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Aren't You Tired of Being Nice?


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Monday, January 11, 2021

3:26 PM


"C'mon, this'll be great!"


An offhand comment about being a bit underwhelmed by the variety of vegetarian options in the Claremont Academy cafeteria on Utsuwa's part had been all the excuse his roommate needed to drag them into the downtown of the Freedom City. Ryder promised he knew a little place in Riverside that did every imaginable variation on a lentil bowl under the sun and was evidently worthy of quite a bit more effusive praise even after Utsuwa has assured him he was convinced.


The street they were walking down had done its best to fit as many businesses as possible into its limited space, street-front real estate divided and subdivided, skinny little stairways leading up to second floors and hand lettered chalkboard signs competing for space with pedestrians and bicycles. The soundscape was no less overbearing, from the halves of cellphone conversations to the wailing toddler in the stroller across the street, from the young woman busking with an electric guitar on the corner to the mishmash of chimes, bells and electric chirps that sounded as every door opened.


From the way he was grinning Ryder might as well have been strolling through a meditation garden. "Look at that blue sky! Hope you're hungry bud, I know how you feel about American portion sizes. Here we go!" He stopped in front of a vertical sign with red block letters on a black background reading 'LentALL'.

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Utsuwa's eyes danced over the crowd scanning and assessing constantly.  It was exhausting but a habit he'd been unable to break.  He carefully measured his breathing forcing himself to remain calm despite the many distractions as he moved through the crowd.  The black coat zipped tightly over his torso was unremarkable devoid of identifying branding likewise the dark jeans and off brand cross trainers below.  Only the borrowed beanie emblazoned with the sigil of one of Ryders favorite cartoon characters deviated from the artfully generic appearance Utsuwa put forth for their journey outside school grounds.


His tone was flat as he spared a brief glance for Ryder, "Yes I look forward to a meal not robbed of texture by industrial cooking and eternity in a steamer tray."  he assured his roommate quite proud of his expanded skill at small talk.  Thankfully he was rarely called upon to offer more than token filler in the conversational gaps that so disquieted most American's he had met, Ryder was expert at insuring no silence lasted long enough to become uncomfortable.  "After seitan surprise I think an American portion will be welcome."  he added with a hint of a smile.  He tried to keep the tension from his voice as he spoke, replacing it with his go to combination of teen sarcasm and aloof indifference.  

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"Trying to recreate mystery meat seems misguided on a couple levels," Ryder agreed with the sort of disapproval he reserved for poor culinary service. His puffy jacket looked like its designer had been getting a commission based on how many different coloured stripes could be worked into it while his loosely fitting pants were an orange that didn't occur in nature. He paused for a moment before pushing the door open to give Utsuwa a sidelong glance. "Hey, so, I know being out in the city is still pretty stressful and all for you. It's legitimately impressive that you're just, like, tanking that but if you need to cut out, just say the word, yeah? But for now: food!" He led the way into LentALL before his roommate had to endure the indignity of responding to the heartfelt sentiment directly.

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Utsuwa simply shrugged, "A for effort I guess?"  he suggested with smirk as he took note of the building they were approaching and the neighboring business's and upper floors layouts.  As his roommate paused in the door his eyes fell toward the ground, "Have to get used to it sometime."  he replied with only slight discomfort with the revelation of how poorly he was hiding his discomfort from the enthusiastic teen.  He was glad not to have to meet the other boys eyes in the immediate aftermath certainly.  


He followed Ryder into the shop and looked over the posted menu with intense interest.  The smells alone drifting from the kitchens were already making promises he hoped the establishment would be able to keep.   "Any recommendations?"  he asked as he looked over the extensive offerings.  His mouth opened to thank Ryder for all of this then slammed shut as the fellow teen looked at him once more.  Gratitude was one thing, gratitude and eye contact was another level entirely.  "You weren't lying they really do have it all."

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"I usually go for the daily special 'cause I figure that's what the cooks actually felt like making that day and food's always better when the person making it is into it, y'know?" Ryder replied philosophically, resting a knuckle on his chin and nodding. If he'd noticed the specific source of Utsuwa's discomfort he had the good grace not to mention it further. Scrawled in marker on one of the dry erase boards behind the counter the special of the day was a sort of lentil-based pineapple curry with fried cauliflower. Other offerings included build-your-own bowls and bowls themed around being high in protein, low in calories or promoting 'gut health'.


