Enjoy, and remember! The story's not over; The Slash is composed of two books!
Cloudy to Rainy
Color Pages and Prologues
Bloody to Fair
Color Pages and Connecting Chapter
Epilogues & Remnants
There's this instant when everything breaks.
Even diamond can crumble into dust if you hit it right.
I like the feeling I get when I watch something that was built to last breaking.
It's always over in an instant.
The larger something takes to build up, the greater its mass, the grander the crash when it falls to ruin. That's just the way the world is.
That's why I never built up anything more than necessary, why I never desired anything more than my due.
All I wanted was a place for myself. Just a little foundation, to let me amass just the bare minimum of happiness.
...That's why I'm here right now.
Tim sat on the stone stairs near the entrance to Central Park, reminiscing as he stared up at the darkening sky.
Adelle and the rest of the Larvae also sat in the general vicinity, enjoying a brief moment of rest.
By all rights they should already have set the next stage of their plan into motion, but an unforeseen series of events had thrown a wrench into that. Tim bit back a frustrated sigh as he looked back on what had gone wrong.
I didn't desire anything beyond the bare minimum, nor did I build anything beyond it, and yet...
And yet, in the space of less than a day, many things had come tumbling down inside him.
The first sign of trouble had been that strange couple who'd called Dallas' resurrection a magic trick. He still needed to find out if that healed ear meant that they were immortals too, or if he'd just been seeing things.
Then there was the woman with the knives, who'd attacked them without provocation. He knew he'd seen her somewhere before, but try as he might he couldn't recall when and where.
The Gandor Family woman, the one who'd wielded a pair of katana with reckless abandon. Absolutely insane, that one, but thankfully not a problem as long as he had Adelle.
And finally... there was the gangster with eyes as sharp as a knife, who possessed some sort of incomprehensible power.
"...Dammit, and we have to chase down Genoard too..."
Only once they regrouped after fleeing the smoke-clogged house had they realized they'd left Dallas behind. He must have slipped away unnoticed during the commotion. By the time they went back to check the mansion, he was long gone.
But what had broken him the most wasn't anything remotely as insignificant as that.
There had been someone there who'd threatened the most basic things that composed him, who'd threatened his very existence.
I've changed everything about myself so that nobody would ever recognize me.
I threw away my face, the way I talk, my sensibilities, my strengths, everything; threw them away and gained them anew.
Nobody would look at me now and think of the boy I used to be.
Tim had been secure in that knowledge--it was no exaggeration to say that was what he lived for.
Case in point, I don't think he even recognized me.
But though he'd changed everything about himself, he hadn't changed at all.
Tim had forsaken his name and his past, but even so he clearly remembered those good-natured narrow eyes.
That slow, placid way of talking that never seemed to succeed in reading the mood, and the sharp scissors in his hands, and everything else about him had been just like they'd been when they were boys.
He recalled Tick's face as he went over the events at the mansion.
Tim--no, Tack Jefferson--recalled the face of the brother he hadn't seen for the past eight years.
"Why... Why was Tick there..."
It had been a most unexpected reunion with the past he thought he'd long since discarded.
As though symbolizing Tim's mind, which had begun to quake with complicated thoughts...
...Cold drops of rain began to fall on his face as he stared up at the sky.
Just as the soft patter of rain drove the silence away, one of his underlings came up to him. The man hadn't been present for their visit to the Genoard manor; he normally acted separately from Tim's main team.
"I just got a call. Christopher and his crew are going to meet up with us tonight."
Tim blanched visibly at the mention of the name.
"Christopher? Christopher?!" he said, and his underling flinched and looked away at the uncharacteristic fury coloring his voice.
"Why the hell is he coming?! You know as well as I do what could happen if we bring in a loose cannon like him in on thi..."
"Master Huey's orders, boss."
An order from someone who was currently in police custody.
It was impossible, but Tim merely gave a short snarl of frustration and gave up, accepting his subordinate's explanation as fact.
"Bah... So those savages are making their way here. To be honest, I wanted to avoid working with them if possible."
"We don't really have a choice. The Lamia(1) form the backbone of the Larvae, after all."
Adelle looked up from polishing her spear at the mention of the name and butted into the conversation, a smile spreading across her features.
"Umm... Is Christopher coming?"
"That's great... I guess that means I can run wild, then?"
Adelle looked quite cheerful, a marked departure from her normal demeanor. Tim shook his head and sighed.
"...Damn it, the Lamia, huh. I already have my hands full with Adelle, and she's the most obedient of the lot."
He wiped away the rainwater running down his cheek and once again gazed up at the skies.
