¡ÈSo, Kagura, I guess I can¡Çt count on your entering the next KOF tournament, huh?¡É
¡ÈIt¡Çs not so much my physical condition as, well, I¡Çm no longer¡Ä¡É
Chizuru Kagura, nay, Chizuru Yasakani, gazed down dejectedly in her hospital bed.
There situation was far beyond Shingo¡Çs comprehension, but now that her ¡Èpower¡É as the Third Heavenly Vessel had been purloined by Ash Crimson, the young woman could no longer be counted among the ranks of Kusanagi and Yagami.
¡ÈHonestly the only thing I¡Çm now capable of is prayer. And I pray that Kusanagi and Yagami will join forces to fight once more¡Ä.¡É
¡ÈThat¡Çs in the bag!¡É
Shingo, for what it was worth, forcefully asserted that that was the case, but the intentions of all parties involved were anything but.
¡ÈI, Shingo Yabuki, will ask them myself! If I get down on my hands and knees, Kusanagi, even Yagami, are sure to gladly accept!¡É
¡È¡Äand so I beg you, please enter this year¡Çs KOF with Yagami, Kyo! And do it gladly!¡É
¡ÉJust what are you on, Shingo?¡É
Kyo, as anticipated, could offer this cruel response to the kow-towing Shingo who found him by happenstance on the street.
Without giving him a second glance, Kyo quickly continued on his way.
¡ÈBut you teamed up with him before, didn¡Çt you?!¡É
¡ÈThat¡Çs because Kagura asked me. How could I turn her down? And that Yagami clown would never agree in the first place!¡É
The previous tournament in which Kyo, Iori, and Chizuru Kagura entered.
That miraculous and seemingly magical team, a result of the subtle relation of hundreds of years among the three, reforming is difficult to imagine now.
To begin with, they¡Çll need one more member with Kagura out of the picture, but can a substitute that would satisfy both Kyo and Iori be found?
¡ÈIf that¡Çs the problem, I may have a solution!¡É
¡È¡ÄWhat now? I¡Çm listening, just listening, so spit it out.¡É
¡ÈHow about me?! The one and only Shingo Yabuki!¡É
Shingo¡Çs face beamed with a smile, but there was no hint that his smile was in jest or a joke. Put bluntly, he had to be serious.
¡ÈOne of you is too many. And I¡Çm not listening.¡É
The long summer day draws to an close, yielding to the waning moon rising in the eastern sky.
A humid evening. The wind has died down and two wisps of smoke rising in front of a gravestone rise unwaveringly into the sky.
One more shadow approaches the man lingering in front of a small grave.
¡ÈIs that your idea of incense, Iori?¡É
A lit cigarette butt rests sideways in the incense holder at the foot of a grave. Another smolders between Iori Yagami¡Çs lips. Their smoke climbs into the sky like two threads. Both stand on either side of the grave, faces motionless and looking in other directions.
¡ÈI wonder how many years this year makes.¡É
¡È¡ÄWhen did you start asking people questions you already know the answer to?¡É
The two speak in a monotonous murmur. Their usual sharp exchanges are absent. The tiny gravestone serves as a talisman preserving the peace. The chirping of the cicadas deserted by the evening can be heard off in the distance.
¡ÈYour disciple has been bugging me every day with his yammering. Handle it.¡É
¡ÈI¡Çm supposed to be responsible for a groupie¡Çs behavior? You handle it.¡É
Yagami flicks his burned-down cigarette butt to the ground, pulls out another, and puts it between his lips. Kyo, standing close by, extends his lighter. The roughly treated antique has chipped plating in a number of places and sports some sort of inscription.
Its lid flicks open with a ping, then a scratch of flint and a burst of flame. Only Kyo¡Çs right arm points toward Yagami while his body and face continue to face forward.
¡ÈYou actually need to carry around a lighter?¡É
¡ÈIt was a gift.¡É
Yagami produces his own lighter from his pocket and ignites it, lighting his cigarette as he protects the flame with his free hand.
Kyo clicks his tongue and closes the lid to his lighter. The area grows a shade darker.
Yagami pivots directly sideways and slowly begins to leave, stopping a few steps later.
¡ÈWhat can I do for you, Yagami?¡É
Kyo responds, still facing toward the grave as he had been.
¡ÈI will settle things with you one day. You shall die by my hands.¡É
¡ÈBut before that, we have another thing to take care of.¡É
¡È¡ÄSo it seems.¡É
The sound of Yagami¡Çs gait once again echoes in Kyo¡Çs ears. The sound gradually grows fainter and finally becomes inaudible. The lights of the graveyard switch on.
The place where Yagami was standing is picked out by a dreary spotlight. A crimson stain can be seen on the butt he flicked to the ground.
The first round of KOF at its Japan venue.
Shingo awaits the arrival of Kyo and Iori at the front gate of a castle designate as a world heritage site.
Far from securing a promise from the two to enter the tournament, he went ignored and even came close to actually being killed by Iori a few times. In spite of his refusing to be discouraged, his entreaties, in the end, came to naught.
Shingo remembers his own words of a few weeks ago:
¡ÈIt¡Çs OK, then, because I¡Çm entering your names anyway.
Be sure to show up! I¡Çm counting on you!¡É