and slammed his elbow to the left, eliciting a gurgled, disgusting cry from a Gyaos. He reeled the vile being in range of his vision and eyed at the beast struggling to roar at him. The Gyaos, choking up blood, struggled to keep its mouth steady, readying to fire a sonic beam, but was cut off! Gamera unleashed a plasma ball at its head, detonating it upon impact. The sentinel pulled its elbow out of the Gyaos’ esophagus and let it plummet to the ground.

Or was it the being he recently confronted?

The being that nearly took his life and ensured the Earth to the Gyaos. He didn’t know what it was or where it came from, only it was connected to a girl in some sort of way. Whether it was something it bonded with or a battery to sustain itself, he couldn’t let it continue. No matter the cost.

Despite it all, he felt hatred in the girl, one unparalleled by any other, but then, confusion as she was lost. She had no direction. It was if she was only driven by one goal and once it was settled, there was nothing left for her. She became a husk.

Could the same be said for him?

A sonic beam sliced through Gamera’s shoulder, his vocal cords ringing immediately as a shriek of pain emerged from his mouth. Taking his mind off of his thoughts, he spotted the Gyaos and jetted toward it, shoving his hand through its back. The twisted creature let out a series of pained cries, feeling the life fade from its eyes. Gamera wouldn’t let the beast suffer for long as it fired another fireball, annihilating the back of its head. The screams ceased as the beast went limp, informing Gamera that it was no longer a threat. The warden threw the Gyaos down and continued to dash across the sky, looking for another to dispose of.

Yet, the last theory plagued his thoughts. He knew this was the end, but didn’t know how this would culminate. Either the Gyaos would rip him to shreds and feast on every bit of his body before overrunning the planet or he would perish, taking all of them with him. Those were only a few of the possibilities that rang through his mind.

The sentinel noticed blood seeping through his many wounds and his shell severely cracked, with parts of it even torn off. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep up as the feeling of unconsciousness loomed over him, knowing it could overtake him at any second.

Still, despite it all, these questions would linger on for whatever time he had left.

A series of echoed shrieks rang through with several flaps drumming through his ears. Gamera glanced onward only to be met with five sonic beams cutting through several parts of his body. The conservator screeched in agony, the afflicted bones were split into pieces from his shoulder all the way to his legs, piercing them through his shell. From this point on, Gamera could no longer keep himself up in the sky. He felt himself descending rapidly as a Gyaos dove in toward him, planting its feet onto his stomach. Before Gamera could react, the Gyaos opened its maw and launched its head forward, sinking its fangs into the sentinel’s shoulder.

Gamera elicited a blood filled cry as the Gyaos ripped a huge chunk of flesh off and devoured it. The winged beast let out another cry, going in for another bite, but Gamera mustering every piece of strength he could, fired a plasma ball at it. Sadly, his aim was off, only blasting the ravenous beast’s left wing off. The Gyaos shrieked out, but its desire to feast overcame it and went for another bite, clamping its jaws onto the shoulder wound.

Unleashing another scream, Gamera could do nothing as he watched the Gyaos feast on him. His strength very nearly depleted as more and more Gyaos swooped down toward him to claim a bite from his very flesh.

The sentinel knew this was the end and a bad one at that. Once they were finished with him, the Gyaos would turn their attention to humanity. He failed them and that was all there was to it. Still, he couldn’t find any remorse in it, instead feeling it was his time to go.

Gamera felt himself let go as he prepared for his mortal enemies to pick him apart. The flaps of their wings drumming closer and closer, their cries filled with excitement. He would soon be embraced by the afterlife, with his troubles not being able to follow him.

However, fate had an odd sense of deciding one’s path.

The rough, roaring engines announced themselves as a volley of missiles dashed across the clouds, striking the vicious horde. Upon impact, several Gyaos exploded upon impact while others were badly scorched by the powerful weaponries’ radius. The Gyaos weren’t entirely helpless, however, as they immediately fired their beams, cutting through several of the JSDF aircraft.

Gamera couldn’t believe his eyes as he watched the fireworks above him. The projectiles being spewed out by both sides were extinguishing every combatant piece by piece. The explosives detonating in every space colored the clouds from a near pitch black to a bright orange. The remains of flesh and metal rained down from the heavens, plummeting past the conservator and his attacker.

The meager amounts of fire crashing in on him slowly built his strength back up, but it would not be enough to unleash a powerful attack. Despite being limited, it would be enough to raise his arm up. Gamera slowly wrapped his hand around the Gyaos’ throat, earning a panicked shriek as it felt the air escape from its body.

Gamera, for sure knew he would at least take out this one Gyaos before he met his demise. His grip tightening around the disgusting beast’s neck while the Gyaos desperately tried to flee. Its body rattled around, its feet clawing at Gamera’s stomach, drawing blood out, but it did not deter him from relinquishing his grip.

More and more explosions filled the sky, coloring the clouds in an even bright orange as more pieces from the deceased combatants rained down. With the raining wreckage, pieces collapsed on the two, slicing them apart. Metal shredded Gamera’s hand, cleaving two of his fingers off while the Gyaos eyes popped from the shrapnel, blinding it. The two would cease their fighting as the debris showered them in their last moments of descent.

Their cries were the last to be heard in this war torn storm.

CRASH!

The two made an impact on the broken streets of Kyoto. The thud could be heard beyond the city and into the neighboring settlements. Gamera couldn’t hold back his cries as the center of his shell shattered into pieces. Broken pieces launching themselves into the surrounding buildings, shattering them in the resulting collision. The Gyaos elicited the same reaction with its feet snapping off from the impact, unleashing a panic filled scream, now thrashing around.

Gamera groggily observed the beast blindly throbbing around, unaware of its surroundings. Had it been any other fight, he would have felt relieved about being in better condition, but had no such feelings on the resulting collision. All that mattered was fulfilling his promise of eliminating the devil on top of him.

Once more he reached for the beast’s neck, his hand shaking and even nearly giving out. Gamera growled quietly, commanding himself to not back down, reinforcing the meager amount of strength on hand, ensuring he made it to the esophagus. His hand still shook rapidly, binding it around the Gyaos’ neck, unleashing a gurgled cry from the one-winged beast.

The thrashing nearly made Gamera let go of his grasp, but his determination was stronger, tightening his grip. Air rapidly fled from its throat while Gamera punctured his sharp nails inside, drawing blood from it. The Gyaos gagged, feeling the very life dissipate from its body until there was almost nothing.

With a quick burst, Gamera brutally snapped the Gyaos’ neck! The sentinel kept its grip on his deceased foe, staring at the lifeless corpse. Gamera felt himself breathing rapidly, slowly turning his attention to the sky above him, noticing how the orange filled clouds were vanishing before his eyes. He was greeted by a clear night sky with the stars shining brightly down on him. It was as if a costly battle never took place.

The hungered cries of the Gyaos were gone.

Gamera felt nothing of their presence. Not only their lack of it in Kyoto, but the whole world.

The sentinel couldn’t believe it.

The Shadow of Evil was vanquished.

His goal was complete. The mission that was bestowed onto him by an ancient civilization was over. Gamera knew he should feel pride in accomplishing his mission, but like his feelings over the course of the battle, nothing fueled him.

Gamera no longer had a purpose.

He was no longer a guardian.

The Guardian of the Universe immediately felt it would have been better had he perished in the fight. He would have at least died with a purpose, but now he would die with nothing.

The pain still flooded his body, feeling his bright green blood oozing from his wounds and the bones in his legs shattered. Calling upon the sparse strength he had, he tightened his grip onto the Gyaos’ broken neck and lifted himself up just enough to get himself to land on his stomach.

The collision between the ground and his hole-ridden stomach unleashed a pained cry from the guardian. He stalled for a few moments, gathering every ounce of strength he could before he could move once more.

It was at that moment he would make himself disappear. Disappear far into the trenches of the ocean, just as he did before the Gyaos made themselves known a few years back. If he could not be granted death, then he could at least be granted with exile.

There was nothing left for him in this world. Humanity actively fired on him this past year, hoping to eliminate him from the very planet he once loved. He couldn’t blame them, however, as he would do the same had he been in their position.

With his remaining hand; albeit very badly, he reached forward, pulling himself up. It was the only means of transportation he could offer himself as his body was still broken. It would take years for all of his wounds to be remedied and he wouldn’t want to spend it all in a city where he could potentially endanger everyone around him.

With another pull, he moved forward toward his goal of reaching the ocean, earning another cry from himself. The rough terrain rubbing against his wounded stomach made the journey very unbearable. Still, he pressed forward as the thought of one human probed his mind.

The girl he was once connected with. He viewed her as a paragon of humanity, but ever since their connection was severed, she was just like everyone else. A bystander. One he wouldn’t normally notice, but was gifted to see her one last time after the fight with Iris. He couldn’t feel it, but knew he should be thankful their connection shattered when it did. It ended up being a blessing in disguise as the pain she would have shared with him would have killed her. Even then, he no longer felt that comradery with her.

Compared to the two of them, she could still have some sort of purpose. She was free from their commitments and had a life she could explore while he was reduced to a shadow of his former self.

With another tug, Gamera clawed forward, cringing as the ground pressed sharply against his stomach. Only one further thought filled his mind and it was one that made him feel something.

Gamera was nothing and no matter what he did in the future, it would remain that way. He was the last of a derelict civilization and nothing could change that.

To the former Guardian of the Universe, it was a fate worse than death.

***

2020

JR Tokyo General Hospital

Shibuya, Tokyo

She couldn’t shift her eyes away from the woman lying on the hospital bed. Even with the heavy rain hitting the windows, her eyes didn’t falter. The girl knew for a very long time that this moment would arrive, but once it came over, nothing prepared her for it.

The girl wanted to cry, to beg for her mother to not go, but had to restrain herself for the sake of her little brother, Nagi. He was far too young to understand what was going on as she had to make up a lie. A lie she barely held together by fabricating a story of how she had suffered a cold. The worst thing about the lie was that she didn’t even know what her mother was dying from. She had noticed her mother getting weaker and weaker over the years, but could never pinpoint the cause of it all. Whenever she did ask, her mother would snap at her and tell “keep her nose out of it.” All she wanted was to help her in any way she could after her father passed on, but her mother would always refuse. Her mind quickly drifted back to Nagi, and fortunately for her, her kid brother bought the lie and was able to be convinced to play with the other children in the recreational room. She was grateful for it.

“No child needs to see their parent like this,” the girl murmured, finally tilting her head down.

Unknownst to her, the bed ridden patient slightly pitched her head up, glancing at her daughter. She felt herself slipping away, knowing this was the end. Ayana had made several mistakes in her life, wronging everyone in her life and destroying every chance she had at creating a fulfilling life.

All she managed to do was create misery for everyone who showed her kindness. Satoru, her extended family, Mayumi, Asagi, her husband, Nagi, and Hina. They showered her with nothing, but love, however, all she repaid them with was nothing but despair.

Ayana regretted everything about it. If she could take it all back, she would. She would have been a better sister, providing her little brother with an amazing role model instead of being withdrawn and filled with vengeance. Now, he was exactly like her, a hardened soldier, with nothing to live for. She would have been a better daughter to both her biological parents and her step parents. Both gave her everything a child could ask for, but she forsake them.

Lastly, when she had a family of her own, Ayana treated them the worst of all. She constantly started fights with her husband, often leaving for days on end. Ayana knew it worried the three of them and at the time felt no remorse for it. It had only gotten worse when her husband perished in a car accident, leaving her with two kids she didn’t know how to raise. Their father provided them with all the care and attention they craved, but for her, it was the opposite. Nothing but neglect was given to them, leaving a very strained relationship between the three of them.

Ayana huffed in misery knowing full well her daughter was already a better parent than her, and she had just turned fourteen. A child doesn’t need to be a parent, they just need to be a kid.

Tears welled in her eyes, knowing out of everyone, the one she never wronged was the one who brought her pain.

Iris.

She felt a complete connection to the ancient being even a symbiosis to it, and in the end, was proven wrong. It had caused the deaths of countless innocents, effectively turning her into the very thing she blamed for her parents’ demise. The thought plagued her at how many people she left orphaned from her own revenge, knowing full well wherever her soul would go, she would have to pay for her sins.

It was ironic. Her connection to the being she loved was the one that would ultimately kill her. Being inside the beast, even only for a few minutes, had drained a significant part of her lifespan. Instead of being able to live a full life, it was cut in half as problems with her health occurred by the time she reached the age of twenty. Excessive coughing, bleeding through the nose, muscle spasms, and many other terrible inflictions plagued her.

Ayana didn’t fear her judgement. Instead, she was terrified about making the attempt to make one last amendment. She kept her gaze on her daughter, her eyes opening up slightly, happy that her mother was conscious.

Her hand trembled as she reached for the oxygen mask on her face. The girl immediately seeing what Ayana was trying to do, jumped out of her chair and grabbed her arm.

“Mom, don’t!” the girl cried out, tightening her grasp, desperately trying to prevent any more harm she could do to herself.

What followed was the girl feeling her mother’s gentle touch on her arm. Ayana gave her a nod, almost telling her as if it was okay. The older woman removed the oxygen mask from her face, making herself fully visible.

She greeted her with a soft, warm smile. An expression the girl had never seen before.

“Hina…..” Ayana whispered, her breathing rapid.

The heart monitors immediately racing up and down. A long steady of beeps flooded the room, prompting Hina to act. She launched her hand toward the oxygen masked and went to put it back on, but was once again stopped by her amiable touch.

Hina glanced back at her mother, as she whispered once again, “Don’t. This is… the end.”

“Mom….” Hina sobbed, tears dropping as if they were in sync with the rain just outside.

“I want you…..” Ayana murmured out, but was interrupted by her daughter with an outburst.

“No! You don’t get to do this! Not to me! Not to Nagi! You don’t get to leave after everything you put us through!”

Ayana watched the sudden change in her daughter’s tone, as the girl who shined as bright as ever with a smile was now induced with rage. She knew she had only mere moments left, minutes if fate was generous. The least she could do was give her daughter some parting words and hoped she would follow them.

“I know… and…. if I could go back, I’d be a better mother, but this is the real world. Second chances are not a thing,” the dying woman explained.

The words flowed into Hina’s head, comprehending what her mother was trying to convey, however, her anger still overridden everything. She retaliated by screaming, “You say second chances aren’t a thing, but you never bothered to make the attempt! All you did was make our lives miserable! Were you trying to make us become like you?”

The words stung Ayana, as she remained motionless by her outburst. She knew Hina was right. Every word of it, but it couldn’t be something to dwell on. She grabbed Hina’s hand, as her daughter jerked in surprise, however, she didn’t fight despite her unbridled anger currently brewing in her.

“And every word of what you said was right,” Ayana announced quietly, causing Hina’s eyes to widen in surprise. Her anger slowly faded away and was replaced with curiosity as to where her mother was heading with this. “Which is why I ask you to do something for me.”

Hina immediately gave Ayana a frown at the request she was making.

“I know…. I know. I have no right to ask you for anything, but hear…. me…. out,” Ayana spoke between each cough. Each one that followed was worse and worse.

Hina leaned in closer, offering no words in reply, but simply a slight tilt. Ayana acknowledged the response and proceeded, “Continue being who you are. No matter how difficult things get, continue being the girl who can brighten the room with a smile. Be the girl who can show everyone the world is worth living for. Live a life you can be proud of.”

Hina trembled with the words spoken from her mother, watching her slowly lose consciousness. It was that moment she could no longer cast any anger down at her mom, but instead felt misery returning back to her. She noticed the monitor’s beeps slowing down, each one only passing by every few seconds.

This was it.

The moment arrived and only one of them still wanted to know it.

The two locked eyes with each other as Ayana, using the last of her strength, murmured, “Tell Na…. Nagi…. I love him so much.”

Tears washed over Hina’s face, as she tried her best to wipe them away, but it was of no use. Her face was flooded with them while she struggled to utter a response.

Hina croaked out, “No… you can tell…. him…yourself. You’re going…. to get out of that…. bed, walk in that…. room and tell… him! You’re going to tell him!”

Ayana ignored her daughter’s grieving commands. She looked deeply in her eyes and smiled, content with knowing the last thing she would see was her daughter’s shining face.

“Hina, I love you,” Ayana spoke softly.

As soon as the last word was said, the monitor flatlined. The room turned silent.

“Mom?” Hina murmured, rubbing her arm, hoping she had just dozed off and she’d awaken. She continued to shake her mom’s arm countless times, desperately trying to get her to stir back up, but as if glass had just shattered on the floor, reality arrived on Hina’s doorstep.

“Why…. did it have to be like this?” choked Hina, squeezing her mom’s hand, “Why couldn’t we have more time?”

She let out a series of cries, screaming at the passing that had just taken place. Hina didn’t know what to do, she didn’t want to call in the nurses as they would take her mother away from her. She didn’t want to tell Nagi their mother just died. Hina felt herself frozen, not knowing what to do. The girl needed a solution, regardless of what it was, it just had to be now.

As if her prayers were answered, a ray of sunshine broke through the dark, grey clouds and pierced through the window. The ray of light hit the side of Hina’s face. The girl shifted her head slowly to the left, immediately taken back by the new luminous beam and how it was primarily projected down toward a neighboring building.

Her mind was cleared from all emotions, all she could focus on was the sunshine. Hina let go of her mother’s hand slowly and ventured out of the hospital room. She needed to know about the light.

Hina stepped out of the hospital, subconsciously ordering herself to put up her umbrella, sheltering herself from the still pouring rain. The girl shifted her feet toward the destination, losing all track of time and paying no mind to anyone around her.

Within minutes she made it to the building, noticing the decay and rust masking it along with its many shattered windows. On any other day she would have felt sympathetic for the building’s decomposition, but its current state will have to do. She took her first few steps onto the rotting stairs, carefully making sure she didn’t go through any of them.

Her legs began to wobble from the long trek upstairs, but Hina ignored them as she reached the top. What she saw was a sight that made her heart race, a sight that made her feel elated and astonished. She was greeted with a source of vegetation on the roof, all of it growing out the objects in place, such as rusted air conditioner units and the discarded pipes. Flowers boomed through the gaps between each of the tiles, and lastly, to top it all off, an orange shrine stood in the center.

Its presence greeted the new arrival and even seemingly ushered an invitation for her to come over. Without even giving it a second thought, Hina accepted the silent offer and strolled over to it. She stepped in front of the altar, admiring its form up close, but soon took her eyes off of it, realizing she was directly in the sun’s projected ray.

Her umbrella dropped, turning her eyes at the beautiful view above her. She admired it and took in every second she could of it. It had been a week since she’d seen the sun and it was something that was dearly missed. Still, the beauty couldn’t overtake her yet. Hina had a reason for being at the shrine and only now did she realize why she made the trip over to it.

Turning her attention back to the shrine, she put her hands together and began to pray. Praying for her mother to come back, to find the strength to carry out her mother’s last request, or to find some sort of purpose. Any one of these would suffice for her, so long as it gave a reason to push on.

Then, with a step through the altar, and by praying with all her heart, she felt everything around her pause. Water no longer fell, but instead, vibrated in midair. Shortly after, a bright light shined in front of her face, Hina’s eyes immediately opening up. She watched as the droplets shot up into the air and before she could even react, her viewpoint was changed entirely.

All she saw was the bright blue sky. Like the ray of sunshine, she admired the long lost beauty, but quickly snapped out of it when she saw where exactly she was. Hina saw herself floating in the sky!

Hina, to her surprise, didn’t feel any fear in it, likely due to the marathon of emotions racing through her mind. Instead, she felt amazed by everything around it. She gazed at the clouds with a grassy surface to them, as if they could fit a small village on each one. The droplets of water raced upward, zooming past her.

Out of all the things present in this new world, the thing that surprised her the most was the presence of fish swimming in the sky.

“Fish?” Hina examined, completely baffled on how they’re able to survive without any body of water nearby. Before she could ponder it any further, swarms of the fish-like creatures surrounded Hina.

None of which made contact with her, but still enough for her to gasp as the beings continued to circle around her. Despite it all, she didn’t feel any sort of dread from it.

As if it had just begun, the fish swam away from Hina as she felt herself descending from the new world and back toward the one she knew. To her surprise, however, she saw the silhouettes of the clouds moving away as more of the sun shined through. She couldn’t help but smile at the sun casting its light over Tokyo, blanketing it in a world where people could find joy in it.

“I know what I have to do,” Hina surmised, glancing down at the city below her, “I will make the world bright. Not just for you, but for everyone, regardless of what it is.”

Hina smiled brightly, ready to make the changes needed to continue on with her life. Knowing no matter how bad times will get, she will be able to persevere and to offer a beacon of hope to anyone who needs it.

All that was left was the world waiting for her to commit to her promise.

***

2021

Kairyu-Maru

“I’m a sixteen year old high school student,” Hodaka typed on his phone, intently staring down at his device, hoping he would get a response to his upcoming inquiry. Any will do for that matter, one that would ensure him stability in his new life.

He briefly rubbed his face, still covered with a couple of band-aids and a sizable bandage covering his right cheek. The wounds were not only fresh in his mind, but acquired recently. It was not something he would want to talk about to anyone nor even think about as he would often flee from those thoughts and think of something else. Preferably, starting a new life in Tokyo and thinking of the limitless possibilities. Possibilities he never knew he could achieve when he was chained to the island he lived on, but now could enjoy any he so desired.

Hodaka went to lower his hand back down to his phone to resume typing his query, however, a voice from the bullhorns of the ship snatched him from his device’s gaze. He looked up, giving it his undivided attention, “We’re expecting heavy rain shortly.”

Hodaka jumped up from his seat and bolted up the stairs, fully intending to witness the oncoming storm. It was a sight he yearned to embrace, as his hometown was often void of rain. He ran past several descending passengers all making their way down to the lower decks of the ship, apologizing as he squeezed between each one.

“For your own safety, please head back inside,” the announcer through the bullhorns spoke out.

The teenager did not let the speaker deter him from the severity of the upcoming storm, as he fully intended to bask in all of its glory. Hodaka stepped onto the deck, tilting his head as he looked at the dark grey sky looming above him. The sky was a calming sight to his sore eyes, taking him away from his worries, with the high winds providing him with a sense of comfort. Then, within an instant, the storm unleashed everything it had. Rain poured onto him, instantly drenching him. He did not run, but instead, relished in it, growing a huge smile. He stretched his arms, enjoying every drop that collided with his body.

It was, however, too good to be true. A funnel-like shape appeared above the vessel and within seconds pounced on it. The ship rocked greatly as Hodaka lost his balance, taking him out of his state of comfort. He let out a gasp, immediately falling on his back. The pain rang through his body, but he couldn’t focus on it as he instantly felt himself sliding down toward the side of the ship. Several of the searchlights shattered from the impact along with portions of the wooden flooring snapped, allowing water to pour through.

Hodaka felt himself hitting against the metal bars overlooking the side of the ship. He was thankful for the safety, but groaned from his stomach making direct contact with it. The blunt force was enough to knock him down for the count, but he found the strength to hold onto it for dear life.

Against his better judgement, he looked down at the ocean, staring at the endless abyss he could have fallen into. Hodaka briefed a sigh of relief, as he felt the ship tilting back to its normal position, turning his attention over to it. He felt himself regaining his composure as he stood back on his feet. The teenager looked back over the ship, with curiosity still on his mind as he uncovered a new sight to behold, however, it wasn’t one to be admired.

Two bright red eyes glared up at him from the water. Hodaka shivered, as he felt himself frozen while the eyes pierced through his soul. He didn’t know what it was, but knew he had to run. Despite it all, he felt his hands still glued to the rail, his feet planted firmly to the surface.

‘Why can’t I move?” Hodaka murmured, still staring down those devilish eyes while his mouth quivered.

Then, the water splashed upward as the being, in the shape of a tadpole covered in sludge flew toward him. It let out a terrifying gurgle as he still felt himself frozen. Hodaka’s mind couldn’t even process what was going on, remaining fixated by the incoming creature.

Fortunately, someone else was able to move the boy. Hodaka felt himself being slammed down on the ground as he watched the slimy beast fly over him. The boy glanced over to the source of his collapse and saw a middle-aged man kneeling in front of him. Despite his rugged appearance, with a messy stubble, clearly as a resort of uneven shaving and messy hair on the top of his head, he invoked a calming, friendly look to him.

“The ocean’s amazing, but you can focus on it later. We have to get away from whatever that thing is,” the man ordered, pointing at the tadpole turning its attention back to them.

Hodaka looked over as the monster’s red eyes glared at them once more. It was relatively small, but it still stood nearly twice his height. The sight of the monstrosity terrified the two, as they saw how sludge dripped from its body while it inched toward them. They nearly stumbled in their footing, but remained vigilant enough when the time came.

The beast let out another gurgle and lept toward them, as they quickly jumped out of the way. The sludge covered monster collided with a wall, instantly causing steam to erupt as its body was causing pieces of it to melt off.

Without wasting any time, the man let out a scream and lunged at the stoic beast, shoving a spear through its belly. The monster gurgled in laughter as it stared its attacker straight in the eye while the spear started to dissolve. The man looked down at what was happening to the spear, quickly looking back up at the disgusting creature.

“Well, shit,” he muttered in annoyance, realizing him and the boy he just saved were doomed from the very start.

The dripping wet monster gurgled once more, pulling itself through the spear, readying to make another leap toward its prey. The man started to run, immediately grabbing Hodaka by the arm while the anomaly gave chase.

Their hearts raced as fast as they ran while the gurgling from the slimy creature reached closer and closer to them. Their only hope for salvation was to make it to the lower decks of the ship where they could either barricade themselves in a room or call upon others to help deal with this monstrosity.

Despite their valiant attempts to escape, one simple thing slipped their minds. The floor was still drenched with water as both of them slipped. They plummeted down on the ground, immediately trying to pick themselves up, but were pinned down from the heavy pour. Another gurgle was heard as the two turned around to see the red eye creature leering from the corner. Its eyes once again acting as if it were staring at their souls.

The goo-like creature moved its body past the corner and stood directly in front of them. The monster’s gurgles sounded as if it were laughing. Laughing as it finally cornered its prey, taking a few steps toward them, each one acting as if it were savoring the moment.

Neither Hodaka or his newfound friend could move, frozen in fear. They were not ready for what was about to come, as both of them had stuff they wanted to see through, but alas, it seemed not to be.

The being stopped in front of them, once again staring at them, almost as if it was curious about them. Within a few seconds, its behavior changed once more as it got ready to pounce on them, ending its hunt for them once and for all.

As it reared itself back for the jump, the dark clouds parted ways and the sun’s ray shone through. Its light pierced the being, as it instantly let out a gurgled cry, harming it from the beam. The anomaly turned away from its prey and launched itself off the boat and back into the ocean. With a splash, the being felt itself more at ease as it consumed its watery home, taking one last look above as the sun continued to shine through even more.

It had to wait for another time to resume its feast, as all it could do was stay under. Nonetheless, it glanced back at the moving ship and realized something. Wherever this ship was heading, it would be bound to contain what it needed to thrive off of. The dark creature followed in pursuit, betting everything on its hunch, knowing full well this lead would deliver all that it desired.

Hodaka and his savior slowly got up as they breathed slowly, feeling relieved about surviving the ordeal. The teenager put his hands on his knees, panting while the man simply laughed.

“That was a hell of a storm, wasn’t it?”

Hodaka breathed, as he then chuckled, “Thanks for saving m…. me back there.”

“Don’t mention it,” the man simply replied, turning his attention to the clouds dispersing as the sky was returning back to its normal blue. He smiled, content with its appearance. It may have not been his favorite reason for why he appreciated the sun, but it was certainly a good reason for it to be around.

He turned back to Hodaka who was now standing full back on his two feet and asked, “You know, I can go for a bite. What about you?”

***

It had been nearly an hour since their near death experience and despite the initial fear, Hodaka had his eyes glued to his phone once more. All that mattered to him was being able to start a new life in Tokyo, but in order for that to happen, he needed a source of income.

‘I’m looking for a well paid part-time job,’ typed Hodaka, hoping someone would be able to heed his request. Before he could type any further, he heard a satisfied voice, “This is delicious!”

Hodaka looked up from his phone and watched his new friend eating a large sum of food, one that could potentially feed two people. “I don’t know if I can eat all of this, so you sure you don’t want any?” he asked, rubbing his chin while his mouth watered at the food before him.

“No…. after what we just saw…. food’s the last thing on my mind,” stammered Hodaka, feeling more alert than ever and having his priorities in place.

“Nonetheless, thanks for the treat,” the older man replied, taking a bite out of the gravy covered steak.

“Of course! This was the only way I can thank you for saving my life,” Hodaka pointed out, once again feeling grateful for his timely rescue.

“Initially yeah, but we were sitting ducks within a few minutes, so I just postponed us getting devoured,” the man paused, taking a bite out of his rice before continuing. “But, at the end of the day, at least I’m the one who’s eating and not that thing. Reminds me of this one time when I was a boy.”

“Not to be rude, but how did something like that remind you of something from your childhood?” inquired Hodaka, feeling skeptical over his claims.

“Eh, it’s a memory I would rather not revisit, but I suppose I could tell it if I wasn’t feeling so parched,” he spoke as if he was acting like he was trying to regain his memory while rubbing his chin. He then looked over at Hodaka with a smug expression on his face.

Hodaka sighed, he was curious about the story, but most of all, he still felt gratitude for saving him, so he decided to indulge his request. “What’ll it be?”

“Hmm…. Do you think they serve beer here?” inquired the man, as a grin formed on his face.

Hodaka cringed, as he reluctantly pushed the button for “draft beer.” The price put a dent on his wallet, nine-hundred and eighty yen for a simple drink! Already were things looking down for him regarding his financial stability, but he intended to fulfill the promise he made. The beer dropped down as Hodaka picked it up and brought it over to the table.

“Ah, just in time!” the man exclaimed happily, taking a swig from the glass. “Now, I believe I owe you that story.”

He set his drink down, composing himself as if he were rejogging his memory, and looked back at Hodaka. The man took a deep breath in and then exhaled, “About…. twenty-five years ago, I think, my hometown, Sendai, was getting evacuated. At first, we just assumed it was some sort of flood heading our way, but instead of heading the way we were supposed to go, they directed us over to the south side where you’d think said disaster would take place.”

Hodaka listened in, drawing more and more interest with his story, as butterflies formed in his stomach. “As we were boarding the helicopters, my seventeen year old self drew the short stick and got stuck with one that couldn’t take off.”

He paused, taking another chug of his beer, helping him regain his composure as Hodaka noticed him slightly shaking. The teenager decided to cut in, hoping to spare him from retelling the story that would likely lead back to a tragic memory, “You don’t have to say anymore!”

The man smirked at Hodaka’s request and followed it with a hearty laugh, “Hey now! I was just getting to the best part.”

“But didn’t you say you’d rather not revisit it?” inquired Hodaka, concern still being a large presence in his voice.

“Well, yeah, but it was my way of you getting me a drink,” he answered, causing Hodaka to shoot daggers at him.

‘A grown man scrounging on me and all I get is a shitty story.”

“Go on,” sighed Hodaka.

“As it turns out we get ambushed by this larger than life creature with these large horns and piercing blue eyes. I thought we were done for when this turtle comes out of nowhere and saves us!”

“A….. turtle?” stuttered Hodaka, a bit baffled by his claim on what saved him.

“Crazy, I know, but as a kid, I thought it was the most amazing thing ever!” he exclaimed, having a resurgence of excitement in his voice, as he took another sip. “Sadly, that turtle or Gamera as he’s apparently called, basically bit the bullet. Heard later on he was able to vanquish that thing, though, so no real loss.”

“Not the most engaging story, if I may say so,” commented Hodaka as he winced, feeling the story was a bad trade off for the beverage he bought, but not wanting to offend the man.

He smirked, “I suppose that’s a fair criticism. Storytelling isn’t my thing. That would be journalism.”

“Or it could just not match up to what we just went through,” Hodaka pointed out.

“There’s that too.”

Hodaka stood on the deck of the ship once more, watching as it pulled into the Tokyo harbor while he admired the orange sky above him. Already he felt entranced by the great city yet intimidated by it.

“Tokyo sure is scary,” mouthed Hodaka, still looking at it deeply. Within seconds, however, he frowned, completely realizing he never fully finished his query. He yanked his phone out of his pocket and began to type.

‘Where can I get one without a Student ID?’

As if on cue with his message being posted, a raindrop landed on his phone, prompting him to look up. It hadn’t even been a few hours as the rain was making a powerful comeback. Not wanting a repeat of last time, Hodaka departed from the deck and went back to the lower levels despite having every desire to bask in the comfort of the weather.

“So….. what brings you to Tokyo anyway?” the man asked Hodaka as they walked off the ship, making their way past the dock.

Hodaka frowned, not wanting to burden anyone with his troubles nor inform them of him running away from home. For him, the easiest answer would have to be something to make up, even if it sounded cliche.

“Ehm….. just visiting a relative,” answered Hodaka, hoping it would be enough to throw his temporary companion off the questions about his business here.

“Is that so?” the man smirked, causing Hodaka to turn away at a breakneck speed, knowing full well he didn’t buy it.

“I mean, summer vacation starts very early, you know,” stammered Hodaka, further trying to justify his fake reason for leaving his home.