"I'm really sorry about the mix-up, sir. We can get that made up again right away," the freckled teenager manning the cash register was telling a customer holding a takeout bag as the boys joined the line.


"Hnngh, no, it's fine, it's fine," the man with dishevelled blonde hair told her in a tone that indicated it was anything but. "I can't wait, I'm already running late." His slate grey business suit was a little rumbled, one shirt sleeve sticking out further than it should have from the cuff of the jacket, the collar misaligned on one side.


"I can get you a gift card, then--"


"It's fine!" he reiterated a little more loudly than would have been polite, snatching up the bag and hurrying his way back out to the street, shouldering past another customer and muttering something under his breath.

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"Your perpetual optimism borders on madness you know."  Utsuwa replied with a small shake of his head and faint smile at the gentle ribbing.  His eyes followed the angry man to the door with a shake of his head and vague disgust on his features as he turned back to the counter.  "I suspect it is not in fact fine."  he murmured under his breath with a shrug but said nothing more about the man who clearly needed more refined anger management techniques.


The fit teen looked over the menu arms crossed across his chest and the flat line his mouth fell into left the already rattled cashier dreading the next customer as he perused.  When the time came he stepped forward and ordered succinctly, "I'll take the Green lentil Protein Bowl,"  he pointed to the menu, "Oyster mushrooms and kale yes?"  he added to make sure his order was clear.  He then turned and nodded to Ryder, "And whatever he is having is on me."  he snuck in paying since Ryder had come all this way to get him more palatable food.  His lack of designer wear and simple lifestyle might have suggested he was note well funded but it mostly meant his school stipend went largely unused.

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"Madness? Or genius?" Ryder posed with a toothy grin and an exaggerated raised eyebrow as if he had presented Utsuwa with a true conundrum for the ages. Reading his expression had become a point of study for his less outgoing roommate; it was less that Ryder's almost perpetual smile got larger or smaller in response to different things and more that the specific cant and shape of the smile changes to reflect a specific flavour of enthusiasm. Just so as Utsuwa insisted on paying, his smile softening around the corners. "Aw, that's so nice, man! Thank you!" He produced a creased two-can-dine coupon from his jacket pocket and slid it across the counter to the cashier anyway.


While Ryder was getting her expert opinion on how much extra pineapple could be added to the curry before it presented a structural issue the muffled sounds of raised voice could be heard from just outside the restaurant, increasing in pitch to a heated argument.

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"You are insufferable."  Utsuwa replied as the coupon was laid down.  The tone flat and carrying no genuine heat.  An approximation of friendly banter perhaps.  He observed the exchange and looked to Ryder with a slight tilt of his brow, "You're going to turn a lovely curry into a mediocre chutney."  he advised and slid his card to pay for their meals. 


He turned to observe the room while they waited for their food keeping his back tot he wall as he lounged in the loose limbed stance he had practiced to appear casual.  The raised voices outside only catching his attention above the background din of the city when others in the shop started to look out the windows to observe the drama unfolding.  He frowned slightly and glanced to Ryder, "Someone is having a big mad."  he warned with a shrug.  It had registered but not as a threat merely a topic of conversation to entertain while they waited.

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"Experimentation is about taking risks, Utsuwa!" Ryder told his roommate cheerfully once the specifics of his order were settled. He followed the attention of the other patrons out the front window. Not limited by Utsuwa's carefully crafted lack of investment he shifted to get a clearer look through the front window. "Oh yikes, Mr. It's Fine can't catch a break. Meter maid." The middle-aged enforcement officer didn't look at all impressed by the business man's assertions, continuing to scribble in her notepad. With a high pitched sound of peaking indignation the blond man jabbed a finger into the back of the notepad, hard enough to push the whole thing into her chest. She swatted his whole arm away with a shout, knocking him off balance and spilling his incorrect lentil bowl order all over his already suffering suit. The onlookers reacted in unison with a variety of gasps, murmurs or barks of laughter.


Ryder opened his mouth to comment himself but closed it, frowning slightly as he tilted his head to one side. "Where is that music coming from?"


