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Disclaimer: This is a derivative work, or fan fiction, based upon the anime series
“Free!” and its sequel “Free! ~eternal summer~” by Kyoto Animation. All
characters and situations other than my own are copyrighted by its creator. This
story is available for free distribution online and may not be altered for any
purpose. This story and any excerpts of it must be credited and linked to its original
creator here.

Chapter One was first published on 20 September 2013 online.

The final chapter was published on 19 March 2018 online.

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INDEX
CHAPTER 1: Homecoming ................................................................................................................... 2

CHAPTER 2: The Fog ............................................................................................................................. 7

CHAPTER 3: Masks .............................................................................................................................. 16

CHAPTER 4: They Live ....................................................................................................................... 28

CHAPTER 5: The Truth ...................................................................................................................... 38

CHAPTER 6: Making Plans................................................................................................................ 51

CHAPTER 7: Lost & Found................................................................................................................ 62

CHAPTER 8: The Payoff ..................................................................................................................... 81

CHAPTER 9: Hopeless ........................................................................................................................ 92

CHAPTER 10: The Waiting Game ................................................................................................. 106

CHAPTER 11: 28 Hours Later ....................................................................................................... 117

CHAPTER 12: Welcome to Iwatobi ............................................................................................. 130

CHAPTER 13: White Noise ............................................................................................................. 141

CHAPTER 14: Survivors .................................................................................................................. 153

CHAPTER 15: Dead Drop ................................................................................................................ 167

CHAPTER 16: Drop Dead ................................................................................................................ 182

CHAPTER 17: Endgame ................................................................................................................... 191

CHAPTER 18: The Boss .................................................................................................................... 208

CHAPTER 19: In Water .................................................................................................................... 226

CHAPTER 20: So Long ...................................................................................................................... 244

MAP ......................................................................................................................................................... 252

APPENDIX ............................................................................................................................................. 253

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Death is a debt all men must pay

y
Euripides
Chapter 1

HOMECOMING

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D espite the promises of a smooth flight, there was still a lot of turbulence en
route to Japan. It was bad enough that the only plane Rin could find was a
rusty old piece of shit the Australian air force had scrapped, but the
repurposed cargo plane had him strapped down into seats and belts that looked like
they would barely hold if they hit a particularly rough patch of sky. He tried not to
think about it too much. Truth be told, he knew he was lucky he even managed to
find a ride. Islands were supposed to be safe; that was the general wisdom that
everyone ate and spat out as they built crude boats and chartered illegal flights to
islands, turning them into gathering points for the infected. Islands always ended up
closing their borders.

Japan closed its borders three weeks ago.

It wasn’t his fault he couldn’t leave earlier. Rin had cleared out every single
bank account he had, all the money he had stored away, all the cash prizes he had
won from swimming, and poured everything into getting a flight to Iwatobi. Finding
a willing pilot had taken longer than he had hoped. He hadn’t even begun
considering what the Japanese Defence Force would do to vessels trying to enter the
country illegally. He remembered the last go around, he’d heard about people
getting shot down or sunk into the ocean, even if he was too young to have lived
through the last epidemic. Either way, smuggling people was a lucrative business,
and surely the pilot wouldn’t have agreed if he himself didn’t expect to make it out
alive, right? Rin wasn’t the only one on the plane either. He’d recognised one of the
passengers – a politician maybe? An actor? – and the fact was that the pilot
promised he’d get him in. Considering the price Rin was paying, he had fucking
better.

The engine was too loud, rattling the entire plane, and the whole vessel
suddenly jolted, sending the lights flickering on and off.

“What’s going on up there?” Someone yelled nervously.

“Detour,” was yelled back, followed by a shouted curse, and, “Hold onto your
seats, ladies!”

Without warning, the aircraft’s engines gunned into overdrive and pulled
back so that they were almost completely vertical, shooting upwards through the
sky. Rin clutched onto the straps holding him down by the shoulders, feeling himself
fall towards his right side with gravity, and hoped to god that what he was hearing
was thunder and not guns.

His blood ran cold. He wasn’t going to die here, was he? Not at this leg of the
journey. Communications had been cut off and he hadn’t been able to contact
anyone in Japan, much less Iwatobi. No one knew where he was. If he died, he’d be
considered missing. He couldn’t imagine anything worse happening.

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There was a loud boom and crack, the sound of ripping steel, and Rin and the
other passengers watched on in horror as the smoking hole in the cargo door forced
out a rush of air like a cyclone, widening the hole as the metal sheets of the plane’s
frame ripped away like tissue. Everything was shaking uncontrollably and he held
on as tightly as he could, unable to tear his eyes away from the hole. In the distance,
the sea was black and bright red tracers lit up the sky as bullets followed their path,
sounding like fireworks against the overloud scream of the engines. The plane
jerked to the side and began to nosedive. Someone screamed. Rin was trying to
think, but everything was shaking, and surely they hadn’t been shot anywhere vital?
They would have felt it. They weren’t going to die. They weren’t going to die. Even if
the plane ended up crashing in the sea, Rin could swim back. If they were close
enough to get shot at, surely they were near the islands.

Soon, the plane slowly righted itself.

“Shook off the anti-aircrafts,” the pilot’s voice crackled over the speakers –
like the seats, they had been patch worked in – and he sounded almost gleeful, “Got
your money’s worth, eh?”

“I am going to kill this guy when we land,” one of the passengers fumed
shakily.

“Landing in five. Got driven off-course and ended up further inland, ‘bout two
hundred-something kilometres away. Can’t head back to Wakayama or even Osaka,
so we’ll be landing near the Hyogo-Tottori DMZ. Keep your noses covered ‘cause
that place smells like shit.”

Rin felt himself relax into his seat, exhaling slowly.

They were landing near Tottori. He’d saved days, if not weeks, of travel.

This was good.

RTu
To say that the place smelled like shit would be to do it an injustice.

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The entire area was blanketed in a thick yellowish-brown smog which
sprawled across the land as far as the eye could see. He could barely make out the
silhouettes of building and mountains; they were only a shadow against the thick of
the atmosphere. The smell had reached his nose the moment they had landed, but
now that he was right at the edge of the smoke, it was pungent enough to make his
toes curl. He thought of sulphur and rotting food, and dug into his pockets until he
shook out a bandanna. He tied it over his nose and mouth and it seemed to help a
little, which made Rin feel better about the situation. He’d taken out his compass
and it had pointed north, through the smog. If this was what he had to brave to get
to Iwatobi, then so be it.

He checked the straps of his backpack, made sure his gun was tucked
securely in the back of his trousers and his machete could slide out easily from its
holster at his hip. Rin pulled down his baseball cap so it shielded his eyes from the
hot afternoon sun and took his first step into the Hyogo-Tottori DMZ.

His first impression was that it was quiet.

As far as he knew, De-militarised Zones meant that the army – calling it the
Japanese Defence Force at this juncture would just be a joke, considering his near-
death experience not a few hours ago – had given up on the area, no longer able to
contain the rate of infection and allowing the infected to roam freely. Populations
were evacuated, meaning the only ones left behind were the… calling them zombies
sounded so fucking stupid, even in his own head, but calling them infected seemed
incredibly condescending, as though they could heal from the plague. Basically, the
place was crawling with zombies. He had to be on his toes at all times and get out as
soon as possible.

As he walked further and further in, the dried grass under his feet crunched
loudly. When he looked down, he saw pieces of metal and glass. He followed the trail
until he came across the remnants of a crashed van that had broken through the
barrier of what looked like a highway and into a tree. He walked towards it until he
was on the asphalt. Cars littered the road, packed to the brim in a gridlock, and as he
swiped a finger across the windshield of a sedan and considered the thick layer of
dust, he wondered exactly how long the DMZ had been abandoned for.

Rin checked his compass again. The cars seemed to have been heading out of
the area. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt to follow the road until he came across some
signs. Meanwhile, he took the handle of his machete, wrapped it quickly in the
hoodie he’d tied around his waist, and slammed it through the driver’s seat window.
Rin let himself into the car, going through the glove compartment and seat pockets
until he dug out an unopened bottle of water, a flashlight and a map. Interestingly
enough, he also found a portable radio, but it was too Silent Hill for his tastes so he
chucked it (he did, for one serious moment, consider bringing it along because a
worldwide zombie outbreak was also something out of a video game, but he was in a
DMZ and static meant noise, and noise meant zombies, so practicality won out in the

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end). More or less satisfied, he decided against looting the other cars and began his
trek down the highway.

The heat was unbearable. Rin was fully aware that the overcast sky was an
illusion – the smog was thick and made everything seem dim and hazy, but the
particles in the air also seemed to make the sun feel even hotter. Rin was tempted to
cross back into the woods that ran alongside the road, but he also wanted to be on
the lookout for useful items since visibility was awful.

He spotted a sign in the distance and jogged the final stretch towards it.

Welcome to Iwatobi

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Chapter 2

THE FOG

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W hat the fuck had happened?

The town was empty, looking every inch like everyone had up and run at the
drop of a hat. None of the lights were working, and the streets that had once been so
clean were littered with dropped items and knocked over cans. Windows had been
boarded up. Cars had been abandoned in the middle of the road. Rin hadn’t heard of
any invasion happening in Iwatobi – as far as he knew, the Hyogo-Tottori DMZ was
supposed to be the land buffer zone that protected the Iwatobi settlement that was
already naturally shielded by the ocean along the north coast. Was the evacuation
recent? It really didn’t look like it. As Rin inspected a single child’s shoe that lay on
the side of the road, he noted that it was also covered in a fine layer of dust. If there
had been an evacuation, it had to have taken place before the communication cut-
off. That meant more than two weeks ago. Things weren’t adding up.

More importantly, it was hot. It was incredibly hot. Rin had taken off his shirt
and shoved it into his backpack, leaving him in his tank top. It felt like his blood was
boiling underneath his skin, and he could feel the handkerchief covering the lower
half of his face getting heavier as it absorbed his sweat. He squinted at his watch, but
his eyes were blurring and all he could estimate was that it was probably an hour or
two after noon.

Rin rubbed his eyes, cursing. He was on the edge of Iwatobi and his house
was all the way on the other side to the north, near the ocean. If he had any hope of
finding a single clue about what had happened, he knew he had to start there. He
just hoped he wouldn’t die of exposure or dehydration before he got there, because
that would be dumb as shit.

In the distance, he heard the clang of something being knocked over. Rin’s
hand shot out behind him, already gripped around the handle of his handgun that
was still tucked away. His eyes darted around, still a little watery, but he could make
out a shadowy corner by the side of a nearby house and sprinted towards it. The
shade was an incredible relief and he peeked around the corner to see if there were
any zombies out there who’d caught a whiff of him.

He heard the sound of shuffling footsteps. Grunting. Scraping. That was a


good enough reason to bolt – around the shamblers, since the opposite way was
where he’d come from, and he wasn’t about to re-hike the entire length of a
highway.

Careful to keep himself low, Rin pulled out the handgun and unlatched the
safety and half-jogged as quietly as he could from one building to another, sure to go
around the back wherever he could. Once in a while, he stumbled across random
supplies – a bottle of water here, an extra pair of socks there – and he pocketed what
he could while doing his best to forget why those things were out in the open in the
first place. Part of him felt like hope was slipping away, but the stronger part of him

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was telling him he couldn’t jump to any conclusions. Iwatobi was big. Anything was
possible. He was here, wasn’t he?

As Rin walked down a long length of shop lots, he could feel exhaustion start
to kick in. Since he’d gotten off the plane, he hadn’t been able to take a breather. As
far as nutrition was concerned, Rin had had careful sips of water from his first water
bottle and a bite of the protein bar he’d stowed away. It was all adequate in the long
run, but he also hadn’t anticipated being in his current situation, with the air quality
and the long abandonment that probably meant things long past expiry dates. He
was lucky that there appeared to be supplies littered throughout the city, if he cared
enough to look, but the damned fog was making everything difficult to see and he
was starting to get a really shitty headache.

Not too far away, he heard the sounds of fighting, like honest to goodness
brawling. He could hear punching and kicking and shouting and, although he knew
logically that he needed to run, his instincts told him to go towards it because
punching and kicking and shouting.

Humans.

Rin rounded a corner, adjusting his grip on his gun, and peered out onto the
streets.

Oh yeah, definitely human, and that made Rin feel so relieved. Two guys, one
tall and wiry, the other about average height and stocky, and they were going at it.
Their shirts were ripped and bloody, buttons torn off. The shorter guy launched
himself at Wiry and they both fell to the ground. Rin heard a sickening crunch, like
bone breaking, and he watched in horror as Stocky straddled Wiry, grabbed him by
the shirt, and punched him over and over again, until there was so much blood that
you couldn’t even tell what his face looked like anymore.

“Stop it, you’re gonna kill him!” Rin had jumped out, all good sense leaving
him for that one moment. Humans were dying out as is no thanks to the plague – it
would help the population not to have intra-species murder.

Stocky paused. Simultaneously, he and Wiry turned their heads to look at


Rin.

Rin took a step back.

Their eyes were…

They weren’t zombies.

“What the actual fuck,” Rin choked, eyes darting between them now that he
could take a better look. Their faces… Stocky’s face was completely scratched up.

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With the nails of a hand. Wiry had chunks bitten out of him. Could they have been
newly infected? But their behaviour…

Stocky screeched at him. No time to think. Rin legged it.

He sprinted down the road, running the fastest he’d ever run in his life. He
could barely breathe, his lungs were burning so damned hot, and he was getting
lightheaded. He could still hear Stocky screeching behind him, but they didn’t seem
to have the speed he normally associated with zombies. As he felt himself slow
down, he could hear them fighting again, but he didn’t want to risk anything and
barrelled headlong into a slightly open garage of a nearby warehouse.

Rin quickly scrambled to the sidewall, dropping to the ground so that he was
nearly flat on his back, and kept an eye out on the streets. For a good long while, all
he did was catch his breath and look, but it seemed like he was safe for now. The
fighting was still audible, but it was very far away. He didn’t see anyone walking
around, and it didn’t sound like he was being followed. He sighed, closing his eyes
and thunking his head against the ground.

After a few minutes, Rin raised his head.

Not five feet away, staring at him, was a man in a gas mask.

“Holy fuck,” Rin scrambled for his gun and quickly pointed it at him. Gas
Mask dropped whatever he was holding and raised his hands, taking an instinctive
step back.

“Don’t move,” Rin said sharply, and the man stilled. He glanced down at Gas
Mask’s feet and noted a half-filled sack, a can of peaches poking out of it, “You on a
supply run or something?” When Gas Mask didn’t answer, he scowled and shook his
gun at him, “I said ‘don’t move’, not ‘don’t talk’.”

“I’m sorry,” Gas Mask blurted out, “I’m just—so surprised.”

“Yeah? Don’t give a shit.”

“You’re… You’re human?”

“What, don’t I look it?” Rin sneered through his handkerchief, “The fuck
about you?”

“Yes, I am,” Gas Mask said, “You’re not from Iwatobi, are you?”

“The fuck makes you think that?” Rin growled, slightly offended.

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Gas Mask immediately cowered, “P-Please don’t shoot me. I… I can help you
look for one. I, oh what am I saying, you won’t want to, will you? I’ll give you mine, I
will, as long as you don’t shoot me, please.”

“What the actual fuck are you talking about?” Rin furrowed his brows, “I’m
not going to waste bullets on you unless it’s worth it.”

Gas Mask didn’t respond for a long while. With a sigh of irritation, Rin held
the gun up so the side was visible, and made a show of putting the safety back on,
hand off the trigger. He put it down, but didn’t tuck it back into the waistband of his
jeans.

“…you aren’t from around here,” Gas Mask finally said, wonder in his voice,
“How did you get in?”

“Walked,” Rin said, which only seemed to make Gas Mask even more
surprised, “Took a plane first.”

“Sorry – I’m just so…” Gas Mask’s voice muffled a bit, “You’re the first non-
hostile I’ve met in so long.”

Non-hostile? “I pointed a gun at you, idiot.”

“You didn’t shoot me,” Gas Mask replied happily.

“Your standards are incredibly low.”

Gas Mask let out a chuckle, and it sounded suspiciously relieved.

“What did you think I’d take?” Rin asked after a brief pause.

“Oh! My mask,” Gas Mask replied, touching it lightly, “Since you’re wearing
that on your face and you have a gun, I thought you were either not from around
here, which was unlikely, or that you’d lost your mask, which was… But you also
didn’t immediately shoot me, so…”

The yellow smog. Right.

“You should get a mask,” Gas Mask said worriedly, “I don’t know how long
you’ve been without one, but it’ll get bad before long, especially since we’re near
Ground Zero. You should follow me, I can help you look for one.”

Right. Not suspicious at all.

“Not interested,” Rin lied, but he had good instincts and his instincts were
telling him that this guy was trouble. No one was that nice to a stranger with a gun,

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unless they were planning on getting the drop on him for the gun. He knew that was
a big thing, particularly in Japan, and he wasn’t about to let anyone off him for what
he’d painstakingly bought on the Australian black market.

“No, I insist,” Gas Mask said with what Rin could only surmise was a smile as
he approached Rin, offering a hand to him, “After all, it’s safer to be with another
person. Two heads and all that, right?”

“Maybe,” Rin said, letting Gas Mask pull him up and immediately sweeping
his legs so that he crumpled to the floor with a yelp. Without a second glance, Rin
grabbed the can of peaches from the floor and bolted deeper into the warehouse,
fortunate enough to find a trail of open doors that led him to the front entrance.
When he got out, the fog hit him full in the face and his eyes watered immediately,
but he didn’t stop for even a second. He could hear Gas Mask calling out for him and
he wasn’t going to give that guy a chance.

Although he hadn’t managed to rest as much as he’d like, Rin felt like he had
recovered enough to start running again, despite how much his legs felt like giving
out underneath him and how much harder it was to breathe. Shit. He needed to sit
down and drink something, possibly eat something too. He was so damned tired.

Rin’s run had faltered into a jog – one that he forced himself to keep up, much
as it was hurting him to do even that – and, try as he might, he couldn’t see worth a
damn. Between the heat from the sun and the particles in the air, he felt like he was
swimming through a chimney.

By the time Rin took a moment to survey his surroundings, he realised that
he’d managed to run through an entire district. On any other occasion, he would
have congratulated himself for such an impressive feat. He noted wryly that this
could only have happened if he was running for his life.

Without warning, he felt something lunge for his feet. He fell over, the back of
his head knocking against the curb and making him see stars. His hat fell over and
he got a full blast of sun light in his eyes, making it hard to see. All he could make out
was a man straddling him, a gas mask on his face, blood oozing down his front.
Called it, Rin thought as he tried to protect himself, but the guy was strong and he
was punching Rin in the face and stomach and it hurt like a sonuvabitch. A strong
blow to his gut made Rin cough out blood, and he felt hands covering his neck and
squeezing. He choked, scratching the bastard’s hands and arms but he wouldn’t let
up and Rin’s sight started to fade…

“I’m so sorry about this.”

The was a loud crack just above him, and his assailant was suddenly off him.
Rin inhaled the smog-thick air greedily, scrambling up onto his arms as he massaged
his neck with the other. The guy on the ground was still alive, twitching and rolling

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like he wanted to get up but was in too much pain. Before he could do much more,
his rescuer grabbed him by the arm and hauled him up, pushing his hat into his
hands.

“Are you okay?” That voice sounded a lot like Gas Mask.

Rin squinted at him, and then down at the guy on the ground.

True enough, that guy’s mask was different. He looked back up to Gas Mask.

“Is he a zombie?”

Gas Mask looked as taken aback as a guy in a gas mask could, “He’s not.”

Rin wanted to scowl at him and say something scathing, but Gas Mask put a
hand on his arm and said, “We need to get some place safe first. I think you need to
know some things.”

Rin could hardly argue with that.

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Gas Mask – surprisingly agile and surefooted for his height – ended up
running him down alley after alley into a small, boarded up house, which he
assumed was Gas Mask’s home base. Barely any natural light came through, but
even so, he kept his mask on. He made Rin sit on the sofa and it was such a relief to
be on something soft and horizontal that he could physically feel his muscles groan
in contentment as he sunk into the worn and beaten cushions.

“I’m glad to see you’re feeling better,” Gas Mask said.

“Yeah, well,” Rin let out a bone deep sigh, “Best as I’ll ever get I suppose.”

“What’s your name?”

“Kitajima.”

“Kitajima? Are you related to the Olympic swimmer?”

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Rin looked at him in surprise.

“Oh, I keep up with the sport,” he replied in slight embarrassment.

“…It’s not actually my real name,” Rin felt like he was talking to an alien.

“Oh!” Gas Mask exclaimed, “Oh, of course, I didn’t even realise. Ah, an alias
seems to suit your personality. You’re a fan of swimming, then?”

“What do you want me to call you?” Rin bit out, half in embarrassment and
half in irritation.

“I suppose you could call me Tachibana.”

“… like Ginchiyo?”

Gas Mask—Tachibana spluttered briefly before he finally cleared his throat


and ignored Rin’s question altogether.

“Could I ask what you’re doing here, in Iwatobi?”

“You could, but that’s none of your business.”

“I thought as much,” Tachibana replied easily, “But I can assume you’re


looking for someone or something.”

“Fine,” Rin bit out, and sat up so he could glare at the guy, “I’ve been out of
the country for five years and there was nothing in the news about mass infection or
evacuations in Iwatobi. What the hell happened? Did the DMZ expand to include
Iwatobi? And what the hell is up with this goddamned fog?”

Tachibana, who had been silently listening, seemed to look at him strangely.

“… Kitajima, this isn’t a DMZ. This is an FDMZ.”

“What the fuck is an FDMZ?”

“It’s… much worse than a DMZ. An FDMZ is a Fumigated De-militarised Zone.


This yellow fog is a military tactic to flush out the infected from a particular area. It’s
a neural gas that makes the infected go berserk. They end up tearing themselves
apart, or going after each other.”

Whoa. What?

That… actually explained the lack of zombies.

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“How come I’ve never heard of FDMZs?”

“Ah, I can see you thinking that it might be a new anti-zombie solution,”
Tachibana replied wryly, “Unfortunately, the gas is equally toxic to humans. In
addition to being a poisonous neural gas, it’s been shown to be cancerous. That,
coupled with the heat, dehydration, and the internal lung injuries the fog causes…”

“Lung injuries?”

“Yes,” Tachibana said, “Did you notice the dust all around the town?”

Rin’s mouth went dry, “Those are particles from the fog?”

“They cut up the insides of your lungs and the poison makes those cuts
infectious. Everyone who lives here has a mask, but… well, living long and healthy
lives is out of the equation.”

“Wait,” Rin said, his head hurting again, “Why haven’t FDMZ’s been in the
news if DMZ have?”

“It’s considered top secret. When the communication cut-off began is when
they started gassing. It’s one of the worst anti-infection strategies which means bad
PR, so you can probably guess why it’s so hush-hush.”

“Okay,” Rin said, “And who were the guys I saw who were beating the shit out
of each other? They didn’t have any masks on.”

Tachibana paused briefly, “It takes a while to succumb to the gas, so they
must have had intense and/or long-term exposure. If they don’t have any masks on,
either they were damaged or unusable – the filters need to be replaced or cleaned
out – and… well, exposure to the fog makes people go… feral.”

Feral humans instead of zombies. Great.

“In short,” Tachibana said with finality, “We need to get you a gas mask.”

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Chapter 3

MASKS

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R in knew better than to binge, but he hadn’t eaten peaches in a long time, and
Tachibana had been kind enough to turn a blind eye to it. He still didn’t fully
trust the guy, but he had to admit that Tachibana had indeed saved his life.
And after a long overdue sleep, all Rin’s things were still accounted for on his
person, even though the guy was already awake and bustling about the house, gas
mask still attached securely on his face. Rin didn’t know what Tachibana’s aims
were, but he wasn’t going to waste time getting friendly with the guy; as far as he
was concerned, he was only using Tachibana for supplies and information. His only
goal was to survive long enough to make it to the Iwatobi Coast, and then things
would pan out from there. As for Tachibana himself, well, as long as he didn’t get in
Rin’s way, Rin wouldn’t put a bullet in him. He felt it was a fair compromise.

Part of him did wonder what Tachibana looked like. It was hard not to,
considering that this was the guy he’d chosen to ally with for the time being, and
being able to see his face was generally something that made it easier to trust him.

The gas mask seemed like an older design. It was black and synthetic and
covered the entire face, with two filters alongside the chin and some sort of circular
fixtures where his ears were. There was a pair of straps at the temple and jaw on
each side that reached around the back of his head, where they were buckled
securely against his mussed brown hair. The only visible part of him otherwise were
his eyes – although the eyeholes were covered in a darkened glass, he could
generally make them out. He supposed that if light shone in at just the right angle, he
could probably see them clearly. The mask wasn’t attached to any tanks as far as Rin
could tell, and Tachibana had helpfully explained that it was an air purification
model, hence the double heavy duty filters.

Other than that, Tachibana was tall and gangly. That was pretty much all he’d
filed away about the guy.

“Kitajima,” Tachibana said, “You should cover up completely.”

“Are you insane, or has the heat gotten to you?”

“I live here,” Tachibana said patiently, and gestured to his own person; unlike
Rin, he was indeed covered from head to toe, “Direct exposure to the fog and the sun
will get you burned and possibly heat stroke. What you need to do is wear light and
thin clothing that completely covers up your arms and legs. I suggest you take off the
tank top and wear only your hoodie, zipped all the way up. Then pull the hood over
your cap.”

“That sounds like bullshit.”

“It’s what works.”

“This hoodie is made of wool.”

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Tachibana fell silent for a moment, “Then wear only your button up shirt. It’s
cotton, isn’t it?”

Rin grumbled but began to change. He could feel Tachibana watching him
and snapped his head up.

“What.”

“Oh, sorry,” he was always quick to apologise and it irritated Rin for some
reason, “It’s just… it’s been a while. That’s all.”

“If you’re ogling me like a goddamned pervert, I’ll have you know that I will
cut your balls up faster than a sushi chef if you so much as—”

“Oh! No! Did it seem like that? I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to give off that
impression at all!”

Rin glared at him, hand still on the grip of his machete.

“I promise, it really isn’t like that. I’ve just, um, it’s been a while since I could
last talk to another human. Or… well, be around another one without having to
worry about getting attacked.”

After holding his gaze for another moment, Rin released his machete with a
grunt. He pulled his tank top off and paused at the silence.

“Turn around.”

“Oh! Right! Sorry!” Tachibana turned. Rin rolled his eyes.

Rin liked to think that he was just the right amount of intimidating, so
Tachibana must have been a grade A weirdo to not be cowed at all as he continued
to jabber, “I think the best place to go to would be further into the next district,
where the shopping mall is. Although it’s been looted to the ground, we might be
lucky enough to find a gas mask.”

“Fine,” Rin replied curtly, buttoning up his shirt all the way.

“Otherwise, from what I’d heard, there was another fight there last night, so
the odds are that there might be a good place. There is one other place we could go
to…”

“Okay.”

“Right, well, let’s save that for last then. I mean, we might be lucky enough
with just the mall, right?”

18
“Sure.”

“Okay, good. Just in case, we should pack some food away—”

“You can turn around now,” Rin interjected irately, “Geez, is talking all you
do? No wonder there’s no one in this dump; probably chased them all away with
your yammering.”

Tachibana seemed to pause at that, and after a little longer than what would
have been a comfortable silence, he let out a weak chuckle and rubbed the back of
his neck sheepishly.

“All right, I’m ready,” Rin said, making sure his sleeves were rolled all the
way down and snapping the cuffs together. He made sure the bandana was tight
over his nose and pulled his swimming goggles over his eyes for protection. He
snapped the back out of habit, and the sound made Tachibana turn and regard him
curiously.

“Well?” Rin demanded, “You waiting for a carriage or something?”

“Ah, sorry,” Tachibana shook his head slightly and picked up his bag, slinging
it over his shoulder, “Let’s get a move on, then.”

FP{}
He had to hand it to Tachibana; the guy moved like a goddamned monkey
when he actually wanted to. Those long legs probably helped some, but Rin had to
wonder just how much running he’d done to be able to basically parkour his way
around. They’d had to stop a handful of times to give Rin the time to clamber over a
fence, or to walk around a wall instead of leaping over it like he was Son-fucking-
Goku. So Tachibana could pull his weight and do the cardio. Fine. Rin was fine with
that. That meant he was also more likely to kick it and leave him in the lurch when
the going got tough, but Rin was the one with the weapons. The idiot hadn’t even
packed a bat or a crowbar or anything sensible – all he had was a sack and some
food and drink packets squandered away on him. It sent alarm bells ringing, because
that basically screamed suspicious and trap, but Rin was going against his better

19
judgement for the time being to see how things would unfold. Once again, worse
comes to worst, he’d just make Tachibana eat lead.

Regardless, the goggles had been a good idea because the intensity of the fog
seemed to worsen the further into town they ventured. He wondered just how well
he could have seen if he’d gone without, because even with the extra precautions,
his head was still aching something fierce.

“Kitajima,” Tachibana hissed, grabbing Rin by the front of his shirt and
yanking him into an alley. He was pressed up against the wall with a slight thump,
and although he really did want to kick Tachibana in the balls for the rough
handling, both of them peeked out the side to check out what had warranted hiding.

On the other side of the street was a man, hunched over a prone figure,
rummaging desperately through their – shirt? Bag? Through something at the very
least. He was bleeding from his head and it was staining his shirt, and Rin could only
assume he had been in a fight. He could see the tell tale signs of mask straps from
the way the man’s hair stuck out and a second look at the person on the ground
revealed a teenager, a girl from the frills on her skirt and blouse, whose mask had
been half-ripped from her face.

“Oh no,” Tachibana breathed, “It can’t be.”

“He’s got a mask,” Rin replied brusquely, tightening his grip on his machete,
“Distract him and I’ll come at him from behind.”

“Kitajima, you can’t—!”

Rin didn’t give him a chance to say anything more, darting behind a nearby
dumpster and speeding down the path in a half-crouch, his machete unsheathed and
at the ready. He ducked behind a crashed lorry and pressed up against the cargo
hold, inching his way closer. He was a few feet away from the target and angled so
that Tachibana could see him. He jerked his head towards the masked man, looking
pointedly in Tachibana’s direction, but Tachibana merely shook his head and raised
his hands up in what Rin assumed was a placating manner.

Angry, Rin quickly surveyed his environment and grabbed a nearby


construction helmet. He gripped it, aimed carefully, and tossed it clear across the
clearing, on the opposite side of where he was standing. If it was a little close to
where Tachibana was standing, well, he only had himself to blame.

The distraction worked.

The noise sent the man upright, looking around wildly, twitching all the
while. When he finally focused on the helmet that was skittering to a halt, Tachibana

20
stood up, and his attention was completely diverted. Rin lunged forward with a
ready swing—

—But Tachibana had also sprung forward, grabbing the man by the armpits
and jumping out of the way. Rin swore under his breath, recovering and adjusting
his grip as he looked for the pair. Tachibana was getting the brunt of the man’s
thrashing – and Rin could see him being elbowed repeatedly in the stomach – as he
attempted to get to his feet, and when he saw Rin readying another blow, he yelled
for him to stop. The man caught sight of Rin, machete held high above his head, and
began to quiver. Taking advantage of the moment, Tachibana quickly pulled the man
to his feet and shoved him away. He ran until he was out of sight, letting out a string
of animalistic shrieks.

Rin grabbed Tachibana by the front of his shirt and shook him.

“What the fuck is the matter with you?!”

“I could say the same for you,” Tachibana jerked Rin’s hands off him, “You
were about to kill a human being!”

“Did that thing look human to you? You said it yourself, enough of the gas and
they become feral!”

Tachibana clenched his fists by his sides, “That was my uncle.”

Rin was at a loss for words momentarily, then he pointed at the girl on the
ground, “What was your uncle doing to this girl, then?”

“Oh my god,” Tachibana said, as if he’d just remembered. He quickly dropped


to his knees, hands running all over the girls face and body, pulling back her hair
and inspecting her eyes. He turned the mechanism over his right ear and pulled the
fixture off, pressing his ear against her chest to listen for a heartbeat. Rin watched
with uncomfortable detachment as he looked at the girl’s one visible eye, not
completely rolled back into her head, staring glassily at the air. Finally, Tachibana
sat on his haunches and fixed his earpiece again.

“She’s alive.”

“Not for long, looks like,” Rin snorted.

Tachibana didn’t respond to the obvious bait and gathered her in his arms,
“I’m going to hide her. Give me a minute.”

“What, not going to resuscitate her? Give her some of your supplies? Play
saviour?”

21
Tachibana regarded him briefly, “There’s no need for that.”

He disappeared for a good minute, and returned just as Rin was starting to
feel antsy about being left alone. Tachibana immediately led the way again.

They didn’t talk after that.

zc
The mall looked like something out of a disaster movie. The glass from the
doors and displays were broken and the floor was covered in paper and rubble.
There had been a handful of actual bodies he’d tripped over – some crushed under
the rubble and some dead from other means, though the layer of dust made it hard
to tell – but he made no mention of them and Tachibana, who was far ahead of him,
was none the wiser. Like Tachibana had said, the mall had been looted within an
inch of its life, with some leftover items strewn here and there. Rin had eyed a pair
of new sneakers thoughtfully at the sports outlet, eventually shoving them in his
pack as Tachibana called for him to move on. The grocery store inside smelled of
rotting vegetables, but there were a few aisles still stocked with preserved food, so
he and Tachibana took their pick – he noted that Tachibana was far more generous
in leaving things behind, but attributed that to his lack of survival awareness – and
when they were satisfied with that, they made their way towards the pharmacy.

A big old placard reading ‘Plague Preparedness’ with running ink and
yellowing paper hung outside the shop. It was in the worst shape of everything in
the mall; nothing wasn’t overturned or smashed in. As Tachibana sifted through the
medication behind the counter, Rin took a good look around. Something caught his
eye, and as he dragged a shelf up, he saw what it was. A sawed-off shotgun. It was a
hell of a find and he picked it up, cocking the barrel to check if there were any
rounds inside. The loud clicking made Tachibana look up, and his surprise was
obvious.

“No rounds,” Rin said casually, “But it’s still worth keeping. Shove it in your
sack.”

“I don’t know…”

22
Rin threw it at him anyway and he caught it instinctively. After a moment of
hesitation, he reluctantly placed it in his sack. Rin grunted in satisfaction.

“Any luck with the gas masks?”

“None,” Tachibana sighed, hopping over the counter, “I’ve got a few bottles of
pain killers and some first aid, but that’s about it.”

“Better than nothing. Gimme those pills, my head’s killing me.”

He could hear the frown in Tachibana’s voice as he passed a bottle of pain


killers along, “We’re very near Ground Zero, we really should step up looking for
that mask or else…”

There was a loud crash that made both of them jump up. Rin downed the pills
quickly and shoved the bottle into his pack.

“Sounds like trouble,” Tachibana muttered, hitching his sack over his
shoulder.

“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Rin rolled his eyes, pulling out his machete, “Grab
a pipe or something, it looks like we may have to fight our way out.”

“I don’t think it’s come to tha—”

The ceiling fell on them, and both he and Tachibana rolled away. Rin felt a
weight on him, thankful for the goggles, and he peered up to see a man in a gas mask
on top of him, punching at him. Rin held his arms up to defend himself and looked
around wildly for something he could use, machete thrown out of his grasp during
the collapse. Not too far away, he spotted a broken microscope lying on its side, near
the counter. Before he could attempt anything, his arms were knocked aside and he
received a brutal jab to his left cheek, and then to the chest. Rin tasted blood in his
mouth and quickly placed both hands on his assailant’s shoulders, keeping him an
arms length away as Rin shimmied his legs up as quickly as he could. He placed both
feet against the man’s hips and took his moment of confusion to heel the man’s chin
with his hand.

Reeling from the blow, Rin kicked him in the stomach and in the face as hard
as he could, propelling himself upwards so that he could half-crawl, half-run to the
microscope. His ankle was caught and pulled just as Rin grabbed the microscope,
and with as much strength as he could muster, he swung it at the man’s head. It
connected with a loud crack and he fell over. Rin couldn’t tell if he was dead or not,
only that he’d stopped moving, and he quickly looked up to see Tachibana cornered
by two masked men, trying to dodge the blows as they came.

23
“Grab the pipe!” Rin yelled at him, clutching the spot on his chest where he
had been hit, “It’s right there!”

“I-I can’t!” Tachibana’s voice was strangled, and before long, he’d been
knocked to his feet and was starting to be on the receiving end of a rain of hits.

“Hit back!” Rin hauled up the microscope and threw it at one of the men. It
crunched against his back and he went down like a sack of potatoes. He saw his
machete and grabbed it, “You’re bigger than these two guys!”

“I can’t!” Tachibana yelped, coughing as he was kicked in the side. He quickly


tripped the man up and jumped to his feet, grabbing his sack and grabbing Rin by
the wrist, breaking into a run out of the pharmacy.

They made it clear across the entire length of the ground floor before Rin
shoved Tachibana away.

“What the hell were you thinking?!” Rin shouted at him, “Were you just going
to sit there and take it?!”

“I wasn’t!” Tachibana insisted, “I just…!”

“What, you don’t want to hurt them?”

“Exactly!” He gestured to Rin desperately, “I don’t want to hurt them, I don’t


want to kill them accidentally, I don’t…”

“Oh my god,” Rin breathed, and kicked a random bottle away in a fit of anger
before he turned on Tachibana again, jabbing a finger at him, “Who the fuck do you
think you are? You think they recognise you? You think they give a shit who you are?
You don’t want their blood on your hands, is that it? Afraid of guilt? Newsflash,
asshole: WE’RE EXPERIENCING A PLAGUE!”

“I KNOW THAT!” Tachibana yelled back, “Don’t you think I know that? I know
that! But they’re my—my neighbours! They’re my teachers! I can’t just…!”

Tachibana trailed off, heaving. Rin’s breathing was equally laboured, and they
spent a moment just trying to collect themselves and catch their breaths.

“So that’s it?” Rin broke the silence, “You just, what, run away?”

“…yeah.”

Rin looked at him incredulously, shaking his head like he couldn’t believe it,
“How’s that been working out for you?”

24
“I don’t,” Tachibana seemed angry, like he couldn’t put his words together, “I
don’t need this from you. I just can’t, all right? I can’t just kill another person in cold
blood. I can’t be like you.”

Rin felt his guts twist and harden, and he narrowed his eyes at Tachibana,
“’Like you?’ You implying something?”

Tachibana opened his mouth to reply, but before he could make a sound,
there was a loud screech not too far away.

“I’ll deal with you later,” Rin growled, “Get a move on.”

$%^&
They ended up back where they had started, with Tachibana urging them
towards the sound of desperate wheezing. All of it screamed bad news to Rin, but he
held his machete out and followed behind Tachibana warily. The noises led back to
the girl they had rescued earlier, whom Tachibana had carefully hidden away on a
ratty old mattress in a worker’s shack at the construction site. Tachibana rushed to
her side, holding her up by the head and coaxing her to relax and to breathe. He
tried to make her drink something, but she kept moving her head away. She
spasmed in his arms, twitching and crying and choking, and finally she went still.

Tachibana fell quiet again, holding her hand silently for a long while.

Eventually, he unbuckled the remnants of the girl’s gas mask and gently
closed her eyes and mouth. He gathered her up in a carry and turned to Rin, voice
solemn.

“We’re taking a detour.”

Rin uncrossed his arms, “We don’t have time for this.”

“Make time,” Tachibana snapped, which surprised Rin more than it should,
and walked out of the area and down another street. Slightly less annoyed than he
had anticipated being, Rin grudgingly followed after Tachibana.

25
DF,/
“Tachibana,” Rin said uncomfortably, “Where the hell did you take me?”

Rin’s first impression had been a rubbish heap.

There were mountains of grey against the sickly yellow of the fog. It was dark
and dank and smelled like death warmed over, but what Rin couldn’t overcome was
the creepy tingling that ran up and down his spine and over his skin, a sensation of
being watched that he couldn’t get rid of. The overwhelming smell of burnt flesh
lingered. As the fog passed, enough sunlight shone through, making the hundreds of
thousands of glass pieces glare and twinkle through the thick of the atmosphere. It
would have been beautiful if hadn’t been revolting.

“Tachibana,” Rin repeated insistently.

Tachibana moved over to a smaller hill off the side. Rin, who had allowed a
gap between them as they walked, hurried over to tail Tachibana closely, reigning in
the childish desire to grab onto the corner of his shirt. When he finally stopped, Rin
watched him gently put the girl down on the mound, and the fog passed again,
allowing him to see clearly for the first time.

They were at a mass grave.

The grey was dust from the fog that had settled over all the bodies. The
shining glass was from gas masks. One of the bodies underneath the girl’s mouth
was agape, lips completed grey from dust and ash. He hadn’t wanted to notice, but
the blackened bodies were charred, which meant that the smell…

Rin clapped a hand over his mouth, wanting to hurl.

“This was the last resort I mentioned,” Tachibana faced Rin again, though he
was completely choked up and trembling all over, “No one here needs their masks
anymore. I’d have given you Sayuri’s but it’s damaged, and…”

Rin couldn’t find the words to speak, but finally he managed, “Let’s get out of
here.”

26
“Your mask—”

“Somewhere else. Let’s get it somewhere else.”

“Kitajima—”

Rin grabbed him by the wrist and marched away. His voice was shaking but
loud, “I’m sorry, all right? I’m sorry I made you come here. Let’s get out.”

Tachibana said nothing else and followed his lead quietly.

27
Chapter 4

THEY LIVE

28
“A
re you okay?”

Rin looked up, expression shuttered, unaware that he had been hunching
over in the first place. He managed to choke out a ‘yes’ and it burned his throat.

“You’re wheezing,” Tachibana said concernedly, a hand on his back.

“I’m fine,” Rin gasped, weakly swatting him away, surprised at how
breathless he sounded. His head was spinning and his eyes were watering again, in
spite of the goggles.

“You’re not fine,” Tachibana said firmly, “It’s the fog. We need to get out of
Iwami.”

Everything sounded faint and muffled, as though he was submerged


underwater. It was hard to think, but he had heard Tachibana clearly and that one
part of him that never changed was immediately offended. All that they had been
doing so far was skirt around the borders of Iwatobi city, and Tachibana was
suggesting that they leave the district altogether?

“I’m not… going to… leave… after all it took… to get here.”

“Kitajima, if you keep going, you’re going to turn feral. The fog will only
worsen the further in we go, and until you’ve gotten yourself a gas mask, you’re in
danger.”

“Fuck… that shit.”

“Listen to me – you could die, you’re not even… oh. Oh.”

Rin squinted up at Tachibana, saw the ashen expression in his eyes, and
tightened his grip on Tachibana’s sleeve. He was trying to keep his eyes open but his
limbs felt heavy and it was too hard to even hold his head up.

“Vaccinated,” Tachibana whispered, “Oh my god, you’re not vaccinated


against the fog. What have I been doing, I…”

7-)=

29
Rin’s eyes shot open.

He was staring up at sterile tiles and fluorescent lights that were too white
and over bright, making him squint and turn away with a low groan until his vision
adjusted. The glare had made his head throb for a second, but it slowly ebbed away
into something vague and dull and present, but distant. Despite how much his
mouth felt like cotton, his mind felt calm and his lungs…

His lungs.

Rin reached up hesitantly, pressing his fingers against his sternum and
rubbing. The sharp stabbing pain that had been there was just… gone. He could
breathe. He realised there was a plastic mask strapped to his nose and mouth,
bandana lying on his stomach. There was the quiet mechanical sound of pumping
that came from an oxygen machine behind him, which it appeared that he was
hooked up to. He inhaled slowly, let his chest expand, and then exhaled. He cleared
his throat. Nothing hurt. He felt fine.

Rolling onto his back, Rin realised he was on the cold tiled floor of what
looked like a laboratory. In the periphery, he saw counters and carts made of
stainless steel, covered in bottles upon bottles of what he assumed were
prescription drugs. He sat up slowly, relishing the feeling of being able to hold
himself up without being on the verge of collapse, and glanced to the side. On his
left, Tachibana had curled up, asleep, clutching tightly onto something. He couldn’t
make out what it was.

Rin’s backpack had been placed against Tachibana’s sack near their feet. He
quickly touched his hip and felt the machete still in its holster. A quick check of his
gun in the back of his trousers made him grimace slightly – the skin there was
tender, most likely bruised in the shape of a gun grip – but he was satisfied to see
that it hadn’t gone anywhere. He checked its weight briefly and was generally
confident that he still had a full magazine.

He turned to look at Tachibana, an unreadable expression on his face.

After a moment, he switched off the oxygen machine and removed the mask
from his face. Rin placed a hand on Tachibana’s shoulder and shook gently.

“Tachibana,” Rin said, “Tachibana. Wake up.”

He heard a muffled huff and Tachibana slowly stirred, looking up at Rin with
half-opened and unfocused eyes.

“Hey,” he said, sounding sleepy, sitting up, “How are you feeling?”

“Better. A lot better.”

30
“That’s good,” Tachibana let out a soft yawn and his hand, fisted to rub his
eyes, smacked lightly against the glass of his eyehole. He stared at it
incomprehensibly before he realised his mask was still on.

“Why didn’t you take that off if you were gonna nap?”

“Not even here is fog-proof,” he replied simply, scratching the base of his
neck, “Do you need any painkillers?”

“I actually feel almost at one hundred per cent. What did you give me?”

“Anti-fog vaccine,” Tachibana groped for something on the floor and passed it
to Rin. It was a small box with some technical medical term printed on it. It was
unsealed and revealed a used syringe inside. Tachibana leaned forward and tapped
Rin’s left inner elbow, and Rin was surprised to feel a slight ache there under a layer
of gauze and cotton, “I gave you a jab while you were asleep, sorry.”

“No,” Rin said faintly, absently touching the bandage, “… Don’t apologise.”

“I’m really bad at this sort of thing, needles and blood and…” Tachibana
scratched his head and it made his hair even messier, “I tried not to poke you too
many times, and I don’t think I did, but…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Rin said, more firmly, “You saved me.”

“I also,” Tachibana said haltingly, and gestured vaguely towards Rin’s body, “I
accidentally hit us both against a wall, while running. I was piggybacking you, so
your left side might be sore. I’m, um, a bit bruised. Are you…”

That explained a few things. Rin shook his head, “I’ll live. More importantly,
where are we?”

“Tottori Hospital.”

Rin was taken aback, “Tottori Hospital? How far did you walk?”

“It took about two, three hours.”

“With me on your back.”

“Um… yeah.”

Rin fell silent briefly, “Why’d you bother?”

“Oh, well…” Tachibana mumbled something before he cleared his throat,


looking away, “I just… didn’t want you to die.”

31
Rin easily pictured Tachibana placing him on top of that mound at the
landfill, with the other grey bodies. He could understand why Tachibana felt that
way. Rin simply nodded once before he took a better look around.

“What’s this place, a lab? No wards free or something?”

“It was sealed. Sterile environment. Had a working oxygen machine. Then,
well, I broke in. Probably contaminated now.”

Rin glanced up at the flickering fluorescent lights. “There’s power here.”

“Mm.”

Tachibana was being surprisingly quiet and noncommittal with his answers,
which… was very out of character for him, not that Rin was worried in particular.
Except, Tachibana had saved his life a few times now (and Rin had also reciprocated,
but).

“Hey, is something wrong?”

“Hit my head,” Tachibana murmured, “Hard to focus.”

“Oi, oi, you shouldn’t take concussions lightly,” Rin immediately crouched in
front of Tachibana and placed both his hands on his scalp, pulling his head back so
he could examine his eyes. They were green. “Your pupils look about the same size.
Do you feel like puking? Any migraines?”

Tachibana gently shook his head, swaying, “Just out of sorts.”

“It’s probably mild,” Rin sat on his haunches, “You should rest a bit more.
Maybe take that mask off and breathe some oxygen.”

“No, I’m okay,” Tachibana said softly but insistently, “I’m just tired from all
the running.”

“All the more reason to get some rest.”

“I-I don’t want to sleep. Please. I’ll lie down or stay put, but no more
sleeping.”

Rin looked at Tachibana, really looked at him, and, well, he’d saved Rin’s
life… and he was agreeing to rest, if not nap…

“Fine,” Rin sighed, “It’s on you. Don’t blame me if it gets worse.”

32
“Thank you,” Tachibana sounded relieved, and that pulled at Rin’s
heartstrings a bit but he ignored it. He lay back down slowly on the ground and
pillowed his head with his arms. His breathing was even, which was good enough.

“I’m exploring,” Rin said, pulling his bandana over his face and tying it behind
his head. Tachibana’s answer was a murmur, which he had anticipated, and Rin put
his baseball cap on and tightened the straps of his backpack under his shoulders,
fastening them over his torso with a click. He hesitated briefly, contemplated giving
Tachibana his gun for self-defence, but he didn’t trust the guy that much, and he
would probably waste his bullets anyway. Probably didn’t even know how to shoot a
gun. Shaking his head, Rin inhaled slowly before he slipped out of the lab.