“Uh-huh,” he simply muttered, still keeping the smirk on his face. Before Hodaka could take another step, he stopped him, as he then pulled out a small card. “Well, feel free to contact me if you ever need help.”

Hodaka grabbed the card from him, but nearly dropped it when he slapped him on the back. The teenager grunted in annoyance from the slap as the man then laughed while walking out, “See yah, kid.”

Hodaka watched him depart in the pouring rain as he stayed under the oning for the time being. He looked down at the card, reading every bit of information printed on it. “K&A Planning” as the business and “Keisuke Suga” as the name of his savior.

“Doesn’t even reveal his name until the business card. Would have been nice to know it a lot earlier,” mumbled Hodaka, annoyed by the amount of hurdles he went with him throughout the whole day.

Still, he kept Suga’s offer in mind, should it come down to it, but for now, it was time to explore this new life he graciously stepped into.

Red eyes surfaced above the water, shifting them around the brightly lit city. Its idea of following the ship was not a wasteful one as its eyes widened at several buildings emitting smoke. The beast crawled up onto a pitch black area of the dock as it let out a small gurgle like laugh.

It slithered toward its first destination and knew it was a feast to behold. One far better than what its domain provided.

***

Fuglen Cafe, Tokyo

She sipped on her coffee as she kept a watchful eye on the rain battered windows. It had been pouring nonstop for the past few days, making day to day travel around the city less than ideal. The cold outside illuminated a light blue through the windows, contrasting with the cafe’s warm, orange lightning. As terrible as the weather conditions were, she couldn’t help but appreciate the view and atmosphere. It reminded her of the times she was a child, sitting near the fireplace while it poured just outside, listening to the fire crackle and the hard hitting rain were very enjoyable to listen to.

“Mayumi….” a voice called out, snapping her out of thoughts.

Mayumi looked up and saw Asagi walking over to her table with a cup of coffee in her hand. “Asagi. So good to see you,” Mayumi greeted, a smile firmly planted on her face.

“Our meeting is certainly a bright spot for my week,” spoke Asagi, forming a smile of her own while she took a seat. “Things have been very hectic.”

“No argument here,” sighed Mayumi, placing her hand on her head. “Between the constant running around, assisting several enclaves and updating the government on unusual organisms, it’s very tiring.”

Asagi took a sip from her drink. “Still having you run reports on the Gyaos?”

“Strangely, yes. Even though they’re two decades dead,” confirmed Mayumi, putting her hand on her chin. She felt strangely conflicted toward their extinction. On one hand, she was relieved they would never have to be subjected to the “Shadow of Evil” ever again, but on the other, it was all she was known for. Every call she had gotten was nothing but the Gyaos. No matter what new venture she tried to involve herself in, her work on them pulled her in.

Once a promising young woman who struck gold, bound to make plentiful contributions to society, now just a nearly forgotten ornithologist, running errands on a product of a bygone civilization.

“Hard to believe it’s been that long since that happened and him… disappearing,” Asagi trailed off, snapping Mayumi back to reality. She knew Asagi was still reeling over Gamera’s absence all of these years. She felt sorry for her friend, even relating to her on how a big part of her life had faded away in an instant. However, her attachment to Gamera, a connection they haven’t even shared for ages should no longer matter.

Asagi had a life and shouldn’t be wasting it holding out hope for the Guardian.

Mayumi knew this would set her off, but any push she could make to have Asagi move on would be worth it. She hesitated, however, as the woman before her shifted back to that young girl she first met all those years ago. One gleaming with happiness and a smile that could convince anyone to have faith, but now it was one of misery. Asagi no longer had any of those characteristics, always wearing a solemn expression and felt more reserved as if she took a vow of silence. Even if it bore no fruit, she had to try to at least try to set her on the path to moving forward.

“You’re still holding out hope for him?”

“Him and I were connected for a year!” Asagi shrieked out, her throat ringing as people shot looks at the two. Mayumi’s eyes darted back and forth between her friend and the other patrons, feeling taken back by the outrage and the effect it had on everyone. Regardless of context, it didn’t look so good to any outside party.

Asagi, on the other hand, did not feel such reservation. She reinforced her glare on Mayumi, leaning over slightly toward her, speaking in a more hushed, yet defiant tone. “And then to have that connection severed, with no resolution whatsoever on whether or not I can even still communicate with him. Can you imagine what that’s like?”

Mayumi’s heart sank. The words Asagi conveyed to her sunk into her skin, and not in the sense of them making her elicit any sympathy for her. Instead, frustration.

She exhaled through her nose, irritated at how Asagi could even ask her a question like that. Asagi knew everything she had to go through, the losses she had to endure and how they were constantly there. To remind her of how she failed.

“I mean, I tried my hand at raising two children for nearly ten years only to make them worse than before,” Mayumi spat, flipping her arms, frustrated at having to go over that part of her life story with Asagi. “But sure, I guess I can’t imagine what that’s like.

Asagi was stunned, as Mayumi’s words stung her, forcing her to crash back into her seat. She was hurting and didn’t even think to realize Mayumi was still reeling from her family falling apart. Her mouth quivered as her bones were reduced to jelly, compelling her body to shake slightly, angry at herself for making such a horrible assumption.

“You’re right, I’m sorry. I just…. still think about it…. a lot. More than I should really,” stammered Asagi, reaching for her cup to help ease her nerves.

Mayumi watched how quickly Asagi was to rectify her choice of words and how it affected her. She was in no better shape than she was. Mayumi just held it together more than she did, and had to constantly remind herself of that.

“No, it’s okay, I just took it the wrong way,” sighed Mayumi, resting her hands down on the table.

The two sat motionless for a few minutes, neither of them uttering a single word. Asagi, wanting the silence to cease, decided to bring up a question in the hopes it would yield more positive results. “How’s Yoshinari?”

“He’s good. We were able to spend a couple of days together before he had to depart,” Mayumi answered, with a brief smile on her face, however, it was forced to fade away when the second half of her answer exited her mouth. “Our careers make things hard for us, oftentimes not being able to see each other for months, but we do what we can to make it work.”

“It’s good the two of you still have some semblance of time together.”

“What about you and Yukino?” inquired Mayumi, hoping to hear if she was faring any better with her significant other.

“Her…. her and I…..” stuttered Asagi, trying to convey the right words to explain her situation. She hated the subject and wished it was gone with every fiber of her body, but just as her connection was severed, her relationship was in no better shape. “We’re separated.”

“Asagi, I’m so sorry. I thought the two of you were doing well, what happened?” probed Mayumi, her heart racing at the terrible news unfolding being relayed to her. She always liked Yukino. She knew how to break up tense situations, always inspired others to be better and her general presence was enough to bring out the best in Asagi.

“We were, but we just had different priorities. She wanted a family, and I…. well, you know what I want,” Asagi spoke, almost as if she was whispering, but in reality, she was ashamed of that truth. She had it all, a loving wife and the prospect of having several children with her was a thought she constantly entertained, but knew it was something she couldn’t have. Not when her mind drifted elsewhere.

“Any hope of getting back with her?”

“Doesn’t look like it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we go with divorce proceedings within the next few months, ” sighed Asagi, as she fiddled with her thumbs, barely keeping the tears in her eyes contained. She missed her deeply, but deep down, Asagi knew thinking about her wasn’t going to solve anything. Instead, she needed a distraction, one from what was going on in Mayumi’s life. Like last time, hopefully it was enough to get her mind off of her predicament. “How’s Ayana and the kids?”

Before Asagi’s very own eyes, the color from Mayumi’s face left her. It was as if she became a ghost, sitting motionless, looking at her dead in the eye. Asagi’s heart raced, worried over what was happening to Mayumi. She immediately reached out to her to get at least a reaction out of her, but fortunately for Asagi, Mayumi showed signs of movement. Her mouth pulsated, as she wrapped her right hand around her left arm, preventing it from shaking.

“I didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago, but Ayana is gone,” stuttered Mayumi, her voice cracking at having to deliver the terrible news. It was a day she hoped would never come, but life was against her. It had taken away her daughter, and Mayumi knew she played a bit of a part in it.

“No…. that’s terrible. Mayumi….” stammered Asagi, her heart sinking at the news delivered to her. She put her hand on top of Mayumi’s, doing her best to comfort the grieving mother. Asagi knew it wouldn’t do anything, but it was a gesture she couldn’t help but do.

“I know, I know,” whispered Mayumi, the choice of volume in her voice she used as a defensive mechanism to prevent herself from breaking down. She had done her grieving beforehand, but it still wasn’t enough. Mayumi wanted to do more, but couldn’t.

“Does Satoru know?” inquired Asagi, looking up at her.

“I contacted the base he’s stationed at. He hasn’t returned any of my calls, so I know we’re still not on speaking terms,” Mayumi spoke quietly, still keeping her head facing down at her hands, taking a moment of silence to compose herself as she hadn’t even finished delivering the rest of the news. The part of the news that made her feel even worse than before. The chapter in her life that made her realize just how much of a failure she became.

“And the worst part is, I don’t know where Hina and Nagi are,” croaked Mayumi, tears pouring out her eyes, as she tilted her head up to face Asagi. “I just…. wish I could have done right by them, by Satoru, by her.”

Asagi took every word Mayumi relayed in. She felt devastated by her words. Asagi wanted to do everything she could for her, or even say something that would lift her spirits, to make her think it’ll be alright in the end, but all she could draw was blanks. Like her situation with Yukino and how she couldn’t say or do anything to save her relationship, nothing could be done with Mayumi. Instead, only a question came to mind.

“We really screwed up, didn’t we?” sighed a defeated Asagi, relinquishing her hold on Mayumi and reeling it back to her side of the table.

“Yeah….. We really did,” mumbled Mayumi, tilting her head down back at the table, letting her droplets of tears hit the surface.

“You think we can move on?” Asagi asked, despite knowing it was impossible for them to do so.

“With the way things are going, I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Mayumi croaked, followed by a series of deep breaths. Her mind was plagued with nothing but failure and doubt at how far she had fallen as a decent human being.

“Maybe one day?” huffed Asagi, a tiny bit of hope surfacing in her voice.

“Maybe one day,” breathed Mayumi, turning back up to her friend. She grabbed her things and stood up, no longer wanting to be in the cafe, but instead retreat to her home. The reports the government had requested could wait, she knew she could just make up some excuse to bring them in on a later date. Now, it was simply not the time for them to pester her.

The ornithologist went to take her leave, but stopped herself as she had one final question to ask her friend. “Same time, next month?”

“Yeah, the usual,” muttered Asagi.

***

Shinjuku Station

“Tokyo is scary,” Hodaka heaved, pressing his back against the wall as he watched the rain pour heavily on every passing individual.

In the matter of a few weeks, Hodaka depleted nearly all of his savings, leaving him to wander aimlessly in the drenched city. He wrapped his arms around his legs in an attempt to keep himself warm, as he contemplated how to make do with his remaining funds.

“I wouldn’t be in this mess, if the law didn’t require minors to have a student ID to apply for a job!” moaned Hodaka, rubbing his hands on his face, exhausted from the constant job search.

He continued to stare at the passing horde as his thoughts flooded his mind. Hodaka knew he would have to think of something to get out of his current predicament, otherwise he would have no choice but to crawl back home. The very thought of that idea made him shiver. That life was nothing but pain and misery, and he would be damned if he ever had to go through it again.

“Don’t sit here, please” a deep, commanding voice ordered, snapping Hodaka out of contemplation. The homeless teenager shifted his head toward the culprit and noticed it was a security guard, with his hands tied behind his back.

‘Ah crap!’

While it was far from perfect, the shelter he provided himself was enough to buy himself some time. However, since he was being evicted, it was time to start over and to go from there once he could find another place to crash at.

Hodaka picked himself up and started to move his legs forward into the cold, harsh rain, but not before apologizing. “Sorry, sorry.”

He marched off into the storm, passing by several others trying to make their way through. Most of them were just blank faces to him, but a few of them stood out, primarily because of trying to ask him something.

“Eighteen dollars, all you can drink!” a salesman cheerfully yelled out, trying to hand the pamphlet out, but Hodaka barely paid him any mind and brushed past him.

Then another, more high pitched, excited voice spoke out, “Master!”

Hodaka turned his head to see it was a girl in a maid outfit trying to sell a service. He nearly chuckled, realizing he couldn’t even get paid to stand in the rain like these poor people. Still, Hodaka would have preferred it to finding another station to rest under. He’d at least get to come back to a warm room after his shift was over with.

The wandering vagrant turned his head away from the maid, electing to continue pressing on, hoping to find salvation.

Minutes had passed and still, nothing. His feet ached while his eyes flickered on and all. He was seconds away from collapsing. Thankfully, Hodaka saw a well deserted corner he could stay at for a while, but immediately felt a hand placed on his shoulder, slightly jolting him awake.

“Hey, you.”

Hodaka turned around to see two police officers looking down right at him. Their eyes glaring down at him as if he committed a heinous crime. He gulped as his mouth remained glued shut while he stood frozen in place, anxious to know the reason why they stopped him.

The officer on his left spoke, “What are you doing here? Are you a minor?”

Those questions made his heart race as they were ones that could very well send him back to home he called a prison. Hodaka knew no answer would satisfy them, which seemed to be a recurring theme in Tokyo. There was no such thing as a good answer.

Instead, despite the pain he felt in his feet, he immediately bolted past his interrogators! The officers attempted to latch onto them, but he used the surrounding populace to his advantage. Hodaka brushed past several people, creating a maze of his own to the point where his pursuers could not hunt him. The officers had no choice, but to give up the chase as their person of interest disappeared completely in the crowd.

***

Hodaka didn’t know how long ago his confrontation with the law was, but it no longer mattered to him. He found himself huddled up underneath a seedy, old like building. It was furthest from ideal, but he didn’t care. Hodaka simply just let his eyes slam shut, getting as much rest as he could before having to inevitably move along yet again.

A bottle rattled on the floor, stirring Hodaka awake. He nearly groaned at what the coming ordeal was to run away from, but to his surprise, a cat stared up at him. He breathed a sigh of relief and smiled softly at the grey and white cat sitting across from him. Its green eyes stared up at him while their bright pink nose twitched slightly from the cold breeze.

“Tokyo is scary, huh, little lady?” chuckled Hodaka.

The cat let out a small meow, walking toward him. Hodaka reached inside his pocket and pulled out a cracker. He knew it wasn’t much for the tiny animal, but it was enough to prevent it from starving. He placed the cracker down as the cat graciously chowed down on it, purring at the meal she was partaking in.

As if he were trying to make conversation, Hodaka spoke softly, “I don’t want to go home.” He paused, continuing watching the stray cat eating the scraps before him. Unlike his new friend, he could make do with scraps, so long as he didn’t have to go back.

“Never again,” muttered Hodaka, allowing himself to let sleep overtake him once more.

***

“Who’s this?” A concerned voice asked, belonging to a well dressed woman.

“Is he sleeping on the floor?” another asked, leering over the boy, feeling disgust at what she was witnessing.

Hodaka groggily forced himself awake to find a man, likely the owner of the business he was sheltering under, standing above him. Malice covered his face as from his point of his view, he was about ready to beat him to a pulp.

“Are you a customer? If not, then get the hell out!” barked the owner.

Hodaka got up slowly, his legs shaking as if they were twigs on the verge of snapping, as his face was frozen in fear from the owner leering at him. “Sorry…. I didn’t mean to cause… any trouble,” apologized the runaway, as he went to make his way out of the enclosed space.

“That’s the fourth time tonight!” mentally cursed Hodaka, as he would now have to shuffle for an egregious amount of time in the rain to his next place of shelter.

‘Why does Tokyo make it hard for someone trying to find honest work? Why does…..’

SLAM!

Hodaka felt himself crashing into the asphalt, he was fortunate enough to brace himself by letting his left hand and knees take the brunt of it. The runaway, however, collided with a recycling bin, immediately spilling its contents all over the street.

It took him a few moments for the initial shock to wear off, only now realizing the cause of his fall. He glanced back at the business owner smirking at him as if he just removed a piece of trash from his property. Hodaka saw the man’s mouth open, but couldn’t hear what he was saying from the loud rain pouring all over him and the many passengers walking by. All of them, having nearly the same reaction as the person who assaulted him.

Without providing it any further thought, his first instinct was collecting the trash littered across the street and putting it back in its container. Piece by piece was thrown back in the can, until a very peculiar object caught his eye. For a mere second, he was entranced by the unusual brown wrapping, while hands acted on their own reaching for it. Hodaka held it firmly in his hands, inspecting it, as he felt something hard and metallic inside the bag.

However, the rain was still a nuisance and he couldn’t afford to be in it much longer. Thankfully, his stomach rumbled, providing himself the excuse to stay in an established building for an hour or two.

***

With a slight tear, the content of the bag spilled from the ground and immediately made a loud thud colliding with the floor. Instinctively, Hodaka went to reach for it, but as soon as his eyes glanced downward, they widened in terror.

‘Oh my god….’

Without affording himself any time to ponder the newly acquired item, he snatched the handgun from the ground and shoved it in his backpack. His heart raced as the thought of people witnessing the display became apparent to him. Hodaka’s eyes rapidly scanned the dining area, seeing if anyone spotted the act.

To his relief, all he saw were people glued to their phones, the rain hitting the windows, or their food. Hodaka breathed a sigh of relief as he planted himself back onto his seat, as his mind drifted back to the gun. Why would someone throw a gun away in the trash? Why not just pawn it off at least make something off of it?

With an overwhelming amount of questions flooding his conscience, only one logical conclusion came to his mind. “It’s gotta be a toy,” mumbled Hodaka, with a deep sigh following after.
He pulled a card out of his pocket, the one from Suga, and planted it on the table. Hodaka then typed in the address and entered directions for them. “Guess it’s either take him up on his offer or crawl back home,” muttered a defeated Hodaka, as he took one last sip from his soup before letting his head drop to the table.

His eyes closed and soon found himself drifting off to sleep, welcoming however much time he could get to rest from his constant struggles of moving from corner to corner. Then, as if Hodaka was transported to another place, he found himself sitting on his bike, overlooking the ocean on a cliff. He recognized this place all too well, it was the edge of the island he used to live on.

Hodaka couldn’t move as his eyes were glued on the vista before him. Before getting home from school, he would always stop there, always dreaming of escaping from this island. Not only did he wonder what life was like outside of the isle, but wanted to experience it no matter what.

Before his very eyes, a ray of sunshine broke through the dark clouds above him. As if it had a mind of its own, it traversed the ocean in front of him, almost as if it was showing him something. Hodaka sat there in amazement, immediately understanding the information it was seemingly trying to convey.

He gripped the handles on his bike and rode off, knowing exactly what he had to do to make his dream a reality.

BAM!

As thunder roared, Hodaka immediately jumped up, realizing he was back in the restaurant he was currently sheltering in. Although, a girl, who appeared to be around the same age as him looked down at him with a smile on her face. As far as appearances go, she was by far the most welcoming in his time in Tokyo.

Hodaka snapped his eyes at what resulted in his rude awakening and noticed it was simply a Big Mac. The foreigner’s face immediately lit up bright red, as he could feel the embarrassment of being startled over something as simple as a burger.

The girl simply giggled at his reaction, finding how flustered he was getting to be adorable. “I….. er… what’s this for?” stammered Hodaka, trying to understand why she brought him a burger despite not ordering one.

“Let’s just keep it our little secret, shall we?” hummed the worker, still keeping a bright smile on her face.

Hodaka was taken by the gesture, never receiving this kind of kindness in his life before. Still it doesn’t answer his question on why she bestowed a free meal to him. “But, why?”

A small frown grew on the girl’s face, as her hands went behind her back. “You’ve eaten that for dinner three nights in a row,” spoke the worker, as she went to return back to her station, however, she gave him one last smile.

Over the course of the next few minutes, Hodaka feasted on the burger. Taking in every delicious bite. No other meal or even any other Big Mac tasted as good as the one that was handed out to him. To him, maybe that was the reason why it tasted so good. It was the first time someone had treated him like a person instead of a street urchin.

“It really was the best meal I’ve had in all sixteen years of my life.”

With another bite, he found his resolve.

‘Tomorrow is the day I take control of my life.’

***

“It doesn’t work… great!” Hodaka muttered, annoyed at the doorbell not ringing. After spending forty minutes traversing through the rain, he would have been over the moon had something gone right today.

Hodaka shrugged his shoulders as he reached for the doorknob. “If it’s unlocked, then what’s the worst that could happen? Getting chased by the cops? Been there, done that.”

He opened the door and walked in, finding himself to be in a dive bar-like room. The colors in the room were dull, but enough to still be distinguishable. Hodaka couldn’t help but notice all the bottles lying around the room. It was then that a wretched smell entered his nose, causing him to reel back in disgust. At this point, he’d hoped he could get someone to greet him or at least find a better room than this.

“Excuse me. I’m Morishima. I called earlier,” Hodaka announced, but to no avail, no one heard him. “Mr. Suga, are you in?”

With no reply, Hodaka covered his nose as he breached the next room, immediately noticing the deplorable smell fading away. However, something caught his eye. Something that unleashed a horde of butterflies in his stomach, his face blushing at the sight before him.

A very attractive woman, dressed in a purple tank top and blue shorts slept on a couch. He was astounded by her beauty as his eyes shifted toward her breasts. As soon he laid his eyes upon them, he immediately turned away, covering his face in embarrassment.

“Wait, this isn’t right? Why am I even doing this!?” Hodaka blurted out only to be met with a femine voice, “Hello?”

The teenager immediately jumped in shock, feeling uneasy in his moment of weakness. At the very least he reasoned himself with that he could at least make things right. “Sorry, I’m….” Hodaka tried to explain, but was simply cut off by the waking woman. “The new assistant. Kei told me.”

“Huh?” Hodaka uttered out, completely confused at how she was referring to him as an assistant even though he wasn’t employed nor even been brought in for an interview. “No, I haven’t yet….”

“I’m Natsumi. Nice to meet you,” introduced the now fully awake associate as a huge grin formed on her face. “Hallelujah! I no longer have to get stuck with the grunt work.”

Natsumi got up from the couch and traversed over toward the fridge. She pulled out some ice and some iced coffee to make up for herself and Hodaka. As she put the drinks together, Natsumi composed a devilish smile on her face.

“Say…..” sung Natsumi, immediately getting Hodaka’s attention.

“Yes?” Hodaka questioned, curious as to what she was about to ask him.

With a quick jump around, she joyfully blurted out “You looked at my boobs, didn’t you?!”

Hodaka’s ghost nearly jumped out of his body, as his face was steaming red with embarrassment. With no other way to defend himself against her accusation, he simply retaliated, “I didn’t!”

“Relax, I’m just messing with you,” Natsumi spoke softly, followed with laughter as she went back to mixing the drinks. “So, what’s your name?”

“Hodaka Morishima.”

“Not one I hear often. I love it!” boomed Natsumi as she brought over the drinks and took a seat across from the adolescent.

“So…… I take it you’re employed here?” inquired Hodaka, taking a sip from his drink.

“Ah… I see you want to know about Kei and I,” mused Natsumi.

“Absolutely…..” stammered Hodaka.

Natsumi chuckled at his direct yet awkward approach in their talk. “You’re a funny guy, Hodaka.”

With another sip, she then answered his question, “It’s exactly as you think it is.”

Hodaka nearly spat out his drink from the answer he received, letting his straw drop his hand. He watched as she went back drinking away her beverage as he was left to contemplate the explanation.

‘No way! A mistress? I….. Tokyo sure does keep finding new ways to surprise me!’

“Long time no see, kid!” a voice called out, snapping Hodaka away from his thoughts. He turned around to see Suga walking in with a bag of groceries in one hand and a beer in the other. Suga smirked at Hodaka, “Have you lost weight?”

Before Hodaka could even answer his inquiry, Suga tossed the beer to him. The beer landed in his hands, however, it was snatched away a second later by Natsumi. “Don’t tell me you went gambling again!”

Suga didn’t give her an answer, but instead kept his focus on Hodaka while he cracked open his beer. “I take it the job search didn’t go so well?”

“Yeah…. You could say that,” mumbled Hodaka, hanging his head in shame.

The older man chuckled while pulling a magazine out from the bag, “No shame in asking for help.”

“Huh?” questioned the foreigner, looking up at the magazine being presented to him. The cover showcasing a pyramid between the Earth and an eye, seemingly appearing to showcase urban legends or conspiracies. Two of which, Hodaka had no desire of contributing to, but nonetheless, had little choice.

“This is what we’re working on now,” Suga announced, handing the magazine to him, resulting in him flipping through the pages. “We write for time-honored and prestigious magazines.”
Most of these stories already confirmed his suspicions, such as “The Cyborg with a scarf and a motorcycle” or “Otaki Factory constructing a dancing robot!” However, one did catch his eye, though.

“Many human sacrifices in protecting Tokyo”

He couldn’t explain why this story in particular spoke to him, and couldn’t ponder it further as Suga continued to speak. “Our next feature is urban legends.”

‘Figures’

Hodaka frowned as Suga relayed the instructions for his first task, “Go and interview people who witnessed or experienced some.”

“Um…. okay….” Hodaka stammered, having no idea where to even start with this job. “What should I even ask for?”

“That? Any topic will do. People disappearing with their clothes left behind, mushroom addiction, claims of teleportation. They’re all bullshit anyway,” rambled Suga, wanting nothing more for Hodaka to find him an engaging story to publish.

“What….” Hodaka trailed off, resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to facepalm himself from all the low grade science fiction stories his new boss was suggesting.

“Ah! I see you’re not liking those suggestions. Fair is fair, I suppose,” Suga spoke out, noticing his employee’s lack of enthusiasm. He pulled out his phone and showed it to Hodaka. “How about this? The girl who brings sunshine wherever she goes. Far more grounded, don’t you think?”

“Sunshine girl?”

“I’m like that!” Natsumi joyfully yelled out.

“As you can see, it’s practically been raining non-stop this whole year,” Suga pointed out.

“He ignored me, again,” murmured a disappointed Natsumi.

“There’s a demand for it. People hoping for some good luck charm against the rain,” Suga further explained, taking a seat on the couch.

“Right…..” muttered Hodaka, still not fully on board with the assignment, despite it being the best of a worse situation.

“Come on, kid,” spoke Suga, bringing the new employee back to paying attention. “You’ve got zero initiative. Natsumi’s got an interview appointment. Go along and listen. You can learn a thing or two.”

“Right now? Here? We’re doing this?” Hodaka blurted out with his list of questions, with the very sudden reassignment.

“Woah! Woah! Easy there, squirt,” Suga calmly said, putting his hands up, trying to calm the kid down. “No need to play a game of twenty questions.

Natsumi clapped her hands together all too eagerly, unleashing a huge grin on her face. “You’re on probation!”

“Probationary period,” Suga illustrated, correcting her ever so slightly.

“Uh….. I really can’t….” stammered Hodaka, still feeling incredibly unsure about the newfound position he was thrusted into. To which, he was now having seconds about taking Suga up on his offer, and instead wanting to head back in the drenched streets.

***

“Of course, sunshine girls do exist,” the seer spoke while writing down something that couldn’t be seen by neither Hodaka or Natsumi.

“I knew it!” Natsumi gleefully cheered, slapping her hands together.

‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ Hodaka mentally screamed out while rapidly writing down everything being discussed between Natsumi and the soothsayer.

“Let’s not forget about rain girls,” the fortune teller added, looking back up at the two. “The first are possessed by a fox god. The latter by a dragon god.”

“Excuse me? I’m lost,” announced Hodaka, looking up from his notebook.

The seer glanced at him, but was quickly deterred when Natsumi stepped in. “Ignore him.”

She simply nodded her head as Natsumi shot Hodaka a small glare, who immediately understood the message and went back to transcribing the conversation at hand.

“Dragon god individuals drink a lot. They yearn for water,” the fortune teller paused as Natsumi eagerly shook her head up and down, wanting to hear more and more of what she had to say. “They’re strong-willed and competitive, but a bit careless and unreliable,”

“Ooh! That really sounds like me!” Natsumi blurted out, grinning at the idea she herself might be a girl of the Dragon god.

“Fox god individuals are hardworking, but too weak-hearted to be leaders. Many are beautiful.”

“Definitely fits me too!” interjected Natsumi, pointing to herself, feeling incredibly happy her personality compliments both tribes.

“Really, Natsumi?” metnally asked Hodaka, rolling his eyes at her being overeager at the fortune teller’s words.

“The weather’s off-balance, so more sunshine and rain girls are born now. Homeostasis of Gaia theory,” explained the fortune teller, letting the pen in her hand drop onto the table.

“I see….” Natsumi trailed off, prying her fingers off her chin, leaning her ever so slightly forward in great interest.

“We must be careful. Messing with the natural order always has a cost, as was the case when the Gyaos surfaced,” the fortunate teller began to explain, as Hodaka shifted his head away from his notebook and at the seer. He heard the name before, but no one wanted to give him an explanation as to what it was. Either due to fear or anger in their faces when the question was presented to them. Still, it was something he was always curious about.

“Gyaos? What’s that?” Hodaka inquired as Natsumi snapped her head toward her assistant.

“The Gyaos were big birds who were awakened by rampant pollution who could fire yellow beams or whatever! Now, hush! I want to hear the rest of the story!” she shrieked, not wanting to miss a single beat of what the fortune teller had to say.

“As in this case with the weather girls, whoever uses too much weather power gets spirited away,” explained the seer, as she put her hands together, concluding her lecture on the weather girls.

“That’s……” Natsumi paused, putting her hand on her chin once more, as her tone of her switched to one of caution, acting if she was suddenly more concerned with her own wellbeing. “I’ll be careful.”

“I don’t think she’s referring to you.”

***

“So, how was the crazy story?” asked Suga, peering his head over to Hodaka’s laptop as he was typing in his notes.

Hodaka relinquished his fingers from the keyboard and let out a sigh. He looked up at Kei and answered, “A so-called psychic talked at length about fantasy novel-like stuff. I guess if there was anything interest of note, she does mention how ‘if you use too much power, you’ll disappear.’”

“Splendid! This will do nicely in our urban legends!” Kei spoke out, sending his fist up into the air.

“No! Weather isn’t some kind of power. It’s a natural phenomenon,” retaliate Hodaka, feeling unsure on whether or not he should still type up this bogus article.

“Obviously, it’s a bunch of bull,” chuckled Suga, as he turned Hodaka’s laptop to face him, immediately inspecting the work he had put in so far. “But we’re providing entertainment, what’s wrong with that?”

“I suppose that’s a fair point,” sighed Hodaka.

“Is this all you have written so far? You’re as slow as a group of writers that I used to know,” spoke a slightly annoyed Kei, still scrolling through everything that was typed out thus far.

“Sorry,” mumbled Hodaka, tilting his head down.

“But it’s not so bad,” Kei spoke, smiling as he turned to the foreigner. “That settles it then! You’re hired!”

Hodaka was taken back by the announcement. Hired? No way! His job problems were gone, but he had other problems that still needed to be attended to.

“Wait a minute! I…..” Hodaka tried to explain, but was cut off.

“No need to worry. It’s a live-in job and meals are included,” clarified Suga.

Hodaka jumped from his seat and began bouncing up and down. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it! Please hire me!”

Suga let out a belly laugh, as he patted him on the shoulder. “Good!”

Kei then put his arm around his shoulder as a question popped in his mind. “Say…. What’s your name again?”

“What?” the newly hired employee muttered in confusion.

“Dummy!” Natsumi hollered from the kitchen, turning their attention toward her giggling. “It’s Hodaka.”

“That’s right. I was going to guess Harold,” announced Suga.

Hodaka frowned at his new boss. “Harold? Really?”

“Hey, I was close. I knew it started with an H,” Kei pointed out, defending himself from his roommate’s scowl.

Hodaka went to speak, but was interrupted by Natsumi. “No need to bicker. What is needed is to celebrate with a nice, delicious meal.”

They looked over to see plates of sushi, stir fry, and lettuce wraps sitting on the table. Hodaka’s mouthered water in an instant, as he hadn’t seen food like this in months. A meal worthy of a king.

“Here,” Suga spoke, handing Hodaka a can of beer.

“I’m underage, remember?” Hodaka pointed out.

“Not like any cops are after you and besides, we’re celebrating your hiring. One beer isn’t going to kill you,” Kei articulated, cracking open the can and holding it up.

Hodaka shrugged his shoulders and followed the others’ lead. The three put their cans together and cheerfully hollered out “Cheers!”

‘That was the first meal I shared with someone since I came to Tokyo.’

‘And that was when my new life started.”

***

“Callie,” Hodaka called out, holding an umbrella firm in his hand as it shielded him from the heavy downpour. His search for an old friend had not yielded any results despite searching through several alleyways for the past couple of hours.

There were things he wished he was able to do instead on his off time, as his days on the job were very hectic. Even though his job was an editing company, his duties were beyond just writing articles. They ranged from answering the phone, filing receipts and even regular chores around the house. All of these tasks were rather tiresome, but there were others that were enjoyable such as riding around town with Natsumi to conduct interviews and to transcribe them later on.

Even though his days were chaotic, he wouldn’t leave it for any other job. Hodaka smiled at the bond he was able to form with his two bosses as for the first time in his life, someone was relying on him, and even treated him with care.

‘Those rainy days in Tokyo passed in a flash’

The teenager turned to his right and once again repeated the word he had been using all day. “Callie. Callie. Callie!”