The crunchy elective guitar power chords crescendoed to bone shaking intensity as the business man, red in the face, threw back his head and let out an enraged scream, the sounds blending together indistinguishably. Just as abruptly his eyes went wide and he doubled over, clutching his chest as waves of sickly yellow energy began to radiate off of him in time with the aggressive song. The meter maid backed away as LentALL's windows rattled and car alarms went off, drowned out by the impossibly loud music. People on the street took shelter where they could, covering their ears and pulling out smartphones to record the bizarre spectacle. The yellow light intensified and took shape until the man collapsed to the sidewalk unconscious and the song was abruptly silenced


Above him stood a translucent yellow monster, something built like a centaur with the body of a rhinoceros the size of a compact car leading into a humanoid torso with long, alien proportions and a vaguely goat-like head. Its mouth was filled with too-large teeth that curved outward, its eyes balls of yellow flame, its human hands ending in machete-like claws. When it opened its maw to roar it was with the sound of a thrashing electric guitar, its entire body rippling at the edges like a sound wave. A single stomp of one of its feet crushed the offending parking meter before it began looking about for other targets upon which to vent its fury.

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Utsuwa watched the exchange with a shake of his head, "Are we about to witness some of the police brutality your country is so famed for?"  he asked Ryder dryly though it was clear that while the man might be facing additional citation or arrest for his actions he wasn't about to be tased.  The music caught his ear as well and at first he assumed it was someone's laptop speakers but shook his head, "It's coming form outside I think..."


He snapped upright as the clearly unnatural glow surrounded the man before he collapsed leaving the strange ghostly creature looming over him.  "It's like a child's drawing of an Oni or something."  he muttered and glanced to Ryder with a smirk, "School Rules say we leave this to the Pros."  he pointed out with a shrug clearly having no more intention to follow this rule than he did curfew or any other he found to impede his goals.  "If you're gonna follow them you might want to look the other way."  he suggested with a wink and as soon as Ryders eyes left him at the prompt to look away he was gone.


Moments later a ghostly samurai vaulted to the top of the car the crimson armor limned in ethereal flame that moved to some otherworldly wind, in hand the Katana and Wakizashi glowed with ghostly light as he held them out toward the creature in a calm and ready stance, "Retreat!  Do not make a mistake this  day to stain your legacy."  he wasn't sure if this was a possession or a power of the man himself but regardless he would give the entity the chance to do the right thing.

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"'If I'm going to follow the rules', serious-- oh you're gone. That was pretty cool." Abruptly left talking to himself Ryder turned and gave the cashier a winning grin. "Could you set those bowls aside for minute? I need to find where my friend ran off to." Half crouched behind the counter she gave an uncertain nod. The strawberry blond teenager dashed down the 'employees only' hallway to the left and out the side door to the narrow alleyway between buildings. When a cursory look back and forth seemed to confirm he was alone he reached down to the printer ink cartridge styled buckle on his belt.


"CYMK! Dream in colour!"

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The bizarre demonic centaur didn't crane its neck to look down at Kensei so much as the portion of its form above its pectorals rippled, abruptly refocusing in downward leaning position like frames of animation played out of order. Even standing at the ready atop the car it loomed over the young swordsman. Where he should have been able to feel its hot breath snorting from the nostrils at the end of its snout and around huge, curving teeth he instead felt an electric tingle blow across the front of his spectral armour. It seemed to consider him briefly with the gouts of yellow flame that served as its eyes then roared a power chord with a diminished fifth that cracked the windshield of the car beneath his feet.

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The armored form of Kensei stared down the creature eyes narrowed and his focus sharpened to a razors edge.  He didn't flinch before the enraged bellow his weight already shifting as the glass under his foot cracked.  In a single smooth motion his blade snapped out in ringing arc streaking toward the creatures neck only checked at the last moment to strike with the flat a stinging blow to the temple.  His momentum carrying him Kensei completed the motion rolling from the top of the car to spring to his feet on the ground before the beast hopefully turning it's Ire toward himself and not the officer or any bystander that might be in the way.  "You should have chosen peace."