The hospital was in a bad way, just as bad as the mall had been, if not worse.
The floor was covered in paper and prescriptions, with carts and stretchers turned
over on the ground alongside potted plants. The layer of dust inside the hospital
wasn’t as bad as it had been elsewhere, but it also occurred to Rin that they were
further away from ‘Ground Zero’ as Tachibana had called it. It seemed like Iwatobi
city had been the origin of the fog, and that realisation made something twist in
Rin’s gut. What had happened? Why had the army abandoned a coastal town? There
were a lot of question that still needed answering, and he supposed he’d have to sit
Tachibana down again and compare notes. He wondered how much Tachibana
knew, having lived in the country as well as a DMZ, and if he had gone through
information blackouts too.

Something fell over, which made Rin jerk into a ready position, machete
armed before him. A few doors down, a locker had broken through a display glass
and its contents were hanging out. Rin approached cautiously, concluding that it had
been caused by weight and gravity and other things like that, rather than being
pushed. The locker itself held nothing of consequence – photographs, spare scrubs,
some folders – but it led his eye to the occupants inside the room. There were two
figures on the ground, both in gas masks and different coloured scrubs. They
weren’t moving.

“…everything okay?” Tachibana’s voice, distant at first, grew louder as he


stepped over the rubble and approached Rin, “I heard something loud.”

“It’s safe,” Rin said, more annoyed than he expected that Tachibana had
gotten up, “Think I found myself some gas masks.”

He peered past the broken display glass and regarded Rin hesitantly.

“Cover me,” he ordered, elbowing open the door and slowly extending his
arm into the room, poking the closest body with the tip of the machete.

No response.

33
“Kitajima,” Tachibana breathed, and Rin held up a hand as a gesture to keep
quiet. He pressed his back against the wall of the room and rounded the figures to
the other side, and when he was in range, did the same thing to the other body.

“All clear,” Rin let out a sigh of relief, although he didn’t sheathe his machete.
He squatted by the bodies and pulled one of them by the shoulder so they were lying
on their back. He sensed Tachibana approaching cautiously and crouching beside
him.

“Doesn’t look damaged,” Rin muttered, singlehandedly fingering the straps.


Tachibana placed a hand over his.

“Go for the other one,” he said, already removing it from the man’s head, “It’s
a bit older than the one you’re holding, but it’s the same brand as mine.”

They didn’t look similar at all. “So?”

“I have spare filters that would fit it,” Tachibana held the mask up so its
interior was parallel to his eyes, and inspected the parts carefully, “This looks like it
works fine. Better clean it and put new filters in, just in case. I’ll show you how.”

Tachibana settled into a more comfortable sitting position and began to take
the mask apart, pointing out the sections and telling Rin how to service it. Before
long, the filters had come off and Tachibana had screwed new ones in.

“I can’t vouch for the smell,” he said apologetically.

“It came off a dead guy,” Rin replied bluntly, rolling his eyes as he waved the
mask to and fro to air it out a little bit. When he was satisfied that the smell wasn’t
as revolting as it had been previously, he pulled off his bandana and cap and clasped
it on, tightening the straps so that it fit snugly.

“How is it?”

“Ugh, like a guy died in here,” Rin made a face. His model was newer than
Tachibana’s, with a clear type of synthetic glass that showed the entire upper part of
his face, with only the mouthpiece covered and affixed with twin filters. It was
weird, sucking air in through the mouthpiece (and he would definitely consider
hanging an air freshener in the visor) but, smell aside, the air quality was definitely
different. It was better.

“It can feel a bit suffocating at first, but you’ll get used to it eventually,”
Tachibana said, “Don’t take it off unless you have to, not even to sleep. You’ve
already been over-exposed to the fog, as is.”

“Yeah? What about you? You’ve been hit by it since the beginning, right?”

34
“I was vaccinated and masked pre-emptively.”

Fair enough. “Fine.”

“We’ve gotten what we came for, are we ready to head off now?”

Rin looked at Tachibana, frowning at him, “We?”

Tachibana blinked, “Um?”

“There is no ‘we’ in this equation,” Rin said, trying to be firm but not douchey,
“Look, I appreciate all the help you’ve given me, but now that I’ve gotten the mask,
I’m heading back into Iwami district. Alone.”

“What? But—”

“Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re a liability, Tachibana. Nice
guy? Yes. Someone I want watching my back? No. You can’t swing a bat or shoot a
gun. You can run, sure, but what good is running if it leads to a dead end? Besides, I
can already tell from looking at you that (a) you don’t want to head back into Iwami;
and (b) you are in no shape to go anywhere at all. You’re still concussed, you were
shaking all the way here from the lab.”

It was probably a testament to how much time he’d spent with Tachibana to
be able to tell his moods through a gas mask, because Rin knew for a fact that he’d
hit Tachibana right where it hurt, and although that was something he was counting
on, he also hoped that Tachibana would understand what he was trying to do and
stay put. He looked like he wanted to, but couldn’t, argue with Rin.

“I… Kitajima, please.”

“Thanks for everything, Tachibana,” Rin hitched up his backpack, unable to


look him in the eye, “Bye.”

pxZ
35
He wasn’t feeling guilty. He wasn’t feeling guilty. He wasn’t feeling guilty.

Shit. He wasn’t feeling guilty.

“Fuck,” Rin growled, “God damn it. I’m right. I know I’m right. He’s just lonely.
I don’t want him to get me killed. Shit. Stop feeling bad. He understood too. If he
didn’t, he’d be tagging along right now. Fuck.”

He was so wrapped up in trying to justify his feelings over the whole


exchange that he barely realised the low, throaty growling. Before he could do
anything, a figure lunged at him, clawing for his face. Its flesh was soft and rotting
under his hands and he heard bones breaking as he threw it off of him. The creature,
despite, the twisted pelvis, started crawling towards him. He knew this behaviour.

“Fucking fuck,” Rin cursed as he swung his machete down and decapitated
the zombie. The noise must have attracted the rest, because he was staring down the
beginnings of a small horde surrounding him on all sides.

“For fuck’s sake,” Rin hissed as he did a 180˚ and ran down a slew of zombies
as he sprinted back towards the hospital.

YIP{:
“TACHIBANA,” Rin yelled, breaking down the door with a fire axe he had
found, pulling it out of the splintered wood and hurling it across the room until it
lodged itself in the head of a zombie, “I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD, IF YOU’RE DEAD, I
AM GOING TO MURDER THE SHIT OUT OF YOUR ZOMBIE CORPSE OVER AND OVER
AGAIN.”

“Kitajima!” The voice was muffled and panicked, but human, and Rin cursed
under his breath as he used another zombie for leverage and kicked off the face of
another one, jumping over some rubble and landing near the opposite passageway.

“The fuck are you?!”

“In here!”

36
Rin pulled out his handgun and scored a few headshots before he spiralled
into a ward, decapitating another zombie and crashing into Tachibana.

“I hate you so fucking much right now,” Rin seethed, “How dare you make me
give a shit about you at the resolution of my dilemma. This is shoujo manga-grade
bullshit. I want a refund on my feelings.”

“Why are there zombies here?” Tachibana whispered back fearfully, holding
his sack up in front of him like it would effectively protect him from zombies, “They
should’ve been wiped out weeks ago from the FDMZ! That’s the whole point of the
FDMZ!”

“Yeah? More importantly, what the fuck were you planning to do, huh? Jump
out the window?” Rin glared at the escape route, “And, what, practice flying?”

“I was going to run across the roof,” Tachibana’s voice was incredibly shaky
and, actually, that plan was not half bad, considering the situation they were in.

“Haul ass, right now,” Rin grabbed a food tray off the ground and frisbeed it at
a zombie in the doorway, using the lull to reload his handgun and fire off two more
shots before he backed up against the window and followed Tachibana out.

“Run!”

Rin cursed Tachibana’s long legs as he hastily sheathed his machete and
flipped the safety back on his gun, all but shoving it in his pants as he leapt off the
side of the building and landed painfully on top of Tachibana in a dumpster.

“This way!” Tachibana grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him down the
side, where the trash bags overflowed onto the street, and they kept running until
they saw a boarded-up building. The moment they got in, they slammed as many
things as they could against the entrance – desks, chairs, cabinets – and rushed
deeper into the building until they were completely out of gas.

Panting, they sank onto the ground, side by side, trying to recover their
breaths. After what seemed like an eternity, Rin could finally hear something other
than the rapid beating of his own heart, and it seemed as though the zombies hadn’t
been able to track them all the way… wherever they were.

“You came back,” Tachibana said, voice hoarse but undeniably happy.

“I think we need some ground rules,” Rin glared at him, “Because I’ve just
chosen to side with you, for god knows what reason, and you are going to make it
worth my while.”

“Oh,” Tachibana said, smile watery, but present, “Okay then.”

37
Chapter 5

THE TRUTH

38
A s it turned out, they had effectively barricaded themselves in one of the
buildings of the Tottori University complex, which was a relief for Rin
because they weren’t particularly far away from Iwatobi city. Some cautious
exploration had yielded the fact that several parts of the university had already been
cordoned off by the previous tenants, and the implements and fortifications keeping
the building secure were still very strong. Their own entry point must have been
how the original survivors had escaped – and considering the environment and
surprise caches of food and ammunition stored around the place, they could only
surmise that Tottori had been experiencing a zombie rather than a fog infestation.
Tachibana hadn’t taken the news particularly well, but Rin was a grateful that that
had been the case, particularly when he discovered additional magazines for his
handgun and a generous amount of rounds for the sawed-off shotgun he’d made
Tachibana take.

And so here they were.

“Come on! Hit me back!” Rin swung his bat into Tachibana’s side, “God damn
it, Ginchiyo.”

“Ow,” Tachibana rubbed his ribs mournfully, his own bat lowered to the
ground, “You hit too hard.”

“Have you never played baseball in your life? Ever?”

“Well…”

“Forget it,” Rin scowled at him, “Look, you can’t keep dodging me. I can evade
you just fine, but you need to actually connect your fucking swing or you’re going to
screw up when you’re actually faced with zombies.”

“I just… I don’t want to accidentally hurt you.”

“Luckily, I don’t feel the same way.” Rin swung his bat against the back of
Tachibana’s knees.

“Ouch!” He crumpled to the ground, looking up at Rin with wide, pathetic


eyes, “What was that for?”

“You can obviously get angry, so if that’s what it takes, then get angry,” Rin
narrowed his eyes with a challenging smirk, “Ginchiyo.”

“Stop calling me that,” Tachibana grumbled as he made to stand. Just as he


brushed the seat of his trousers, Rin kicked him firmly in the buttocks and he fell
forward, “And stop doing that!”

“I will if you start hitting back.”

39
“I don’t want to hit you.”

“You’re going to have to hit something.”

“Something that’s not you.”

“Tachibana,” Rin began hotly, “Your targets are not going to be stationary.
Sure, you can move fast, but eventually you’re going to get cornered with no way
out, and if you freeze up at the wrong moment or attack the wrong way, you’re
screwed. For the sake of survival, I don’t mind getting banged up a bit. Look at you,
I’m kicking your ass and you don’t seem to mind, so it’s only fair that you hit me
back.”

“Speak for yourself,” Tachibana muttered.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

“I thought so,” Rin eyed him, “Get on your feet and fight back.”

“Could I just… Could we do something else?”

“Chyeah, you can’t even handle this, what makes you think I’m going to give
you the machete? You’re just going to hurt yourself.”

“I’m good at slicing vegetables,” Tachibana suggested hopefully.

“Yeah, no, not the same thing.”

Tachibana sighed and scratched the base of his neck, “Do I really have to do
this?”

“We made an agreement,” Rin said firmly, eyes flashing dangerously at him,
“You want to stay with me, you gotta learn how to fight so you can watch my back.
I’m not going to waste my time looking out for someone who can’t even look after
themselves.” In a more steely tone, “Men don’t go back on their word.”

“Okay,” Tachibana finally relented, extremely reluctant as he gripped his


baseball bat tightly and arranged himself in a ready position, “Sorry in advance.”

40
BNM?
Rin was howling laughter.

“Please stop laughing,” Tachibana sighed.

“Sorry in advance, he says, like he’s some badass action star,” Rin gasped
between breaths, hands shaking too much for him to apply another cooling pad on
the purple-black bruise on Tachibana’s shoulder blade, “You almost had me, I swear
to god, I thought you were going to actually get serious and release all your strength
on me. You had the eye of the tiger going on and everything. Holy shit, you are so
bad!”

“Kitajima, please.”

“Never, ever apply for the Iwatobi Eagles, all right? Any ball you hit will
probably just land vertically on the ground at a perfect 90-degree angle. You’ll ruin
their season and make them too ashamed to participate in the Japan Series, and
they’ve been trying to make it into the big leagues for a decade now.”

“Noted.”

“Sorry in advance,” Rin sniggered, the laughter started to fade into chuckles,
“You are hilarious as fuck, Ginchiyo. Do you know what progress you’ve made
today? You managed to make one dent on me. One. It is the size of a mosquito bite.
I’d be angry if it weren’t so goddamned precious. Sorry, did I say precious? I meant
pathetic as all fuck, Mister Sorry-In-Advance.”

Tachibana sighed again.

With the humour mostly out of his system, Rin finished patching Tachibana
up, feeling lighter than he had in a very long time (unsurprisingly at someone else’s
expense—though that there is a someone else to laugh at is actually very
surprising). As he scanned the sprawling cuts and bruises he’d put on the
Tachibana’s huge, lumbering body, part of him felt a sly satisfaction at his
handiwork.

41
Tachibana’s wimpy fighting ability aside (despite the immensely impressive
physique, what a damned waste), he felt that he had come to understand
Tachibana’s basic personality. He was more behind-the-scenes, liked helping people
out and being a pillar of support, but would step in if push came to shove.
Rin knew that all too well, but he also knew that relying on instinct alone was
bad news waiting to happen. If Tachibana could at least get accurate with his self-
defence, Rin wouldn’t have to worry as much. He wondered if Tachibana could even
really perform if they were attacked head-on by zombies.

He definitely needed to teach him how to fire a gun. If Tachibana was bad at
close quarter combat, maybe something long range would make him less reluctant.

“Okay, I’m done,” Rin closed up the med kit and watched Tachibana’s muscles
move as he leaned over for his shirt to pull on, “What have you been reading?”

“In, uh, the sleeping quarters, someone left behind a few books. They’re
journals and notes, about life in Tottori University during the plague, and
observations on zombie behaviour. I think they belong to one of the students who
used to study here.”

“Yeah?” Rin took one of the books from Tachibana’s and skimmed through
the pages, “Anything interesting?”

“I’ll let you know if I find out.”

“Does it say at the end where these guys went?”

“Oh, let me check,” Tachibana flipped the journal he had been holding to the
last entry, “Let’s see… Last push tomorrow. Can’t sleep. We’re finally leaving this
place. I wish Mari was still alive, but… it’s too late, I suppose. I wish things had been
different, that the government had listened—”

“Whoa, hold up,” Rin had leaned closer, “What did he say about the
government?”

“I wish that the government had listened to the professor. The plague is a virus,
and it can mutate and become stronger, gain immunities. What is the fog but a
pesticide?”

Tachibana fell silent briefly, looking up and meeting Rin’s eyes. They didn’t
speak. Eventually, Tachibana cleared his throat and continued reading the journal
entry.

42
It’s too late now. They’ve given up on southern Japan and
everyone’s evacuated to Kyoto. Everyone except for us, behind
the line of the FDMZ, left for the zombies. There are so
many questions that remain: What happens once we leave
Tottori City? Will we have to go through Ground Zero?
Will we survive it? If we do, will there be guns waiting for
us at the edge of the FDMZ? All I know is that we cannot
stay here. There is still a lot of supplies left – bless the
agricultural department – but being left for dead is no life at
all. The big push is tomorrow. I only hope it will not be the
last one.

Nakagawa Akiko, PhD Plant Pathology


Plant Disease Clinic, Tottori University

Tachibana rattled off the date of the final entry – about three weeks ago – and
stared down solemnly at the journal, saying nothing more.

“The whole of southern Japan is empty, huh,” Rin said finally, all the cheer
gone from his body, “Is that what the government did? Did they just abandon you
guys when there were too many zombies?”

“There were never,” Tachibana sounded strained, like he was trying to


withhold something from his voice, “There were never any zombies in Iwatobi. Or,
there were, but… we didn’t have an infestation. There were a handful of cases there,
but most of it came from outside the prefecture. When they first told us about the
fog, they said that it was,” and he choked here, a brief incredulous laugh, “Smoking
the zombies out, like they were mosquitoes. They made it sound temporary, or like
we would be able to live with it until they were all gone. They never… They never
said anything about it being a biological weapon. Of course, it was. How stupid could
we have been, how could we have…”

43
“And then what?” Rin gripped Tachibana’s arm firmly, regaining his
attention. There was time for platitudes later, “And then they abandoned you?”

“No,” Tachibana shook his head, voice softening, “They came back for us.”

“Then why were you left behind?”

He could sense the forlorn smile even behind the gas mask, “Not all of us.”

`123
The Iwatobi evacuation had hit a sore spot, Rin could tell, because Tachibana
had excused himself to read more of the books Nakagawa Akiko had left behind.
He’d mentioned that she’d scribbled a little note on all of the front pages, about
leaving her record of events for future researchers and survivors so they could
know what had happened in Tottori University. Considering what Tachibana had
been put through, Rin figured he needed the information and the closure more than
Rin did. Also, despite appearances, Rin did not have the sensitivity of a brick wall; he
knew when a guy needed space. Tachibana would most likely come back to him with
information, on both the fog and Iwatobi, when he was good and ready.

Knowing what he knew now, though, Rin really did need to blow off some
steam. He considered exploring Tottori University some more, but running into a
toolbox had given him some arts and crafts ideas.

“What are you doing?” Tachibana’s voice sounded both weary and wary as he
crept into their designated base.

Rin kept hammering the nails into his bat, imagining each one to be someone
or something he hated. The cargo plane pilot. The ugly banker dude who told him
his cheque had bounced. The arms dealer with the stinky breath. The assholes who
had whistled at a picture of his sister.

“Kitajima,” Tachibana said, wincing at a particularly vicious slam of the


hammer which partially cracked the wood of his baseball bat.

44
“Brush up on your Final Fantasy,” Rin said sharply, though his voice was
tinged with malevolent glee, “Nail bats, simple but deadly. One swing of this, and
you’ll get guts flying across the room.”

“Please don’t hit me with that,” Tachibana’s voice quavered slightly.

“I won’t if you stop pussyfooting around it. If you’re done moping, sit down
and start hammering the other one.”

“I, um, I brought dinner, actually.”

Rin stopped hammering and looked up. He hadn’t realised because the mask
was on his face and couldn’t smell anything.

“What did you make?”

“Canned stew. It’s slightly past expiry, but I had some and it tasted good.”

“You ate alone? Barbarian,” Rin took the bowl from him and began
unstrapping his gas mask.

Now that he could smell it, it was fucking amazing and he dug in with fervour
despite the slightly amused warning to beware of the heat. It was his first taste of
meat and a hot meal in a long, long time. Tachibana ended up leaning up against the
wall behind him and curling up with one of the books, reading in silence, as Rin
shovelled his dinner into his mouth and gulped down a bottle of water. Finally
satisfied, he was suddenly hit by a pang of drowsiness. His first instinct was that he
had been drugged. Then he realised he was being an idiot. Rin was tired. They had
been running non-stop all day, and he hadn’t allowed himself to rest since they had
taken refuge in Tottori University. Although Iwatobi was his priority, it did him no
good to barge in there blindly. He’d tried it the first time, and he’d ended up literally
in a hospital. If Tachibana hadn’t been there…

“I’m taking a nap,” Rin said, stifling a yawn.

“Shouldn’t you put your mask on?”

“Suffocating,” Rin lay on his back, curling up on the sleeping bag that had
been tossed over an old and thin mattress. The air was a lot better here anyway,
“Maybe next time.”

45
B>,$
Rin dreamed about his mother.

He couldn’t remember too many details, but she was stroking his head and
telling him a story. Gou was there too, like she was fresh of out kindergarten, and
she had been sitting in his lap and folding paper cranes out of cherry blossom petals.
They were in a big field, surrounded by cherry blossoms that fell like rain out of the
sky.

His eyes fluttered open eventually, and he realised that Tachibana’s fingers
were in his hair, petting gently and soothingly. It felt… nice. Kind of nostalgic, really.

“You are surprisingly touchy feely for a guy your size,” Rin said drowsily.

Tachibana immediately withdrew his hand, spluttering his apologies as Rin


sat up and rubbed his eyes. He held up a hand and gestured noncommittally – he
didn’t really mind it (Tachibana had proved that he was as harmless as a kitten) and
it didn’t really matter in the long run. Tachibana eventually quietened down in a
relieved sort of embarrassed silence.

“Do you ever sleep?” Rin asked, eyeing his untouched sleeping pallet.

“Oh,” Tachibana cleared his throat, looking away, “I…”

“Yes?”

“I don’t…”

“Seriously,” Rin let out an irritated sigh, running a hand through his hair, “If
you’re worried I’m going to be judgemental, we’ve gone way past that, Ginchiyo.”

He wagered good money that a smile had flickered across Tachibana’s lips,
because the man glanced up at him briefly before turning away again.

“I’m just… afraid.”

46
“Afraid of sleeping?”

“My family…” He trailed off again, “They were taken away while I slept. Well,
I say slept, but…”

Rin frowned at this new information and scooted closer. Tachibana looked at
him and sighed, scratching the base of his neck.

“Iwatobi was forcefully evacuated. I was panicking, trying to get my brother


and sister to put on their masks and on the buses when I suddenly remembered my
childhood friend – he lives alone and unless he was at home, he wouldn’t know that
the city was being emptied out. I found him and managed to drag him along to the
military cordon – we couldn’t get on the buses ourselves – and they took my sister
out of my arms. I heard something about the buses being full, and I was trying to
reach out for my sister, but then one of the soldiers pistol whipped me.”

Tachibana paused, hand lingering on the base of his neck.

“I was cut along the hairline, right here. When I woke up, I was bleeding and
the city was empty and the fog was the thickest I’d ever seen. It was so hard to see
and think and breathe. I don’t really remember exactly what happened, but I
panicked. My neighbourhood was empty. My school was empty. My friends were
gone. My family was gone. I don’t know if my parents and siblings made it out
together, I don’t even…”

Rin surprised himself by reaching forward and squeezing Tachibana’s hand.

Tachibana looked at their point of contact and up at Rin, and squeezed back
gently, steadying his breath.

“I tried to go to the borders, but they told me that they’d shoot if I came too
close,” he confessed, “I didn’t know if they were serious at first, but a lot of people
had been left behind too. A girl ran for the border and they just…” Tachibana shook
his head, “It was instantaneous.”

“You didn’t stay with the other survivors?”

“I tried to,” he said, uncomfortable, “But things got out of hand quickly. Not to
mention the fog eventually started to affect some of the survivors. It… was awful to
see. One of them attacked me and I just made a break for it. I’ve been alone since
then.”

He chanced a glance up, “To be frank, I honestly thought I was hallucinating


when I saw you. That’s one of the first symptoms, you know, hallucinating. Hearing
things.”

47
Rin looked at him, really looked at him, remembering their first meeting,
“… you were so docile. Don’t people usually, I don’t know, retaliate against those
kinds of things? Like, denial over the fact that they were going to be infected or
something?”

Tachibana just shrugged.

Rin didn’t like that. That defeatist notion seemed so alien to associate with a
guy like Tachibana, whose survival instincts were ridiculously alive and kicking to
the point that he’d planned on outrunning a zombie horde via the roof. And
Tachibana hadn’t given up on Rin, either, not when he’d collapsed.

After a pause, Rin looked up at him, “Hey. Let me see your face.”

Tachibana seemed taken aback at that.

“What? I don’t care if you’re defaced or whatever. You know what I look like,
now it’s your turn.”

He hesitated, “The fog…”

“I napped for a couple hours and I was fine. I just wanna know what you look
like.”

Tachibana was silent for a long while before he finally relented with a sigh,
“Just for a little while.”

It didn’t take long for him to unbuckle the straps on the back of his head, and
when he finally pulled the mask away from his face, he took a slow inhale, like he
had forgotten what it had been like to breathe. Tachibana wasn’t defaced, which,
although Rin had joked about it, had come as a slight surprise considering all the
fighting he’d mentioned. He looked as normal as a guy could get. His face was easy
going and lax, a good reflection of his personality, but Rin couldn’t help but stare at
his eyes. There was something familiar about it, something he couldn’t quite place
about Tachibana…

… wait.

Tachibana?

“You have got to be kidding me,” Rin muttered, narrowing his eyes at
Tachibana and giving him another once over, “Tachibana Makoto?”

Tachibana was visibly startled at that, and it was so refreshing to see how
much more expressive he was without that gas mask as a buffer, as though Rin could

48
finally make out sentences from an indecipherable mess of text, “How did you know
my name?”

“Oh my god,” Rin breathed, “You idiot. You gave me your real name?”

Tachibana—Makoto shook his head, looking at Rin in puzzlement, “I’m…


sorry?”

“How have you survived this long?” Rin felt like he was suffering inside,
“Makoto, how many people do you know with this hair? How did you not realise
who I was sooner? You took my bandana off! How hard was your head hit?”

Makoto blinked at him rapidly, eyes hesitantly scanning his appearance,


“… you do seem kind of familiar, but I didn’t want to assume… I mean, it would be
kind of a miracle if you really were…”

“It’s Rin,” he couldn’t take it anymore, “Matsuoka Rin.”

Makoto gasped and clapped a hand over his mouth. Rin just rolled his eyes,
pushing down the urge to strangle him.

“Rin! Oh my goodness! Is it actually you? I mean, you’re… you were different


from what I remember, so I wasn’t sure… I didn’t know what to think, honestly…
How long has it been, five years?”

“Yes, it’s been five years,” Rin sighed exasperatedly.

“You never wrote back.”

Rin stiffened at that unexpected comment. He cleared his throat, unable to


look Makoto in the eye as he mumbled, “I was busy.”

Makoto squeezed his hand, “I’m just glad you’re all right.”

“Yeah,” Rin pulled his hand away embarrassedly, “Thanks.”

“So you’re looking for your family, huh.”

“Yeah. I’m guessing you wouldn’t know where my mum and sister are.”

“Sorry,” Makoto gave him an apologetic look. Rin was suddenly reminded of
something.

“That friend you were referring to,” Rin said, “Haru?”

Makoto paused before nodding once.

49
“So you don’t know what’s happened to him?”

“Or anyone else,” he sighed, “I… To be honest, part of me doesn’t want to go


back to Iwatobi. I was trying to leave when I first met you.”

Rin furrowed his brows in confusion, “Why are you following me, then?”

“I…” Makoto suddenly looked embarrassed again, “…I don’t want to be alone
anymore.”

Rin understood the sentiment one hundred per cent, but it didn’t mean that
he was immune to the embarrassment that sentiment was also causing him. He
smacked Makoto on the back, ignoring the slight yelp of pain at the agitation to the
big bruise there.

“Get some rest,” Rin said, grabbing his gun and leaning up against the wall,
“I’ll take watch.”

Makoto hesitated.

“I’m not going anywhere. Don’t make me pistol whip you to sleep, Makoto.”

He laughed softly at that, sounding more than a little relieved, and whispered
‘goodnight’ before he put the gas mask back on his face and curled up by Rin’s side.

50
Chapter 6

MAKING PLANS

51
“G
ah!”

Rin looked up to see Makoto fumbling with the gun post-shot, already well
aware that the idiot had forgotten to brace for recoil again, and ignored him in
favour of eyeing the opposite wall where he’d drawn in target lines with some
markers to see if he’d been able to hit anywhere close to the centre.

Outer-most ring. Great.

“I’m doing everything you told me to,” Makoto protested pre-emptively as


Rin stalked over towards him, “Grip the gun firmly with your dominant hand, cup it
with your other hand, feet apart, elbow straight, use the rear sight to aim—”

“—breathe in and hold it before you shoot, keep your finger down on the
trigger after squeezing, and maintain your posture,” Rin interjected with equal
amounts of restraint and irritation, “Your grip on the gun is obviously not even in
the ballpark of ‘firm’ if it’s dancing in your hands like that. The recoil isn’t even that
bad, you dolt. Stop getting so nervous.”

Makoto looked like he wanted to argue but didn’t have the words. He hung
his head, muttering something that sounded like a well-chided ‘sorry’ and Rin was
doubly glad his gas mask was on or the puppy-dog eyes would have overwhelmed
him.

“One more time,” Rin said with an irritated sigh, crossing his arms, “Only, this
time actually do everything I told you to. Keep a tight grip on that gun – but not until
it’s shaking – aim, take in a breath to keep you steady, shoot.”

He watched Makoto go through the motions, noted the still gun with
approving eyes, and blinked at the noise of a gunshot. He glanced at the wall. Second
ring from the centre.

“Well, well, well,” he said in a tone that could only be described at smug,
“I guess you can be taught after all.”

“Did you see that?” Makoto in his excitement forgot he was training to shoot
at zombies, “That’s the closest I ever got to the centre!”

“Well done,” Rin said graciously, in a good enough mood to slam another clip
down on the table-top between them beside two empty ones he refused to think of
as ‘wasted’, “Repeat that with all the bullets in this magazine until you’re shooting
consistently in the centre.”

He foresaw the crestfallen expression on Makoto’s face. “Makoto,” he said


patiently, “The target painted on that wall is the size of a car tyre.”

52
(}{:\
After two days cooped up inside the Tottori University sports complex, Rin
was getting absolutely antsy. Between the constant barrage of gunshots into a wall
that he hoped wasn’t an important part of the building’s support, and calling Makoto
Ginchiyo enough times when he was tired to spur him on to swinging the un-nailed
aluminium baseball bat at Rin (fortunately, the idiot did indeed hit accurately when
he was feeling mean even if it ended up degenerating into a slew of spluttered
apologies when it was time to take stock of post-training injuries), he was getting
cabin fever. No, he didn’t need to leave the building for a bit of sunshine – after all,
he was used to being quarantined, not thanks to the epidemic – but he did need to
get out of the sports complex they were holed up in and explore.

Rin had spent the two days fortifying their base and thumbing through some
of the books that had been left behind. Some of the writings were purely academic –
sketches of plant parts, descriptions and uses of herbs and other vegetation – but
they were very pleasing to read, from a purely aesthetic perspective. Something
about the unconcerned writing about the nutritional value of mugwort in between
diary entries regarding the death of another survivor and someone else’s
conclusions from dissecting a zombie was… steadying. Amusing, possibly in some
dark way. He really respected how keenly Nakagawa Akiko kept to her profession
even in such dire times. He wondered if there was something therapeutic about
drawing leaf veins while the world went to shit around her. He certainly found
himself with a ripple of calmness each time he traced over her sketch lines.

“Makoto,” Rin called out in the lull as he was loading a new clip. Rin didn’t
have to look to know that Makoto was starting to shoot consistently within the
newer, smaller target on the wall, “I’m spelunking.”

Makoto lowered his hands, “Oh, let me get ready.”

“No, keep practicing.”

“But—”

53
“I’m going to do a quick sweep of the university grounds immediately
adjacent to us,” Rin explained, feeling a little tired of talking so much, but talking
was what you had to do when you were partnering up with someone, “I’m not going
to go too far, just one floor above us, and around the sports complex. I want to see if
I can catch sight of the agricultural grounds. If we’re lucky, they were growing some
vegetables or fruit, and they’re untainted. If they’re too far, we can double up and do
a run together. Okay?”

He watched Makoto deliberate this.

“Besides, for short recons, it’s better to have someone at home base. You get
it, right?”

Makoto took this information in before relenting with a sigh, “You promise to
be careful?”

“Like a surgeon,” Rin saluted, “I’ll be back before dark, mum.”

“If—” Makoto interjected, “For future reference, if one of us goes out for, um,
‘recon’… at what point does the other person decide to go looking for him when he
doesn’t get back in time?”

Rin opened his mouth but no sound came out. He’d… never had to consider
that before.

“Uh,” Rin scratched the side of his jaw thoughtfully, “I have a working watch.
Do you?”

Makoto fumbled around on his person before he pulled out a lady’s


wristwatch from his pocket. Rin would have made fun of him, but he also recognised
it as being from the pallets where they found Nakagawa Akiko’s diary. They moved
close together to synchronise their times and Rin quietly watched him strap the
delicate thing onto his bony wrist, notched at the last hole, before he let out a breath
through his nose.

“I think… possibly the allowance should be until the next morning,” Rin
raised his palms placatingly and continued over Makoto’s torrent of disapproval,
“Think about it – sunlight is infinitely safer to move about in, and it’s easier to
search. There should be less bodies moving around too, if it came to that. You’d have
a clear view of where you can go.”

“Three hours,” Makoto’s tone was surprisingly sharp, and his suggestion was
rather generous if Rin had to be honest, “I can wait until the next morning if you’re
doing recon somewhere far, and it takes time to get back. If you’re just upstairs, I
will look for you within three hours. It’s just the two of us, it’s up to us to bail the

54
other out if they get in trouble. I wish,” Makoto sounded frustrated, “I wish mobile
phones worked. Or that we had walkie-talkies.”

“You and me both, sister,” Rin could tell a touch of a smile had reached
Makoto’s lips at that, and he couldn’t really find it in him to disagree with Makoto,
considering how quickly Rin had doubled back to the hospital when he found out
about the zombies, “But I tell you what; while I’m scurrying around, I’ll try to find us
a campus map, all right? If it’s that important to you, we’ll chart out the exact
movement of future recon.”

“That sounds good,” Makoto’s tone was thoughtful and relieved, “While
you’re at it, their course brochures would be nice.”

Rin let out a bark of laughter. Trust Makoto to be so damned pragmatic in his
optimistic little view that life could still return to normal after all this mess. “What,
you interested in Tori U’s agricultural programme?”

There was a smile in Makoto’s voice, “Something like that.”

FGH
Without a doubt, Tottori University was in shambles, but it was still one of
the most put-together places Rin had come across during his plague experience.
Good old Japanese order. He could picture the quick, calm but slightly noisy
evacuations as he toed over upturned chairs and spilled papers. By contrast,
Australians were… well, they were something, all right. Whenever they had to
evacuate, they always seemed extremely annoyed. A child was always wailing. Lots
of swearing and cursing. Lots of elbowing and pushing too. To be fair, he could
firmly picture Australians punching their way through a zombie plague, and
considering some of their laws on invasive plants and immigration, he understood
why Australia stood as a bastion against the undead… as well as the living who
hoped to keep on living. Rin winced slightly at the thought – it was his second home
– but he’d be a fool to ignore all the people who drowned or were forcibly turned
away at the ports. Fortunately, they didn’t shoot people like Japan did but Rin knew
that some deaths were infinitely worse than others.

55
Rin shook his head clear of those thoughts. He hadn’t allowed his mind to
wander the entire time he’d been back, and with the exception of this one incident,
he couldn’t afford to let it happen anymore. He had to be single-minded about this –
he didn’t believe in no-win situations and he was going to find his family and he and
Makoto both would make it out alive, no matter what state his family was in, or
wherever they would have to find safety.

He heard a crunch underfoot and lifted his leg up to see that he’d stepped on
a room sign.

“Huh. Bingo.”

Rin crouched under a fallen bookcase into what looked like a faculty office
and managed to fish out a dozen maps and brochures of the university from a plastic
display shelf on the sidewall. Spare maps were always handy, and he was lucky to
get a supplementary map of the surrounding area for new students, which included
locations of banks, ATMs, marts, convenience stores and train stations. The other
brochures were on their different programmes – some in English, which he
immediately discarded if memory of Makoto’s foreign language skills still served –
and he noted with disjointed fascination that they also had a medical and
engineering department. It certainly explained the dissection activity in Nakagawa
Akiko’s diary. He stuffed everything in his backpack and realised with some relish
that there was a full water dispenser in the corner of the office, with cups. Rin
scanned around until he saw the floor plan in a neat little picture frame on the wall
by the fire extinguisher, and smashed it. Fishing out a pen nearby, he marked where
the water dispenser was on the plan and folded it into the complex map.

Despite how futile it would be, Rin walked up to the window and tried to get
a good look at the grounds. The fog here was thick, though not as thick as Iwatobi,
and he realised that there appeared to be what looked like an expansive garden and
a vast stretch of water not too far away. It was definitely within the grounds area,
more or less. Water? Were they by the sea? Shouldn’t the fog be thinner in that case?

Well, Rin was spelunking, after all. A glance at his watch told him he had 30
minutes until Makoto’s 3-hour countdown began, but he decided that Makoto
needed to be kept on his toes anyway.

He managed to break through a blocked fire escape at the end of the passage
with a handy axe he found near a hose reel and navigated his way through to the
grounds. He could see the sports complex was a decent sprint away and, slightly
comforted by its sight, hitched up his backpack and trekked towards the water. His
route took him through the main campus and across several avenues. He strained
his ears for the barest hints of a growl, suddenly incredibly glad of the axe in his
hand because he had, like Makoto normally would, stupidly left without weapons,
but the end of his little exploration found him at the edge of long brackets of neatly
arranged greens and absolutely breathless at the sight beyond it.

56
GHJK
The door groaned open, echoing noisily in the enclosed space, and Rin saw
Makoto scrambling up and rushing towards him.

“You’re late,” Makoto’s voice was stupidly stern and unhappy, but Rin was on
cloud nine as he secured the door behind him and strode past Makoto to their
pallets. Makoto kept apace, “Rin, you had me worried. You were gone for an hour
longer than you said you would.”

“And what an hour it’s been,” Rin replied sunnily, upturning his back and
shaking out his spoils.

It went on for days it seemed like.

“…Rin,” Makoto said when he finally found his voice, “Are those… potatoes?”

“And radishes. And carrots. And a handful of onions.”

“You’re…” He sounded faint as he touched one of the potatoes and rubbed the
still-clinging dirt between the index and thumb of his other hand, “Where did you
get these?”

“The university farms, god bless the agricultural department,” Rin threw him
a brash grin and passed Makoto the sheet of maps and brochures, “Long live Tori U.”

“Right,” Makoto’s voice was still utterly spacey as he dumbly accepted the
papers, “Tottori Banzai.”

Over the most amazing bowl of fresh and hot vegetable stew that Rin
scrabbled together (as Makoto’s domesticity, contrary to his appearance, did not
extend to the kitchen), they pored over the maps as Rin detailed the route he had
taken and all the useful things he had seen. Makoto mostly nodded and asked for
clarifications, and they agreed to do one more round of joint exploration before they
properly aimed for Iwatobi. Now that Rin was masked and vaccinated, Makoto knew

57
how to handle a gun, and they appeared to be well-supplied, Iwatobi appeared to be
less of a Mount Fuji in the distance and more like the four-hour walk it really was.

“I thought we were near the sea when I first found the farms,” Rin said,
“Turns out we’re actually by a lake.”

“Oh, right,” Makoto replied, as though he just recalled, “Lake Koyama. We


passed it on the way from the hospital.”

“Did we? I didn’t even realise.”

“Ah, well, it’s not something you take stock of while running for your lives.
The hospital’s a 30-minute walk from here and we made the run in about 10, 15?”

“My coach would be so proud,” Rin said wistfully. Makoto chuckled.

“You’re not wrong though,” Makoto eventually said, “We’re not that far from
the coast.”

“Oh?”

He pulled out the area map and laid it flat between them, smoothing out the
creases and pointing at the legends. “We’re here, near the main campus. The airport
is between us and the ocean.”

“Whoa,” Rin leaned in, “Is that a 50-metre swimming pool?”

“Rin.”

“Hey,” he protested, “We’re near a lake, the ocean, and an Olympic-sized


swimming pool. Give a guy a break.”

“Promise me you won’t do something stupid, like go for a swim.”

“Damn it, Ginchiyo, you killjoy.”

“Promise me,” Makoto said firmly, and there was something in his tone that
gave Rin pause.

“…Okay,” he finally said, “If it means that much to you.”

“It does,” he said a bit too quickly, and tried to lighten the mood, “Also, you’re
bad at jokes.”

“Oh, we’ll see if it’s a joke if you’re going to be that way, you giant nerd.”

58
Makoto let out a laugh that sounded slightly nervous, even to Rin’s ear, but he
said nothing more, as though not wanting to bring any attention to it.

“I thought,” Rin found himself saying after a brief silence, “I’d have to swim
across the ocean. To get back here.”

“I think you’ll find the distance between Australia and Japan to be a bit too
ambitious, even for the best swimmers,” Makoto replied lightly, “So you’ll pardon
my saying that it was for the best that you’d flown.”

“Ass,” Rin jabbed Makoto in the shoulder, “I meant… I thought the plane
would get shot down and I’d have to front-crawl all the way to shore.”

Makoto looked at him. “… shot down?”

“Anti-aircrafts around the border,” Rin shook his head, “It sounds morbid, but
part of me hoped that we would, so that I could. What a stupid thing to think, right? I
mean, all those people on the plane were screaming for their lives, and I was
thinking how great it would be to go for a dip. Just… anything to get me away from
the gunfire and moving towards Iwatobi.”

Makoto touched his forearm gently, but said nothing.

“Anyway, I’m glad we didn’t get shot down. I don’t know how tight border
security is here, even in the south, and we landed by the mountain pass leading into
Iwatobi. That saved me weeks. And then there was the fog. Like, what the hell, right?
Some homecoming that was.”

Rin sighed and rubbed his temples, aware he was breaking character and
that this entire discussion was completely out of the blue. He couldn’t explain why
he had suddenly so many words in his chest that he needed to get out, and he knew
he was being impulsive and this could only turn out badly, but he’d been alone for so
long, and Makoto made it so easy.

“You don’t know how badly I need to see my mum and sister. I just… I really
feel shitty for saying this, but I can’t be like you and not know. If they’ve turned, if
they’re dead; I need to know. Knowing is better than constantly hoping, and being
crushed in the end. Like… Like, my dad, he…”

He felt Makoto stiffen slightly, but he gently squeezed Rin’s arm. Rin took a
deep breath.

“You guys probably don’t know the details but… he got infected, accidentally
swallowed a drop of blood or something incredibly stupid like that, when the
marina was attacked by some infected. He seemed so normal afterwards. We
couldn’t believe what had happened had happened. My mum and I, we knew, but we

59
refused to accept it. She didn’t report him. I watched him constantly, wanted to see
the signs, convinced myself he was fine. But then, just out of the blue, he turned on
Gou, and…”

Rin bit his lower lip.

“She doesn’t remember, thank god. But we should have taken him to the
hospital. We should have done all sorts of things. Even if it meant saying goodbye, at
least we could have said goodbye as humans,” Rin paused rifling through his
memories, where there was an empty, black hole that gaped as large as the one in
his heart, “I… I used to hope that he’d come back. I used to hope he managed to come
back to himself.” Rin took a slow, shaky breath, “Now I just… I hope he stays dead.”

“Rin,” Makoto murmured, hesitantly placing an arm around Rin’s shoulders.

“Shit, I’m not crying,” Rin hissed, face in his hands, “I’m not homesick or any
bullshit like that. I’m just… What’s going to happen to Gou and my mum, man? I ran
out on them five years ago, like a coward, and then Japan just goes to hell while I’m
completely safe and sound. I’m such a…” He choked, “I’m such an awful son.”

“Do you really think an awful son would risk getting shot and eaten just so
that he could see his family again?”

“No, you don’t get it, Makoto, I…”

“You love your mother and sister enough that you’ve nearly died, several
times, just to be with them. I’m sure your mother was happy to know you were all
right, especially given what happened to your dad.”

“But I killed him!” Rin yelled, suddenly suffocating in his gas mask, “I just…
He was about to bite a chunk out of Gou and I ran him down with a fucking kitchen
knife. Then he turned on me. My mum saw the whole thing, could barely stand to say
a word or look at me when the other fishermen came to take his body away. Fuck, it
was all I could do to stay here, remind my mother every day that I killed her
husband, I…” He felt his insides crumple, “What if my mother never wants to see me
again?”

“Rin, listen to yourself,” Makoto said quietly, “You came all the way here
because you need to know.”

“…right,” Rin squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to take slow breaths,
“Right.”

They sat there quietly as Rin tried to calm down, come back to his senses.
He’d been independent for five long years; he took care of himself then and he could
take care of himself now. His chest felt less tight, knowing that Makoto knew, and he

60
found that it didn’t matter what Makoto thought of him given the truth. He did
remember to say one thing though.

“So, this is a pretty roundabout way of saying this,” he muttered, voice rough,
and he let out a sigh, “First, it’s fair you know what happened to me since you told
me what happened to you. More importantly though, this being the point of the
story…” Rin dithered, finding it hard to articulate the words, “Basically, and I hope
this is reciprocated, if need be, I won’t hesitate to kill you if you get turned.”

Makoto jerked back. In revulsion or surprise, Rin didn’t care to know.

“It’s the only thing I can offer,” Rin forged ahead, impossibly calm now, “I
want us both to get out alive, but we still have to make contingency plans in case one
of us falls, god forbid. And if that happens, I really want to be stone cold before my
corpse so much as sniffs you out and thinks you’re edible.”

“…Rin,” Makoto said weakly, “Don’t make me agree to this.”

“Think about it,” he said with finality, “But you know exactly why I won’t
accept anything but a ‘yes’. You may be okay with me snapping my jaws at you, but
I’d never forgive myself if I put someone like you in danger. Not again.”

“I…” One look from Rin sent Makoto quiet, “… I promise I’ll think about it.”

“Good,” Rin nodded once, firmly, “Get some rest, we’re doing a big run
tomorrow.”

61
Chapter 7

LOST & FOUND

62
R in woke up, breath caught in his throat. As the images from his dream slipped
away – cold hands, white-pupiled eyes, half-rotted face – he relaxed against the
worn futon and closed his eyes, taking in a few slow breaths and rolling onto
his side. It had been a while since he last had that dream, the one with the funeral
procession marching along the coast and his father’s corpse reanimating on the bier,
and he wondered if it was because he had talked about his father to Makoto, or
because he was so close to Iwatobi.

A quick glance at his watch revealed that it was still relatively early in the
day. Rin stretched briefly, feeling his bones crack into place, and let out a sigh as he
sat up. That had been a good post-run nap. Earlier in the morning, he and Makoto
had done a good circuit through the university grounds for all the things they
needed. In the back of his mind, he thought it was a shame that they’d have to leave
such a well-fortified place behind. Tottori University had farmland and all sorts of
equipment. A small town could thrive here if they utilised all their resources well.
Then again, Nakagawa Akiko was right; a life left for dead was no life at all.

“Oh, you’re up. Want some food?”

Makoto appeared around the corner, a bowl in hand. Rin grunted, accepting
the reheated leftover vegetable stew and wordlessly shovelling it into his mouth.
Makoto was chattering on about their preparations and Rin merely made
noncommittal noises here and there as he ate.

“I was wondering about our route. I mean, I know we’ve already planned it,
but…”

Rin gestured vaguely at Makoto to go on.

“What are the odds we can double back to the hospital?”

Rin’s hand stilled halfway to his mouth. He placed the spoon down into the
bowl and turned to look at Makoto indecipherably.

“Excuse me?”

Makoto shifted uncomfortably, eyes darting away briefly before they met
Rin’s once again.

“What… What are the odds we can double back to the hospital?”

“Makoto,” Rin began, a scowl twisting his lips, “Do you remember where we
were before we came to Tottori U?”

“… the hospital. But—”

63
“And do you remember why we had to leave the hospital in the first place?”
Rin didn’t even let Makoto attempt to answer, “Zombies. We left the hospital
because there was an entire horde of zombies on our heels! We even had to jump
from the roof, do you remember that? And you’re saying you want to go back? What
for? We’ve got all the supplies we need here in Tottori U, and then some! So unless
you’ve got a really good excuse – and I mean ‘there’s a fully fuelled helicopter there
that I know how to pilot!’ kind of really good – there is no way in hell we are turning
around to explore a zombie-infested hospital.”

Makoto opened and closed his mouth, trying and failing to articulate his
words as he gestured nervously with his hands. Rin just glared at him expectantly.

“I think—”

“You think.”

“—I think there’s someone there.”

“Someone.”

“Someone I know. I think… I think he might be alive.”

“If he was while we were there, he sure ain’t alive now,” Rin narrowed his
eyes, “And how do you know this?”

Makoto hesitated, “I… read it. In Nakagawa’s journal.” When Rin didn’t say
anything, Makoto took this as the signal to continue, “She wrote about a student
from Iwatobi who was doing supply runs for a commune holed up in the school.
He’d collect food from the university and medicine from the hospital – the hospital
had been occupied back then, just like here. In return, they’d get him to courier all
sorts of things, from books to information.”

“So? The last entry in her journal was almost a month ago. What makes you
think he’s even in the hospital anymore? Last I checked, there was nobody there.”

“Well, yes, but,” Makoto fumbled, “I mean, he might have left something
behind. We were only in the wards, we didn’t really explore the rest of the hospital,
did we?”

Rin’s expression was that of disbelief, “You want to go back in hopes of


finding traces of your friend?”