As if on cue, a grey and white cat hopped down and slowly walked toward him, meowing at him. Hodaka smiled as he leaned to greet his friend, “There you are!”

He rubbed his hand on the cat’s head, immediately eliciting a pur from the feline. With his free hand, Hodaka removed food from his pocket and set it down on the ground. “How’s it going, Callie?”

The feline let a soft meow as it then sunk its teeth into the treat. “Good girl,” murmured Hodaka, continuing to rub his hand on Callie’s head. “Took a great deal of negotiation, but I was able to secure a place for you. Natsumi loves cats and Suga loves something that can rake in cash, so you gotta be a good mascot, okay?”

Callie paused from eating only to seemingly give Hodaka a confused look. He simply laughed in response, “My exact reaction too.”

Hodaka smirked at his friend as she went back to eating. The name Callie, was always a beautiful word to him, as it was not only a word that was pleasant to the ears, but one that brought back good memories for him. His hometown was troublesome, but the restaurant he visited frequently were his brief moments of serenity.

Callie’s Crumbs.

That’s what inspired him to call his new friend. Like the mascot of the business, the stray cat was the striking image of the caricature. Finally, he looked down to see Callie licking up the crumbs before him.

“Okay, just for you,” Hodaka murmured, pulling out yet another treat for her.

Callie meowed excitedly, trotting over the newly placed treat and began gnawing on, taking in every delicious bite.

“It’s an easy job. You’ll see,” a voice creaked through the hallway, capturing Hodaka’s attention. The voice sounded all too familiar to him and it was not a pleasant one.

“Um…. stay here. I’ll be back shortly,” ordered Hodaka, as he pulled out his umbrella while Callie slightly perked her in confusion before sinking her teeth back into the treat.

Hodaka stepped out of the alleway to see a group of people walking past him. Two of them were dressed in sharp, clean suits while his eyes gravitated more toward the girl. Could it be the way she presented herself? He looked at her beautiful pink dress and the white coat draped over it, however, it wasn’t her clothing that made him keep an eye on her.

“But….” the girl tried to speak, but was cut off by the man putting his hand on her shoulder. “Just give it a try. You’ll get paid right away. Our club is right there.”

“That girl….” Hodaka mumbled as he continued to watch the group get farther and farther away. His eyes lingered on her until it hit him like a bullet train. His mind flashed back to when he was in the restaurant all those weeks ago. The one who gave him the burger. It was her!

He knew those people with her were up to no good. Despite not knowing her, he knew she wasn’t the type that shouldn’t be burdened with whatever offer those people had in mind for her. Hodaka picked up his feet as marched forward, pursuing the group to find out what was going on and to hopefully get her out.

The pursuit led him back to where he once stayed a couple hours under. He never quite knew what it was, but could only guess it was an unpleasant, seedy establishment.

“Give it a go and earn yourself some buck,” the owner cheered, trying his best to encourage some enthusiasm from his potential new employee. The girl quivered her lips, as she didn’t want to do it. The owner soon noticed her reluctance and smirked. He wrapped his arm around her body, eliciting goosebumps from the poor girl along with a slight jolt. “It’s right there. Let’s go.”

Then, before Hodaka’s very eyes he dragged her toward the rundown business. His stomach turned to knots, feeling incredibly uneasy about what was transpiring before. It was clear she didn’t want to do it, but had no real choice in the matter.

Without giving it a second’s thought, Hodaka put his hand on the orange bag around his torso. He prepared to unzip and to pull out the gun to break up the conflict, however, he froze.

“But….” Hodaka sputtered, letting go of the bag. He picked up his feet and bolted toward the group nearing the entrance way. His heart raced, almost as if it was in perfect synchronization with his legs. Hodaka’s arm reached for, snatching the girl away from the people she was with. A collective gasp was heard while Hodaka dragged her away from the area.

“Let’s go!” Hodaka shouted, desperation and terror in his voice.

“Hey! Wait….. a minute!” the owner stuttered out, taking a moment to put together what just happened before rushing off to pursue the kidnapper.

“Wait!” the girl called out, her hand still imprisoned by Hodaka’s grip.

“Just keep running!” barked Hodaka, his feet picking up the pace, running as fast as he could.

“Listen to me!” bargained the girl, but her pleas fell on deaf ears as they ran down the street. However, it was all for naught as they spotted one of their pursuers standing on the other side of the alleyway. The two stopped in the tracks as Hodaka immediately went to reevaluate his plan, but a hand was roughly placed on his shoulder.

“You brat!” the owner screamed out as he threw Hodaka down on the hard asphalt. Hodaka winced in pain, his back immediately feeling the pain from the collision. He kneeled down to Hodaka, slapping him a couple of times. His face turned a bright red from the egregious amount of slaps he endured. “Hey, man. What do you think you’re doing?”

“You were forcing her!” spat Hodaka, his voice nearly cracking as he was not only furious at what they were doing to her, but terrified at the situation he put himself in. His whole body trembled, he wanted to escape, but he had to stay vigilant. It was the only way he could possibly get these two scumbags to stay away.

The aggressor ceased his assault, almost as if he was completely dumbfounded by the accusation. He nearly felt compelled to laugh, but wouldn’t give the young upstarter any satisfaction. Instead, he just raised his voice with pure malice. “Are you dumb or what? We’ve made a deal. Wait….” he inspected Hodaka and noticed something very familiar about him. Something very pathetic until he realized who it was. “Don’t tell me…. You’re the brat that was squatting in front of our club? What’s this, payback?”

He reared his fist back and sent it flying down toward Hodaka’s face. The resulting punch created a huge bruise on his cheek as Hodaka bit his tongue, refusing to give him the satisfaction of letting out a cry of pain.

“Please stop it!” pleaded the girl, as she went to reach out for Hodaka, but was quickly restrained by the owner’s associate.

“Goddamnit!” Hodaka screamed out, his hands moving at incredible speeds, ones he never felt before as they ripped open the bag. The teenager yanked the gun out and pointed it at the man above him. “Get off me!”

The aggressor simply chuckled at the gun geared toward him.“What’s that, a toy gun? You really are dumb.”

His arms twitched as the gun shook rapidly. Hodaka absolutely did not want to do anything further, but his options were very limited. His assailant continued to taunt him, but his words became unintelligible as all he could focus on was whether he could fire or not.

Then, the world went silent as he made his choice.

BAM!

Everyone’s ears rang from the loud gunshot. They were all frozen in fear by what had just transpired. The bullet landed next to Hodaka, leaving a small ringing noise. Smoke traveled out of the barrel while the instigator collapsed onto the street, no longer pinning Hodaka to the ground.

Seeing this as an opportunity to make her move, she ran over to Hodaka, grabbing his arm.“Get up!” Hodaka obeyed her command and allowed himself to be picked up, immediately resulting in the two leaving the scene of the conflict while the owners were still frozen in fear by the gunshot.

The two had run for miles, both of them were out of breath and covered in sweat. Thankfully, the girl knew a place where they could lay low for the time being as they were held up in an abandoned building. Both of them were now breathing rapidly from the exhilarating event they had to endure.

“You!” the girl barked, Hodaka snapping his head toward her, observing as she held a towel out, as she stared him down with a glare. “What was that for? To thank me for the burger?”

Hodaka couldn’t speak, his body still tremembled. He didn’t know if it was the result of being assaulted, the gun going, her yelling at him, or all of the above. His mouth quivered, trying to muster the strength to speak, but it was too late as she immediately yelled out once more.

“Where did you get that gun? Who are you?”

“That’s…” Hodaka stammered, limping toward her, but soon found himself stopping at a respectable distance from her, explaining himself to his newfound acquaintance. “I found it. I thought it was a toy. It was like a lucky charm for me.”

“What? You pointed it at someone. You could have killed him,” stammered the girl, feeling nothing but disgust for her rescuer’s justification.

The words stung Hodaka, with events of the confrontation finally setting in. He felt sick for what he had to do and even regretted it, but as he went over it several times in his head before, there was no other way. Before he could even find the words to make it right, she marched toward him.

“I can’t believe it! You make me sick. You’re the worst!” shrieked the girl, shoving the towel toward him. Hodaka accepted the towel, as his hands barely held onto them due to them shaking. The girl on the other hand, stormed past him, still extremely agitated by what ensued.

Hodaka remained nearly frozen in place except for his hands. He reached into his orange bag once more and pulled out the gun. The teenager looked down at the handgun in his hands, and on cue, they started to vibrate. He felt sick to his stomach, sick that he even had to pull the trigger. With a scream of anguish, he threw the gun at the wall as it trembled down to the ground. He then let himself drop to the ground, his hands covering his face, his sobbing synchronizing with the rain pouring through the open cracks of the old building.

“I got fired from my part-time job,” the girl announced, making her way back toward the grieving Hodaka.

The foreigner slowly titled his head up and removed his hands from his face. “Was it my fault?”

“No, nothing to do with that burger,” clarified the girl, putting her hands in her pockets. “But, that’s why I need a well-paid job.”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have..” cried Hodaka, tears pouring out of his eyes, swinging his head away from her. She looked down at the grieving boy and felt sympathy for him. On one hand, she was frustrated with him interfering, but on the other, she was glad he arrived when he did.

She gave him a small smile as she lightly grabbed his cheek. “Does it hurt?”

He slightly jerked away from her touch, surprised by her sudden kindness.“Not really,”

She giggled at his reaction as a question entered her mind. “You’re a runaway, aren’t you? I can tell.” The two stared at each other for a moment, letting the rain outside provide them with a comfortable pause before she spoke once more. “But, you can’t enjoy Tokyo with this rain.” –

“It’s….. Not what I expected when I got here,” answered Hodaka, feeling disappointed by the constant downpour.

The girl smiled at him as she grabbed his hand. “I want to show you something.”

With that, the two made their way up a series of stairs until they reached the roof, finding themselves once more drenched by the rain. Hodaka took everything in on the roof, the orange shrine, the garden and the grass peeping through the cement.

“It’ll clear up now,” the girl disclosed, followed by a smile, reassuring him her promise would be met.

“Huh?” inquired Hodaka, baffled at what she meant by the rain clearing up. The sun hadn’t come through in over a month.

“What did she mean by clearing up?”

Hodaka looked up to see the rain still collapsing on his face as the clouds remained as grey as ever. He was still unsure by what she meant, as he turned to face her to ask his question only to find her hands together and her eyes closed.

“What do you mean?” interrogated Hodaka, but before he could even get an answer from her, a ray of sunshine struck her. Before he knew it, the clouds dissipated as the bright, blue sky came through. His mouth dropped open as he, too, felt himself covered by the sun’s rays.

Hodaka gasped as he watched the sun shining through while the clouds retreated. For once, it was a clear day in Tokyo. An absolute beauty in his eyes. He couldn’t believe it and most of all, he couldn’t believe Natsumi wasn’t crazy!

“A sunshine girl?!” Hodaka hollered out in astonishment.

The girl giggled as she released her hands and turned toward him with a smile.“I’m Hina. What’s your name?”

“Hodaka.”

“How old are you?” asked Hina, stuffing her hands in her pockets.

“Sixteen” answered Hodaka.

Hina smirked at him, humming for a couple of seconds. “Younger than me. I’ll be eighteen next month”

“You really don’t look it,” complimented Hodaka, observing her body as he took her for someone his age or even younger.

“You should treat me with respect,” teased Hina, immediately feeling superior to her younger new friend. She blocked the sun with her hand, as she observed the alluring blue sky above her. It was a beautiful moment and she was glad she made the sun shine through today. It was the perfect time to make it happen.

“Pleased to meet you, Hodaka,” spoke Hina, raising her hand toward him.

Without any hesitation, Hodaka took her hand and shook it. “Me too”

“For all the hell I went through, today was a fantastic day, and the start of the best moments of my life.”

***

“Don’t say such bullshit!” Daiki yelled out at his friend as they ran down the drenched streets.

“Why would I lie about something like this? The last time something like this happened, our parents were kids!” the other hollered out excitedly, wanting his friend to witness what he had seen just minutes before, as he struggled to keep his glasses from falling.

“I hope you’re not wasting my time again,” sighed Giichi as he rubbed his messy hair, trying to keep it in place.

They bolted in the alleyway as the more eager of the two shouted while pointing out deeper into the channel, “Look. Over there!”

“What are you talking about, there’s nothing!” yelled Giichi as he looked up and saw nothing but drops of rain descending from the dark storm clouds above them.

“Use your eyes, man!” gleefully shouted out Daiki. The two glued then their eyes up at the sky, nearly straining them as they saw a giant body of water materialize above them. Small rays of light shined through, immediately entrancing them with its beauty. However, something unnatural was swimming in it, almost as if it was seemingly basking in it.

“What’s that?” stuttered Giichi, his whole body shaking at what just appeared before them.

The being paused as it shifted its whole body around, now glaring at the two witnesses below it. Its piercing red eyes angered and yet curious as to why they would show up and observe it. A part of it wanted to stay and enjoy this newfound body of water, but the other wanted to feed. However, the monster wasn’t given a choice in the matter as the body of water exploded.

The kids screamed as the pool-sized body of water splashed down upon them. Their bodies were completely absorbed by the water for a mere few seconds before immediately subsiding to the ground. The two took a moment to recompose of themselves, breathing rapidly, hoping this strange event would be over with.

A gurgle was then heard.

The two looked up to see sludge dripping to the ground, its black, slippery matter splashing upon their shoes. As their eyes ascended upward at the culprit, they saw a being straight up from a horror movie, something that should, in no way, shape or form exist. The being stood nearly twice their height, as it hunched over, observing them. They stood in horror as the greyish black being moved its body unnaturally, with a swishing noise that could elicit chills from even the bravest of men.

Nothing could prepare them for what came next.

With a loud gurgle, the anomaly leapt forward at Daiki, completely knocking him to the ground. The teenager let out a muffled scream as his whole body felt like it was burning. His skin sizzled away as his very insides were being boiled. Giichi, feeling a modicum of resurgence of composure coming back to him, reached forward for his friend’s uncovered arm. He grabbed a hold of his arm and with every ounce of strength he had, he was able to feel himself pulling his dear friend out.

Giichi collapsed on his rear, taking a moment to collect himself. With a few deep breaths from the impressive feat of strength he had to pull, his mind drifted to his friend. To make sure everything was okay, he opened his eyes to check on his wounded friend.

He let out a bone chilling scream as he witnessed Daiki’s heavily mutilated body before him! The skin on his upper body was completely gone, as it poured onto the wet asphalt, giving it a peach and crimson red colored paint job. Muscle and bone were all that was left, but even then, they began to melt away as steam flowed up from the body. Daiki’s unaffected arm soon broke away as the rest of the body separated itself due to his body being doused in acid. Lastly, Giichi wasn’t even successful in pulling out his friend’s whole body. His bottom half was completely gone!

Entrails hung out and in some cases, were even leaking out. Giichi quivered his lips, horrified that he unintentionally helped that monster rip his friend in two. He snapped his head over to his friend’s head as his joyful look was history. Now, it was just muscle with his glasses seared directly above his eyes.

A gurgle of laughter was heard once more as Giichi turned his head over to the beast standing above him. It took a step toward him, readying to absorb its prey, however his prey wasn’t entirely helpless, he got up on his feet and began to bolt. Giichi didn’t want to leave his friend behind, but it was of no use as his body was still in the process of decomposing. At the very least, he could find the authorities to put this abomination down.

He would make sure his friend would get avenged.

POP!

Giichi let out a banshee scream as he felt a sudden surge of pain in his feet, as if someone poured lava on them. He collapsed on his stomach, instantly turning over to see his shoes melting directly into his feet. Giichi unleashed a howl of pain as the small amount of acid was agonizing to his skin. His mind immediately drifted over to his friend’s fate and realized his feet would meet the same. Still, he had to escape, no matter the cost. Giichi flopped over on his stomach, pushing himself to try to crawl away, noticing he was nearly out of the cursed alleyway.

A sigh of relief overtook him, as he could get the help he desperately needed, but it was not meant to be. The anomaly hopped in front of him, part of its body splashing its contents all around the area.

Giichi’s fear overtook him once more with tears pouring out of his eyes. All he could do now was plead. “Please… please.. Don’t do this. Please….”

The being tilted its head slightly, seemingly taking its prey’s words into consideration. Its hands lowered down as the anomaly kept itself stationary. Giichi breathed a sigh of relief as if he mentally congratulated himself on talking his hunter down. He immediately began to veer off from the slimy being, crawling away toward his destination.

STOMP!

Giichi cried out once more as he felt the anomaly’s foot planting itself on his back. Immediately the back of his shirt melted away as the acidic sludge coated itself all over his back. A blood curled cry zoomed out of his mouth while the anomaly cackled in his suffering.

Even though the skrieks of agony were music to its ears, it couldn’t afford the chance of alerting others to its position. It had nearly been compromised several times and would not be in shape to fight off a whole army. It still had plenty of delicious food to devour.

With its arm extending out, it grabbed Giichi’s jaw, holding it in place as the sludge did all the work, melting the joints off. The beautiful screaming ceased immediately as it was replaced by gurgles while blood flooded out of his mouth.

Giichi’s only silver lining in this whole traumatic event was that he didn’t have to suffer for long. His consciousness fading while his eyes melted, their liquid remains dripping onto the wet ground.

The last thing he heard, however, was the gurgling laughter of his killer.

***

“I understand how you feel, Keisuke,” spoke an older woman as she set her cup down. “But, she finally stopped talking about you.”

She looked out the window, its reflection showing off her shoulder length grey hair, purple sweater and grey pants. The woman sympathized with her son-in-law, but the wellbeing of the granddaughter took top priority.

“It’d be cruel to meet her now,” surmised the grandmother.

“But, I have the right to see her, Kanna,” Keisuke reasoned, leaning over as he then felt a hand on his shoulder. He relented as he flashed his eyes at the social service agent, Asagi. To him, she wasn’t all that bad, she listened to what he had to say and would constantly try to help him regain custody of his daughter.

Instead, she spoke in his place, trying to settle an agreement. “With respect, Mr. Suga has been showing improvement. Given some time or be allowed opportunities to visit Moka for a few hours per week.”

Kanna seemingly ignored her and shifted her focus toward Keisuke, staring at him blankly. “You still smoke, don’t you?”

“What are you even talking about?” Keisuke nearly blurted out, but kept his composure at a manageable level. He was furious at how she could make an accusation like that. He had been doing everything her and Asagi had instructed him to do, and yet, she still casted doubt upon him. Had this been any other person, he would have flown off the handle, but considering his visitation with his daughter was on the line, he had to approach this more diplomatically.

“If I may,” Asagi chimed in, with Kanna shaking her slightly, allowing her to speak. “Mr. Suga has shown no sign of continuing that habit. He has been clean every time I’ve checked in on him.”

“She’s got asthma,” Kanna bluntly said, seemingly ignoring the information Asagi conveyed to her once again. “I know you still smoke, and the fact you plan it around her check-ins. You’re just simply inconsiderate.”

“I quit smoking a while ago!” announced Keisuke, disgusted with these continuous accusations.

“Again, I can show you the proof that he’s telling the truth,” added Asagi, preparing to pull out the necessary documents to showcase the evidence needed.

“That won’t be necessary,” spoke Kanna, nearly cutting the agent off, turning her attention to her son-in-law once more. “But…. you give a bad impression.”

She turned to the window once more, watching the horde of raindrops pouring from the sky. With a sigh, she spoke once more, “It’s raining all the time this year. She can’t play outside, and it’s bad for her asthma.”

“I… understand….” muttered a defeated Keisuke. He wanted nothing more than to see his daughter again, and as much as he didn’t like to agree with her, Kanna was right. The circumstances were not in his favor and he wasn’t fully honest with his statements he had vocalized just moments ago.

“We… can still work something out. Why not at least give Keisuke two hours under your supervision every Sunday….” Asagi tried to negotiate, but was cut off by the older woman.
“I’m sorry, but my answer is final. Until the weather clears up for a while and Keisuke has proven to change his habits, I will not grant him visitation,” Kanna spoke as she lifted herself up from the chair. She grabbed her belongings and went to take her leave, but not before she turned around one last time, “I feel sorry for children nowadays. We used to have beautiful springs and summers. I hope she can experience that with her father.”

Keisuke planted his head on his palms, frustrated and depressed over these turn of events. It was not the first time he was denied visitation nor will it be the last. He was truly at a loss. Without her, he had no drive, he was just simply, a shadow of his former self.

“Why… why are you trying so hard to help me?” Keisuke breathed out, turning his head at Asagi. “Any other person from social services would just side with the person who’s raising the child in a more stable home.”

The question stung Asagi hard as if she was being impaled by those very words. She swallowed hard as the very thought and even the job made her walk on eggshells. Asagi took the job to help save families, to prevent them from being reduced to pieces, but it was rather ironic for her. She nearly caught herself laughing at it, with the situation she was in herself. All she saw in Keisuke was a reflection of herself.

“Because you’re not the only one who screwed up on the prospect of a family,” answered Asagi, her face no longer of stoicism, but of anguish.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” Keisuke spoke, fiddling with the ring on his finger.

“Thanks,” Asagi spoke softly.

“You know, you shouldn’t have covered me. I still smoke on occasion,” admitted Keisuke, as Asagi turned to him, seeing guilt flood over his face.

“I know,” muttered the agent.

“Why’d you do that, though? Even knowing it would affect her greatly?” inquired Keisuke, his fingers still glued to his ring.

“Because unlike me, when you’re presented with something you need, you’ll forgo what’s actively hurting you. While you still smoke, you’ve been doing it in smaller increments. You’re giving yourself far too little credit. That is why I’m pushing for Moka to be released back into your custody,” reasoned Asagi, feeling her face as determination filled her body. If she couldn’t for her family, then she could at least save his.

Keisuke was taken back, his fingers relinquishing their grip on his ring. He wanted to thank her in every appropriate way possible, but had once again kept himself composed. “For what it’s worth, thank you. This means a lot to me.”

And in an instant, Asagi saw him smile for the first time ever. Rarely ever did she see such an emotion during her job, but it was one she appreciated nonetheless. Asagi, in turn, smiled back, as she got up from the couch.

“I should get to it, there are other sessions I have to mediate,” announced Asagi, readying to take her leave as Keisuke got to his feet.

“Look, I know it’s not my place to suggest this, but if you ever need someone to talk to about what’s going on with your life. Vague or detailed, however you want to convey it, I make for a good drinking buddy,” spoke Keisuke, giving her a warm smile, informing her he would not judge her in any way.

Asagi couldn’t help but smile for a brief moment, but immediately retracted it with a solemn expression. “While I won’t say no to a drink or to even possibly talk about my story, I don’t think it’ll help.”

“Why not? You’re doing a banger job of helping me out. I think you deserve to have someone help you out,” reasoned Keisuke, wanting to do everything he could to help her out.

“Unlike your addiction, mine….. mine is not something you can get over. Especially when it has such a huge impact on your life. You can get over yours, I can’t,” explained Asagi, the words she had just spoken hurt her greatly. She wished she never spoke them or even thought about them, but it was the truth and nothing but it.

There was no hope for her.

“I understand, but if you need to talk about it, you have my number,” Keisuke spoke, patting her on the shoulder, the tone of his voice shifting slightly more joyfully. “Just don’t be a stranger, that’s all I ask.”

He took his leave from the lobby, leaving Asagi to dive deep in her own thoughts. No matter who said those words or what kind of look they gave her, they did not break down her wall. She was gone as her mouth quivered, “Advice I wish I could follow.”

***

Hodaka ascended up the ramp toward the apartment complex, admiring the view on his left. Rays of light poking through the lightish clouds, giving them a bluish hue pleasing to the eye. The sight was certainly comforting to him as he made plans to visit Hina today, to which it made him feel slightly uneasy. On one hand, he was excited, but on the other, he was apprehensive, fearing he could mess up at any moment.

“They can’t live together, just the two of them,” a concerned voice spoke, gaining Hodaka’s attention.

“You’re right,” the other woman concurred, pushing through a small red gate while Hodaka walked past them. Both of which paid him no mind as he, on the other hand, was curious as to who they were talking about. His feet continued moving him along to his destination as his mind wandered if it had to do with Hina and whoever was living with her.

“Was there something more than just their financial issues?”

Hodaka stopped him as stood in front of the front door to the apartment. He knocked on the door only to realize something. “Hold on…. I’m visiting a girl’s home for the first time!”

Before he could think about it any further or even pick up his feet to run away in fear, the door slammed open with Hina greeting him with a warm, inviting smile. Hodaka jumped nearly twice his height, eliciting a chuckle from his new friend.

“Welcome, Hodaka. You had trouble getting here, didn’t you?” teased Hina.

His teeth chattered while his whole body shook, still feeling nervous about the meetup. “No, er….” Hodaka tried to answer, but his mind did not cooperate with him as it commanded him to nearly shove the bag full of food to Hina. “It’s not much, but…”

“Wow, thank you. Come!” Hina ecstatically said aloud, taking the bag from him and ushering him inside.

Upon first glance, he noticed how cramped her apartment was, immediately bumping into a table. He managed to compose himself as he stumbled out of the kitchen to where Hina directed him to the living room a mere step away. He nodded and took a seat on one of the cushions, turning his back to Hina who stayed behind to prepare the meal.

“Did you have lunch?”

“Not yet, but….” Hodaka tried to speak, but she waved him off. “Just sit there and relax.”

Hina grabbed the necessary ingredients and began mixing them together while Hodaka scanned a good portion of the apartment. As he noted before, it was small, but she seems to have a good number of possessions to where she wasn’t hurting. Despite losing her job recently, she did seem to live comfortably, though he had to ask a question that’s been on his mind since he overheard his neighbors talking.

“Do you live alone?”

“With my younger brother,” Hina answered, cutting up some vegetables from a mini home garden. “We’ve had some problems, though.”

“Where are your parents in all of this?” inquired Hodaka, trying to piece together as to why her parents aren’t around to give her a stable environment.

“I….” Hina paused, sadness washing over her face as she took a look out the window before continuing, “They’re not with us anymore.”

“I shouldn’t have brought it up! I’m sorry!” Hodaka nearly snapped, feeling ashamed of himself for probing into a sensitive issue for her.

“It’s okay. It’s only natural to ask that,” Hina assured nonchalantly, keeping her eyes on the window.

“Surely you have other family to call on, right?”

Hina glanced back at the meal, keeping her voice as composed as possible. The talk of family always made her emotional and knew it wouldn’t be the time and place to break down in front of her new friend. “We have grandparents, and…. an uncle, somewhere out there.”

Hodaka felt perplexed by her lack of enthusiasm for not wanting to find her missing relatives. While he was not fond of this, he did not want her to feel the same way as he did. She did not deserve to be miserable. “Don’t you want to find them?”

“I’d love to meet them, but my mother barely talked about them. I only remember her saying she was adopted and not really on the best of terms with them,” rambled Hina, taking another look back at the window, watching the rain continuously hitting the ground as lower inclinations were overflowing. “I hope to meet them one day, see what they’re like and tell me what my mother was really like.”

Hina grabbed her desired spices from the rack and sprinkled them onto the meal in place. “Now, time to play twenty questions with you. Why did you run away?”

Hodaka sighed at the question. It was one he was tired of hearing. Suga, Natsumi, Hina, everyone asked him that question. “I found it suffocating to live with my parents. And in that town.”

“I see. I guess we rolled the dice on troublesome families, then,” surmised the cook. “Shouldn’t you go back? Surely it can’t be that bad over there.”

Hodaka felt himself beginning to shake, but was able to stop himself from making it too noticeable. The issue always brought out the worst in him and he knew he would have to drop it before he’d snapped. “I don’t want to.”

“Right,” Hina spoke, picking up the tray and bringing it over to the table with a huge grin on her face. “Here you go!”

“Wow!” Hodaka vocalized in delight as his mouth watered over the meal before him, taking him away from his previous thoughts. Two giant plates sat before him, one being a lettuce wrap complete with tomatoes and meatballs while the other was a just rice bowl with an overeasy egg sitting in the middle. It was simply a feast to behold.

“So, how’s Tokyo treating you?”

“Hmm…. come to think of it, I don’t feel like I’m suffocating anymore,” Hodaka spoke quietly, feeling content with his decision all those weeks ago.

“I’m happy you’re able to live more freely,” expressed Hina.

Hodaka simply nodded as they both clapped their hands. “Let’s eat!”

Minutes passed as they continued to gorge down on the delicious feast when a light bulb lit in Hodaka’s head!

“Of course!”

The visitor reached into his back and pulled out a notebook, detailing a purpose that could get her out of the situation she was currently in. Hina took notice of the notebook and grabbed a hold of it. She spent several minutes reading it over before looking back at Hodaka, her eyes widening.

“Wait, you’re actually serious about this?” gasped Hina, scrolling through the notes Hodaka put down on the notebook.

“Well, you’re a real sunshine girl, aren’t you?” Hodaka asked as Hina nodded, turning to face him. “You can clear the sky up by praying.”

“Yeah,” Hina trailed off, grabbing a bowl of dessert.

“Don’t you need a job, though? You’re a bit strapped for cash.”

“I do. But, I’d feel guilty about charging people for bringing the sun out.”

“It’s a better alternative than working at the club,” Hodaka surmised as his eyes gazed upon her, admiring her beauty.

“Hodaka,” Hina muttered, gaining his attention. “What are you looking at!?”

Hodaka nearly jumped out of his seat as Hina wrapped her arms around herself. His face turned red as a tomato, “I’m not looking at anything!”

Hina continued to glare at him as Hodaka muttered, “I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted, but you’re not off the hook,” Hina declared as Hodaka chuckled while rubbing the back of his head.

He then pulled out his laptop, typing up a few things befores pointing it to Hina. Her head jerk backed slightly, apprehensive about the price displayed in front of her. “Isn’t five thousand yen a bit too much?”

“Shall we do three thousand yen then?” Hodaka suggested.

Hina put her hand up to chin, contemplating their decision. “Considering living expenses, though. I suppose five thousand is a fair price, if we do this.”

The day soon turned to night as the two discussed the prospect of their future business together. Split of profits, expenses, scheduling, and anything else that came to mind. With some arguing and laughs, the two were able to get a good idea on how to run their newly born business.

“It’s done!” The two gleefully said out loud as the screen lit up their faces with the graphics they had created. A simple yet enticing homepage of the sun shining bright with a frog in a raincoat holding hands with a dog while the clouds dispersed.

“Time to upload it,” declared Hodaka, moving his finger toward the publish button.

“Hey! I’m home!” a childish voice called out, closing the door behind them. “I’d like some sardines please!”

Hodaka and Hina looked up from the screen to see a child with black hair going down to his neck. He had a backpack strapped to his back as he was well groomed wearing clothing that would come from a private school. However, he was completely baffled by who this stranger was in his house.

“Uh… who are you?”

“You’re the boy from the bus!” Hodaka called out.

The boy tilted his head to the right, completely baffled at what the stranger was talking about. “I…. what?”

“Do you know each other?” Hina asked, raising her hand toward the child. “Hodaka, this is my brother Nagi.”

“Nagi, this is Hodaka. He’s my business partner.”

Before Nagi could express further confusion, a coin depositing sound erupted from the laptop. Hodaka snatched up the computer and exclaimed, “We got a request!”

Hina glanced over to the screen, realizing he was telling the truth, but still in amazement by how fast a request arrived. “You’ve already uploaded it?”

“They want good weather for a flea market,” explained Hodaka. “It’s tomorrow”

“Wait a minute! Am I really going to do this?” Hina screeched out, jumping up and down as she was already beginning to express doubt on performing this job.

“We can figure something out!” Hodaka spoke out, trying to reassure his friend while Nagi rolled his eyes and made way toward the kitchen.

“But, it’s going to rain!” countered Hina.

“That’s the whole point! You have to clear it up!”

“Who the hell is this guy?” Nagi asked himself as he opened up the fridge, trying to find something to fix up. “What did he do to my sister? And why am I acting like the adult all of a sudden?”

***

“Please use this,” Hodaka demanded, holding out a yellow umbrella for Hina to take.

Hina opened the umbrella and with it several ghosts floated around with the barely visible strings holding together. She appreciated the effort he’d put in for her, but it was something she not only didn’t need nor really cared for. “Sorry, I won’t,” Hina answered, closing the paracel.

“Uh….. not to worry! I got another secret weapon for you!” Hodaka announced, swinging his arms to the left, motioning for Hina to turn around as she saw a kid in a round ghost costume. Its giant, bulbous head was the exact identical shape as the ghosts on the paracel.

“Sorry, don’t need it,” spoke Hina, denying Hodaka’s offer once more.

“Let it be known that I hate you. So much!” Nagi groaned, as he swung his arms upward, grabbing a hold of the head piece and slamming it down to the ground.

After several minutes of bickering and planning their strategy, they had arrived at their destination. A farmer’s market loaded with kiosks stocked with plentiful amounts of fresh goods and knick knacks for the average person to enjoy. There, the trio stood on a bridge as Hina put her hands together, praying for the sun to shine through while Hodaka waved the umbrella around her as Nagi ran in circles, donning the ghost costume once more.

“Who called these weirdos?” a bulky middle aged man demanded, his voice oozing with curiosity as he watched the three doing their routine.

“We thought it might bring good luck,” reasoned his petite associate, believing they were a good omen for hers and his business.

“Don’t push yourselves too hard!” the man called out, keeping his eyes on the trio.