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While the translucent beast gave a cry of pained surprise that was also a minor third chord progression the insect helmed Chitin dashed from the alleyway onto the scene in his silver-on-black base armour. Sliding like a baseball player aiming for home plate he crouched next to the unconscious business man behind the cracked and dented vehicle. Shaking the man's shoulder with one hand to try to rouse him, he used the middle and index fingers of the other to probe for a pulse. After a few tense beats he realized aloud, "I can't actually feel anything through these gloves." Louder he called to Kensei, "He's not waking up!"


The blade wielding youth had his own more pressing concerns as the giraffe rhino hybrid lurched toward him, its movements choppy and difficult to predict without any actual skeleton or musculature to confine it. It's head shot forward and snapped its teeth menacingly at Kensei - a feint the stoic martial artist recognized and ignored. A follow up swipe of one of its unnervingly long, human-like arms was therefore easily dodged, the huge claws instead tearing long gouges in the street's concrete and spraying rubble into the air.

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"Then we drive off the beast!"  Kensei replied as he spun aside narrowly dodging the wicked claws.  He watched carefully how the creature moved eyes tracking the creatures jerky unnatural motion from beneath the demonic mempo of his ghostly armor. Waiting for the opportunity to strike.  When the Ragin next reared up the crimson clad samurai dove into a tight roll between the things 'legs' his katana striking out at the exposed underbelly in a brutal disemboweling attack.  When Kensei came to his feet next to Chitin he actually seemed to be smiling beneath the spectral mask.  His breathing slow and measured.  If Ryder didn't know better he'd think his roommate was enjoying this.

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"Sounds like a plan, Kensei!" Chitin flashed the other teen a thumbs up and bounded forward, taking the same path between the thing's rhino-like legs Utsuwa had but in reverse. He rolled out on the other side just as it was rearing around to face its first attacker and used newspaper box as a stepping stone to jump high into the air and deliver a windmill kick to its backside. "Hey, so it's like an electric rage demon, right? So it's a Ragin!" He pronounced it so as to rhyme with 'Raijin' and made jazz hands as he landed on the street in case the pun somehow hadn't been obvious. "Right? Get it?"

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The giraffe 'ragin' largely ignored Chitin's kick and rather than continuing to wheel about stomped its massive feet and threw its head back in a roar of racing ascending arpeggios. As it did its outline vibrated in time with the notes, peaking waves turning nearly into spikes. Its translucent yellow form grew brighter and denser, visibly gathering strength and shaking off some of the damage Kensei had inflicted upon it. Its knees bowed slightly for a moment before it launched itself over the swordsman's head like a show horse clearing a hurdle. The pavement cracked where it landed and the beast took off at a gallop, sending cars screeching out of the way as it looked for a more opportune target to vent its frustrations upon!

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"Unfortunately I do."  Kensei replied to the terrible pun though keeping his eyes on the creature at least saved his room mate the baleful glare that he might otherwise have earned.  He jumped to the side rebounding off the wall of a building to build momentum in his next attack only for the creature to flee.


"Can't fault it's strategy."  he admitted, "We were going to kick its ..."  A car horn blared cutting off the final word of his quip as the snarled traffic around them grew worse.  Bounding to the top of one stopped car then leaping from one to the next in pursuit of the Ragin Kensei banished the spectral blades form his hands and leapt to swing from a street sign and flip through the air gaining on and passing the Ragin to cut off it's likely route of escaped and hopefully herd the rampaging demon back towards Chitin.

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"Guess we're testing top speeds today! Cyan!" Always close at hand, the light blue Robug hopped down from the awning over LentALL's front door to land on Chitin's shoulder as he started sprinting after Kensei. Rapidly toggling the chambers on his belt he threw out his arms while the belt's tinny voice announced, “Bush Cricket Instar! Hop to it!”


Debris left in the Giraffe Ragin's wake was blown back away from the running teen by the gust of displaced air, his silhouette obscured briefly by the light pouring forth from the armour's pocket dimension. Before it had faded a blur launched down the street, prodigious leaps taking it from the street to a nearby wall mounted flagpole then the top of a street lamp and a second storey balcony. His final jump propelled him into an airborne kick, catching the monster directly in the side of its toothy head as it reared back to avoid colliding with Kensei.