Makoto shrugged at him helplessly.

“No way. Absolutely not.”

64
“But, Rin—”

“I said, no!” Rin snapped, reeling himself in when he saw Makoto wince,
“What are the odds we’re doubling back to the hospital? Well, what are the odds a
journal entry dated to a month ago will be accurate when we get to an abandoned
building swarming with zombies? What are the odds your friend hasn’t legged it
when the zombies arrived? Look, I know you care about your friends, and if this
journal entry were at most a week ago, I would have been a little more willing.
Reluctant, but willing. Going back to the hospital is going to be a waste of time.
We’re going to finish packing up, and then we’re heading out.”

Makoto didn’t say anything and eventually dropped his gaze to the floor. Rin
felt a little bad.

“Look,” he began, more gently, “Look, it sounds like your friend’s sharp as a
tack. A runner freely given supplies from the hospital and university in exchange for
his transportation services? All the way out here in Tottori when he’s based back in
Iwatobi? That’s some serious survival instinct right there. He sounds like a guy
who’d be alive, even now. The hospital’s no place for anyone to be, not for him, least
of all for us. If you really want to see him that badly, we should go to Iwatobi, right?
That’s where he’ll be.”

After a few moments of silence, he finally heard Makoto sigh. “You’re… you’re
right, Rin.”

“’Course I’m right. I’m not a fan of getting us dead,” Rin said kindly, clapping
Makoto on the shoulder, “Come on, get packing.”

ASDF
Rin should have seen it coming.

Makoto, that obedient after arguing with Rin for a week?

He should have seen it coming a mile away.

65
%^&*(5
Rin’s handgun was tucked in the back of Makoto’s jeans and the nail bat was
sticking out of his sack by the handle. Rin had found himself a harness and strapped
his shotgun to the side of his backpack, machete swinging in its sheath as they made
their way down the street, following the route they had predetermined with pit
stops at ATMs and convenience stores, just in case. Money may not have much value
in a desolate zombie wasteland, but they would certainly come in useful for what
came after. Rin wondered if it was wisdom or folly to plan so far ahead, but he knew
who he was – he needed a next step to plan for. At best, he managed to shove
handfuls of larger yen denominations into the side pocket of his bag; money still lost
out against water and food and ammunition.

There were forests and mountains between Tottori and Iwatobi. Considering
that both cities were coastal, it seemed almost like a no-brainer to grab a boat from
the port and cross over to the next district, but according to Makoto, the military
still patrolled the waters, even beyond the DMZs. Rin couldn’t argue; his plane had
come in from the south and had nearly been shot out of the sky. Even if they walked
along the coast, once they reached Iwato Port, there was Mount Shichi. The
mountain wasn’t especially big, but it was a steep coast with no beach. They’d still
have to climb the mountain pass. There was the option of swimming, if it was just
around the mountain, but there was the issue of gunpowder and their perishable
supplies. Makoto said their gasmask filters wouldn’t last if submerged. They would
have to tough up and leg it all the way, but on the bright side, once they crossed the
mountain, not only would they be in Iwami district, they would be in Iwatobi city
proper.

There was a sound of something loud and metallic falling heavily to the
ground, followed by a throaty growl. Makoto and Rin immediately darted to the side
and ducked behind a crumbling wall.

“What was that?” Makoto whispered shakily as Rin peeked around half-
exposed bricks to case out the area. The fog wasn’t as thick here as it had been in
Iwatobi, especially with all the mountains containing it on the other side, but enough
had leaked through that it made things slightly out of focus.

66
“Is it feral? Zombie?”

“Make no mistake, it’s zombie,” Rin muttered, “A small horde, in fact.”

If he could see Makoto’s face, he would put good money on it turning a whiter
shade of pale.

“How many?”

“Thirty, maybe. If we could distract them somehow, we could make a break


for it…”

“We could try to go around.”

“Might lose ground if we do that, though. Plus, who knows how many
zombies there are further inland? At least here we know exactly how many we’re
dealing with.”

Makoto conceded the point with a single nod. Rin could see his Adam’s apple
bob nervously with a swallow.

“Okay,” Rin said, pulling his shotgun loose as silently as possible, “I’ll make a
distraction.”

There was a howl, shrill and sharp, followed by a deep, guttural choking. Rin
felt the hairs on his skin stand on their ends.

“What the hell was that?” He whispered, re-gripping the shotgun.

“Oh no,” Makoto’s breath caught fearfully, “It’s the Screecher.”

“What the hell is the Screecher?”

“Heightened senses. Incredible strength. Really, really loud. Lures zombies to


its location.”

“Fuck.”

“Basically, yeah.”

“Fuck, what the hell is going on here? You have special zombies?”

“Remember when I told you about the effects of the fog on zombies?”

“Yeah, they turn aggressive and rip themselves apart.”

67
“Well, this one didn’t.”

Before they could say anything more, there was the sound of tearing metal
and a large shadow loomed over them. In a split second, they yelled at each other to
run, and rolled away just as a ripped car door slammed down and lodged itself into
the ground where both Rin and Makoto had just been sitting. A quick glance back
revealed that the Screecher and the rest of the horde had already zeroed in on their
location.

“Fuck!” Rin yelled, making a break for it, Makoto hot on his heels.

“I see Sendai River up ahead! We’ll run across the bridge and lose them!”

“Lose them?! Are you out of your—”

Rin stumbled as he felt something grab at his ankles. He swore, blindly


kicking backwards and half-crawling, half-running until he was back on both feet.
The zombies weren’t particularly fast, but they didn’t run out of stamina the way
humans did. They were closing in on them. Rin looked around wildly, hoping there
was something he could use to throw off the horde, but all he could see was
potential shrapnel. He cursed again, gunning down zombies as he lunged ahead. If
only they had explosives…

“Rin!” Makoto was already far ahead, curse his long legs, and standing on top
of a delivery van. He had his gun out but wasn’t shooting. “Hurry up!”

“Do I look like I’m taking a stroll to you?!” Rin lost his footing and fell with a
yelp, quickly rolling sideways onto his back. He grabbed for his handgun
instinctively but came up empty, letting loose a string of angry cursing as he quite
literally kicked out the legs from under an approaching zombie. He fumbled for the
shotgun a foot or so away, crawling backwards as best as he could when the
deafening sound of gunfire came in a volley by his right ear. Makoto was aiming at a
loose propane tank on the concrete bridge.

Without thinking twice, Rin managed to grab his shotgun and aimed
carefully. He fired off the first shot and the burn and tingle of the recoil lingered
heavily in his hands and ears. Damned thing wouldn’t blow. He reloaded, firing off a
quick shot at a pair of zombies closing in on him, briefly appreciating the giant hole
it ripped through their insides, and tried again.

The second attempt was a bust but Makoto somehow managed to blow off
the top of the tank and it exploded in a blaze of glory, fire and smoke and flying
metal everywhere, taking a leaking car with it and doubling the boom. His ears were
ringing but he scrambled onto his feet when he realised the entire bridge was
beginning to crumble, its structural integrity blown to hell. He saw Makoto jumping

68
down the van from the corner of his eye and they made a leeway for the opposite
bank.

The Screecher let out an angry squeal as it propelled itself forwards, charging
on all fours, sprinting across the bridge as it began to fall to pieces in its wake. Its
limbs were thin and gangly and it moved like an animal, slobbering and spitting all
over itself. Rin saw an upturned car up ahead and quickly formulated a plan.

“Makoto! Back up against the car and shoot!”

“What?!”

“Just do it!”

Makoto turned round and threw himself backwards, landing on his ass and
leaning back against the hood of the car, both hands outstretched as the gun shook
in his grip.

“Shoot it!”

“I—” Makoto’s hand were shaking so hard, “I—”

“Shoot the fucking thing!”

BANG! Makoto let out a shot, but it missed the Screecher and it continued to
charge ahead. Rin finally caught up to Makoto and disappeared behind the car.

“Keep shooting, you idiot!” His shout was muffled.

BANG! Makoto shot again, but his aim was off, “Rin,” he called out, chest
seizing with anticipation as the Screecher got closer. BANG! It missed because he
couldn’t keep his hands steady. Rin wasn’t responding. “Rin!” He took in a breath,
tried to remember everything Rin ever told him about firing a gun, ignoring the
slight tremble and doing his best to aim before he squeezed the trigger again.

Click.

He was out of bullets.

“Rin!” Makoto yelled, throwing his hands up and covering his head.

BANG! Reload. BANG! Reload. BANG! Reload.

Makoto hesitated briefly before he looked up. The Screecher was right in
front of him, body gaping with large holes. It let out an anguished gasp, long and
jarring, before it lashed out and lunged against the car Makoto was leaning up

69
against. The force of the impact sent it flying backwards, and it rolled right up into
the bus that Rin had climbed up atop. Rin let out an aborted shout, thrown off
completely against the other side of the mountain of rubble that had been
supporting the bus. When he finally stopped rolling at the foot of the heap, he let out
a groan. Aside from some minor cuts and bruises, he wasn’t dead.

“Rin!” The sound of running feet. He heard stones and pieces of concrete
skittering as Makoto climbed up on top of the heap, “Rin, are you okay?”

“Ginchiyo, what the fuck is wrong with your aim?” Rin moaned, sitting up
slowly and rubbing the back of his head where it had smacked against the asphalt,
“Is it dead?”

“Yeah,” Makoto replied breathlessly, slumping, “Some death throe, huh?”

“Death throw, more like.”

Makoto chuckled at the joke and silence fell between them as they caught
their breaths.

“Okay,” Rin heaved a sigh, painstakingly getting to his feet, “We’re across the
river. Let’s keep moving.”

“Rin,” Makoto said, something different about his tone of voice, “I’m sorry.”

He sighed again, “Look, can’t be helped if you were scared out of your mind.
Just try not to suck next time, okay?”

“No, I mean… I am sorry about that too, but…”

Rin looked up at Makoto, “’Too’?”

“I’m going back.”

Rin blinked up at him. He didn’t say anything momentarily. “What?”

“I’m… I’m heading back to the hospital.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t leave him.”

“Are you out of your goddamned mind?!” Rin yelled, “You don’t even know if
he’s there!”

70
“But I can’t risk it!” Makoto took a step back, “I don’t want to risk not going
back for him. I… I’ll meet you at the mountain pass, okay?”

“Are you fucking insane?” Rin started to scramble up the rubble heap, “We’re
not separating! It’s a fucking death sentence!”

“Then you’re going to have to follow me.”

“I swear to god, I am going to beat the living shit out of you,” Rin fumed icily
as he doubled his efforts, but Makoto didn’t respond, “Did you not just have to fight
your way through a zombie horde, or was that just your fucking imagination?
Makoto! Answer me, you asshole!”

By the time Rin had clambered over the top, he could see Makoto a distance
away, carefully leaping over the partially submerged wreckage of the bridge to head
for the hospital.

“Oh my god,” Rin hissed, “I ought to leave his gangly sorry ass to the
zombies.”

~!@#”
For all intents and purposes, Rin couldn’t actually leave Makoto behind. For
one thing, the idiot still had his precious handgun. For another, he couldn’t exactly
fault Makoto for being Makoto. If it weren’t for his ‘leave no man behind’ attitude,
Rin would have dead long before they’d even holed up in Tottori. Rin could,
however, continue to want to murder Makoto for being a goddamned moron with
the survival instincts of a kakapo.

Although he did his best to keep his eye on the man, Makoto did eventually
disappear from his line of sight because he was just faster. Their stunt on the bridge
had removed most of the zombies in the area, but the Screecher had lured some
stragglers that Rin had to dispatch with his machete. He was bent on conserving
ammo at this point; shotgun rounds were precious.

Rin cursed under his breath as he took refuge in a bicycle shed and thumbed
through his map. He laid it flat on the ground and tried to orient himself, glancing

71
around for possible landmarks. Half a building block had been reduced to rubble,
and the other block was made up of shops.

“Fuck’s sake,” he dug into the bottom pocket of his backpack and pulled out
his phone, switching it on and waiting for it to boot. Predictably, he had no bars out
in a DMZ but at least his battery was still full. After switching on the GPS, even with
the fog, his phone could pick up satellite signals. He squinted skywards, only barely
able to make out the blue of a cloudless day through the smog. It took about a
minute before his phone vibrated in his hand and his location had been triangulated.
He placed it alongside his map, running his finger along the grid lines of the crinkled
paper until he could finally make out exactly where he was. Rin hesitated to turn his
phone off; although most of the buildings were still standing, he wasn’t sure how
accurate the map would be after all this time. But then again, what was he going to
do when he was in a real emergency and his battery was dead?

“No, just… head towards the general direction,” Rin told himself, switching
his phone off and putting it back. He kept his map out and began walking towards
the hospital, machete in his other hand.

This was all complete bullshit.

Rin had a decent sense of direction, and already he had to consult his
freaking GPS. What the hell was Makoto thinking, running off like that? It wasn’t like
this was his turf; he probably didn’t know where he was going. Not to mention all
the zombies that would be laying in wait for them…

… huh.

Now that he thought about it, the trek back had been… suspiciously zombie-
free.

“Either we killed off more zombies than we thought, or this has all been an
elaborate ruse and Makoto is actually part of a conspiracy to kill me,” Rin groaned
quietly, wanting to pinch the bridge of his nose. He’d let his guard down. He was
probably going to die. He was going to kill Makoto.

He was spared in his imaginative conjurations of the various ways in which


he would maim the boy when he turned a corner and the comforting sight of Lake
Koyama came into view. Glancing to the left, he could make out the outline of the
Tottori University complex. After a moment’s hesitation, Rin ducked into the sports
complex.

“Makoto,” he called out, “You in here?”

He wasn’t. Rin did a quick sweep anyway before he finally decided to jog
towards the hospital.

72
:VBNM
It was a good thing that Rin was cautious, because holy fuck that was a shit
load of zombies.

“You idiot,” Rin muttered, scanning the car park in front of the hospital lobby,
counting at least 50 zombies shambling around, “You big, lumbering moron.”

For the time being, it didn’t seem as though Makoto had been turned into one
of them. Or, at least Rin couldn’t see a Makoto-shaped zombie dragging its feet
amongst the horde. In fact, the zombies didn’t seem particularly… agitated. Did
Makoto not come this way?

We could try to go around, that had been Makoto’s suggestion when faced
with a horde, because of course Makoto would suggest the safe, non-confrontational
method of pushing through. Rin directed his gaze towards the side of the hospital;
there wasn’t much he could make out, on account of the rubble and an upturned
cement lorry.

Well, only one way to find out.

As quietly as he could, he kept low, half-running, half-crouching behind the


road divider until he arrived at the streets that lead back into town. He took special
care to head through the small housing district in a big circle to the emergency ward
located at the back of the hospital. The gate was closed, but he noticed that furniture
had been pushed up against the fence to make a makeshift ladder or staircase.
Miraculously, behind the mass of cement and oil that had leaked out and hardened,
zombies hadn’t bothered with the back entrance. Not one to look a gift horse in the
mouth, Rin climbed the fence, still keeping quiet, and entered the emergency ward.

He had no idea what the hell he was supposed to be looking for.

The only thing Makoto had said was that they had explored the wards, but
not the rest of the hospital, which was a fucking joke because the hospital was a
university hospital and it was fucking huge. In fact, there was—

73
Wait.

University hospital?

Why did that ring a bell?

It was just a university hospital for Tottori.

Nothing special about it.

“While you’re at it, their course brochures would be nice.”

Right… Makoto had asked for Tottori University brochures.

That really had been weird, even if Makoto was already a space case. Why
would he ask for those brochures when he knew full well that a university in the
DMZ would probably never be repopulated?

… The other brochures were on their different programmes – some in English,


which he immediately discarded if memory of Makoto’s foreign language skills still
served – and he noted with disjointed fascination that they also had a medical and
engineering department. It certainly explained the dissection activity in Nakagawa
Akiko’s diary…

… a medical department…

… dissection activity…

“You have got to be kidding me.”

Rin didn’t have a lot of time to ruminate over his induction because there was
the sound of something heavy falling over and crashing into glass.

His immediate instinct was to get out and run in the opposite direction, but
he had just arrived after all that effort.

Contrary to all good sense and the lessons he had learnt from horror movies,
following that sound would most likely lead him to Makoto, if not Makoto’s or his
own death.

He didn’t really have a lot to go on, and as much as he’d love to, he wasn’t
enough of a hard ass to abandon Makoto. Not when Makoto was hell bent on not
abandoning his mystery friend from Iwatobi. If he really existed.

Makoto was hiding something from him and Rin would beat it out of him
with relish.

74
“Fuck everything,” Rin unsheathed his machete; loosing his shotgun when
there were more than 50 zombies outside was a bad idea waiting to happen. He
inched towards surgery, keeping close to the wall, making sure he wasn’t stepping
on anything that would set off anything. He realised as he passed a window that he
was in a different building within the hospital complex.

If memory served, he and Makoto had bolted from the roof of the main
building, where the big car park was. That was probably why there weren’t any
zombies in this part of the hospital. He kept his machete in front of him anyway; no
way in hell was he going to lose his life because he let his guard down.

It didn’t stop the hospital from being utterly eerie.

When he had recovered from fog exposure, he had come to in a brightly lit
room, with little time to think about his surroundings as he focused on getting
better, getting a mask, and getting the hell out of there.

Now, though…

Rin began to recognise tell-tale signs of settlement; it was just like Tottori
University. There were barricades, boarded up windows, graffiti…

n t TOUCH ANYTH I NG DO

BI EY DONT TOU H

T EM J ST SHOOT N GET

OUT GO NORTH n

75
… Man, there was a lot of graffiti. Clothes, papers, cans, syringes, rotting food,
all sorts of things were just strewn about. Upturned tables and carts. A wheelchair
on its side. The light overhead was flickering, plunging the entire hallway in near
darkness before lighting it up again. That’s right, the hospital had electricity… Of
course, if it had been occupied by humans not too long ago…

It was getting so dark. He knew the sun was starting to set, but it didn’t
account for the incredible darkness… right, the windows were boarded up. Rin could
feel the sweat trickling down the back of his neck, drenching his clothes. It was
getting hard to breathe. It felt like there was no escape, like the walls that loomed
ahead were closing in on him. He was just nervous. It was too quiet and
claustrophobia was setting in. He just needed to calm down.

At the end of the corridor was a fire escape. The door hung ajar.

“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” Rin swallowed the lump in his throat, “This is so
fucking scary.”

He inhaled slowly, counting back from three, and carefully edged towards the
door. The fire escape was dimly lit, a bulb had probably burnt out. There was no one
inside. Rin forced himself to take step after step despite the tremor in his hands and
the sunken feeling twisting his gut. It was like being unable to see his hand before
his eyes or where his feet were stepping, even though he knew damn well that he
could. Rin had never walked up a flight of stairs so slowly in his life.

On the next floor, the door was hanging open. Rin tightened his grip on his
machete, holding it with both hands, and pushed forward.

He stepped through the corridor, scanning his surroundings. There was a


row of doors that led to… offices? Consultation rooms? Most of them were open. Rin
passed by one and a cursory look revealed that it was empty, but had been
completely ransacked. The same was true of most of the rooms he peered into. At
the end of the passage was a doorway that led to a foyer that linked other corridors
together, with a main staircase leading up and down, and two lifts. He lowered his
hands, stepping over a trampled gurney to the nurse’s station, checking the counters
for anything useful. There were some bottles of prescription medicine and a stack of
gasmask filters, but it was mostly paperwork. He couldn’t help the small quirk of the
lips when he realised one of the nurse’s had been doing her homework under a
patient report.

“He must have come and gone,” Rin said as he approached the model
skeleton hanging on the wall, beside some medical posters and hospital notices. He
poked the skeleton in the jaw, listening to the clack, clack, clack of the enamel bones
clicking against each other as the body swayed and dangled in place.

CRASH!

76
Rin spun round, machete out. Something was definitely on this floor.

He strained his ears, heard something that was undeniably… scraping.


Images rushed through his mind, of zombies clawing at a door. He touched the butt
of his shotgun and considered several possibilities. He approached, slowly but
steadily, wincing as he felt glass crunch underfoot and hoping that whatever it was
wouldn’t detect him. Rin pressed his back against the wall, taking a deep breath, and
slowly peering around the corner.

Rin sheathed his machete and deftly pulled out his shotgun. He stepped into
the open and reloaded, loudly.

Makoto let out an honest-to-goodness squeak as he jumped up three feet in


the air and dislodged the crowbar from where he had been attempting to break a
chained door, holding it unsteadily in front of him. When he saw it was Rin, he
hesitated.

“I see that you aren’t sure whether you should be pleased or afraid to see
me,” Rin began pleasantly, tilting his shotgun up and back so it leaned against his
shoulder as he stalked towards Makoto as menacingly as he could, “That is the
correct response.”

“I-I can explain.”

“Oh, no doubt about that. You can start with that damned stunt you just
pulled. How could you have left me behind?”

Makoto couldn’t respond and hung his head, “I… I have no excuses for that.”

“Wrong,” Rin said sharply, “You’re going to tell me exactly why you did just
that. And why you lied to me.”

Makoto’s head snapped up, “I didn’t lie to you, the journals really did say that
he came here.”

“Yeah? Mind telling me why you’d artfully omitted the part about zombie
experimentation in the Tottori medical department?”

Makoto fell silent briefly. He answered, in a softer voice, “I… didn’t think that
was as relevant.”

“You mean ‘attractive’, right? It’s not as attractive as a story about your
stranded friend, who we just have to save. God damn it, Makoto, this was exactly
why I didn’t want to come back here in the first place! We knew there was a horde
here, and thanks to this entire fuck up, we know for a fact that they’re probably here
because they were fucking created here or something!”

77
“But I wasn’t lying,” Makoto insisted, “Nakagawa said that even after the
hospital was deserted, he insisted on coming back here. There was something here
that was important.”

“What? What the fuck could be so important that your friend came back to a
fucking zombie-infestation?”

“I…” Makoto hung his head again, “I don’t know.”

Rin couldn’t believe his ears, “You don’t know.”

“She only mentions it once, and her writing was illegible. But if it’s that
important…”

Rin squatted, squeezing his eyes shut, breathing in slowly and exhaling in a
sigh.

“Fuck it. Just… fuck it. We’re already here. Fucking may as well do the whole
fucking shebang.”

“I’m sorry,” Makoto said quietly.

“You’re not sorry. You’re not that sorry, you smug piece of shit. Now break
down that fucking door so we can see if your friend is zombie food and whatever the
fuck he may have been looking for so we can get the fuck out of here.”

Makoto murmured another apology before he returned to his task. There was
a loud crack! and the sound of chains clashing against each other as a handful of
heavy links spilled to the tiled floor. Rin looked up as Makoto set down the crowbar
and, with all his strength, pulled the heavy doors open.

He stood wordlessly, hands hanging useless by his sides as he stepped into


the surgical ward.

It smelled terrible. Even through his gas mask, he could sense how
overwhelming the stench of rotting flesh was.

The walls were dark, crusted with something flaky, like rust, but also like
congealed blood. It looked like it had been smeared, handprints visible in the dim
light. The ground was covered in blackened body parts, hands and feet and
intestines trailing from one torso to another like some sort of morbid pentagram.
There was an operation theatre in the centre of the room, surrounded with medical
equipment that Rin didn’t care to mention, because on the operating table was a
body. And that body was most definitely human.

78
Rin approached, sickened and fascinated all at once. The body was that of a
teenaged boy, small and well-built. He’d been cut open along the chest and stomach,
some of his organs removed. One of his lungs had a long slit in them. Rin looked at
his face. It was surreal how serene his expression was. Unthinkingly, he touched his
hair, stroking lightly. Poor kid.

His fingers touched something soft.

“Holy fuck,” Rin jumped back as the boy’s hair fell away, revealing… his brain.
“Oh god, this is sick. How can anyone stand this shit?”

Rin suddenly remembered something. He whipped around. Makoto had


stumbled back against the wall, a hand clamped over the mouthpiece of his gasmask.
Rin rushed to his side, purposely blocking out as much as he could of the room.

“Hey, hey buddy, are you okay?”

“Oh god, is that—Is that him? Is that—”

“I don’t know,” Rin said calmly, “Was your friend short? Silver hair? Beauty
mark by the eye?”

Makoto raised his head up, “… No. No, he’s tall. Dark hair. Glasses”

“It’s just a kid,” Rin said, hand on Makoto’s shoulder, squeezing firmly, “It’s
some poor kid. Your friend’s not here.” Rin didn’t care to mention the body parts on
the floor.

“I… I can’t…”

“Shh, it’s okay,” Rin said, “You should wait outside. Do you want me to sit
with you?”

“Yes,” Makoto grabbed Rin’s hand, “Please.”

Rin led Makoto outside and they sat up against the wall. Makoto made to take
off his gasmask – he felt suffocated, he said – but Rin convinced him to keep it on.
The smell would be a hundred times worse. Makoto obediently kept it on, hugging
his knees and trying to breathe. Rin kept a hand on his back, patting and stroking
gently. Once it seemed as though Makoto had mostly calmed down, Rin stood.

“Let me case the place, all right? One of us should, and I think it’s best if I do
it.”

“Yes,” Makoto replied weakly, “I’m sorry. Thank you.”

79
“Focus on breathing,” Rin said, “Just call me if you need me.”

The second time in the room was just as terrible as the first time had been,
but at least he was mentally prepared for it. Rin steeled himself, avoiding the
various bodies and aiming for the desks around the sides of the room. It was mostly
surgical equipment, but there were a handful of papers filled with illegible doctor’s
cursive. He came to a bureau and tried the drawers, and everything opened save
one. It had a lock, but no key, and Rin didn’t believe in search quests, so he simply
returned to Makoto to retrieve the crowbar and pried that drawer open.

There was a folder inside with a CD, a USB drive and a logbook. It seemed
important enough that he immediately tucked it under his arm. There was also a
handgun with a box of ammo, some protein bars, and a note.

It read: I gave it to the Runner. This is everything else. Good luck.

He took everything out and passed it wordlessly to Makoto. He didn’t


comment as the note shook in Makoto’s hands.

80
Chapter 8

THE PAYOFF

81
T hey sat shoulder to shoulder in silence.

The wall behind Rin’s back had grown warm with their shared body heat
and his head was tilted back so he could count the number of cracks in the ceiling.
He listened quietly as Makoto’s laboured breathing eventually drew out into long
inhales that puffed quietly through the mouthpiece of his gas mask. His hands had
stopped shaking and he had put the note down some time ago. His hand was in
Rin’s, grip loose now where it had been tight before.

“Hey,” Makoto said softly after the longest time, “What do you think is
inside?”

Rin looked at him, and then at the items in his lap.

“The USB?”

“No, the CD. People don’t really use CDs anymore, do they?”

“Huh,” Rin thought about it, “You’re right.”

Makoto fell quiet again, and Rin watched him pull away to run his long
fingers across the plastic of the soft CD case. The top of the CD was shiny and bronze
– one of those blank ones you could burn music into – and some illegible numbers
and uppercase letters had been scribbled on in black permanent marker, labelling it.
It looked like an entry in some sort of catalogue.

“Let’s use one of the computers,” Makoto said, disrupting Rin’s train of
thought.

Rin scowled thoughtfully, about to give him an earful about wasting time, but
he could sense the determination in Makoto after all that had happened, and who
knew if they would be able to get electricity in the future? Besides which, how long
could checking it out take? The CD probably just contained photos or music or
something (“audio files” and “zombie dissection activity” was something Rin tried
very hard not to think about). Maybe if Makoto’s curiosity was sated once and for all,
he could finally put this behind him and they could finally move on, preferably
towards Iwatobi.

“Fine,” Rin said reluctantly, “But we can’t spend too much time here, got it?”

“Sure,” Makoto replied distractedly, which made Rin’s scowl deepen but he
held his temper in check.

They got to their feet and Rin made sure to close the door to the ward firmly
behind him, sparing one last glance at the body on the table before he wrapped the
broken chain loosely around the handle and appropriated the crowbar for himself.

82
The walked back through the corridor with the ransacked offices and tested out
each machine they found. After about six computers and an hour, they had taken a
monitor from the reception area, a CPU that actually had a disk drive from the
corner office, and they’d plugged it into the only room with more than one working
electrical outlet.

“I swear to god, if it blue screens on me,” Rin growled as it finally began to


start up. He felt Makoto squeeze his shoulder encouragingly and his ire subsided for
the moment.

The display finally paused on the login screen.

“User name and password?” Rin echoed, a cold chill of rage freezing his
blood. He was going to destroy this computer, “Are you fucking kidding me.”

“Calm down,” Makoto said – and when had he recovered? – grabbing Rin’s
raised fist with both hands and forcing it down, “There’s a post-it on the wall. See?
Doctor Iwamoto’s login details. We’re okay.”

“This had better be worth it,” Rin warned, and Makoto wasted no time in
keying in the information. A tense moment passed during which the computer was
parsing through the data and Makoto breathed an audible sigh of relief when it
finally switched to the desktop. Wordlessly, Makoto inserted the CD and waited for
it to load.

“Movie files,” Rin noted as Makoto clicked through the files in the CD. He eyed
the file names, “You’re lucky this wasn’t full of cat videos or ‘Holiday in Hawaii 2005’
or anything like that.”

Makoto acknowledged his words and magnanimously ignored the bait.


“There are about fifty movies in here.” He scrolled back up the window and double-
clicked the first file. It opened up in a media player, with a bit of lag, but they could
clearly make out a doctor in the middle of the shot, sitting with his back to a wall
that had a big whiteboard on it and a clock on the side. The movie had a timestamp
in the bottom right-hand corner, dated to about two months ago. The doctor was
speaking seriously into the camera but they couldn’t read his lips. It was brief, only
about a minute long, and soon skipped to the next movie. At a glance, it appeared
that the files got longer and longer down the chronology.

“Oh,” Makoto sounded upset, fumbling around in the drawers, “Do we… do
we need speakers? It’s just one thing after another…”

Rin rolled his eyes, reaching for the bottom pocket of his backpack, “I’ve got
earphones, Ginchiyo, hold the water works.” He untangled it in his hands before
plugging it into the jack. They shared it, one in each ear, and decided to just watch
the third file in the playlist as it began to play.

83
Day ░░▒ Vitals normal, though N’s heartbeat has elevated slightly
on average. No changes in the blood work. Blood consistency a
little thick, but nothing unusual. Noted high levels of food
intake, can be chalked up to puberty. No irregularities.
Leukocytes in N’s blood consistent with the presence of the CCR5
delta 33 gene though the concentration has r░cently elevated to…
nearly alarm░ing levels. It’s high, of course, but nothing that
could set off alarm b░░░░░░░░░▓░░░ Honestly, I… (he looked down
at his hands and then back up to the camera) No, never mind. I’m
sure it’s all just gossip anyway. N’s immune against the
Infection – ah, sorry, I mean, Neurosedata. Just because he’s got
mmm░░▒░░░░m░░m░ore░” (the video broke up briefly, and then ended)

The next video began to play. Rin wanted to tell Makoto to switch it off, it was
just some doctor’s vlog and full of skips, but Makoto fast-forwarded by about 10
videos.

The whiteboard in the background was filled with notes. The doctor’s
appearance was still neat, though he had a bit of stubble.

Day 21. Exhausted. Presence of hemangioblastomas in the L1 and L2


segments ░░ ░ of N’s spinal c░░▒ ░░ discovered two days ago.
Operation concluded; was successful. I understand N is ░░░░░▒▒ ░░
by the prospect of being unable to swi░░, but early detec▒▓░tion
and a successful surgery should, hopefully, put his mind at ease.
Will go and thank Kuroi myself later for a job well ░░░░░░▓▒░.
Apparently there were about thr░░░▒░░fffour small cysts in the
area. It’s extremely unusual to see it surface in such a young
s░bject, but all the same, we should be g░ateful that we have
been constantly monitoring him and the tumo░rs were
bennnnn░░░░▓░░nnnign. It… well, it most certainly explains the
hyp░░ ░░p░░pp░▒░eractive blood░░░▓▓▓▓░▒░░▒▒ (the video continued
to play, twitching strangely at times, but the audio had
degenerated into an electrical drone, completely incomprehensible
in its buzzing except for an extremely morphed voice they could
barely make out, saying, “He’ll be fine”, in the end).

Makoto skipped ahead.

84
D░░4. I don’t ░░░░░░░█░ ░░▒▒░░░░░░ understaaa░░▒ ░▒▒░░ ░█aaaaaand
░░░░░░░░▓▓▓░░▓▓▒▒▒▒▒▒░░░▓▓░░░░░░ ░░░░░░░░ (the video quality just
seemed to only get worse the further down the playlist they went)
swarming at the site ░░░░░░░░░░░░▒ how does hemangi░░░░▓░░ become
maligg░░░gggg░░▓░░░nant? ░░▒▓█▓░░░ ░░█▓▓░░░ breathing assis░░█░░░
(the frame was at an angle and swaying out of the screen, running
doppelgangers of the doctor as the frame repeated itself in a
downwards sprint).

“Makoto,” Rin said as the boy reached for the fast-forward button, “Look, it’s
just some medical observation journal, okay? There’s nothing to get. It’s barely
watchable. The CD must have been corrupted or scratched up or something.”

Makoto ignored him. The video changed. It was noisier, panicky. Rin’s eyes
glued themselves to the computer display as the doctor held the camera in his
hands. The whiteboard had been scribbled over, again and again, frantic and
covered in post-its. The frame of the video was incredibly distorted and a little
discoloured, but he could make out the doctor, thick beard and wild eyes, tie gone,
lab coat stained with dried blood. He was whispering furiously, afraid. All previous
decorum had disappeared.

░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░▒░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░▒░░░░░░▒░░
░░░░░░░▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░▒░░░░░░░░░░░ ░░░░░░░░█░░░░░░░░░░░▒░░░░
░░░░░░░░░░░▒░ what day ░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ unbelievab ▒░░░░░░░░░▒▓
regennnnnerating ░░░░█▓▒░░░░ ░░░▓ necrossssis ░▒▒░░░░░░░░▓▓░▓▓ ▓█
░░ ░░░░░░░░░░░░░░█░░░▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒░░░░░░░░░░░▒░░░░░░░░██░░▒▒░░░░░░░▒▒
░░░▒░ do you know ░░░░░░░░░▒░░ do you? How ccccccc░░ould they ░░░
░███▓▓▓ on the inside ░░▓▓▓░░▓░░██░░░░ all this ░░░░░▒▒░░░░░░░▒░░
▒░░░░░░░░ what have we been ░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░▒▒▒▒▒▓░░░░░░░░▒▒
░░░░░░░░░░░░░▒░▒█░▒▒▒▒▒ ▒▒▒░░░░░░░░░░░▒░░░░░░░░██░░▒▒░░░░░░░▒▒░░░
░░░░ N fought but ░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ ░░░░█░ greater good ░░▒░░░░
░░░░░▒▒▒▒▓▓▓▒▒██░██▓▓▓██▒▒▒▓▓░░▒ ▒░░▒▒▒▓█░░░▒▒▒▒██░▓░░▒░█▒▒▒▓▓▓▓▒
only sample ░░░░░░░░░░░██▓▓ ░░░░░█ autopsy ░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░
█▒▒░░░ results were ░░░░░░░░ (he hung his head and sobbed once) ▓
▓▓▒▒▓░░░░░░░▓██▒▒░░░░▓▓░░░░░▒▒▒▒▒▓░▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▓▓▓▓▓▓██░░░▓███ ██░░▒▒▒
░░░░░░░░░░░▓███████░░█▒▒▒▓▓░░█▓ ░░█ ▓███▓▓███░░░░░░░░▓▒▒▒▒▒▒ ░░█░
▓▓░░░ ░▒▒▒▒▒▓▓▓▓▓▓████▓▓▓██▒▒▒▓▓█▓█▓▓░░▒▒▒▓█░░░▒▒▒▓██████ ██▓▓█▒▒
▒████▓▓▓▒▓▓█████████████▓▓▓███▓▓░███▓▓█████████▓▓█▓█████████▓▓█░▓
█░▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ I ▓█▓▓ know ███▓▓ I’m ▓██▓▓ a ▓██▓█ monster ███▓▓▓▓▓ ▓░
██▓█████████░████▓▓████▓██████████████░░░▒▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓█▓█████████▓▓ █
░▓▓▓▓▓▓░░███░░▒▒▒▓▓▓▓▓░▓██▓▓░▓█████████▓▓█░░░░▒▒▒▒▒▓▓▓▓░█░░░░░███
░░▒░▒▒██▓▓░▓▓░▓░░██▓▓░▒░░█▓█▓░▒░░█░░▓█░░░▒░░░███░░ ░▒░██▓▓█▒▒█▒▒▒
░░░█░░░░░░░░▒░░░░▒▒▒▒▒▒░░░░█░▒░██▓▓██▓▓░▒▒░░▒░███░░░░░░░▒░░░░░▒░░

Everything went dark.

85
“What was that?” Makoto asked, jerking his head up out of his trance to look
at the lights.

“The power went out,” Rin replied, extremely unnerved. He had a very bad
feeling about this. “Makoto, we really need to get the hell out of here.”

“But the CD—”

There was a roar from outside the building and Rin swore he felt the room
shake.

“Leave the CD,” Rin stood, tugging Makoto by the shoulder as hard as he
could, “Makoto, fuck’s sake, listen to me.”

“This is important,” Makoto replied stubbornly, trying to pry the CD drive


open with a ruler he’d found on the floor.

“Makoto, that thing is fucking haunted for all we know!” Rin hissed, “Makoto!
Don’t you ever watch horror movies?”

There was a crash that did not sound very far away at all, “Did you hear that?
We’ve unleashed Sadako. Are you happy? Come on, we have to go, now!”

“Not without this.”

Cursing under his breath, he grabbed the CPU, threw it to the ground, and
gave it a few solid whacks with the crowbar until it was a tangle of broken plastic
and messy wires, and the CD drive had been forcibly ejected. Rin swiped the CD,
pulled Makoto to his feet by the collar of his shirt, and dragged him out running. The
sounds came from their point of entry and they had to forge a new path. He didn’t
have any time for finesse or to wonder whether or not he’d drawn any… thing’s
attention; they were sitting ducks in the hospital, one of the last few places in the
DMZ to have running electricity, and the power had just gone out. Something was
wrong and he had a hundred questions racing through his mind. Why did the power
go out? How did the power go out? Worst of all, who knew what the electrical doors
had been keeping out… or in?

There was an almighty scream that devolved into loud, wet heaving,
accompanied the sounds of things being thrown about and breaking everything that
could possible be broken, from glass to wood. Rin and Makoto briefly shared a
glance. It didn’t sound like the Screecher, whom they had utterly destroyed not a
few hours ago.

Which could only mean one thing.

86
“Another special zombie? We are not equipped for a fucking boss fight after
what we went through earlier! Don’t these things have weaknesses?”

“I don’t know this one!” Makoto said quickly, tone finally losing all its
determined bravado from earlier, currently every shade of worried possible, “I
didn’t even know there was more than one Screecher!”

“It’s not a goddamned Screecher!” Rin said, yelping as he forced Makoto to a


jump and they rolled quickly to the side, out of the path of a huge wooden cabinet
that had been pried off the floor and sent flying towards them. It let out another
scream and began to hack again, like it was puking. In actual fact, it was.

There was a sizzle by his head as the zombie’s vomit began to burn a hole in
the table he’d taken cover under. Rin not only got a spot of acid puke on his jacket,
the smell as it burned spread through his gas mask and curled into his nose. He
snarled every curse under the sun and then some as he smacked at the burning
sensation on his shoulder. “Holy fucking shit!”

A chair slammed into the wall overhead and splintered into a thousand
pieces.

“We have to get out of here!” Makoto, still lying on his side, kicked at a
boarded up doorway until most of the wood finally split in half. He stood hastily,
braced himself, and threw his body through it, landing painfully on a gurney on the
other side that stabbed into his ribs. Rin jumped in after, landing on Makoto hard
enough that the boy curled up in pain and began to see stars.

“Sorry, but you’re going to have to nap later. The Spewer’s right on our tails,”
Rin hoisted Makoto up by the armpits and led him down the corridor by the wrist,
zigzagging between upturned tables and chairs and trolleys and nearly tripping over
a fire hydrant, “There are so many goddamned things in this hospital.”

“Rin, I-I feel like puking myself.”

“Don’t you fucking dare, Makoto. This is not the time.”

They staggered to a halt at the emergency exit and Rin kicked the door down,
toeing it at the top of the flight of stairs. He yanked Makoto close.

“Hold onto me. Tightly.”

“What in the—AHHHHHHH!”

Makoto’s shriek went ignored as Rin essentially used the door as a sled down
the staircase. They all but slammed into the opposite wall, but Rin kept his wits
about him and used his feet to manoeuvre them onto the top of the next staircase,

87
lurching their bodies forward for the needed momentum and they stuttered down
to the next level, losing the doorknob on the way. The stairwell was long and steep,
and the only other alternatives Rin had devised were sliding down the banisters or
rolling down the stairs, but the former proved potentially dangerous to his and
Makoto’s sensitive bits, and the latter would probably injure them critically.
Sledding was the next best thing, even as the door crumbled about two flights from
the exit, and what little time they bought themselves was as good as they could
make it.

The Spewer screamed and let loose a flurry of furniture that shattered
against the banisters and walls and rained splinters that Rin and Makoto couldn’t
avoid. Rin could feel his skin smarting at the pain as some shards caught in his
clothes and rubbed against him, but they’d finally crashed into the emergency exit
and nearly ripped the door off its hinges in their adrenaline-fuelled anxiety. Rin
quickly dismissed any thoughts of barring the door – the Spewer was damned
strong, it would be a waste of time – and made to run for the gate across the
distance of the parking lot, but jerked himself to a halt after only one running step.
He backed up against the wall, willing himself to melt into it.

“Rin,” Makoto swallowed.

“Yeah,” he replied quietly, mouth going dry, “Shit.”

“I-I’m so sorry, this is my fault, I—”

“If you have time to mope, you have time to figure out a plan,” Rin said,
managing to keep the tremble out of his voice. He wasn’t going down now after
coming this far, “There’s a horde in front of us, from the looks of it, about to notice
us. There’s a boss zombie behind us. Do you see any escape routes? Don’t panic. Just
look.”

Makoto nodded once, more for himself than for Rin, and began scanning.
Above, the shrieking and puking grew louder and louder as the Spewer stampeded
down the stairs. He hadn’t taken a good look, but he sincerely hoped it was too fat to
get through the doorway and would get stuck.

“Over there,” Makoto said. Rin snapped his head up to look, “The path is clear
beyond that chain-link fence.”

“That’s a sewer.”

“I don’t hear any zombies from inside it.”

“Fair enough,” Rin said, strapping his backpack on tighter, “You go first.”

“Rin,” Makoto began warily, “Please don’t use me as a springboard.”

88
“It’s as much as you deserve.”

Makoto sighed but didn’t argue.

“On three. Ready? One… tw—”

The emergency door exploded as the Spewer let out a roar and doubled over,
collapsing to the ground to vomit. The asphalt sizzled beneath their feet and Rin
figured it was as good a signal as any to make a break for it. He shot down the path,
followed a second later by Makoto, who quickly overtook him. Makoto slid to a halt
in front of the fence, squatted down and put his hands together. Rin understood
what he intended about a moment before he reached Makoto and made full use of
the boost he was getting, concentrating all his energy in his legs as Makoto hurled
him upwards. He was easily waist-over the fence and threw a leg across the top,
steadying himself before he reached for Makoto who was beginning his upward
scramble.

Like the Screecher, the Spewer seemed to attract zombies and it looked like
its dramatic entrance had alerted the horde. Rin caught a glimpse of the Spewer –
unnaturally long limbed with a stretched out torso covered in a dark, burnt skin, its
shirt long dissolved by its acidic puke – using its arms and legs to drag itself along
unsteadily towards them, almost spider-like in its movements. It kept stumbling into
things, angrily ripping and hurling them away, crushing some zombies in its path.

Makoto was already over the top and both of them took a long jump down
onto the other side, Rin losing his footing and slamming into the corner of the
cement drain as he slipped into the sewer. Makoto caught his arm with a grunt
before he could fall all the way through.

“Come on…!” Makoto wheezed, trying to pull Rin up, “They’re climbing up the
fence…!”

Before he could check, there was howl from just behind Rin, followed by the
noxious sound and smell of vomit as the Spewer hurled all over the fence, slowly
burning a hole through it. The vomit caught Makoto’s arm and he let out an
anguished sound, but did not let go of Rin. On the bright side, what vomit had gotten
onto the wall of the sewer was burning holes into it, which Rin quickly jammed his
feet into to climb up. Makoto heaved him over and they landed in a heap, kicking
away rotten hands that were gripping their ankles as zombies piled stupidly into the
sewer. Rin meant to get a good head start before there were enough zombies
stacked up to make a bridge for the others.

It was Makoto who got onto his feet first, pulling Rin up, and they ran as fast
as they could down the street. There were a handful of stray zombies in their path
easily dispatched by his machete as most of them had been lured to the hospital

89
compound earlier by the Spewer, and Rin couldn’t extinguish the flutter of hope that
they could actually truly make it out of this.

“Rin…!”

Rin jerked back, eyes widening as he saw the Spewer a few hundred metres
away, one of its arms thin and elongated and sinewy like a whip as it wrapped
around Makoto’s foot and started dragging him closer to it. Makoto was clawing
against the ground, trying to grab hold of something.

“You piece of shit! Let go of him!” Rin darted forward and sat on Makoto’s
legs, hacking at its arm with his machete. It was all muscle, even thin and rope-like
as it was, and it was hard to make a dent, though each rip and tear sent the Spewer
screaming. When zombies made that kind of noise, you knew you were doing
something right. With a strong swing, Rin finally cleaved cleanly through its arm.
The Spewer screeched and gurgled in agony.

“Yes!” Rin pumped a fist, but did not see the severed arm come back round to
whip him bodily off of Makoto and into the wall of a ruined building. He hit his head
hard and crumpled to the ground, unable to see straight. He couldn’t move as the
screaming got louder, the Spewer crawling more quickly than ever until it was
finally looming over him, each limb twisting around his neck and arm and leg and
holding him down. It growled over him, dirty matted hair trailing against his sallow
bony face that had partially rotted off. Rin thought he was imagining what he saw.

“C…Coach… Sasabe?” He choked out, struggling against the arm curling and
tightening around his neck, “N-No way… Coach, it’s… me… please…”

It screamed in his face, pungent breath and saliva coating the front of Rin’s
gas mask, tightening its grip to the point that Rin was sure his bones were just about
to break. He could feel something like talons, ripping into him, drawing blood. The
Spewer began to heave, the cavity in its chest grotesquely pulsing. Rin’s heart sank.
As he felt himself go lightheaded, he could only think one thing: He was going to get
puked on.

“Hyaaaaah!”

The creature screamed endlessly as it began to spasm. Rin barely made out
the silhouette of his machete sticking out of the thing’s stomach before it slashed out
along the side, ripping apart the Spewer’s entrails. It immediately loosened its grip
on Rin and lunged towards Makoto, who swung the machete wildly at it until it had
been smacked away by a rogue limb. Rin tried to get a better view, but all he could
see was that the Spewer had knocked Makoto onto his back. He tried to think fast,
some way to help Makoto, but the sound of six gunshots stole his attention away and
he could barely believe his eyes.

90
The Spewer let out one last gurgle before it collapsed, its head blasted off
from the point blank impacts. Rin wanted to cheer. Makoto was a fucking star.

Makoto quickly kicked what was left of the Spewer aside as the acidic bile in
its body began to leak out and corrode everything under it. He got to his feet,
clutching a burnt and bloodied arm, and limped towards Rin. He fell onto his knees.
Rin clapped his shoulder and let out a strangled laugh.

“You dog,” he croaked, “I knew you had it in you.”

Makoto chuckled softly and sighed, still gripping his arm. His jacket had been
dissolved by the vomit and the acid seeped through to his arm, causing ugly dark
splotches alongside the numerous scratches he'd gotten from being dragged and
pinned down. Makoto's state made Rin want to assess himself, but he could barely
lift his head, much less think. The Spewer had done a number on him, and that's
even without taking into account who it could have been.

That's when something caught Rin's eye.

He stilled.

A bite mark.

91
Chapter 9

HOPELESS

92
R in couldn’t stop staring.

“That zombie,” Makoto said with a slight wheeze and a self-deprecating


chuckle, “He got me real good, huh? I can barely feel my arm.” Makoto looked down
at the palm of his trembling left hand, trying to flex and close his fist, though the full-
body wince that went through him seemed to signify that the acid had done damage
beyond the original splatter zone. He tried to rotate his shoulder but he inhaled
sharply partway through and slumped, wheezing through the mouthpiece of his gas
mask. It was a good thing he was a rightie.

Makoto seemed to notice that Rin hadn’t said a word.

“Rin?” He asked, “Something wrong?”

Though he was listening to Makoto, Rin couldn’t seem to parse the words he
wanted to say. Conversations flashed through his mind. Some he recalled as-a-
matter-of-factually. Some he regretted from the bottom of his heart. I really want to
be stone cold before my corpse so much as sniffs you out and thinks you’re edible. The
words felt like lead on his tongue.