“We’re almost there!” Hodaka shot out to his clients, as he snapped his head back to the sunshine girl. He pulled out a bottle, concerned for her wellbeing since he noticed she was starting to hunch over, feeling as if a wave of exhaustion washed over her. “Water, Hina?”

“What about candy?” added Nagi.

“Tell them to go home,” the observer ordered, finally taking his eyes off the trio as it was becoming clear the weather wasn’t clearing up.

“Okay,” the other spoke as she prepared to move from out of the gazebo when another co-worker of hers shouted out ecstatically, “The sky’s clearing up!”

“No way!”

With their own eyes, they witnessed the impossible happening. Clouds were dispersing while the sun shined through, blanketing the whole market with light. The rain ceased in a matter of seconds, the market’s patrons no longer drenched, but instead, feeling the warmth of the sun. Voices of astonishment filled the area with the very sudden welcome change in the weather.

“It’s cleared up!”

“It’s been ages!”

Hina rushed over to the client’s tent and slammed her hands on the table, with a huge grin on her face. “What do you think?”

“You guys are awesome!” the woman congratulated, matching Hina’s smile with her own.

“You’re a real sunshine girl!”

“You’re great, and even if it was a coincidence,” the older man spoke, approaching the table while he shoved his hand inside his pocket.

“It wa….” Nagi tried to speak, but Hodaka grabbed a hold of him, shutting him up.

“Here’s two hundred,” the farmer spoke, handing them their payment, immediately eliciting grins from both Hodaka and Nagi.

“It’s too much,” Hina stammered, her face turning red. She felt their job wasn’t worth two hundred and gently pushed the money back.

“Nonsense! You get a bonus for being great,” the old man announced, denying their previous form of payment and handing the two hundred dollars back to them.

“Thank you so much! We’ll sell a lot more now!” the client joyfully yelled out, shaking their hands as the trio felt an overwhelming feeling of joy and success.

They continued to bask in those feelings as the group walked away from the market. Then, as if they were a hivemind, stopped in their tracks. The trio looked at each other and before they knew it, all of them jumped in their air in celebration.

“Amazing!” Nagi beamed.

“I feel I could do this!” sang a newly confident Hina.

“Yes! We can really turn our lives around!” declared Hodaka.

***

“Yes! Thank you! The premiere is going to be perfect!” the director enthusiastically howled, as he jumped up only for his glasses to fall off.

Hodaka smiled. “Anything to help.”

“Hope everyone likes the movie!” beamed Hina.

Hodaka looked down at his phone, his eyes immediately widening. “Shoot, we’re running late for our next meeting!”

“But, I want to watch the movie!” countered Nagi, his voice filling with anger, as slammed his foot down.

“We’ll catch a later screening,” Hina mouthed, pushing her brother away from the grand premiere, filled with people dressed up as their favorite characters from the upcoming movie.

“But I want to take a picture with Neronga!” Nagi complained, snapping his head over toward a person dressed up in the hulking monster suit waving at him.

“Sorry, gotta go!” Hodaka declared as he and Hina scooted Nagi away from the premiere and toward their next scheduled meeting.

***

“No more coming out during the day, you pesky vampires! The sun is here to help!” a kid yelled out, poking his friend with a stick.

“Ah!!!!!” the other screeched out while falling to the ground from being poked by the wand and the sun shining onto him.

“The evil has been defeated! The lake is safe thanks to you heroes,” the kid announced triumphantly, turning to the trio and pulling something out of his pocket. “I may not have a lot of money, but please take this doll as a bonus.”

***

“The roads are cleared now!” a girl joyfully cheered as she gave them each a hug, incredibly grateful to the three for their hard work.

“I can’t wait to visit your aunt’s home, Gorgeous! I hear she makes delicious food!” Mac moaned, with her stomach immediately unleashing a monstrous roar afterward.

“Settle down, Mac! We’ll get plenty to eat,” Professor reassured, holding her books tightly.

“And to exercise!” Kung Fu excitedly blared out, kicking her leg upward.

“I’m bummed I no longer get to sing in the rain,” Melody murmured, tilting her head down in disappointment.

“Pretend it’s raining,” Fantasy cheered, putting her hand on her friend’s shoulder, eliciting a smile from her.

“I just want to give Blanche all the love and attention she deserves,” Sweet chimed in, her voice incredibly bubbly, making it a pleasant noise for anyone to hear.

“Why do you all have weird names?” Nagi blared out, his mind about to burst from the unconventional names being thrown out.

“Nagi!” Hina hissed, embarrassed by her brother’s attitude as she began to pull him away from their clients.

Hodaka quickly followed his friends, but not before leaving behind him some parting words. “Uh…. right…. enjoy the trip, girls!”

***

“I’ve read online that the ‘one hundred percent sunshine girl’ is amazing,” the client spoke, turning to face Hodaka with a warm smile, feeling enthusiastic about the event before them.

“But, this is such a big event. Do you really want to rely on it?” Hodaka inquired, feeling apprehensive about the large-scale gig they were currently preparing for. The money was great for this particular job, it was what made his stomach turn to knots. He had no idea if Hina could do what the client requested. She was talented, but what they wanted was a tall order.

“It’s going to rain all week. We won’t be able to postpone it,” the client reasoned, putting his hands on his hips. Compared to Hodaka, he was far more optimistic in the girl’s capabilities. “In this situation, we’re even ready to rely on a charm.”

“Right…..” mumbled Hodaka, his eyes then shifting toward Hina who had her back against them. Compared to her normal clothes, she dressed up for the occasion in a beautiful peach colored kimono with orange and yellow colored circles, resembling the sun. He couldn’t deny how beautiful she looked with the outfit, particularly with the giant red bow on the back of her dress. She told him the kimono once belonged to her mother, one she often used for festivities like the one they were about to partake in.

His frown and his doubt dissipated when Hina turned back and gazed at him. She let out a small smile, seemingly telling it would be alright. He nodded back as the elevator door opened up, with the three patrons walking on the rooftop of the building. Rain poured heavily as Hodaka and the client shielded their faces from the storm. Hina, on the other hand, marched forward to the highest part of the roof, undeterred by the heavy rain.

She put her hands together while closing her eyes. Hina had done this several times before and it was no different this time. As if the weather itself had received the order, the clouds began to disperse while the droplets of water swirled around her. In a flash, the sky went from a dark grey to a bright orange, encapsulating the entirety of Tokyo with this newfound serenity.

Everyone present in the city ceased their current activities and gazed upon the beauty before them. To them, it was as if the sun shined brighter than ever despite it being so little they saw it now. It wasn’t just the sun and the sky people took note of, but the buildings and nearby bodies of water shined.

Hodaka grinned at what Hina had done at such a grand scale. She managed to light up the whole city as opposed to only portions of it. He sighed, however, feeling guilty for expressing doubt in her abilities, but it was more than that, he reasoned with himself. In reality, he was concerned about any adverse effects her abilities could have on her. He had only hoped it was just his doubt getting the better of him again and not an actual truth.

He bolted toward her, eager to tell Hina she did an amazing job as that is what she should be hearing right now.

The sun soon retreated as night fell, but the huge, bright light was replaced by several others as fireworks erupted all over the city. The festivities had officially begun. People were celebrating on the streets, enjoying themselves as they danced amongst themselves, gorging on food, or even taking in the clear scenery. Taking in every uninterrupted moment they could.

Hina and Hodaka did not join in on the celebration. Instead electing to stay on the rooftop and to watch the fireworks. It was nothing short of peaceful to them and it was the way they both liked it.

“I’m in love,” Hina announced, putting her hand over the exploding fireworks, getting a good view of the clear night sky. Hodaka titled his head toward her, unsure what she meant as his heart raced. The possibilities were limitless. Was she talking about the job? Her abilities? Or even…. Him?

Hodaka tried to speak, but couldn’t muster up the strength to do so. He wasn’t sure if he wanted that last possibility to be the answer. He liked her a lot. One of the best things to happen to him in his life, but he was unsure if they would be well suited together. Still, he had to find out.

Before Hodaka could speak, however, Hina continued. “With this sunshine girl job.”

He breathed a small sigh of relief. As grateful as he was, a part of him wanted her to confess some sort of feeling toward him. Was it because he felt lonely? The simple desire of wanting a companion? Or was it something more? Something he couldn’t quite comprehend.

Hodaka soon stirred out of his thoughts when he heard Hina speak once more. “I finally found my role in life.” She turned to him and smiled as fireworks continued to brighten the night sky while rapidly changing their faces to different colors from the light. She giggled slightly “Maybe. Or maybe not. Or maybe not not.”

“My role in life?”

“What was that supposed to mean!?” Hodaka mentally blared out. His mind raced once more. He agreed with her sentiments that they were grateful for the job, but this didn’t have to be her sole purpose in life. She could have more in her life. So much more!

He lifted his fingers up, trying to count how many maybes she had just said, but it was too much. Instead, he opted to ask a simple question. “Yes or no?”

Hina snickered at his bemusement. “You’re too serious sometimes. Don’t worry about anything, just enjoy the moment with me.”

“I…..” stammered Hodaka, but he ceased his attempt at a counterpoint and decided to stop. She was right. He needed to live in the moment. There would be another time. “You’re right. The sky is beautiful.”

The two sat in silence, taking in the crisp, cool air and the night sky above them as the stars shined upon them. It had been a long time since they’d seen a view like this and it had only gotten ever better when the next round of fireworks exploded before them. Their view now containing a beautiful, diverse selection of colors welcoming to the eye. The two were entranced by the view, their troubles vanquished. They were in near perfect harmony.

“Thank you, Hodaka,” Hina softly spoke, as she smiled at him.

Hodaka smiled back as she inched herself closer to him. He felt a slight shiver behind his back, but he would not let nerves get the better of him this time. Hodaka followed her example and inched himself closer to her, as the two smiled at each other once more and took in the fireworks.

“Weather is a mystery. The way the sky looks can move you so much. Hina really moves my heart.”

A beautiful moment to end a beautiful day on.

***

“Okay, yes, yes,” Mayumi spoke, irritation rising in her voice as she held her phone. She was frustrated by the constant demands of the government agency to update them on creatures long deceased. The ornithologist was tempted at times to quit and to go back to her old job, before the Gyaos showed up.

The voice on the other end continued to ramble on as the words became foreign to her. She no longer cared what they were ordering her to do, she just wanted it to end. Mayumi knew she could just drown the words out as she was able to wing it everytime. She figured the government was doing the same as well, just to keep themselves up to date on the Shadow of Evil.

With one voice drowned out, another filled her ears. Mayumi perked up to the TV as she saw the fireworks going off in the clear sky.

“The Jingu Fireworks Festival went off without a hitch as the weather cleared up thanks to sunshine girl, Hina Amano, and her associates, Hodaka Morishima and Nagi Amano,” the newscaster spoke.

Mayumi felt herself freeze up at what the anchor just vocalized.

“Hina.”

“Nagi.”

Her eyes widened.

The TV cut to Hodaka, Hina, and Nagi being interviewed, but their words fell on deaf ears to Mayumi. She kept her gaze on the two kids, her grandkids. Her heart raced faster than ever, as her arms shook with excitement.

Mayumi pulled the phone away from her head and stopped the call. She opened the Sunshine girl app on her device and made an appointment. It was the easiest and only way she could see them.

She set her phone down and continued to stare at her grandkids on the TV. It was a long time coming and a moment she was all too eager for. Her second chance was coming. She wanted nothing more than to see the two of them and to do right by them. To do right by the daughter she failed. Mayumi wanted a family again.

“Hina, Nagi. You’re coming home.”

***

Fireworks continued coating the sky for the past few hours as the clock nearly struck midnight. Tokyo was more alive than ever along with its citizens ostensibly having no cares in the world, only to celebrate. Unknownst to them, the water swirled rapidly while thousands upon thousands of bubbles made their way up to the surface. A dark, greyish being rose above the sea, as the water poured down from its slimy body. Its huge, menacing red eyes looked at the lively city. So colorful, so lively, so many possibilities.

It gurgled with glee. The anomaly raced through the bay and leapt onto the dock. It had spent the last few weeks growing exponentially to the point of no longer being able to conceal itself in the shadows. Instead, it was strong enough to face whatever was thrown at it and it welcomed them, especially the pollution and the screams. The beautiful screams.

The anomaly fired acidic sludge from its body, blanketing an entire block in a greyish mud. Within seconds, steam rose above it as everything hit with the substance began to melt away. The mutated tadpole murmured in delight, watching its work unfold.

Nearby, occupants of a hotel were previously enjoying the festivities when they noticed the very peculiar being making itself known. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Joy faded from their bodies as confusion and fear took over. Everyone bickered amongst themselves, trying to make sense of the situation unfolding in front of them.

Hearing their panicked voices, it turned to the source and saw them standing in different areas. If it had lips, the being would be smiling right now. The music was about to return and it would not let this opportunity go to waste. Three bursts of acidic sludge launched themselves out of its body and onto the hotel. The substances melted through every fiber they could touch as chunks of it splashed down on its occupants. Bloody, pained screams erupted from the maws of its victims as the flesh melted from their bodies, leaving only bones behind. Others suffocated, with steam rising from the sludge and into their orifices, forcing their insides to shut down. Then, as a grand finale to the show it created for itself, the entire building collapsed on itself, reducing it to a pile of acidic sludge with remnants of metals sticking out.

All around it lights turned on, the chattering picked up and the fireworks above it slowed down. Everyone and everything now saw the grotesque monstrosity standing before them in their city. It looked straight ahead and all everyone could do was panic as sirens went off to alert the JSDF of the threat before them.

The last of the fireworks soon ceased and with it, dark grey clouds covered the night sky. An instant downpour arrived, drenching the acidic monster’s body. It felt an overwhelming sense of pride, as it was being rewarded for its horrendous deeds. It not only got to feed and hear the music, but to be rejuvenated as well.

If it wanted more to happen to it, then it certainly wouldn’t disappoint. The anomaly reared its head back, letting out a gurgle full of delight as it went deeper into the city, to continue its massacre.

***

Down in the dark, isolated abyss, Gamera laid motionless on his stomach. In the past, the former guardian would have drifted off into a long sleep when he wasn’t needed, and yet, his only eyes closed for mere hours at a time.

It was as he previously feared.

He was no longer needed.

Gamera let out a small murmur, lifting up his still mangled right arm. Despite only getting meager doses of mana at a time, time was his ally. The egregious wound he once received on the final night of his duty was nearly a relic of the past. Only a few fingers were missing while scars were painted all over his hand as a grim reminder of what he nearly lost forever.

Before he knew it, pain rushed to his hand, eliciting a scream from the old sentinel. Gamera set his hand down slowly back to the ocean floor. The pain was agonizing, and no matter how many times he tried to teach himself, the former guardian could never seem to be able to tolerate it. Even the slightest motion caused a sharp, stabbing pain to it. One far worse than anything he felt before. At best, he was able to move it just enough to where he could function at the bare minimum.

Healing his body slowly wasn’t the only service mana was doing for him. Gamera felt his body shifting, however, it wasn’t evolving, but the exact opposite. His skin felt smoother, his shell more rounded, losing that powerful edge it once had, and his head losing several of its formal features. Now, nothing more than a flat surface.

The guardian shook his head and growled in frustration. Gamera felt disgusted with himself. As a former protector, he should have learned how to master pain, but it wasn’t meant to be. With each passing battle, he held out hope he would have overcome his weaknesses, and yet, nothing. The only lesson he learned was that he couldn’t even achieve it nor be the guardian everyone needed him to be. Why of all times was he now able to comprehend it?

He simply huffed, as he couldn’t help but think if this was his reward for protecting the Earth. No everlasting peace, no honorable death, not even a new objective.

Lying at the ocean floor, bruised and battered, only to be forgotten. That would be how his story ends.

Gamera felt his eyes shuttering, feeling some relief that he will not have to be alone with his thoughts for much longer. However, one last thought dawned on him.

Asagi.

He was happy she was able to break free from her commitments with him. She was able to live a life of her own and find a purpose. The thought of it brought him some comfort as she would not be jailed like him for the rest of her life. It was the very least he could hope for.

Gamera’s eyes closed, taking him away from his own poisonous influence, if that’s what it even was. He didn’t know for sure, but regardless, he looked forward to drifting off to sleep.

For a moment, it was working. The thoughts of despair were gone.

Instead, something else rushed in!

Screams filled his ears, instantly snapping his eyes open. His eyes darted across the area, but nothing was found. The screams did not cease as they were getting louder and louder for the conservator.

Gamera’s heart raced, as these screams were something he would normally not hear. Whenever trouble arrived, it was always the Earth itself calling upon his aid, but it was humanity itself?

Why would their pleas be the ones he would hear?

His connection with them was shattered!

There was no reasonable conclusion for why they would be the culprits.

Nonetheless, Gamera had to investigate. Not only for the good of the Earth or for humanity, but it may give the old sentinel a purpose once more.

Gamera slowly lifted himself, pain crackling throughout his whole body while his bones popped from being stationary for so long. He planted his feet onto the ground and looked above, letting out a gurgled cry as the pain rushed throughout his whole body. His knees nearly collapsed, but he quickly commanded himself to not falter, slowly finding the strength to stand up once more.

His limbs retracted into his shell as he jetted off, ascending through the depths of the ocean. Gamera looked forward to seeing the sky again, but let out a small roar of disappointment, realizing he could only gain a small amount of enjoyment when he was fulfilling an order. Regardless, he had to figure out what was causing the disturbance and how to stop it.

Gamera just hoped he had purpose for being there and not from the sense of false hope.

***

Hodaka couldn’t let his smile drop, even long after he dropped Hina and Nagi off at their home. The entire day was magical. He was happy.

These thoughts of bliss filled him with energy as he made his way toward his way back home, but before he could rest for the night, he had to make a quick stop at the local store. Supplies for Hina and Nagi, and to give himself a moment of reprieve from the oncoming storm. Hodaka stepped in, feeling the refreshing cool air without being rained on, making his way down his designated aisles.

He hummed slightly to himself thinking about the coming days he would get to have with his dear friends. The thoughts flooded in as he put the items needed in his basket, making the sun shine through, going to every beautiful location imaginable, and being with Hina.

Just hours before, he felt apprehensive at the thought of Hina confessing her feelings for him and was still thankful that was the case. However, a part of him wished she did. She really made his days shine brighter than the sun ever could. He just didn’t know which reality he wanted. The one where they stay as good friends, but never be more than that. Or, the one where they become something more but risk the chance of getting into an argument that makes them wish to never see each other again.

Hodaka’s thoughts evaporated instantly when he felt himself colliding into something. He felt himself landing on his backside, his items scattered all around the floor while a yelp was heard. His heart raced, he’d hoped he didn’t cause anyone any pain during his daydreaming. The teen jumped to his feet and prepared to help the person he bumped into.

“Are you okay?” inquired Hodaka as he extended his hands toward the person he collided with.

“Yeah, yeah…..” the woman stammered, slowly gaining her footing thanks to Hodaka’s help. “I’m okay.”

“I’m really sorry for colliding into you. Just, uh, lost in thought,” said Hodaka, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment as the stranger kept her gaze on him as if she was studying him.

“It’s no big deal. Accidents happen all the time,” she replied.

“Um….. here,” spoke Hodaka as he bent down, reaching for the items on the floor. “Let me help you. It’s the least I can do.”

“Thank you,” she vocalized as she kneeled down, doing the same. She glanced back at him and decided to ask him a question that’s been plaguing her mind. “You’re with the Sunshine girl, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” answered Hodaka. “I take it you seen some of… our gigs?”

The woman smiled, knowing she was one step closer. “Yes, and I’m very impressed with what the three of you have done. It’s beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Hodaka said, handing the items back to the woman. He soon followed with recovering his supplies. “Again, I’m really sorry for the trouble I caused you. I hope you have a good day.”

He turned to take his leave, but before he could advance, she called out for him. “Wait!”

Hodaka turned around, facing the middle-aged woman. What more could she have to say to him? He was unsure, but decided to hear her out.

“I’m Mayumi Nagamine and I have an appointment with the three of you in the next few days,” she stammered, her lips quivering with each word that was spoken. Mayumi mentally cringed at the sentence she just conveyed, the worst one she had ever said, but it had to get out to the boy.

“That’s wonderful!” Hodaka nearly exclaimed. “We’ll be happy to make your day, miss Nagamine.”

“Ye…. yes! It’d be wonderful!” Mayumi choked out, eliciting a look of confusion from Hodaka. He took a step back, slightly terrified by how his new client was acting.

“Um…. Well, then. It was great to make your acquaintance, but I have to get going. Things to do and all that,” rambled Hodaka, taking several steps back as he then turned to walk away.

Mayumi watched the boy making his trek away from her. Her stomach rumbled, her mind raced as everything in her body was in full overload. The moment was just a few days away, but she couldn’t wait. She needed answers, she needed to see them. Her mouth slowly extended, the words racing up her throat.

“Are Hina and Nagi okay!?” she blurted out, causing Hodaka to freeze up instantly.

“Why would she be asking about them? What are they to her?”

He turned around only to find her face to be blanketed with concern as if she was away by years of regret. “And why is she so concerned for them?”

He had to find out. If she was going to stalk or even hurt them, then he had to know. He couldn’t let anything happen to them, no matter what. He would do anything for them even if it came to sacrificing everything.

“Why are you asking that?” Hodaka inquired, his voice rattling. “What are they to you?”

“They’re my grandchildren!” exclaimed Mayumi, her voice nearly shaking Hodaka off his feet as she realized just how loud her answer was. She covered her mouth, her eyes widening in embarrassment as she had hoped no one else heard her very loud and abrupt answer.

“Grandchildren?” mumbled Hodaka, his mind racing back to what Hina had told him about her family.

“We have grandparents, and…. an uncle, somewhere out there,” Hina’s voice rang in his head, his mind becoming far more clearer with the revelation placed before him.

“You’re….. The grandmother she mentioned?” stammered Hodaka, his heart racing.

“She mentioned me?” quivered Mayumi, a smile curving slightly upward.

“Not by name, but they do know they have one around,” he answered.

“Are they doing okay, though?” Mayumi asked once more, desperately wanting to know if they’re managing on their own after the passing of their mother.

“Better than before, but not by much. The Sunshine girl jobs are preventing them from being on the streets, I suppose,” answered Hodaka, looking down at the food in his basket. “It’s mainly why I’m here, using my share to buy extra supplies.

Without even thinking, Mayumi reached in his bag and pulled out an unspecified amount of money. She grabbed Hodaka’s hand and set it in his hand. “Here. Use whatever you need to keep them on their feet.”

“Oh, thank you,” Hodaka spoke softly, appreciating the help she was providing for her grandchildren.

“And!” Mayumi spoke, pulling out her phone as her voice was rapidly shaking as if she was giving an unprepared presentation in front of a class. “You can call me anytime they need something and I’ll be sure to give you whatever they need so you can give it to them.”

Hodaka’s doubts about her dissipated as he watched and heard her every action. She wasn’t a threat to them. She was just a grandmother who dearly missed her family. Mayumi was just going through the motions.

“You don’t have to do that,” spoke Hodaka, causing her to pause, but her body continued to shake. “You can tell them that when we stop by for the gig.”

“The gig?” she asked until it came back to her. “Right, the gig. No! I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” Hodaka inquired with a smile on his face. “It’d be the perfect time!”

“I want to, but would they even want to see me?” Mayumi paused, looking down, musing over her many failures. Just hours before, she planted her feet firmly, determined to bring them home, now that the reality was becoming closer, she balked at the idea. “I haven’t been there for them and to appear so late in their lives, I don’t know what it’ll do to them.”

Hodaka knew where she was coming from. On one hand, she wanted Hina and Nagi to be reunited with their family, but on the other, knew Mayumi had a sense of reasoning behind her. In some cases, someone being gone for a long time only to show up randomly could make things worse. Still, regardless of what’s to come he had to help make things right.

“I know you’re nervous, but is it so wrong for them to know they have a grandmother who loves them very much?”

“I….. I guess it isn’t,” Mayumi spoke softly, tilting her head down slightly, a tear rolling down her face.

“It’ll be okay. We’ll get all of you reunited, I’ll make sure of that,” declared Hodaka, patting her on the shoulder.

“Thank you. I don’t know what to say,” she mused, looking back at Hodaka, who’s smile still shined brightly, causing her to grow a small grin of her own.

“Don’t mention it. I’m just happy Hina and Nagi have someone who cares about them.”

“That makes two of us, then.”

“And, I will make good on my promise. I will make sure your family gets reunited.”

“Thank you. I can’t thank you enough,” Mayumi said, grabbing Hodaka’s hand and shaking it rapidly. He felt slightly uncomfortable, but knew she meant well and his happiness to help the three be reunited was more empowering.

“I suppose I should get everything in order….. For the big day, that is!” Maymui nearly exclaimed once more, excitement and nervousness taking control of her body.

Hodaka chuckled, waving her goodbye. “It’ll be okay. We’ll get all of you reunited.”

The two turned away from each other, heading off to what needed to be done. After spending a few extra minutes getting what he needed for his friends, he walked out of the store and into the pouring rain. One that had considerably picked up since he entered the establishment. Hodaka quickly pulled out his umbrella, but it was of little use as the roaring winds nearly knocked the paracel out of his hands.

He let out a sigh and ventured back home, braving the storm. Hodaka, however, couldn’t let that smile of his drop. It seems like with each passing day, life was getting better and better for not only him, but the ones he cared about.

Once more, he let his thoughts take him away from his surroundings as loud, booming noises cut through the thundering storm. A loud gurgle was heard, causing Hodaka to pause as he turned to his left and saw piercing red eyes seemingly staring at him. The same eyes that penetrated his core all those weeks ago.

“No….”

“Mayday! Mayday! We’re going down!” a loud voice screamed out as a helicopter spinning out of control, rushed from the dark clouds and collided with a nearby building. An explosion followed soon after, unleashing a boom that nearly caused Hodaka to drop to the ground. Hodaka glanced back over to the intimidating red eyes, as they seemingly illuminated the surrounding clouds to a blood red. It was as if the apocalypse had arrived and the blood of innocents was about to blanket this very world.

He felt that same fear he felt on the boat. Hodaka’s whole body shook, slowly getting up to his feet as he trembled in front of the monstrosity before him. The anomaly simply gurgled in delight at the destruction and mayhem it was causing as more jets zoomed toward it, capturing its attention. It gurgled in delight, as it had more to play with before being able to enjoy more of its meal.

Every instinct of Hodaka’s told him to run. To evacuate the city, but he couldn’t. He didn’t want to watch the thing that looked like a spawn from his nightmares eradicate the city, but to instead, do what was more important.

Hodaka picked up his feet and ran. He ran away from the ensuing carnage behind him, bolting as fast as he could. The runaway needed to make sure they were alright. He needed to get them out of here. Nagi, Hina, they needed to be informed. They needed to survive. No matter the cost.

The rain couldn’t stop him. The monster couldn’t stop him. Nothing could stop him.

Several jets dived into the city, all of them targeting the anomaly roaming through every block, blanketing them with acidic sludge. In perfect synchronization, the missiles departed from their carriers and zoomed toward their target. The acidic being looked up at the oncoming projectiles, staring at them with great interest, murmuring curiously. The projectiles crashed into the being’s body, exploding against its wet, slimy hide as flames coated it.

The squadron of jets swarmed their targeted area, circling around to confirm whether or not the kaiju was dead. With a glimpse of an eye, substances shot out of the newly born fire while red eyes shot through the burning flames. The discarded piles of its body rapidly bursted out of its body, scattering throughout the neighboring blocks, enveloping them with its sludge. Several cries were heard as people were splashed with the acidic substance, instantly melting away.

“Attack has failed! I repeat! Attack has fai….” a pilot called out, but was immediately shot down by a dark flying project. The jet’s engines stalled, followed by it completely melting away in the span of a second.

The flames around its body subsided as it felt pieces of its body hardening up, but it was of no concern. The anomaly felt the refreshing water pouring down on its body, rehydrating its wounds, bringing it back to full strength. It cackled in delight while shooting several more rounds of sludge at the remaining jets, bringing them down with precise accuracy.

The being purred with delight, making its way deeper into the city, leaking its acidic contents for all to suffer. All will be in service of its joy. Of its feeding. And, of its massacre.

From a great distance away, Asagi watched from her apartment, the rain crashing down on the buildings laced with fire and acidic sludge. Her heart raced, as she watched the carnage unfold. She felt the urge to cover her ears from the bone chilling cries from the anomaly’s victims, but couldn’t find the strength to do so. All she was able to do was stay frozen in place. Her mind, on the other hand, couldn’t help but be swimming in questions.

“Gamera, where are you?”

Its gurgles filled the sky, firing more acidic sludge, instantly corroding a building into gooey remains.

“Why aren’t you coming?”

The Smog Monster glanced toward Asagi standing on the balcony, taking great interest in the lone human.

“We need you.”

It took several steps forward, wanting to inspect this so-called courageous prey.

“I need you”

It gurgled with glee, excited to see what kind of reaction it would give it before gifting it with a gruesome death.

“Please. Save us. Save me. Just give me something!” cried Asagi, watching the monster marching toward her with curiosity in its eyes. It saw fear in her, but nothing to indicate it was the one who was causing it.

The anomaly growled ever so slightly, firing a small dose of its sludge at Asagi’s surrounding area, causing her to take two steps back. The projectile hit some of the furniture on her balcony, instantly dissolving it. Fear from the being entered her body, but it wasn’t the real reason why she was afraid. Instead, it was one belonging to someone else.

“Regardless if I get through this, I’m sorry if I’ll never make things right. I love you, Yukino,” Asagi spoke softly, staring at her executioner straight in the eye, readying to meet her end.

It growled once more, not hearing its favorite noise. The anomaly aimed itself at the inferior being, readying to vanquish this stubborn pest. Asagi readied herself for the pain, putting her hands together.

SWOOSH!

A mighty roar was heard while jets made Asagi’s ears nearly pop. The anomaly couldn’t turn its head fast enough when an unidentified object slammed its round body into it. The Smog Monster let out a cry as it was sent flying across the street and into a building. Its remains immediately crumble around it, trapping it momentarily.

Asagi couldn’t believe it. She stared at what impeded her execution. What she yearned for all these years, came back. In her eyes, he stood tall, defiant as ever. His scars of battles past plagued him, but it did not seem to deter him. The Guardian tightened his left hand into a fist, but struggled with his right, letting out a minor cry as the pain prevented him from doing so.

Gamera was back.

Asagi smiled brightly and approached the railing. “Show them why you’re still needed.”

It crawled out of the melting rubble, facing its new adversary. The being eyed the approaching adversary with great interest, noticing the pain it was already dealing with. The Smog Monster purred with delight, knowing extracting pain would be very easy and its reactions would be far more easier to spot than the ones of humans.

The anomaly welcomed the fight as it leapt forward, intending to blanket Gamera’s entire body with its own. Gamera, however, had other ideas as it elbowed the oncoming foe on the side of its head. The blow knocked it back a few feet as it let out a gurgle of annoyance, but Gamera soon followed with a cry.

The former guardian looked at his elbow and to his horror, saw some of the skin melting off. The hissing sting forced him to let out a wail while the Smog Monster took the opportunity and leapt onto him. Gamera unleashed another cry as he felt the acid dripping down on his stomach, piercing his insides.

The being laughed at Gamera’s suffering, the most joy it had ever felt. It continued to leak more of its deadly contents onto the former sentinel as its foe let out another scream. Gamera, containing his pain for a few seconds, brewed up a massive orange flame in his mouth, aiming it right at its giant head.

BOOM!

Gamera fired off his plasma fireball like a cannon. The blast hit his tormentor’s head, instantly incinerating the left side. It unleashed a cry of pain, allowing Gamera to knock the monster off of him and to stand back up.

Despite the agonizing pain it was in, the anomaly felt the cooling rain fix its wounds almost instantaneously. Gamera couldn’t believe what was transpiring before his eyes. Nothing he did could put it down.

Within seconds, the massive wound on its head was sealed and the being was as good as new. It gurgled once more as its hand motioned Gamera for it to attack once more. Already Gamera felt his body about ready to collapse. Never, especially so early in a fight, did he feel this drained. His knees shook while his eyes were about ready to slam shut.

Gamera stumbled toward the being. Was it his wounds still getting the best of him, or was it something else? He looked at his foe still beckoning him for a fight, but nothing compelled him to fight. Deep down, Gamera knew this vile being had to be vanquished, however, all he wanted was to die.

That was the conclusion he came to. There was nothing left. Perhaps this monster wasn’t so bad afterall. He could distract the anomaly long enough just for everyone to get to safety and for them to find a solution to destroy it.

Gamera took another step forward, feeling his bones nearly snap. The former guardian felt disgusted with himself by that terrible thought he just came up with. He had to fight. He had to destroy this being and to find that purpose.

His eyes closed once more as he lost his footing, collapsing into a building. He let out a roar of disappointment, feeling nothing but disdain as he allowed himself to fall so low. Gamera shook his head as he eyed his foe once more, still standing in place. He couldn’t help but wonder if the anomaly was simply mocking him. It didn’t attack in these past couple of minutes nor beckon him to continue on.

Gamera snarled, picking himself up from the damaged building. The former sentinel faced the monster before, ushering out a roar, letting it know that the duel was back on. It responded with a gurgled glee, taking a step forward. Before he fully renewed the fight, Gamera knew both of his ideas were the solution.

