Today was the day. I was alone in the female changing room. My stomach felt like it was tied in multiple tight knots. My legs could not stop shaking from a mix of fear and anticipation.
As I got dressed, my hand was trembling so much that I couldn't even button my clothes up properly.
I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm really scared...
I slapped myself.
"What am I even thinking?! If I don't do this, Asumi and everybody in this world would be in danger!" I yelled at myself. "I can't let that happen. I have to... I must protect them!"
But even so, I was still scared.
"Takatora, are you almost ready?" Called a gruff voice from outside the changing room.
"Y-yes! Just a minute!" I responded.
I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. I don't have a choice.
"Whether I want to or not, I must do this." I pulled my glove on with my teeth and clenched my fist.
The memory of my recent encounter with Alma filled my mind, as I thought about all that they had said.
"I...I'm not a monster." I said out loud, with every ounce of courage I could muster. "I'm human, and I won't let them have their way with me anymore!"
Slowly, I could feel myself calming down. That's right... I can do this. I will do this, for the sake of everybody. These thoughts gave me strength, as I made my way towards the door.
Every step, my heart beating with confidence.
Yet, deep down; I was still scared.
The boys waved to me as I made my way towards them. They were all fully dressed and armed.
"Takatora, good to see you." The president called to me. He was sporting an oversized bullet-proof vest over his uniform.
It was huge and looked so heavy, yet it doesn't seem as if it bothered him one bit. He loomed over us, like a giant statue.
His hands were bandaged, and he wielded what looked to be a make-shifted pair of brass knuckles that wrapped over his fist.
His eyes were glaring, but filled with determination that shone through even his glasses.
On his face was a terrifying scowl, one that could easily send shivers down your spine, yet this time; I was not scared.
Instead, it brought me a strange feeling of ease, as it was a look of command.
"Let's do this." Hideyoshi said, smiling as he adjusted the headphones that fully covered his ears and draped over his head.
Compare to the president and me, he was not wearing as much protective gear, but was still fully armed.
Throughout his body were sheaths, carefully lined in specific positions,
each specially designed so that they would be locked in place yet was supposingly still to able to be pulled out with ease.
I counted at least 8, not including any of those that might be hidden underneath his clothes. On his face was a relaxed yet confident look, as if he was more than ready for all of this.
Looking at him, it also gave me a feeling of confidence as well.
"I've already locked on to the coordinates we need to go. With all our preparation completed, we can move out any time. Ryuu-...
I mean, Takatora, are you ready?" Senpai stumbled as he spoke to me in a more formal tone.
I carefully took a deep breath and nodded my head. "Yes, I am."
I wanted as Senpai then transferred himself to me. I was wearing a special fitted bullet proof vest over my uniform, with utility belts wrapped around my chest and waist above my skirt.
They were all made with pockets focusing on the left side of my body, each containing color labeled cellular phones,
yet were also carefully weighed on the right side so I would not lose balance.
Strapped on the side of my left thigh, just above my sheath, was a holster that senpai made for me to carry the coil gun.
I pulled it out with ease and feel it hum the moment senpai jumped into it.
"Alright everybody, let's go!"
We made our way through the city, following the coordinates provided. The blazing sun blared down on us and sweat was rolling down my neck, as we trudged on.
We were moving at a steady pace, as of importance, yet we were not in a hurry. I gazed at the back of the boys, wondering if they were also scared.
Could it be that this speed we were at was not because we could not go any faster but instead because we want to savor the little time we currently have here?
These thoughts were flooding my head, making me nervous and very anxious, yet I also felt a sense of ease at the idea that they might be just the same as me.
"Turn a corner on this alley, and it should be there." Senpai announced.
Following his directions, we all stepped into the narrow alleyway and in the distanced, we were greeted with the sight of a Channel.
It hid in the shadows of this darken alleyway yet was illuminating, as if a beacon that called to us as we slowly approached it. Everyone promptly stopped in front of the ominous shining door.
BABUMP BABUMP BABUMP
I could hear it. Not just the sound of my own wildly thumping heart, but of the other's as well.
"So this is it then. Through this door, we will face our destinies. Heh..." Hideyoshi chuckled, yet his voice trembled as he spoke.
"Hmph..." The president grunted in response. I could see the sweat on his giant forehead.
Nobody moved. Everyone was frozen, as if we were all desperately trying to prolong this brief moment of peace.
"So, shall we go?" The president's gruff voice finally broke the silence as he reached his giant hand out to the handle.
