“I’m just doing my job here, little man,” said a gray-haired man wearing black armor under a red longcoat. “Besides, I’m killing two birds with one stone here.” He put a foot on the chest of the sharply-dressed man whimpering on the ground before him, driving him to the cold stone ground.
“Bird number one,” the gray-haired man continued as he tightened his grip on the longsword which was slung on his shoulder, “You’re a target that my client wants dead. Since you’re gonna die soon, I’ll tell you that my client is the police, since they don’t have enough balls to deal with selfish scum like you. Heh, the world these days is infested with ’em.” And then the gray-haired man pointed the tip of his sword at his target. “Which leads me to bird number two, which is the fact that you’re someone who I’d like to kill for my own pleasure. In this sort of crapsack era, I’m a freaking hero, and no one will ever resent what I do. Eye for an eye, little man. For the world’s happiness…and for my happiness, of course…your death…death of people like you…is needed. Any last words, little man?”
The sweating man lying on the ground, instead of responding with the usual pathetic and fearful whining that the gray-haired man received, grinned really wide and laughed really hard, if it weren’t for the foot on his chest, which hampered his breathing.
“You…haha…You’re telling me that I’m selfish scum, when you’re just as low as us, Gray Demon! Haha, you’re just another demon, just like–”
At that point, the Gray Demon, whose name was–coincidentally–Gray Umano, sliced the laughing man’s head off and casually lifted his foot away from the sharply-dressed but bloody corpse in front of him. With a tinge of annoyance, he wiped off the blood from his armor, clothes, and sword. “I’m not a demon, I’m just human. Still, being beyond human doesn’t sound like a bad idea, if it means that I can help the world out. Being human really sucks…but I can’t help it. I’m human, after all.”
For a while, he pondered on that last sentence that he told himself. What does it mean to be human, anyway? Going along with what everyone else is doing? Heh, I’ve been stuck with that definition for so many years…
Gray then reminded himself using the words that he repeatedly told himself ever since his childhood days, those days when his eyes were forcefully opened to the reality of his times.
“If going along with what everyone else is doing is the meaning of being human, and doing so won’t help the world, then I would be happy to stop being human.”
“Well, at least I’m a demon who’s helping the world out,” the mercenary told himself as he went back to report to his client. “Better than angels not doing their jobs.”
After another session of “Hand Over The Payment Or I’ll Cut Your Head Off” with the town’s police chief, Gray Umano hung around at his favorite inn/tavern, The Honey Bear’s Den. Sitting on a stool, he took a swig from a mug of beer as random thoughts whizzed about in his mind. Staring eyes and a bored frown manifested themselves on his scarred face as he lay his chin on top of the recently varnished wooden counter-top. From thoughts about the relaxing smoothness of the varnished counter-top, his mind drifted to thoughts about pranking the local alchemist, who was his vitriolic best bud, and then to that knight squad captain. Oh, that knight squad captain. She–Gray had almost forgotten that she was a woman again–was a pain in his ass, and he almost kinda enjoyed it. Almost, if it weren’t for her frequent attempts to keep him in line. Gray enjoyed fighting her, but he felt like she should get a man to pull that stick out of her butt and then give her a nice and relaxing, but really hot and steamy…
“Hello there, Mister Umano!”
As Gray was about to think of a joke involving the possible sex life of that knight squad captain, he was cut off by an unfamiliar but annoyingly cheery voice.
Gray orbs locked into blue orbs, and an annoyed frown faced an energetic smile.
“What do you want?” the gray-haired mercenary asked.
“I just wanted to have a conversation with you,” replied the smiling woman in front of Gray.
Gray took the time to investigate her physical appearance while the rest of his thoughts were putting themselves into order. The woman in front of him seemed to be a few inches shorter from him, had shoulder-length brown hair which was covered by a bandanna, and a figure wearing a floral-patterned apron over a white dress shirt and black pants. Her face looked mature, but her smile made it look more childish. She seems to be a worker here, but I don’t think I’ve seen this woman here before, Gray thought. Then, Gray noticed the background behind the woman. Customers were whispering–some nervously, some excitedly–as they looked in his direction.
Turning back to the woman, who was still calmly smiling, Gray broke the silence between the two of them.