Find a purpose if he could, but if that failed, he would gladly give his life to save the world he once loved one last time. Both monsters unleashed their respective roars and charged forward, readying to continue their showdown.

***

“Please be okay. Please be okay. Please be okay,” Hodaka repeated to himself as he bolted down the wet streets, passing several people who were evacuating from the fight before them.

They had to be safe. Their home was far enough from the monster’s assault, but close enough for him to reach it in time. That lingering thought, however, of something happening to them, terrified him. He had just found people he could be happy with and the thought of them being torn away terrified him.

He pushed through the gate and into the complex as he raced up stairs to their apartment. Hodaka’s hand moved in a flash, repeatedly ringing the doorbell, hoping to get them out here as soon as he could.

Hodaka saw a concerned Hina opening the door, her eyes filled with grief. A small sense of relief combatted her apprehension, asking her friend, “Hodaka, what’s going on? One minute everything is fine, and now some sort of monster is attacking the city.”

“I have no idea. I thought that thing would never come back, like, it was just a random thing,” stammered Hodaka.

“Wait, you’ve seen that thing before? Why didn’t you tell anyone!?” Hina nearly screeched out.

“Between only two witnesses, one being a kid and the other possibly being drunk at that time, I don’t think anyone would believe a story like that!” Hodaka blared out, as a loud gurgle was heard followed by a pained cry synced up with a fiery explosion in the distance. “Why am I explaining this? We don’t have time. Grab Nagi, we have to go!”

“Can you two keep it down? I’m trying to get some sleep,” Nagi murmured, sluggishly entering the living room while rubbing his eyes.

Hina grabbed her brother’s hand and yanked him out of the room. “What the hell?!”

“Now’s not the time!” Hodaka yelled out as the three made a beeline out of the apartment complex. Between the pouring rain and the thousands of people evacuating like them, they were forced to take several detours. Many of which proved to be troubling as several obstacles still stood in their way as the cries of war followed them, as if they were stalking their prey. Their hearts collectively raced, terrified beyond belief. None of them knew if they would survive the night. They all had their reasons for wanting to survive.

Nagi, to go on yet another date.

Hina, to provide several more miracles.

Hodaka, to have just one more day in his new life.

And yet, they all had another reason to survive. One that was collectively the same. To continue being with each other.

***

Gamera charged forward and rammed his shell into the beast, sending it stumbling several feet back. Steam immediately rose from his carapace, as a small part of it began to be eaten away by the acid left on it. Gamera grumbled, as he unleashed another fireball, but the anomaly was all too familiar with his foe’s signature move, leaping out of the way. The projectile detonated against a building, exploding the upper half instantly.

Distracted by the explosion before him, Gamera failed to notice the creature firing off several shots of acidic sludge at him. The blobs struck his belly, eliciting a cry of anguish from the former sentinel, as he collapsed to his knees. Gamera started to brush the goo away, but a sharp stabbing pain struck his right arm, forcing him to scream while he crashed onto his side.

It crawled toward him, giggling with glee while firing more of its sludge at it. In turn, Gamera unleashed another scream of agony as the acid began to eat away at his body. He thrashed around, trying to pull himself up but the pain in his right arm shot up once more, forcing him to crash. The pain was excruciating. The sludge eating his body away was nowhere near as bad as his two decade old injury. He just didn’t understand why his old wound would still be a problem for him. The other wounds that were inflicted on him that night were long gone, but the one on his arm refused to go away.

Why?

Gamera constantly questioned it.

Why won’t it go away?

It unleashed another gurgle while his eyes shot wide open. Gamera looked at his approaching foe, he gritted his teeth, charging up another fireball. He discharged it, aiming it right at its feet, a move the anomaly did not expect whatsoever. The resulting explosion sent the Smog Monster soaring over a few buildings. This bought Gamera a few seconds to recompose himself as he stood up once more, ready to continue the fight.

Gamera marched forward toward where his foe crashed, but soon stopped himself when he saw it on the other side of a brightly lit building. However, that wasn’t all he saw. What he witnessed was several people still inside, all of them were terrified by the display. The being stared at Gamera and the people inside as it simply eyed them with curiosity. It had wanted to move, to continue its assault on the chelonian, but it had sense the past guardian cared about these pests. For now, it would sit back and see how his foe would solve this conflict.

Having it in clear sight, Gamera’s mouth began to brew with an orange flame. Bits of it flowed out of it as he stood there, charging it, making sure it was powerful enough to kill it. He reared his back, readying to release it when he saw the look of fear on the trapped civilians. Gamera moved his head slowly forward. His stomach turned to knots while his hands shook. He had done this before, several in fact. All of which brought down several Gyaos. In the past, he had slaughtered several innocents just to eliminate a threat. Why was he hesitating now?

It’s right there! One powerful shot and it’s down! The many outweigh the few! Gamera reasoned with himself, but he felt a striking pain in his chest.

Gamera’s arms fell, his shoulders slouching while the flame in his mouth dissipated. Guilt ran through his whole body. It had not struck him before, but all of those people he helped kill just to eliminate one or two Gyaos in a city left him thinking.

Was he any better than the Shadow of Evil?

Time slowed down around him as his conscience spoke to him.

All this time, he was created to save Earth and its children, to ensure no harm would ever come to it. Yet, he contributed to all that destruction. His first reawakening, he killed the Gyaos by eliminating them in the quickest way possible, taking several lives with them. Then, when the Legion invaded, he threw the swarm off his body so hard their remains could have collided into god knows how many people fleeing. His arms shook at how he failed to stop the flower from detonating, taking several lives away while he got to live because people saw him as a hero and not the monster he rightfully is.

When the Gyaos blackened the sky, he killed as many people as they did, if not more. All the while, a being born pure of hatred and vengeance nearly killed him all from a monster he helped create. He did not know the girl’s full story, but knew he was greatly responsible for her pain and suffering. He rescued her, but in the end, it was a failure. Gamera still sensed the hatred in her heart and flew off, attempting to atone by throwing his life away at the oncoming horde.

Like everything else, he failed. He survived while those who were good, perished. Atlantis’ finest creation was a lie to not only him, but to every living being on this planet. The world would and should know him by a title that is far more fitting for him.

Gamera: Atlantis’ Final Failure.

Time sped up for him once as he looked back at the building only to see a crimson beam shooting straight through it. The projectile sliced through several of the occupants like butter and into Gamera’s left collarbone, ushering out a bone piercing scream. He stumbled backward and crashed into a building while the rubble landed on top of his stomach. Blood oozed out of his wound while he struggled to get up. It was a fruitless attempt as all he could was watch his foe cut through the building, slicing it into pieces.

Gamera mentally cursed himself. Why couldn’t he take the shot? They were dead the moment it landed on the other side. Why was he feeling so guilty about taking even one life? He had taken countless lives before.

Why couldn’t he be what everyone needs him to be?

It marched forward, readying to torment its adversary once more, blaring out a distorted laugh. The grotesque being shot out a volley of its crimson beams, all of them piercing through his body and leaving a trail of scars.

Hodaka guided the siblings as best as he could out of the city, but it was all for naught. With the increasing amount of debris, sludge and people pushing them down, they were closer to the conflict than they would have liked. The roars were with earshot, all of them forced to cover their ears as they slowly moved forward.

They reached the stairs leading outside of a subway, thinking they have achieved salvation only to find their worst fears have been realized. The three of them saw the anomaly before them, unleashing another round of its bolts at its downed opponent.

“Shit!” Hodaka voiced out, turning around to usher both Hina and Nagi back into the subway, but a loud gurgle caused them to freeze up. He turned around to see those huge red eyes staring at him once more. Hodaka’s eyes widened in fear at the eyes piercing into his soul, filled with hunger and desire. It had waited a long time to have another shot at disintegrating one of the few that had escaped its clutches before.

Hodaka nearly choked while his eyes watered, feeling ashamed for himself for leading his two dear friends into a death trap. He should have known which routes to take and to push past all of those obstacles in place. Now, they were destined to die as all he could hear was sobbing from the siblings.

It let out a large cackle, firing off a shot of its acidic sludge at the trio. Hodaka braced himself for the overwhelming burning sensation, but the feeling never arrived. Instead, a large shadow was casted over them, followed by a large cry. The three looked up to see Gamera’s injured hand now blanketed with the gooey substance. Steam rose up while some of the skin dissolved.

They turned their heads slightly to the left, noticing Gamera looking straight down at them. It wasn’t a look of malice or sorrow, but one of relief. He had felt a small sense of pride in being able to save at least a couple people, however, it wasn’t enough for the many that had just lost their lives. Still, something about these three kids brought him a sense of solace. He couldn’t understand why, as he looked at them more closely. Their combined emotions of fear and astonishment intrigued him, but it wasn’t what drew him. It was their youthful optimism that made him feel something. Something he couldn’t quite place. He had seen that look before, but it did nothing for him before. Why now of all times? He couldn’t dwell on it for long, however.

An orange flame brewed in his mouth once more as he snapped his head forward, unleashing the powerful blast. The anomaly predicted the move and leapt out of the way while the ball flew past its intended target.

It bought Gamera time as he slowly lifted himself up, readying to renew the battle once more. He marched toward the anomaly, now beckoning him to continue as if it was mocking him. He stumbled, his strength continuing to falter with each passing step. Gamera threw a punch at the monstrosity, intending to strike it in the eye, but the being laughed, leaping over him. It fired another crimson bolt, striking him in the back. Gamera let out another cry, crashing into a building as Hodaka and Nagi cringed at the horror before them.

Hina, on the other hand, just stood there, taking in every detail of the battle before her. Gamera, the anomaly, the battlefield, the rain.

The rain.

“That’s it!” She mentally blared.

“I figured it out!” Hina blurted out, with Hodaka and Nagi snapping their heads at her.

“What do you mean?” questioned Hodaka.

“You mentioned that thing only appears when it rains, right?”

“As far as I know of, yeah, but we don’t know if that’s a guarantee,” countered Hodaka.

“He’s saved us just now. Why not return the favor by at least trying,” Hina pointed out, slamming her hands together, closing her eyes.

Every sound she heard was getting quieter and quieter with each passing moment she concentrated. The voices of her beloved companions, the battle cries and the rain were nonexistent. All she could hear was the slight sound of the clouds departing and the sun slowly breaking through the newly visible dawn. She’d do anything to help everyone and everything. Gamera, on the other hand, made her feel compelled to save him. Not just because of him saving her a few minutes ago, but a connection. Something about the kaiju spoke to Hina, as if it were completely natural. She just couldn’t put it together.

The sun seemingly deploying a powerful ray struck the anomaly, causing it to let out a shriek of pain. The star’s ray drying up portions of its body while the droplets of leftover rain descended on the streets it stood on. It squirmed around while Gamera realized what was happening. He let out a small murmur, following it up with a powerful plasma fireball. His attempt proved to be far more successful this time around, watching his weapon consume the disgusting creature in a ball of fire.

It let out a screech of agony, thrashing around on the ruined ground while dried chunks of its body rained down onto the ground. Gamera got back up to his feet and marched toward it, readying to finish this fight once and for all. The being, however, wouldn’t let this pathetic relic end its spree. It was just getting started, it still had so much to accomplish.

In a blinding violet light, the anomaly’s form completely changed in front of everyone’s eyes. Gone was the crawling tadpole like creature, now replaced with a flying saucer like form. Gamera pushed his aching body, rushing over to it, but it was too late. The anomaly let out another roar, ascending toward the sky, fleeing to live another day.

Gamera let out a roar, announcing its intent to chase it down. Jets blasted the ground, getting ready to lift off, however, before he followed suit, the former guardian turned to Hina. He realized by putting two and two together, with the arrival of the girl, she turned the tides of the battle for him. Gamera pondered on this act, thinking it was for him, but knowing how humanity now viewed him, it was very likely just done to get the monstrosity out of her home.

Still, he couldn’t help but wonder if she was another byproduct of Atlantis. Someone who could miraculously control the weather. Perhaps he wasn’t alone in this world, perhaps she and her companions could be what he needed. Reality struck his mind, subconsciously telling him she wasn’t part of the same lineage, just simply a coincidence and his initial instinctions were right.

He couldn’t help but entertain the previous thought, however, he had to settle for his disappointment. Nothing more than a useless relic. Nonetheless, Gamera let out a roar of appreciation to the girl who saved him.

Not wasting anymore time, Gamera darted off into the sky, chasing after the invader. Hodaka and Nagi watched as Hina smiled at the chelonian’s appreciation. She felt proud of herself for saving his life as she kept her eyes glued on the departing figure.

“Uh…. Hina. You want to tell us what was all that about?” questioned a very confused Nagi.

“How were you able to understand that…. thing?” added Hodaka.

She turned to them and smiled softly. “I didn’t. I think he’s here to defend us, and he’ll fight to the very end to keep it that way.”

“Sure….. Maybe that’ll make more sense after I get some sleep!” countered Nagi.

A few miles away, Asagi still stood on her balcony, watching as her friend departed from the city. She had expected to be overwhelmed with joy, however, that feeling wasn’t present. Asagi felt nothing. Only of apprehension and confusion. She saw his egregious wounds and how frail he acted. The hero she once viewed him as was no longer there, only replaced with a broken guardian.

“Gamera…. What is going on with us?” Asagi questioned, disheartened by the display shown before her. Both of them lost their way and are now paying for it by being shadows of their former selves.

Gamera didn’t bring her peace. Instead, it just brought her more questions.

***

“The Smog Monster scientists are dubbing as ‘Hedorah’ has injured over five thousand people and killed at least three-hundred,” the voice of a reporter spoke.

“The incident known as ‘Hedorah’s Massacre’ has left many people terrified at the thought of a continued residency in Tokyo. Many are already putting their homes up for sale,” another reporter spoke.

“The JSDF has set up a perimeter around the city’s shores and are currently consulting with the world’s scientists on the most efficient way to combat Hedorah.”

“Is Gamera friend or foe?”

“Is Gamera up to the task or will he fall?”

All of these reports weren’t words Hodaka wanted to hear. He traversed the many busy streets as he saw several reporters telling their respective stories while others were recovering from the events just a few hours ago. Hodaka just delivered Hina and Nagi back home, ordering them to get some rest and to not take any requests for the next few days. What they just experienced was something they needed to recuperate from. Worse than the incident on the cruise.

Hodaka’s walk soon turned into a stumble, his eyes slowly closing as he approached Suga’s home. Hina had offered him to rest at her place, but he declined knowing Natsumi and maybe Kei would be worried over his disappearance. He reasoned he may as well at least let them know he’s okay.

With a turn of the knob, Hodaka entered the residence and immediately collapsed on the couch, letting his eyes close in what felt like years.

“Hey! Where the hell were you!?” A booming yet exhausted voice yelled out.

“Are you okay!?” A more frantic voice cried out.

Hodaka stirred himself awake and saw his two roommates standing before him. Kei had a frown on his face while Natsumi was concerned.

“This is going to be a fun conversation.”

“I’m okay,” Hodaka yawned, bringing himself up on the sofa.

“When that thing that attacked us several weeks ago returned! You know how many times I tried to call?” Kei shouted, taking a step closer, his demeanor causing Hodaka to gulp.

“I’m sorry, but I had to help some friends….” Hodaka tried to speak, but Kei cut him off, deeply angered by his decisions.

“That story I told you. I didn’t tell you everything.”

“Great, you want another beer with this one?” Hodaka spat, eliciting a nervous look from Natsumi and Kei’s face turning a bright red with anger. He didn’t care, though, he was getting fed up with his superior’s behavior for something that wasn’t even his fault. Hodaka had dealt with this once before, but not again.

“Listen here, you little shit!” Kei barked, now towering over the child, “I already lost people before! I shouldn’t have to even worry about you, but I do. So, the least you can do is answer the damn phone!”

Hodaka was taken back by what he said. He thought Kei just viewed him as an employee and nothing more, never did he expect him to say what he just said. He stammered out, “I’m… sorry…. I just wanted to make sure….”

“My parents told my brother and I to take the first helicopter we could out of the city while they were trying to make sure we would still be secured after the attack,” explained Kei, taking a moment’s pause to recollect himself from the traumatic memory. “It didn’t matter anyway, that flower or whatever it was detonated and wiped them off from the face of the planet.”

“I…. I don’t know what to say… that’s rough,” Hodaka apologized, looking down in shame, reflecting on how he was acting during the whole conversation.

“It is,” Kei simply stated.

“Hey, Hodaka’s okay. He did what he had to by checking on people he cared about. In fact, you’d do the same in his position, Kei,” Natsumi chimed in, desperately trying to keep the household from exploding.

“Yeah, but the difference is, he’s a kid. I know what I’m doing,” spoke Kei, turning away as he headed toward his office, not even allowing Hodaka and Natsumi to say anything.

Kei pulled the drawer out from his desk, planting himself firmly on his chair. He reached down for his pack of cigarettes and pulled one out. He inspected it, as he tried so hard to quit. So many things were on the line for him. His job, Natsumi, Hodaka, and his daughter.

He let out a sigh, bringing the lighter up to the cigarette.

“Goddamn kid making things harder than they are,” muttered Kei, preparing to take a puff.

Meow.

Kei stopped while Callie hopped on the table and stared at him. She had gained a considerable amount of weight these past few weeks. Even gaining “Fattie” as a nickname. Her stubby tail wagged rapidly, still keeping her gaze onto him, as if she was judging him for the action he was about to commit.

“What?” Kei mumbled, returning the stare back at the house cat. Callie let out another meow, seemingly questioning his decision to take up smoking again. Out of everyone, why was the cat making him feel guilty? It was such a calming sensation that made him put up with everything, however, everything was what he needed to put up with.

“Son of a bitch,” he grumbled, breaking the cigarette in half.

Then, a knock on the door made itself known. Kei turned around to see a guilt stricken Hodaka standing in the doorway. “Hi… can we talk?”

Kei let out a deep breath. “Sure.”

Hodaka walked into the office, taking a seat on a neighboring chair. “Kid, look,” Kei tried to speak, but Hodaka cut in.

“No, I’m sorry. I could have at least called when I ran halfway across the city to find my friends. I can’t even imagine all the grief I put you and Natsumi in.”

“Scared me more than that Hedorah or whatever they’re calling it,” Kei responded, resting his hand on his face.

“Yeah, I can imagine, but still, I wanted to thank you,” announced Hodaka.

“Thank me?” inquired Kei. He had no idea why the kid would want to thank him. He only paid him thirty dollars a month, food, and his phone bill. Natsumi would have killed him for that kind of exploitation, and even he agreed it was a bad deal, but there was not much he could do.

“For actually caring. Not a lot of people who you’d think would do that don’t, so I just wanted to say thank you. For…. caring, I think,” Hodaka awkwardly spoke, feeling grateful for everything Kei had done for him these past few weeks.

Kei simply chuckled at the way the kid presented his announcement. “Don’t mention it, just go ahead and get some rest. There’s some things I need to take care of.”

Hodaka nodded with a yawn following, as he took his leave out of the office. Kei turned back to his desk and dialed the number on his phone.

“Hello, this is the Mamiya household,” a femine voice spoke from the other line.

“Hi, it’s Keisuke. Sorry to rush you, but regarding the visit.”

***

With a mighty roar, Gamera followed it up with a plasma ball. The projectile soared toward Hedorah, yet it dove out of the way. Gamera growled in annoyance. The pursuit went on for hours and Hedorah showed no signs of giving out, especially when the clouds darkened the sky once more. Unfortunately, Gamera’s energy was waning. His jets constantly stuttered as he felt himself losing altitude with each passing minute and the mist.

The mist Hedorah was now expelling from its underbelly was blinding and burning. Gamera choked harshly, feeling his lungs burning while his eyes blinked rapidly in an attempt to protect them. He felt himself descending further and further while Hedorah soared through the sky effortlessly.

Gamera squinted at its flying form while his jets picked up ever so slightly. He had to take this monstrosity down once and for all. Flames flowed through his mouth while he pointed his head toward the distant Smog Monster.

Just one shot.

One to take it down and it would all be over.

He reared his head back and unleashed it, but nothing came out. Hedorah was still flying as it was. Gamera had only just realized the flames dissipated as smoke was all that was left flowing out of his mouth. The chelonian felt himself descending, realizing his jets finally gave out. The former guardian didn’t roar, but only watched as the monster continued flying away, knowing it would be free to resume its massacre.

He had fallen so far. Every setback that was inflicted onto him was just that. A setback. Gamera always had a plan or a way to overcome an obstacle imposed on him. Now, he felt defeated. Defeated by nothing more than a meager dose of sulfuric mist.

Gamera closed his eyes, expecting to find nothing but darkness. All he saw, however, was the girl who he not only saved, but returned the favor. He couldn’t help but ponder it once more. Was this another bond being forced upon them? Was she just meant to be another Asagi, forced to endure the same pain they had to go through?

He still had no idea if she was another byproduct of Atlantis or not. Her connection to the sun was both admiring and concerning. Gamera appreciated the fact there was a remedy to help heal the world, but the potential cost was what concerned him. His heart pumped slightly, thinking about the girl. If she did it too much, then she could get hurt or even worse, die.

His mind drifted back to the Smog Monster. No matter what he did, Hedorah shrugged off everything he threw at him, but when the girl brought out the sun, it was nearly vanquished. Gamera felt the water washing over him as a huge splash rained down upon him. He longer saw the sky, but the dark abyss.

Perhaps the girl was what the Earth needed instead. He could just close his eyes, shut down his body and let the world forget him once more. If and when Hedorah showed up once more, she could just command the sun to come through while humanity could bring in its weapons and destroy it.

Gamera had no purpose for that fight. He could just rest.

His heart throbbed once more, his stomach growling with disgust. A part of Gamera hated that line of thinking. It was morbid, irresponsible, and disingenuous! That girl did not need to put herself in harm’s way. She has a life, people who depend on her and a purpose.

He’s expendable compared to her. Gamera needed to continue on, and yet, felt the need to give up. Gamera hit the ocean floor as the old sentinel looked up at the surface, his mind still swimming between the two paths before him. He was a broken record at this point, questioning his own self worth. He may never know if the answers he sought would give him closure.

Until he had the strength to decide which path to follow, he would lay there. Wallowing in his own self pity, feeling pathetic as ever.

He was never worthy of the title bestowed on him. Pretender was more suitable for him.

***

The day had arrived. Hodaka looked at the siblings walking alongside him in the pouring rain. Their smiles shining brightly in this dark storm, grinning at being able to see the sun once more, but he was happy for a different reason. He was gonna help reunite a family and it was a special one. Hina and Nagi meant a lot to him and any peace they could find brought it to him as well.

“I just hope Mayumi can keep it together,” mumbled Hodaka, noting her apprehension despite her eagerness to meet her grandchildren.

“What was that, Hodaka?” Hina hummed.

Hodaka’s face turned red, embarrassed she could have heard what he was planning for the two of them. “Oh, uh…. Nothing… just thinking out loud.”

“Of course you were,” giggled Hina.

“Yep, that’s me, all right,” chuckled a nervous Hodaka.

“You need to calm down more often,” Nagi pointed out.

“Yes, sensei,” Hodaka complied, lowering his shoulders down slightly as they arrived at Mayumi’s door.

The moment was just about nigh. Hodaka reached his hand forward and rang the doorbell. The impregnable pause was unbearable, he wanted all to go well, but something in the back of his mind told him things won’t go as planned. Hodaka did, however, promise to help this broken family out, and as much as he didn’t want to, will scream and shout should the worse arrive.

The door opened, revealing Mayumi in a lime green kimono, with a nervous smile on her face as she glanced down at her two grandchildren. Her heart raced fast, as she admired them, seeing how well they’ve grown up despite the hardships they faced. Still, she was scared beyond belief, not knowing how to reveal her relation with them, much less a simple conversation with them.

“Hi, you three must be with the Sunshine girl, right?” Mayumi awkwardly stammered out.

“That’s correct, ma’am,” answered Hodaka.

“Good, good,” the house owner nearly stumbled over her words. “Please, um, come in.”

The three followed her instructions as Nagi whispered in Hina’s ear “What’s gotten her so scared? Is she afraid of children or something?”

“Hush!” Hina ordered.

“So, where, uh, exactly do you want us to set up at?” Hodaka asked, trying to break the ice for the three of them, even though he knew it was a dumb question to ask.

“I imagine out back would suffice,” answered Mayumi, traversing through her cozy, warm house. Windows were plastered throughout, providing plenty of natural light with the furniture looking soothing as ever. A place one would absolutely love to call home, yet something was missing in it. A part to make it feel complete.

“What’s the occasion?” inquired Hina.

“Hmm?” murmured Mayumi, turning her attention to her granddaughter, her eyes widening. She was as beautiful as ever and full of life. She could feel the tears in her eyes welling, wanting to tell both of them here and now, but her whole body nearly shut down. Mayumi wasn’t ready, even if she desperately wanted to.

“Oh, the occasion,” stuttered the older woman, slowly finding the words to convey her lie, “I wanted to see the sun, since work has prevented me from seeing it every time you helped make it come out.”

They stepped out into the luscious green backyard. Plants were placed everywhere while stones were placed throughout. They admired the beauty of their customer’s home as Hina smiled. “At the very least, it is a nice reason for wanting the sun to come out.”

“It is,” Mayumi simply concurred, knowing it was already better with them around.

“Say…..” Hodaka interjected, “Why don’t you two set up while I talk to our client about anything else that needs to be taken care of.”

“Jeez, you know you can help set it up for once?” Nagi pointed out.

“Uh-huh,” Hodaka simply replied as Nagi rolled his eyes, moving along with Hina to make the preparations. “You’re stalling, what’s wrong now?”

“Stalling? You three just got here! What do you expect me to do, make the biggest revelations in their lives when I open the door?” Mayumi nearly bursted out.

“You got a point, however, I notice you’re already tensing up. What’s wrong?” Hodaka demanded.

“I…. just want to make sure everything goes okay and…. want them to accept me,” stammered Mayumi, before finishing her sentence, “I want another chance.”

“Hey,” Hodaka calmly spoke, putting his hand on her shoulder. “We’ve been this over before, you can do it. They need someone who can be there for them, they need you, more than ever.”

“Right, right…” breathed Mayumi, turning her attention back to her grandchildren setting everything up. She saw how they were giggling and feeling energetic, how she longed to experience those moments with them. Today was the day, she just had to make sure she could commit to it, no matter what.

She stepped down from the porch and toward the two, readying to tell them the truth. “Excuse me, Hina, Nagi, right?”

The two turned to the older woman, as Hina spoke up. “Yeah, what’s going on?”

“Before you do what you do, um, I’d like to… tell you something,” sputtered Mayumi.

“Okay, what is it, mam?” replied Nagi.

“I…. just wanted to say….. Both of you are…” Mayumi faltered once more, she thought she had it down after days of preparation and the two pep talks Hodaka gave her, but she collapsed. She couldn’t do this, something was holding her back. “I just wanted to say you’re doing good!”

“Oh my god,” muttered Hodaka, smacking his head on his face.

“Um…. thanks,” Nagi simply replied.

“Thank you. We appreciate the kind words,” Hina spoke, feeling disturbed by the older woman’s behavior as the two siblings went back to resume preparations.

“No, wait,” Mayumi stuttered once more, gaining their attention. “What I meant to say was….”

Hodaka nearly pinched the bridge of his nose at the display before him. He knew she wanted to tell the truth, but she was stuck. With a sigh, he approached the group as his friends were still visibly disturbed by her behavior.

“Do you want to tell them or should I?” inquired Hodaka, causing Mayumi to freeze up while Hina and Nagi’s eyes widened farther than ever.

“Hodaka, what are you talking about?” Hina questioned, her voice rattled slightly at the revelation about to play out.

“Hina, Nagi. Mayumi here is your….” Hodaka nearly announced when Mayumi’s jaw dropped and screeched “Grandmother!”

Mayumi rested her shoulders slightly as the outburst rang in everyone’s ears. She couldn’t believe it. She’d done it. Now, a new fear washed over her, two pairs of very stunned eyes piercing at her, as they stood in place. There was no backing down now, she had to finish it.

“I’m… your grandmother, I…” Mayumi tried to speak, but Hina stepped forward.

“No. This is some sort of joke,” Hina declared, turning to Hodaka and giving him a glare. “What the hell are you trying to do? Why would you do something like this? You know after everything we’ve been through, this should not be taken lightly!”

“Hina…..” Hodaka attempted to speak, but Mayumi stepped forward, pulling a photo out of her pocket. She brought it up to her two grandchildren, both turning their full attention to the picture. What they saw changed their whole perspective of the situation.

It was Mayumi and Ayana standing together along with an older man and a kid around Nagi’s age. All of them were standing together in a park with fireworks going off in the sky as everyone, but their mother was smiling at the celebration.

Hina took her eyes off of the photo and back to the woman, her mouth quivering. “Why?” Hina spoke, her voice cracking. “Why didn’t you ever make contact or try to find us! You could have helped when mom was in the hospital!”

The words that came out of her granddaughter struck her like lightning and the scared reaction Nagi gave off made it hit harder for her. No matter what answer she provided, she knew it wouldn’t make their pain go away. All she could do was tell them.

“I wanted to, more than anything,” Mayumi answered, taking a moment’s pause. “Our relationship with Ayana was strained, she was always distant and would rather keep everyone at arm’s length. I tried to do everything I could, but in the end, I just made it even worse on her. Then, when you two were born, I wanted to do everything I could to help, to make up, but she always hid you away from us.”

Nagi’s voice trembled as it then turned into rage, “You could have been there to save mom! She didn’t have to die! Like any good mom, you could have done something to save her no matter what and now she’s gone!”

“I know!” Mayumi bawled out, dropping to her knees, grieving from her failure. “Had I known what was happening, I would have done everything to save her! I didn’t even find out till a month ago! I just wish I did better for all of you.”

Their ears were filled with her sobs as they all just watched her continue to grieve. Painful memories flashed back for Hodaka, ones revolving around his family and how they treated him. Abusive and demeaning were all he knew back then and from what Mayumi revealed, it seems like Ayana had a similar life as he did. He should feel disgust with the grieving woman, but instead, he felt sorry for her. He didn’t see an abusive parent, but one marred with regret and sadness.

He stepped forward, intending to help smooth things over for the family, but was stopped by the sight of Hina kneeling down. “Hina?” he softly spoke.

She didn’t pay attention to him, but instead kept her gaze on the older woman. “One of the biggest wants in my life was to meet you. To know the two of us weren’t alone.”

Mayumi sniffed, clearing her nose and rubbing her eyes. She looked up at her granddaughter, who held a soft smile at her. “It’s all I ever wanted too. If I could, I would change back time so we could have met a lot sooner and so you two could always have a big family.”

“We still have time to make up for that,” Hina declared, kneeling down toward her.

Mayumi smiled back at her, nearly choking once more from tears, but not of sadness but of happiness instead. She went in for a hug, however, she had to stop when a childish voice was heard.

“You better make up for all of this, because this is what I wanted too!” Nagi nearly bawled out, throwing himself at Mayumi. She nearly chuckled, wrapping her arms around her grandson while Hina leaned over and embraced the two of them

“I will. I will. Anything for you both,” hummed Mayumi, holding onto her grandchildren tightly as they all kept themselves huddled together for quite some time. Soon, the rain stopped pouring on them and instead, the sun shined brightly upon the family.

“Just please promise me one thing,” Mayumi spoke, getting her two grandchildren to look at her with puzzled expressions. “Never hesitate to ask for anything. I’ll always be here for you. No matter what.”

“Can we come by any time?” Hina inquired.

“Yes, yes you can. When and for however long you two want,” Mayumi sobbed as her two grandchildren joined in while Hodaka simply smiled at the united family. While this could never be fixed, he couldn’t help but feel elated to see how his friends’ family are together at long last. It truly warmed his heart knowing such a thing was possible.

“Hodaka!” Nagi hollered out, snapping him away from his thoughts. “Get over here!”

“You’re not getting out of this so easily!” added Hina, with Hodaka chuckling in response.

“If you say so,” replied Hodaka, marching over to join in the family embrace. Like, the day he met Hina and the celebration, this was one of the best days of his life.

***

With the shut of her car door, Asagi stepped out and took in her surroundings. She had visited the location several times over these past two decades, however, to her it not only looked like it was still in ruins, but where her life started. The refinery where Gamera vanquished the final Gyaos played back in her mind constantly and in greater detail every time she toured it.

It was a great day in her life, she was bonded with a majestic creature, determined to protect the world and its people. Out of everyone, she, an ordinary schoolgirl, was chosen for the task as a priestess to the guardian. She had the time of her life being valued by so many people and having a purpose she could fulfil. Being needed.

Then, that gradually degraded when her connection was shattered to revive Gamera. She traveled around the world and looked through every relevant book on the subject for an answer to bring it back. Alas, nothing came of it and she could only guess what he was feeling. There was only one time where she was able to guess correctly on what he was feeling and it was his determination to end the threat of the Gyaos at the end of the century. Since then, nothing.

“And that’s what baffles me more than ever,” mouthed Asagi, staring deeply at the ocean beyond the refinery. “Why am I still not feeling anything? Why are you acting the way you are?”

She reached in her pocket, pulling out the once shattered bead, as she glued it back on in an attempt to reactivate it. Asagi held onto it for all her life, hoping by some miracle it would give her a sign. She stared at it for a considerable amount of time.