He thought of his brother, and of the companions who were due to join him later that night, and of the mission with which he'd been charged, and muttered to himself in a low voice.
"...It's going to pour."
"It's raining," Firo said as he watched the rain splatter against the windows, a note of worry entering his voice. "I hope they don't get too wet..."
Maiza smiled teasingly, as though to make jest of Firo's anxiety.
"Worried about Isaac and Miria?"
"...I was talking about Ennis and Ronnie."
"I do hope you've thought up a proper apology."
"Aww, leave me alone," Firo said, pouting in an attempt to hide his embarrassment. He got up and walked over to the windows, looking outside.
Until just last year, there had been only one window, and even that had been a small one made so that one could only look out at the street from inside, and not into the restaurant from the outside. With the end of the Prohibition looming nigh, however, the restaurant had been extensively renovated in order to welcome visitors with a more open atmosphere.
Firo now stood before a window taller than he was, looking out at the rainy streets of Little Italy.
Suddenly, a shiver ran down his spine, there and gone almost before he recognized it for what it was. It had been a strong feeling that something was wrong, though he couldn't pinpoint exactly why. He looked out the window again, carefully this time, trying to find just what had caused it, and discovered a man standing on the curb across the street.
The moment he locked gazes with the man, Firo realized what had caused that sudden feeling of foreboding. The shifty-looking man continued to look Firo's way as he stood in the rain without an umbrella. He seemed to pay the downpour no heed, instead staring into the store--no, straight at Firo.
The strange thing was that the man's gaze was a baleful, murderous thing, so full of hate that it was obvious even from a distance.
Disturbed, Firo narrowed his eyes, trying to place the man.
He'd seen him somewhere before.
"Where did I meet him again...?"
The particulars of his job necessarily brought on quite a lot of animosity from no small number of people, but he'd never felt such clearly murderous intent sent his way like this before.
He tried to focus on the man's face... but the unknown man, perhaps realizing that Firo was looking back at him, turned and slowly disappeared into the bustling crowd.
"...What the hell was that all about?"
Firo kept his gaze fixed on the outside for a moment, still perplexed, then finally gave up and went back to his place at the counter.
"No, it was nothing."
He fixed a smile on his face, but inside he was furiously trying to remember who the man had been.
Who was that guy...
He was taking absentminded sips from his refilled cup of coffee, sifting through his memories, when Sena, the owner of Alveare, walked up to him.
"Firo, someone left this on the counter."
"Huh? What is it?"
Sena handed him an envelope with only the words "To Firo Prochainezo" written on the front in rigid block letters.
Firo frowned and tore it open, giving the note inside a cursory glance.
A long moment passed.
He went white as a sheet, threw away the note and bolted out of the restaurant at a dead run.
"Firo?! What's wrong?! Firo!"
Even Maiza's alarmed shout didn't slow him down in the slightest, and in the blink of an eye he had disappeared from sight.
Maiza picked up the discarded note, noting the obviously faked penmanship.
WE HAVE ENNIS AND RONNIE SCHIATTO
A single line, that was all the letter contained. There was nothing else, not even the sender's name, or a demand for ransom, or even a threat.
"Kidnapped? Ennis... and Ronnie?" Maiza turned the matter over slowly in his head, and at length voiced his conclusion.
Sena glanced over Maiza's shoulder at the note and shook her head in exasperation.
"I suppose he thought that'd keep anyone from recognizing him, but... Isaac's handwriting is still as bad as ever."
I'll kill 'em.
I'll kill 'em all, doesn't matter who.
Thought you could look down on me, huh. I'll kill you.
At first I thought, maybe I can't beat anyone? Maybe I can't do anything?
I felt like that when that crazy Mexican bitch was cutting me up.
But then I remembered. I remembered, dammit. I saw that fucker's face and I remembered everything.
It was worth going all the way to Little Italy, even if he saw me too.
Ah, Firo Prochainezo. I saw your face and remembered.
This is what it's like to want to murder someone.
That will to kill someone in cold blood.
Now we're talking.
Ah, the rain hardly bothers me anymore. It actually makes me feel better.
I'll kill you, whatever it takes. I'll make you regret that you were ever born. I'll make you wish you never existed.
I'm gonna kill everyone who ever looked down on me, every single fucking one...!
First, Tim and Adelle. I gotta take care of those two before anyone else.
Otherwise Eve'll be in danger.
Yeah, I love her. I'll do whatever it takes to keep her safe.
Sorry, Eve. Your brother never was very smart.
I don't know how else to protect you.