“Uh…Who are you? You do know that I’m not a people-person, right?”
“Well, that’s what I’ve heard, Mister Umano,” the woman calmly replied. “Anyway, my name’s Libreria. Libreria Nightlight. I work here part-time as a waitress and a chef. I’m studying Fine Arts at the local university.”
“Do I need to introduce myself, Miss Nightlight?” Gray asked, as he already had quite the reputation to begin with.
“If you don’t want to, then I don’t mind,” Libreria answered with a friendly smile.
“…Gray Umano,” the mercenary said as he looked away and shot a sideways glance at the waitress. “Mercenary. Many people call me the “Gray Demon,” but I don’t mind being called a demon if it means that I can help people.”
“The police these days suck, huh?” the waitress said, still smiling as she leaned to the counter and supported her head using an arm which stood on the counter-top. “Well, I agree with that.”
Gray smiled, and then he took another swig of beer. “Glad to hear that someone agrees with me.”
“Still,” Libreria added, her smile still not fading, “It’s not like they can’t get better.”
Gray’s smile immediately faded upon hearing those words. Those words were like that knife, that knife which insulted him during his childhood as he tried to escape the grasp of corrupt policemen after attempting to stand up for what was right. He managed to hold back most of his anger, and then he channeled the rest of it into a sharp glare that pierced even those who didn’t look at it, as shown by the audience that went almost eerily silent upon hearing the waitress’s words and seeing the mercenary’s reaction. Almost, as some did not stop whispering about it.
“The Gray Demon doesn’t like idealists, alright.”
“Last one we saw got kicked through the window, and it was a kid, too! Dude doesn’t care even if it’s a kid or a woman!”
“Damn it, Libreria, I shouldn’t have challenged you to do this…”
Tuning out the whispers in the background, Gray channeled some of his anger into his voice as he spoke. “What makes you think that that’s possible?”
With her right hand under her chin, Libreria still smiled, although her left hand was quickly and repeatedly tapping the counter-top, perhaps out of nervousness or out of excitement. After a few more moments of silence, the waitress’s smile widened as she lifted her head up and laid her right arm on the counter-top.
“If we can do good, then even the most rotten humans can turn over a new leaf.”
“Do you think it’s that easy?”
“Of course not. Still, if it doesn’t seem like they won’t change, then we should just do what we can to help them change.”
Gray took a large swig of his beer, and then he slammed the mug onto the counter-top strongly, but not strong enough to shatter the glass container. Wearing narrowed eyes and downturned lips, the mercenary continued with his anger-filled questioning. “Do you even understand what sort of life I’ve lived for me to think that scum like them can’t be changed? Do you even understand why the scars that I have, like this one on my face,” Gray pointed to the thick scar on his right cheek, “fill me with so much anger?”
As Gray glared, the waitress, who was rhythmically switching the pace of her counter-top tapping, looked down and pondered for a while with a serious expression. Seconds later, her lips became upturned, and then she took her apron off. Then, she unbuttoned the first two upper buttons on her dress shirt–which attracted the gazes of many, some of which were perverted and some of which were innocently curious–and showed off a long scar that crossed from slightly below her left collarbone to the upper part of her right breast. “I guess I do,” Libreria said, smiling calmly.
“Where’d you get that?” Gray asked as he looked at Libreria’s scar with a calmer expression, as he was now more interested in what this woman wanted to tell him.
“Early teenage days,” the waitress casually answered as she buttoned her shirt up and put her apron back on. “A bunch of perverted knights were going too far with hitting on my older sister, and I decided to stand up for her. One of them got angry and slashed me, and then I got this. If it weren’t for Captain Adamantine, I would have been sexually violated, and I may have ended up as cynical as you are.”
The mercenary’s mouth gaped in shock as he processed the information that he had just received. Captain Adamantine? She inspired this girl into being an idealist? I thought that she was an ignorant hardass like the rest of the police and knights, but WHAT!?
“Are you serious?” Gray asked with one eyebrow raised really high. “I always thought that Adamant-head was a freaking stupid hardass who couldn’t take a hint about the idiocy reigning over this world right now.”