“Earth to Rin,” Makoto waved a hand in front of his face.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

“Are you okay?” He frowned when Rin didn’t answer, “What are you looking
at?”

His eyes travelled downwards, following the line of Rin’s sight…

… and rested on the bite mark on the back of his left forearm.

The colour left Makoto’s face.

“No,” Makoto whispered, seized with sudden grief and fear, “No. It… It can’t
be.”

“You got bit,” Rin said hoarsely, pale as a sheet, “When did you get bit?”

“I-I don’t know,” Makoto stammered, “I don’t know. All I know was that I-I
shot the Spewer and then he… fell on top of me, and then I…” The realisation hit
then, Makoto’s voice becoming thick, “Then I kicked him off.”

“He fell on top of you. Face first.”

Makoto could only nod, feeling his blood run cold.

93
“Despite having his head shot into.”

“H-His teeth,” Makoto said, “He still had teeth. I was already injured and…”

There was a long shriek from the direction of the hospital. Both of them
looked towards it briefly before their eyes met.

“We need to go.”

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

BNM<>?
It wasn’t long before they staggered out of the lake district. Rin refused
Makoto’s offer of assistance and limped the entire journey, steeling himself to ignore
the rejection in Makoto’s downcast eyes and dragged feet. They had been through
too much damage to be able to fight their way through zombies, be they a horde or
just stragglers, and took to a winding path that weaved through the remnants of the
shopping and housing districts. Makoto still clutched at his arm, blood mostly dry
but still oozing down his wrist. Rin was careful to keep him at a distance, in case he…
Well. In case.

They crossed the river further inland since they’d blown up the Tottori
Bypass Bridge, passing a heavily looted Sega World, which Rin would have found
more amusing under different circumstances. The walk was long and hard and Rin
was both pleased and irritated by the presence of the gas masks that they wore; on
one hand, he couldn’t hear the laboured breathing one would associate with…
turning. On the other, a mouthpiece meant there wouldn’t be any jaw snapping
action. The only other issue was the fact that they were both covered in blood; but
as long as they kept a distance from each other and the blood kept drying, it should
be fine.

“Rin,” Makoto’s voice cracked slightly, muffled and hoarse, “Where are we
stopping?”

He let the silence linger before he opened his mouth.

94
“Manidera. It should be… safe.”

“The… temple up the mountain?”

“Yes.”

“That’s… that’s a bit far.”

“We’re halfway there.”

“I’m… I don’t know if we, if I can make the trip.”

Rin lapsed into silence. When it was obvious he wasn’t going to respond,
Makoto hung his head and said no more.

fgl;’
Makoto looked hesitantly between Rin and the big jeep whose window he’d
just smashed the butt of his machete through. Hotwiring it had been a snap. There
was more than enough fuel to last a trip partway to Kyoto and a handful of supplies
inside. It was a lucky break, really.

Rin’s gaze shifted briefly before he dove into an explanation, “The trip’s too
long on foot, and uphill. I can’t risk any… turning that can attract zombies. Not when
we’re out in the open. Plus, I’m running on empty right now. Even if this thing makes
noise, I’ll make some sort of explosion happen as a distraction.”

Rin fiddled around with another vehicle and jumped out of it just before it
slammed into a pile of abandoned cars that he had covered in gasoline further down
the street. The bang was enormous, smoke and fire and car alarms making a hell of a
scene.

With some satisfaction, Rin took the wheel of the jeep. It stalled briefly but
after a little revving and a handful of attempts to get the gears to lock in place, it
positively glided up the winding mountain path that led to Manidera. What had been
a 5-hour walk had just been reduced to a 30-minute drive. Past the parking lot at the

95
end of the road, the crumbling steps of an otherwise untouched Manidera Temple
were a challenge in their own right.

Rin considered the logistics of walking up the steps for about two minutes
before he said, “Fuck it,” and jammed the pedal all the way down. The entire vehicle
shook as they rolled up the jagged steps but the final distance was bridged by a
spurt of power that sent them flying over the stoop and through the wide wooden
gates into the courtyard.

He killed the engine and stepped out.

#@!*
If need be, I won’t hesitate to kill you if you get turned.

P{}|8
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

96
$%^5
“Give me your gun.”

Makoto’s breath hitched, “Rin, p-please, please don’t—”

“I said,” Rin interjected calmly, “Give me your gun.”

“Rin, wait—”

“Shut up,” Rin snapped, cursing inwardly as he couldn’t seem to stop his
hands from shaking at his sides, “You’re making this more difficult than it has to be.
I’m not about to use a shotgun or-or a machete on you. Okay? I promised I’d make it
quick.”

“No, no, please Rin, please wait, I—”

“Did you or did you not get bitten?!” He shouted over Makoto’s whimpering,
“Well?!”

The words wouldn’t come out. Makoto gripped his forearm tighter and hung
his head.

“Exactly,” Rin couldn’t stop the faint tremble from his voice, “Exactly. You got
bit. You know why? Because you didn’t listen to me. Because you didn’t listen to me.
You were so goddamned obsessed with that CD, with that-that friend who wasn’t
even there when you went back for him. And for what?” He could feel the anger
rising inside him, like a pulse of tears and frustration, and it was too difficult not to
yell.

“You jump the moment you read a single illegible word in a month-old diary
at the mention of your friend, but you don’t give a single flying fuck when I tell you
to get out because you and I were in danger. Because that’s how high I rate, isn’t it?
Me, in the here and now; despite sticking my neck out for you, again and again, my
safety is less important than some… some fucking false flag about this stupid
damned plague, that you kept from me. You lied to me. You lied to my face. So you

97
know what? Fuck this, and fuck you. You deserve this, you piece of shit. Give me your
fucking gun, now!”

Makoto didn’t move, so Rin let out an angry snarl and launched forward,
grabbing the handgun that had been tucked in the back of Makoto’s jeans. He
skidded back, leaving some room between them as he unlatched the safety and
raised the gun so it was level with Makoto’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Makoto finally said, gripping his head in his hands, “I’m sorry.”

“Too late now,” Rin said, voice choking at the worst moment. His hand was
shaking so badly and his vision was blurring. He tried to breathe deep. He tried to
hold it in. He tried to aim. He tried to pull the trigger. His hands were sweating. His
fingers wouldn’t budge. He couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t shoot.

“How could you do this to me, Makoto?”

Makoto raised his head slowly.

“I was alone, all this time. I couldn’t trust anyone. But then you came along,
and you saved my life, and you took care of me. And then you lied to me and you got
bit. How could you—” Rin looked away, trying to stop himself from weeping openly.
He grabbed the straps of his gas mask and ripped it off his head, tossing it aside
because it was too hard to breathe, and he sank to his knees and punched the
ground, once, with his free hand. He took deep, harsh breaths, trying to calm down
the feeling in chest but he couldn’t stop his shoulders from shaking as the tears fell
from his eyes to the moss-covered stone tiles, “—how could you make me kill you?”

“I’m sorry, Rin,” Makoto blubbered, dropping to his knees and reaching out
for Rin, pulling back at the last moment when he remembered his blood, “I’m sorry, I
never wanted it to be like this. I’m sorry, Rin. I’m so sorry. I don’t want to die. I
don’t… I don’t want to turn.”

“You’re my friend. The only one I’ve got left. How could you…”

“I’m sorry, I should have been more careful, I should have listened,” Makoto
hiccoughed and slumped over, “I’m sorry I can’t make it better.”

“I have to kill you,” Rin said, squeezing his eyes shut, “I have to do that. That’s
my responsibility. Nothing can ever make it better. Nothing. Why couldn’t you just
have been more careful?”

“I’m sorry,” Makoto echoed, miserable, “I’m sorry. I had to know.”

“Was it worth it?” Rin sat on his haunches, wiping his eyes with the back of
his hand, taking a steadying breath, “Was it worth this?”

98
“Maybe,” Makoto said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

They sat in silence in the middle of the courtyard.

“Rin,” Makoto finally said, hesitating to look up, “I… I’m afraid of dying.”

He didn’t know what to say in response.

“Please don’t… please don’t shoot me. Not until I… I turn. I’m scared, I-I don’t
want to hurt. I don’t want to be in pain. I’m afraid of getting shot. I… I want to be
human for just a bit longer. Please, Rin.”

“You’re such a pain in the ass,” Rin said hoarsely, “What if you turn on me?”

“Tie me up. Tie me to a pole. Anything. I just… I’m scared, Rin. I’m really
scared.”

The gun was too heavy for him to lift anymore.

“Please, Rin.”

He didn’t know what else to do.

%^&*()_
Makoto took off his gas mask and set it down by his sack.

It was pointless, but Rin dressed his wounds, helping Makoto change his
destroyed shirt for a spare and disinfecting and dressing the bite mark with clean
bandages. It was pointless, but Rin felt like he had to do it. It was the decent thing to
do. It was one of the last few things he could do for Makoto.

Rin bound Makoto’s hands behind his back to one of the stone lanterns in the
courtyard. He sat opposite Makoto, leaning against the tyre of the jeep, handgun on
the ground by his right and machete on the other side. The silence was filled by
cicadas and crickets from the surrounding forest.

They waited.

99
~!@#q
Two hours.

[]\S
“Rin,” Makoto said, swallowing slightly to wet his throat, “Will you… talk to
me?”

“… about what?”

“Maybe… maybe the last time we were here at Manidera? Maybe about the
squid festival?”

“No,” Rin said firmly, eyes downcast.

“Oh,” Makoto said, smile watery, “Okay. I’m sorry.”

100
C”GF
“H-How about Obon? With the lanterns and the fireworks?”

Rin didn’t respond.

`123
Makoto’s head hung low and he was sniffing, tears dripping onto the ground,
“Please, say something. Say anything. I… I can’t stand the silence. I can’t…”

Rin bit down on his lower lip as he watched Makoto cry, feeling his own tears
beginning to well up. He wouldn’t give into this. He wouldn’t. Didn’t want to. But…
he could. He could talk for a while. He could babble uselessly as the breathing turned
into grunts and growls. They could have a one-sided conversation that would end
with a gunshot or a decapitation. It would be awful. It would be better than watching
Makoto turn into a zombie in silence. He could do this much for Makoto. It wasn’t a
lot to ask. As painful as it was for Rin to spend even a second longer like this, it
couldn’t compare to what Makoto was feeling, tied up and alone and aware that he’d
become one of those. He couldn’t let Makoto die scared and alone. He couldn’t.

“Okay,” Rin finally said, words caught in his throat, “Okay. Let’s… let’s talk.
I’m sorry, Makoto. Please don’t cry. Let’s talk. Let’s talk about…” He wracked his
brain. He didn’t want to talk about the good times. He didn’t want to talk about the
past. He wanted to comfort Makoto with the knowledge that the future wasn’t
hopeless.

101
Rin cleared his throat, “Let’s talk about Nakagawa Akiko and your friend.
Let’s… let’s look at the documents we picked up at the hospital. Okay?”

“Rin,” Makoto protested weakly, but Rin steeled himself and reached into his
backpack for the folder.

They never managed to check what was inside the USB drive, but he could
hazard that they likely contained whatever was inside the folder. There were a few
small stacks of papers, stapled in the top left hand corner. They were reports that
had been printed and then annotated in blue ballpoint. He rattled off a title,
something long and very medical, and began to read a note that had been hastily
scribbled alongside in plain speech.

N seems to have lasted longer than the others


because of his immunity. It seems like this
definitely has something to do with
Neurosedata. Don’t understand the tumours in
his lungs and spine. Something new? Related?
Out of left field?

Rin flipped to the next page. There were arrows and underlined medical
terms. There was another note in the margin.

Coagulative and caseous necrosis, spreading


quickly. Tumours now malignant. Cells
continue to regenerate, but then quickly begin to
decay. Cycle repeats constantly despite
continued surgery. Want to conduct CAT scan but
machine wrecked by deceased test subject after
infection set in (subject M). Disturbing
conclusions.

The last page revealed one brief, but hastily scribbled note that had been
underlined again and again.

102
AGE. Hormone development, metabolic rate,
cell regeneration, etc. Late onset of puberty.

N is the YOUNGEST.

There were no more notes on the other documents. Rin attempted to read
the actual report, but it was too technical and detailed for either him or Makoto to
grasp and he soon put it away. When he looked up at Makoto, he seemed dazed.

“What is it?”

“I’m thinking,” Makoto said, a faint frown on his face.

With a single nod, Rin moved over to Makoto’s sack for Nakagawa’s journal.

“Where’d she write about your friend?”

“Hmm? Oh,” Makoto snapped out of it briefly, shaking his head, “Towards the
end. I think I dog-eared the page.”

Rin found it as Makoto lapsed once again into thoughtful silence.

I can’t believe it. Samezuka Academy really is empty.


I’d heard the rumours weeks ago but I couldn’t believe it…
I still can’t believe it. I’m not sure if the information was
worth my last jar of coffee. What happened to my brother?
Is he safe? I miss him more and more every day, but
Ind swears that Tottori City Sdmeie
3o1zjndoPEd rL4

He looks more and more tired every time he comes back to the
university. He says it’s getting worse out there. He stays out

103
for longer during his runs and S29# Iwatodai
randoo have to assume he’s dead, every time.

Sometimes we make him sleep in our pallets overnight so he


can recover. I’m afraid to ask him about 70 because
S5p3lIl16O but roebsios
outalongsentenceoveveragain,scribblingoveritl
lwhatserkn2rerwr if anything, it would be at the
hospital. That’s where he’s going. Even though he shouldn’t.

Even though he knows all about S29pol


Ii3idk9rfmcx4
091geh 549 scribbless5less544

Maybe this is the last time we’ll ever see each other, maybe
he came to say goodbye. Igazaki is like my
iS3erRe wqr7 I don’t want
to S4508fsc cvbj but he’s
survived this long, with his own strength. I believe in him
Snvb hereiIpdxml;’78llegiblescribbleslkss
65qwre2234 will meet at that place. We promised.

Three entries later, Nakagawa wrote about the final push.

Rin toyed with the page between his fingers, idly scanning her words and
sketches. She had switched between pen and pencil throughout her journal, the
graphite fading here and there. He understood what Makoto meant when he’d
referred to this entry, vague but so full of information that had been censored by
accident no thanks to the elements. He tried to picture a different name, maybe

104
Yamazaki or Nanase instead of Ryugazaki. He felt the pull. He felt the need to go to
them and make sure they were okay. He knew why Makoto did why he did. Rin
exhaled softly.

“The fog…”

Rin looked up. Makoto had a look of dawning horror on his face.

“What about the fog?”

“Do you remember what I said about the fog? Dust particles, internal lung
injury, infection, cancer. It’s the fog. Those weren’t just rumours.”

Rin felt like he was about to hear something he wasn’t going to like. “Right…”

“No! No, listen to me! What did they write about N? N was… N was young,
wasn’t he? N was immune. N didn’t-didn’t succumb because he was immune. But he
kept growing those tumours, despite them being harmless at first. Remember? They
were harmless and the doctors always detected them early and had them removed.
But they kept spreading. And then they kept decaying. Do you see? Decaying.
Rotting. From the inside. Like-like…”

“Zombies,” Rin muttered, eyes widening at the revelation.

“Do you get it? It’s the fog. The plague is in the fog.”

105
Chapter 10

THE WAITING
GAME

106
T he plague was in the fog?

racing.
Rin narrowed his eyes, puzzling out what Makoto had just said, his mind

Rotting from the inside. Tumours. Infection. Neurosedata. Cell regeneration. I


gave it to the Runner. necrossssis. A medical and engineering department. The
plague is a virus. Lung cancer. Dust particles. Mass graves. It’s a neural gas that
makes the infected go berserk. swarming the site. Zombie dissection activity. A body
on an operating table. They cut up the insides of your lungs and the poison makes
those cuts infectious. Vaccination. everything sounded faint and muffled, as though he
was submerged underwater... eyes watering… wheezing… Gas masks. A half-ripped
mask on a bleeding girl’s face. Anti-aircrafts. The army. he swiped a finger across the
windshield of a sedan and considered the thick layer of dust…

Rin met Makoto’s eyes again and set his jaw.

“No.”

Makoto blanched, “No? What… what do you mean, ‘no’?”

“It just,” Rin drew his mouth into a tight line, “It doesn’t make sense.”

“It makes perfect sense, Rin! Everything adds up!”

“No, it doesn’t! Who put the fog here? Why would they put the fog here?
Because if you haven’t noticed, this isn’t just some… some prank or miscalculation
by a research lab. I doubt there could be an industrial accident large enough to cause
all of this. This fog is huge, on the scale of whole prefectures. You’d need to be some
sort of textbook super villain, a rich crazy asshole or an evil politician to pull off
something this big. Or—” Rin cut himself off. He didn’t want to say it. Didn’t want to
think it.

“Exactly,” Makoto seemed to realise where his train of thought was heading.

Rin made a frustrated noise, balling up his bandana and tossing it in Makoto’s
direction, “Exactly nothing. I’ve yet to hear how everything ‘adds up’ as you so
eloquently put it.”

“Okay,” Makoto said, squirming a bit before he settled down, eyes darting
around nervously, licking his dry lips. Rin wondered in passing if he meant to
gesture with his hands but had forgotten that he was tied up or if he was starting to
turn. Makoto took in a shaky breath, “Give me a moment. It’s a bit… it’s a bit
overwhelming.”

107
“Consider me whelmed,” Rin rolled his eyes and crossed his arms but kept
quiet when Makoto didn’t respond.

“Okay,” Makoto tried again, taking in slow breaths, “Let’s cover everything
one by one. Let me try to talk things through before you shoot it down.”

Rin scowled, “Fine.”

“We know the ‘what’; the ‘what’ is the plague and the fog, and the fact that it’s
one in the same. The research talks about some sort… some sort of drug or disease –
something new – and they’ve been testing it on human subjects.”

“Hang on,” Rin said, ignoring the irate look Makoto shot him at interrupting,
“You don’t know that they were testing it on them.”

“What else would they be doing, then?”

“Observing?” And okay, that sounded kind of weak when he actually said it
aloud.

Makoto let out a sigh, “Fine, whatever it is, all of them – the test subjects – are
beset by some sort of infection which makes them go berserk, and then somehow or
rather they,” he inhaled shakily, “Expire.”

Expire. Makoto said it like the loaded term it was. It occurred to Rin that he
never found out whether N died naturally or was killed before he went under the
scalpel. His felt his skin crawl at the thought as the video from before came to mind.
I know I’m a monster. The unkempt scientist with his head in his hands. Confessing.
Did they kill all their test subjects? Or… did they do something even worse?
Something worse than death.

Makoto’s voice shook him out of his thoughts, “For all intents and purposes,
the new drug or disease was a failure, except in N’s case. Because N was immune
from the plague. He wasn’t going berserk, but he was developing tumours that kept
regenerating even though they removed it at the early stages every single time.
What they were seeing was that his immunity was – resisting. I…” Makoto looked
down briefly before he looked up again, gaze suddenly narrowed and piercing,
“Have you read Nakagawa’s notes on pesticides and resistance?”

Rin was taken aback briefly, “Not really.”

“You should. It’s relevant. Read it now.”

With a few guiding comments, Rin reluctantly pulled up her research notes
and thumbed through to the right page. It was fairly brief. He cleared his throat and
began to read.

108
Resistance to Poisons**

Although pesticides are designed to kill pest populations, they are


seldom 100% effective – a few individuals usually survive and reproduce.

These survivors may have a behavioural trait that helps them avoid the
pesticide, a biochemical trait that allows them to detoxify the pesticide,
or some other genetic characteristic that reduces their susceptibility to
the pesticide.

If these survivors mate and pass on this “resistance” to their offspring,


then subsequent generations will contain fewer susceptible individuals.

Eventually, the entire population may become “resistant”. There are


two major variables that determine the rate at which a resistant trait is
likely to spread throughout the population:

- Its mechanism of inheritance (dominant, recessive, or


co-dominant; sex linked, pleiotropic, or polygenic), and;
- The severity of selective pressure (what percentage of susceptible
individuals survive each generation and whether mortality occurs
before or after the susceptible individuals reproduce).

In general, resistance will spread through a population most rapidly


when it is inherited as a single, dominant allele and selective pressure
is high (meaning very few susceptible individuals escape and reproduce).

Class Resistance and Cross Resistance

When an insect population develops resistance to one pesticide, it may


also prove to be resistant to similar compounds that have the same mode
of action.

This phenomenon, known as class resistance, occurs frequently in pest


populations that develop resistance to organophosphate, carbamate, or
pyrethroid insecticides.

In some cases, a population may develop a form of resistance that


protects it from compounds in more than one chemical class. This cross
resistance may produce a population that can no longer be controlled
with chemical insecticides.

* Botany notes taken from Dr John Meyer of NC State University: Entomology Dept

109
Rin fiddled with the corner of the page absently, thinking about how
whimsical it was to draw comparisons between insects and zombies, pesticides and
the fog as he mulled the information over in his head.

After a brief silence, he spoke, “Okay. So N had immunity to the plague.


What’re you saying, that his immunity began to adapt?”

“I think a few things happened,” Makoto responded quietly, brows furrowed


in concentration, “N had a natural immunity, right? But everyone else had been
vaccinated against the original plague, the one from ten years ago. I think… the
plague – the new plague – began to also resist the pre-existing immunities. It began
to evolve. With the other test subjects, it was a straightforward infection, but… with
N…”

“It started to adapt,” Rin finished for him with a note of scepticism, “I
somehow don’t think biology works that quickly.”

“Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it took ten years,” Makoto said, “The plague has
been dormant for ten years, but that’s not to say it was wiped out completely. There
have been isolated cases throughout the decade. Plus, everyone has to take the
vaccine to ensure there isn’t a resurgence.”

“… Right.”

“Do you know how vaccines work?” Makoto insisted frustratedly when it
didn’t seem that he was getting through to Rin, “They include non-lethal, non-
contagious doses of the disease in question so that people can naturally develop the
antibodies needed to fight them off. All of us – all of us – have a bit of the plague in
our bodies.”

Realisation began to dawn. Rin sat up a little straighter.

“Okay,” he said slowly, “Okay, so the plague has time to adapt. And it does. It
becomes this new strain, a new epidemic. So this means that… it’s stronger than
what we’ve had to deal with. We need a new vaccine.”

“Yes,” Makoto said, leaning forward, voice hurried and enthusiastic, “Yes, but
this plague has been aggressive. Really aggressive. The vaccines we had before
aren’t working anymore; like you said, it’s a new strain. And if they don’t get the
formula right, it’s just going to become even more resistant to whatever new
medicine we introduce. People – the scientists – they get desperate.”

“Sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to start pumping poisonous gas
into an entire prefecture.”

110
“No! Think about it! When an insect population develops resistance to one
pesticide, it may also prove to be resistant to similar compounds that have the same
mode of action. We were developing herd immunity to the original plague. What I
think is that they wanted us to do what the plague is doing. Make us breathe in
enough of the new plague – nothing lethal that will turn us immediately – in hopes
that we’ll start developing new antibodies. If we’re exposed to it enough but are able
to overcome it, we become naturally stronger against the plague. It’s the exact same
problem humans face with trying to create a vaccine that will eradicate the new
plague completely. But something happened. Something went wrong. They either
miscalculated or… or… something, but it failed. And now, the fog’s infected us with a-
a lesser variation of the plague that doesn’t completely infect us, but begins by
regenerating rotting zombie tumours inside of us.”

Rin stared at Makoto.

“That,” he said in an even voice, “Sounds like you’re reaching.”

“What?” He was taken aback, “I-I’m not. I’m not! It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“It’s conjecture at best, a conspiracy theory at worst,” Rin’s tone brooked no


argument, “It doesn’t explain why the fog actually works as an anti-zombie
bioweapon if what you say is true.”

Makoto was quiet for a moment before he spoke reluctantly, “Maybe it was.
But then things went wrong. Maybe this is what the FDMZ is, an attempt to cover up
their mistakes.”

“Maybe,” Rin sighed, humouring Makoto, “It’s an interesting idea, I mean, it


really is; but it’s full of holes.”

“If the fog is a variation of the new plague, it doesn’t rule out the fact that it
could also harm zombies.”

Rin was starting to get a headache, “And yet it doesn’t explain why the army
arbitrarily rounded up people in Iwatobi and left you and the rest here to die.”

Makoto’s expression was conflicted, like he was trying to reason out the
explanations for himself. He was quiet for a moment, thinking it through.

“Maybe they were… Maybe they were trying to collect more… test subjects.”

The words were acid. Rin hated the sick churning they sent straight to his
gut, but to see the anguished look on Makoto at the mere implication of it was
something else altogether. Rin remembered what he’d said. They’d taken Makoto’s
brother and sister from his arms. Surely… surely they wouldn’t conduct experiments

111
on children… Of all the inhumanity this plague had wrought, surely they wouldn’t do
something as despicable as that.

I know I’m a monster.

Rin buried the feelings of uncertainty. “You don’t know that for a fact. You
were the one who read the journals, remember? All their test subjects volunteered.”

“But who would now?” Makoto yelled, harsh and discordant against the
deceptive serenity of the temple. Rin was shocked momentarily as Makoto visibly
tried to compose himself, squeezing his eyes shut and taking in short breaths. Rin
knew he’d be gripping his head in his hands if he could, “Why wouldn’t they round
up older people and children who aren’t likely to fight back? Who… who in their
right minds would volunteer in these conditions?”

“Who wouldn’t?” Rin replied firmly, “Could it get any worse than this? Living
in the fog, fighting off feral humans, dealing with zombie hordes, the DMZ, the FDMZ,
the closed borders, the quarantine. Not to mention the Screecher and the Spewer
and who knows whatever specials there are out there. Who wouldn’t prefer to
sacrifice themselves for something better? There isn’t any fucking hope left here.”

Makoto opened his mouth to argue, but Rin had built up his momentum,
“Think about it logically. Even if I believed that scientists had developed the fog,
even if I believed that they had instituted the FDMZ to observe the effects of the fog
on the locals, even if – and I am being very generous here – even if I believed they
fucked everything up so badly out of sheer desperation, do you really think I could
accept that they’d be so sloppy in collecting test subjects? Do you remember those
videos back at the hospital? The notes I just read out? All the way to the end, the
scientists were writing and cataloguing and reporting their findings. They removed
a kid’s tumours, again and again, even though they could have left them in to see
what would happen. They left their research notes for runners and other survivors
to find. They don’t sound like assholes who would experiment on the closest thing
with a pulse. We don’t know anything. We can’t know anything. We don’t even have
the important stuff – all of it’s gone to your pal who’s god knows where.”

“But—”

“You’re thinking yourself into a hole, Makoto. You don’t know. You’re not
sure.”

“You can’t say what I’ve been saying doesn’t make sense.”

“—Fine. It could make sense. But it’s improbable. I just can’t believe it, any of
it.”

112
Makoto dropped his gaze, voice quiet, “… it doesn’t change the fact that I was
left behind.”

Rin sucked in a breath and held it, “No. No, it doesn’t.”

And they both fell silent.

(~@#q
The sun was starting to sink in the sky.

^&*()_
Rin wondered if it ever rained over the FDMZ. It was a bit of a stupid thought
to have; it probably pissed rain all over the rest of Japan. The fog just stretched out
into what looked like infinity, but they were hardly at the edge of the world. It felt
like he’d been travelling through the FDMZ for months, but only two weeks ago he
was in Sydney, the seasons changing and the frigid air slowly warming as he paced
endlessly in the parking lot of Oaks Airfield for any indication that he’d be on the
next flight, squinting into the distance for the sight of a plane against the deep blue
sky. Australia. He wondered if he should have left. Out there, the world was still
turning. He tried to be optimistic; it wasn’t like all of Japan had fallen to some
apocalyptic end of days. After all, the fog was thinner in Manidera Temple, up in the
mountains, although a little shower wouldn’t hurt, possibly clear up the atmosphere
a bit.

Melt everything down with acid rain, more like.

113
Rin snorted quietly as he tucked himself in and zipped up, casting a lingering
look at the row of bushes he’d just pissed all over. Fertilised. That he’d fertilised all
over. There probably was a urinal and sleeping quarters within the temple
compound, but he’d decided he didn’t want to be too far away from Makoto. He
deserved some company, at the end. Peeing in the corner of the garden was a small
sacrifice.

Makoto was still sitting with his legs sprawled out, arms bound behind his
back, tied to a stone lantern. His head hung forward. Rin couldn’t see his face.

He felt his stomach growl. He touched it briefly and willed away the hunger.

He was going to be there for Makoto. Eating, pissing… he wasn’t going to do


any of that within earshot. He wasn’t going to do anything to remind Makoto of what
humanity he had left. If Makoto didn’t eat, he wasn’t going to either. Besides, they
weren’t expending any energy. It would be fine.

The clock was ticking.

It wouldn’t be long, after all.

:VBNM
“Hey, Rin,” Makoto said listlessly, staring at nothing, head lolled uselessly to
the side, “Do you ever wonder why zombies go for the head?”

Rin glanced up sharply, growing alert as he replied warily, “Sometimes.


Why?”

“You know the saying, ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’? They’re still
human at the core. Maybe the face is all they recognise of a person anymore. Or
maybe the eyes.”

114
Rin held back the flash of remembrance. Coach Sasabe, with his face half-
rotted. He swallowed, “Yeah, and they lunge in for a hug with their mouths.”

“I mean, they retain some primal instincts that normal humans have. Maybe…
maybe they need to be near someone. Maybe that’s why they gather in hordes.”

“They gather in hordes,” Rin said, feeling defensive, slightly surreal and very
disturbed that they were even having this discussion, “Because that usually
indicates a food source. There’s nothing romantic or philosophical about it. Don’t
you dare tell me zombies are misunderstood, because that is neither funny nor
welcome at this juncture.”

“And why the brains?” Makoto rasped, voice rough, “Is it because that’s what
hurts? They’re always gripping their heads. I always thought it was the fog but
now…”

Rin chewed on his lower lip in worry as the light from the small campfire
he’d started cast dark shadows across Makoto’s face. The sun had set a while ago.
This had to be it. Makoto was getting delusional, talking like he knew how zombies
felt. He was going to turn soon. Rin took deep breaths, reaching for his machete and
stilling the slight tremble that ran through his arm. He was gripped by an onslaught
of grief but he forced himself to hold it in. He had a duty to fulfil. He had to get
through this.

“Rin. I’m… I’m hungry.”

Shit.

“I know… I know we shouldn’t waste anything but could I… just get a bite…”

Shit, shit, shit.

“It hurts.”

Rin could feel the tears welling up in his eyes and he forced himself to look
up at Makoto, bracing himself for the pale-blue lips, the pallid skin rippled with
visible veins and the whitened irises.

A very loud growl rumbled forth from Makoto’s stomach. He lifted his head
with much difficulty, mouth dry and eyes unfocused. And green. They were still
green. They looked like they weren’t actually seeing anything anymore, but they
were most definitely still green. He was looking a bit pale all round, but not deathly.

“My… stomach hurts… and my throat too… maybe some… water?”

115
Rin slumped, loosening his grip on his machete. He waited for a beat before
he wordlessly reached for the small water bottles in his backpack. His stomach
began a small trill in response. He dug out a bag of dried fruit, leaving the protein
bars aside for emergencies.

He uncapped the bottle and gently pressed the mouth to Makoto’s cracking
lips, not sure whether he was feeling tension or relief when Makoto had no qualms
chewing and swallowing the apricot that Rin carefully fed him by tilting Makoto’s
head back at a slight angle and dropping it onto his tongue, limiting contact.

The infection usually set in anywhere between 20 minutes to 24 hours. Rin


glanced at his watch. There was still time.

This was going to be a very long night.

116
Chapter 11

28 HOURS LATER

117
D awn broke over the horizon.

Rin squinted, the haze of sleep still weighing heavily on him as he raised his
head from his chest. He must have closed his eyes and accidentally fallen asleep
because he swore it had been pitch black only moments before. He could feel his
muscles stiffening as he pushed himself to sit upright and cast his eyes balefully
ahead.

Makoto was tied to the stone pillar across from him still, body twisted at odd
angles, eyes red and skin pale under the dim light of the early morning sun. Rin had
barely slept. He’d had to deal with a delirious Makoto, confused and lightheaded,
mumbling all sorts of things as passed from troubled dreams to restless
wakefulness. His body was fever-hot but he didn’t sweat. He’d fainted twice, both
times Rin had hoped and feared that he had… expired before the worst of the
sickness took him, but Makoto’s pulse continued to beat under his fingers, a slow
one-two that was weak but undoubtedly present. The conversation he’d previously
had with Rin had been reduced to the one-sided babbling of a madman as he went
on and on about zombies, groaning and slurring incomprehensibly once his throat
dried up and it became difficult to talk.

Taking a deep breath, Rin steeled his resolve.

His hands shook, but he told himself to bury his doubts and do what his
instincts told him was right.

He gripped his machete tightly and moved closer to Makoto. He squatted in


front of him.

“Makoto,” Rin said, a faint tremble in his voice, “Can you hear me? Do you
recognise me?”

Makoto looked up at him, eyes glassy, having roused only moments earlier.
There was maybe a faint hint of recognition though Makoto only made a hoarse
noise, voice rough and cracked.

Rin inhaled slowly, hurting to see his friend like this. He said nothing else,
standing and walking to Makoto’s side, gently pushing Makoto’s body forward and
away from the lantern. Makoto’s head hung low. Rin’s hands were sweating and he
briefly fumbled with his machete to wipe his palms against the seat of his jeans. He
regripped the hilt of his machete and raised it high, deceptively steady.

He aimed.

Carefully.

118
&*()_
The machete lodged into the bamboo with a sharp thunk.

It took a few yanks to pull it free, but now that the stem had more give, Rin
was able to tug the plant at an angle and hack at the broken base until it was finally
cut through. He let out a huff of air and tossed the cut bamboo onto the small pile he
had amassed on the ground. He had been doing this for some time now. It was
fortunate that, even surrounded by forest, the temple had chosen to cultivate a few
patches of bamboo. Rin would have felt too guilty throwing potted bonsais onto the
flame and his machete just didn’t have the steel to fell a conifer.

He wiped the sweat from his face with the back of his hand. It would
probably be enough wood to feed a fire, enough flames to build a pyre. The images
of grey ashen faces stacked in piles, broken glass and clogged gas masks that were
burnt and melted against charred skin would not leave him. He remembered the
sickening smell of burnt flesh. He had never asked Makoto, but he had wondered if
there had been an effort to cremate the remains there, or if the fire had been a cause
rather than an effect of that mass grave. It was too terrible to think about. He wished
he would stop thinking about it.

But it was difficult to think about anything else.

As he gathered the bamboo in his arms, his mind couldn’t help but wander.
And in the maze of thoughts that spiralled through his head, there seemed to be only
two paths: One led to the mass grave near the ransacked mall; the other to a body he
was meant to burn to ashes.

It made his heart hurt. So he allowed himself to linger on those morbid


thoughts of people trapped behind smoke and gas masks until his feet brought him
back to the campsite in the middle of the temple compound.

His hands still trembled slightly, even as he began splitting some of the
bamboo in half to arrange over the embers of the old fire. He was served only by the
memories of his father’s own pyre and the old, traditional fisherman’s ceremony
that he could only ever recall in a discoloured, almost black-and-white against the
haunting resonance of the priest’s chant and the smile of burning pine and bamboo.

119
He never thought that he would summon that particular memory for any practical
purpose. He wondered if it proved he was maturing or if times were getting more
desperate. It didn’t stop the ache behind his eyes, but he forced himself not to shed
any tears.

He had promised Makoto he would kill him.

If he had been prepared for that, he was prepared for this.

YIP{:
There had been a well near the temple shrine. It had been covered with a
sturdy wooden lid for protection against the elements and seemed to still have clean
water, icy and wonderful and completely welcome against the summer heat of the
sun and the fog. Even up in the mountains, Rin could feel his skin burning against
the air. He’d grabbed a bucketful and emptied it over his head, felt his bones jump
out of his skin at first contact, but afterwards he could feel himself sag with relief. He
remained there momentarily, savouring the serenity of the moment until he slowly
removed his tank top and wrung the water out. He tossed it over his shoulder and
brought a cupped handful to his mouth.

It tasted just as good as it felt. Rin dragged a bucket with him back to the
campsite.

He sat down on the mossy stone floor, leaning back against the tyre of the
jeep, grateful for the shade. There was little else he could do but wait for now and he
couldn’t bring himself to look away from the fire as it consumed the wood and air
and began to disintegrate on itself, crumbling as each layer of bamboo burnt into
ash.

He’d listened to his instincts. He didn’t think he was wrong. Couldn’t think he
was wrong.

For once in his life, Rin could not afford to be wrong.

120
Lives were at stake. It wasn’t just about seeing his family again. It was about
survival. It was making sure everyone would pull through. It was having to make
painful decisions, over and over again.

And it was about knowing which promises to keep.

gl;
The 24-hour mark approached. Rin was counting down the seconds as he sat,
ramrod straight on the ground, hand curled around the hilt of his machete.

This was it. This was the moment of truth.

Makoto had stirred in the middle of the night, convulsed and smacked his lips
together a few times before he stared out into the darkness, sight unseeing. He dug his
heel into the moss, digging and digging as if he was trying to unearth something. His
head swayed from side to side, the incomprehensible muttering going on and on and
slowly devolving into spit-laden growls.

Rin had never seen anyone change like this before. He couldn’t help but wonder
if Makoto was turning feral rather than… turning.

Did it count? Ferals were as good as zombies, weren’t they? Given everything
they had talked about, ferals were humans that were turning into zombies from the
inside, while still alive. Would Makoto prefer to stay alive when he’d devolved into a
rabid, mindless human, intent on violence and survival? Hell, just describing the whole
situation seemed to spell out a list of zombie traits.

They’d never discussed a situation where one of them turned feral. Stupidly,
neither of them had even entertained the idea that they might ever become feral.

What did ferals even eat?

Makoto suddenly let out a spasm and a long, rattling cough. Rin flinched in
surprise, pulling his machete halfway up towards his chest. His heart thundered.

121
It had been a full day. Regardless of whether the fog slowed down the infection,
Makoto had the virus inside him. Makoto was completely out of it. Maybe… maybe it
was better to just be done with it. It was breaking Rin apart just to watch over this. He
didn’t care how educational it was, it was painful to see Makoto suffering so much.
Turning always hurt, he knew from first hand experience. Death before the switch was
always considered a mercy.

He tried to hold onto this resolve. Maybe it was better for him to keep his own
promise, rather than Makoto’s.

Maybe it was better. It was definitely easier, to end someone’s suffering than to
kill a creature that looked like your friend.

It was fine. In the darkness, he could barely tell if it was Makoto. Rin killed the
last of the fire with the underside of his boot and raised the machete over his head.

He wavered.

“He’s in pain,” Rin told himself, voice equally shaky, “I don’t want him to hurt
anymore.”

I’m scared, I-I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to be in pain.

He raised the machete again.

He inhaled and exhaled sharply, trying to psyche himself up for the cut. His
chest was heaving as he worked himself up. He was ready. He could do this. He just
needed to make a down swing. It would be clean and it would be painless and Makoto
wouldn’t even realise it and… and…

Rin let out a hiccough, eyes blurring.

He threw the machete down angrily. “God damn it,” he choked, scrubbing
furiously at his eyes.

GHKk
122
“Rin?” Makoto croaked at him, eyes unfocused.

“Hey now, don’t talk. Drink this water slowly, okay?”

Makoto nodded once, weakly, which made Rin’s throat constrict, but he
carefully supported the back of Makoto’s head with one hand as he was lying down
and helped him drink out of the bottle with the other, tipping it at a shallow angle so
that Makoto would be able to take slow gulps.

After he had drained the bottle, Makoto seemed to look up at him with a little
more vibrance.

“I don’t understand…”

“It’s okay,” Rin said quietly, “You were massively dehydrated. I mean, no
water for two days and no food for one-and-a-half, in this heat. The delirium was
taking over. I… I almost didn’t realise it was dehydration.”

“But… why am I… still alive?”

Rin took a deep breath.

ilMl
The machete swung down, rebounding against the stone pillar, but the ropes
holding Makoto tight against it were cut loose and he fell forward, stopped only by Rin
quickly bracing Makoto’s chest with his free arm. Rin gently let Makoto down to the
ground, turning him onto his back as he rearranged his body to lie at rest, grabbing a
nearby backpack and placing it under his head as a pillow.

His hands were shaking. He didn’t know if this was the best decision. He didn’t
know if this was the right decision. But he knew what his eyes saw, and he knew his
instincts.

Makoto hadn’t changed into anything. He was still human.

And Rin had been about to kill him.

123
Rin couldn’t bear the thought of it. He wanted to curl up into a ball and
disappear somewhere. The thought of what he’d almost done made his guts twist into
knots, throat close up and making it hard to breathe. He couldn’t bear the guilt. So he
picked himself up off the ground and went to chop some wood for a fire.

WAvB
“I think you’re immune.”

356hJ
Much later, after hours of rest, carefully administered water and a cup of
ramen he’d been saving for a special occasion, Makoto seemed to be much better. He
seemed more himself. He was still a bit out of sorts, but Rin attributed it to the
fatigue. Part of him wanted to wait on Makoto hand and foot but the other part of
him kept reminding him of everything he’d been about to do, every decision he’d
made and unmade and remade over the course of two days. It was a horrifying
thought, to consider who exactly was turning into a monster.

The explanation had been drawn out, each word carefully chosen so Makoto
would understand just how difficult it had been for Rin to come to the decision that
he had. Through the convulsions, the growling, the muttering, how the question of
feral or zombie had dragged on, how Rin had silently tested the elasticity of
Makoto’s skin when it suddenly occurred to him that his features, though paler,
hadn’t changed into the sunken-faced, pin-point pupiled look of a feral human nor
the white-as-death, bulging nerves, flesh rotting and iris-less look of a zombie. Not
after 24 hours since the bite. Not after 40 hours.

124
Makoto, predictably, listened without a word, a serious look on his exhausted
face.

At the end, Rin felt like he had run a marathon. The relief in the air was
tentative at best. It was wonderful, of course, that Makoto was still human, that he
was no longer bound and awaiting death. But Makoto had mentioned, time and
again, that the virus constantly evolved, became stronger. The Screecher and spewer
were proof. The added complication of the fog meant that this whole thing was
anybody’s game. Makoto could still turn at any moment; it was entirely possible that
his adaptation to the fog was slowing down the turning process simply because he
already had zombie cells making nice with his insides. Rin wished to hell and back
that they had a scientist on the team. Was coming back to Japan worth all this?

A touch on his wrist made him look up from where he had been holding his
head in his hands.

“Are you all right?” Makoto asked, gently.

He wasn’t going to cry.

“I nearly killed you,” and damn it all, he could feel the tears welling up in his
eyes already, “Twice. I promised you I’d kill you before you ever turned, so that you
could die human, I—”

Rin’s voice cracked and, at the slightly concerned look on Makoto’s face, he
surged forwards and threw his arms around Makoto’s neck, hugging him tightly and
burying his face in his shoulder.

“What if I’d ignored you?” Rin’s voice was thick with emotion, “What if I’d
gone ahead without listening to you, killed you the moment you’d been bit? I would
have… I would have murdered you. You’d have been immune and no one would ever
have known; you’d never have turned into a zombie and you’d be dead, and that
would have been my fault. I would have been the reason your family would be
missing a big brother. I… I nearly killed my friend.”

Makoto slowly wrapped his arms around Rin and stroked the back of his
head gently, “You didn’t, though. You let me live.”

“By a margin, every time…!” Rin was hiccoughing now, “If you hadn’t made
me promise… If I hadn’t lost my courage… I could have killed you, I could have… I
wanted to, even despite the promise. I was going to.”

“But you didn’t,” Makoto’s voice shook too, “Your instincts were right, Rin.
You should have, that was the smart thing to do, but I… I’m such a coward. I was so
afraid. And things turned out all right, didn’t it? Things…”

125
Rin was well known as a cry baby, even amongst their group of friends, but
this was the first time he’d held a distraught Makoto in his arms who was breaking
down. Rin felt his own tears subside as he soothed Makoto, who was clinging to him
like his life depended on it. All the stress and frustration had built up to this point.
Rin only just realised how terrifying it must have been to be in Makoto’s shoes,
waiting for your friend to kill you. Waiting to turn into something that would hurt
everything you held dear.

Just as he began to more comfortably return the gesture of stroking Makoto’s


back, he felt Makoto shove him away.

“I-I’m sorry, I forgot myself,” Makoto said, “Whether or not I really am


immune, I’ve got the virus inside me. Got to be careful with um, body fluids. You
know, tears.” And he sounded almost abashed.

Rin felt himself relaxing slightly, “Hey, buddy. It’s okay. I forgot too. I was
just… really relieved, you know?”

“Yeah,” Makoto mumbled but he met Rin’s eye, smiling tiredly. Rin felt his
insides unclench and he let the moment linger until he finally made himself take a
breath.

“I’m sorry.”

Makoto wiped his face with the hem of his sleeve, “You don’t have anything
to be sorry about. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t still be here. In the end, what
counts is what you actually did. I wouldn’t have even thought about immunity if it
weren’t for you. You… really looked out for me, even from the start. So… thank you,
Rin. For keeping me alive,” Makoto looked up at Rin, earnest and embarrassed at
once. The next words were quieter but no less sincere, “I’m… glad you came back.”

Rin slowly nodded once, just as embarrassed, but he accepted it for what it
was before he decided it was time to move on.

“It’s time we headed out.”

!@NK)
126
They’d loaded everything that was necessary into the back of the jeep.
Bottles were emptied (mostly into Makoto, though Rin had also been abstaining
during the long two-day drought) and replenished with well water. Whatever edible
vegetation had been growing around the temple had been cut and neatly packed
away into some empty tupperware that the temple’s previous caretakers had kept in
the storage area behind the shrine. It was somewhat amusing, but a handful of
offerings had been canned food. It was blasphemous to take it, but he figured the
temple spirits would forgive a pair of teenagers running for their lives.

They couldn’t go back the way they came. Despite the long, winding trail,
there was no guarantee that there weren’t zombies nearly at the temple. It was
strange enough that Manidera had been completely deserted, but Rin learnt not to
look a gift horse in the mouth. Makoto joked about zombies disliking high altitudes,
which was an interesting thing to think about as Rin made some offhand comments
about zombie sherpas shambling along Mount Everest and closed up the car boot.

There was another path down the mountain which was meant more for
people and probably goats, rather than vehicles, but it rejoined with the mountain
passage leading to Iwatobi. It was just lucky that they had a sturdy, all-terrain jeep
to make that final push than some small urban-friendly smart car.

Rin and Makoto cleaned their gas masks, changed them for new filters, and
strapped them on tightly.

It was a shame they hadn’t done anything about seatbelts.

@*(65
“BRAKE! HIT THE BRAKES!”

“I’M TRYING BUT IT’S POINTLESS IF THE TYRES AREN’T ON THE GROUND!”

“WE’RE GOING TO CRASH!”

“SEATBELTS! PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON!”

“I CAN’T! H-HOLD ONTO SOMETHING!”

127
ASDF
They literally hurtled down the side of the mountain, the path leading to a
sudden drop that sent the jeep freefalling for several feet before it crashed headfirst
into a solid patch of ground. The momentum sent them rolling along the
mountainside, lost in the screaming and shouting as they somehow managed, just
before the end of the free-fall, to clip their seatbelts on. The airbags deployed at just
the right moment and Rin felt like he’d been punched in the gut, but it kept him from
being tossed around like a ragdoll as it forced him backwards into the seat. It
seemed like an eternity before the jeep finally stopped on its side, slowly creaking
before it fell onto its belly with a large crash. The momentum nearly gave them
whiplash.

Silence passed over them briefly.

“Are… Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Rin wheezed, struggling for several minutes before he managed to get
his machete free to pierce the airbag. Deflating it was like a second wind in his lungs
and he and Makoto took their time savouring the fact that they were so very not
dead, despite their long ordeal. Dying from a car accident at this juncture would
have been mortifying and wasteful, considering their various death-tinged brushes
with special zombies and the infection.

“Can the car still run?”

With shaky hands, Rin tried to start the engine again. It sputtered to life
pathetically.

“Oh. Good,” Makoto replied, voice still not quite as steady as he could have
hoped. He clutched tightly onto his seatbelt with both hands and didn’t let go for the
duration of the ride.

The rest of the journey down the mountain was cautious until they finally
arrived at the mountain passage made, thankfully, of asphalt. The road was clear for
the most part, becoming congested as the decline began on the other side of the

128
mountain. They managed to weave through the dead cars for a few kilometres until
the engine finally sputtered its last. Resigned, Rin and Makoto took their things and
bid the jeep adieu.

The fog was the thickest it had ever been anywhere. Rin could feel his eyes
watering, even despite the gas mask.

“There it is,” Makoto said quietly, pointing to a rusted sign in the distance,
“Ground Zero.”