Nothing. No glow, no reconstruction, no signal.

It was just a useless relic.

Asagi raised her arm back, her hand tightening up as fist, she was ready to do it. She held on for far too long, it was time she let go of Gamera. Asagi needed to move on. With a step forward, she threw arm out. Asagi watched the huge body of water in front of her, hoping to see it rippling from a collision, but looked down only to see her never relinquishing the bead.

“Goddamnit,” choked Asagi, tightening her fists once more. “This is why you can’t live a normal life.”

She continued staring out at the ocean. Her mind drifted back to the past few nights when Gamera showed back up. Asagi expected him to be the savior he was known for, however, he was showing signs of constant pain and doubt. Gamera was no longer the hero she knew, in fact she had no idea what he was.

“Almost as if it was better you never returned. I thought you would give me answers, but I guess, I’m…. we’re lost,” surmised Asagi, her voice barely more than a solemn whisper.

Gamera soon exited her thoughts as Yukino came forth. She was the one who was the most important person in her life. Those trips to the aquarium, their skiing trip in Hokkaido, their wedding, and even traveling around the world to help her understand her connection.

Asagi gritted her teeth once more. She threw the most amazing woman away all for a meager shot of being reunited in a role she desired. “She deserves someone far better than me.”

She knew the divorce proceedings would hurt, but in the end, it would be better for Yukino. That was all she could do for her, to ensure she had a better life. To give her that family she yearned for, for so long. Asagi couldn’t let go of the fleeting hope of a connection with Gamera. The former priestess put the bead in her pocket and pulled out her phone, knowing what she would have to do.

Before she could dial the number, her phone rang. Asagi looked down and saw the ID belonging to “Mayumi Nagamine.” A meager smile formed on her face as talking to her friend brought her a small measure of peace.

“Hello?” Asagi answered.

“If you’re not feeling too down, you should come meet us at Shiba park,” Mayumi said from the other line.

“Us?” inquired Asagi.

“I found them! Hina, Nagi! And some other people they made themselves well acquainted with! They’re great! I’d love for you to meet them,” Mayumi enthusiastically voiced, her tone of voice completely surprising Asagi. It was a tone she had not heard from her for a very long time.

If Mayumi found what she was looking for and could even keep it, then was it possible for her to attain it as well? A small grin grew on Asagi’s face as she answered, “I’d….. I would love to meet them. I’ll be there soon!”

“See you then!” Mayumi cheered.

Asagi hung up, taking one last look at the ocean. “Okay, let’s see if I can actually learn something for once.”

***

“Daddy, do it again. One more time!” a little girl in a blue dress cheered, giggling at the amount of fun she was having.

“Right! Ready!” Suga replied estaically, grabbing her by the arms and swinging her around, both of them immediately laughing while Nagi watched with a smile on his face.

“Out of everyone, it had to be you, didn’t it?” Hodaka demanded, still completely floored by Suga being the one who called in the request.

“Ow! That’s really bad for your back, you know?” yawned Suga, seemingly ignoring Hodaka’s accusation and taking a seat between him and Hina on the bench.

“Did you know this was my job?” inquired Hodaka, puzzled at how he could have known what he did in his time away. “And you said nothing? And you have a daughter?”

Suga chuckled at the kid’s twenty questions as he then turned over to Hina and shook her hand, completely taking her by surprise. “I’m stunned. Today’s forecast was one hundred percent rain.”

“She’s a miracle worker, all right,” Mayumi chimed in, with a couple of drinks in her hand. She passed the beverages to the three.

“Thank you nana,” spoke Hina, immediately eliciting a grin from Mayumi.

“Anything for you,” replied Mayumi, turning her eyes toward Nagi and Moka chasing each other in circles around the park. “What did I miss? And I want to know it all in every detail.”

“Just Nagi and Moka goofing around while Hodaka and I watched,” answered Hina while Suga chuckled.

“That’s still a lot!” Mayumi pointed out, wanting to experience every moment with her grandchildren as she could, even to the point of pulling out her phone to record the two kids running around.

Hina couldn’t help but smile at her grandmother’s antics. Within a short amount of time of being reunited, she was already acting like a parent who’s been raising them for years.

Suga, on the other hand, chuckled at Mayumi’s behavior. He did admire her commitment to her grandchildren, though, she was like him. They both did whatever they could to provide their children a future and to even better themselves to give them someone to look up to.

“My daughter has asthma,” announced Suga, returning to the previous conversation before as his friends turned to him. “She lives with her granny, who won’t let me see her on rainy days.”

He looked up at the sky, admiring its beauty as he fiddled with a ring around his finger. “Nothing can beat a gorgeous blue sky.”

Hodaka nodded in agreement, cementing his eyes at the horizon before him. “So, you’re Hodaka’s boss?” Hina asked.

Suga chuckled at the question. “I also saved his life from that Hedorah monster.”

“Since when? The only time you could have saved him was when it attacked Tokyo,” questioned Mayumi, confused at how they could have encountered the monstrosity before.

“Nah! It attacked us while we were on a ship heading to Tokyo,” explained Suga.

“And you never thought to report it?” snapped Mayumi, concerned for Hodaka’s wellbeing.

“No one got hurt and it wasn’t as severe as all the other times a monster reeled its ugly face,” retorted Suga, slapping Hodaka on the back. “Besides, the real question is, why does Hina treat you like a little boy?”

“She’s two years older than me,” answered Hodaka.

“Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. Same stuff,” surmised Suga, raising his hands up, all the while Mayumi couldn’t help, but start laughing.

They looked at her with concern as Hina stammered “Everything okay, nana?”

It took Mayumi a few seconds to compose herself as she breathed out. “You’re not eighteen! You’re sixteen!”

“What?!” Hodaka gasped while Suga bursted out laughing as Hina’s face grew red in embarrassment. Hodaka’s tone shifted slightly more calmly, asking Hina with sincerity in his voice. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Hina took a deep breath in. “I lied, because it was the only way I could get jobs to support Nagi and myself.”

“Right, right,” Hodaka softly spoke. “I understand why you did it, but a part of you enjoyed teasing me about it!”

“I did,” chuckled Hina, her smile coming back once more.

“And besides, you don’t need to worry about that anymore, you got me,” Mayumi chimed in.

“I do, I do,” whispered Hina, smiling at how she never has to pretend to be someone she’s not ever again. Those days were nothing but stressful, scrounging up whatever cash she could get from the jobs she took, and now, with the help of her grandmother, she could sit back and enjoy her life as a kid once more.

“There you are!” a voice called out, snapping everyone’s attention as Mayumi recognized the voice all too well. She saw Asagi strolling toward them, setting her bag next to the bench, taking a look at Hina and then back at Nagi. “You finally found them, huh?”

“Asagi, it’s good to see you again!” Mayumi greeted, giving her dear friend a hug, surprising her, but nonetheless, returned the gesture. “It’s great! I haven’t felt better in years.”

“I’m happy for you, Mayumi. I really am and….” Asagi tried to speak when she heard a child’s voice screaming out “Aunt Asagi!”

She turned around to see Nagi and Moka running toward her, with the former giving her a hug, once again taking her by surprise. “Hey….” Asagi greeted, her eyes trailing back to Mayumi. “Really, Mayumi? Aunt Asagi?”

“What?” Mayumi spoke, shrugging her shoulders. “You’re the closest thing they have to an aunt.”

“I suppose so,” replied a defeated Asagi.

“It’s not so bad, just give it a try,” Mayumi encouraged.

“Right,” Asagi concurred softly, looking back down at the kid hugging her. “Good to see you too, Nagi….. Right?”

“You got that right!” Nagi hollered out, offering her a high five. She slowly raised her hand up as he immediately slapped hers with his.

Asagi turned to Hina offering her hand. “It’s finally nice to meet you, Mayumi has always talked about meeting the two of you?’

“That much?” inquired Hina, surprised just by how much her grandmother talks about her.

“You and Nagi were always a part of our conversations,” she answered, as Hina simply chuckled.

“There you are!” a cheerful voice called out gaining everyone’s attention as they saw Natsumi running up to them. “Hi guys!”

“Anyone else coming after her?” joked Nagi.

“Nagi, there’s something I want to show you!” Moka announced, pointing to luscious grass with a batch of flowers in the middle. Nagi smiled as he followed her to their destination.

“Wait,” Hodaka stammered out as Suga turned to him.

“What?”

“Aren’t you going to be in trouble?” asked Hodaka, as he thought deeply about Suga’s relationship with Natsumi and how he was constantly fiddling around with his wedding ring.

“Eh?”

Hodaka leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “Does Natsumi know you’re married?”

In a flip of switch, Suga bursted out in laughter as Natsumi stopped in her tracks, confused at the sudden cue of joy in front of her. “What’s up with you guys?”

“Hodaka thought you were my mistress,”

Natsumi’s eyes widened, her face turning bright red as she let out a banshee cry. “Mistress!?”

“Jeez, is that what you wanted me to see, Mayumi?” questioned Asagi, feeling confused at the display before her as the group exchanged several words with each other.

“Not… exactly, but it’s just a simple misunderstanding. They’ll get over it and besides, we’re all having fun,” answered Mayumi, a proud smile still firmly on her face.

“Why did you tell me you were uncle and niece!?” Hodaka bursted out.

“Wasn’t it obvious?” Natsumi hollered back while Suga continued to cackle at the situation they were all in. “Besides, that’s a really disgusting fantasy, Hodaka.”

“That… doesn’t even make any sense! I wasn’t even fantasizing about it,” argued Hodaka, looking down at the ground.

“You have a really perverted mind,” added Hina, feeling a modicum of disgust at her friend.

Hodaka’s face grew bright red from embarrassment, as Natsumi spoke, “Hey, Hodaka.” He looked up at her slightly, his eyes shifting more between her face and breasts, as she then smirked at him. “You’re looking at my boobs, again.”

Hodaka squealed, his face still a bright red while steam seemingly blew out of his ears, “I did not!”

Natsumi then joined her uncle in laughter while Asagi simply chuckled at the display before her. Mayumi took notice of her friend’s behavior, “Even in awkward moments, it’s not so bad to be part of something like this.”

Asagi smirked. “It’s not so bad, but I don’t think I’d be really good at it, though.”

“Neither am I, but I’m trying, and I think I’m doing okay,” Mayumi paused, putting her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I think, but if they’re happy, then that’s all that matters.”

“Daddy, I made a garland for you,” Moka called out for Suga, as he got up from the bench to play with his daughter. He wasn’t the only one called as Nagi opened his mouth, “Hodaka, grams, come over here! I want to show you something!”

“Senpai is calling me, hold on,” announced Hodaka, excusing himself from the group.

“Be right back with you, Asagi, I need to know what Nagi has to show me,” Mayumi eagerly vocalized, nearly bursting at full speed to see what he needed.

Natsumi chuckled at their behavior, turning her attention to Hodaka. “He’s hilarious, you know?”

Hina scoffed at her comment, a tad annoyed at his behavior just moments ago. “He’s such a kid.”

“Don’t you think they’re the same, though?” questioned Natsumi.

“You mean Hodaka and Suga, right?” replied Hina, as she watched them walking toward their respective callers.

“Eeyup! Kei, well, after what happened, he ran away from his brother and came to Tokyo when he was a teen. He met his future wife and fell in love big time,” Natsumi taking a moment to pause to admire the group playing together in the open fields. “But, she died in an accident some years ago. He’s still in love with her, and I think Hodaka is the same in that regard.”

“He’s not so bad in that regard, just a bit clueless and awkward,” Hina surmised.

Natsumi chuckled. “I’ve been dying to meet you for you for so long, Hina.”

“And you too, Asagi!” she added, jumping from her seat and grabbing both of their hands, taking them by complete surprise as they stared at her face full of wonder. “The one hundred percent sunshine girl and the priestess of Gamera! Both of you are amazing!”

“I….. Thank you?” stammered out Asagi, feeling incredibly uncomfortable with Natsumi’s behavior at how she was fangirling over both of them.

“I wish I had a skill like controlling the weather or talking to a giant turtle on my resume. I hate looking for a job so much,” Natsumi excitedly spoke, before sinking her shoulders down in disappointment. “I wish I was still in high school, things were so much simpler back then.”

Hina giggled at Natsumi’s behavior. “I can’t wait to be a grown-up instead.”

“I guess I’m the opposite, then,” Asagi joined in on the conversation. “Things were far simpler back as a kid. You don’t have to worry about a job, making commitments or even second guessing every decision you’re about to make.”

“Hear, hear!” Natsumi simply cheered.

Hina turned to Asagi, noticing how distraught she appeared to be during this whole get together. She was put off by her behavior, but didn’t let it ruin her time, however, she had to know exactly why she was acting the way she was.

“If I may, why are you all distant,” questioned Hina.

Asagi was taken back by the young girl’s question. She’d normally be offended by someone trying to pry into her life, but maybe it was because of her relation to Mayumi or the fact she already resembled her when she was a child. That bright smile, willing to help in any way she could and to do the right thing, Asagi couldn’t be angry at the girl.

Instead, Asagi let out a sigh. “When you lose a part of yourself you thought would last forever, it changes you. It ruins every relationship you have with everyone you care about and causes nothing but pain and misery.”

“With Gamera?” Hina spoke softly, inching closer to Asagi.

“Yeah,” Asagi answered. “And truth is, I don’t even know why I felt so attached to him beyond his duty to protect us when that was a promise he failed to make good on. Several died in his path and yet, I still believe in him… in some weird, twisted way.”

“It’s good you still have faith in someone, there’s strength in that,” chimed Hina, giving the older woman a warm smile.

Asagi shook her head slightly. “Goddamn! I really am looking in a mirror.”

She needed to set Hina straight, not in a way that would turn her into her or make her disillusioned with everything, but to set her in the right path. So, she doesn’t make the wrong choices like she did.

“Hina, you’re a good kid, one of a kind. Continue being the person you are, the kind who always cheers people up, but don’t prioritize your gifts over a life and the people who love you. Otherwise, you’ll get what you’re staring at,” Asagi monologued, eliciting surprised reactions from Natsumi and Hina.

“Jeez…. I had no idea… that thing can do something like that to you,” mumbled a distraught Natsumi.

“Yeah, just please avoid those mistakes. You two still have time,” added Asagi.

“And you don’t?” questioned Hina, frowning at her.

“I appreciate the optimism, but it’s just not possible for me,” sighed Asagi, looking down in distraught at the life she was trapped in, with no way out. Her mind drifted back to Yukino, knowing full she would adore this meetup and showering all four kids with gifts. Even cooking up a whole feast for everyone. The thought made her giddy, but knew it was nothing more than a fantasy, as those thoughts quickly dissipated.

“You’re wrong,” Hina retaliated, as Asagi lifted her head up, seeing her smiling at her. “I believe you’re still able to achieve it. You just find it in yourself to see it.”

“I tried that, kid, and nothing.”

“But you have to give yourself a chance and I’m sure Gamera wants you to live that life. You two were connected after all,” surmised Hina.

“I… I know he would, I think,” whispered Asagi.

“Hina! Natsumi! Come play with us!” Moka called out while waving her arms excitedly.

“Be right there!” Natsumi eagerly called out, bolting toward the group.

Hina lifted herself from the bench, taking a look at Asagi. “And I meant what I said. I have faith in you and that life. You just need to have it for yourself.”

Asagi stood motionless as she watched Hina meetup with the rest of the kids while Mayumi and Suga walked back toward the bench. She couldn’t help but not notice a resemblance going on with Hina.

“Are you sure she’s Ayana’s daughter?” questioned Asagi, keeping her eyes on Hina laughing playfully with the others. “She’s so full of life.”

Mayumi smiled, turning to face her granddaughter. “She’s strong, stronger than any of us.”

“Does she know everything her mother did? With Iris?” spoke Asagi, concern growing on her face as Mayumi’s smile dropped.

“No, not yet, but I’ll at least tell her anything they want to know. They deserve that much.”

“I wouldn’t worry so much, you’re already doing fine,” voiced Suga, eliciting a grin. “They’ve taken quite a liking to you.”

“You sure? They may seem happy right now, but I don’t know if they’ll feel like that forever or what if I do something wrong like…..” Mayumi trailed as Suga sharply cut her off.

“Relax,” Kei hushed, raising his hand up. “We screw up, there’s no way we’re going to avoid that. We already did that and we’re going to do that several more times. But, it just means we do a little better the next time and knowing they’ll do better when they grow up is what makes me confident I have what it takes to raise Moka.”

“Yeah, I suppose, just….” stammered Mayumi.

“Just?”

“It’s going to be hard. I already screwed up once and it was the worst mistake in my life. I can’t afford to do that again,” Mayumi softly spoke, turning back to her grandchildren playing.

“Hey,” Suga voiced, getting Mayumi’s attention. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re getting a second chance, we both are. We just have to do better this time. Not for our sake, but for theirs.”

Mayumi smiled, nodding her head. “Count on it.”

Asagi stayed silent, paying close attention to their conversation and how they’re committed to changing their lives around. They were willing to make the leap to a new life, but she couldn’t join them, and her reasons were far more miniscule compared to theirs. If only she was able to heed Hina’s advice, then she could be on their level.

“That goes for you too, Asagi,” Suga spoke, taking her away from her thoughts. “You should give your wife another call. Be in love again, start a family. You still have time.”

“Were it so easy,” muttered a defeated Asagi, resigned to her fate.

Suga shook his head as Mayumi sighed at Asagi’s continued distress as she was still keeping herself locked away from a life. There was only so much she could do to help, as her patience was starting to wane. Sooner or later, Mayumi knew she’d have to cut her losses and let Asagi wallow in her misery. However, to her surprise, Asagi chuckled and spoke.

“For what it’s worth, this has been a good day.”

***

With rain pouring down and paracels opening up, the day in the park had ended. Laughs were shared and a bond was built. A day none of them would ever forsake.

As the droplets of water came down faster, Moka’s coughs became more egregious. “Are you tired, Moka? Here, take a breath,” Suga murmured, as with a shake of an inhaler, he brought it up to his daughter’s lips. “One, two, three.”

She breathed as her coughs went away quickly as excitement came back to her voice. “I’m fine. Let’s play!”

“Maybe another time. I don’t think your grandma would want you playing in this weather,” replied Suga, putting the inhaler in his pocket.

“I guess we’ll take our leave now,” Hina announced as she walked up to the rest of the group with Hodaka and Nagi.

“But I want to spend more time with Nagi,” Moka declared, grinning at Nagi as he returned the gesture. Mayumi smirked at the obsession the girl had for her grandson, thinking it was absolutely adorable to see Nagi becoming someone she could look up to.

“Hey! Why don’t we all go to dinner together?” Natsumi suggested, raising the umbrella over her uncle and niece. “Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean it has to end.”

“I don’t know…. We should be getting back,” Hina replied, as Mayumi looked at her with concern.

“Everything okay, Hina?” she questioned.

“Nagi and I just like to get back home at a certain time, and….” Hina answered, but found herself stopping as Mayumi took over.

“We’ve been over this. You two don’t have to live by yourselves, all of you always have a place with me. You’re important to me,” spoke Mayumi, wrapping her granddaughter with a hug.

“I know, it just feels like I would be intruding,” countered Hina, tilting her head slightly down.

“Hey, grams said she wants to be there for us. I’d say we just move in! Plus, we won’t be cramped anymore!” Nagi joyfully yelled out, smiling at the thought of moving in before toning it down for the change in subject. “Besides, I’ll go eat with Moka, if that’s okay?”

“Sure,” Hina answered.

“Yes!” Nagi cheered, throwing his fist in the air.

“You sure you don’t want to join us?” Mayumi inquired, feeling bummed her granddaughter won’t be joining for the feast.

“Grams, I think Hodaka and Hina had something planned,” Nagi pointed out, winking at Hodaka. He nearly gasped, but knew what Nagi was hinting at. Going through the past couple of days, trying to get advice from several people like Nagi and Natsumi, he wanted to get a gift for Hina. He couldn’t deny it, but his feelings for her were growing stronger and stronger. Hodaka had to confess, to get it off his chest and the two of them being alone would be the perfect time to do so.

His thoughts were interrupted with Moka jumping out of her fathers arms and wrapping herself around Hina’s legs. “Thank you for bringing out the sunshine today!”

Hina returned a smile at the little girl and kneeled down to her. “Thank you. I’m glad I made you happy.”

“Well, just let me know if you need anything,” spoke Mayumi as her granddaughter simply nodded. The two groups soon went their separate ways as Hodaka and Hina strolled through many blocks, making their way back to the apartment.

He watched her as she walked in front of him as his hand fiddled around with the gift in his pocket. Hodaka’s stomach turned to knots, knowing full well that the moment was about to arrive.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. So, this is possibly gonna be the first time I tell a girl I love her.”

Hodaka stopped, his feet planted firmly on the upward path as he pulled out the red case from his pocket. “Hina.”

“Hodaka,” Hina spoke.

“Sorry,” he apologized, feeling as if he interrupted her, but she kept her smile aimed at him.

“It’s okay,” she replied. “What is it?”

“Oh, uh, nothing in particular,” stammered Hodaka, pushing the red case deeper back into his pocket.

“Why did you say that?”

“What were you about to say, though?” resumed Hodaka, curious as to know what she was about to say, and with his luck, maybe she would feel the same way about him.

“Hodaka, you know,” Hina softly spoke, but the words became unintelligible as he saw something completely unknown to him. It made his mouth shake rapidly while his pupils grew. Blue and green droplets circled around Hina as she continued speaking, swirling as if they were in a funnel.

“I….” Hina tried to speak once more, but as if a sudden gust of wind swept in, she disappeared before his very eyes.

Hodaka darted his head in all directions, desperately trying to search for as he called out her name repeatedly. “Hodaka!” Hina’s voice screamed out, immediately getting him to look upward. What he saw completely baffled him, she was floating up several feet in the air as she slowly descended while the droplets of water still circled around her.

He reached out for her, but she dropped to her knees before he could catch her. Hodaka went to help her up, but noticed something that made him pause. Green and blue like liquid substances covered her arms, creating a transparent look, as he could see the asphalt through them. His heart raced, terrified at what was happening to his dear friend as she quickly covered her arms up in fear.

“Hina, what is happening to you?” Hodaka nearly exclaimed, concerned over her wellbeing as he helped her up to his feet and gave her his jacket.

With his arm wrapped around her for the rest of the trip back home, Hina explained everything to him. How that day started when she became the sunshine girl, how she wanted one last walk with her mother and how she was drawn to the shrine that sent her to the sky. Had it not been for her abilities, Hedorah and Gamera, he’d thought she was crazy, but he couldn’t deny it. All the pieces were there. Something was terribly wrong with her and he didn’t know what. And that was what terrified him the most, not knowing what to do to help her.

“I think…. that’s when I got connected to the sky,” Hina surmised, pulling the sleeve over her affected hand, walking up the stairs to her apartment. Without another word said, they entered the home as Hodaka went into the bathroom to dry himself off. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant.

“Connected to the sky?” he questioned, looking at himself in the mirror. Before he could ponder it any further, he heard a doorbell ring, he opened the door and went to exit the restroom, but saw Hina peering through the eyehole.

Hodaka, assuming it was Nagi or Mayumi, went forward, but Hina brushed him away. “Stay in there, Hodaka.”

Knowing something bad was about to happen, he complied, shutting the bathroom door once more as he carefully listened in on the coming conversation.

“Police. Sorry for the late visit,” an officer spoke, her voice carrying sympathy.

“Police? What are they doing here?” Hodaka questioned himself, his ear still pinned to the wall.

“We’re doing some rounds, because we’ve been told that a runaway known as Hodaka Morishima has been seen here quite a bit. At least one day, that is,” a detective announced, handing Hina a photo of him.

“I can’t say I’ve seen him before,” Hina feigned ignorance, handing the photo back to the authorities.

“Are you sure, several of your neighbors have seen him around here before,” the detective added.

“Again, I have not,” Hina answered. “What has he done, though?”

“We just want to ask him some questions. He’s a runaway and his parents filed a missing person’s report.”

“Shit.” Hodaka mentally cursed as his parents were able to track him down. He didn’t want to go back, not to that life. He was happy where he was at and would be content without ever having to see them again.

“Also, you’re living alone with your brother, right?” the officer questioned.

“That’s right, but our grandmother will be taking us in shortly,” Hina answered, as a lump in her throat grew while sweat dropped from her forehead.

“That’s a bit of a problem too,” the office added. “Without a guardian, you….”

“But! We don’t bother anyone!” Hina retaliated. “We have a guardian, there’s no need to…”

She was then interrupted by the officer, “I’m sorry, but without proof of a guardian, and even if you do have one, it’ll still be a while for ownership to be approved.”

“We can worry about that later,” the detective spoke. “For now, we’ll leave you to whatever business you have. Good day.”

And with that, the two authorities left as Hina shut the door. Hodaka slowly exited the bathroom, from the conversation he heard, he saw she was in great distress. “Hina.”

“She’ll likely come back tomorrow with social service,” Hina deduced, turning back to face her dear friend. “Even if we got Mayumi to help, they’ll still likely separate us for the time being! I…. I can’t let Nagi be separated from me for even a day!”

Hodaka tried to speak, but was interrupted by his phone ringing. The person responsible was Suga, as it immediately went to voicemail. “Kid, come out now. There’s some problems going on with you, the kids, everyone.”

“Oh my god,” Hodaka nearly grumbled.

“It’s okay. I can wait here and pack,” Hina spoke as Hodaka left the apartment and marched over to where Suga was parked.

He saw Nagi bursting out of the car, running toward him. “Hodaka, The police were….”

“I know,” Hodaka cut in. “Go home. I’ll be right there.”

Nagi did as he said and bolted toward his home while Hodaka stepped inside the car.

“Temperatures have fallen sharply after sunset,” a meteorologist announced over the car radio, but the two dismissed it, since Hodaka kept his focus on the driver, who was now sporting a black cap with a dragon on it and a black trenchcoat.

“Mr. Suga?”

“Are you surprised by my new look?” he inquired. “I’m in disguise.”

Suga leaned over and turned off the radio to prevent any more distractions. “They came to my office and they’re treating it like a kidnapping.”

“Are they serious?” Hodaka nearly barked out.

Suga shook his head. “I denied any involvement, but they didn’t buy it.”

He leaned over and placed the cap on Hodaka’s head, in some meager form to help conceal his identity. “Take it. It can be part of your severance pay.”

“Thanks, I think.”

Suga let out a deep sigh as what he was about to say pained him. “Don’t come back to the office. They’ll arrest me. I filed for custody of my daughter and your Asagi friend is actually helping a lot to make my case known. I’m… sorry. ”

“No, I understand. I wish you luck in getting her back,” Hodaka acknowledged, feeling happy for him, yet scared he was getting kicked out of a place he called home.

“And one more piece of advice,” Kei spoke, leaning his back on the seat. “Go back home tomorrow. Then everything will go back to normal.”

Hodaka’s mouth shivered as his mind ran rampant with traumatizing memories of being sent back. He couldn’t believe what someone he looked up to just ordered him to do. He wanted to scream and shout at him, but restrained himself, knowing it wouldn’t solve anything.

Suga flipped through his wallet, pulling out several bills of yen. “It would be best for everyone.”

“Not for me, though.”

He handed Hodaka the money. “It’s time to grow up, kid.”

Without any further exchange of dialogue, Hodaka departed from the car and returned back to Hina’s apartment. He opened the door to find the siblings packing their bags as if they were evacuating.

“We can’t stay here anymore,” Hina announced, packing only the essentials of what they needed.

“But, where are you…” stammered Hodaka, approaching her slowly.

“I know what the most likely answer is, but I don’t want to burden her with it,” Hina answered.

“Why not?” asked Hodaka, taking another step forward. “You have a grandmother who loves you both more than the world itself.”

“I don’t see the problem. Grams is great!” Nagi spoke out, poking head out from his room.

“Hodaka, shouldn’t you go home before you’re caught?” asked Hina, looking up at him. “You have a place, too. You don’t need to throw it away,”

“Please, don’t say that,” Hodaka trembled.

“We’ll be fine. You’ve done everything for us, it’ll be okay,” Hina consoled, her hand touching his arm.

Hodaka’s hands bundled up into fists, he heard that order from everyone and he wasn’t going to follow it no matter what. “I’m not going back.”

“I’m going with you. If I have to pay rent or do whatever it takes, I will! But I will not be separated from you two! We go together!” Hina proclaimed, his voice piercing through the walls.

“My man!” Nagi cheered as Hina gave him a bright smile.

“Okay. Let’s make good on Nana’s promise,” Hina said. On one hand, she wanted him to not be burdened by her problems and to live out his life in comfort, even if he didn’t see it that way. Yet, on the other hand, she was glad he was sticking around. She couldn’t say it before and she wanted to, but her feelings for him were growing, and she didn’t want it any other way.

***

The pouring rain froze over as snowflakes soon took their place. They descended on every piece of the bright nightlife of Tokyo. Despite the shivering and the near shock from the surprising drop of temperature in August, everyone stood still and admired its beauty. Completely unnatural, but to them, it was a small reprieve from the endless rain.

The Tokyo Bay froze over in a matter of minutes, creating several feet worth of ice, solid enough for any being to walk on. Ships all over were immediately stuck in place, creating a frozen layer, slowly overlapping the vessels.

Oozing itself through the cracks of the ice, Hedorah took form, standing on top of the surface, gazing at the bright city before it. It stood taller than ever, no longer was it crawling on all fours and hunched over, but standing nearly three times as tall as before. Its eyes shifted at the trapped craft as their occupants screamed in terror at the Smog Monster. Hedorah gurgled in delight as its massacre was to begin anew.

With its rapid aim, it fired its crimson bolts at every ship in its raids, reducing them to a smoldering mess. Alarms sounded all over the bay while the polluted monstrosity marched toward the city, alternating between firing off its blood red beams and acidic sludge. These rapid fire assaults turned the bay into a flaming polluted mess, completely eviscerating everyone present.

“To all of Tokyo, the monstrosity known as Hedorah, has made landfall! Please get as far as you can. The JSDF will employ several distractive measures to keep it occupied,” a woman announced over loud speakers all around the city

Jets zoomed by dropping several fireworks as they exploded in front of Hedorah’s eyes. They widen in amazement, the beautiful colors erupting in front of it marveled in its beauty. Tanks rolled up, creating a blockade around the monstrosity to buy as much time as they could for the fleeing civilians in the area. The hardest part for any member of the JSDF was everything they threw at it, just creating more havoc, killing how many in crossfire, with its body parts splattering all over. All they could do was hopefully distract it long for a miracle to happen.

And that miracle was something several people were praying for. Everyone had one name crossed in their minds, desperately hoping he would show up to save the day once more. Some remembered the destruction he caused all those years ago, but the destruction would become far greater if he didn’t show up.

The world needed him once more.

They needed Gamera.

After trudging through the snow, they arrived at Mayumi’s home. A place that invoked a warm, welcoming feeling just outside of Tokyo. A place where all of their troubles could be erased, where they didn’t need to worry about a single thing. Just a place where they could relax and enjoy themselves.

With a ring of the doorbell, Mayumi immediately opened the door to see the three kids standing there with all of their luggage. She immediately grew concerned as she saw the fear in their faces, knowing they were in trouble. However, she didn’t care, she just wanted them to be safe.

“Are you okay? Why didn’t you call? What do you need?” Mayumi asked, bombarding them with questions, nearly kneeling down to their level.

“We need a place to stay, and social….” Hina tried to speak, but Mayumi cut her off with a warm smile.

“You’re always welcome here. No matter the circumstance.”

“Thank you, nana” Hina spoke softly, as she and Nagi immediately wrapped their arms around her as Mayumi did the same.

They relinquished their hold on each other and gathered inside the home where they put themselves on the couch. “Now, you three just rest. I can get something special cooking for the occasion,” Mayumi spoke with a reassuring voice, leaving for the kitchen as the three breathed a sigh of relief.

“After all this time, I guess I’m a wanted man now,” Hodaka deduced, resting his head back on the couch.

Nagi chuckled, giving him a thumbs up. “That’s so cool.”

Hodaka and Hina joined in on the laughter as they let their bodies slip back, being able to rest after what felt like years of nothing but running around. After spending a few minutes to unwind, they decided to tour around the place, since they would be making it their home from now on.

“Woah! This room is huge!” Nagi exclaimed, his face lighting up at how big one of the rooms was. He immediately ran up the full-sized bed and began jumping up and down on it. They scanned the room to see it filled with posters of old movies and film equipment scattered around.

“Huh, this was uncle’s old room,” Hina surmised, holding up a photo of her uncle as a child. He had a camera strapped around his neck surrounded by film equipment in a forest.

“Well, if he’s not using it now, then I call dibs!” Nagi proudly proclaimed, jumping off the bed, as he inspected one of the cameras.

“If Mayumi lets you have it,” Hodaka pointed out.

Nagi smirked, knowing he didn’t have to worry about anything. “If? Grams loves me, she’s going to let me have it.”

Hina giggled at their bantering, waving her hand forward. “Come, let’s check out the rest of the house.”

They explored the rest of the house to find one last room unaccounted for. From the partially closed door, they saw something strange in it. With a slow creak, they opened the door to find it completely devoid of life. There was nothing left of a personality in here, no hobbies, no interests, just barren. It brought back unpleasant memories for Hina and Nagi.

