stained with red, awash in green
Shotaro was nineteen years old and starting to get impatient. Sure, there were people who didn’t find their other half until well into their forties, but there were plenty more who’d already found theirs by the time they were his age. Any day now, he told himself. He half-imagined that it might happen while he was on a case—while confronting some leggy femme fatale carrying a cigarette holder and a dark secret.
He’d never dreamed that his soulmate would be some kid they’d come to extract from a Dopant-filled warehouse.
But as soon as Shotaro caught sight of the bedraggled, pajama-clad kid walking down that corridor, his world exploded into color.
Granted, he didn’t immediately realize that “color” was what was happening. He stumbled back into a wall, dropping the attaché case he’d been entrusted with, and covered his eyes with his hands. “What the hell—?!”
When he lowered his hands and looked around again, and it wasn’t gone, he realized. That kid was The One. The kid they’d come to rescue was his fated partner.
He only had one thing to say to that.
Shotaro scooped the attaché case off the floor and started after the kid. He stopped after only a few steps. “Don’t take a single step away from here,” Sokichi Narumi had told him before going to confront the facility’s security guards.
But this was vital. For the first time in his life he could truly see, and it was thanks to that kid right there. And besides—if he could save the kid all on his own, the boss would finally see that he wasn’t just some useless hanger-on. He could be a hard-boiled detective, too.
So he ran down the corridor, its walls tinged with a sickly hue he couldn’t name—he wasn’t exactly in any position to sit down and learn his colors—and called out, “Hey! Hey, you!”
The teenager in the pajamas stopped at the threshold of the door he was approaching. He turned—he was a boy, Shotaro saw now, which was confusing, because if they were supposed to be each other’s destined partners... Shotaro didn’t have time to question that, though, because the boy’s eyes widened as, presumably, color flooded his field of vision.
Many people laughed or cried tears of joy when they finally met their other halves. But this boy curled in on himself, twisted his fingers into that messy hair of his, and he screamed.
“Eh?!” Shotaro exclaimed. “Hey—stop that, you’re gonna attract more of those guys in the freaky masks!”
And the boy did stop screaming, but he was far from okay. He looked up at Shotaro, his eyes wide and panicked. “What is this?! Everything—my vision changed, I—”
Shotaro stared in disbelief. “It’s called color. How do you not know about it?”
The boy shook his head. “I’ve never—” He stumbled through the doorway and into a high-tech lab of some sort. “I’ve never seen anything like this before!” And never heard about it either, apparently. Shotaro couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could a weird shut-in like this guy be his soulmate?
Shotaro reached toward the boy, but the boy screamed again and shoved him away. The recoil sent the boy staggering back through an arch into a tall cylinder that was positioned in one corner. He cried out in surprise, but before either of them could do anything the boy had vanished into thin air.
Shotaro dropped the briefcase again.
This was bad.
A harsh, burning color filled his eyes when Sokichi Narumi slapped him.
“What were you thinking?!” the boss demanded. “I specifically told you not to move!” His clothing was the same color Shotaro had always seen it as; vest, pants, tie, and fedora the same white as that strange boy’s pajamas, and his shirt black. But being able to see those colors, or lack thereof, in contrast to everything else only made them all the more meaningful. The boss was hard-boiled as hell.
“I can see in color now,” was all Shotaro had to say for himself.
Sokichi froze. “What?”
“When I saw him, I— Boss, he’s my—”
Sokichi shook his head sharply enough to quiet Shotaro. He let out a long breath. “What the hell, Fumine...?”
“Follow me.” Sokichi turned and stormed down the narrow corridor, still limping from his earlier fight with the Masquerades.
The nameless boy was so taken by the visual sensation surrounding him, chilling and piercing and yet strangely tranquil, that it took him a few minutes to realize where he was. “Gaia Tower...?” he murmured, pressing his hands against the translucent crystal surrounding him. He’d only been here once before, when testing the teleportation function in the first place. There was no need for him to be here.