"Wait..." Suddenly came a tense voice from my body. It was senpai.
Everyone turned to him as he popped out from a live chat.
"What's wrong Mitsuhide?" The president asked with concern.
"I don't mean to ruin the moment. But, I have something to say." He spoke sheepishly.
"Heh, of course you do, Senpai. You always have something to say." Hideyoshi laughed. I could see on his face a look of relief.
"Oh, shut up Takuya. A... anyway. Um... I want to talk with Takatora."
"What is it?" I tilted my head as I awaited his response.
He took a deep breath as he began to speak.
"The other day, I said some... things. Despite during that time, I think we all got caught up in the moment and... I mean, no. Um... Anyway, what I mean to say is that, umm...
" He was struggling. As if trying to find the right words.
"I s-shouldn't have been so insensitive to your problems. And your feelings, at that time. It was not right of me to speak to you like that and... and..."
"I'm s-sorry." He choked out as he bowed to me through the screen. His voice was shaking, as if just saying the words were taking all the courage and energy out of him.
I stared at him in silence, as he peeked his eye out to check my response.
"If you like, I can treat you to some mint double chocolate chip ice cream...?"
"Senpai, thank you." I smiled. He looked up at me in surprise when he heard my words. "You reached your hand out to me, when I was at my lowest.
You tried your best to make me feel welcome, even though it was a bit awkward. And not just you;"
I looked at the faces of the President and Hideyoshi.
"President, Hideyoshi, thank you as well. All of you; you risked your lives to help me. And even now, you are getting yourselves involved in something that was because of me.
After that incident, I don't think I have ever felt so scared and alone, but during these last few days you were all there for me.
You've accepted me, despite all that I've said and what I've become."
As I spoke, I could feel the hard thumping of my heart as I carefully moved my hand across my chest. The rhythmic beating, I felt it with every breath I take.
Yet, I felt a wave of confidence, as I looked at all of them, and the words that I want express came to me ease.
"I'm scared. I'm really scared. Even now, my legs won't stop shaking when I think about what is to come. But, I still feel I can move on.
It is because thanks to all of you, I know that I am not alone. That's why, I have just one more request;"
Taking a deep breath, I placed my feet together and bowed my head deeply.
"My name is Takatora Ryuuko, second year. Please, let me join the Artificial Research Club!" I spoke firmly and formally.
Everyone was silent, as I finally gave my answer to the club. There was no hesitation in my voice, as I have fully and thoroughly accepted the proposal. I want to join the A.R.C.
I want to be a part of them.
"Of course." Came the reply of a rough yet kind voice. I picked my head up and saw the kind smile of the President. It was not scary, not one bit.
"As the sitting president of the club; I, Nobunaga Kenjirou, welcome you. Takatora Ryuuko; Welcome, to the A.R.C."
He placed his left hand out to me. They were so big, at least twice the size of my own. As I looked at them, a feeling of happiness came over me as I carefully reached my own toward his.
Ah... it was also warm. Just like Asumi's. Just like Hideyoshi's.
The president's hands that fully enveloped my own felt so hard and rough, like touching stone, yet there was still such warmth as he shook my hand with unexpected gentleness.
It was so strange. It was just a handshake, but for the first time in my life; I felt acceptance. That as if, I was finally a part of something and I feel so happy.
"Thank you, president." I replied with a warm smile.
"A new member of our club! Woohoo!!" Senpai cried out in joy.
"We're going to have to celebrate. What say that all of us go to karaoke for a welcome party after all of this?" Hideyoshi suggested with a big smile.
"Karaoke?" I asked in surprise.
"Takuya, you idiot! How are we going to have karaoke if none of us could even sing?!" Senpai interjected.
"Ahem... actually, when I was younger I sang Enka before." The president coughed, his face a look of embarrassment and pride.
"EEEEH?!" We all cried out in unison.
"That's amazing President!" I squealed in excitement at such an amazing discovery.
"Kenjirou you could sing?! And Enka no less?"
“This I got to see! Prez, you have to show us! Let’s hurry up and get this over with so we can do this!”
We all burst out in uncontrollable laughter.
There was no doubt that We were all scared. Yet despite that, we were all laughing and smiling together.
“Now, it is time. Everybody;” The president declared as we all composed ourselves again and turned back towards the Channel.
“A.R.C., let’s move out!”
The president grabbed the door handle and swung it open with great force.
A blinding flash of light enveloped all of us as we stepped through it together.