Welcome to Iwatobi

129
Chapter 12

WELCOME TO
IWATOBI

130
T his was where it all began.

Ground Zero.

For Makoto, it meant a home that was lost, an ominous fog that seemed to
consume everything it touched, a family he couldn’t protect. For Rin, it was so much
more than that. It spoke to him of his childhood, the platform for his Olympic
dreams, his triumphant relay, the swim club and memories of bitterness and joy. His
father’s bier was marched along the Iwatobi beach, in honour of his service to the
sea. His mother and sister had remained here, in the shadow of the plague. His
entire life had been shaped by the decision to come to Iwatobi when he was twelve.
Would he still have gone to Australia alone if he hadn’t swam with Makoto, Haru and
Nagisa? Would his family have stayed on in Iwatobi? Would his father have died?

Would he have had to come back to this?

It was the same sickly yellow-brown, stretched out across the landscape as
far as the eye could see. The stench of sulphur and rotting fish was stronger than
ever. He could barely make out the silhouette of cars and street lamps through the
fog; it was so thick he could feel himself choke despite the newly changed filter of
the gas mask. He wished he could have savoured the relatively cleaner air of
Manidera Temple a few hours more, but every minute they wasted could potentially
distance Rin and his family to the point that they could never meet again. That
wasn’t a chance he was willing to take. He’d come this far. He was going to see this
through to the end.

“It’s strange,” Makoto murmured, looking around warily, “I know it’s Iwatobi,
but… it feels like I’m somewhere completely different. It’s familiar, but wrong
somehow.”

“You’re telling me,” Rin said, “I want to say it looks like nothing’s changed,
but the fog kind of puts a damper on that.”

“And we’re beside the sea, so everything’s rusted down too.”

“Yeah,” Rin eyed the welcome sign, coated in a blood-coloured rust that had
also corroded through the eyes of a model in an advertising billboard just behind it.
He gently nudging Makoto with his elbow, “Kind of out of a horror game, eh?”

“That’s not something you needed to mention,” he muttered.

“Really?” Rin said in disbelief, “We’re experiencing an actual plague where


you’ve just survived being bitten by a boss zombie and managed to escape death
several times over, and you’re still afraid of a video game?”

131
“I didn’t say I wasn’t afraid of our current situation,” Makoto replied
defensively.

“More afraid of a video game,” Rin amended.

Makoto spluttered briefly before he hung his head, mumbling, “Just because
I’ve been desensitised to zombies doesn’t mean they aren’t still scary. I’ve survived
this long because I’ve been completely scared and run away the entire time.
Anyway, Silent Hill is based on the personifications of your guilt and nightmares,
and that’s much scarier than zombies.”

“You’re surprisingly well-informed for someone who’s afraid of the horror


genre.”

Makoto cast him a furtive glance that made him want to laugh. Rin looked
back to the welcome sign as dust particles flitted past, unable to shake the feeling of
being watched as those rust-darkened eyes seemed to bore into him from the
billboard. Against his will, he could feel his hair stand on end. He felt foolish. There
were more important, more real things to fear.

“Where do we go from here?”

Rin felt his senses return and he paused briefly to collect his thoughts.

“I came here to find my mother and sister. That hasn’t changed.”

He nodded, “Then we should head towards your house.”

There was brief hesitation, “You sure? I know you’re worried about your
friend, and Iwatobi High is literally just a few kilometres straight from us.”

“Thanks, but no,” Makoto replied firmly, “We already did the hospital at my
behest, even though we shouldn’t have. If they’ve managed to survive for this long
without me, they can afford to wait a few more hours.”

“Wish I could say the same for my family.”

“I know,” Makoto said kindly, “That’s why I think we really should head
straight for your house. No detours this time, no matter what.”

“Thanks, Makoto,” Rin’s throat was tight, but the rush of gratitude he felt was
undeniable, “Let’s head inland then.”

132
pqv
The walk through town was eerie, to put it lightly. Iwatobi had always been a
sleepy seaside town, but the lack of people and the density of the fog were
downright unnatural. Unlike Tottori City, Iwatobi wasn’t just deserted; it looked
ravaged. Cars, shops, post boxes, street lamps; you name it. Windows were broken.
Doorways that had been boarded looked as though they had been axed through.
Discoloured, dust-coated posters had been stuck in rows everywhere, vandalised
and ripped away in some places. Walls were crumbling. Electric cables had been
pulled from their poles and littered the ground haphazardly. Everything seemed to
have been torn apart or was in a state of critical disrepair. The salty sea air had done
little to improve things. Through the fog, Rin could barely tell if he was looking at
rust or blood… or both.

Makoto, having lived outside the town, hadn’t seen it for about a month. All
he knew about what went on inside Iwatobi were rumours. No one put much stock
in them. The fog had been too strong for him to deal with, which was why he only
went into the edges of the town when he had to gather supplies. There were
communes inside Iwatobi, which he found hard to believe. But if there were people,
undoubtedly, there would be ferals. And if there were ferals, well… rust or blood, it
hardly made a difference at this point.

Except Rin had been expecting something, at least.

Where were the people?

Hell, where were the ferals?

He tightened his grip on the hilt of his machete, “I thought you said there
were communes here.”

“There’s at least one: My friend’s commune, based in the high school. But
Nakagawa’s journal seemed to imply… I don’t know, some sort of evacuation?
Something was happening, but he doubled back to the hospital,” Makoto paused,
“But… there really should be more than one. Apparently, he couriered for several
communes in the area.”

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The university was a ways off from Iwatobi, though, “What are the odds
there’s more than one commune in a given town?”

“Tottori University and Tottori Hospital were two separate communes.”

Oh. Right. “Fair enough. Tottori isn’t Ground Zero, though.”

“No,” Makoto said distractedly, “It’s not.”

“What’s—”

“Shh,” Makoto grabbed Rin by the arm and dragged him behind a crumbling
wall, keeping his head down as he attempted to peek around the edges, “Did you
hear that?”

Rin shook his head and tried to catch a glimpse of whatever it was Makoto
was looking for.

Then he heard it.

A growl.

“Zombies,” Rin breathed. The fog made it too difficult to really tell, but he
could make out the silhouette of two or three shamblers in the distance. He turned
to Makoto, who was rooted to the spot. Rin couldn’t see his face but he could guess
at the expression he was making.

“This is Ground Zero,” Makoto whispered in disbelief, “There-there shouldn’t


be a single zombie here. If there are, then… what was the point of all this? What was
the fog even for? Why did they-they evacuate only some of us? What…”

“We have to keep moving,” Rin said quietly but firmly, “We’ll figure it out, but
we can’t stay here. There may only be a couple of them, but we can’t let them know
we’re here.”

“There’s more than a couple.”

“What?”

“Rin,” Makoto’s voice shook, “There’s more than a couple of them.”

He turned to look past the remnants of the wall and could feel his blood run
cold.

134
“It’s the fog,” Makoto’s voice still held that slight tremble, “It’s thickest here.
You can barely see more than five feet in front of you.”

“Fuck the fog,” Rin finally said for the first time but the words rang hollow in
his ears.

That was the biggest fucking horde he had ever seen in his life.

As they came closer, an entire block of darkness began to emerge through the
fog. Shoulder to shoulder, it was a veritable mob of zombies, a wall of rotting flesh
and broken bones. It could easily have been the entire population of Iwatobi. Many
of them had gas masks over their heads, but a great deal of them looked torn apart,
very much like the rags that clung to their bodies. They didn’t seem newly made. It
was a horrifying thought.

If they couldn’t see an army of zombies, how sure were they that they
wouldn’t run into one?

Rin cursed under his breath, “Makoto, we can’t go that way. We have to go
around or… through somewhere narrow. Somewhere a horde can’t get through. Do
you know a route?” But Makoto was a million miles away and Rin had to grip his
upper arm and give him a light shake, “Makoto, you need to focus. We survived the
Screecher and the Spewer. We are going to survive this. But you have to stay with
me.”

“R-right. I’m sorry,” Makoto took a deep breath, “I’d suggest going off-road
but I don’t think that’s safe. Some feral humans like to linger there. Can’t guarantee
there won’t be any zombies there either.”

“Fair enough. The roads look like an obstacle course, though.”

“I do know some back alleys, but… again, there’s no guarantee that they’ll still
be there. Or intact. But it’s not out in the open. Maybe…” He was momentarily
distracted, “We could try the roofs.”

Brilliant. He was a genius. Makoto was a runner, after all.

“I’m not familiar with them though,” he said after a moment, “It may not be
such a good idea. Depending on how intact they are, we might be completely visible.
And looking at the town, well, it might be covered in rubble and make a lot of noise.”

They were running out of time. The horde was approaching. “Let’s play it by
ear, all right? We just need to get out of the open for now.”

Makoto nodded. Rin checked past the wall while Makoto did a quick scan
around for familiar routes.

135
“It doesn’t seem like there are zombies over there,” Makoto finally muttered,
“There’s a back road that leads to a train station. You know the one in front of the
horse races place?”

“Right.”

“We can try to make a run for the back road, but it might be a good idea to
make sure we do it when we aren’t being seen.”

“What do you mean? Should I create a distraction?”

Makoto shook his head, “That’s probably not a good idea. They might think
there are intruders, regardless. We just have to time it.”

The proximity between them and the zombies was making him nervous; they
were only about three feet away, “Any bright ideas on that front?”

Makoto looked at Rin wordlessly.

Rin immediately regretted asking.

]r\
He knew that living in close proximity with feral humans had made Makoto
somewhat resistant to them – “desensitised” was the term he had used. Perhaps to
the point that he had developed bravado in all the wrong places.

But even with all the foolhardy decisions Makoto had made in the course of
their time together, this was easily the stupidest, craziest, most ridiculous thing he
had ever proposed.

Rin wondered what exactly that said about him for agreeing to go along with
it. Reluctantly. Because he could see literally no other options and it was do or die in
that very moment as the zombies approached.

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Rin let out a low rasping growl, shuffling forward with as unnatural a jerk as
he could manage. They had somehow managed to mill into the horde at the fringes
as they shambled past. Rin felt like he was going to piss himself, he was so afraid this
entire plan would go to shit. He prayed that they had enough zombie guts still on
them to get them past this without it going south completely. He regretted dunking
himself with well water, but he was still wearing his nasty jeans and button up shirt
that the Spewer had puked on, not to mention his gas mask had been looted off a
dead guy. Insofar as Makoto was concerned, well… maybe carriers still smelled like
zombies. He didn’t know. His mind was racing. His palms were sweating. He just
needed to not bleed out or bump into anything or capture any attention whatsoever.
He prayed zombies were stupid enough that if he happened to bump into one, it
wouldn’t realise he was still warm with blood. He was vaguely thankful for the fog
for the damned obscure vision and bad smell, because he was sure it helped
somehow, but holy hell, this was the worst possible situation he could ever be in and
he was stiff with fear, which was probably a good thing because it made him walk
like a zombie.

He wanted to talk to Makoto. He wanted to crack a nervous joke. Rin knew he


had more guts than the next guy, but he had his limits, and he knew no one would
think lesser of him for having a complete meltdown in this particular situation.

But he just couldn’t afford to.

And it almost seemed like they could pull this off.

“Hnngh.” A zombie walked into his back.

Rin felt his heart thunder in his throat.

]pc
He couldn’t really remember what happened after that. His sight had begun
to fade, but he recalled feeling a tug. Before he knew what had happened, Makoto
had pulled him into a deep alcove that had a hole through it. They quickly slipped
through, making quite a bit of noise, but Makoto kept them moving and before long,
they were through the other side of the building, looking down the back road he had
mentioned earlier.

137
“Makoto,” Rin couldn’t keep his voice steady, “Stay still so I can punch you.”

“You can punch me later, okay?” Makoto assured him, “Right now, it might
make too much noise.”

“I can’t believe that worked.”

“Neither did I.”

“What even made you think that was remotely a good idea?”

“I was desperate. And… well… I may have… heard someone do it before.”

“What? What if it hadn’t worked?”

“But it did, all right? It was a big risk, but it paid off. We didn’t have any
choice.”

Rin’s feelings on the matter were completely sour and he resolved to keep
being irrationally upset with Makoto, if only to mask his own feelings of absolute
batshit fear, but the matter was resolved and Makoto had promised he could revisit
it later with his fist, so that was good enough for Rin. Makoto had survived this long,
after all. He knew he had to trust him more but man if he didn’t want to strangle the
boy sometimes.

They began the long walk inland, weaving in and out of collapsed buildings
and trees, hiding whenever they heard any noise. The scenery remained the same
but Rin couldn’t help but feel absolutely beside himself at the fact that Iwatobi was
crawling with zombies. As far as either of them were concerned, there had never
been a single outbreak of the infection in Iwatobi. Tottori, yes, but not Iwatobi. The
incident with his father had been isolated. Every single incident in Iwatobi over the
past ten years had been anomalies. Iwatobi was a bastion against the plague. It was
jarring the way Iwatobi alternated between zombie masses and absolute desertion.
It made Rin feel sick with worry and fear. He could barely think about his family and
friends; he was afraid he’d never make it out alive.

There was a long, ear-splitting shriek. It sounded faraway, but they could
hear it clearly in the deathly stillness of Iwatobi.

“What was that?” Rin’s voice was hushed but the shriek had sent a shiver
down his spine and goose bumps across his skin.

“I don’t know. Was that… was that a zombie, you think?”

“Don’t know. Don’t want to find out. Do you?”

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Makoto shook his head.

“Good, let’s b—”

That shriek must have been closer than they’d originally thought, because
out of the blue, they were surrounded by the beginnings of a horde. Rin and Makoto
exchanged looks.

“RUN!”

Rin unsheathed his machete and sliced through zombie after zombie as he
sprinted forward. Makoto’s longer legs eventually made him overtake Rin and
Makoto began clearing the way, smashing zombies out of the path. It was better this
way; Makoto was immune and probably knew his way around. Rin focused on keep
zombies off their tails as Makoto led them down a winding path around dilapidated
farmland and through some shop lots. They lost a handful but the ones that kept up
were growling and attracting even more attention. It didn’t matter however; no
matter where they ran to, there were always more zombies in their path. Rin’s heart
sank as they ran past the old fire station into the southbound road only to come
across even more zombies.

“I have an idea!” Makoto yelled at him, “But we need to survive the next 5K!”

“Fine!”

Immediately, both of them began to pace themselves. Five kilometres wasn’t


all that difficult to run, but they had the added bonus of being completely
surrounded by zombies. It was time to fight their way through.

Rin sheathed his machete quickly and pulled out the shotgun from his bag.
With a quick load, he began to aim and shoot. To his right, Makoto began spraying
bullets with the handgun Rin had returned to him. Even though Makoto’s aim had
vastly improved, it didn’t really matter at that point; the area was so full of zombies
that they could have shot and missed one right in front of them only to hit one
further away. The shotgun was a godsend and made quick work of zombies in the
threes. They were moving ahead again. The way was clear and they quickly sprinted.

The next five kilometres were spent running and clearing a path. Rin had
finally run out of bullets by the third stretch but couldn’t stop to pull out any new
rounds so he’d take to using his gun to bludgeon incoming zombies instead.

“Forget the last horde! Run straight to the shelter!”

His legs were burning. His lungs were so damned shrivelled up. It was so
fucking hard to breathe through a gas mask. Rin was a top athlete and he
instinctively hated the sight of Makoto pulling ahead of him, willing himself to run

139
harder and faster than he’d ever run in his life. He swore he was going to pass out if
he didn’t stop for air any time soon but he could see the entrance to the building not
so far away, the corners of his vision blurring as he began to slow down.

With a final burst of strength he lunged forward, through the doors, and
wheezed painfully on the floor as Makoto began to shove furniture up against the
entrance. Rin forced himself to stand and helped slide a desk along, throwing a chair
on top of the entire pile. They could hear the door and the boarded up windows
banging from the other side and they could only sink to the floor and press their
weight into the makeshift barricade. Eventually, the banging and scraping subsided.

When Rin finally felt he could breathe again, he let his entire body drop to the
floor.

“We finally made it,” Makoto rasped, panting for breath, the back of his head
thunking gently against the edge of the desk, “I didn’t think we’d last.”

“Maniac,” Rin griped, “You’re not allowed to plan anything ever again. Where
the hell did you take me?”

“Didn’t you notice the mural up front?”

“No, I was too busy running for my life.”

“It’s the SC. We’re in the Iwatobi Swim Club.”

Rin stared at Makoto quietly before he swung his gaze across the lobby.
Papers strewn across the floor. Pictures on the wall. It was definitely familiar.

He didn’t have much time to take it all in before he heard it.

“… you’re tuned into IWA 84.9, your only friendly radio station in this zombie-
infested hellhole and I’m your host, Yamazaki…”

140
Chapter 13

WHITE NOISE

141
T he lobby of the Iwatobi Swimming Club was completely still.

Rin could faintly make out the muffled sounds of shamblers shuffling around
through the boarded windows and barricaded entrance, still lingering nearby after
the chase. If he focused hard enough, he was sure he could pick out the inhuman
growling, but his mind was completely focused on something else. He and Makoto
stared at one another, without daring to say a word, their shallow breaths overly
loud in the silence of the lobby.

“… ccccker left a shotgun behind… to Runner … special thanks for the


housewarming gift, from yoursssss tr…ly… Just another shitty foggy day here in
Iwatobi annnnnd I get every one of your lame requestssss… some originality would be
appppppreciated…”

The voice was electronic and tinny and filled with static, muffled by distance
and distorting every few words, as if it were on a bad frequency. From what Rin
could make out, it seemed like it was broadcasting some surreal version of a radio
programme, with commentary that he could barely hear anymore as the voice filled
with a buzzing and began to modulate downwards, into a lower and slower pitch,
the integrity of the sound degrading. Soon, the voice stopped talking and switched to
some sort of rock song that was completely incomprehensible through the
distortion.

“You heard that, right? I didn’t just imagine it?”

“I heard it, all right,” Rin replied, picking up his shotgun from where he had
dropped it, “And that sounded like a human being. Live, from wherever he’s
broadcasting.”

Rin returned the shotgun to his backpack and unsheathed his machete,
holding it carefully in front of him. Makoto was at his back, shadowing him closely as
he scanned behind them, crowbar in hand.

They walked carefully down to the main counter, following their ears. The
music was warbling to an end as it led the boys towards the main office, whose door
had been pried open from the outside – violently. The wood was splintered and the
plaster around the door had been hacked at with something heavy, leaving behind
chipped paint and a grey pockmarked wall. They exchanged glances before Rin
pressed his back up against the doorframe and shimmied his way in, taking big and
careful steps as he attempted not to crush anything underfoot, moving towards the
big desk near the back where the sound seemed to originate. Makoto entered after
Rin but lingered behind, inspecting the forced entry and dutifully keeping watch.

As he gently nudged away the swivel chair with the tip of his machete, Rin
could make out a small VCR-like box sitting on the floor, under the desk.
Surrounding it were candy wrappers and pizza boxes. Rin snorted to himself before

142
he sheathed his machete and picked the box up with both hands. It had a compact
and solid weight. A mouthpiece dangled down along the side, clattering against Rin’s
leg, connected to the box with a length of curly wire.

“I recognise that,” Makoto said as Rin cleared a space for it on the desk,
“That’s a radio transceiver.”

“A what now?”

“A two-way radio,” Makoto gently pried the gadget out of Rin’s hands and
began to tinker with it. After a minute or two of ambient sound alternating between
a higher and lower pitch at his fiddling, Makoto proceeded to give the machine a
hard smack and it whirred balefully in response.

A grin crept up to Rin’s face, “Problems, MacGyver?”

“I think it’s damaged,” Makoto replied with a faint frown, turning the
transceiver on its side and inspecting it.

“No.”

“Thank you for your sarcasm, Rin,” Makoto said pleasantly but distractedly as
he managed to pry open the battery compartment. He was poking around, probably
trying his luck, when Rin let out a long-suffering sigh and nudged Makoto aside and,
with significant pause during which he made sure Makoto was watching him, he
twisted the frequency knob by a degree and pulled up an antenna from the back of
the box to its full length. Immediately the sound integrity became crystal clear as the
radio played the opening riff of a song Rin recognised as the signature tune of his
favourite local indie band.

“Oh,” Makoto said, reddening.

“A+ for effort,” Rin said cheerfully, giving Makoto a sympathy-pat on his back
and turning to the transceiver. He drummed his fingers against the table top along
to the beat of the song, waiting for the music to come to an end.

Makoto, however, had other ideas. He picked up the mouthpiece from where
it had been dangling and stared at it, turning it over this way and that. Just as the
chorus blasted through the speakers, Makoto interrupted the transmission by
pressing the CALL button and speaking.

“Hello? Hello? Can you hear me on the other end?”

Rin swore, “Couldn’t you wait until the song finished? It’s just getting to the
best part!”

143
“Why isn’t anyone replying on the other end? They’ve turned off the music,
so they must have heard me…”

“For the love of…” Rin threw his hands in the air, “Take your finger off the
button, idiot. It’s a radio, not a cell phone.”

“Oh,” Makoto reddened again, “Oops.”

“‘Oops’ is right, dimwit,” the voice crackled irately through the speakers,
music indeed turned off, “The rule is ‘no external transmission’ during a song. What
are you, a grade schooler? It’s the basic of the basics.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” Makoto said, to which Rin rolled his eyes, “I mean,
I’m not a grade schooler, but I am new here.” He exchanged a glance with Rin and
hurriedly tacked on, “Over.”

A brief pause followed, “New, eh? A likely story.”

“No, it’s true! Over.”

“Who is this, anyway? Is that you, Shigino? I told you to stop pulling this crap
every time you’re bored, I’ve got a service to deliver.”

Shigino… that was a familiar name. Rin barely had time to parse who that
name could possibly belong to before Makoto started talking again.

“No, no, it really isn’t Shigino. My name is Tachibana. I came from outside
Iwatobi. Over.”

“Outside? Hah! Who’d believe that? Nice try, Shigino. Hurry up and hang up, I’ve
got to play through the queue again no thanks to you. Do you know how many times
I’ve had to play ‘YATTA!’?” The voice paused briefly and appeared to address his
audience instead, “Stop requesting ‘YATTA!’, assholes, it was funny the first time, but
not fifteen freaking times a day, okay. You need to leave that song in 2001, where it
belongs.”

Makoto let out a frustrated noise, “You have to believe me, I really am from
the outside. It’s taken so long to get here, and—”

“Give that to me,” Rin rolled his eyes and pried the mouthpiece out of
Makoto’s hand, “Hey, this is Kitajima. I’m looking for someone.”

“You are, are you? So’s half of Japan. Get in line.”

“Look, I flew in from a different continent and nearly got shot down by the
army. My hometown looks like a scene out of Silent Hill and it turns out that, aside

144
from my friend here, you would be literally the only other human I know who is still
normal because the rest of the population is either a zombie or rabid thanks to this
cancer-smoke. You don’t want to lift a finger, fine, but the least you can do is point
me out to someone who might be willing to tell me what’s happened to Engoji so I
know if my mum and sister are still breathing or not.”

The pause on the other side was a beat longer than usual, “Nice try, bud, but
information isn’t free. This ain’t your grandpa’s plague.”

“Funny you should mention, I don’t think my grandpa ever played Silent Hill.”

“That’s Resident Evil, dumbass. Silent Hill doesn’t have any plagues.”

Rin rolled his eyes, “Does this really even matter?”

“The fact that you’re talking to me, claiming to be fresh meat? Weak. There’s no
way you could have casually picked up this channel unless you’ve been here a while.”

“What are you talking about?” Rin was beginning to feel a bit irate, “Look, we
ran in here, followed the noise, and presto, there was a radio tuned to your
frequency. It’s not like it was particularly hard to find.”

Pause, “Yeah? Which safe house are you in, then?”

Yeah, wow, Rin wasn’t sure he wanted to broadcast that information in


public, “Safe house? Doesn’t seem like we’re in one.”

“Well, this conversation has been absolutely riveting but I’ve got a queue to
play.”

He scowled momentarily before he narrowed his eyes and pressed the CALL
button again, “I’ll keep talking over the frequency so no one can hear the music.”

“Hah! What are you, five? Who’s to say I don’t have a spare frequency for
dumbasses like you? This ain’t the first time I’ve been pranked, junior.”

“Yeah, I have this amazing thing called a ‘frequency knob’. As in, I can turn the
knob and find your new frequency and keep talking on air, over and over again, until
you run out of spare frequencies.”

“Cute, but not broadcasting is no skin off my back. It’s my adoring fans that are
liable to jump you, if you catch my drift. And let me tell you, my fans aren’t what you’d
call the nice and friendly type.”

“Wow, this neighbourhood’s really gone downhill in five years.”

145
The voice snorted, “More like two months. You really are a damned tourist.”

“Which we said we were.”

“Oh yeah? I don’t remember there being a Kitajima in Engoji, last I checked.”

“What, you my dad or something?”

“Shoot your mouth all you want, there ain’t nothing in Iwatobi I don’t know
about, and I am talented at smelling bullshit.”

“Really? Quite the talent to be able to do that through a radio.”

“All right, ‘Kitajima’, if that even is your real name. Head back to Tokyo where
you came from, we don’t got no Olympic swimmers down in these… parts…” The voice
trailed off and fell quiet, but before Rin could even start to rebut, his voice came on
once again in a harassed sigh.

“Damn, all this talking’s got me thirsty. And on my birthday and everything.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Happy birthday.”

“Yeah, I’m not interested in hearing that from some guy.”

“Can’t fix that, but I may have a bottle of Pocari stashed at the bottom of my
backpack. Warm, though.”

A pause, “Well, well, well; how needlessly generous.”

“What can I say? It’s your birthday.”

“Hmm,” the voice said, “Feel free to drop it off at Tono Dam.”

“That where you at?”

“Hah, like I’ll tell you that.”

“Okay,” Rin said, figuring this was as good as progress, “Whereabouts at Tono
Dam?”

However there was no reply on the other end. The DJ had begun playing
some classic rock instead.

“Hello? Oi, come on, where am I supposed to drop your stupid birthday
present?” Rin tried to be antagonistic, but after about five minutes of talking into the
mouthpiece with only music coming out the other end, he figured that that was that.

146
“Tono Dam, huh,” Makoto said with a slight sigh, “That’s quite the detour.”

“Tell me about it,” Rin sank down into a crouch, scratching the back of his
neck as he replayed the conversation in his head. He looked up at Makoto, “Think it’s
worth a shot?”

“What for? I mean, just to give him a bottle of Pocari for his birthday?”

“No, genius,” Rin rolled his eyes so hard he was sure they would roll out of
his head and onto the floor, “We’re not just giving him a birthday present. We’re
trading goods. We have Pocari, which he may not have access to since he’s holed up
somewhere secret and probably can’t move around, and he has information. He
sounds like someone who really knows the area; I mean, there isn’t a Kitajima in
Engoji. There’s a Kitamura, and you can bet your ass Kitamura would have
pronounced every syllable in his name because he kept getting mistaken for all the
other Kitas you can care to mention.”

“All right,” Makoto took a brief moment to digest all the information and
nodded once, “So what do you want to do?”

“It’s further inland after my house. Might be a horde of zombies between us


and there though. Might be a dead end for all it’s worth. Might also be a trap to strip
us of our inventory after they catch us unawares. Could determine whether we wing
this with or without some local intel,” he glanced up at Makoto, “Worth a shot?”

Makoto exhaled through his nose, considering the options carefully.

Before he could say a word, there was a loud SLAM from outside which made
them both jump. Makoto gripped the handle of his handgun, bracing himself for
another crash as Rin rose from his crouch, hand on his machete. There was an
inhuman cry from beyond the boarded up windows, almost falcon-like in its
sharpness. Shadows passed across the gaps in the wood and they kept their eyes
trained on the movement. Another SLAM. Wood rattled in place, held together with a
mass of nails that seemed to loosen in Rin’s imagination. The cry was more muffled.
The creature appeared to be circling around the building. The sound of crushed
wood followed it, as though someone had brought down a large hammer to hollow
crates, though it grew further away.

“Makoto,” Rin whispered urgently, “Are all the exits sealed?”

“I don’t know,” Makoto replied, horror dawning slowly.

Without even exchanging a glance, they tore through the swimming club,
splitting up at the locker rooms. Rin took the fire escape and emergency exit in the
back of the building, gratified to see it sealed tighter than a nun’s legs. He sprinted

147
down to the pool. The banging and screeching was louder here and he could see
why. Makoto seemed to have found a breach in their defences, having discarded his
gun on the floor in favour of pressing himself bodily up against an entryway that
was only partially boarded up. Through the gaps, rotting arms clawed for him. Both
Makoto and the entryway absorbed the impact of another SLAM, sending a plank
loose, almost smacking Makoto in the head.

“Rin…!” His shout was strangled, absorbing another body slam, “Help me!”

“Okay, okay, okay,” Rin looked around wildly, trying to find anything he could
push up against the door as a barricade. Furniture, furniture, furniture. Something
big. Like a cabinet. Or a bench. A desk. The office. The office. He zipped down the
passage to the life guard’s office, heart in his throat when he realised that the desk
had been reduced to splinters by a nearby hatchet. Most of it was gone, and a quick
glance to Makoto confirmed that it had been used to board up the entrance.

“Rin!”

That’s right, the entrance. Makoto was trying to plug in the gaps. Sure, some
of the wood had been punched but the pieces were mostly there, weren’t they?
That’s right, littered on the ground around Makoto’s feet! Rin grabbed the two or
three spare planks from the office and ran to Makoto, pulling out his shotgun from
his backpack with his right hand. He dropped the planks on the ground as he pulled
up beside the other boy, reloaded loudly, stabbed the barrel through one of the gaps,
and blew away the zombies on the other end with an overpowering BANG!

“Gah!” Makoto spluttered beside him, cowering slightly as he was assaulted


by shrapnel and tinnitus, “Some warning would be nice!”

“Warning,” Rin said, reloading once more and swivelling his shotgun in the
gap to a tight corner where he managed to get an eyeful of mutated zombie and shot
again. The recoil was a punch in the gut, but the sickening crunch of broken bones
and a pained wail from the other end was worth it. Without a moment to lose, Rin
dropped the shotgun and picked up the hammer and nails that had been abandoned
on the ground and began to hammer the planks in. Once Makoto himself had
recovered, he seemed to understand what was going on and helpfully rearranged
his limbs to press as many as the loose boards against the gaps as possible as Rin
kept hammering.

The unearthly scream picked up from the other side. Down, but not out for
the count.

SLAM went the boards, smacking against Makoto. “Hurry up, Rin!”

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“Hurrying!” Rin said through a mouthful of nails, continuing to hammer
despite losing his hold at another ill-timed SLAM, fumbling until he managed to right
his grip and could continue on. SLAM, and the nails fell from his mouth.

“Oh, for the love of…”

Makoto disappeared from his line of sight and he could feel a sharp tug at his
waist. With a noisy ssssshing, Makoto unsheathed Rin’s machete from its holster and
stabbed it at an angle through the boards, timing it at just the right moment to
coincide with a SLAM. On the other side, the zombie writhed violently against the
barricade, screaming. Makoto twisted the blade as far as he could, gripping so hard
his hands were white, causing a loud squelch and the scream faded into a gurgle.
With a wet, fleshy sound, he loosened the twist of his grip and pulled the machete
out of boards. A dull thud sounded from the other side.

Makoto sighed, sagging to the floor, machete heavy in his hands.

Rin just stared.

“What are you waiting for?” Makoto said breathlessly, as though all the wind
had been sucked out of him, “Close up the gaps.”

“Did you just seriously do that?”

“Rin.”

“Yeah, all right, just… damn, did getting bit level you up or something?” Rin
couldn’t quite keep the admiration out of his voice, even as he found it difficult to
wrap his head around Makoto’s sudden surge of balls. Makoto refrained from
comment and Rin wanted to imagine him rolling his eyes, except that something
floated through the gaps of the boards and stole his attention away.

It was a single cherry blossom petal.

He watched it, mesmerised for a moment.

“Rin? What are you doing?” Makoto sounded both confused and nervous as
Rin pried the boards apart, shoving his way out of the building and tripping over the
zombie bodies out onto the lawn.

It was… the tree. The tree.

“I don’t believe it,” Rin murmured, reaching out and pressing his palm against
the trunk. It was still completely untouched. There wasn’t a single scratch on it,
except for some time-worn initials that a teenaged couple had carved into it when
he had been a kid. The flowers had mostly withered, save a handful of blossoms in

149
patches across the branches that still clung on. He remembered telling the others
that he dreamt of swimming in a pool filled with cherry blossom petals. And it was
under this tree that they’d buried a time capsule, commemorating their teamwork.
He thought about what was inside the time capsule, realised there was something he
wanted to take from it.

“Rin,” Makoto called out, partially stuck in the boards, “Rin, what are you
doing?”

“Won’t take a minute, okay?” He replied apologetically and immediately


crouched down at the base of the tree, pulling out the small survivor’s spade he kept
strapped to the bottom of his backpack, and started digging.

By the time Makoto had disentangled himself from the boards (back into the
building, rather than joining Rin outside), Rin finally managed to pry out a small,
rusted biscuit tin from the hard-packed earth. He pulled the cover off and, true
enough, the old relay trophy was there. He picked up the photograph at the bottom
of the tin, slightly yellow now, and brought it up to his face so that he could see it
clearly through the visor of his gas mask.

It was the four of them as brats in elementary school, with the trophy.

A smile touched Rin’s face, but it also quickly snapped him back to reality.
Unceremoniously, he dumped the trophy and photo back into the tin and quickly
jogged back to the entrance where an overly anxious Makoto had been waiting for
him.

“What on earth were you thinking?” Makoto said, even as he accepted the tin
so that Rin could twist himself through the boards and into the swimming club once
again, “That was so reckless. You could have been attacked if you weren’t careful.”

“Yeah, all right, this was my bad,” Rin conceded with a wheeze as he brushed
the dirt and splinters off himself, “I couldn’t really help myself.”

Makoto frowned, the trophy rolling inside the tin and making noise, “I
understand how you feel, but we really need to seal this breach before we can take a
stroll down memory lane.”

Rin rolled his eyes and grunted in response, crouching down to retrieve the
hammer and nails.

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7-)=
The process of sealing the back entrance of the swimming club took a bit
longer than they had anticipated, though it was mostly due to the need to find some
heavy furniture to push up against it as they had run out of nails and the makeshift
planks had been abused rather badly by both the zombies trying to get in and the
boys trying to get out. They eventually settled on carrying out the remaining lockers
and shelves from the girls’ shower room to barricade themselves in. In the midst of
all the activity, they discovered that one of the vending machines hadn’t been
completely emptied out yet and enjoyed a few small cartons of Natchan orange juice
as well as bottled water.

Once they were more or less in the clear, Makoto acquiesced to perusing the
time capsule and reacted as predictably as Rin might have imagined. They tossed the
tin aside. There wasn’t much they could do with the relay trophy. It was light, but it
took up space. Rin voted to chuck it. Makoto gave him a slightly injured look but
agreed to a compromise. They placed it on the counter in the lobby, quite attention-
grabbing given the completely shambolic state of the building otherwise. Rin
pocketed the photo, briefly making a stop at the wall of pictures to pocket his dad’s
old relay photo too.

““Hey, Rin,” Makoto said, breaking the silence after he wordlessly watched
Rin run his fingers over the black and white photograph of his father’s face, “I think
we should think about Tono Dam.”

That grabbed his attention. He looked up, “You think so?”

“Yeah,” Makoto nodded, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall
tiredly, “Your house, and then Tono Dam. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Everything,” Rin said wryly.

“Right,” Makoto laughed, and his next words were reasonable if slightly
placating, “But it’s a smart next step. We don’t know what’s waiting for us. Maybe
your family is still there, but it’s possible that they’ve evacuated. Once we get there
and know, you can make your decision whether or not to go on to Tono or not. If we
find them, maybe it might still be worth going. For information. Right?”

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Rin considered it carefully and felt himself smile at Makoto, “Yeah, you’re
right. First thing’s first. And after that, well… at the very least, we’ll know if the DJ
really will help us out or not.”

Decision made, Rin and Makoto decided to comb through the swim club for
anything useful before they began their trek. They briefly argued about whether a DJ
(“That’s probably his cover, but he obviously trades in intel so he’s more like an
information broker”) holed up somewhere wouldn’t already have his own stash of
food and drink, if not people ferrying goods for him.

The building was, otherwise, well-fortified. It probably indicated that it was


indeed a safe house, though it had clearly been abandoned. It made Rin’s mind tick a
bit – the DJ had asked which safe house they were in, simply because he’d
mentioned that he’d found a radio already tuned in. That meant that there was more
than one safe house in the area, and most if not each of them had a two-way radio
tuned into 84.9AM.

Which meant there had to be other humans. There had to be other survivors
out there. He had mentioned a prankster’s name. He’d talked about taking requests.
He had a playlist.

That meant that people most definitely had been listening in on them.

Rin knew, somehow, that they had dodged a bullet. If that DJ was anything to
go by, he had a feeling that the locals were no longer the helpful, friendly bunch he’d
known from his childhood.

As for Makoto, well…

He glanced at the boy out of the corner of his eye. Makoto was a special case.
He couldn’t help being that nice, which was one of the reasons why he was in the…
situation he was in right now. But to be fair, it was his kindness that allowed him to
survive this long too.

But back to the question of other human survivors.

There had to be people out there, still alive.

There had to be safe houses full of them.

And if the DJ, some guy from Engoji, could have made it this far, then…

… there was still hope for his family.

152
Chapter 14

SURVIVORS

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R in didn’t really know if he should feel happy about this entire situation. It was
difficult to maintain a sense of optimism as you moved through a zombie-
infested wasteland, particularly if it was your hometown, but he managed
somehow. He didn’t know why that glimmer of hope in his chest refused to leave
him the hell alone, but as much as he eagerly wanted to destroy it so that he’d be left
with nothing else but a cold and unfeeling lack of expectations, he was pragmatic
enough in drawing his conclusions from the information available that he couldn’t
deny several simple but key facts:

1. He had interacted with a sane human being, albeit through radio, in Iwatobi.
2. This sane human being was, apparently, in the entertainment industry.
3. Implying that Iwatobi had a demand for entertainment.
4. A town that needed entertainment usually had their basic needs (food,
shelter, clothes, safety) covered.
5. He’d mentioned having an audience. Occupying more than one safe house.

Was it so far-fetched to imagine a small community of survivors in Iwatobi?


Doing well for themselves?

No, it wasn’t. Rin was absolutely loath to admit it, but he couldn’t shake the
feeling that things would turn out okay.

It was awful.

There was nothing worse than having your hopes dashed to the ground. He
didn’t want to be optimistic. But between Makoto and the DJ, well… he was exactly
that.

He hadn’t honestly known what to expect, flying in from Australia. There


had been so many obstacles to face on the way (notwithstanding the hurdles
Australia itself presented): The Japanese army, feral humans, the fog, anti-fog
vaccine, Makoto, zombies, special zombies, familiar faces, human experimentation,
government conspiracy, an infected companion that turned out to be an immune
companion… He could hardly picture himself actually being anywhere close to his
original goal. And yet. Here he was. On the road to his family home.

It was surreal. It was kind of depressing. It was nerve-wracking. It was like


finding out that Genjo Sanzo and his followers were finally in India after a 10-year
manga serialisation of Journey to the West.

Prior to this, everything had constantly been out of reach, but now, Iwatobi
SC was at most half hour walk at most from his neighbourhood. If they ran, which
was likely considering the horde roaming Iwatobi, they could probably make the
trip in 20 minutes.

This was it. Home stretch. Literally. Ha.

154
“Hey, Rin.”

Rin looked up with a start. He had been frowning at the ground with his
hands on the straps of his backpack as they silently edged towards Engoji.
Incredibly, the river that ran alongside the road was still flowing along, unblocked,
with the same calming murmur that made him lapse into deep thought. He hadn’t
even realised his mind was wandering. That was stupidly dangerous. He narrowed
his eyes and forced himself to focus.

“What is it?”

“Doesn’t it seem kind of strange to you? We’ve run into lots of zombies since
we’ve crossed the mountain, but after we left the swim club, most of them have…
well,” he gestured vaguely ahead.

Rin glanced around warily. They had indeed run into stragglers here and
there, usually a good thing, except for the fact that Iwatobi was positively teeming
with zombies. Not to say they hadn’t come across mountains of zombies, only that…
the most recent ones they’d come into contact with already been slaughtered to hell
and back and were currently littering the streets and covered with debris and fog
dust. It raised a whole lot of questions that Rin just didn’t have the energy to address
at that point.

“I guess it’s to be expected, right? We did come out of a safe house. This
place has survivors, I’m sure they need to clean out these zombies some time. Like,
you know, on shopping trips. Or supply runs.”

Makoto didn’t seem convinced, “I suppose but… If there were as many


people here as these corpses seem to imply, shouldn’t we, I don’t know, have run
into them by now?”

He sighed, “Usually when people say shit like that, that’s when another boss
character appears. Or a horde.”

Makoto laughed softly, “My bad. I forgot that large groups of zombies usually
hide behind cars waiting specifically to have their entrance announced.”

“I hate clichés.”

“Well at least it’s better than not knowing what to expect.”

“Like when the Slit-Mouthed Woman asks you if she’s pretty?”

Makoto was briefly taken aback before he made a face, “How about not
discussing evil spirits when we’re surrounded by corpses.”

155
Rin chuckled and said nothing more.

The mountain of bodies they were stepping over increased not only in
number, but also in freshness of kill. In fact, he’d nearly slipped on some entrails
that were still goopy. Rin was cautiously excited to meet their killers, because he
recognised that their bodies were covered in highly accurate shotgun as well as
knife wounds. Some of them had even had their heads sliced off cleanly, like they’d
been run through with a sword. If they were ever going to meet people in this hell
hole, this was the best time for it. Especially with skills like that.

“Hey, isn’t that Takano Shrine?”

“Yeah,” Rin recognised the gates and the crumbling steps, “That means we’re
in Engoji.”

“I don’t suppose you want to pay a visit there.”

“I’m all shrined out for now, thanks.”

“So how much further to your house?”

“About ten min—”

There was a guttural shout and Rin only just managed to dodge the heavy
swing of a steel pipe as he jumped and tucked into a roll, barely able to miss the next
downward slash from his assailant. Makoto was shouting in the background too but
Rin couldn’t pay him any attention because he glimpsed black steel. He threw a
deflated tyre off the ground directly into the midsection of the pipe-holder, gratified
at the garbled choke it drew, and sprinted past a looted car and an upturned water
tank before he slammed up against a post box, each item absorbing bullets that had
been meant for him.

As he struggled to catch his breath and pull out the extra hand gun that he
had found in the hospital, he tried to take a peek at who was shooting at him but a
bullet just about grazed the side of his mask and collided into the wall in front of
him, making him flinch back into his cover.

He sensed a shadow looming over him and glanced up, aiming and shooting
without batting an eyelid. The figure slowly fell face-first from the roof of the
building onto the ground, two storeys below, landing with a sickening crunch beside
Rin. He grabbed the body and pulled it closer, to use as a shield. Good timing too,
because yet another figure careened into view at the end of the street, a shotgun in
tow, and Rin wasted no time aiming for his head – BANG! BANG! BANG! – but the
guy’s mask seemed to be deflecting his bullets somehow. A gunshot to the shoulder
from elsewhere grabbed his attention and he turned away to look for the source,
loading his weapon, and Rin took a deep breath, held his gun up with both hands,

156
shooting him clean through the temple. He crumpled to the ground, shotgun
misfiring into a nearby car and setting off the alarm.

“Rin, watch out!”

A scream came from behind him and Rin realised he was stuck in place,
unable to pull the dead body in time to block the blow. He managed to unsheathe his
machete by just enough to parry the incoming slash, though the end of the pipe got
him in the thigh and would probably leave a massive bruise. There was more gunfire
overhead, some of which managed to hit his attacker, and without so much as a
thought, Rin pulled his machete out and stabbed the figure through the throat.

Suspended in mid-air and held in place by the machete, Rin registered the
fever-hot temperature of blood rolling down onto his hands as he took a good look
at his attacker, gurgling and twitching uselessly, steel pipe dropped onto the ground.
It was a woman, dressed head to toe in dirty reinforced gear, with a strange face
mask that looked like it belonged to a hockey player, only it had been smeared with
red paint in three red diagonal streaks. Her body sagged as she clawed at the blade
in her neck and Rin quickly raised his foot, placing it on her torso and kicking her
back as hard as he could off his machete. She landed artlessly on the sidewalk, limbs
twisted at odd angles as she continued to tremble and cough. Before he could
second guess himself, Rin stood up, aimed, and shot her through the back of her
head.

Footsteps ran towards him. Makoto was panting, face pale as he scanned the
dead bodies around them. Rin’s hands were shaking slightly as he felt the still-wet
blood drip from his hands.

“They… They’re humans.”

Rin couldn’t respond. He couldn’t understand. Why had they attacked them?

“Are they,” Rin’s voice was hoarse and he cleared his throat, “Are they feral?”

Silence filled the gap between them briefly. Finally, Makoto admitted, “I
don’t know.”

They were brutal. They were merciless. They had been attacking them with
intent to kill. And yet, they didn’t seem to exhibit the mindless violence of ferals.
They weren’t just using weapons to bludgeon them out of some primitive instinct;
they had pistols and shotguns and knew how to use them. They’d ambushed them.
Not to mention every one of them were wearing different masks, but with the same
three red diagonal lines across the face. Some of them had red bandannas knotted
around their throat or on their arms. It was… like some sort of uniform. Things just
weren’t adding up. What the hell was going on?

157
“How many were there?”

Makoto surveyed the bodies, “Six.”

“Six,” Rin swallowed, unable to tear his gaze away from the dead woman,
“Six people ambushed us. They probably killed all those zombies around the area
too. Do you think more are coming?”

“We probably shouldn’t stick around to find out,” Makoto said softly, voice
grim.

“Might not hurt to grab some of their gear,” Rin squatted and pried off the
hockey mask from the dead woman. Her eyes were lifeless as they stared behind his
head. She looked no older than a high school senior. He quickly returned her face-
down onto the sidewalk and wiped away the blood from inside the mask with the
hem of his shirt.

Makoto was much more hesitant to follow suit, but he eventually


compromised for the red armband from another body.

“Should we… Should we wear this stuff?”

“It doesn’t help that they’re all dressed in black and we look like a bunch of
beach-goers. I wonder if they’ll recognise us anyway even if we do put this stuff on.”

They were still thinking on what to do when there was a muffled crackle of
static nearby. Rin and Makoto exchanged wary looks and made their way across the
battleground to a well-hidden jeep that appeared to have carried their attackers,
from the weapons and ammo littering the backseat. The tyres and windscreen had
been shot in the midst of the fray – the driver was slumped over the steering wheel,
dead – so appropriating it was probably out. Beside the dead driver was a cracked
radio. One-way. Rin picked it up and fiddled with the antenna.

“… looks like… some excitttttement… on in Engoji… always a pleasure to


welcome… with true Iwatobi hospitallllllllity… shitty place to be but you can’t… I didn’t
warn… heard that the cops have been… zombies, so thanksssssss… clearing a path… see
if the fresh meat can... well if the cops don’t get… then the farmerssssss might…”

They looked at each other indecipherably.

The static eventually overpowered the broadcast, so Rin switched the radio
off and tossed it aside.

“Cops,” he said.

“And farmers.”

158
“What the fuck is going on here?”

“Whatever it is, I think we should head out quickly,” Makoto said, a hand on
Rin’s shoulder, “It sounds like the DJ’s been covering our movements. And that there
might be more people coming.”

“What the fuck,” Rin growled, “What the actual fuck.”

It was hard to think, especially with the fucking racket that car alarm was
making. Rin was about to shoot it quiet when he was suddenly seized by an ugly,
horrible thought.

daMn
“Fuck. Fuck.”

“Rin?”

“We were on the radio. We said we were heading to Engoji.”

“… right.”

“They heard us on the radio. They came here and attacked us because they
knew we were coming here. We’re going to have to prepare for a bloodbath.”

help
159
There was no way around it.

Makoto and Rin stripped two dead bodies of their black gloves and vests.
They put on the masks and bandannas. They casually slung rifles (fully reloaded)
from their bodies, stuffing as much ammo as they could into their pockets. Rin
shoved a butterfly knife in his boot. Makoto found a handful of grenades that Rin
forced him to keep. They looked like guerrilla fighters about to wage a two-man war.

He left the car alarm alone, hoping it would draw attention away from them
as they snuck through the shadows towards his house.

Rin felt had never felt more sick in his life.

roWl
At the end of the main road which turned into Rin’s street, they spotted five
figures idling with their weapons. They were just five minutes away from their goal.
Rin tried to get himself into the right mind set, recalling the terrifying experience of
mingling with a zombie horde, and just as he was about to stride casually up to the
roadblock, Makoto clapped a hand on his shoulder and pulled him back.

“What is it?” Rin hissed irately, wondering how on earth Makoto could have
been calm when he’d been surrounded by zombies, but this nervous when faced
with five armed men.

“I don’t… I don’t like this idea.”