Chitin landed on the far side, the heel of his leading foot carving a shallow divot in the pavement as it absorbed his momentum. The cricket armour's cyan plating on the chest and legs caught the midday sunlight along with the now strawberry red eye pieces of his helmet as he turned to give his roommate a thumbs up. “Wasn't a hundred percent sure that'd work while I was running without tearing itself apart! Nice!"

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The Ragin reeled from the solid blow, nearly topping over sideways from the upper body momentum as its rhinoceros-like legs stumbled to the side. It looked as though the momentum of the fight was swinging back around in the boys' favour until the beast's outline flared again, powered by some bottomless reservoir of preternaturally pure rage. It shook off its momentary stupor and reared back like a horse, its towering form rising even further over their heads. Chitin scrambled out of the way as its feet came down nearly on top of him, bouncing awkwardly against the ruined street in his armour as the shockwave reverberated like a huge bass drum beat. Kensei avoided the attack more gracefully, drawing their foe's attention as the more immediate threat.

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Kensei whirled away as the Ragin reared diving free of the shockwave and rolling to his feet in one smooth motion.  He rolled his eyes and gave his roommate a thumbs up in return, "Great time to test it."  he deadpanned in reply.  He watched the creature as it focused now on him and leapt out of the way as if evading it's next attack.  As soon as his feet hit the ground he changed direction and vaulted up the nearby wall to launch himself from the second floor ledge in a spinning dive.  His ghostly katana now in a vicious two handed grip he drove it down across the back of the the creatures neck in a cleaving blow.

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Kensei's blade sliced cleanly through the the translucent monster's form, leaving not a torn wound but a sort of instability. The yellow of its neck seemed dimmer, flickering in an out of view. It reacted as though physically struck, toppling forward onto its front knees and nearly tumbling onto its side and screeching electric amp feedback.


“No time like the present!" Chitin called back to his friend as he somersaulted back onto his feet. He toggled the chambers on his belt in sequence, rerouting power to his leading foot and he dropped into a ready stance. “I think it's time for this guy to wake up. Big finish?" Light began to surge around the edges of the armour on his leg, growing in intensity around his boot and humming with intensity, waiting for Kensei's signal to strike.

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"I think I hear what you are laying down."  Kensei replied a fierce grin beneath his spectral mempo.  The ghostly flames around his form flared brighter as he dove in toward the creature ahead of Chitins charged kick.  "Lets finish this."  he growled fiercely. planting his feet on each side of the creatures neck.  The spectral samurai reversed the grip on the ghastly katana stabbing down on the creatures exposed crown planting the blade right between the Ragins eyes marking a clear target for Chitins incoming blow.

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Just a step behind Kensei, Chitin launched himself forward, a trail of sky blue light leaving afterimages in his wake. Bounding into the air with a flip, he landed a thunderous bicycle kick directly onto the hilt of the katana alight with crimson flame, driving the weapon clear through the Giraffe Ragin's head, through its wounded neck and out its opposite side. The armoured hero landed on the far side on both feet while the swordsman dismounted with acrobatic grace next to him, their backs to their defeated foe.


For a brief moment the beast's entire form vibrated with discordant notes, increasing in tempo and volume to a fevered pitch until abruptly it detonated in an explosion of light and electricity that backlit the pair into dramatic silhouettes. All that was left was a scorch mark on the street and a trail of destruction behind it.


“Argh, I wasn't looking at the explosion!" Chitin lamented, spinning around a moment too late and tossing his head back dejectedly. “I bet that looked so cool!"

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Kensei slowly turned after the dismount and explosion to regard the scorch mark quizzically, "I am almost certain it was far cooler without out us looking back."  He explained with a rare smile, "Nice moves by the way, showy, but effective."  he critiqued deadpan.  Peering back down the street he tapped Ryders shoulder, "We should check on that guy now that the monster isn't trying to smash everything."  he suggested and crouched preparing to leap, "And no I am not calling it that."  he added before Ryder could insist on the name he'd given the creature.


Bounding down the street to the original scene he let his spectral aura flare as he regarded the crowd, "Give him space."  he insisted as he crouched and carefully looked for signs of breathing.  "I don't think he's dead."  was about all the crimson samurai could offer to Ryder when he arrived.

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