“I…. this was mom’s room, wasn’t it?” Naga asked, his voice trembling.

“I’m afraid it was,” Mayumi chimed in, nearly causing the three to jump, as they saw a solemn expression painted all over her face. “She lost all interest when…. It’s hard to say, I’m sorry.”

“No, I understand. I don’t know if I could ever understand mom,” Hina softly replied.

“My biggest regret in life is still not doing enough,” she reiterated, looking down.

“I know, and if you could take it back, you would,” voiced Hina, with a smile on her face as she embraced her grandmother.

“Thank you,” Mayumi spoke, holding her granddaughter tight once more. “I was about to say, dinner is ready, and I think you kids will love it.”

“Hallelujah! I’m starving!” Nagi interjected, nearly bolting out of the room.

“Looking forward to it,” Hina joyfully exclaimed.

Mayumi led them out of the room and into the kitchen, and what they saw made their stomachs roar with hunger as their eyes were fed by the beauty of it all. Noodles, rice bowls, fried chicken, curry, and too many other things to keep track of completely filled the table. It was the most appetizing meal they’ve seen.

They scattered to the table, taking their seats while Mayumi smiled at their eagerness. She watched as they gorged on the food before them. “Hey, Hodaka, let me try that,” Hina spoke, her eyes peering at the bowl of noodles in his hands.

“Mhm,” Hodaka murmured, handing it to her. He picked up another and took a bite of it. Hodaka purred with delight, “The curry is delicious!”

“I can always make more if need be,” voiced Mayumi, taking a bite of an eggroll.

“Yes, please!” Nagi exclaimed.

Hina looked around the table and saw something peculiar that struck her as odd. There was an empty chair with a plate set out in front of it. She turned to her grandmother and asked, “What’s with the extra plate? Grandpa won’t be back for quite some time. We expecting anyone?”

Mayumi looked down at her plate at the question, letting out a sigh. “It’s for your uncle. Every night I set a plate for him in case he ever wants to stop by for a meal.”

“Oh, I’m sorry for bringing it up,” Hina backtracked, looking back down at her meal, her chopsticks slowly moving her food around.

“It’s okay, it was bound to come up eventually,” Mayumi countered.

Hodaka hated the quiet that just transpired, as he looked at the family of three with him all sitting in silence. He had to break it up somehow as he tapped his chopsticks on his plate, trying to concoct an idea. Then, it hit him!

“Karaoke!” he exclaimed, gaining all three sets of eyes on him. “Let’s do it! We can’t continue to let things sour our mood!”

“He’s right!” Nagi spoke out, standing up as he placed his hands on the table. “We should do it, and besides, I need to see how bad you sing.”

In a matter of minutes all four of them filled the house with the lyrics they sang. Hina clapped as she watched the three people she treasured the most sang.

“The fortune cookie in love. The future’s not looking so grim. The thing that’s in your heart. The thing that will soon disappear.”

“Not bad, Hodaka. Still not as good as me, but you’re getting there,” Nagi commented smugly as Hodaka frowned at him.

“Well, if you’re so good, then how about another round?”

“You’re on!” Nagi shouted, pressing the button on the remote to cue the next song.

“While you two are singing your butts off, I’ll make some coco,” Mayumi spoke, heading toward the kitchen.

“I’ll come too,” Hina added, following her grandma into the kitchen as they began gathering the necessary ingredients together. As beautiful as this night was, Hina wanted the truth from Mayumi, she needed to know why everything happened the way it did. A matter of closure she considered it.

“Nana,” Hina spoke, gaining Mayumi’s attention, letting go of the utensil.

“What’s wrong, dear?”

“I just need to know why my mother was the way she was,” Hina spoke, giving herself a moment’s pause before continuing. “Nagi doesn’t have to know, but please, whatever it was that caused her so much grief, just tell me.”

Mayumi breathed out, she didn’t want to tell her, but knew she couldn’t keep it away from her. The horrifying truth would have to come out and she didn’t know what it would do to either of her grandkids. Still, it was something that had to be done and something she deserved to know to bring her some sort of peace.

“Ayana…. your mother went through a lot of hurt, well, when she was your age. Almost thirty years ago when that grief began. She and her parents, your real grandparents, were in Tokyo when Gamera fought against the Gyaos,” Mayumi began to explain.

“Gamera? What does Gamera have to do with all of this? He’s a friend to all of us,” Hina countered, feeling extremely baffled at how Gamera could potentially be the cause of her mother’s pain.

“To some, yes, like Asagi, but to others, he was seen as a demon. Ayana saw him as nothing more than one, because your parents were casualties of his fight. Not intentionally, but Ayana didn’t see it that, and…. I’d understand if you don’t see it that way either.”

“Gamera…. was the source of all this?” Hina stammered out, feeling disbelief wash over her at the revelation crashing down on her.

“Not intentionally, but yes. For years, Ayana held a grudge against him and was willing to let the world burn just for a shot at avenging your grandparents. When I first met her, she already made a deal with the devil to accomplish this goal,” Mayumi further explained, feeling chills running down her back as she was feeling sick going back to those awful memories.

“A devil?”

“Yes. Iris. And the scary thing is, I don’t know who fueled the other? Her or it. But, it got the rest of your relatives killed except for your uncle,” Mayumi stuttered, her teeth nearly chattering at having to relay such horrifying information to her granddaughter.

“She….. got them killed, because of what happened on accident?” Hina croaked, her eyes widening in horror at the atrocities her mother committed.

“I know, and I’m sorry, but it soon came to an end where Gamera saved her and ripped her out from the devil. She broke down and realized all the terrible things she did and apologized, but I don’t know if she ever forgave him. She carried around the grudge until she passed away,” summarized Mayumi, following it with a deep breath, knowing just how horrible the information she conveyed was to Hina.

Her granddaughter just stood motionlessly, her mouth quivered. “Gamera was responsible for everything my family went through….”

“Yeah, I guess he did,” replied Mayumi, the kitchen falling silent as the two stood there for several moments, trying to figure out how to continue on. Hina looked back up at her grandmother, slowly finding the words to channel her thoughts.

“I just hate why Gamera couldn’t just avoid that building or why my mom did everything they did, and yet, I don’t hate them for what they did,” Hina vocalized, her eyes filled with sadness as Mayumi approached and wrapped her up in a hug.

“If you ever need time to process this, I understand. It’s a lot to take in,” Mayumi whispered, rubbing her head.

“Thank you,” she whispered back, as she looked toward the direction of the living room. “For now, can we return to karaoke? I think I can use a distraction.”

“Yeah,” Mayumi briefly chuckled. “Me too.”

The two returned back to the living as all of them continued the night having the time of their lives, but as all good things come to end, so must this one. Nagi drifted off to sleep as they tucked him into Satoru’s old bed while Mayumi said goodnight to the two, leaving Hodaka and Hina alone in Ayana’s old room. Hina left the room to change into her pajamas, leaving him in his thoughts, as he stared at the ceiling.

“Dear God, if you really exist, I beg you. This is more than enough. We don’t need anything else. The five of us will manage somehow, so please, don’t give us anything more, and don’t take anything more from us. I beg you please, Dear God. Just let us be like this and have me with her forever.”

The clock struck midnight when Hina walked in wearing a robe. She smiled at him, as something immediately came back to his mind.

“The gift!” Hodaka mentally blared out.

“Hina…” Hodaka spoke.

“Yes?” Hina asked, smiling at him as she saw him reaching in his pocket and pulling out a small red case.

“Happy birthday,” Hodaka happily spoke.

“Eh?” Hina breathed out, looking down at the gift, laying down on the bed with him.

“It’s cheap, but I’ve picked something that I thought would look good on you,” he spoke, pushing the gift toward her as she inspected it. She opened it up to see a blue ring with a yellow jewel in the middle, immediately entranced by it as she let out a gasp.

“Thank you!” She spoke out, pulling him in for a hug. The hug made Hodaka’s face warm up as he returned the gesture, as they soon pulled away after. “Tell me, though. Would you like the rain to stop?”

Like getting struck by a speeding truck, Hodaka was completely baffled by the question imposed on him. What did the weather have to do with the gift, he thought. Still, he would like to see the beautiful blue sky more often.

“Yes,” he finally answered.

“I was chosen to be a human sacrifice. Natsumi told me about it a while ago. Whoever is chosen to be one gets sacrificed, then the weather goes back to normal,” Hina explained, turning over on her back, looking directly at the ceiling, as if all emotion in her voice dissipated.

Hodaka couldn’t believe what he was saying as he chuckled in an attempt to persuade himself that what she was saying was just a joke. “Come on. You know Natsumi. Always interested in silly stories, it’s not like people actually disappear, and…”

Hina lowered a part of her robe, catching him off guard as what he saw horrified him, reminding him of what he saw earlier in the day. Nearly her whole torso was transparent as the blue and green liquid flowed throughout her. Tears welled in her eyes as she shifted her gaze from her body to the terrified Hodaka.

“What are you looking at?” Hina choked up.

“I’m not looking!” Hodaka nearly bursted out, tears now pouring out of his eyes as well. “I’m looking at you.”

It was then he broke down and cried. His cries were painful for Hina to hear as she nearly joined in, but reinforced herself. She scooted herself over while she covered herself up with her robe. “Why are you crying?” she let out calmly as she then further explained. “The more I pray for sunshine, the more my body becomes transparent. I’m sure that, if I die this way, the usual summer will come back and everything will be normal again.”

It was the worst thing Hodaka was hearing, how she was going to throw away her life to make everything better. He despised what was happening as he was wiping the rapid amount of tears pouring down his face.

“Please, take care of Nagi and nana,” Hina spoke softly.

“No! You’re not going anywhere!” Hodaka bawled, crawling toward her. “The five of us can live together! We can make it work, no matter what!”

“Hodaka….” Hina trailed off as he put his hand on her leg.

“Let’s make a promise, Hina,” Hodaka declared, sliding the ring onto her finger. “We’ll always be together.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we’ll never have to worry again. That way, if you quit being the sunshine girl, your body will go back to normal! So….” Hodaka spoke out, but was interrupted by Hina wrapping herself around his body.

The two held each other as they unleashed everything they had, their sobs filling the room. Hodaka soon found himself losing consciousness as sleep overtook him. Hina slowly lowered him down on the bed as she let him lay down peacefully. She watched his sleeping form and smiled.

“The time we had together was precious and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You won’t be alone. You have a family. Nagi, Yoshinari, and Nana. Take care of them, you all deserve to have each other,” Hina softly spoke, as she changed into her clothes and left the house, knowing full well the final task she had to do.

***

Buildings dissolved as Hedorah walked through, watching as the acidic remains rain down upon the fleeing citizens, reducing them to disgusting remains of flesh and bone. It gurgled with glee as it fired another crimson beam at the incoming jets, watching them crash and burn into several parts of the city.

Its massacre would be complete and nothing could deter it from it. This was the day it had been waiting for and it didn’t even have to worry about losing all of its fun when the city was reduced to nothing. There were millions upon millions of places for it to invade and it looked forward to every second of it.

Despite the fear traversing all over their bodies, everyone still held out hope for the former guardian. A hero once more to save them from this abomination.

Hedorah marched forward, wiping out another block in a matter of seconds, transforming it into a river of sludge. It unleashed another Hedrium ray, creating a wave of fire swerving above it. The Smog Monster took another step forward when it heard a loud crack. It snapped its head back at the frozen Tokyo Bay, noticing a sizable chunk beginning to falter. This anomaly had its attention, wondering what it could possibly be.

CRACK!

An icy explosion occurred as its shattered remains launched upward, with a fiery plasma ball erupting out of the hole and striking Hedorah in the chest. It let out a pained roar as it waved its arms around.

With two smight hands slamming onto the surface of the ice, Gamera pulled himself out. He stood defiantly, his body still shaking to the core, but he did not allow himself to falter. He glared at the monstrosity deeper in the city as it shared the same stare as he did. It gurgled in anger at how the former sentinel was still alive after burning its lungs with its acidic smoke.

He just didn’t know when to quit, nonetheless, it would make sure the chelonian would suffer a long and painful death. Hedorah launched himself up in the air sending himself flying toward the frozen bay.

Gamera watched his now airborne foe approach him, preparing himself for whatever it threw at him. Whatever his purpose may be, he may never know, but he knew one absolute truth. This abomination of life must be destroyed and he would make sure it dies even if it takes him with it.

It would be the death he yearned for years and it would be the one he would finally get. The Gyaos denied him of it, but Hedorah would not. Then, Atlantis could truly cease to exist.

Hedorah widened its arms as its body was seconds away from colliding with Gamera. The former sentinel knew what it was up to and quickly stepped aside as its foes crashed into the icy floor, gurgling in annoyance. With a kick, Gamera sent it flying several feet away as it unleashed another plasm ball, detonating against its slimy hide. Bits of its body dried up on contact, but the meager amounts of water on the surface rehydrated, making its wounds tolerable.

Hedorah lifted its head up and unleashed a hedrium ray, but Gamera was quick on his feet and turned his back to face it. The beam struck him, eliciting a pained fill roar, knowing the alternative would have been far worse if it struck his more vulnerable parts.

With his back turned, Gamera didn’t foresee Hedorah firing off several rounds of sludge, all of them striking his body. Gamera shrieked in agony as the acidic mud began eating away at his body, sludge even pouring in his gaping wound in his shoulder, creating an absolute stinging sensation.

He tried to take a step forward to resume the fight, but slipped on the icy surface, collapsing onto the floor as it started to crack. His head crashed through the hole he previously made, submerging it into the cold water. Hedorah approached the fallen Gamera and slammed its massive arms onto his body, splashing its contents all over his body. His deafening cries were enough to make Hedorah cackle with glee as it repeated the attack.

It hurt to move, but Gamera had one trick up his sleeve. He retracted his back into his shell as his limbs followed shortly. Before Hedorah could react, flames erupted from four holes, melting the surface around them. The bottom half of the Smog Monster’s body was submerged in water, instantly feeling rejuvenated, laughing at his foe’s poor method of attack. However, it failed to realize his true reason for retracting its lifts.

Gamera spun his body rapidly, crashing into Hedorah as steady flames from his body set the upper half of it ablaze. The Smog Monster cried in pure agony as it felt itself rapidly desiccating; dry, hard chunks collapsed onto the ground. Its hands crashed into the water as they swung up, splashing water in a meager attempt to keep itself damp from the burning flames. This was not how all of this will end, it reasoned. It would not be bested by an aging warrior.

It had only one chance to make this searing pain end as its fading eyes watched the spinning shell’s openings. A beam erupted from its head and entered through its desired target, instantly causing Gamera to stop spinning as he cried out in anguish. He dropped onto his stomach as he looked up at the burning Hedorah, its eyes filled with pure malice.

Hedorah raised his arms and swung them at Gamera, sending him flying out of the bay and crashing into the city. It gurgled in pure acrimony, as it watched Gamera wailing around on the ground, feeling the same amount of pain it was. They were almost evenly matched as whatever attack they had in store, the other was able to counter it and so on.

It sunk its body into the freezing water, extinguishing the flames on his body and rehydrating itself. Hedorah’s pulposus red eyes rose from the water and continued to glare at Gamera with pure aminoisity. It no longer wanted Gamera to suffer, it just wanted him gone. He took that away from it as the only joy it could receive now was his demise.

Hedorah moved its arms around, melting the ice as it traversed through it, making its way onto the desecrated streets. This annoying conflict ends now, as it walked toward his downed foe.

“I had a dream,” Hina said out loud to herself, walking down the ruined streets, seeing the searing flames over the outer portion of Tokyo. “The day I met you. You looked like a lost kitten. But you’ve helped found meaning for my existence. I kept working as the sunshine girl because I was happy to make people smile. I’m really glad to have met you.”

Hina heard the loud monstrous cries from both combatants and the loud explosions that accompanied them. She didn’t run, or flinch, or even cry. She held no fear for what was going around her as the smoke from the acidic sludge around her began to flow into her body. The pain nor the beginning of suffocation couldn’t stop her as she made her way to her destination.

“So, don’t cry, Hodaka. Everything will be alright,” Hina tearfully said to herself, knowing full well she didn’t want to make the decision she was about to commit to. However, it was the only choice she had to save the world and everyone she loved.

She looked up to see the collapsed Gamera on his back, twitching from all the pain he had just endured. Green liquid oozed from his head as he let out small murmurs of discomfort, the burning sensation still washing over him. Hina took a deep breath, seeing as she found herself with a being she should hate for all the grief he caused her family. Playing a huge part in taking almost everything from her, and yet, that hatred could not be brought out. All she saw was a broken warrior before her.

Gamera’s eyes slowly opened his eyes, feeling completely groggy at everything that just happened. What he saw made his eyes widened a tad more. He saw the girl who was able to command the sun standing in front of him, facing him. She was conflicted, he sensed a great deal of trauma, one that reminded her of the girl connected to Iris. Except, none of the hatred in her, but instead, pure of heart.

The former keeper huffed, knowing well she was about to be a casualty of his conflict with Hedorah. If only she could understand him, he would tell her to leave, but it would be entirely fruitless. From what he could understand, she had no intention of moving.

Then, he saw her lips open up as the words started to flow through his ears.

“You invoked a lot of pain through a lot of people’s lives, including mine,” Hina spoke up, as Gamera kept his eyes pinned on her. “No matter what you did, no matter how you tried to save the world, it was never enough. There will always be people who will find ways to demonize you and to blame you for every action they’re about to commit.”

The words landed in his mind as he took every one of them into consideration. He knew the acts he had committed were unforgivable. He didn’t need to hear them, as he even knew his death would not make the world mourn him, but instead celebrate it as “The Shadow of Evil” would finally be vanquished.

“My mother, perhaps you remember her, nearly brought upon the end of the world for revenge. For what you did to her, and yet, you decided to save her. I don’t know if you could be understood by anyone, just like with her,” Hina nearly sobbed, but kept her composure, as her eyes were still trained on the fallen kaiju.

Gamera’s heart beated slightly faster, that’s where he was able to recognize her. She was the daughter of the woman who held nothing but hatred, and as he saw before, exhibited none of those traits in her. Yet, there was still pain in her. He didn’t know if he could understand it, but he at least shared that with the girl.

Both of them were completely lost.

“I know people will never forgive you or that my mom never forgave you even if she regretted all the pain she caused to others, but…..” Hina paused, staring at the wounded eyes of Gamera, seeing he wasn’t truly a monster. Just a being with pain inside him, something she shared with him.

“But, I forgive you,” Hina spoke, her body immediately becoming fully transparent. Before Gamera could fully react, her whole body transformed into droplets of water, shooting up into the sky.

He couldn’t believe it! Of all the things that had happened, she had to disappear. One, he felt there was something that could be shared with her. Gamera groaned in anguish, watching as the snow transformed back into rain, but immediately ceased soon afterward. The dark clouds disbanded as the sun soon began to rise up, blanketing Tokyo once more with its bright light.

Hedorah let out a pained gurgle as the sun’s ray struck him, immediately beginning the process of drying it out. Gamera, hearing those cries, tightened his hands. The pain following through him did not deter as he kept them tightened. That girl sacrificed herself so he may not only have a second chance of ending the threat once and for all, but for the world itself to heal.

He would not let her unjust sacrifice be in vain. Gamera’s blood boiled, letting out a roar of anger as the world had no reason to let one person sacrifice herself just to fix a problem. He slammed his fists into the ground, his feet retracting into his shell as flames detonated on the ground, lifting him off the surface. Gamera let his feet crash into the ground as he faced the pain stricken Hedorah.

Gamera let another member of a family he harmed die, and despite the words of being he was “forgiven”, he couldn’t see it that way. The only forgiveness he could possibly attain is by making sure her sacrifice wasn’t in vain.

With a powerful angry roar, the loudest he ever discharged, he ran faster than ever. A plasma ball flew out of his mouth and crashed into Hedorah’s left arm, separating it from its body. It let out another cry of pain while Gamera crashed into it, letting it fall on its back. Hedorah squirmed as Gamera stared down in pure malice, readying to take away everything it held precious.

***

“I had a dream. I was still on the island. I wanted to leave. I was rushing desperately, trying to reach the light. When I thought I did, I reached a dead end instead. Then I decided I wanted to enter that light. And at the edge of it, I found you.”

Hodaka let out a gasp, pulling up from the bed as he breathed rapidly. His whole body drenched in sweat, feeling the room to be unusually warmer than before. His mind then shifted over to Hina, as his eyes scanned the bed only to find her nowhere in sight.

“No, no, no, no!” Hodaka stammered, jumping out of the bed as he searched the room, not being able to find her. Then, he saw the sunlight poking through the blinds, confirming his worst fears, but yet, he didn’t want to believe them.

He barged into the nearest next room, hoping to find her as he shouted out, “Where are you? Hina!”

Mayumi and Nagi stumbled out of their respective rooms, rubbing their eyes as they were waking up. “What’s wrong, Hodaka?” Nagi groggily asked.

Hodaka turned around to face the two, knowing full well what he was about to say would break them. Without a second to waste he nearly exploded, “Hina’s disappeared!”

“No…. she can’t, she can’t! I just got her back!” Mayumi cried out, fear completely washing over her as the loss of another family member was becoming a reality for her.

“I just dreamt…. That she was disappearing in the sky,” Nagi spoke, his voice trembling in terror.

“Don’t tell me….” Hodaka trailed off, realizing his worst fears had indeed come true, as a knock on the door immediately caused them to turn.

“Open up!” a demanding voice spoke on the opposite side of the front door.

“What’s going on?” Nagi shuddered as the knocks got louder and louder.

“Stay here, I’ll go see who it is,” Mayumi motioned forward, opening the door slowly to find the authorities standing at her doorstep. A huge lump was created in her throat, as she gulped in fear, completely baffled at how they knew where to find the kids.

“Can I help you?” she trembled.

“Mam, we’re going to need you to evacuate your house now as you are still in the radius of the kaiju attack going on,” the officer ordered.

Mayumi almost breathed a sigh of relief, knowing her kids were not in danger. “Yes, of course. Just let me go grab my children and we’ll be on our way.”

Mayumi turned to the two children poking their heads through the hallway and motioned for them to come out. They slowly made their way to the living room when the detective’s eyes widened at the identities of the two kids.

“Hodaka Morishima, right?” the detective asked, as Hodaka even took two steps back, knowing full well what was about to transpire.”You’re a missing person. And suspected of unlawful possession of a weapon.”

“And you, ma’am, are now being charged with kidnapping,” the officer directed to Mayumi as his face turned bright red with anger.

“Are you kidding me? For taking in children, two of them who are rightfully mine to claim guardianship over!” Mayumui screeched out, as she felt herself being cuffed.

“Let me go!” Nagi screamed out as a police officer grabbed a hold of him, immediately causing Mayumi’s body to shake rapidly.

“Get your goddamn hands off of him!” Mayumui screamed out, her voice emulating that of a banshee’s.

“Hodaka, Grandma!” Nagi cried out, as Hodaka even rushed over to his aid, but felt himself tackled to the ground, his vision going black.

***

After coming to, Hodaka felt himself be ushered toward the police car parked outside. Everyone’s feet trudging slowly through the body of water.

“After months of rain, the Kanto plain is finally seeing some brilliant sunshine. In the last few hours, temperatures have spiked up over seventy-seven degrees, ” A newscaster reported on the radio.

“The overall damages made to Tokyo are still to be determined as the kaiju are still present in the city. While it is tempting to enjoy the emergence of the sun, the JSDF is still keeping the evacuation order in place until the situation can be dealt with,” another relayed.

Hodaka looked up at the sky, knowing how beautiful the sight was, but didn’t feel anything for it. He then saw something shining bright, his eyes squinting, trying to comprehend what it was. It soon dropped in the water, creating a small splash. Hodaka leaned down and picked up, his breathing stuttered when he saw it was the ring he gave Hina just hours ago.

“What are you doing?” the detective asked, agitated as Hodaka was not moving toward the vehicle.

“Hina…..” Hodaka’s voice shook, his teeth chattering. “Sacrificed herself.”

Nagi and Mayumi were frozen in disbelief as it was just now washing over them. She did end up giving her life to make things better. The floodgates opened up for both of them as they began to sob over the revelation.

“Hina! Tell me it’s not true! Hey!” Hodaka ran forward, screaming at the sky, demanding an answer. He did not get far as a police officer immediately restrained him and ushered him toward the vehicle.

“Now, I’ve got a question for you. Hina Amano, do you really have no idea where she’s at?” the detective asked, trying to account for the missing person amongst the group.

Hodaka couldn’t help but think back to a lot of what was shared between him and her. Their days performing the gigs, their days of fun and them being them. For the longest time he thought she was the oldest, but her being younger than him really hit him. He should have been the one taking care of everyone, it should have been him who had to make the sacrifice. Not her!

“I’m the oldest one,” Hodaka choked up, eliciting a baffled look from the detective. “The sky has cleared because she offered herself in exchange. And no one else knows that! I can’t take it!”

His hands shook, his legs wobbled. He couldn’t just stand there and let them take him away. He had to do something now! With his arms swinging forward, he slammed them into the detective’s face, forcing him to let out a yell. Hodaka nearly slipped from the watery surface, but kept his footing intact as he ran down the street, escaping his captives to find the person he treasured the most.

“Save her, Hodaka!” Nagi screamed out at the top of his lungs as Hodaka picked up the pace as the police gave chase. However, they were able to keep up, nearly grasping at Hodaka when a car nearly drove over them, driving the officers from him.

The car window rolled down and to his surprise, it was Asagi. “Hodaka!”

“Asagi, what are you doing here?” he cried out.

“Not following through with the evacuation order! What the hell got you in trouble with the police?!” Asagi blared out.

“Trying to get Hina back!” Hodaka answered.

Asagi shook her head.

“He really loves this girl, doesn’t he? More than anything else.”

It spoke to her, wishing she could be just like him. Asagi hit the unlock button on her console and gave out an order, “Get in!”

Hodaka, with no hesitation, jumped in the car as they sped away from their pursuers and into the damaged city.

“At the very least, we’re in an exciting part of our lives. Complete outlaws!” hummed Asagi, smiling at the situation they just placed themselves in.

“And you’re not worried about any of this?!” Hodaka nearly exclaimed.

“Hell no! I’ve done stuff far worse than this. Besides, you’re doing a lot better than me right now. You’re sacrificing everything for the girl you love,” Asagi countered, keeping her eyes on the damaged roads ahead of them. “Tell me, where do you think she’s at?”

***

The police drove toward a camp for the fleeing civilians as the detective turned toward Mayumi sitting in the back. “That kid you supposedly kept an eye on is making things a lot harder than they should be.”

“What’d you expect? He’s been through a lot and obviously cares deeply for Hina,” Mayumi spat back.

“Watch it!” the detective barked back.

“Whatever,” Mayumi murmured, annoyed at how much of a nuisance the detective was being.

“Hmmm…. Perhaps we can help each other out then,” he spoke, gaining her attention.

“I’m listening,” Mayumi sternly replied, keeping her eyes glaring at him, as she did not trust him one bit.

“Help us find out where Hodaka Morishima is going to and we’ll be willing to let a few things slide, like housing the three kids,” he explained.

Mayumi shook her head, leaning forward, despising the man sitting in front of her. However, she couldn’t let her hatred overtake her as it was the best deal she could get under these circumstances. “Fine, I’ll tell you, but under a few conditions.”

“Name them.”

“You bring me along as well as another person who may be able to help out. And you support me in getting full custody of Nagi Amano, since he is my grandson afterall,” listed Mayumi, keeping her eyes pierced onto him.

“Deal, but isn’t Hina also a grandchild of yours?” he inquired, taken slightly back at her not mentioning her granddaughter.

“I don’t know if she’ll ever come back,” Mayumi nearly choked up, but kept herself defiant, preventing herself from showing any weakness.

The road everyone was heading down was a long one and filled with misery. No one could prepare for it even if they could see every bit of it. All of it was about to come crashing down.

***

“That derelict building in Yoyogi? That piece of shit!?” Asagi exclaimed, her foot pushing harder on the gas pedal.

“Aye. That’s where she became the sunshine girl,” Hodaka revealed.

“Hold tight!” Asagi cried out, nearly interrupting him as they swerved through pieces of debris. With each passing block, the streets were becoming more and more unbearable to traverse through, making it extremely difficult to reach their destination.

“She said she got connected to the sky on the roof of that building, so if I go there, I’m sure I can fix all of this,” added Hodaka.

“Shit!” Asagi yelled out, forcing Hodaka to turn his head forward to see the large body of water now flooding the streets ahead of him.

“This can’t be it!” Hodaka cried out, feeling deterred by the roadblock.

“It’s not! Hold tight!” announced Asagi, slamming her foot on the pedal, forcing the car to go at full speed, as it went flying over a portion of the body of water. Hodaka’s heart raced at the action his friend just committed, the car now descending as seconds later it exploded on the water, now slowly sinking.

“Go, Hodaka!” commanded Asagi, as they climbed to the roof of the car, keeping themselves afloat. With no hesitation whatsoever, Hodaka jumped onto a nearby truck and followed it with another jump on a ladder leading up to a nearby train track.

“Thank you, Asagi!” Hodaka called out, making his getaway as sirens blared behind them. The cops marched up to Asagi, who was swimming toward them. She knew she was about to be detained and didn’t care. He was doing something she could never do, and she was proud of him. Hodaka was going to save Hina and make Mayumi’s family whole once more.

She knew it.

Hodaka ran for what felt like miles, sweat pouring down him and nearly out of breath, but it did not cause him to falter.

“Hina. Hina. Hina. Hina!” He repeated out countless times, looking at the vista before, seeing a huge funnel cloud like shape off in the distance. He wondered if that’s where she could be as he asked himself a question. “Are you there, Hina?”

With every memory of her now playing in his mind, he felt himself picking up the pace. His movements were becoming faster and faster. The authoritative voices telling him to stop belonging to the military and police were not something he could obey, but instead ignore. The more the memories played, the more he resisted.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Hina. I made you do that sunshine girl thing! You’ve shouldered all of the responsibility!” Hodaka chanted as he now found himself at the entrance of the abandoned building. Without allowing himself to think of scenarios where Hina would either forgive or chastise him for his mistakes, he bolted through, climbing the various levels.

Hodaka made it to the room he was all too familiar with. The room where he was officially introduced to Hina, but something felt odd to him, like something bad was about to happen. Then, it hit him.

Mayumi and Suga stood there in front of him. Neither of them carried faces of joy or concern, but of disapproval. Hodaka’s heart sank, feeling the dread from what was about to transpire.

Nothing good was about to come from this confrontation.

***

Gamera reared his head back, as he discharged another plasma ball, exploding in front of Hedorah. It let out a gurgle of terror, as the sun and the rapid amount of projectiles were causing its life expectancy to shorten drastically. It fired a Hedrium ray to ward off Gamera to buy it a meager amount of time to think of a plan, but it was of no use. The beam pierced through his shell, but it did not hinder him. Gamera gritted his teeth, as the affected piece exploded into chunks, as he kept pushing forward.

Hedorah only had one form of salvation and it was the dissolving Tokyo Bay. If it could reach the water, it would surely live to fight another day. It had to! It couldn’t end like this! It had only just known what existence was like in just a short amount of time. It panicked. It had finally known fear as it turned around, moving as fast as it could toward the bay.

Gamera watched Hedorah trying to make itself, seeing it inch closer and and closer toward the bay. He let out a low growl, angry at how cowardly his foe had just become. It laughed as it tormented and slaughtered countless people, but now, it showed the same fear as before. Gamera felt nothing but disdain for this worthless creature and knew this cycle would only continue if reached the water.

Without any other options, Gamera braced himself for the pain he was about recieve. His legs launched themselves into his shell as flames came through. Gamera projected himself at his fleeing foe causing it to scream in horror as it felt itself being tackled. Hedorah, with his remaining arm struck Gamera’s head several times as its acidic sludge splattered all over, eliciting steam from the affected zones. The former sentinel gritted his teeth once more, ignoring the pain as best as he could, but it was getting too much for him. He felt himself losing altitude as his jets stuttered, forcing them to make a crash landing on the shrinking icy floor.

The two laid a few feet from each other, with Hedorah looking at the calming, slow moving body of water next to him. It was so appetizing that it could almost taste how refreshing it looked. It murmured with delight as the Smog Monster longed to be in safety of the abyss once more. Hedorah didn’t regret going out of its comfort zone, as it found the best food it could ever hope to dine on and the entertainment was all it could ever dream of. The abomination crawled slowly when it heard the earth shattering roar of Gamera once more.

It shrieked as it rapidly crawled to the surface, it was so close to salvation! Gamera grabbed the Smog Monster’s tail as its remaining arm hit the ice as hard it could, trying to break the ice to escape. However, it felt itself being dragged back toward the center of the surface. Hedorah growled furiously, flipping itself on its back, firing a crimson beam once more. Gamera quickly inched his head out of the way as he set it up on its feet.

There was only one way Gamera could ensure its destruction and that was to take it up to the sky. Hedorah prepared to fire another beam to incapacitate him long enough to escape, but Gamera had other ideas to end this conflict. Gamera crossed his arms and launched them backward, revealing two spikes coming from his elbows.

Before Hedorah could even prepare for what was about to happen, Gamera rammed them into the Smog Monster’s eye sockets causing it to scream in bloody agony. Beyond the sun, it never knew it could feel such pain, but its eyes, his one true vulnerable spot, created a pain filled sensation it could never understand.