“We’re blending in. It’s a great idea.”

“It’s not. We’re not going to fool anyone like this.”

“We look like them.”

“But we don’t sound like them. What if they talk to us? What do we say?”

Rin gave a few false starts, “Make shit up and hope for the best. Honestly,
Makoto, what do you expect? If it ends up in a fight, it’s not like we didn’t plan for it.”

160
“I don’t like this,” he muttered, sounding miserable, “Please, let’s do
something else.”

“Like what? Distract them and make a break for it?”

“They’re people,” he emphasised.

“They’re trying to kill us,” Rin’s tone brooked no arguments, “We didn’t do
anything wrong, and they’re targeting us.”

“I killed a person,” Makoto’s voice shook, “I didn’t know it at first, but now I
can’t… I can’t do this, Rin. I can’t turn into this.”

“You’re trying to survive, Makoto,” he grabbed Makoto by the forehead and


forced him to look into his eyes, “This isn’t a game. We’re trying to make it out alive.
Are you saying that we don’t have the right to defend ourselves?”

“… I’m not saying that,” he finally conceded, “But I… I regret coming back
here.”

“I know, Makoto. I’m sorry it’s like this. But I can’t turn back now, okay? And
I can’t leave you. So just hold on, for a bit longer. All right?”

Makoto’s nod was imperceptible, “I still don’t like this plan. I don’t want to
do it this way.”

“Then how, pray tell, are we going to get to my fucking house? Invite them
all for tea and mochi?”

“We shouldn’t just walk up to them.”

“Literally the only other way I can think of, attracting a horde
notwithstanding, is to blitz another car alarm to draw them away.”

Makoto ruminated quietly. Rin could practically see the gears in his head
turning. He’d said it off the cuff but the longer they lingered on that thought, the
better it seemed. In fact, it was definitely leagues better than the ‘these aren’t the
droids you’re looking for’ plan he’d originally whipped up.

“We’d have to be quick. The car should be far, but not too far.”

“Shit,” Rin breathed, “Whatever happened to this being a simple plague?”

161
ra=f
Engoji was a neighbourhood that, for all intent and purposes, was laid out in
a straight line. It hadn’t expanded around anything central, but grew according to
the mountains around them. Rice fields had taken up most of the land so there
weren’t many nooks and crannies that they could exploit.

They doubled back as quietly as they could. True enough, the raging car
alarm had attracted some other stragglers who were looting the place. Rin felt a
slight pang of retrospective regret for not having planted some items on a pair of
dead bodies to mislead the vultures into thinking they’d been taken down. Well,
there was the pair of stripped down bodies. Maybe that would have to be good
enough.

There was no way they could backtrack any further than Takano Shrine. The
only other option was the one road between Takano and Rin’s street.

“How many of those hand grenades did you take?”

“Um… four.”

“Damn. I think we’ll have to use at least three of them.”

Rin had managed to formulate a much better plan in the time it had taken
them to crawl into this particular street. There were about two people patrolling the
place. He quickly identified the house he wanted, the one beside the local Buddhist
temple. It had always housed a handful of cars belonging to the disciples this close to
Takano Shrine and Rin was gratified to see that there were two that had been
abandoned in front of it, though their tyres were missing.

Wordlessly, they ducked into the compound just as the guards turned away.
Following Rin’s instructions, Makoto carefully wedged one of the hand grenades in
between the engine and frame of the newer looking car as Rin himself dragged in a
pair of slaughtered zombie corpses, dropping them in the main hall before he went
into the kitchens to see if he could find anything explosive. As expected, most of the
cooking fuel had disappeared, tanks and all. Frustrated, he left the kitchen to raid

162
the storage shed in the garden, but there was nothing there except some gardening
equipment. He was just about to give it up for a lost cause when something caught
his eye.

There were a few sacks piled on top of each other against the wall of the
shed. Wiping away the dust, the top most sack was a cement mix. The three sacks
below it, however, looked like packed dirt. It confused him momentarily – packed
dirt? Was that completely necessary? But heaving the cement mix away revealed
that he was looking at fertiliser.

Fertiliser. He remembered hearing something about fertiliser bombs.

This would work.

He dragged the sacks, one by one, into the kitchen. He knew dust in general
tended to be flammable and so decided to drag the cement in, just in case. There was
a rip in one of the sacks and fertiliser poured out on the floor haphazardly, which
suited Rin just fine. He had just managed to stab through the centre of the remaining
sacks with the knife in his boot when Makoto came crashing through, grabbing him
by the arm.

“What the—”

Makoto shoved his hand in front of Rin’s face.

It was a detonator pin.

Rin’s eyes widened.

Without thinking, he grabbed the remaining grenade from Makoto’s hand,


pulled the pin off, placed it on the heap of fertilizer on the ground and both of them
sprinted towards the woods in the back of the house without a moment to spare, as
the first grenade exploded. The car alarm went off and the sound of steel ripping
and colliding with the front of the house was accompanied only moments later by
the kitchen detonation. There was a small shockwave that shoved them further
away and the fertiliser must have done its job because the sound of a fireball
exploded in small pulses.

The sound of gunfire, running feet and indecipherable shouting grew louder
as Rin and Makoto ran as hard as they could around the back of the houses, hearing
the fray bypass them as they moved south. The plan was working.

They turned right into Rin’s street. Makoto collided with a figure in black, all
alone at the roadblock. They fell onto their backs and Rin grabbed his knife and
stabbed the man through the throat, pulling the blade out and slicing across. The
man fell, blood pooling on the asphalt.

163
He was wearing a gas mask. His bandanna was bright blue.

Wordlessly, Rin helped Makoto up. He couldn’t see past the red mask he
wore, but the tell-tale shaking told him all he needed to know about Makoto’s state
of mind. He pulled him along, jerking him forward when his feet refused to move,
and finally – finally – they walked into the driveway to his house.

7-)=
Rin’s house was in ruins.

There was barely anything standing.

His lip was trembling and he bit down, trying to stem the tide of tears.

He hadn’t noticed it before because they were running, but he’d just realised
that nearly the entire row of houses on his street had been destroyed. It looked like
they had been set on fire. What was left of his childhood home were a few walls and
the remains of the staircase leading to the second floor, but the roof was gone and
everything else was otherwise a charred pile of wood and stone.

He stepped forward, noting with bitter irony that the old name plaque with
MATSUOKA carved and painted into it had been half-burnt to ash and tossed
carelessly atop the remains of his home. The debris crunched beneath his feet as he
walked into the compound, feeling completely overcome as he recognised where
there had once been rooms full of things. There was too much rubble to dig through
for human remains and, truthfully, he doubted he had the time. He knew eventually
the other guards would come back and discover one of their men dead. This was the
only chance he had to look at the reason he had come back and he didn’t want to
waste it.

“I… I’m sorry, Rin,” Makoto’s voice was quiet and full of regret. He couldn’t
respond.

164
Makoto was sensitive enough to leave him alone for a few moments longer as
Rin pressed a palm flat against what had been the wall to the dining room. He curled
his hand into a fist, shoulders shaking, head bowed low.

Standing off to the side, Makoto warily cast his gaze to the street to keep a
lookout in case their attackers returned when he realised there was something in
the corner of his eye. It was a silhouette and he suddenly felt as though all the wind
had been sucked out of him.

“Oh,” he breathed, eyes following the direction of the shadow before he


hissed urgently to Rin, “Rin, we have to go now!”

“Makoto, please—”

“Rin, I have to follow him!” Makoto didn’t waste a moment before he tore
down the street.

Rin felt angry but the fact that Makoto had taken off to follow ‘him’ just…

Just…

… ‘Him’?

Rin’s eyes widened and he ran after Makoto. Weighed down by all the extra
gear he had picked up, he kept track of each turn Makoto took before he
disappeared from view, cursing under his breath for being paired with such a
nimble runner. His legs ached and his lungs burned and when he made a final turn,
he saw Makoto sprawled out on the ground, hand on his shoulder. He clearly saw
the shadow of a lightly-dressed man slipping through the cracks of the alley.

“Wait!” Makoto yelled, “Come back, plea—”

He received a kick to face and the impact sent him colliding with the ground.
Rin tensed, impossibly glad for the extra protection they were wearing before he
looked up to study their attackers. Blue. They were wearing blue. Three of them, one
with a monkey wrench. Two of them had guns. Shit.

Just as Monkey Wrench raised his weapon above his head to hit Makoto, a
blood-curdling shriek filled the air. They froze momentarily before all three of them
took off in the opposite direction, dropping their weapons. Rin heard the sound of
an engine gunning to life, tyres squealing away.

He rushed to Makoto’s side, slinging the arm of his uninjured side over his
shoulders before limping them both into the alley where the shadow had
disappeared. He pressed them both up against the wall, praying that they would stay

165
hidden. His breath sounded too loud for his ears, even with the gas mask over his
face.

The shriek came again, louder and more shrill as a shadow passed over them,
leaping across the roof, growing muffled as whatever it was chased after the Blues.

Rin was acutely aware that they had dodged not one, but two bullets. He
sagged with relief, suddenly able to breathe.

“Makoto, are you okay?”

Makoto didn’t respond. Rin looked at him with concern.

He’d raised a shaking hand, pointing at the wall in front of them.

It had been sprayed. Freshly. The bright yellow paint ran down the corners of
the letters in thick rivulet, dripping towards the ground.

H EA D R B oA D C AS T

G LA D U R S A F

G E T AW Y WH I E U CAN n

166
Chapter 15

DEAD DROP

167
It was somewhat surreal to see the message on the wall. It wasn’t signed and
mentioned no names, but as far as Rin was concerned, it could only have been
intended for them. He was starting to get a headache. Why was everything so
needlessly complicated? What was wrong with just approaching them and talking?
Surely it would have taken less time and effort to do so. And how the hell could the
person have spray painted this message so quickly, anyway? They had been right
there, the entire incident with the blues had taken no longer than five minutes.

“Who wrote this?” Rin asked warily, “Your friend?”

Makoto was silent, his words slow and deliberate, “I… don’t know.”

“You said ‘him’, so you must have seen what he looked like, right?”

Makoto was biting his lip, “I did see something, but…”

“Yeah?”

“His silhouette, it just seemed familiar and I thought… maybe it was… but I
don’t know for sure.”

“Well, he left something behind,” Rin slipped Makoto’s arm off him and
picked up the satchel that had been chucked below the graffiti. It was large and
made of canvas and seemed mostly empty, given how limp it was in his grip. Its
corner was stained yellow with dried spray paint. He dug around inside. There was
an empty bottle of spray paint (white), a stick of CalorieMate, a broken pencil and
something rolled up.

… More papers. Great. “Swear to god every single survivor in this stupid
plague exchange diaries or something,” Rin muttered, unrolling it and angling it
towards the clearing for light, sun already starting to set. It was a faded poster for a
school cultural festival, but what drew his attention was what had been scrawled
over it hurriedly in dark ink, most likely with a calligraphy brush.

THEY KEEP FEEDING IT


I HAVE TO STOP IT
THEYRE ON TO ME

168
Honestly. What the hell was the deal? Everyone was just leaving papers and
CDs and graffiti behind with shitty cryptic messages about some bigger conspiracy,
but no one had bothered to actually approach them in a civil manner to discuss
things. No one had bothered outlining just exactly what the damned conspiracy was.
And ‘it’. What the hell was ‘it’? Some prototype zombie? A robot maid? A gluttonous
high schooler finishing off everyone’s supplies? Rin was tempted to set the stupid
note on fire, but he noticed there was an indentation in the paper. He flipped it over.
They were pencil marks from a previous note that had most likely been written on
the sheet above this piece of paper. The note had been written forcefully enough
that Rin didn’t need to lightly shade over it with graphite. He tilted it further,
squinting at the shadows on the note.

YAMAZAKI KNOWS

Rin sighed.

“What is it, Rin?”

“Despite the pleasant surprise the DJ sprung on us, I hate to admit it, but it
looks like we have to make contact with him anyway.”

Makoto was quiet as Rin brought him up to speed, wordlessly massaging the
bite mark on his arm. He didn’t say anything for the longest time, struggling to make
sense of everything. Rin folded up the poster and put it in his back pocket before he
glanced up at the sky, sun about the plunge the entire district in darkness. He
touched Makoto’s shoulder briefly to get his attention.

“We can’t stay here,” he said, “We sure as hell can’t go back to my place. The
swim club’s too out of the way, too, and far. So.”

“This is making me feel very complicated.”

“We have to go to Tono Dam. You ever been? I have. They hosted a music
festival there once. It’s big and they have an underground complex with sluice
controls and everything. If the DJ is holed up there, maybe we can get shelter too.”

Makoto sighed softly, “That’s a big ‘if’.”

“Everything’s a big ‘if’. How do you think we got into this mess in the first
place?”

169
“I think it started with the plague. But you’re right, as usual,” Makoto said
mildly, getting to his feet and wincing slightly.

Under normal circumstances, Rin would have jumped on anything that could
be construed as a compliment and teased the other guy mercilessly, but events
being what they were… “How’s the face feeling? Anything broken? You disoriented?”

“Sore,” Makoto’s voice was a little strained, “I’m lucky I have this mask on.
The padding took most of the hit. It’s okay, I know you’re holding two fingers up.”

“Let’s take a better look at it when we’re safe, okay?”

“Okay.”

Glad that Makoto’s face, rather than legs, had been hurt, he gave him a gentle
pat on the lower back and they both began to move further inland. The ear splitting
shriek that had saved them was still audible, though far away now. It had moved in
circles before finally setting off in the direction of the swim club. As grateful as Rin
was for that distraction, he wasn’t going to wait around for the opportunity to say
thank you.

rya
Two and a half hours of walking and hiding yielded that there were definitely
more zombies inland, both dead and alive, though their appearance suggested that
they were far from normal. Their bodies and faces were engorged, swollen with
what looked like tumours that seemed to spill out of the cavities in their bodies.
Their entrails dragged on behind them and they seemed like they were in pain. It
was incredibly strange. Regular zombies never really seemed to be in any type of
agony stronger than a fairly annoying headache. They clutched at their heads
sometimes, sure, but never moaned and clawed at themselves.

170
“What the hell is all this?” Rin asked, faintly disgusted as he nudged some
guts on the floor with his foot, noting and deliberately ignoring the zombie corpse it
was attached to.

“It’s strange but…” Makoto trailed off briefly, “I wonder if it’s the effects of the
fog.”

“That’s even worse.”

“Well, the scientist’s research did talk about immunities and mutations.”

“You’re telling me these are the zombies that mutated against the fog?”

“I don’t know, but it’s entirely possible, isn’t it? There just shouldn’t be any
zombies in the FDMZ, period, and yet, look at all this. They’re not even normal. And
those… those things coming out of them…”

“Yeah,” Rin said, trying not to look at them for too long, “Like cancer or
something.”

“I… really wish I hadn’t come back now.”

“I know, Makoto. Come on, we just have to keep going. You and I, we’re going
to survive this, right?”

“Right,” Makoto let out a breath, trying to compose himself—

“ARRRRRRRGGGHHHHH!”

Makoto just about jumped three feet in the air when something launched
itself at him, pinning him down as they tussled. Rin fumbled for his gun, flicking the
safety off and moving his hands in tandem with the head of his target. It was a
suited, masked figure. Blue. One of those roaming thugs.

“Rin…!” Makoto yelped, earning a punch to the face, “Help me!”

The gun was useless. They were moving too much and he didn’t want to hurt
Makoto accidentally. The single flickering lamplight overhead was casting shadows
and making everything difficult to see. This scene was familiar, though. He’d been in
a similar situation, but with much less protective gear than Makoto. That’s right, a
feral had attacked him like this before, when he’d first arrived. He scanned around,
spotting the nail bat sticking out of Makoto’s sack that had been discarded in the
fray. He gripped it firmly with both hands and smashed it against the side of the
thug’s head with an almighty swing. He was thrown off completely, twitching once
before his muscles relaxed and he went still.

171
Makoto scrambled backwards, upright into a sitting position, “Is… Is he
dead?”

“No,” Rin said, squatting down with the nail bat as support, “But… I don’t…
what the hell is this thing?”

Makoto flinched in surprise before he got on his knees and moved closer to
see what Rin was pointing out.

The nail bat had smacked the mask right off, and his clothes had been ripped
to shreds in some fight prior to this confrontation. He could feel Makoto hold his
breath as he took in the sight.

He looked… unwell. Veins were visible on every part of his body. They
snaked across his forearms, the bluish-purple of bruising staining the skin of his
torso that seemed to have veins like tree roots stretching his flesh apart. It snaked
up along his neck and throat, tightening across his jaw and ending at his face. Rin
stretched the skin around his eye apart with one hand to take a closer look. The
thug’s eyes were bloodshot, red veins visible as they curled around his pupil. And
his pupil…

“What’s going on?” Makoto asked, voice shaking, “Are they feral? Are they…”

“Are they mutated, like the zombies?” Rin asked quietly, staring at the thug’s
eyes for only a moment more before he released the thug and turned to face Makoto,
“This is getting from bad to worse.”

“We need to leave this place, Rin. Coming back was a mistake.”

“Yamazaki knows. We’re already neck deep in this, we may as well finish the
job.”

“This isn’t the time to see things through to the end,” Makoto argued, “We
shouldn’t have come here. We need to do what the message says, we need to get
away while we can.”

“And we’ll do that,” Rin said as placatingly as he could, “But Tono Dam is
literally at the end of the road. We’re this far in, Makoto. Let’s just meet the DJ and
see what he says. If he’s fucking us over, blame it on me, I’m forcing us to take this
risk. But I’m not going to let them get to you, not after everything we’ve gone
through, all right? I’m not about to let a bunch of… pseudo-ferals, I don’t know what
the fuck these things are, but we got through a zombie bite, didn’t we? If we
survived that, I sure as hell am not going to let anything else get to you. We can get
through this. You know we can. We just have to do this together.”

172
Makoto was looking at him with a plea in his eyes, but Rin toughed it out and
waited. He could see the dejection and resignation in Makoto’s slouch, the way he
stared at the ground. Rin placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing once. Makoto
looked up at him.

“We can get through this.”

“I’m scared.”

Rin faltered at that admission, looking away briefly, halting the instinctive
platitudes that were on his tongue. He knew he had to be honest. He took in a breath
and steadied himself.

“I know, Makoto. So… So am I. But it would be so much worse if I was alone. I


know you have my back, that’s why I’m willing to do all of this. What if my mum, my
sister, what if they’ve turned into these… these rabid things? That thought terrifies
me. I want to get the hell out of here, but if this is one more loose end to tie up, let’s
do it. Let’s do it once and for all. And I promise you this, Tachibana Makoto, once we
– you and I – get out of Iwatobi, I guarantee that we will never come back here
again.”

Makoto was quiet, but in the course of that pretty little speech, he’d gently
gripped the wrist of Rin’s hand that was on his shoulder, as though in need of an
anchor. He nodded with the words, gaze slowly drifting back to the ground, and
eventually, Makoto met his eyes once again, despair gone.

“… All right. You’re right. We’re in the heart of Iwatobi, we’re going to have to
fight our way out no matter what direction we take.”

Rin nodded, “That’s right.”

He was tempted to say that Makoto smiled at him then, “Thank you, Rin. I do
have your back and I… know you have my back too. So…”

That heartfelt moment was shattered by a scream in the distance. Both of


their heads shot up in the direction of the noise. There was the sound of shambling
and running and growling. They exchanged looks. It was probably a horde. Another
guttural scream. The rising rumble of agonised groans. It was definitely a horde.

“We’ve been walking for long enough, I guess,” Rin muttered.

“How far to run?”

“Maybe about 2 or 3 kilometres.”

“That’s okay. That’s not bad. Straight down the street?”

173
“Straight down the str—”

Makoto had grabbed the nail bat that had been abandoned and shot down the
road in a quick sprint. Cursing, Rin gripped his machete and followed suit. There
were zombies in the path. Makoto cleared what he could, and Rin cut down
whatever stragglers remained in his way. The zombies were heading towards the
scream but they didn’t seem particularly distracted by it. In fact, they seemed more
than happy to snap their jowls at the two of them. Rin dodged whatever he could;
zombies were pretty stupid and single-minded, for the most part. They couldn’t
afford to waste their time fighting off a horde unless they needed to.

It was the sudden lunge from the side from a red-masked figure that caught
him off-guard.

“Gah!” He slashed away the red, slicing across his chest and drawing blood,
but he was barely fazed. He yelled and jumped for Rin again but this time Rin was
ready and a point blank gunshot to the throat put him down for good.

“Head’s up! We have company!”

Great. Amazing.

“Can you be more specific?” Rin asked through gritted teeth as he managed to
decapitate an incoming zombie and weaved his way through the mob to Makoto’s
side. He managed to drive off a handful of reds with some well-aimed swings,
catching the tail end of a nearby zombie in the process.

“I don’t know what to call them! They aren’t exactly feral! They have
uniforms, for crying out loud!”

One of them let out a shriek, animalistic and rasping, as he leapt for Makoto.
Rin shot him before he could get his hands on the boy and he fell like a sack of
potatoes to the ground. The zombies descended on his corpse and gunshots rang
through the air from all around them. It was bedlam. There were reds, blues and a
new addition of thugs in white shirts everywhere, half of them trying to fight their
way through to Rin and Makoto, while the other half were busy trying to reduce the
local zombie population. They appeared like ants, only a handful of scouts at first,
but now they were positively swarming the place from all sides. Rin was ridiculously
glad that he and Makoto had stolen uniforms but this was definitely getting out of
hand, and fast. How the hell had they even known they were coming here? Why
were there so many of them?

For fuck’s sake, Tono Dam was right there.

“Rin!” Makoto yelled over the chaos, “There’s no way we can get close!”

174
No, “We’ve come too far to chicken out now!”

“Where are we supposed to go? Where are you supposed to meet? There’s
too ma—”

Makoto swallowed his shout as he began to engage in a fight with a white-


shirted figure. Rin didn’t know how these half-human thugs could identify the two of
them so quickly, but whatever it was, he had to figure out a way around it. More
importantly, he had no fucking clue how he was supposed to make contact with the
DJ when he was busy slicing through zombies and shooting at red, blue and white.
He was going to run out of ammo, the rate he was going. Makoto was right, there
were too many of them. They were going to get slaughtered out here unless they
figured out how to make contact.

CLICK, CLICK, CLICK

Shit. He couldn’t reload now. He’d get killed.

Rin stuffed the handgun down his pants and focused on using his machete to
cut his way through. The crowd around him swarmed, a mixture of knives and pipes
in the fray, with a handful of guns and rifles glinting through the darkness. There
had to be a way to avoid the brunt of the battle. He just needed a moment, one
moment to sort things out and…

“Rin! They’re in groups!”

“I know they’re in fucking groups, they’re colour-coded, you idiot!” Rin


snapped. Talking was a mistake. The moment the words were out of his mouth, a
nearby thug started to swing his pipe wildly at him. Rin fought back instinctively,
running purely on adrenaline at this rate. As he smashed the living daylights out of
the blue with a foot to his temple, what Makoto said sent his brain into overdrive
and he finally saw what Makoto saw.

They were in groups. In fact, they were mostly clustered.

Rin and Makoto were at the heart of the fray, where red, blue and white were
mixed up, fighting everyone and everything. Otherwise, if he looked beyond the
mob, each colour seemed to have its own section from which they came, converging
in the middle. It was almost like…

Borders.

It was making sense, in a shitty and completely unwelcome way.

The uniforms, the colours, the strange segmentation going on right now…

175
These were gangs.

They had turfs.

Tono Dam was where their borders intersected.

“What the fuck is going on here,” Rin was angry and frustrated, still picking
through the fact that these gang members were still feral or something like that and
couldn’t possibly be this organised (could they? Nothing made any fucking sense),
but his body knew instinctively what he had to do. He muscled his way through,
hacking and slashing at stray zombies and making an active effort not to cut down
other red-masked figures, making stupid grunting noises as he eventually ventured
into a section of the mob that was mostly red. He feigned an injury to his side,
limping through, and a great deal of them seemed to ignore him, though there were
still zombies trying to bite a chunk out of him.

He only had a moment of respite as he tried to somehow edge closer to the


dam. It was dark and there was movement everywhere. It was almost like being in
the midst of a gang war, except he knew they were trying to get to himself and
Makoto for some god awful reason.

There was no choice. He had to fight against the current and bulldoze his way
through the mob if he wanted to get to the dam proper. He’d noticed a maintenance
stairwell with a bunch of arrows and garbled words spray painted on it in yellow. He
had a hunch that maybe that was where they were meant to go. The door had been
completely destroyed but there were thick chains and padlocks crisscrossing over
the doorway as a deterrent for the less intellectually discerning and possible to
squeeze through if you had the presence of mind and possibly some flexibility.

Shit. He was getting tired. He was running on empty, had been for a while
now.

Rin shoved his way through, hissing under his breath as a handful of reds
took swipes at him. This portion of the crowd were fighting zombies, and under
normal circumstances, Rin would have taken a seat with popcorn but he needed the
distraction to shield his own movements.

There was no way in hell the DJ was holed up in here. There couldn’t be. If
this really was the border for the different gang turfs, he’d have to be fucking insane
to set up here.

So why had he mentioned this place?

Was he trying to get them killed?

176
The mere thought made his blood boil. That’s right, the DJ had told them to
come to Tono Dam. He’d said it over the radio, where everyone could listen in. Rin
could feel he was about to snap but he forced himself to remember his own words.
Yes, the DJ might just be screwing with them, however Rin chose to take this risk.
Yamazaki knows. He had to do this stupid fucking thing. He was going to do this and
survive, god dammit.

Brought back to the present, Rin realised he had managed to elbow his way
through the red zone to a zombie horde, surrounded by thugs. This was fucking
endless. The only place not completely overrun by the gangs was by the water
reservoir, but that was on the ass end of where he needed to be. It was too difficult
to think, caught up in fighting the zombies. They were fucking everywhere, and the
random shots coming in from the thugs outside the group were barely careful. He’d
missed one by a hair’s width and two of them had grazed his shin and cheek,
respectively. He could really use his shotgun here but he’d wasted an entire
handgun magazine already. If shooting these lunk heads actually yielded some sort
of tangible outcome, he’d do it in a heartbeat. In this mess, it was just a futile effort.

“UGH,” Rin shoved a zombie backwards and slashed blindly at it. They just
kept coming, one after the other. The moment he downed one, another charged right
at him. By this point, he’d blended in with the violence and the thugs didn’t seem to
be able to differentiate him from any other red, so long as he kept away from the
whites and blues, he wouldn’t have to worry about anything but the zombies.

Someone slammed up against him, blowing away a zombie that had been
coming for him with a shot to the face.

“We have to get out of here,” Makoto hissed at him, “We’re going to die at this
rate.”

Rin stabbed a zombie in the chest, “We have to drop off the fucking Pocari.”

“Then drop it off! Let’s just leave it somewhere for him to find!”

Makoto, as usual, was a genius.

“Feel free to drop it off at Tono Dam.”

“That where you at?”

“Hah, like I’ll tell you that.”

177
Of course, the idiot wasn’t here. There was no fucking radio station in the
middle of a border grab.

This was a fucking dead drop.

Boiling with anger, Rin shoved his hand under his vest, to where the small
bottle of Pocari was, and with an almighty scream of frustration and rage, he aimed
and gave it his best baseball throw towards the stairwell. It bounced against the
chains and skittered onto the concrete, turning in circles on its own axis, which
made Rin even madder, but he realised that there was barely any point in caring
anymore because a low, pained howl echoed through the entire dam complex and
the ground began to shake under their feet.

It shook enough that the Pocari began to edge towards the stairwell, but the
second, louder howl made everyone in the dam, every red, blue, white and zombie,
pause.

From the shadow of a stairwell, a figure from beyond it lunged at the chains,
hands and hands and more hands reaching through the gaps at whatever it could.
The Pocari dropped onto the steps and the continuing downward bounce was
muffled by the howl as the monster inside grabbed at a nearby blue and began to
smash him against the ground, other hand reaching out for anything close. The
scream of a zombie it began to strangle was quickly drowned out by the sound of the
mob beginning to flee every which way.

That was both a lucky break and the most fucking unfair thing on the face of
the planet.

Rin grabbed Makoto by the arm and they began to run towards one of the
gang’s parked jeeps.

The ground shook with a BOOM, the sound of the heavy metal chains bursting
as that monster lurched out of the stairwell and began to descend on the scattering
mob. The screaming was overpowering, making Rin’s ears ring. Zombies and thugs
still littered their path, smacking into them in the midst of their escape, and they had
no choice but to use their weapons to cut a path through as best as they could. The
worst thing they could do at this point was fall down. They would probably be
trampled to death under this stampede. At some point, they were shoved out of the
crowd and they landed on the fringes of the throng, near the reservoir. Rin’s
aggravation had hit an all-time high and he was officially out of fucks to give.

“Makoto, fuck this shit. Let’s swim for it.”

The way Makoto reacted, Rin assumed his eyes had bulged at the comment.

“I-I—”

178
“I appreciate your problems with water, but this is sink or swim, literally!”

Without much remorse, Rin seized Makoto, ignoring the pitiful wide-eyed
stare he was giving him, and threw him bodily into the reservoir with a girlish yelp.
He leapt in after him and doggy paddled briefly.

“Don’t focus on anything but swimming!” He yelled through the splash of the
water, “Just front crawl like your ass is on fire!”

A strong shove to Makoto’s shoulder pushed him into action, and the moment
Rin was sure that he was freestyling at a clip, Rin followed suit. He swam as fast as
he could, unused to the clothes and armour and weaponry strapped to him and
weighing him down. In the distance, people were shouting and shooting at the water
and he swore he heard the splash of bodies jumping in. He swam even harder, sure
at this point that they were at least deep in the centre of the lake. In his struggle, he
suddenly found himself gasping for breath, water beginning to flood in through the
air filters and filling up his gas mask. Shit. He’d completely forgot.

Rin jerked to a halt, scrambling for the red mask to come off, feeling himself
panic at the lack of oxygen. The moment it slipped from his head, Rin struggled with
the straps that kept the gas mask attached to his head. He couldn’t keep his head
above the surface, choking on the water now as his fingers slipped on the buckles.
He felt a bullet cut through the water and graze his elbow. With a final desperate
surge of strength, he yanked the entire mask down so that it hung from his neck and
dolphin kicked to the surface with a gasp. He breathed in air hungrily, half
swimming away from the bank to put some distance between himself and the
gunmen. As he looked around, that’s when he realised it.

Makoto was nowhere to be seen.

Oh god. “MAKOTO!” Rin’s throat burned and he cast his eyes about wildly,
“MAKOTO! WHERE ARE YOU!”

Nothing was floating on the surface. No bodies. Not yet. Rin took in a deep
breath and dived, eyes blurring with direct contact with the water as he tried to look
around. There wasn’t any light, not from the moon and not from any street lamps. In
the night, the water that surrounded him was dark, black and hopeless. Rin was
starting to panic.

He broke the surface and breathed in again, desperately trying to think about
where on earth Makoto could be. He swam forward, trying to go to where he
thought he’d last seen the boy swim before his mask started to flood. He dived,
propelling himself forward in hopes of catching the sight of something, anything, but
it was too dark and damn it all, Rin was exhausted beyond measure.

179
With another greedy breath of air, he prepared himself for another dive and
actually had to catch himself partway because he saw it, in the corner of his eye, an
arm sticking out of the water partially.

Rin powered over, by Makoto’s side in a few short strokes, and he tried to
grab him by the vest to pull him out of the water, but physics just dragged them both
down. He could tell with rising horror that the strength was seeping out of Makoto
and he made a beeline for his gas mask.

Rin cursed, water in his mouth, angry at the older model and the multitudes
of straps tangled in Makoto’s wet hair and he felt the seconds race by as he fumbled
with the two top straps before he finally – finally – got it free. He jerked the mask
down, dove underwater and physically propelled Makoto upward so that his head
was above water.

After a moment or two, it hit him.

Makoto wasn’t moving.

No. No, no, no. This wasn’t happening. Rin surfaced, shaking Makoto by the
vest as he felt his eyes stinging.

“Wake up, Makoto…! Breathe, come on! We survived that mob, you can’t give
into this of all things!”

Makoto remained still in his arms and Rin knew that if he wanted to
resuscitate him, they needed to be on dry land. He hitched Makoto’s arms over his
back and around his neck and began a parody of a breast stroke that was altogether
too slow and too painful for his liking. He could barely keep his head above the
water and his limbs were starting to feel like lead. It wasn’t that far. It really wasn’t
that far. But every metre felt like miles.

And Makoto wasn’t moving.

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Chapter 16

DROP DEAD

181
R in gasped as he forced himself to stand on his shaking feet, heavier than ever
now that he was no longer supported by the buoyancy of the water. His clothes
were soaked and his guns were most likely waterlogged. He barely had the
strength to support Makoto’s weight, opting instead to drag him by the collar of his
vest across the muddy shore. The ground eventually turned into rock and soil the
further inland he walked. Not willing to risk the slightest amount of exposure if he
could help it, Rin continued to pull Makoto, with every ounce of strength in his body,
until they were under a large conifer and hidden behind a boulder.

He dropped to his knees, clumsily forcing apart Makoto’s clothes until he had
direct access to the t-shirt he wore under all those layers. He straightened Makoto’s
neck and began CPR.

Pump, pump, pump, pump…

Rin counted thirty compressions. He pulled Makoto’s head back, pinching his
nostrils with one hand and exhaling as hard as he could into Makoto’s mouth. He
drew in another deep breath and repeated it. He knew he was doing it right;
Makoto’s chest was expanding. He drew his hands together into a fist, counting in
his head.

Pump, pump, pump, pump…

“Come on,” Rin pleaded, voice shaking, “Come on, Makoto. Please breathe.”

Thirty compressions. He breathed into Makoto’s mouth twice. No response.


He started pumping his chest again, growing frantic.

“Please, Makoto. Please breathe. Wake up. Please wake up.”

Thirty compressions. Two breaths.

“Come on, Makoto.”

Thirty compressions.

“You have to wake up.”

Two breaths.

“Please.”

Thirty compressions.

Rin started sobbing, faltering as he tried to exhale into Makoto’s mouth.

182
He stopped counting, pumping away in a mess of tears and begging.

Makoto wasn’t moving.

lPWA
Pump, pump, pump, pump…

Two breaths.

qKHa
Makoto lurched upwards, coughing out water. He rolled onto his side and
vomited on the grass.

183
c-=
Makoto finally regained consciousness some twenty minutes later. Rin had
almost collapsed from relief to see his chest rising and falling, but it was short lived.
The howl from that escaped monster echoed through the mountains surrounding
the reservoir and Rin knew that they needed to seek proper shelter. He had no idea
where they were, only that they had crossed the reservoir and was somewhere in
the deep woods of Iwatobi’s centre. Still unsteady on his feet, he’d dragged Makoto
around until he came across a cave, only it wasn’t really one. It was man-made, clean
geometric lines and concrete, but it had been bored into the earth underneath the
highway. It was probably connected to the dam’s maintenance. Rin didn’t really give
a shit at this point. It looked like someone had been there before, branches had once
been arranged to camouflage the entrance, but they had fallen by the wayside.
Steeling himself, he entered with Makoto in tow.

It was safe, for the most part. There was graffiti on the walls, but he ignored it
in favour of propping Makoto’s head up and making him as comfortable as possible.
He knew it was unsafe, but he built a fire inside the cave, making a comfortable-
sized hole in the branches of the cave cover to allow smoke to escape. Clothes were
hung up to dry on a makeshift rack, leaving them both in their boxer-briefs. Their
gas masks had been disassembled, wet filters laid out on some clean flat rocks. Their
weapons were also laid out neatly in a row, ammunition a safe distance from the
dire. Rin was heating up some canned beef stew. He had a bottle of water in hand,
gently tipping up Makoto’s head as he slowly helped him drink.

“Rin,” his voice was hoarse, eyes bleary as he looked up at him, “That was…
that was…”

“I know, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Rin gripped Makoto’s hand tightly in his
own, grateful for what little strength there was gently squeezing back, “Believe me
when I say I wouldn’t have done it if we had any other choice.”

Makoto closed his eyes and nodded, “Let’s never do that again.”

184
Rin half-laughed at that, grim and intensely relieved, “Anything you say, I
promise.”

Makoto smiled at him weakly, opening his eyes to stare out at the fire, his
expression wan and faraway.

Eventually, he spoke up.

“You were there when it happened, right?”

Rin nodded.

“I… don’t think you know the whole story.”

“No?” He asked, slightly confused, “Haru slipped and fell into the river and
nearly drowned, right? I mean, you were there and you saw it. I went for help.”

“— and you got a ride to the hospital, right?”

Rin faltered, nodding once.

“… I slipped and fell into the water. After what had just happened, I panicked
and tried to get to shore, except…

Makoto drew in a shuddering breath, “There was a zombie. On the shore.”

Rin stiffened, unable to believe his ears.

“No one knew how he’d gotten there. They raised the alarm, that’s why you
couldn’t leave the hospital. I mean, you probably didn’t know anyway, but… in any
case, I had to get away, so I swam and I ended up in the middle of Lake Koyama. Rin,
that zombie, it… it followed me. It followed me into the water. I remember… I
remember feeling its grip on my ankle. Its skin was so rotten and clammy and…”

Makoto’s eyes were tearing up now and he curled up on his side, hands on his
face. Rin had never seen Makoto act this way before, not the first time he had seen
Haru nearly drown, not once in the course of this plague. He wasn’t sure what to do,
but he knew Makoto needed some comfort. God knew he deserved it. In fact, he
deserved a hug and so much more. All Rin could do was settle for a hand on
Makoto’s arm, firm, present and warm. He squeezed gently.

“I was so afraid, Rin,” his voice shook with sobs, “There were zombies all
around us, and they were shooting at us, and suddenly there was water in my mask
and I couldn’t breathe, and I swore – I swore – I felt something pull me down into the
water…”

185
Fuck this manly bullshit. Rin mustered his strength, pulled Makoto up by his
armpits and bundled him into a tight hug. The giant mess of limbs cried into his
shoulder and Rin let him do it, gently stroking his back until he calmed down and
eventually fell asleep in his arms.

(3@Q
Rin didn’t realise he himself had even fallen asleep until the urge to piss
woke him up.

He rubbed his eyes blearily and looked around, feeling the weight of
Makoto's body on his stomach. Their fire had started to die out. He gently deposited
Makoto to the ground, stirring lightly and curling up into a ball. He was breathing,
slowly and evenly. Rin let out the breath he hadn’t realised he was holding. He
exited the cave quickly to relieve himself and returned, stoking the fire with a few
dried leaves and watching it flare to life.

Now that he had the opportunity to relax, he took in their shelter properly. It
looked like it had been a safe house, once. The graffiti on the walls said as much, but
unlike the other places, there wasn’t much by way of resources. Some old, rotting
furniture, bundles of loose hay, and a black box…

… huh?

Rin approached it. It barely had a speck of dust on it, but he noticed that it
had latches on the front. It was bit too bulky for him to carry, but that’s when he
realised there were wires sticking out of it, trailing through loops in the ground and
on the ceiling and disappearing from view. Cautiously curious, he opened the box.

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

It was a radio transceiver.

186
The entire box seemed to house the radio, only the mouthpiece seemed to be
removable. There was no antenna of which to speak, though he eyed the wires and
could hazard a guess as to what their purposes could be. The box looked almost
seamless, as though carved from a single piece of wood. Lacquered and shining, it
was quite the piece of work in the middle of a plague.

He switched it on.

“Good morning, sunshines. My personal thanks for the Pocari. You guys either
have massive balls, or you’re desperate idiots. Not mutually exclusive facts, but my bet
is on the latter.”

How did he even know Rin had tuned in?

He picked up the mouthpiece and held down the CALL button, hands shaking
with anger and apprehension.

“You got the stupid drink?”

“Sure did, champ.”

“HOW.”

“You dropped it off at Tono Dam and I received it. Don’t sweat the details. As
promised, you get only a limited amount of questions from yours truly, depending on
whether or not I feel like answering. Trust me when I say you don’t want to waste it.”

Rin was sure he heard the warning implied and, for once in his life, he
decided not to take the stupid bait. There was absolutely no way he could have been
at Tono Dam, not with that damned howling monster rampaging through the…

“Who or… What are all these people chasing after us? And why?”

“Ah, I see you’ve met the locals, eh? Charming bunch.”

Locals. No, it couldn’t be right.

“Are these—things—are they even human?”

His tone turned cold, “Why, don’t they look human to you?”

Rin’s stomach dropped, “But at my house… in Engoji, there was…”

The response was sharp and unfriendly, “Forget about Engoji. It’s a waste of
breath.”

187
“Is my family dead? Everything had been burnt to the ground, and…”

“You’re wasting your questions, ‘Kitajima’ I’m not gonna answer shit about
Engoji.”

“Why not?”

A frustrated sigh, “Personal reasons, all right? Engoji’s a lost cause. Now pick
another topic.”

Rin was so damned frustrated. He was just about to give the DJ a piece of his
fucking mind when he felt a hand on his shoulder startle him out of the rant. He
didn’t know when Makoto had woken up but didn’t fight when he took the
mouthpiece from his hand and spoke calmly into the receiver.

“Do you know Ryugazaki Rei?”

A pause. “What, the runner? Yeah, I know him, did some runs for me too. He the
guy you’re looking for? I can’t even believe that crazy bastard’s still alive. He’s pretty
famous for his suicide runs to the Outside, which I guess makes sense since you insist
that’s where you’re from.”

“You don’t know where he is?”

“Can’t say. Don’t think you really want to know anyway.”

“No, I…” Makoto let out a sigh, “I need to know if he’s safe. I think he’s getting
himself into something that’s dangerous.”

The DJ didn’t respond.

Patiently, Makoto said, tone firm and brooking no argument, “Yamazaki


knows.”

“… Shit.”

“What did it mean when—”

“Don’t say anything. Don’t. Shit,” the DJ muttered something unintelligible,


“Look, the less you know, the better, all right?”

“He left us a note. He wanted us to see it.”

“What? What the—” He let out a slew of curses before he composed himself,
inhaling sharply, “Okay, look. He’s looking into a rumour, all right? Some wild story

188
that keeps Iwatobi turning. He’s stopped running food and started running papers ever
since then, fat lot of good that does for anyone.”

“And what do you know?”

“Lots of things, but that doesn’t mean I have to breathe a word.”

“Not even about the fact that they ‘keep feeding it’?”

“What!” The DJ was so surprised his sound cut out momentarily, “He’s told
you that much?”

Rin was getting impatient. He grabbed the mouthpiece from Makoto, “Look,
can you stop talking to us in circles? What is the rumour he’s looking into?”

The other line was quiet for the longest time. Rin actually called ‘hello’ twice
before the DJ finally answered.

“It’s about the fog.”

Of course, it was. “Right. They keep feeding the fog.”

“No! Well, yes but… It’s about growing the fog, making it stronger, making it
spread. But…”

He didn’t understand how this was different from what he’d just said, “How
is this even a rumour? Of course, it’s spread. The fog was in Tottori City, it’s even at
the edge of the Hyogo border.”

“… What?”

“It is. It’s in Tottori City.”

“No. No way. It’s supposed to be confined to Iwatobi. Why d’you think so many
guys transferred to Samezuka when all this first began?”

“Right,” Rin said slowly, “Which means that it’s spread.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Was it just Rin or did he sound nervous? “How the hell can
the fog spread outside of Iwatobi but actually also get thicker in Iwatobi?”

“If there’s more and more fog, then… where’s it coming from?”

The silence from the DJ’s end spoke volumes about what he did and didn’t
want to say.

189
“Look, it couldn’t have come from thin air. It has to come from somewhere. I
mean, how was it introduced in Iwatobi in the first place?”

“…”

Makoto was the one who spoke, “It was pumped in.”

Rin blinked, “By who?”

“Wait, don't—”

“The City Council. They were the ones organizing everything, from the
vaccination to the emergency drills. Even seminars on gas mask maintenance.”

There was a pause. And then, “Aw, Tachibana, you’ve just said something very
stupid.”

“What? What do you mean?”

The line went dead.

190
Chapter 17

ENDGAME

191
T here was nothing but static coming through the radio.

“Hello?” Rin tried, “Anybody there? Hello?”

Nothing.

Rin lowered the mouthpiece into his lap, feeling frustrated beyond all belief.
He exchanged a look with Makoto but found himself pausing at the slightly
frightened, slightly alarmed expression on his face.

“What is it?”

Makoto didn’t speak at first, eyes dropping to the mouthpiece in Rin’s loose
grip, “You were holding that, this whole time.”

Rin frowned at the offending item in his hand, “Yes?”

“And you only hit CALL when you spoke?”

“… Yes?”

“How…” Makoto gulped, pale as a ghost, “How did Yamazaki even hear what I
said?”

It took a moment for his words to sink in. Rin’s eyes widened and he tossed
the mouthpiece aside like it was burning, staring at it as it clattered against the wall
of the shelter and onto the ground.

“He got the Pocari,” Rin recalled breathlessly, swivelling his gaze to Makoto,
whose face must have mirrored his own, “He didn’t explain how.”

“Maybe he was lying,” Makoto’s voice was shaking, “Maybe he just wanted to
test us. He didn’t get the Pocari. He just wanted to us to send it to Tono Dam and see
if we would survive.”

“That’s…” A stretch, unfathomable, but it made more sense than anything Rin
was thinking of. And yet, Yamazaki knew way too much, beyond just peddling
information. He seemed to know their movements. Hell, he answered Rin the
moment Rin switched the radio on. And it had been in a black box, all wired up
properly, as if it had been prepared for them… It was one thing to have people
reporting back to Yamazaki on private lines. But Yamazaki knew too much. Rin
quickly scanned the ceilings, desperate to find CCTV cameras. Nothing. Only
crumbling concrete, light fixtures and loose wires. This was just a lowbrow
maintenance area of some sort for a local water reservoir.

192
Things weren’t adding up, in a big way. This went beyond government
conspiracies or mad science experiments. The messages, the targeted violence,
being singled out… it was getting personal. It was becoming fatal.

“What’s happening Rin?” Makoto was clutching his head in his hands, “What’s
going on? Why are these people hunting us? What are they? Where is my family, and
my friends, and your family—”

“Calm down,” Rin said, like a hypocrite. God knew he was on the verge of
losing it himself. He hugged Makoto tightly and forced himself to breathe, to think,
“Okay? Don’t panic. Things are… they’re not normal. Nothing is normal. Right? And
it’s getting harder and harder to think about this logically, no matter how much of a
genius you actually turned out to be in the grand scheme of things. We could be
hallucinating. The fog could actually be poisoning us, and we’re having delusions.”

Wow.

Wow, Rin. Wow.

Makoto must have thought the same thing because he was startled out of his
tears and asked him incredulously, “About the exact same thing at the same time?”

“Shared delusions,” Rin countered hurriedly, “We’re feeding information to


each other, filling in the blanks. Look, it’s the best thing I can come up with right
now, all right? This is degenerating into a horror story, and not the kind you can
fend off with guns and smarts. Makoto—please calm down—listen to me. Listen. We
are going to leave Iwatobi. We’re going to leave, the moment our clothes are dry,
and our weapons are combat-ready. Okay? We don’t need to go anywhere these
people tell us to. You’ve nearly died more times than I can bear, and I promised that
you wouldn’t. So, I’m going to wash my hands of all of this. Your family was probably
evacuated. My family is… well, they’re gone, regardless. We don’t need to know what
happened here. We don’t need to stay. We’re just going to go, okay? Okay?”

Makoto hiccupped softly and nodded into Rin’s shoulder.

Rin squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to be okay with this.

It was true, though. His house was burnt to a crisp. He had no idea where his
mother or sister were. He didn’t know if they had been evacuated, or if they were
dead, or if they still survived in Iwatobi somehow. The only other place he could
think of was Iwatobi High School, where the others had built a survivor’s commune
together, but…

No. He couldn’t.

He had to be okay with this.

193
QWL2
The fog in Iwatobi truly was thick, despite them being technically
underground. Rin and Makoto’s eyes had begun to water after prolonged exposure,
stinging at any contact with the air, tears dripping from their faces no matter how
many times they wiped them away. Even Rin’s lungs felt dry and scratchy, as if he’d
been made to swallow sand. He began to understand why Makoto had gotten so
comfortable in the gas mask, with no real desire to remove it except to eat. The
FDMZ was hell on earth, in all the different ways you could imagine.

They rested for a few more hours, filling up on what food and water they
rationed. All their things had been laid out to air. They had to use a strip of one of
Makoto’s old, ripped shirts to wipe clean the insides of some of the guns that hadn’t
managed to dry completely. Rin didn’t remember too much about the crash course
in gun maintenance he had received, but as long as the barrel was clear and the
ammunition was dry, he thought things would be okay. These were modern
firearms after all, not muskets.

Makoto was sitting close to the fire nearby, with knees drawn up as he
watched Rin work. He hadn’t spoken since the entire fiasco with the radio. Once in a
while, Rin would glance his way to make sure he was okay but Makoto’s eyes were
fixed on Rin’s hands. Absently, he touched his own lips with his fingers, still staring.
It was somewhat unnerving.