“Really now,” Libreria said, wryly smiling, “It’s not like she’s not doing her best to help in improving the city’s security. Even if she’s lacking support, she’ll never give up on hoping. Still, I do think that she would be better if she added some more kindness and friendliness to her methods. Anyway, I have a feeling that you don’t like being near her that much, huh?”
“Yeah,” Gray replied with a frown. “She’s always calling me out on my methods. I mean, a good little limb chop or a decapitation can help knock some lessons into anyone’s brains, right?”
“Hmm…I think I’m starting to understand why Captain Adamantine doesn’t like you. You hold beliefs that are against her ideals. You know, if I were to pick between you and her for the sake of improving the security of this city, I’d rather side with her.”
“Want to be a hardass like her, huh?” Gray said with a bitter chuckle.
“Not really,” Libreria replied. “As much as I want you to stop being a pessimist, shoving my beliefs down your throat is never a good idea. I prefer being kind and friendly towards others.”
“What if you experience really painful suffering, then?”
The waitress’s smile widened, as if she saw that question coming. “Then I’ll make them my inspiration. Those inspirational scars, like the one here in my chest…I’ll let them inspire me…to improve my kindness…to improve my patience…to improve myself.”
“I hope that you’re not being hypocritical,” Gray said with a smile of amusement.
“Then feel free to remind me, even if I get embarrassed or pissed off,” Libreria replied, her smile breaking into a grin. “It’s not like any one of us is perfect. We need to be reminded about where the right path is, you know.”
“Heh, I find that agreeable. Well, I’ll have to go to sleep now. I’m freaking tired. Let’s talk again tomorrow.”
“Alright. See you tomorrow, then.”
As Gray Umano stood up and went to his inn room, the eruption of shouts of amazement and elation filled him with amusement.
Looks like I need some changing, the mercenary thought with a smile.
One month later…
“Mister Amano, the police sent you a letter!” one of the workers at The Honey Bear’s Den declared as he knocked at the mercenary’s door.
Don’t worry, police, Gray thought as he stood up and dressed up. I can take a job, but if it’s an assassination job, then I’ll have to do some negotiations. “I hear ya, man!”
The mercenary opened the door and took the letter, giving words of gratitude as the worker went back to whatever task he was supposed to do in the inn at the moment.
“Alright, now what’s this about…?”
Upon opening the envelope and unfolding the letter, Gray was greeted by hurriedly written text.
“‘Dear Mister Umano, we need you right now!'” Gray read with a monotonous voice. “‘…the executive that we’ve been chasing…is now holding a bunch of people hostage…We’ve improved during the past month thanks to Captain Adamantine and her knights, but we really need you right now!’ Huh, well, no mention of assassination.” A smile formed on Gray’s face. “Good job, Adamant-head. The town police chief’s forming a spine already.”
Pocketing the letter inside his longcoat, Gray then started running out of the inn and into the streets, towards the town square, where a commotion was going on.
“HAND OVER THE CASH OR I’LL BLOW MYSELF UP ALONG WITH ALL OF YOU!”
“Damn it, Adamant-head got caught,” Gray whispered to himself as he pulled up the hood of his red longcoat in order to blend with the panicking crowd. “And is that…damn, a Valkyrium bomb…one press of that switch or one strong impact can turn this place into a premature New Year’s Eve Festival…and that’s just an understatement.”
As Gray Umano stealthily walked through the crowd, he watched the troubled onlookers panicking and the negotiating police force attempting to deal with the conflict peacefully.
A side attack doesn’t seem good, as he would notice me approaching..An attack from above would be a problem, too, since these panicking people may blow my cover in their panic…so…oh wait.
Entering the mercenary’s notice was the sight of the blue-haired knight squad captain taking advantage of her hostage-taker’s angered focus on the negotiators. The hostage-taker in a wrinkled formal suit staggered as he received multiple punches from the mature knight squad captain with a face filled with steel-hard calmness. The bomb trigger fell from the executive’s hand as he fell to the floor while coughing.
Well, gotta act fast! Gray thought as he rushed through the crowd and jumped onto the stage, snatching the bomb trigger before the executive could get his hands on it. Then, he quickly and carefully pinned the executive on the floor, making sure that he wouldn’t trigger the explosion of the bombs wrapped around him.