Black ooze poured down its eyes as it splashed onto Gamera’s spikes, immediately causing them to fizzle. Within seconds, his spikes broke causing Gamera to shriek in pain as the acid poured through the openings of his discard claws. Still, the remains of the spikes were still dug in deep into Hedorah’s sockets, nearly forcing it to circle around in complete terror. It had no clue where to go and how to escape.

It was truly helpless.

Gamera took a deep breath in, knowing it was all but over. He prepared himself for the pain he was about to feel. The formal sentinel closed his eyes, as he saw his life flashing before his eyes. His creation, the fall of Atlantis, reawakening for the first in thousands of years, connecting with Asagi, and his failure. He had a purpose once and perhaps this could be the second one he helped fulfil. Gamera wouldn’t know until it was over.

With a deep breath out, Gamera approached his panicking foe and wrapped its arms around it, hearing it scream in horror. The former sentinel’s jets activated, melting the ice they stood on, dissolving it completely as he left it toward the sky, traveling several thousands of feet in a matter of minutes. His stomach and palms burned as his foe’s contents latched itself onto him. He hissed in pain, but tightened his grip on Hedorah as he felt the effects of the sun doing its work. His weakened right hand struggled to grab a hold of the Smog Monster, as the combined might of the acid and his still healing wound made it shake rapidly. Gamera huffered as he reaffirmed his resolve, piercing his hand onto the drying body, securing its hold. Hedorah’s body was drying rapidly as its cries were growing weaker and weaker. The Smog Monster could barely tilt its head as its consciousness was fading.

All it could ever achieve dried up.

Gamera titled his head slightly to see himself a good distance from the surface. Knowing it was time, Gamera threw his nearly dried up foe further, freeing himself from the acidic monster. Fire brewed from his mouth as he fired a plasma ball, striking it directly in the center of Hedorah’s body. It immediately went ablaze, creating an orangish hue around it, but Gamera didn’t stop there. He fired not one, not two, but three more projectiles! Each one detonating against the dried up Smog Monster, creating a bigger explosion than the last until the final one reduced it to nothing.

With the last of his plasma fired off, Gamera felt his energy depleted. He watched the sky, the beautiful blue sky. He loved it, but it didn’t feel rewarding nor did vanquishing the monster he swore to destroy.

Why?

Why didn’t he feel a sense of pride or gain a new purpose?

Was this some sort of cruel irony? Searching so desperately for a purpose that he nearly sacrificed himself just to vanquish a world ending threat.

Gamera shivered, knowing full well he deserved to feel nothing but pain and misery for hoping it could change his life around. He only returned to stop Hedorah for that reason alone. The former guardian knew that was all it deserved. It failed in everything he set out to do and now he was back where he started.

Falling from the sky after vanquishing a terrible threat.

Gamera murmured slightly, disappointed that the Smog Monster didn’t take him out with it. Just like the Gyaos, they both failed in fulfilling their promise. Now, all he could do was hope fate would at least be merciful to him.

It was tempting to close his eyes and let himself drift off to sleep as he descended from the heavens, but that beautiful blue sky was the one piece of solace he had left. He could enjoy it for the last few minutes he had left on his Earth, before his inevitable collapse.

He just hoped it would be enough to kill him this time.

***

“Mayumi, Suga?” Hodaka exhaled, his eyes still peeled onto them in shock. “What are you doing here?”

“Mayumi asked me to help find you,” Suga answered, taking a step forward. “She said I could help with all of this.”

“Why?” Hodaka trembled, turning his attention back to Mayumi, her face painted with guilt and worst of all, defeat. “What are you doing?”

“Do you realize what you’re doing? Running into a city when that thing is still out there!? Do you have a goddamn deathwish?!” Suga fired back, his tone of voice now coated with concern. He had already been through enough, living on the streets, being attacked by Hedorah several times and now a fugitive from the law. He needed to stop for his own good.

“Hina’s disappeared!” Hodaka barked back, taking a step forward as he ignored everything the older man just said. “It’s my fault. The sunshine girl job was my fault. All of this was my fault!”

“Hodaka, please….” Mayumi uttered out, her voice cracking as she hated the situation she was in, seeing a kid she cared about reduced to a crazed mess.

She didn’t finish, but Hodaka had a feeling about what she was about to say and it filled him with nothing but thoughts of betrayal. He was about to speak, but Suga interjected once more, “Hodaka, you….”

Hodaka stepped forward, refusing to let himself be talked over by people who not betrayed him, but worst of all, were abandoning her. “No! It’s my turn to help her now!”

Sirens blared out, the three of them turning their heads in all directions of the building as car doors soon slammed open.

With tears nearly bursting out from his eyes, he looked back at his supposed friends. “Get out of my way,” Hodaka stubbornly spat out, running past them, but felt something grabbing him by his shirt.

“Wait!” Suga called out, restraining him as Mayumi followed, her whole demeanor eliciting concern. “Suga, don’t hold him down.”

Her voice fell on deaf ears to both of them as Hodaka chanted as he pointed up the visible orange shrine above them, “I can get to heaven from there!”

Suga glanced up at the altar, as both his and Mayumi’s eyes went wide with what he just conveyed. They didn’t know what he meant, but feared for the worst as Mayumi’s hand shook rapidly, feeling disgusted by what he was saying.

“She’s in the sky! I’ll use the emergency stairs!” Hodaka explained defiantly, desperately trying to convince him to let him go.

“She’s not up there! That is nothing more than a bullshit tale we would write about! You knew this since day one!” Suga countered, feeling extremely agitated the kid is refusing to listen to reason.

Hodaka ignored him once more as he shrieked out, “I have to help her!”

“Goddamnit, Hodaka! Get a grip!” Mayumi shrieked out, slapping him across the face as the sound echoed throughout the whole building. Hodaka stood there in shock, as he couldn’t believe what she just did.

“She’s gone, don’t you see? I don’t want you to end up like her. I can’t lose another kid…. Please…. don’t go down this path,” Mayumi tearfully explained, her voice bursted between sobs while her knees wobbled. She hated everything she just said and even herself for that matter, for already believing her granddaughter was dead. Mayumi thought she could get a second chance, that she deserved one, but she immediately balked the moment things became an inconvenience for her.

“Calm down. It’ll be okay,” Suga hushed, trying to get his two friends to feel at ease as he began to lay everything out. “We can go back to the authorities and explain everything that happened. They’ll understand it as just a simple misunderstanding. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

He held Hodaka tight, almost bringing him in for a hug.

“Natsumi was right. He really is me.”

“If you keep running away, it’ll be too late. You know that,” Suga contended, desperately trying to prevent him from making the same mistakes he made in life that turned him into what he was now. “Please…. I’ll even be with you the whole way through. We can do this.”

Suga picked Hodaka back up and grabbed him by the arm, attempting to lead him out of the room, but Hodaka held his stance firm. He wasn’t convinced and he would never go back. No matter the cost.

“Let go of me!” Hodaka barked, using all of his strength to pull back, but Suga wouldn’t relinquish his grasp.

“Calm down!” Suga angrily yelled out, pulling Hodaka closer to him, but it was nothing more than a mistake as Hodaka bent down and sunk his teeth into his arm. Suga hollered from the sinking pain. “You little bastard!”

With a raised foot, he sent it crashing into Hodaka’s stomach. The teenager went flying several feet across the room, eventually skidding on the rough surface. Hodaka twitched from the injury he’d just recieved, but his eyes found something he never thought he’d see again.

The gun.

Without even letting his conscience speak out, Hodaka slammed his hand on the gun and pointed it at the two adults. Both of them immediately froze in place out of which everything had come down to.

“Don’t stand in my way!” Hodaka screamed out from the top of his lungs, his throat ringing as he continued to point the gun. “Let me see Hina!”

With his finger pressing down on the trigger, a bullet fired off as the ringing reverberated a great distance. Suga moved his hands all over his body while Mayumi collapsed on her knees, both of them realizing the bullet hit neither of them, only to see Hodaka had pointed the gun upward.

Hodaka rested the gun down, remaining sedentary, realizing what he had just done. He felt sick to his stomach as despite the grief they were causing him, he didn’t want to hurt either of them. Hodaka finally broke down, his eyes trained on his two friends as they saw just how badly affected he was by all of this. He nearly abandoned his hold from the firearm, but saw several members of the police barging through the room.

“No! No!” Suga called out, fruitlessly trying to get the authorities to back away as Hodaka lifted his weapon back up, pointing it at them.

“Drop the gun!” The detective ordered, his voice no longer carrying an authoritative sense but one of pure anger.

“Wait a minute, easy, easy!” Suga shouted out, blocking them from Hodaka, as they slowly circled around him. “It’s a misunderstanding. We’ll explain, right Mayumi?”

Mayumi couldn’t provide any assistance as she was petrified that everything had transpired. More so than the Gyaos, or Iris, anything else faced. She could handle any type of danger except for the ones that involved the people she loved. Was that why she accepted to be married to Yoshinari, because they didn’t see each other for the majority of the year? Or how she adopted Ayana and Satoru? So, she didn’t have to raise them all the way to eighteen? Was she happy when she lost her kids the first time, so she no longer had to shed any responsibility?

If that was the case, why did she go out of her way to rescue Hina and Nagi? Or did she only do it so she could relieve that experience?

“Why do I hurt everyone?”

The detective trained his weapon onto Suga, as he immediately held his hands up. On the outside, he was terrified, but on the inside he was incredibly furious at him for threatening to shoot him. He wanted to beat the shit out of him.

“The hell did I do?”

To play devil’s advocate, he turned to Hodaka, “Right? It was just one big misunderstanding.”

“Goddamnit…….” Hodaka’s voice trembled, his arms shaking rapidly, as his gun was pointed at the detective. “You, both of you say you’re trying to do better, but all you’re doing is just making the same mistakes you did before.”

“Hodaka…..” Suga tried to reason once more.

“Shut up!” Hodaka shrieked out. “What if Moka was the sunshine girl? Would you even help her or just let her die!?”

Suga couldn’t even answer as that reality terrified him more than anything. He had just gotten her back and losing her again only made him sick. Suga started to reel back everything he said to Hodaka, as he was now remembering what the kid was feeling. Hodaka lost a person whom he loved, just like he did.

Before Suga could even ponder it further, Hodaka cut him off. “The fact I have to ask that question already gives me my answer!”

“Don’t make me shoot! Drop the weapon!” the detective ordered once more.

Hodaka disregarded him yet again and turned toward the defeated Mayumi, still on her knees. Out of everyone in this room, he was starting to despise her the most even if he didn’t want to harm her, but he still wanted to chew her out for everything.

“You’re the worst person I’ve ever met! You go all this way to give them a life, but immediately throw it all away when they actually need help! You gave them nothing more than false hope! You got another daughter killed and another son pushed away from you! You just helped create another Ayana! If that was your goal, then congratulations! I don’t know who’s worse, parents who outright abuse them or ones who shower them with love and then immediately turn on them!” Hodaka screamed at the top of his lungs, every word bombarding Mayumi’s eardrums.

Every word she heard was true. She gave up far too easily, even though she told herself that plenty of times, hearing it from another person struck differently. Mayumi ruined two of her children’s lives and was well on her way to destroy two more. She believed in a lot of things and even saw a lot of them she never thought could happen. Perhaps…. That shrine could actually do it.

She looked up to Hodaka, his body still shaking rapidly, inching his finger away to fire off another round. Suga took a step forward, taking a deep breath. “Come on, Hodaka, just put it down.”

Suga watched as the authorities were mimicking Hodaka’s behavior, his eyes widened in fear as they saw their fingers readying to pull their respective triggers. “What the hell is wrong with you guys!? He’s just a kid!”

“Leave me alone!” Hodaka shouted out once more, gaining Suga’s attention once more. “Why are you holding me up? You all know nothing! What’s so hard about believing everything about the sunshine girl when there’s giant beasts roaming the Earth!?”

“I just want to see her once more!” Hodaka cried, throwing the gun on the floor as he made a break for it, but the detective was faster. He pushed him down to the ground, pinning him down as he put a handcuff on one of his hands.

“Got him!” the detective announced.

“Let go of me!” Hodaka harshly spat out, desperately trying to break their hold on him.

Suga felt regret flooding him while watching him getting nearly dogpiled by several cops. He hated himself for seeing it sooner or even believing him when he had been nothing but a good kid all along. Even better than he was. He was the person he wished he could have been. Now, it was becoming the other way around.

With his hands tightening, he yelled out “Take your hands off him, assholes!”

Before they even knew it, Suga rammed into them, knocking them away from Hodaka. “You bastard!” the detective spat out as Suga sent his fist flying into his mouth, a small trickle of blood drizzling out.

Suga turned back momentarily, screaming out “Go, Hodaka!”

Hodaka couldn’t believe it, but he was wrong. Suga did care. He just couldn’t see it. He appreciated it greatly, silently thanking him as he picked up his feet and ran. However, he was forced to take a grinding halt as a police officer came out from the corner and trained his weapon on him.

“Stop!” he ordered.

“You’re not stopping him!” a loud voice screamed out as Hodaka saw to his complete astonishment, Mayumi slamming into the officer, barely knocking him down. She sent her fists crashing down onto his face as they immediately caused her to recoil in pain from the impact.

“You were right! I was wrong! I was a terrible person! A terrible mom! And now, a terrible grandmother!” Mayumi cried out, keeping the officer restrained. This could be how everything ended for her, but she no longer cared. All she cared now was for Hodaka to make it to the roof, to save Hina and to make sure her grandchildren were reunited. This was what she wanted and if she got out of being imprisoned for several years much less survived, then she would have nothing back. She would shield them from everything, she would be there with every step of the way, she would be a parent for once.

They were her life now.

“Save her! Save this family!” Mayumi ordered, her voice going higher than ever as Hodaka nodded, jumping out the window and onto the staircase.

Hodaka climbed it at great speeds, wasting no time as he couldn’t fail. He had to bring Hina back, he had to! Not even a minute gone, Hodaka reached the top as he raced over to the shrine, his mind could only speak as he thought of one last prayer. The one that was most important of all.

“Dear God, please, please, please.”

Then, everything went white for him.

He gasped as he opened his eyes, finding himself in a dark abyss with droplets of water racing past him. He was perplexed by his empty surroundings while he descended, his mind wandered to Hina, wondering if this is where she ended up. Hodaka looked down to what he could only make out as the Earth was covered by an endless storm. As he got closer he saw ocean waves with sirens going on while red lightning struck the blackened skies.

“Hina, is this why you sacrificed yourself? What does all this even mean?”

A loud roar was heard, forcing him to turn around only to himself aghast by the display before him. A watery serpent-like creature dashing toward him as Hodaka could only scream as it devoured him. He was splashed by its watery body as several water droplets shaped like fish swam all around him, eventually sending himself out of the massive abyss and back into the blue sky.

Knowing now he was in the right place with the clouds below and seeing the massive platforms around him, he screamed, “Hina!”

More of the watery fish swam around the body of land, around Hina’s sleeping body as her name echoed out to the area. With each scream, the fish departed from her as she slowly woke up, the transparent green and blue substance dissolving.

She slowly stood up on her feet, her whole being struck amazement as she saw the impossible! Hodaka was in the sky, screaming her name. Hina already accepted her fate, she didn’t want him to come rescue her. She didn’t need to throw his life away as well. And yet, she couldn’t refuse.

“Hodaka!”

“Hina!”

He desperately tried to reach for her, but the wind was pushing him too fast, preventing him from making any contact on the surface. She stood on her feet and ran to save him from his terrible mistake. Hodaka had been through too much and she couldn’t let him suffer anymore.

“Jump!” Hodaka yelled out as Hina did as he commanded, her feet taking her away from the surface and into his arms. They descended rapidly, passing through several clouds and even back into the dark storm at times.

“I found you!” he cried out happily, feeling her embrace, to which he considered the best feeling of his entire life. He felt connected, he found his calling and he didn’t want to ever leave it.

“Hodaka,” Hina tried to speak, but he interjected. “Don’t let go of my hands, okay!”

Hina nodded as they kept their hands interlocked with each other as best as they could, but it was of no use. The strong winds forced them to vacate their hold onto each other as Hina was shot further down from Hodaka.

“No! No! Hina!” Hodaka cried out, not wanting to lose her after he spent so much time trying to find her again.

“Hodaka!” she cried out, panicking at her plunging rapidly down the Earth.

They exited the storm cloud, allowing Hodaka to get closer to Hina, but it was still of no use. He couldn’t close the distance between the two, but it didn’t deter him. He inched as best as he could to reach her as he called out to her once more, making a declaration on what will happen if they make it out of this.

“Let’s go home, Hina! To Nagi, to Mayumi, to wherever you want to go!” he cried out.

“But, if I do, the weather will….” Hina countered, but Hodaka shouted in defiance. “I don’t care!”

Hina was taken back by what he just said. He was willing to throw away the world just for her. It was selfish of him, but it made her breathless, like she felt like she was truly loved.

Elsewhere, Gamera continued his rapid fall to the sky, still intent on letting himself die when he reached the earth. However, through all odds, he heard people screaming through the sky. He shook his head, trying to comprehend how anyone could be at this high of an altitude. The former sentinel knew how fragile humans were, but their voices were powerful as ever. He shifted his head to the right, noticing two subjects falling alongside him.

His eyes zoomed, recognizing the boy from before, saving him from Hedorah. Then, the girl who sacrificed herself for him, for the world.

She was alive? How!?

He couldn’t believe it. But, why was he feeling so relieved to see the girl okay? What about them, her, made it feel special to him?

He treated them like anyone else, saving them if they happened to be in the way. Yet, he felt a sudden inclination to feel something more than a sense of duty. He listened to the girl, still dedicated to her duty as the sunshine girl. Something he felt he could greatly relate to, but felt disgusted by it at the same time.

“It’s enough! You don’t have to be the sunshine girl anymore!” Hodaka blared out.

Did he tell her to forsake her purpose, could it possibly be something much more than that? Gamera thought, tilting his body more to the side, his body now facing the falling duo.

He could understand the words humans spoke, but never really paid them much mind. However, Gamera asked himself why their words were reaching him. Was fate trying to tell him something? He desperately searched for an answer, and nothing still came to him.

“Who cares if we don’t see the sunshine again? I want you more than any blue sky!” Hodaka announced, meaning every word he said to her. The person he treasured the most in this demanding world.

Hina’s tears were sucked out of her eyes and into the sky as what Hodaka said was setting in. All he wanted was to be with her and what she wanted most of all was to be with him. They were connected and that’s all that mattered.

“The world can stay crazy!” Hodaka affirmed, with one powerful reach, grabbing onto Hina once more and reuniting with her. The two locked each other in an embrace and descended, fully dedicating themselves to each other no matter what the world threw at them.

The world?

The world can stay crazy. Those words in particular struck a chord with Gamera as if a key was jammed into his mind, unlocking what he desired all these years ago. What he was searching for so long wasn’t what he wanted or even there.

He wasn’t cursed. He was never “The Shadow of Evil.”

Instead, he was the opposite of that.

He was free. He was free to make his own decisions. That freedom was his reward for doing his duty to the world, to humanity. He didn’t have to be the “Guardian of the Universe” anymore. He was just Gamera.

With a huge breath of relief and even choking up a bit, Gamera felt a huge wave of air wash over him. It was as if every burden he had ever received in his life evaporated and was now able to dictate his own path. No longer living on orders or a promise, but could now live for himself, and it was okay.

Gamera threw away his title and his old responsibilities. He had a new one now, one given to himself as he snapped his back to the kids once more. They had saved his life not twice, but now three times. He would not carelessly allow people to get harmed or die on his watch, but those kids now meant more than the world to him. It was now his turn to save them.

With the evacuation of his jets, Gamera flipped himself on his stomach and raced toward them. He let out a roar signifying he was here to help as Hodaka and Hina watched the savior come to their aid. They didn’t feel any terror from him, but instead of a sign of comfort, knowing he would always be by their side.

Gamera reached for them, and what he noticed was his arm no longer shaking. It was a miracle! All of that pain was gone, his grief no longer there. Nothing held him back now.

He caught them with his once injured hand while they stared at him with amazement as he returned the favor. Gamera kept his attention on them, knowing he was finally at peace as they flew down to the city of Tokyo.

Soaring through the landscape, Gamera found a spot where he could land safely and deliver the two safely. He slowed his descent, landing on his stomach as he watched several people, most of them the JSDF approaching him. Gamera knew they still didn’t trust him and didn’t care if he ever regained it. All that mattered was Hodaka and Hina’s safety. He laid his hand out flat, allowing them to walk.

“Hina! Hodaka!” Mayumi and Suga shouted, running in handcuffs as the authorities tried to stop them, they were too late. Mayumi wrapped her hands around them as best as she could as she tearfully looked at her granddaughter.

“Hina…. I….” Mayumi tried to apologize, but Hina cut her off as she continued resting her head on her shoulder.

“It’s okay. I’m here, you’re here, that’s all that matters.”

“Never seen the big guy up close,” Suga remarked, admiring Gamera, before turning to Hodaka. “How’d you convince the big guy to save you two?”

“I.. don’t know, but I think he sees something in us, and I think we see something in him,” he surmised, taking a look back at Gamera.

The savior momentarily turned his head upward, watching as the dark clouds slowly made their move once more. These people in this plot of land would never see the sun again. He questioned if he helped make the right choice in all of this or if Atlantis would have wanted her to die had they still been around.

Gamera could still see the blue sky if he traveled around the world, but he felt content with living in the moment, knowing the blue sky’s visibility here was numbered. It wasn’t a thing lasting forever that made it beautiful or having to prepare himself for trying to guess what the future would hold for the world. Gamera was happy to know he could experience such things.

Companionship, freedom, and a life he could call his own.

And the answer to his question was, he made the right decision for himself. Gamera didn’t care if it angered the whole world, for once in his life he lived for himself.

He tilted his head back down at the smiling Hina. Gamera saw it in her, as she was free from her burdens like him. They were able to live whatever lives they wanted, but he wanted to spend it watching over them, the people he held dear to his heart.

“Thank you, Gamera,” Hina spoke as Gamera nodded his head slightly.

Then, he sensed someone, someone who should not be here. He saw Asagi slowly walking up to him in amazement and confusion. He saw her still being troubled and grumbled. She was free a long time ago, it baffled him at how she couldn’t let go.

“Gamera,” Asagi mouthed quietly, keeping her eyes trained on the being she once bonded with. It was here at last where she finally came face to face with him once more. Every fiber of her body felt like it was ready to connect once more and yet nothing happened. It was completely empty.

He still cared for her in a sense, but it was time for her to let go. Gamera looked at her before turning his attention back to Hina and huffing. He stared at her for a few seconds before motioning his head back to Asagi.

Gamera let out a small murmur to Asagi. It wasn’t one of despair or of grief, but to signify an end of an era.

It clicked for her. Asagi finally saw it. Finally saw what so many people were trying to tell her for two decades. It was no longer about her, but instead, about them now. She let out a large exhale, turning her focus back on to Gamera.

“Thank you, old friend,” Asagi spoke, a smile now showing up on her face.

“Did he say anything?” Mayumi inquired, trying to get a grasp on her friend’s sudden shift in personality.

“Yeah, he said everything I needed to know,” answered Asagi, keeping her smile.

Gamera turned his back to Hina and Hodaka as they smiled up at him. He wanted to stay with them for as long as possible, but couldn’t. He needed to rest and he didn’t want to risk humanity opening fire on him.

The savior picked himself up causing nearly everyone to back away in hurry as he looked up at the darkening sky. It had wanted humanity to kill him before, but now he wanted to live. Live to see his friends fulfill all they could achieve.

He was going to keep that promise to them and himself. With his legs retracting, Gamera flew up into the sky, departing the city of Tokyo and toward the ocean where he could rest for the next time he sees the two.

That freedom would not be forsaken.

***

Asagi stepped forward, staring at the ocean. She stopped by the refinery once more, not regale in old memories of her time with Gamera, but to get a sense of closure. Mayumi had gotten closure and she deserved it as well. She couldn’t help but feel a large amount of weight being lifted from her, as if she was finally being released from her duty. Now, all she could do was determine a life for herself from here on out.

She chuckled at the amount of persuasion an old friend of theirs had to do to get them largely off the hook. Tsutomu Osako had nearly seen it all, but lost his marbles at having to help clear so many people in so little time. More so than the countless monsters hunting him. She appreciated him nonetheless, otherwise she wouldn’t be here doing the thing she was about to do.

Asagi pulled the bead out from her pocket and stared at it once more. She rubbed her thumb over it, gently caressing it. She never regretted her connection with him, what she did to help save the world, or everything she learned from it. It made her invested in the world beyond her small town and even made her finally connect with the person who meant the most to her.

With her free hand, she pulled out her phone and pressed Yukino’s name. It rang for a few moments when a tired voice answered. “Asagi, what’s going on?”

“Hi, Yukino,” Asagi vocalized, trying to keep herself calm. She wanted to make things right, but that all depended if she was willing to take her back.

“I… I heard what happened, are you okay?” she asked, her voice packing more concern than before, only now realizing what just happened in Tokyo a few days ago.

“Yeah. I’m okay. Are you okay?” Asagi asked for greater interest in her loved one’s well being.

“Asagi, I’m in Osaka. I wasn’t in any danger,” Yukino muttered.

“Oh yeah, I figured, but I just wanted to make sure,” reasoned Asagi, smiling just a tad at dialogue starting up, one far better than they’ve had in a long time.

“So, did you see Gamera, again?” she asked, her voice starting to sound more exhausted, expecting Asagi to start either raving about Gamera or how her life wasn’t complete without him. Yukino wanted to end this conversation as much as she hated to admit she knew this marriage wasn’t going to last. She was ready to move on.

“I did, but…. I got my answer,” Asagi answered, finding great solace at her revelation.

“I suppose you did, and hey, listen, I have to go. The kids are going to get really riled up if I’m not there on time,” Yukino spoke out, getting ready to hang up when Asagi hollered out.

“Wait!” Asagi paused for a moment. “Sometime soon, whenever you think is best, do you think I can come down? Because I’m ready to talk, I want us to move past all of this, move past Gamera. I just want to move with you.”

She didn’t hear clearly, but Asagi could have sworn she heard Yukino chuckle and that suspicion made her more justified when she heard her voice pick up.

“The first of next month would be a good time.”

“Yes, perfect! See you then!” Asagi cheerfully spoke out as Yukino let out a chuckle she could hear more clearly now.

“Goodbye, and don’t be late,” Yukino playfully ordered, hanging up the phone while Asagi kept her smile.

She glanced down at the bead once more, still rubbing her thumb over it softly. “I guess you helped me one last time. Thank you.”

Asagi tilted her head up at the ocean, tightening her hand into a fist and launching it forward. The bead flew out of her palm and plummeted into the body of water as she had finally freed herself. She lifted her hands up, her eyes peeled toward the sky, embracing the new world she had just entered in.

***

For three years, Hodaka was put on probation back at home. He hated nearly every passing minute of it, but it was the only way Mayumi and Asagi’s old friend was able to keep him away from jail. The only things keeping him from going insane from the monotonous schedule he went through every day from school to his parents were graduating and seeing his true family again in person.

He was thankful for all of the calls he was allowed to have, hearing them helped make those past few years tolerable at best. However, it was not the same as seeing them in what remains of Tokyo.

Hodaka snickered as a thought came circling back in his mind. He recalled the sirens on his island going off with everyone running and screaming when he saw it was Gamera standing at the bay. He wasn’t sure why the savior was there, but eventually came to realize it was only a checkup when he showed up to take a closer look. He remembered how Gamera stared at him for a while before leaving. Hodaka, to this day, still couldn’t figure out why their savior felt attached to them, but he didn’t object to it. He liked having a larger than life friend around.

“I wondered if Gamera has done the same with Hina,” mused Hodaka, keeping his eyes trained on the now distant island. He breathed a sigh of relief as he was now moving to Tokyo. No longer a kid, but an adult as he would be able to make his own decisions from now on.

He scrolled through the photos on his phone, seeing how everyone he cared about have grown. Asagi and Yukino grinning with their two year old daughter, Tomoko. He slid his finger across to see Suga, Natsumi, and Moka celebrating a birthday party, before moving onto the final photo. It was similar to the one with Ayana and Satoru, but everyone in Hina and Nagi’s new family were jubilant. Everything worked out in the end for them and he couldn’t be happier.

The ship moved into the sunken portion of Tokyo as Hodaka turned his attention to the ruined buildings. This was the future he helped create for Tokyo? More than half of the city submerged in a watery grave as its citizens were forced to travel primarily by boat. Housing was far more difficult to acquire as several homes were either destroyed or the prices on them were raised. Fortunately, it wasn’t a concern for him, as Mayumi offered to have him stay with them.

What concerned him was how he would feel when he saw Hina again. The calls these past few years were nice, but they weren’t real like seeing her in person. The moment of truth would be upon him as they had invited him for a picnic out on one of the unaffected parks.

Hodaka let out a sigh and pulled out a ring. The same ring he gave to Hina all those years ago. He meant to return it to her, but he was taken away before he had the chance to. Hodaka continued to inspect until he heard the ship signaling its arrival. He looked up to see the patch of land the ship stopped at as he took his leave.

Rain still poured, but unlike in the past, no one was bothered by it. Instead, treating it as a normal thing as if everyone had adapted to it. Hodaka still found it odd to shift through, as his eyes were trained on the sunken architecture.

“The world’s always been crazy,” he surmised, going to move forward until he heard someone calling his name.

“Hodaka!”

He snapped his head up to Mayumi, Nagi and an older man he assumed was Yoshinari waving at him. Hodaka’s mouth curved into a smile, waving at them as he traversed over to them.

“It’s so good to see you all!” Hodaka delightfully spoke out as Mayumi and Nagi wrapped him up in a hug.

“We missed having you around,” Mayumi murmured.

“Yeah, I was missing my apprentice. You still have a lot to learn,” Nagi jokingly announced.

Hodaka simply chuckled at his response, nothing about him changed and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s great to be back.”

“And it’s nice to finally meet you, Hodaka,” the older man spoke, raising his hand up with a warm reassuring smile on his face. “Yoshinari.”

“Likewise, sir,” Hodaka responded, shaking his hand.

“You’ve done a lot for my family and I just wanted to say you’re part of it now, whether you like it or not,” announced Yoshinari.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Hodaka replied, as he soon looked around his surroundings, noticing something very off. He was worried as if something horribly changed, turning his attention back to his kin. “Where’s Hina?”

“She stepped away for a moment, something about talking to an old friend,” Mayumi answered.

“Oh,” Hodaka simply mumbled, tilting his head slightly downward.

“What’s wrong?” Mayumi asked, perturbed by his sudden drop of excitement in his voice.

“I thought Hina would just be here, I don’t know,” answered Hodaka softly.

“Hey,” Nagi said, gaining his apprentice’s attention. “If there’s one thing she wouldn’t stop talking about, it’s you,”

“That much, huh?” Hodaka nearly chuckled.

“Eeyup, so what the hell are you waiting for? Go see her! Her friend will wait,” Nagi ordered, cheering him on.

“Nagi!” Mayumi scowled, still attempting to sway her grandson away from using that kind of language.

“That was nothing compared to last week!” countered Nagi, as Hodaka simply laughed, picking his feet up to meet up with Hina.

Despite the reunion and the reassurance he got, he still wasn’t sure if everything would be okay. Could it be they were just preparing him for the worst? He was still lost. Hodaka looked down at the ring, pondering his next steps on what to do.

“Do I tell her neither of us are at fault for what we did? Does she even still feel the guilt of making a part of the world like this? Should I tell her that I’m having thoughts like that?” he asked himself, looking at the half sunken bridge across from him.

Hodaka heard a loud murmur, looking up to see to his astonishment, Gamera standing stronger than ever, without a scar in sight, in the bay staring at something. He didn’t expect the savior to be here, completely bewildered at what his purpose was.

However, his mind immediately exploded, realizing why he was here. Hodaka took several steps forward only to stop himself when he saw Hina standing there, putting her hands together, praying.

It was then, all doubt ceased once more.

Tears flowed down his face, shivering at the reality before while his heart beated.

“No. None of that is it. That day, I…. we changed the world! I made a choice. I’ve chosen this world. I’ve chosen to live here!”

“Hina!” Hodaka excitedly screamed out, immediately gaining her attention as she smiled delightfully at him. She met his speed, running toward him as they made contact, wrapping each other in a tight embrace.

“Hodaka!”

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Hina quivered, her hands shakily landing on his cheeks.

“Hina,” Hodaka happily spoke, moving her hands from his face to his own, preparing to make a declaration of his own. “We’re gonna be alright.”

Gamera nodded his head, smiling at seeing the two of the three people he cared about the most reunited after so much time. Them being safe and sound was far more rewarding than anything he had ever achieved prior, bringing him a sense of solace, knowing he was able to choose whatever path he wanted from here on out.

He was finally at peace, living a life he could be proud of.

Winner: Gamera (Heisei)

A very special thanks to Angel Rizza for the wonderful banner! For those unfamiliar, Rizza was commissioned for artwork on Criterion’s Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films to do the cover for Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). By all accounts, please check her out on her social media, including Instagram and DeviantART.

K.W.C. Kaiju War Chronicles

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