Rin let out a noisy sigh, dropping his handgun onto the ground, “What is it?”

“Huh?” Makoto jerked up.

“You seem like you have something you have to say to me.”

Makoto hesitated, averting his gaze to the side.

“Come on, hit me.”

194
“Well…” Makoto inhaled softly, as though steeling himself, “When I woke up,
my throat was burning. My stomach hurt. I… I remember everything going black as I
sank in the water, but nothing else other than that.”

Rin nodded, “That’s normal. You did nearly drown, after all.”

“Did you… do something to help me wake up?”

Rin frowned, eyes narrowing in confusion at Makoto’s choice of words,


“CPR?”

Makoto’s gaze snapped up in disbelief, “CPR? Do you mean, mouth-to-mouth?


You gave me mouth-to-mouth?”

And suddenly the embarrassment set in. When he put it that way, it sounded
like Rin had kissed him awake or something. He felt himself go a bit red, “You
weren’t breathing, so, obviously.”

Except Makoto didn’t sound remotely shy. In fact, he sounded almost


horrified, “You put your mouth on the mouth of a plague carrier?”

Rin felt his heart skip a beat.

Oh.

Oh shit.

He met Makoto’s gaze head on, his own eyes wide with the sudden
realisation that—

Of course, how could he have forgotten—

Makoto was immune but that didn’t mean—

“What were you thinking?!”

“I wasn’t!” Rin blurted out, angry and confused and afraid, “You weren’t
breathing, of course I’d try to resuscitate you. I just… It never occurred to me for a
single moment that…”

Oh shit.

It was suddenly hard to breathe. He was panicking, felt his entire body
shaking at the knowledge of what he’d done, of what could happen to him, of what
could be happening to him right now. Rin tried his hardest to remember how high
the odds of infection were as a result to exposure from saliva. He’d read all sorts of

195
articles and reports on the plague ever since he’d been a kid and it had intensified
with the new pandemic, and he knew for a fact that he’d been briefed on this as he
underwent first aid training, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember. He knew
that, had Makoto been drowning in the sea, it may not have been such a big deal
because the salt would have dehydrated him and his mouth would have been dry.
But water in your nose and throat did things to your mucus and—

He barely registered the hand on his shoulder, didn’t know when Makoto had
come close, hadn’t even realised he’d been on the verge of hyperventilating as he
went absolutely hysterical. His mind was rushing a thousand miles a minute and it
was impossible to think straight. All he knew… all he knew was—

“You have to kill me.”

“What?!” Makoto jerked back as though he’d been burned, “Are you crazy?!”

“It’s the only way,” Rin’s eyes were darting around nervously, homing in on
their small arsenal that had been conveniently laid out in a neat row, “I might just—”

“Turn on me? I’m immune, Rin. Enough time has passed to confirm it for
sure.”

That… That made sense. Why did Makoto always make so much sense? But
Rin couldn’t help the desperate feeling of clawing for all the reasons why he couldn’t
give into the sheer desire to live because this, this was the ultimate nightmare. He
would turn and then attack Makoto and—

“Rin, calm down,” Makoto gripped both his wrists – and when had he gripped
his head in his hands? “Rin, please. You need to breathe.”

Rin could almost laugh. Possibly maniacally. This was some sort of sick joke,
for sure. And hadn’t he just been doing the same thing for Makoto not too long ago?
Only Makoto’s break down had been less to do with the certainty of being turned.
Except, oh wait, that had happened even earlier, up in the temple…

Makoto’s hand touched his face – when had he even raised his head? – and
was gently wiping away the tears that were falling steadily. Rin couldn’t stop crying
even if he tried. He could barely make himself work at this point. His mind was
racing but he couldn’t think, couldn’t be logical or rational or figure out what to do
because, honest to god, he was terrified and death was just something that happened
to other people. How many times had he escaped with his life? How many times had
he gone out of his way to endanger himself? He couldn’t believe that he was going to
die, not like this. He had been so careful.

“Rin, listen to me,” Makoto’s voice suddenly took on a whip-sharp tone,


snapping him out of his daze and he was compelled to look up at the stern

196
expression on his face, “You’re going to take deep breaths, on my count. Do you
understand?”

The lack of response made Makoto shake him gently but firmly. Rin could
only manage a nod.

“All right. Good. Now, breathe in slowly. Expand your lungs. Come on, one…
two… three…”

Rin had a few false starts, but he was eventually able to inhale, hold it in, and
exhale according to Makoto’s time. He felt his mind slow down, his heartbeat even
out. After four or five breaths, Makoto released his hands and sat back on his
haunches.

“I could still attack you,” Rin managed, but weakly. The comment drew a
small smile to Makoto’s face.

“I don’t dispute that, Rin. I’m sorry I… well, I’m sure if I had been thinking
straight, I would have thought twice before bringing up the subject. And my own
little… episode earlier… I’m sorry for that. It does us no good to be panicking like
this,” Makoto inhaled deeply before he continued, quickly speaking over whatever
Rin planned on saying.

“Let’s be very clear on what’s happened, on what is happening. You did


something stupid, that much is true. You shouldn’t have performed mouth-to-
mouth. But. I’m sure that if it had been the other way around, I would have
completely forgotten that I was a carrier too, in my panic to save you. So I apologise
for lashing out at you for that, especially given how hypocritical it was of me,” he
delivered that last line abashedly, “And despite what you may think, hurting you…
killing you… it’s not necessarily the answer.”

Rin looked up at that, “What do you mean—”

Makoto patiently raised a hand, prompting Rin to fall silent.

“What I’m saying is that… you may not necessarily be infected. Yes, you did
potentially expose yourself to my saliva, but that is no real certainty—

“It’s not just saliva that we have to worry about, Makoto. There’s mucus
and—”

“We have the opportunity to wait and see whether or not you turn—”

“Not to mention the possibility of it being airborne for all—”

197
“—really, Rin, are you going to keep interrupting me?” Makoto’s expression
was amused, but slightly pinched. Rin looked suitably rebuked and obediently shut
the hell up, “As I was trying to say, there’s a real possibility that you didn’t get
infected. We could wait it out, like we did with me, only perhaps with slightly less…
intensity.”

Rin winced. He wanted to apologise for that experience but realised that that
would be yet another circular conversation that would never end.

“And if you do turn,” Makoto gave him a look, “It certainly isn’t the worst case
scenario, with me. I’m immune, remember? You can’t infect me.”

“… But I can hurt you,” Rin replied petulantly. Makoto inclined his head
briefly.

“That’s true,” he said, “But that’s not exactly like signing a death certificate, is
it?”

“… I get what you’re trying to say,” Rin finally managed after a brief internal
struggle, “But… we should still tie me up and wait.”

“No,” Makoto replied firmly, earning a surprised look, “I think that’s a waste
of time.”

“A waste of– Makoto, you can be confident all you like, but the possibility
that—”

“We will be wasting time in staying here any longer than we absolutely have
to,” Makoto argued, completely calm, “I’m in no immediate danger from you unless
you turn, which could be any moment now, or never. I suggest that we pack up and
get moving, because there is absolutely no way we can leave this place without each
other. There are too many thugs and zombies out there for anyone to handle alone.
And if – if – you do turn… well, I won’t be trapped alone with you in an enclosed
space.”

It was weird to hear Makoto joking about something so serious. Rin wasn’t
sure how to respond. Makoto’s expression softened.

“Rin, if I wait for you to turn, and you do, not only would I have to kill you, I
probably wouldn’t be able to survive out there on my own.”

That wasn’t true. That wasn't in the least bit true. He’d survived this long on
his own, on the edges of Iwatobi. And unlike Rin, whenever Makoto made stupid
decisions that endangered his life, he always made it out in one piece. He said as
much to Makoto.

198
“Except that going back to the hospital caused me to get bitten,” he replied
patiently.

“But you turned out immune, so it still worked out,” Rin countered, “The odds
of both of us being immune is slim to none, and you know that.”

“Which brings me to my next point. You may not even be infected. If we wait
around here to see if you turn or not, and you don’t, do you honestly think we won’t
be discovered at some point?”

Rin hesitated.

“You remember that… monster at the dam. And the thugs outside. We’re not
that far away, just across the water. We’re burning a fire, we’re obviously in some
sort of safe house; it’s just a matter of time, and you know it.”

Makoto was making so much damned sense. Again. Rin was so irrationally
pissed off.

“…do you get it? Regardless of whether you may or may not be infected, we
have to move. And, as slim as the hope may be, I’m going to trust your survival skills
enough that I’m sure you didn't come into contact with any of my bodily fluids when
you did CPR.”

“…it sounds gross when you put it like that.”

Makoto chuckled, “You weren’t saying very flattering things yourself.”

Rin fell silent, eyes dropping to the healing bite mark on Makoto’s arm. The
bandages had gotten wet and had been tossed out. The skin was mottled and
speckled and purple and would leave a scar. Despite the worst, things could turn out
fine. They had to believe it could. Even if it may not. That’s how they had gotten this
far, with the small but sure belief that there was hope. Rin hadn’t been completely
honest when he’d told Makoto that he all he wanted was to know, to know his
mother and sister were safe. He knew the truth. He didn’t just want to know, he
wanted to make sure they were safe. He wanted to save them. That’s why he’d done
all had, made his way to Iwatobi and kept going on the slimmest clues that would
lead him to his family. He’d forced himself to try, hadn’t he? He had to try now.

“… okay,” he finally said, a heaviness weighing Rin down, “Okay.”

Makoto gave him a single, satisfied nod, “We should plan our route.”

“Yeah, all right,” Rin could do that. It was good to be able to focus on
something. He reached for the map they had of the area, made of a laminated
material, so it wasn’t stiff and crinkled the way normal paper would turn out after

199
being soaked and let to dry. They were lucky whatever papers they had collected
were only slightly runny now. Nothing stuck together or seemed destroyed. They
couldn’t check the electronic materials they had but Rin honestly didn’t give a shit.

The map was laid out flat between them and they slowly began to draw in
landmarks and notes that they had observed. Where buildings no longer stood.
Where roads had been blocked up. Where new paths had been made. It was a slow
process, but a worthwhile one, because at the end of their exercise, they discovered
that…

“…all roads lead north, to Iwatobi High.”

This was frustrating. Rin didn’t believe in signs. He refused to believe that
this was one.

Makoto tapped his finger twice on a legend near the high school.

“The City Council building is right beside our school.”

Nope. This wasn’t happening.

“Rin, please,” Makoto sighed.

Rin was scowling and crossing his arms defensively, “I want to go a different
way.”

“And what way would that be? The DMZ stretches on to the west and south of
here. We’re right in the middle of Iwatobi now. The only possible option is
northeast.”

“Then how about east.”

“There’s no way we can walk east from here. There are mountains and roads
that lead to dead ends. We have to go north to the shoreline and then head east. If
we want to head to the border even faster, we’d have to walk on the train tracks.”

Rin didn’t like this plan one bit. His scowl deepened.

“The swim club is on the way, isn’t it? We can make a pit stop there.”

“… fine,” Rin bit out, aware that there was nothing else that could be done,
“But we’re not going to city hall or Iwatobi High.”

200
#7$1@
“For god’s sake.”

The five-hour trek they’d taken to head back to Iwatobi SC had been
alarmingly devoid of anyone, zombie, feral or otherwise. Rin sometimes thought
he’d heard stragglers, perhaps even snippets of a conversation, but every time
they’d turned a corner to investigate, it had turned up nothing. After the big battle at
Tono Dam, maybe enough thugs had been killed off… though it didn’t account for the
lack of zombies. Rin briefly remembered the high pitched shriek they’d encountered
a handful of times before this, how it had scared away the blues from attacking
them, how it had lured away zombies.

They had agreed to spend one night in the swim club, to ensure they were at
maximum strength for the eventual journey to the shore. There was little daylight
left and neither Rin nor Makoto relished the thought of traversing the FDMZ without
any light to guide them, not to mention the piss poor visibility courtesy of the fog.
Rin was happy to huddle up in a corner with a packet of Natchan orange juice and
count out all the ammo he had left.

On the other hand, there was this.

In drying yellow spray paint, on the wall beside where they had placed the
relay trophy:

U SH ouLDN ve SAI D I ON a I

IM ut F ti e
MEE T I C TY H A L l n

201
Rin pinched the bridge of his nose.

“No. I refuse.”

Makoto looked sheepish beside him, hands spread helplessly.

“Are you fucking kidding me.”

“It’s in the same direction.”

“Absolutely not.”

uK86
This was such a bad idea, he couldn’t even comprehend why the thought
even crossed his or Makoto’s mind.

They weren’t going to the City Council building.

3(26&
It didn’t matter either way.

Before dawn broke, they had begun the remaining three-hour journey from
the safe house to the street that broke off from the highway and continued east
towards Kyoto.

Unfortunately, they were facing zombies rather than vampires, so sunlight


wasn’t a determinant in the kind of foes they would have to confront. Nevertheless,

202
Rin couldn’t help but feel the worst of the things they’d run into seemed to appear at
night. The zombies they’d encountered in Tottori in the daytime, no matter how
uniquely horrifying, had never been particularly scary. Not like… well, not like at
Tono Dam. Maybe it was just a psychological thing. Regardless, Rin was grateful for
sunlight.

They were only in the general vicinity of the building in question and Rin and
Makoto finally came across the reason why their hike from Tono Dam had been so
blissfully uneventful. Rin had had his suspicions but he’d never really wanted them
confirmed.

Everyone, everything, all of it had gathered around city hall.

That bastard Yamazaki had been talking to them on air. Everyone had heard.
And no doubt the presence of… somethings in red, blue and white would have
attracted the attention of the local horde.

This was exactly why they weren’t going to go into the City Council building.
They were going to go the fuck around and leave Iwatobi.

At least, that’s what Rin’s original plan had been, until he’d seen the
ridiculous number of guards stationed at every fucking exit. Most of them had been
positioned at the crossing. He had no doubt that there were more of them waiting in
city hall, but there was absolutely no probably way either of them could make it
through that wall of thugs. Unless he had a rocket launcher or a tank or something
along those lines. Rin quickly tried to recall if there were any banks nearby that may
have an armoured truck parked…

“You’re not going to like what I’m going to say.”

“Then please don’t say it.”

Makoto sighed, “The only other way I can think of is using the back entrance
of the school. We can try to escape via the beach. At some point, we’ll find the train
tracks.”

“The beach. Which we have no clear view of. Which is an open line of fire
without cover. Which may be hiding a pack of trigger-happy maniacs, waiting for us
there.”

“Unless you want to knock out two guards and steal their clothes again. And
stroll past the guards without arousing any suspicion whatsoever.”

Rin glared at Makoto, about to deliver a caustic remark when a sudden BOOM
about ten feet in front of them threw them backwards to the ground, a fireball

203
exploding and drawing a cacophony of screaming and growling. It must have been
an RPG or a bazooka or a round of mortar.

It was a good distraction as any. Rin dragged Makoto to his feet and they ran
through the smoke, glad for the gas masks and new air filters. They smashed and
sliced their way through, cutting down injured zombies and thugs and trying their
best to ignore the sinking feeling that followed when Makoto pointed out that the
thugs were running out of the compound. Rin staggered briefly, a zombie torso
clinging to his feet and climbing up his leg. He kicked it off roughly, falling onto his
side and half-crawling and half-running after Makoto, who had begun clearing a
path for him.

There was the whistling sound of projectile, crashing through a window.


BOOM, and the wall of a nearby building burst outwards, spitting bricks and
shrapnel at all the bodies nearby. Something shot into Rin’s shoulder, sharp and
stinging. There was more screaming. Makoto leapt into the building through the
new hole in it. Rin could only blindly follow suit.

They scrambled all the way in, vaulting over fallen benches and slipping on
papers that were flying everywhere with the aftermath of the explosion. Velvet rails
for making people queue up had nearly all fallen in a heap, making them trip more
than once. A bright yellow arrow on the wall led them into a back office protected by
barred windows. They slid in, slamming the door shut after them just in time,
because the entire building shook with another explosion in the lobby they had just
raced through.

Rin laid on the floor, trying to catch his breath, as Makoto quickly locked the
door (for all the good it would do) and stopped it up with a nearby chair.

They had a moment of respite, despite the continued explosion and


screaming outside.

And, of course, they were obviously in the City Council building.

Too tired to even pretend to be mad anymore, Rin raised his head and asked
wearily, “Okay, where’s your friend. He led us here, didn’t he?”

But the office was empty, save papers everywhere. On the desk. On the
ground. Folders littered the floor. Someone had been here, forcefully rummaging
through the cabinets because its metal drawers were sticking out completely and its
contents upturned.

Calmly, Makoto pointed at the glass of the office’s window. They hadn’t
noticed due to the bars on the outside, but on the inside…

Wet dripping yellow spray paint.

204
I T WAS ER TH E W HO I

I M GO I NG TO IT

FAIL

PLS n

“That’s fairly ominous,” Rin commented with little humour as Makoto raised
himself to a crouch, keeping himself from view as he grabbed the one folder that had
been neatly opened under the graffiti. He shuffled through the papers, skimming
them quietly.

“Anything?”

“One moment.”

Two minutes passed. Rin was momentarily distracted by what sounded like
an air raid siren, going off in the distance. Makoto, with a grim finality, took three
sheets of paper and laid it on the floor between himself and Rin, catching his
attention once again. He began to explain, tracing the words and sketches on the
paper as he did so.

“This was the original neighbourhood notice we received about the


impending emergency fumigation protocol. The vaccine was distributed by… Tottori
University Hospital and the Ministry of Health. Gas mask filters were designed and
produced by… the Ministry of Defence…? That’s…” Makoto trailed off before
something else caught his attention. Schematics of some sort.

“What is it?”

205
As the concentration of the local test population
centres around the City Council, we will begin
fumigation in areas of highest population density.
Researchers from the Ministry of Defence will be
stationed to maintain the ███████████ alongside
City Council personnel with clearance to the
████████████

Best identified location to house the ████████ is


in the remnants of a sealed air raid shelter from
World War II, in the compound beside the City
Council. Location is easily accessible and will be
heavily restricted.

“Air raid shelter?”

“In the basement,” Makoto said quietly, slowly lifting his head to meet Rin’s
eyes, “Of Iwatobi High School.”

Rin felt the air thicken with tension.

Another air raid siren began to go off, as if directly above them. That shriek,
the one that had saved them before, filled the air, long and harsh and very close by.
The crackle of loudspeakers trembled through the room.

“… I repeat… the Boss has been… get out of… the Boss is in…”

And then the line went dead.

“What the hell was that?”

“Let’s move,” Makoto said hurriedly. And not a moment too soon. There was
another explosion in city hall that made the lights flicker and sent some ceiling
panels crashing to the ground. The quickly unbarred the door and left through a
new hole in the back wall. Outside looked like a war zone, with fires and rubble and
people running and screaming, heavily injured and bleeding all over the place. As
Makoto had noted before, the thugs were running away from the area. And they
were being replaced by zombies. By a lot of zombies. They were completely
surrounded by zombies, as though every single shambler in Iwatobi had gathered
here. And they were in the eye of the storm.

A shriek filled the air, right above their heads.

206
Rin and Makoto looked up.

He couldn’t believe it.

This what had saved them before, because the thugs were scared of it.
Because this had to be the zombie—the zombie—that called all the other zombies.
Whenever they heard this shriek, zombies gravitated to it.

The Boss.

They were looking at the Boss, body hunched over and half rotted and
standing on the roof of Iwatobi High School.

Rin felt all the blood drain out of him.

“You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

Half-naked. White, ripped jersey covered in black blood. Swimming jammers


in black and purple. A head of matted black hair.

The Boss was Haru.

207
Chapter 18

THE BOSS

208
T his couldn’t actually be happening.

There was no way in hell that… that thing could possibly be…

After all, it had been years since they had last seen each other. Years. People
changed. This could just be a mistake, borne out of desperation, out of despair. And
the air quality was horrible, paring visibility down to mere feet. His eyes could be
playing tricks on him. And given the fact that Rin and Makoto had just escaped an
explosion, it would be easy, understandable even, to make a mistake; to think, in a
momentary haze of confusion and fear and disorientation that they were seeing
ghosts of their loved ones. And yet…

And yet.

“Rin,” Makoto sounded lost as he stumbled on his words, “Am I… Am I


dreaming? H-hallucinating? Am I still back in Manidera Temple? Because I’m
seeing— I’m— I’m seeing—”

The Boss shrieked, long and shrill and hard, drowning out Makoto’s words.

And then the entire horde went berserk.

They screamed back in agony as they clutched at their heads, moaning up at


the sky in a morbid reflection of pack animals responding to their alpha. Rin could
feel his hairs standing up on their ends, goosebumps breaking out across his skin.
The sounds were discordant and ringing and sent something cold down his spine,
made his toes curl and his head hurt. If he were less focused, he could tell that it was
a primal, disarming noise that would have sent him to the ground. A quick glance at
Makoto revealed that he was similarly affected and Rin quickly grabbed his wrist,
jerking sharply to regain his attention.

“Quickly, while they’re distracted…!”

They made a break for it, but the movement caught the attention of the Boss,
whose head sharply jerked in their direction. It let out an angry, guttural screech,
quickly redirecting the attention of the horde towards them. Shit, Rin thought as he
released Makoto’s hand so that he could get a better grip on his own weapons.
Debris littered their path, there was barely anything to use as a projectile or a shield,
and those thoughts had only just left Rin’s mind when a figure leapt from the sky
and launched itself towards him like a missile. He only managed to dodge, blown
away by the sheer impact of the creature as it landed like a meteor smashing into
the earth, knocking back unsteady zombies and loose rubble, sending a cloud of dust
whipping up like a tornado.

209
As the dust cleared, Rin felt his throat constrict, palms sweating and his pulse
quickening. The figure slowly stood to its full height, head tilting from side to side
slowly, unblinking, like a serpent sizing up its prey.

The Boss.

Make no mistake about it, the creature, with a single eyeball hanging limply
from the the side of its head that still had skin… It was in the way it stood, despite its
limp-boned hunch belying limbs that weren’t correctly aligned after having been
broken. It was the hair, still the same colour and in the same style, despite the grit
and muck. It was, weirdly enough, in the choice in swimwear.

From this close, it was undeniable.

“Haru,” Makoto breathed from beside him, shaking like a leaf. His voice
cracked, “No.”

But it was.

It was Nanase Haruka.

Haru.

Behind a disintegrating white jacket, Rin made out rib bones, yellow and
cracking and barely holding together under leathery skin, expanding and
constricting in a strange parody of breath despite the completely shrivelled up black
lungs behind them. He watched in a fascinated daze at the way Haru—the Boss’—
face didn’t seem to change at all even though he—it—he—it was surveying them
both. The way he normally would, back when he was…

Well. That was in the past now, wasn’t it?

The grunting noises that seemed to come from the Boss were from deep
within its belly, coming up in chuffs of dust at its neck, where there were holes on
either side of its throat. Like gills, Rin thought morbidly, unable to tear his eyes away
from the way the dust pumped out from the holes with differing strength depending
on however intensely Haru—the Boss was breathing.

In that moment, their eyes met, and Rin’s heart stopped.

The Boss dropped onto all fours, threw its head back, and screamed.

“RUN!” Rin broke into a sprint, darting down the Boss’ left and Makoto down
its right, feeling the spittle from the Boss’ shriek on his skin as it tracked his
movements with only the turning of its head. They’d barely made it past when

210
something hard and whip-like lashed at their backs and hurled both Rin and Makoto
forward, zipping through the air and crashing against the remains of a City Hall wall.

He groaned in agony as he felt his head and upper body throb with pain. The
whistling of that whip-like thing gave him only a moment’s warning to roll out of the
way of its concrete-crushing impact. He struggled to his feet, jumping backwards
and dodging the whip again. Out of range, he pulled out his shotgun and held it at
the ready, keeping it on The Boss, heart sinking to the soles of his feet. He didn't
want a fight. Not like this. Not with— Not with Haru, even looking like that, Boss or
no.

“Man, Haru, if you’re in there, listen,” Rin’s voice was shaking, “Listen, it
doesn’t have to be this way.”

The Boss rushed him, smacking away the barrel of the shotgun and making it
discharge a shot to the sky. It started an all-out brawl with Rin, sharp claws slashing
down on him over and over again, ripping the sleeves of his shirt and piercing his
skin whenever he was too slow to parry. Without thinking too hard about it, Rin
drew back and punched the Boss right smack in the jaw, head twisting with a painful
crack and lingering there. He wondered if he’d maybe snapped the Boss’ neck, but
the slow, owl-like turn of its head, accompanied by the light chuffing of dust on
either side of its throat, confirmed that (A) that would be far too easy; and (B) he
wasn’t called the Boss for nothing.

Out of the blue, a rough, leathery cord wound tightly around his neck,
smelling pungent and somewhat… slimy. It was the whip from before. It zipped
back, dragging him along the ground until he hit a solid wall, and then jerked
upwards, dangling him a few feet off the ground. The whip tightened around his
neck, choking him. He clawed at it in a futile effort to get free. In that moment, he
wished he’d had his machete drawn instead of his shotgun, trying to shake himself
loose but rendered completely immobile once the Boss began to pull him down and
caused the cord to tighten in the process. He couldn’t breathe. His eyes were starting
to glaze over. Fuck, was this how it ended? He never would have guessed in a million
years that this was how it would go down. It was horrifying and downright cruel.

“HYAAAAAAH!”

Makoto smashed the Boss away with a nail bat to its side. The sudden
absence of force pulling him groundwards made Rin’s body bounce up. At the height
of the bounce, he managed, somehow, to plant both his feet flat against the wall with
the momentum, using it as leverage as he grabbed the cord from over the top of his
head, and jerked down, hard as he could, all the way below his knees. A shrill cry
followed and a body fell over from the roof of the building he’d been strung up
against, crashing onto the ground hard. Rin’s fall was shorter and much less painful.
He recovered in time to see Makoto bringing the nail bat down over and over again
until the zombie stopped twitching.

211
Cord unwrapped from around his neck, Rin made a face of disgust when he
realised they’d both been attacked by a tongue.

“Ugh,” he dropped the tongue like a hot potato, wiping his hands gingerly on
his ass.

The relief didn’t last long because the Boss snarled and lunged at him,
grappling in a heap on the ground.

“FUCK!” Rin cried, struggling to protect his face as the Boss shrieked again
and began to let loose a flurry of scratches, digging its claws into the flesh of Rin’s
arm and trying to rip, “MAKOTO, HELP!”

But that shriek had brought in the horde, and Makoto was trying to fend
them off with his lone nail bat. Rin had no choice but to do this on his own, but god
almighty, the Boss was fucking strong, stronger than anything Rin had ever
experienced before. He kicked and punched blindly, head spinning as it rained blows
down on him that made the back of his skull collide against the ground, over and
over. He was sure he got a few hits in, but it didn’t seem to faze the Boss in the
slightest.

The shotgun.

He needed his shotgun.

He’d dropped it, it wasn’t too far away; in fact it was…

… just…

… out of his grasp…

BOOM! An explosion rocked the entire compound and the Boss paused in its
assault, head jerking upwards like a predator and scanning for the source. There
was movement past the school gate. The Boss screamed, as if in angry reply, and
launched itself into the air, chasing whatever it was, and bringing the horde with it.

Suddenly free, Rin lurched over to grab his weapon and stood shakily, helped
up by Makoto. Whatever that distraction was, it wasn’t going to last for long.

“Did you hear that?” Makoto asked, panting heavily.

“The explosion?” Rin rasped, voice trembling, “I think China heard it.”

“No, the voice,” he shook his head, “It was muffled, but I heard it. ‘Come and
get me!’ That’s what it shouted.”

212
Come and get me?

“We need to hide,” Rin wheezed, gripping his injured arm, still winded from
the entire gauntlet of attacks, “Let’s get into the school. Then we can talk about it.”

Makoto nodded once, supporting Rin by the shoulder and helping him limp to
the main door. A fresh trail of blood led him to a small entrance in the corner, past
all the barricades and boards, that had been pried open just enough for someone to
squeeze through. Following a blood trail would normally send all sorts of alarm bells
ringing, but both Rin and Makoto bit the bullet and ignored them. Once inside,
Makoto did the smart thing and tried to make the entrance disappear. It took a bit of
plywood and some broken school desks, but they managed to secure it as best they
could. When they were done, they took a deep breath and turned around to face the
unlit interior of the building.

This was finally it.

They were in Iwatobi High.

In the distance, an air raid siren went off.

#7$1@
Iwatobi High was completely deserted.

Not a plastic wrapper out of a place. No indoor slippers tossed aside


haphazardly. Hell, where was the graffiti?

Barely any dust had settled on what (very few pieces of) furniture was left,
indicating some form of habitation, and yet, the place screamed ‘abandoned’,
although that wasn’t quite right, either. Rin couldn’t quite put his finger on it. His
first instinct was that the place had been evacuated, but it was a little too clean, a
little too perfectly empty. No furniture. No food. Hell, no footprints. Iwatobi City had
been littered with abandoned supplies under a layer of dust. Besides which,
survivors didn’t usually clear out their safe house lock, stock and barrel. After all,
the Tottori University commune had left behind a small cache of arms, food, and

213
diaries, among other things. The Iwatobi SC had also provided them with some
supplies, despite looking ransacked.

No, Iwatobi High was too perfectly clean. It looked less like an evacuation,
more like…

… like somebody didn’t want a single trace left behind.

Makoto looked around, feeling lost, “It’s like they took everything that wasn’t
nailed down. Why isn’t there anything inside the school building? No shoe lockers,
no potted plants, no posters…”

“Beats me,” Rin sounded irritated and it was only partially due to the pain, a
shiver running down his spine, “What I want to know is where the fuck all the
people are, given the non-stop bullshit I’ve heard about the Iwatobi commune.”

Makoto was silent momentarily, “Maybe they’re in hiding.”

“Hiding? They’ve barricaded this place to hell and back.”

A brief pause, “That's true, but… there was someone warning people on the
loudspeakers about what was going on. And the sirens that have been going off… I’m
sure with all this chaos, they went into some place even more secure,” he paused
briefly, “Like the air raid shelter.”

It made sense. Hell, there had been explosions out there, it would be crazy if
any survivors didn’t take the initiative to go somewhere safer, if they had one.

Still.

“You’d think people who drop everything to go into hiding would have
actually dropped everything,” he gestured to the floor. It was spotless. Makoto fell
silent.

When he finally spoke, it was slow and measured, but full of quiet
determination, “I heard the voice. I know I did. That person, whoever it is, saved us.”

Rin sighed softly, not up to debating a non-issue. It didn’t matter anyway.


They had to keep moving. He reminded himself why they had risked their necks,
over and over again, to come to the eye of the storm: Their families could be here.
His mum and his sister, they could be here. They could be alive.

He gave Makoto a vague hand gesture, asking him to lead the way. Makoto
replied with a hesitant smile and they began to walk down the length of the main
corridor, ducking their heads into the offices and classrooms on the ground floor to

214
make sure that they hadn’t missed anything, but like the foyer, they had been
stripped completely bare.

Rin ran his hands over the walls as they moved, still unable to put his finger
on what exactly was bothering him about the entire scene. He ended up walking into
Makoto’s back when he didn’t realise he had stopped. A half-hearted rebuke was on
his tongue but it melted away when he glanced up and saw Makoto’s listless stare
into a barren room, hands gripped tightly at his sides. In the centre of the nearest
wall was a big rectangular shape that was discoloured, which probably meant that a
blackboard had hung there once before; that, or a really big notice board. He looked
at the room label. It was a second year classroom.

It took a while to register, but when he did, Rin completely understood and
turned to Makoto.

“You okay?” He rested a hand on his shoulder.

Makoto’s shoulders were shaking slightly. His breathing seemed ragged and
Rin was concerned that he was hyperventilating. He rubbed Makoto’s back, trying to
calm him down and regain his attention with a soothing tone.

“It’s my fault,” Makoto finally croaked, voice thick with emotion as his entire
body trembled, “It’s my fault he’s become like this. He is… was… my best friend. He
was constantly by my side, and I felt uneasy whenever he wasn’t with me. I didn’t
want to be alone, even with my family. I needed- I needed someone to rely on. If it
weren’t for me… I was the one who dragged him out of his house to be evacuated.
We were together the whole time, at the military cordon. The whole time. Why… why
did I make it, but he didn’t? Why did I let myself get hit? If it weren’t for me, he
wouldn’t have… wouldn’t have…”

Alarmed, Rin squeezed his shoulders, forcing Makoto to turn and face him.
He wracked his brain desperately, trying to force himself ahead of the grief and to be
a voice of reason.

“Hey, don’t think like that. D’you think Haru would want you to think like
that? You didn’t take him with you so that he would turn. You wanted him to be with
you and your family, to be safe. That’s why all of you tried to evacuate, remember?
You don’t even know what happened after that, Makoto. The soldiers hit you and
made you go unconscious. How could you have possibly known that was going to
happen? How could you be responsible for something you weren’t even awake for?
For something you had absolutely no control over?”

Makoto looked down. Despite the mask, Rin could tell he was biting his lip.

“But we were together,” he choked out.

215
“I know, Makoto. I know. And you know what? I… I wasn’t. I wasn’t there for
my family. You did all you could to make sure your family and Haru were safe, didn’t
you? Checked their gas masks, made sure you were all together until the end? You
did all you could whereas I’d run away. So you have to believe that you have nothing
to be regretful for. Listen to me, all right? I don’t blame you one iota for what’s
happened; you cannot blame yourself.”

Makoto shook his head and raised his hands to his face, as though making to
wipe away his tears. They thunked clumsily against the eyepiece of his gas mask and
the sound broke the tension. A beat passed and both Rin and Makoto chuckled
weakly.

Moment officially over, Rin took a deep breath to steady himself and kept
both his hands on Makoto’s shoulders. There was a lump in his throat and he
coughed once, uneasily, as he dropped his gaze to the floor. His mouth felt like lead,
“There’s… something you should know.”

Makoto raised his head and looked at him wordlessly. Rin shifted his weight
from foot to foot, feeling even more uncomfortable. He hadn’t wanted to have this
conversation, but…

“Do you remember the zombie who bit you?”

Makoto paused, thinking it over, and then nodded.

“… I’m pretty sure that was Coach Sasabe.”

He could physically see the impact of those words, because when Makoto
seemed to comprehend, he took an abrupt step back, as if receiving a blow to the
chest. Rin dropped his hands to his sides.

“No,” he breathed, clamping his hands over his ears, shaking his head, “No.
You’re wrong. It can’t be. It can’t be. I don’t want to hear it—”

“Makoto,” Rin said sharply, and then softened his tone, “Makoto, please listen.
I know it was him. I recognised his face when he was attacking me. I’m not bringing
this up to make you feel worse, but… we both saw the Boss. We know who it is. And
the zombie that bit you…” He sighed softly, hands on his hips as he looked away,
“The point I’m trying to make is that… from here on out, we should be prepared. For
anything.”

He let his sentence hang in the air, knowing Makoto would understand the
underlying subtext.

They had to be prepared to meet more of their friends and family.

216
Makoto and Rin only had a quiet moment to ruminate before another
explosion from outside, muffled but powerful, rocked the building. The walls and
ceilings cracked, cement chipping and skittering to the ground. Rin and Makoto
exchanged a look. He had to focus on what was ahead of them, no matter how awful
or nerve wracking. They couldn’t afford to go to pieces, not here and not now.

“We have to keep moving.”

&21pW:
“Did you hear that?”

Makoto raised his head slightly, saying nothing. He had been silent ever since
they’d left the second year classrooms. He barely seemed to realise what was going
on around him, more focused on the ground than on their eerie surroundings. Rin
felt his heart clench but he forced himself to be as calm and rational as possible. It
did no favours to lose his cool, least of all with Makoto, who had been soldiering
along despite everything. He was distraught as hell but he had every right to be.

“I heard a noise,” Rin said, clearing his mind and trying to gauge what it could
have been, “From around that corner, near the home ec room. Sounded like
something scuffing the floor.”

Like sneakers, maybe.

Makoto quietly acknowledged what Rin said and they investigated. A brief
scan of the place, and he was ready to announce that he hadn’t seen anything, but a
shadow moved from the corner of his eye and he snapped his head up.

“Wait!” Rin shouted, grabbing Makoto’s elbow and half-running down the
corridor, “Stop, please!”

They turned a corner and nobody was there. Rin let out an angry breath, but
Makoto jerked to the side in alarm. There was a heavy thud, like something being
hefted out of place. They moved quickly. A door was ajar.

217
“Ryugazaki!” Rin was losing his patience, “Ryugazaki, is that you? Please,
wait! We have to talk to you! Makoto… Makoto is here!”

There was a whole lot of nothing as they passed the faculty offices but Rin
swore that he’d seen shadows passing and he’d be damned if he didn’t take the
chance to make sure he knew exactly what he was looking at. They’d come this far
with little to show for it. Rin knew he was grasping at straws but shadows were
better than nothing.

“Where are we?” Makoto spoke for the first time as they hunched over,
panting for breath. They had descended down a stairwell and were on a level that
appeared to be partially underground. The windows that lined the walls were a
third of the length of the ordinary ones and lined only the tops, above the earth, like
cellar windows. They weren’t boarded up like the others but some had been messily
spray painted black. Rin could make out foggy shapes in the distance, illuminated by
the light of a large fire.

“You don’t recognise it?” Rin asked.

Makoto shook his head slowly, “Unless this leads to the music room… but the
corridor is different from what I remember.”

“Is the building familiar at least?”

“It’s hard to tell without any fixtures or furniture…”

Well, they had been running blind for a good ten minutes by now. Rin
exhaled slowly, straightening his back. At the very least, Makoto seemed to have
recovered, which was a good thing. As he took a step towards him, his foot slipped
and went flying upwards, sending him crashing to the ground, cursing up a storm.

“Ugh, ouch,” he grumbled, rubbing the back of his head. The collision hadn’t
been too bad, but it still hurt something awful. He’d stepped on something, that was
for sure. Leaning over to take a look, he paused. The smell clued him in before the
view ever did.

Blood.

“… It’s fresh,” Makoto said quietly, squatting beside Rin to take a closer look.
He sounded despondent.

“There’s a lot of it,” Rin replied, eyes tracking along the floor and adjusting to
what little light filtered through the windows. Small, dark droplets splattered the
ground, moving deeper into the belly of the school. And it was definitely fresh.

“Someone was leading us here,” Rin said under his breath.

218
“It’s most likely a trap,” Makoto was quick to say, and then his voice softened,
“… but then again, the blood… someone could need help.”

“Could be both,” Rin sighed, privately relieved that Makoto hadn’t completely
hardened up despite everything, “Those two things are not mutually exclusive.”

“Should we…” Makoto hesitated, “Should we keep following it?”

Rin looked around before something caught his eye. He gestured at a nearby
wall.

There was a little arrow, painted with a bloodied finger, pointing towards the
darkness as the corridor stretched before their eyes.

xdf:a
The blood trail got thicker and heavier and came to an abrupt halt.

It was clean as a line and suspicious as hell. They crouched down to inspect
the ground, feeling around the smooth planes of concrete for well over five minutes
before Makoto managed to discern, in the darkness, the faintest recess in the floor. It
was so well made that had they not been specifically looking for it in the dim
subterranean light, they wouldn’t have found it at all. Makoto pressed his fingers
against the recess, unable to do much with it until he discovered that it needed a bit
of pressure before revealing, with a sideway slide, that it concealed a panel in the
concrete. They puzzled over it in confusion. The panel was completely empty. If it
contained something, that something was long gone now. And yet, Rin put two and
two together and used the panel as a handle, needing Makoto’s assistance to pull
upwards, revealing a trapdoor in the ground. There was a flight of stairs that
descended into a lit corridor.

And the blood trail had continued, completely unbroken, from the cement
floor onto the steps.

219
`123
“What is this place?”

Fluorescent lights, looking decades old, flooded the dark earthen passage
with a sterile white glow. Some of the bulbs further away from them flickered at
times, drowning that particular section in darkness whenever it happened.

The blood trail they were following had evolved from splatters to long and
thick tracks, as though something heavy had become drenched in blood and could
only be dragged along. And it was fresh as ever.

It was bad news, to say the least.

“I had no idea this place even existed,” Makoto said, looking around at
everything but the blood on the ground, “This must be the air raid shelter.”

“It doesn’t look like an air raid shelter,” Rin crossed his arms, “Maybe it’s just
the passage leading to one?”

Makoto agreed absently, “They have electricity here…”

“Well, they have a radio station.”

“Radios don’t necessarily need power to function.”

“Yeah, but speakers do, right?”

He hummed his agreement, “Something’s been bothering me for a while.”

“Aside from what is most likely a dead body waiting for us wherever the trail
ends?”

“The air,” Makoto seemed distracted, “In Iwatobi High. It’s… clear. Clean.”

What?

220
Rin took a good look around and realised that Makoto was right. It wasn’t
thick or yellow. In fact, it hadn’t been for a while. When Rin first realised how empty
the interior of the school was, it hadn’t just been the lack of furniture or people that
had bothered him. The sickly yellow of the fog had also disappeared, only it had
completely escaped their notice because they had nothing to look at that could have
been tinted a different colour from what they were used to. Iwatobi High was clean.

Something was definitely wrong.

“It’s been bothering me for some time now, but… where are all the people?”

“In hiding?”

Rin shook his head, “Not the ones in Iwatobi High. I mean, everyone else. The
gang members outside… they aren’t human. They’re these… strange semi-feral
creatures, completely primal and instinctive like ferals, but strangely organised. I
mean, aside from the DJ, who doesn’t count because we never met him in person,
can you think of a single human being we’ve had an actual conversation with? Or
who we’ve overheard talking, like a normal person?”

The fact of the matter was that it was weird. Where was everyone? He and
Makoto hadn’t come across a single human being throughout their trip, and ferals
didn’t count. During their conversation on the radio, no one else had chimed in. Even
as the broadcast continued, there was no trace of anyone other than the DJ on the
radio. There had been no other ‘call ins’. He was beginning to wonder if he had
imagined the DJ altogether, but Makoto assured him that he’d heard him too. The
only other explanation could be that the DJ was lying about the other humans, to
manipulate them… The thought made him sweat a lot more than he should have.

It was slightly paranoid of him, but Makoto was the only human being he’d
met in all of Tottori and Iwatobi and…

… that just seemed suspicious as hell.

Shit.

Shit.

Who’d save a complete stranger’s life the first two, three times? Not just any
stranger, but a stranger brandishing a gun and had threatened to shoot. Who’d
piggyback a man two or three hours to a zombie-infested hospital just to get him
fog-proof? Who found those journals? Doubled back to the hospital? Chose to go to
Tono Dam? Survived an Iwatobi horde by pretending to be a zombie? How about
coming to Iwatobi High? Just who’d made all those dangerous as hell decisions?
Who’d pushed him to play along this whole time?

221
His veins were turning to ice as the thoughts scrambled in his head, over and
over again, growing bigger and badder as he let them stew in his brain. His eyes
darted from the blood on the floor to Makoto himself. They’d been chasing his
friend, the Runner, all this time, but he was as good as a phantom.

He had to get out of here.

He had to get away.

“Is something wrong?”

Rin’s hands moved on their own, pulling free his handgun and aiming it right
in between Makoto’s eyes in a quick motion as the sound of the safety being clicked
off echoed against the walls. His grip shook slightly, but was firm.

Makoto seemed completely taken aback.

“What’s going on, Rin?”

“You tell me,” he growled, “What have you been dragging me into?”

“I don’t understand,” Makoto took a step towards him but Rin retaliated by
loading his gun and aiming it at an even closer distance. Makoto raised his palms up
towards the ceiling but remained still.

“Don’t you come a step closer,” Rin’s voice was trembling with anger. Had
Makoto completely betrayed him? Had he been in cahoots with the entire fucking
town, playing him like a fiddle? Rin did not like being manipulated, “You’re the only
human I’ve met in this entire prefecture since I got off the plane, and you’ve
persistently forced yourself on me, like a goddamned limpet. You say you’ve been
staying with other survivors up until they attacked you and made you leave. But I
haven’t met any other survivors at all. Not a single one. You tell me how that’s not
suspicious as hell.”

He couldn’t see Makoto’s eyes through the shadows cast by the gas mask
onto the glass of his eyepiece, so he had no idea what emotions were on his face. Not
that he was sure he even wanted to know. Makoto hadn’t moved, hadn’t said a word.
That was fucking frightening. He steadied his grip on his gun and began to walk
backwards, inching up the stairs step by step.

The trapdoor was too heavy for him to lift alone, let alone singlehandedly.
And he was in no state to deal with Makoto in close quarters.

Shit.

222
“Rin, you need to calm down.”

“I can’t fucking do that, Makoto! I don’t know what the fuck’s what anymore! I
just wanted to look for my mother and sister! I didn’t ask for you or your conspiracy
theories or your sob stories!”

“I’m your friend!”

“We were as good as strangers,” his voice shook, “It’s been five years. I’m not
a kid anymore. I don’t know who the hell you are. I don’t know this fucking town
anymore either.”

“Rin, please.”

“Shut up,” he said, cautiously descending back onto solid ground, “You walk
ahead. Don’t think of doing anything stupid.”

“Rin, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but…”

“Shut up, all right? I don’t know either. I don’t know. I can’t trust you right
now. If you don’t do anything stupid, I won’t shoot. If I’m wrong, I’ll fucking
apologise later, okay? But for now, just go along with it because I am definitely in the
mood to empty this gun. Don’t do anything sudden or stupid. Don’t talk. Just. Just
walk.”

He hesitated.

Rin renewed his grip on the gun, voice cracking as his nerves frayed, “I said
walk!”

Makoto raised both his hands and began to walk in slow, measured steps
down the corridor. There was a door at the end, about a hundred metres away,
marking the end of the wobbling blood trail. They were leaving footprints in the
fresh blood, probably marking themselves out as zombie fodder if and when they
came across any, but Rin’s mind was racing a mile a minute and he could scarcely
think ahead.

“Open the door.”

Rin nudged the gun between Makoto’s shoulder blades and he obeyed
wordlessly. The door was solid steel, with a barred window that was too small to
provide any decent kind of view. It opened with a long, loud groan, hinges rusted,
and revealed a large room that seemed to be filled with pipes and a huge machine
built into the floor and wall. The machine had a latched opening on its top and
something that appeared to be a metal chimney that exited out of the room through
a large steel vent. There were papers and charts scattered everywhere, boxes upon

223
boxes of labelled vials that were filled with powders and liquids half upturned on
the floor. A complicated chemistry set had been arranged on a far table, looking old
but recently used, with opened vials beside it.

They stepped into the room. Rin had no idea what the hell they were looking
at as his eyes wandered across the machine. It looked industrial, as if belonging to a
meat-packing factory, and appeared to be very recently damaged. There were
bludgeon and scratch marks all over its facade, and a few of the levers and control
panels looked like they had been busted up. He ran his fingers over the damage,
guessing that a crowbar or something similar had been used. He looked around, and
sure enough, a long metal pipe had been discarded by the chemistry set.

As they approached, his eyes lingered on some incomprehensible but legible


scrawls, written on what looked to be a medical report that was… fairly familiar,
actually. He peered closely, reading a few lines off the paper before he realised that
it had been the report they’d found back in Tottori Hospital, only lacking the autopsy
annotations. In its place were chemistry notes and the triple underlined
SUCCESSFUL COMPOUND, followed by a chemical formula.

The door slammed shut behind them before he could puzzle everything out.
They whipped around, only able to stare at the wet, dripping yellow letters that had
been spray painted across the door and wall.

TR I E D BUT TH EY S W E

P LE A S E FI N I S H I T

S RRY
GOOD LUC
224
Please finish it?

“GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

He could barely react when a figure leapt up from god knows where and
slammed Rin into the chemistry set, making it shatter upon impact. His back
groaned against the glass shards and he looked up in time to see Makoto fighting
back against a figure in a white jacket.

Shit.

225
Chapter 19

IN WATER

226
F or some reason, Rin’s vision continued to swim in and out of focus as a blur of
white and green fought in the centre of the room. His head and back were
painful almost to the point of being numb, and when he attempted to straighten
himself into an upright position, his entire right side was completely stiff and
wouldn’t respond. On top of the injuries The Boss had given him earlier…

Rin shook his head, blinking hard to get himself to see what was going on,
only faintly aware of the events up to that point. He wondered if he had blacked out
or if he was just massively concussed, but he rolled over, groaning when broken
glass crunched into his side. That white jacket fluttered as the creature reeled back
from a heavy punch, the zombie letting out an agonised wail before launching itself
onto Makoto.

“Gah…!”

The impact threw Makoto backwards and they both landed bodily onto Rin,
crushing his insides and squeezing out every last breath from his lungs, probably
fracturing something in the process. He choked, tasting blood as both of them
continued to thrash on top of him but eventually a successful kick from Makoto sent
the zombie flying and Makoto scrambled off.