Something about the way the light refracted through the crystal—what had that intruder called this phenomenon, again?—kept him from descending back into a panic. It was soothing, somehow.
But he wanted to know more. He closed his eyes and retreated into the stark, empty white of the Bookshelves and spoke a single keyword.
Sokichi and Shotaro were silent as they climbed the stairs to the top of the building. Most everything was dull shades of grey; Shotaro had expected his world to be a bit more colorful than this. Still, there were differences now from how he’d seen things before. Subtle hues infusing the grey with twinges of colors he couldn’t name. He wanted to ask the boss what they were, but from the deadly serious look set into Sokichi’s face he knew that it was better to refrain.
He could ask him later.
They came to the top floor, a single wide open space lined with windows—the sky was as black as Shotaro remembered—with a bright, shining crystal like something out of some early 90’s video game right in the middle of the room. The boy was suspended within it, immobile, seemingly unconscious.
Sokichi strode right up to the crystal, but Shotaro hung back, unsure. After everything that had happened so far he didn’t know what he should do. Should he help the boss now, or stay out of the way?
From where Shotaro stood he couldn’t see much of anything. There was a long, long silence, and then the crystal crumbled. The boy collapsed into Sokichi’s arms.
But Shotaro was more preoccupied with the harsh lights suddenly shining into the room through the windows. The sound came of helicopters circling the building. He rushed over and draped the boy’s arm over his shoulder to help him walk. They had to get out of there.
Explosions filled Shotaro’s ears.
Sokichi Narumi fell to the floor, blood staining his white jacket, and Shotaro learned what “red” was.
Sokichi placed his hat onto Shotaro’s head and told him to finish the case.
The windows shattered. The floor opened up, swallowing Sokichi’s body, and Shotaro and the boy fled from the Dopant that emerged—a feminine figure, her dominant color red. Shotaro knew that without a doubt.
The two fated partners took refuge behind the wall of a staircase, ducking low to protect themselves from the hail of bullets coming their way. Shotaro was shaking, mind racing to find a way out of this, but he couldn’t think of a thing. He was going to die here, the same way the boss had.
At least he’d met his soulmate, some bitter part of himself thought.
The boy beside him—clad all in white, his black hair a mop atop his head, his skin similar to Shotaro’s in color, a hue Shotaro didn’t know the name for—was curiously examining the attaché case that Sokichi and Shotaro had brought all this way. He opened it, and his eyes widened.
Inside was a belt similar to the one Sokichi had worn earlier during his fight with those Dopants guarding the facility but mirrored symmetrically across the center. A set of six Gaia Memories, colors shimmering radiantly within the black case, accompanied it. One was red; another, the same color as the crystal the boy had been trapped in.
“I see...” The boy grinned from ear to ear. He turned to Shotaro. “The one who uses this Driver will become one with me. With my mind and your body, we will become the ultimate fighting machine!”
The boy picked up a Memory whose color Shotaro couldn’t name. Its logo was a letter C stylized as a gust of wind. His smile gave way to a more pensive expression. “That man told me to count up my sins—to make my own decisions. But in order to do that I’ll need to escape this facility alive.” He handed the belt, what he’d called a “Driver”, to Shotaro. “For that, I need you.”
Right. If they didn’t do something they were going to die. And Shotaro was out of ideas.
He didn’t think to question when Sokichi and the boy had had the chance to talk. His mind was too busy panicking.
They got to their feet and Shotaro set the Driver at his navel. A belt erupted from the side and wrapped around his waist, and with a bright glow, a matching belt appeared on the boy. Shotaro grabbed one of the Memories, and when he got another good look at the hole his boss’s body had vanished into he cried out with rage.
They jammed the Gaia Memories into their belts. A burst of wind surrounded them, and they were one.
Fumine Sonozaki’s world became grey.
She was gone by the time they returned to the office.