What can I say? I can't think of any way to keep you safe other than killing everyone who'd hurt you.
Dallas Genoard walked through the rainy streets, his mind filled with selfish resolve.
"The hell," he muttered, his quiet voice lost in the downpour that fell down around him. "This place is just like that damn river."
"It's so dark... I can't see a thing."
Firo dashed through the alleys of Little Italy, the face of the man he'd just seen coming to life in the forefront of his mind.
It was him! It was him, I know it!
Firo knew that the man who'd glared at him from outside Alveare had been the same man who'd kidnapped Ennis and left the letter. Searching through his memories regarding Ennis, he finally succeeded in recalling who the man was.
Dallas! How the hell did he get out?!
Dallas, who had murdered both him and Ennis three years ago, gunning them down with a machine gun.
Dallas, who should have still been enjoying his one-way trip to the bottom of the Hudson, courtesy of the brothers Gandor.
How had he gotten free? By all rights, Dallas should have been drowning and dying over and over again in an endless cycle, not walking the streets of New York. The question bothered him, but that wasn't what was important at the moment.
Firo Prochainezo ran aimlessly.
That bastard took Ennis...!
He ran blindly forward, determined to save the woman he loved.
The rain that ruled the streets swallowed up the sound of Firo's footsteps and stained the pavement in dark, heavy colors.
As though the streets themselves wished that it would keep raining forever.
"It's really pouring now."
Tick and Maria had taken shelter in a deserted building slated for demolition close to Grand Central Terminal.
Tick was the same as ever, but Maria looked like someone else entirely. She sat in a corner of the grey concrete room with her head buried in her knees, like a child who had been scolded and sent up to her room.
Her wounds had been hastily treated, but she'd been forced to use her own clothes for makeshift bandages, and her tattered clothes together with the dried blood all over her body made her look even more pitiful than ever.
"Are you okay?" Tick asked, concerned, but Maria didn't even look up when he stepped close. Her voice as she replied was so subdued that Tick had trouble matching her to the energetic woman he normally knew.
"I'm sorry... I lied to you. I told you I wouldn't lose to anyone..."
"It wasn't a lie. You didn't lose to anybody, and you kept me safe," Tick said, giving his honest opinion. He hadn't said it just to comfort her, or pity her.
But Maria gave no sign she'd heard him speak, keeping her head bowed as she clenched a fist in frustration.
"Why... Why, damn it... I didn't even get this upset when Vino beat me!"
She knew why, of course. Vino had completely outclassed her in every category, from strength to speed to technique to mental fortitude.
But... the woman she'd fought today, Adelle, had been noticeably weaker and slower than she was. Adelle herself had even acknowledged as much.
In the end, though, Maria had lost.
Had it really been because of her choice of weapon? Or was it something else? She still didn't know for sure. She didn't want to know, actually.
Tick listened quietly as Maria continued, bitterly berating herself.
"Grandpa told me! He said that if my skill matched my belief, that I'd be able to cut anything! That there was nothing in the world I couldn't cut! But... I still don't know if I've gotten any better. I thought that slashing Grandpa would be proof that my skills had increased, but he died of a disease before I ever could... I was scared. I didn't know whether I really had the power to cut everything. That's why I blindly cut everything I could see. It was the only way I could prove my strength to myself..."
The heat gradually drained from her voice as she talked. She drew in on herself like a frightened kitten; the normally cheerful girl Tick knew was nowhere to be seen.
"But I lost. You saw it too, didn't you? You saw that woman with the spear beat me without even breaking a sweat..."
Tick thought it over for a while and said, "I'm sorry. It's probably my fault!"
"You know, I don't think I can actually believe at all. You told me that things would be fine as long as we both believed in you, right? But I kept doubting myself. I didn't know if I could do it."
Maria lifted her head at the strange explanation and looked curiously at Tick, meeting his gaze.
"I couldn't believe in 'belief' because it doesn't have form, and because of that you got weaker... I'm sorry. I'll try my best to believe from now on. Then we'll be fine next time, right?"
His words were filled with the innocent optimism that only a child could muster. But Maria only gave it a moment of thought before shaking her head.
"I'm scared. When I think of what might happen if I lose to her again, that I might lose faith in Murasamia... I imagine blaming the loss on my swords and I get so scared I can't do anything..."
Her fingers tightened on her swords in an effort to hide her anxiety as she laid out her thoughts. She knew she was just comforting herself, but she felt that if she didn't at least do that, she'd lose all hope.
"My swords are all I have. They're everything to me... It feels like if I doubt them, I'll end up losing my past and my pride and my faith and my soul, and it scares me, amigo..."