“Fuck,” Rin wheezed as he got on all fours shakily, clutching his stomach with
one hand as he tried to stand. The pain was overwhelming. Rin was in no shape to
participate in anymore fighting but he had to do something. Makoto was keeping the
zombie occupied. This was his only chance. This was do or die.

Still a little dizzy, Rin leaned heavily on the wall for support and managed to
stand. He surveyed the room again.

There wasn’t much by way of weapons. Powders and liquids… He didn’t


know enough chemistry to figure out what could harm the zombie. Besides, he could
end up hurting Makoto and himself. The chemistry set was a complete bust at this
point. Rin’s eyes wandered to controls of the machine.

Slightly broken. Freshly damaged. Marks that it had been hit with a blunt
object. Some of the glass for the metres had shattered and a lever was broken, but
everything else looked intact. The control panel was connected through tubes and
wires to a machine that looked like it belonged to a factory assembly line, but there
was no conveyor belt, only something that looked like a big oven door on a big metal
vat of some sort. The machine didn’t look like it was on, though…

What went inside? How did it go inside? It had a chimney connected to a vent
in the ceiling, so that was probably the exit… or the entrance, depending on what the
machine was being used for. If the chimney was an entrance, did that mean that
whoever the controllers down here were, they just maintained it and checked

227
readings or something? But that didn’t really explain the chemistry set and all the
materials…

Wait.

Go back.

In the middle of the room, there was a metal vat with what looked like an
oven door. He recalled how they had found the trapdoor earlier. It had to be an
opening of some sort. But how to pry it open?

Rin was startled out of his thoughts when Makoto slammed back-first against
the vat, his groan of pain aborted as the zombie began choking him. Makoto punched
blindly at the air, only managing a few hits in before he remembered he had legs and
roundhoused the monster.

Good thing the oven door had been shut.

But that gave him an idea.

Rin limped to the controls, turning dials and pulling levers, but despite his
efforts, they remained stuck in place. He was getting frustrated. Makoto was
wearing out and they needed to settle this quickly. A glint from the corner of his eye
made him turn and a bit of tired staring revealed there was a small plastic case in
the bottom corner of the control panel that had been slightly cracked. The case
seemed to protect a key that was half-turned. Grateful that the previous occupant
had smashed the machine enough for the case to come apart with a single jerk, Rin
turned the key all the way, as though gunning the ignition of a car. A red light
washed over the room, followed by an industrial hum that vibrated heavily
throughout the entire complex. They raised their heads. It was muffled, but another
siren was sounding.

WHUMP, it sounded like something heavy turning, like the wheels of an old
locomotive creaking to life. It slowly picked up, gears grinding faster and faster and
Rin could quickly feel the temperature in the room rise.

Okay, so he’d switched the thing on. He had no idea what he was doing, but
okay.

“Rin!” Makoto’s cry was strangled. He and the zombie were grappling in the
middle of the room. The red light made it difficult to see how badly Makoto may
have been injured.

“Okay, okay,” Rin started to try all the knobs and dials, but it only seemed to
affect the intensity of the machine. Turning a dial to max caused a high pitched
whine to sound from the air vent which seemed the make the entire machine shake

228
with more violence the longer it was left alone, so he quickly put it back to its
original setting. The only thing left was the broken lever. It had been pulled down.
Without thinking too hard, Rin grabbed it with both hands and pulled it up, wincing
as it cut his palms. There was the sound of air decompressing and a small alarm
sounded as a yellow light blinked on and off. The oven door in the vat was opening,
parting automatically and disappearing into the body of the vat. As it opened, hot air
was being pumped into the room, the smell of sulphur horribly thick.

Makoto stumbled backwards. Rin watched on in horror.

“Ahhhhh!” Makoto screamed, grabbing onto the edge of either side of the vat
opening, the rest of his body halfway through the hole. The zombie shrieked and
continued to fight him, uncaring, and Makoto was slowly losing his grip. In a
moment of inspiration, Makoto went limp, still gripping the metal edges tightly, but
torso disappearing completely through, only his hands and legs sticking out of the
hole. The zombie that had been clinging to him fell through at the sudden lack of
resistance, shrieking all the way down.

“Help!” Makoto’s shout was muffled, “I can’t pull myself out!”

Rin hobbled to his side. He understood. Makoto was nearly all the way inside,
only his knees and hands hooked onto the edges keeping him from going all the way
through. Rin reached in, grabbed the belt loops of Makoto’s jeans with both hands,
and pulled him up. They came out the other side in a heap and Rin quickly crawled
to the controls to pull the lever down again. The door slid shut. After a moment, the
hum of the machine intensified. The siren let out a shrill, hair raising wail. The red
light in the room flashed on and off at a faster rate.

WHUMP, gears were turning and the muffled screaming of the zombie they’d
dropped into the machine crunched to a halt as the sound of rubble and sediment
crushing and swirling together became louder and louder and, with an almost
visceral sensation, was pumped up through the chimney with an almost rain-like
noise. The vents whistled loudly. The room grew even hotter. The noise drowned
everything out.

After a minute, it calmed down. The machine churned to a slow halt. The
flashing red light changed to the fluorescent white, making everything visible again.
Even so, the heat of the machine remained, making everything feel oppressive and
uncomfortable.

“Is it over?” Rin asked through a wince.

Makoto raised his head to look around. What a mess they’d made.

“I… I think so. Thanks for helping me. Are you all right?”

229
“Fine,” he was terribly winded and didn’t fight when Makoto helped pull him
to his feet, “I’m sorry about… about my outburst earlier.”

“It’s all right. You were being paranoid. I can’t say I blame you.”

“Will you please tell me what the hell is going on here?”

Makoto sighed, opening his mouth to reply when the trill of a bell began to fill
the room. It wasn’t an air raid siren. A tinny pre-recorded voice crackled through the
speakers.

“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. CORE TEMPERATURE EXCEEDS PROGRAMMED


LIMIT. PLEASE BEGIN COOL-DOWN MEASURES IMMEDIATELY OR THE FACILITY
WILL SEAL ITSELF IN TEN MINUTES TO CONTAIN CRITICAL FAILURE. YOUR
ATTENTION PLEASE…”

They snapped their heads to each other and immediately scrambled for the
control panel. They cycled through all the dials and buttons, desperately doubling
back when nothing seemed to work despite successfully switching the machine on
only moments earlier.

“What do we do? What do we do? Nothing’s working—”

“We have to shut it off somehow! Isn’t there an emergency kill button or
something—”

“EIGHT MINUTES TO CRITICAL FAILURE, AND COUNTING…”

“Shit! Hurry up, we have to—”

“Come on, come on—”

“This thing is gonna blow—”

“Nothing’s working—”

“Wait, wait! The key! The ignition key! Turn it, turn, no, not that way—”

Makoto tried to turn the key that had started the machine counter clockwise
to switch it off, but it had either become stuck or the entire device had locked down.

“SIX MINUTES TO CRITICAL FAILURE…”

“Forget it!” Rin finally cried, grabbing Makoto by the arm, “We just have to
make a run for it!”

230
“No, we can’t go now!”

“Are you arguing with me right now?”

“But what if this thing levels Iwatobi?”

“Makoto, if you don’t leave with me right fucking now, we won’t bloody find
out, will we?”

“FIVE MINUTES TO CRITICAL FAILURE…”

A beat. “Good point. Okay, let’s go.”

Although Rin’s first instinct was to go back in the direction from which they
came, Makoto pulled him towards the graffiti on the other side of the room. The
paint was nearly dry now, but what he had neglected to notice earlier was that there
was a little gap in the wall, a hidden sliding door, propped open by a dented spray
can. Rin put his foot through the gap and threw his entire weight into kicking the
thing open. It gave without much resistance. They ran down the hall, guided by
arrows made of drying blood that had been finger drawn without much finesse. The
tinny female voice continued to count down as they ran through twisting corridors
that seemed to take them deeper into the facility, rather than up and out. Eventually
they reached a dead end. There was a faint trace of a bloody handprint, trailing to
the ground as though having lost all strength.

“No, no, no, no, no!” Rin threw himself at the wall, running his palms over it in
hopes that there was some hidden switch that would let them out, “This can’t be
happening!”

“ONE MINUTE TO CRITICAL FAILURE…”

“Makoto, help me with this wall!”

“Wait! Step back! Look!”

Rin stopped and withdrew, trying to calm himself down so he could see
whatever it was Makoto was trying to show him.

Off to the side was a large round panel embedded in the adjacent wall. There
were traces of blood around it. A pair of coloured LEDs and three buttons could be
found at its top right hand corner. The labels had faded but Makoto was quick to
press the button that seemed like it had been used the most, on account of how
worn out it looked.

The panel opened. A stench beckoned to them.

231
“Garbage chute,” Rin muttered, grimacing, “Great.”

“TWENTY SECONDS TO CRITICAL FAILURE…”

Without another word, Makoto braced himself against the wall – hand neatly
overlapping over the bloody handprint – and dropped through the chute. Rin
climbed in after him, slamming his hand on the buttons before he allowed himself to
fall into complete darkness.

And then the entire facility exploded.

&lCl
Rin coughed. There was water down his nose and throat and he rolled onto
all fours to hack it out. The stench of garbage was absolutely revolting but the
oppressive heat from the machine was gone. Rin’s eyes were burning, watering
every time he tried to keep them open, attempting to dry them with the collar of the
shirt he was wearing.

“Are you okay?” Makoto croaked to Rin’s right. He managed to make out
Makoto’s silhouette against the darkness.

“Mostly,” Rin grunted, sure that he’d broken at least all of his ribs from the
impact of the explosion as he and Makoto were tossed around like rag dolls in the
garbage chute, “Could use a hospital.”

“Yeah,” Makoto rasped in agreement, “I don’t think I can run anymore.”

Rin looked up at him, realising that Makoto was clutching his leg. A sharp
pain in his own shoulder kept him from reaching out.

“How bad is it?”

“I can feel it. It’s just… probably broken in twenty places.”

“Can you stand?”

“Sort of.”

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“How about walking?”

“Hurts,” Makoto grunted, “A lot.”

“All right,” Rin replied shakily, “You need… you’ll be needing a splint. And
looks like we ended up wherever the landfill is, so I’m sure there’s something here.”

Still, no one was ever that lucky. Rin ended up pulling out his sawed off
shotgun from his backpack and tying it firmly to Makoto’s left leg. There were no
sticks or poles long enough to serve as a walking stick, so Rin toughed out his
broken shoulder and supported Makoto’s weight. It hurt to hell and back, the
throbbing almost numbing at times, but he tried to focus on other things as a
distraction from the pain. It was hard to tell where they were. It was definitely rural,
with nothing but trees as far as the eye could see. They’d ended up in an enormous
recess in the earth which seemed like an industrial sewer. Rin tried not to think too
hard about what they’d landed in… what he’d coughed up.

They weren’t that far from the sea. Cutting through the stench of trash was
the sharp scent of salt. If his ears weren’t ringing so much, he was sure he could hear
the waves lapping against the shore. It was tempting to head for the sea to clean up
and rest. But after everything that had happened, they couldn’t risk sitting still in
hopes help would arrive. Rin had had enough. They were going to get out now, or
die trying.

“You wanted,” Makoto cleared his throat, “You wanted to know what’s going
on.”

“It’s okay, Makoto. We can do this when we’re somewhere safe.”

“Where do I even begin?” Makoto sighed, “There’s… There’s a lot of stuff that
I’ve come to discover since you came back. I didn’t try to explain before, but, well,
it’s pointless not to tell you now. It wouldn’t be fair to keep you in suspense.”

“Honestly, Makoto, we’re both injured. I don’t mind waiting.”

“But I do.”

Rin closed his mouth briefly, debating whether or not to keep arguing before
he finally relented.

“All right. Where the hell were we? Didn’t seem like an air raid shelter to me.”

“It was, though,” Makoto let out a frustrated huff, “Going in, it was exactly
how I remembered it. It had been a store room and I used to fetch things for the PE

233
teacher. Where the machine was though… looks like they did some renovations
when no one was looking.”

“And that machine, what was it?”

“That,” Makoto inhaled shakily, “Is the reason for everything that’s been
happening here. That’s the Fog Machine. That’s the thing my friend, Rei, was looking
for.”

“Looking for? I thought he was from here.”

“He was but… the Fog Machine had always been a rumour. It was something
people were desperate to take for themselves. It was… like a powerful bargaining
chip, you know? The Iwatobi commune was really big and supposedly they’d been
thriving. Food, drink, a radio station. This side of the DMZ is basically a law unto
itself. If you had control over the machine, you basically had the power of god.
Switch it off, turn it on, aim it at your enemies… Aim it at Kyoto for a ransom… You
can imagine how much people would want it for themselves.”

The gears were turning in his head, “Okay. It’s hard to swallow, but I can see
it happening. So? Why didn’t anyone?”

“Maybe they tried. It could be why we were quarantined in.”

“Did anyone keep trying?”

“No idea. Last I checked, the buffer zone at the DMZ border was almost a
league wide. And the way the mountain ranges are here, I suppose the fog can’t
make it out the other side. Could be why they chose Iwatobi too.”

“How about shutting it off? Like, putting an end to this?”

Makoto shook his head, “I guess some people liked the power they got from
this kind of life.”

“That’s bullshit,” Rin bit out, “You’re telling me there isn’t at least one person
who isn’t interested in getting rid of this death gas?”

“It could have happened,” Makoto was struggling with his words, “Nobody
knows for sure. The fact is that the machine kept running, so if someone did try, they
failed. Anyway, as I said before, the existence of the machine in Iwatobi had always
been a rumour. Before I read the memo at the City Council, I was under the
impression that the gas came from across the border. It made no sense for it to be
here. After all, somebody had to stay on this side to keep it going. And who would do
that? Who would willingly stay in a place like this?”

234
“Didn’t you just say some people liked the power trip?”

Makoto sighed, “Yes. I just… even so, it’s hard to fathom that anyone would
want to stay. After all, the machine had always just been a rumour. And if you
decided to point it towards Kyoto, what was the ransom? Surely it would be safe
passage out of this place.”

It was a good point. Rid conceded with a grunt, “So you’re saying your
Runner friend, he didn’t know about the machine?”

“I don’t think so. It was obvious he was looking for something, though. I
didn’t think it would be that.”

“It looked to me like he was trying to figure out what the whole reason for the
fog was.”

“Yeah,” Makoto sighed, “But it’s all conjecture until he tells us for sure. If… If
he’s still alive.”

“What I want to know,” Rin began heavily, “Is why you were so desperate to
look for him.”

Makoto fell silent. He seemed to be searching for the words.

Finally, he said, “I was desperate to find just another friend who was alive
and well.”

Rin closed his mouth. He exhaled softly and nodded once.

“When you’ve been living with this,” Makoto began archly, voice thick with
emotion, “And when you see the people you know and love falling, one after
another, to the plague or to each other or degenerating into something not quite
zombie but lesser than human… You want to know: Why? Why me? Why us? Why
only us? Why doesn’t anyone care? And I realised, Rei was thinking the same thing.
And he wanted to find out. Maybe just for the sake of finding out, so he could know.
Maybe he thought he could outrun the border guards and tell everyone in Japan
what was happening to us. Or maybe if he knew how it started, he could find out
how to end it.

“It’s just… I understood that, Rin. And after meeting you and seeing the
lengths you’d go to just to find out what had happened to your family, I realised, by
god, I want to know. I was running away from Iwatobi for so long because I was
alone and afraid that if I knew exactly what had happened to my family, I’d lose my
will to go on. But after how far we’ve come, I can’t say I truly regret anything that’s
happened.

235
“I know now that I’m immune. I know the university was involved in the
plague as well as the fog. I know the government chose Iwatobi High because it
wanted maximum exposure. I know that you survived the way in. And, you know,
despite how hopeless everything is, I still feel like we can make it. With everything
we’ve had to weather, zombies and border guards just seem like…” Makoto let out a
soft chuckle, more like a wheeze than anything else, but it was genuine and it was
there, “They just seem like small potatoes. I mean, you and I, we survived a building
falling on us, didn’t we?”

“And a fall off the side of a mountain.”

“Yes, that,” Makoto shook his head with a chuckle, “We pretended to be
zombies.”

“And had some of them puke acid on us,” Rin quipped, feeling some levity for
the first time.

“And we exploded a bridge, which took down the Screecher.”

“And we destroyed the Fog Machine,” Rin said, realisation hitting him out of
nowhere, “Accidentally. We accidentally destroyed it. But fact is that we blew it up.
So… That means there’ll be no more fog in Iwatobi.”

“Right,” Makoto breathed, the wind suddenly sucked right out from him,
“That’s right.”

“The explosion probably took out all the things out there that wanted to kill
us too.”

“Ha,” Makoto said, tearing up a little, “That’s right. I-I’m sorry, I don’t mean to
suddenly become emotional on you like this. Only, you just said that we blew up the
fog machine. Which means that… That… Like you said: No more fog in Iwatobi. I just
realised. It’s… It’s the end of it. I can’t…” His eyes grew wet, “I can’t believe it’s finally
going to end. This nightmare is going to end.”

“Hey, buddy,” Rin soothed, knocking his head against Makoto’s gently, “It’s
fine. Let it out.”

“It’s been so long. And we lost so much to it, I can’t…”

“That’s the end of feral humans. And mutated zombies.”

“Oh gosh, d’you think the fog will actually clear?”

“It’s just some dust particles in the air, right? And we’re a breezy seaside
town. I’m sure it will.”

236
They spoke quietly for a while about the possibilities of not just surviving the
entire ordeal, but also of making a real difference for the people who were trying to
scrape by. If people like Yamazaki would be able to come out of hiding and re-join
the population, or if no real changes to this misshapen society would occur at all. But
Rin knew better, and he had a feeling that Makoto did too, so they kept things
positive. One good thing had come out of this entire ordeal, after all.

And that’s when they heard it.

A shriek that echoed through the woods.

Rin’s blood ran cold.

“Oh god,” Makoto seized up beside him, trying to shrink himself, “Oh god, no,
Rin, no.”

Leaves rustled. There were guttural sounds of heaving and panting that
seemed to come from every direction. The wind whipped up around them, causing
the fog to swirl like a cyclone in the darkness. A galloping noise, like feet beating
heavily against the ground, echoed through the night. Something was leaping from
tree to tree with such force that each time it landed, the tree would uproot and fall
slowly to the opposite side, a yawning crunch that shook the leaves off the branches
with the sound of a rainmaker.

It shrieked again, and then there was the distinct impression that something
quick had jumped into the sky. When it landed, it caused a depression in the soft
earth, sending dried leaves flying. It stood slowly in the middle of the crater of its
making, reaching its full height, rotting and hunched over, its hanging eyeball
looking nowhere in particular as the slits in its neck puffed with air and dust.

The Boss had finally come for them.

It approached, more hunched over than usual, using its knuckles in an ape-
like manner to hold up its torso which appeared even more mangled than before. Its
matted black hair was side swept, covering most of the intact part of its face and
exposing only its empty eye socket which seemed to appraise them in the darkness.
The wind parted the fog and clouds and a sliver of moon shone through, for the first
time, faintly illuminating the Boss’s pale bloated skin and white jacket.

“Haru,” Makoto pleaded, his voice trembling, “Please don’t do this. It’s me.
You can see me, can’t you? I don’t have a gas mask on anymore. Tell me you
recognise me.”

“Makoto,” Rin said warningly, voice low. He adjusted his grip around Makoto,
bracing himself.

237
“Please, Haru, please don’t do this.”

“Makoto.”

“Please.”

The Boss’ one nostril flared, head tilting as it seemed to comprehend what
Makoto was saying to him. Its approach was almost tame, almost curious. There was
a tentative part of Rin that wanted to believe that there was still something inside
the Boss that was fundamentally human. He wasn’t your ordinary run of the mill
zombie. Nobody fully understood what the fog did to people or zombies. The Boss
seemed the most human of all the zombies they’d encountered so far. It couldn’t
hurt, could it?

And yet.

And yet, Rin hadn’t come this far on just his instincts.

As Makoto continued to occupy the Boss’ attentions with his soft spoken
pleas, Rin took a good hard look at the Boss, at the way the slits in its neck seemed
to puff open and closed more rapidly than before, at how the Boss was definitely
salivating despite being mostly bone than flesh. This had ‘bad feelings’ written all
over it. He and Makoto were in no shape to run, let alone fight. What the hell could
they do? Rin doubted the Boss would stay in a good mood for long. It was the dead
of night now. They had no idea where they were or where they had to go. The moon
was only a thin crescent, an unreliable source of light in the middle of a wood.
Without their gas masks, the fog was causing their eyes to water constantly. Their
injuries were starting to numb out, but it was enough that the pain made it difficult
to focus or to regain their bearings.

Salt.

He’d smelled salt.

They were near the sea.

And if he listened hard enough, he could hear the waves crashing onto the
shore.

He couldn’t see, but he could hear, and he could smell.

“Makoto,” he said under his breath, keeping his blurry vision trained on the
Boss, “We’re going to start moving slowly. Keep talking to him, calmly and slowly,
but we’re going to walk backwards until we hit the beach.”

He could feel Makoto shooting him a confused look, but he complied.

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Rin took a tentative step back. After only a moment’s hesitation, Makoto
followed suit, still talking the Boss down in his soothing flurry of platitudes. Slowly,
oh so slowly, they somehow managed seven steps. The Boss continued to stare after
them, head atilt. Rin felt like his heart had lodged up in his throat. This could work.
This could actually work.

Then the Boss took a staggering step towards them.

“Calm down,” Rin said, voice deceptively even given how hard his heart was
pounding, pre-emptively tightening his grip on Makoto whose reaction was far more
visceral, “Just keep doing what we’re doing. It’s okay. Don’t panic. It’ll be fine.”

“Is that right?” Makoto’s voice, still aimed at the Boss, sounded shaken, “We’ll
just keep walking and you’ll keep on following us, is that what’s going to happen?”

“Calm down, Makoto,” Rin said a little more forcefully. He saw Makoto’s
Adam’s apple bob up and down nervously.

They kept walking slowly, in reverse, and, as though hypnotised, the Boss
followed.

&qwkv
He could hear the waves.

They lapped softly against the banks, calm and steady.

Calm and steady.

ADX
239
“Makoto, listen to me very carefully,” Rin spoke in a completely even tone,
“You’re not allowed to argue. You have to keep calm and focus, all right?”

He could hear Makoto gulp, and saw him nod from the corner of his eye.

“I’m going to draw its attention. While its eyes are on me, you need to hide
somewhere very safe and very secure. And then you need to stay there and bandage
your leg up properly.”

“Where are you going to take him?” Makoto asked warily, still training his
gaze on the zombie that seemed to be waiting for their next move.

Rin inhaled, “Into the water.”

Beside him, he felt Makoto tense up. No doubt, he was remembering what he
himself had gone through all those years ago, having doggy paddled in the lake for
an hour before he was finally rescued. Rin unlooped Makoto’s arm from around his
shoulder, stepping forward.

“Rin,” Makoto said softly, gripping his sleeve, “Don’t.”

He lowered his head briefly before he held his arm out in front of Makoto
protectively, gently pushing backwards in an effort to make him move.

“Hey, Haru,” Rin called out. The Boss tilted its head to the other side in reply,
snorting through its gills and nostrils.

This was it. “It’s been a while,” he said loudly, pushing Makoto back one final
time and shaking off the hand that held onto his sleeve as he moved forward
cautiously, edging closer towards the lake that stretched into the horizon on the
edge of the wood, “I guess it figures that you’d be in your damned swimming
jammers even as a zombie.”

The Boss let out another animalistic type of snort, tracking Rin’s every move.
It spasmed slightly, as though trying to respond, but it was only capable of an
elongated growl and whine. Its spittle hung in strands from its jaw, glinting under
the moonlight.

“I never did beat you in the water, did I?” Rin was sure his voice didn’t shake,
“Well, I came back to settle the score for good.”

“Rin,” Makoto pleaded. The Boss raised its head towards the voice. Rin shot
Makoto a sharp look and gestured for him to stay down, stay quiet.

“Hey! I’m the one talking to you here, you swimming freak,” Rin called out
sharply. It did the trick. The Boss turned its head slowly, almost menacingly, “Yeah,

240
that’s right. I’m talking to you. You’ve turned into some mutated zombie with super
powers and I’ve been training in Sydney. About time we set the record straight for
good. And I’m letting you have one hell of a handicap. It’s a once in a lifetime chance
here.”

Literally, a little voice in his head said, but Rin ignored it. He had the Boss’
attention, and he realised that the more antagonising his tone, the more the Boss
seemed to react. He doubted it understood real human speech. Like an animal, it
reacted to emotions. And well, Rin had nothing if not a surplus of anger.

“Let’s do it, you undead asshole,” Rin took the chance to stagger down the
bank towards the water, taking off his shoes and hopping into the water. Out of pure
instinct, the Boss chased after Rin, but Rin had managed to jump in and swim
several feet from shore. It wasn’t what he normally did, but he made sure to be noisy
and splash around a lot.

It was strange to see something shaped like Haru stop tentatively at where
the water met the shore, snarling angrily at Rin. Rin let out a bark of sharp laughter,
smack at the water so that it splashed the Boss. The Boss flinched and shrieked at
Rin.

“Come and get me, you zombie bastard!” Rin could only laugh as he slowly
drifted to slightly deeper waters, “Never took swimming seriously, did you? Well
look who’s laughing now, you undead creep. Well? Come on! Come and get me!”

The clouds parted at just the right moment, allowing the dim light of the
moon to shine an almost perfect path between Rin and the Boss, who was still
screaming at him from the shore.

Was it a flash of recognition or bestial hunger that flashed through the Boss?

It was too dark to tell.

But then the Boss let out an almighty roar, so loud it made his ears ring, and
as his vision went back to rights, he heard it; almost missing it, but he was sure he’d
heard it:

A splash.

In less than a blink of an eye, the Boss had shot forward and dived headfirst
into the water. It thrashed in place, angry and incapable of any sort of coordination,
constantly sinking into the water each time it tried to go past chest-height. It seemed
to be considering some alternative route, about to drag itself to shore again, but
looked up and trained its ghostly gaze on Rin, who was pinned in place by that look,
and then… it dove underwater. In the distance, he saw Makoto, clinging to a tree for
support, a look of horror on his face. And then, before he could really react—

241
“GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

The Boss shot up through the darkness of the lake and broke the surface, its
shriek tempered with a loud gurgle as water entered the slits in its neck.

And by god.

Of all the things Rin had seen…

A swimming zombie had never been on his list.

And of course, of all the zombies in the world, it had to be the one still in its
stupidly aerodynamic swimming jammers. It had to be Haru.

“Oh shit,” Rin dove underwater and began to swim like his ass was on fire
when he realised just how quickly the Boss was gaining on him. Even though he
could only functionally use one arm, he still had the legs of a champion swimmer
and he’d be damned if an undead piece of shit caught up to him.

Rin emptied his mind, ignoring the pain in his bad shoulder as he forced
himself forward through the cool darkness of the water. Despite how weightless
swimming made him feel, his injuries and fatigue were pulling him back, causing
him to falter. He knew he wasn’t swimming as well as he normally would, and with
good reason, but if there was ever a time to outdo Haru, this was it. This was fucking
it.

In the dead of night, the depths of the lake were fathomless. He was
swallowed in an all-encompassing black, even when he broke the surface for quick
breaths. He couldn’t see, and though his eyes hurt, he kept them open as he swam.
He was desperate to look ahead, to look for something to move towards. His mind
was racing, reminding himself how to swim, paranoia telling him that he was
turning in circles because he just couldn’t see where he was going, and terror
gripping his heart at the thought that the darkness hid the unknown and he couldn’t
look back neither could he look ahead, but he couldn’t stop. Stop, and he’d—

Rin gasped, choking on a mouthful of water.

There was a clammy hand gripping tightly to his ankle.

Unable to think straight, Rin panicked, instinctively trying to swim for the
surface. How had the Boss reached him so quickly? His muscle fatigue must be a lot
worse than he’d originally thought. He struggled against that overpowering grip,
thrashing against the water like a drowning man. Every time he managed to get his
head above the water, all he seemed to manage was a gulp of water before that grip
pulled him back down into the water. He completely lost his head, desperate for air,

242
suddenly incapable of anything more than the instinctive desire to breathe. He
kicked and punched blindly through the water, something coming into contact with
something solid, sometimes hitting nothing at all.

It pulled him lower and lower. Rin could only try to kick that hand off. His
aching body and the weight of his clothes and body armour were against him,
dragging him further down as his strength began to fail him. Far above in the
distance, he thought he saw a light. Lack of oxygen. He was starting to hallucinate.
The water that always carried him so effortlessly seemed so, so heavy; too heavy to
fight.

Rin was nothing if not stubborn anyway. He turned his body to face his
assailant and aimed a direct hit to its head. He raised his knee and SMACK—

He caught the Boss’ shoulder, which crumpled away from its body into the
water. Somehow, through the dark and the water, Rin imagined the empty eye
socket staring at him, and he got one last heel drop into the Boss’ face.

The Boss splintered away, flesh barely holding together in the water. Bloated
and rotting, it peeled from his bones, drawn away by an undercurrent. Without
anything to hold the frame of its body together, the Boss dissolved, layer by layer,
into the water. The rotten hand, bone half-exposed, kept its grip on Rin’s ankle. But
the force keeping him underwater disappeared. He knew he had to head for the
surface for air but Rin’s heartbeat was overly loud in his ringing ears. It was all he
could hear. The world moved in slow motion, his vision morphing and fading
whenever he turned his head. He didn’t know which way was up, exhausted from
swimming, from running, from everything.

And then, strength fading, Rin closed his eyes and stopped fighting.

243
Chapter 20

SO LONG

244
H ell was foggy.

And it stank, sharp and pungent, like sulfur burning hot in the bowels of the
earth. His skin felt too tight for his body, tight enough to snap, as though his insides,
heavy as lead, could pour out from every cut and wound at a moment’s notice. And
his flesh and sinew, barely holding together under the weight – the weight of his
body, the weight of gravity, the weight of his sins – could melt, disintegrate under
the poison of the fumes, falling apart until all that remained were nerves and bones.

Everything was numb.

The only thing he could hear was the ringing in his own ears, dull at first, but
growing louder and louder until it was all but a screech that hammered against his
brain and made it ache. Nothing felt real. Nothing felt.

And yet, everything seemed to be blinding white, overwhelmingly bright to


the point that it was difficult to see. In his mind’s eye, he saw himself on the first day
he had returned to Japan, cautiously weaving past the trees lining the highway,
wondering about the dust that seemed to coat everything that remained still.

He’d been so naïve then. Part of him wondered, if he could speak to that Rin,
what he would say.

Would he tell him to leave, go back, never return?

Was everything that he’d come for, everything that he’d learnt, was it worth
it?

Was anything worth this?

He’d lost so much.

So much.

And he drifted.

DRIFT
245
Once upon a time, the sea meant everything to him. The perils of growing up
in a seaside town, perhaps, but every inch of him longed for the vastness of the
ocean, the fathomless depths, the intrigue and the mystery of the great unknown.
When he thought about the romance of many-storied travellers that, embarking for
the first time on a grand adventure to new worlds guided only by the stars and
currents, stoked a fire in his heart.

It was a fire that was doused the day his father died.

A bad storm. An injured body. An inability to fight against the water. That
was all it had taken.

The last fleeting thought he had was, like father, like son.

wake
“Ugh, just- come- come on!”

Makoto stumbled and fell, Rin’s body toppling onto him and sending him into
a spasm of pain as that dead weight put undue pressure on Makoto’s wounds. He
muffled that strangled cry as much as he could. He’d withstood worse pains. He’d
withstand this too. A glance at Rin told him that nothing had changed – he was still
white as a sheet, unresponsive and with a body temperature that was too cold for
comfort.

No. He couldn’t let his thoughts develop any further.

Even if this was a terrible decision, Makoto’s gut had never failed him before.
He wanted to do this, to get out of the FDMZ with Rin, and by god he was going to do
it whether or not Rin was…

Makoto breathed. He got to his feet with the aid of a long stick he’d found on
the path and carefully dragged Rin up with him, wrapping an arm around his waist
and taking Rin’s arm to loop around his own neck for security.

246
He wasn’t going to leave Rin to the zombies. If he was alive and Makoto had
left him in the lake, at the lake… No, better to struggle and take him as far as he
could than to regret doing nothing.

“It’d probably help if I didn’t cause additional damage, huh?” Makoto


wheezed as he hobbled forward, relying on his one good leg, “Though that’s
supposing you could cause damage to a character that’s already been KO’d.”

“… the fuck are you calling KO’d…”

“Rin! You’re awake!”

Rin winced, albeit weakly, “… don’t shout… did you bring me here to die,
Ginchiyo, is that it?”

Makoto couldn’t help the laugh, scrubbing away the tears from his face
quickly with one hand, “If you have enough strength to make fun of me, you’re
nowhere near death, rest assured.”

“I’m cold. And wet.”

“Sorry, your clothes were drenched.”

“… so’s yours.”

“Well, yeah.”

Rin fell silent briefly, “Put me down.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. I’m just winded with a bad arm. You’re the one with an
injured leg. Put me down already”

“All right.”

There was an undeniable look of relief on Makoto’s face as Rin pulled away
and, albeit shakily, stood on his own two feet. Makoto, on the other hand,
immediately favoured his one good leg, using both hands to hold onto his walking
stick for support.

Rin’s body felt heavy as lead, no doubt as a result of his injuries and his
waterlogged backpack. And his arm was in constant agony. He mentioned as such
and Makoto helped him with a makeshift sling out of the bandanas he had on hand.
It would hold for the time being. Rin glanced back up at Makoto.

247
“How long have you been walking like this?”

“God knows, honestly.”

“Humour me.”

“Maybe an hour or two? It could have been longer, but I’m not that sure.”

“And we’re… somewhere north?” Nothing was familiar, and they were close
enough to the coast that the only possible direction they could have been travelling
in was ‘up’.

“Yeah. The fog’s thinner. It never was thinner here before.”

“Here? What’s here?”

Makoto gave him a look, “The FDMZ boundary.”

FDMZ
It was another hour away, but at the end of the treeline, a long silver chain
link fence that was at least 4 metres high stood proudly and at attention, cutting
across the landscape like something out of a sci-fi fantasy, gleaming under the
sunlight as dawn broke. The outer wall was reinforced with barbed wire and watch
towers, with a concrete inner wall just visible. It was the first instance in which Rin
could honestly feel like he was looking at something that was asserting that Japan
had turned into a police state; everything he’d experienced to this point had pointed
to it, but Iwatobi had been abandoned to the fog and was more like a ruined
civilisation than a functional city.

“I’m surprised there aren’t more dead bodies along the perimeter wall.”

“The guards clean up the area now and again.”

“Wow. Really?”

“Probably has something to do with the smell or the view.”

248
“That’s some Japanese can-do.”

Makoto chuckled.

“So, there have been dead bodies around here.”

“Rin, I watched a girl get shot here.”

“And that’s definitely a possibility, is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes.”

“So, no running towards the wall.”

“Absolutely not.”

He glanced at the sea, “I’m guessing swimming is out.”

“Swimmers get shot too.”

“So how in god’s name are we supposed to get to the other side?”

“I think by shouting at them.”

“Shouting at them.”

“To get their attention.”

“What if you shout and they shoot? I’m sure people have tried it before.”

Makoto deliberated it, “You’re right.”

“How am I right?”

“I’ve seen a guy shout at the border guards to ask to get across. He had his
hands up and everything. Only, as he approached, they shot him.”

“Great. Any other bright ideas?”

Makoto thought on it again, “Stay put after shouting until they come and get
us.”

“Makoto, are you absolute—”

“EXCUSE ME!”

249
Rin winced at the volume and gave up with a sigh.

“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, BUT WE WOULD LIKE TO LEAVE THE FDMZ!”

As expected, there was no response.

“THERE HAVE BEEN SOME DEVELOPMENTS AND THE FOG MACHINE IS


BROKEN, SO ZOMBIES WILL BE COMING BACK!”

Still no response.

“IN FACT, THE ZOMBIES ARE ALREADY HERE! AND THEY ARE IMMUNE TO
THE FOG! SO PLEASE LET US OUT!”

Rin let out an annoyed sighed.

“As usual, you have no common sense.”

“What are you talking about?”

Rin rolled his eyes and cleared his throat.

“HEY, ASSHOLES! DO YOU WANT TO GET ATTACKED BY A SOUPED UP


UNDEAD HORDE WITH YOUR PANTS DOWN? OR DO YOU WANT TO HEAR WHAT
ACTUALLY HAPPENED SO YOU CAN PREPARE FOR IT? FROM SOMEONE WHO HAS
IMMUNITY.”

There was an extremely long silence that followed, during which Rin wasn’t
certain anyone at all was paying attention to them.

“Now what are we supposed to do?”

“Get comfortable, I guess. And try again later.”

“Makoto,” Rin said kindly, “All of your plans suck.”

imune
All of Makoto’s plans sucked, but they had a tendency to work.

250
One of the doors in the fence swung open and a small team of armed guards
stepped out, gesturing for them to approach.

Rin and Makoto walked slowly with their hands up, making no sudden
movements until they crossed the threshold where they were frisked for weapons
(which were taken away) before they were taken deeper into the facility. They were
disinfected, deloused and dressed in scrubs before finding themselves strapped into
a pair of gurneys.

Rin watched in silence as they took hair, blood and saliva samples from
Makoto. It was a few heart-rending moments before the computer dinged and told
them what he’d already suspected: Makoto carried the virus, but he himself wasn’t
infected. He was immune. He was well and truly immune. And they had the
paperwork to prove it. Makoto was safe. Makoto would make it, no matter where he
went. There was a lot of baggage that came with being a carrier, but he was immune.

As for Rin, well…

He gave everything up without a fight. There was no point. This was it. He’d
no doubt swallowed water in which a zombie had all but disintegrated. And, on top
of which, Makoto had given him mouth-to-mouth. The only thing he could do was
brace himself for the inevitable.

The technicians ran their tests, looking at his hair under a microscope and
waiting for the centrifuge to finish spinning, to see what his blood had to say about
him… about his chances.

A doctor entered the room bearing a file.

The computer dinged.

Rin closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.

251
Map

Map details

252
Appendix
“Bloom and Scatter”

The title refers to cherry blossoms and its cultural significance to the Japanese.
Cherry blossoms bloom en masse in spring but they wither and fall within two
weeks, marking the beginning of spring (birth) and the transience of life (death).
They are considered to be the flower of the warrior, as they represent the values of
true warrior: They who fall (scatter) at the height of their glory (beauty).

Appropriated as a military symbol during WWII, the first kamikaze unit was known
as yamazakura (wild cherry blossom). The government also encouraged the public
to believe that fallen warriors were reincarnated as cherry blossoms.

[Cherry blossoms] were used in propaganda to inspire "Japanese


spirit," as in the "Song of Young Japan," exulting in "warriors" who
were "ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter."

Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s, p441

As this story is set in Japan, it was intended for many deeply embedded cultural
references to be only lightly referenced, the same as it would have been should this
story have been set in America with hand-waved references to American values and
traditions.

Cherry blossoms hold two roles of significance in this story. One, of course, is the
title, which essentially means “You are at your most glorious when you die”. The
second is the placement of the flowers within the context of the story. Whenever
they appear, they symbolize hope. However, their appearance is frequently in fragile
and delicate forms, i.e. in the shape of an origami crane in Rin’s dream (chapter 5),
withered and dried in the Iwatobi Swim Club courtyard (chapter 13).

The intended meaning overall is to convey that all beautiful things can be deceptive,
even fatal. As with the dual meanings of life and death, this story also plays on
dualities. Each chapter title describes its contents, but it is a mirror – Who lives?
Who are the survivors? What is the truth? What is the payoff? And so on.

253
The Fog

The idea for the fog came from three main sources: Silent Hill, for which it is a staple
element of the games; Miyakejima, which will be covered subsequently; and the
annual haze which originates from Indonesia and plagues parts of Southeast Asia.

Every year around August/September, farmers in Sumatra and Kalimantan,


Indonesia, burn their fields to make way for new crops. Smoke and dust is carried
away by monsoon winds to parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

On August 11, 2005 a state of emergency was announced for the world's 12th
largest port, Port Klang, and the district of Kuala Selangor after air pollution there
reached dangerous levels (defined as a value greater than 300 on the Air Pollution
Index or API). This was the first time the state of emergency had been imposed in
Malaysia since the September 1997 haze. And I was in pain the entire time.

Living under haze conditions is extremely unhealthy. It is difficult to breathe due to


the fine dust particles in the air, which is dangerous for the lungs and painful to the
eyes. The dust also absorbs heat, which, coupled with the sweltering tropical
humidity, significantly increases the ground temperature and leads to excessive
sweating, nausea, and headaches, even for those indoors. Reduced visibility is also
extremely dangerous. In 2005, you couldn’t see two cars ahead of you on the road.

The haze is definitely what I envision the fog feeling like, from the physical pains
and discomfort, to the looming, gloomy, discomfiting and oppressive atmosphere
that takes an emotional toll on a person as it spreads out and envelops the land.

254
Gas Masks

The idea for the gas masks came from Miyakejima in Honshu. The centre of the
island is Mt. Oyama, which has erupted in recent times. Residents are still required
to carry gas masks on them for safety purposes since the last eruption in 2000,
though they need not wear them unless the island’s sirens go off. This is fact.

This was the picture that inspired the premise of the story. It is the one consistently
associated with Miyakejima if one were to search for the term online, however there
are no certainties as to whether or not these are actually Miyakejima residents. This
is where fiction possibly starts. The stories online go that the Japanese government
paid locals to live on Miyakejima both as research subjects on the effects of living
with the gas, as well as to maintain its maritime borders.

Makoto’s gas mask Rin’s gas mask


,

255
SPECIFIC REFERENCES

CHAPTER 1: Homecoming
The entire chapter is a Silent Hill reference. The title references Silent Hill:
Homecoming. Radio static as a means of confirming the presence of monsters is a
well-known device that originates from the Silent Hill series. Also, the foggy
atmosphere is reminiscent of the Fog World of Silent Hill (nothing for the smell
though). “WELCOME TO IWATOBI” is the quintessential Silent Hill reference.

The actual Japanese sign you’d probably come across from the highway would be:

A close runner-up from a main street would be something like this:

256
CHAPTER 2: The Fog
Kosuke Kitajima is a Japanese multiple Olympic gold medallist breaststroke
swimmer. He won gold medals for the men's 100 m and 200 m breaststroke at both
the Athens 2004, and the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic games.

Ginchiyo Tachibana was head of the Japanese Tachibana clan during the Sengoku
Period. She was the daughter of Tachibana Dōsetsu, a powerful retainer of the
Ōtomo clan. Because Dosetsu had no sons, he requested that Ginchiyo be made
family head after his death.
She is also most popularly known as a character in Koei’s Warriors series (which Rin
is mocking Makoto for).

257
CHAPTER 4: They Live
They Live is a 1988 American science fiction film written and directed by John
Carpenter. It follows a nameless drifter referred to as "Nada", who discovers
sunglasses that reveal the ruling class are in fact aliens concealing their appearance
and manipulating people to spend money, breed and accept the status quo with
subliminal messages in mass media.

CHAPTER 5: The Truth


“Brush up on your Final Fantasy,” Rin said sharply, though his voice was tinged with
malevolent glee, “Nail bats, simple but deadly. One swing of this, and you’ll get guts
flying across the room.”
Nail Bat (釘バット, Kugi Batto) is a recurring joke weapon in the Final Fantasy
series. Probably made popular by Final Fantasy VII.

258
CHAPTER 6: Making Plans
Boat people refer to asylum seekers travelling via the sea to Australia who are
often turned away, to fatal consequences.
More than 350,000 asylum seekers boarded boats in 2014, the UN has
found, leaving their homeland to seek protection somewhere else. Of
those, 54,000 people boarded a boat in south-east Asia – Australia’s
“neighbourhood”, in the words of the foreign minister.
At least 540 people died on boat journeys in that neighbourhood –
starved, dehydrated or beaten to a death by a crew member and
thrown overboard – or drowned when their unseaworthy vessel sank.
[…]
Australia has signed an agreement with Burma with the aim of
“boosting Myanmar’s immigration and border control” – essentially to
prevent Rohingya from leaving.
In 2014 Australia stopped 441 asylum seekers in 10 vessels, the UN
says, forcing them back to the countries they last departed.
Ben Doherty, The Guardian, 30 Dec 2014
Australia Asylum: Why is it controversial?, BBC, 31 Dec 2017

CHAPTER 7: Lost & Found


Left 4 Dead is a zombie survival FPS. Incidentally, has a lot of in-game graffiti.

259
CHAPTER 11: 28 Hours Later
28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later are zombie apocalypse films about
the state of the local population 28 hours and weeks after infection, respectively.

The jeep full of supplies is a Zombieland reference. As is the lack of seatbelts.

260
CHAPTER 12: Welcome to Iwatobi
Pretending to be zombies in a horde in order to escape is an old trope, but here it
specifically references two movies: Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead.

CHAPTER 13: White Noise


IWA 84.9 is the appropriate radio frequency for the region, but it’s also tongue-in-
cheek cultural numerical symbolism on Yamazaki Sousuke’s part.
8 = plentiful
The Japanese believe eight (や ya) is a holy number in the ancient times. The reason is
less well understood, but it is thought that it is related to the fact they used eight to
express large numbers vaguely such as manifold (やえはたえ Yae Hatae) (literally,
eightfold and twentyfold), many clouds (やくも Yakumo: literally, eight clouds), millions
of Gods (やおよろずのかみ Yaoyorozu no Kami: literally, eight millions of Gods), etc.

4 = death (死)

9 = pain (苦)
84.9 is code for “plenty of death and suffering”.
The radio station also references the video games Dead Rising and Silent Hill:
Downpour in terms of the morbid role of entertainment during an apocalypse.

Pocari Sweat, despite the unappetising name, is a popular Japanese sports drink.
Natchan is a juice brand.

261
CHAPTER 14: Survivors
The Slit-mouthed Woman (口裂け女, kuchisake-onna) is a Japanese urban legend.
She is a woman who was mutilated by her husband and returns as a malicious spirit.
According to the legend, children walking alone at night may encounter a woman
wearing a surgical mask, which is not an unusual sight in Japan as people wear them
to protect others from their colds or sickness.
The woman will stop the child and ask, "Am I pretty?" If the child answers no, the
child is killed with a pair of scissors which the woman carries. If the child answers
yes, the woman pulls away the mask, revealing that her mouth is slit from ear to ear,
and asks "How about now?" If the child answers no, he/she will be cut in half. If the
child answers yes, then she will slit his/her mouth like hers. It is impossible to run
away from her, as she will simply reappear in front of the victim.

“… It was like finding out that Genjo Sanzo and his followers were finally in India after
a 10-year manga serialisation of Journey to the West.”
This is a reference to a shounen manga (comics geared towards young boys) called
Saiyuki, and its various spin-offs. The manga is by Minekura Kazuya and it based on
the legend of Journey to the West, though it is currently on hiatus. The story was
serialised from 1997 with a total of five different seasons. In 2009, the main cast
finally arrived in India, unlike many other shounen journey mangas (such as One
Piece, a highly popular pirate manga by Oda Eiichiro that began its run around the
same time as Saiyuki) that are still on-going and are nowhere near their intended
destinations. A reference to Son Goku was also made earlier in chapter 3.

CHAPTER 15: Dead Drop


“Swear to god every single survivor in this stupid plague exchange diaries or
something,” Rin muttered.
An Exchange diary (交換日記, Kōkan nikki) is a notebook shared between friends,
who take it in turns to write in their thoughts or other comments (like chatting).
Exchange diaries were especially popular in Japan in the 1990s in elementary and
junior high schools, particularly among girls.

262
CHAPTER 16: Drop Dead
“Who or… What are all these people chasing after us? And why?”
“Ah, I see you’ve met the locals, eh? Charming bunch.”
Locals. No, it couldn’t be right.
“Are these—things—are they even human?”
His tone turned cold, “Why, don’t they look human to you?”

Heather and Vincent, Silent Hill 3

263
CHAPTER 19: In Water
“In Water” is one of the endings to Silent Hill 2. Appropriate, given the turn of
events, and also serves as a bookend to “HOMECOMING”.

Maceration is the disintegration of skin when in prolonged contact with water. This
is a variant of the normal wrinkling/swelling/softening that happens to your
fingertips if you've been swimming or in the bath for a long time, but spread over
the whole body. Left long enough this destroys the integrity of the skin, causing it to
fall apart at the slightest touch.

CHAPTER 20: So Long

Not explicitly mentioned in the story: Checkpoint Chuou (Central Checkpoint) is a


reference to Checkpoint Charlie.

264
THANK YOU to all my readers and friends for supporting this story. It took a long
time and I’m glad to finally lay it to rest.

If you enjoyed it, please leave a comment here.

265
Additional typefaces used in this document are:

BIRTH OF A HERO
Brush Strokes
Consolas
fox in the snow
MagicCrystal
My Underwood
Sears Tower

St. Andrew
Stylograph

Yesteryear

266

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