“I won’t let you blow this place up,” the mercenary said as he carefully took off the executive’s jacket and bombs, “But I won’t kill you.”
“W-What? But why?” the executive asked in disbelief, an emotion which many of the onlookers had as they watched the so-called “Gray Demon” deal with a criminal without being cruel and ruthless to them.
“Let me ask you: What does it mean to be a human?” Gray asked with a friendly smile.
“…Uh…I don’t know,” the restrained executive asked after moments of catching his breath, wondering why the mercenary suddenly asked a question like that.
“Let me tell you, then: You have a mind that only you can control, you have free will that can only be operated by you alone, you’re unique, and you’re imperfect, too. Now then, do you think that you can still choose and strive to be truly happy even if the majority of the society hates you and even if you make more and more mistakes?”
“Uh…now that you mention it…I guess I do…” the frazzled executive said as his widening eyes became filled with regret and realization.
“Don’t let despair take over you, man,” Gray said as he gave the executive a slap in the back while he was being handed over to the police. “Justice system’s kinder and friendlier now. We’ll help you change for the better, ’cause we believe that you can choose and strive to be good. The world needs more good people, too, you know.”
“Uh…thank you…” the executive smiled gratefully and then regretfully. “And…sorry…”
“Don’t worry so much, man. Don’t lose hope, too. Adamant-head here may be rough at times, but she means well! Also, these tough times of yours, let them inspire you to improve yourself!”
As the captured executive nodded with a smile, he was carried away by the police. Some of the onlookers at the town square had begun clapping with awe and elation, while some had left with anger and annoyance. The police, the knights, and the mercenary appreciated the praise that they received, and even if they didn’t like it, they kept calm towards the people who didn’t like how the hostage situation was dealt with.
“Well, some still don’t like the new system, but at least we’re improving, right, Adamant-head?” Gray asked the blue-haired knight squad captain.
A silent smile was the only reply that Gray received.
“You’ve really changed, Umano,” Captain Adamantine said with a calm and happy smile. “Hanging around with Libreria really helped you, huh?”
“Yup. I’m really thankful that she decided to approach me last month,” Gray replied, looking up at the sky as he remembered his first conversation with that waitress at The Honey Bear’s Den. “Otherwise, my life would have kept on being an unhappy mess.”
“Mmhm,” the captain nodded in agreement.
Moments of silence passed as they watched peace come back into the town again.
“You know, if you didn’t decide to punch that guy, I would have probably decided to cut his arm off,” the mercenary casually said out of the blue. “Seriously.”
A silent glare was the reply that he received from the blue-haired knight squad captain.
“Don’t worry, it’s not like I wanted to kill him,” Gray added with a calm smile.
“I know,” Adamantine replied as a friendly smile formed in her face again. “I was just joking around with you.”
“Heh, you have a sense of humor? I didn’t think that you had–AGH!”
“I don’t know if you’re joking, but it’s not like I’m some sort of tyrant, Umano,” said Adamantine with a serious tone and a small smile after giving a punch to the mercenary.
“I know…I know…And I never thought that you were actually marri–AGH! Ahaha…”
Suddenly, a familiar female voice rang with energy.
“Captain! Gray! Good morning!”
“Good morning, Libreria!”
“I heard that you managed to subdue and calm a hostage-taker down,” Libreria, who was wearing her university uniform, asked in a relaxed tone, as she found her two friends safe and sound. “Good job, you two!”
“Well, we still have a long way to go, but we’re improving, alright,” the captain replied.
“Yup!” the mercenary shouted with cheerfulness–which was something that would surprise anyone who considered him a cruel and ruthless Gray Demon. “We won’t give up! Thanks very much for your support again, Libreria!”
“Heehee, you’re welcome!” the student of Fine Arts replied with a giggle.
“Well, time to get to the next job, then!” Gray shouted as he jogged in place. “See ya later at the The Honey Bear’s, Libreria!”
“See ya, Gray!” Libreria shouted as she watched the reformed mercenary go.
“He’s really changed, alright,” Adamantine told Libreria.
“Mmhm,” Libreria nodded.
As the sun rose, the two women, along with the some of the citizens of the town, felt the warm and shining light of hope. They felt it growing, and no matter how much despair would try to stop them, giving up on hope was, is, and will never be a good idea.