The way she said that last word made it sound like she was pleading for help.
Tick didn't try to console her, nor did he deny her request. He only spoke his mind.
"I told you I can only believe in things that break, didn't I?"
She stared at him, uncomprehending.
"That's why I won't believe what you said, because I haven't seen your pride and your soul or anything else break yet. I just think that you are who you are, Maria."
His words hadn't really refuted any of her doubts, but nonetheless Maria gave Tick a small smile.
"You're kind, amigo," she whispered.
Then her eyelids drooped and she slowly nodded off, her fatigue overtaking her.
Tick started talking to himself without checking to make sure if she was asleep.
"Things have really gotten complicated."
He looked out at the streets beyond the abandoned building's entrance, lost in his thoughts as he watched the rain pour down.
"The fastest way to cut through a tangled knot is to just cut it into pieces, but... Maybe if there was someone with strength sharp enough to cut through this tangled mess..."
Tick stood next to Maria as she slept, losing himself in the soothing sound of falling rain. At length, he drew a pair of scissors from his side and held them up in the air, slowly opening and closing them.
It was like he was trying to cut something that nobody could see.
Snip. The sound, somehow lonely, soon blended into the dull roar of the falling rain and vanished.
Still, Tick silently continued to scissor the air.
Snicker snack, snicker snack.
A man's voice rang hollowly in the dim room.
The thuggish young man who'd been standing at the entrance swallowed hard and spoke to the darkness.
"And, uhh... Well, Jacuzzi and the rest of us're hiding out in this abandoned factory near the river for now... Bu-but that Ronnie guy looked really dangerous! I swear nobody but you'd even stand a chance against him!" he said, finishing his condensed summary of what had happened to them.
"Please, I'm beggin' you! Just havin' you on our side'd make us almost invincible!"
"Take out the almost part," the man in the darkness said, in a voice that made it impossible to tell whether he was joking or being serious. Slowly, he got to his feet.
"I don't really feel any obligation to help you guys at all... But my ravishing, lovable, charming, lovely, altogether charming fiancée? That's another story. Fine, let's go."
"How's Chane doing, anyway?"
"Ah, uhh, well, there were these weird guys who weren't with the Martillos, and she got into a fight with one of 'em and got a cut on her fac-"
The presence in the darkness suddenly flew forward to the thuggish young man.
"Is she okay? Is Chane alright?"
The thug gasped harshly, the hand that had gripped him by the collar and lifted him off the ground making it hard to breathe.
"Ergh! S-she's fine! J-just fine, I s-swear!"
"Oh... Okay, then!" the man said, opening his hand and ignoring the young thug completely as he fell to the floor.
"No, wait. That's not okay at all."
He covered his mouth with one hand and drummed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully with his forefinger, deep in thought.
"Chane chose to live with me. She made a promise with me that she'd become a part of my world, that we'd share that world together," he said, slowly narrowing his eyes.
"Unforgivable... So these 'enemies' of yours cut Chane's face? That's the same as cutting my world. That's the same as cutting my own body," the man mused, expressing his anger over his lover's wound in a roundabout euphemism as he started changing his clothes, getting ready to leave.
"And come to think of it, what kinda guy cuts a girl's face, anyway? And he still calls himself a man?"
"Uhh, actually, the one who fought her was a woman too."
"...I'm an equal rights activist!"
"That doesn't make any sense!"
The man brushed off the young punk's retort and continued energetically, having finished his preparations.
"Now, it's time to raise the curtain. The stage is me, the hero's also me, and the heroine's Chane."
He sounded flippant enough, but his eyes burned with cold fire.
"Let's get this party started."
One of the most dangerous beings in New York began to move silently through the rain, determined to burn the tangled knot of events to ash.
The man's name was Felix Walken.
Previously, he had been known as Claire Stanfield.
But those who knew him well called him by a different moniker. Some voiced it with reverent awe, while others whispered it in hushed tones of terror and despair.
Vino... they said. Or, sometimes, the Rail Tracer...
The fierce downpour showed no signs of stopping.
It seemed as though it was intent on swallowing the streets entirely with the sound of falling rain.
The light drizzle became a roaring torrent, merely a harbinger of the storm to come.
The rain fell without pause, staining the streets and the people in dark hues.
Harder, and yet harder still.
As though to slash the streets themselves in two...
To be continued in the next volume
(1): A female monster from Greece with the lower body of a snake, sometimes attributed with vampiric qualities. Used in this case as "vampire."
Connecting Chapter End
Bloody to Fair