Month: June 2015

A Slight Delay

Not the big kind this time, I promise. I was planning on finishing this week’s chapter tonight (I know, I have a bad habit of putting things off till the last minute), but for some reason I feel really, really tired and it’s getting hard to write. It’s lame, I know, but what are you going to do.

Chapter will be out as soon as I can power through this sudden-onset narcolepsy and finish it properly. Could be a few hours, could be when I wake up in the morning. It’ll be done by tomorrow at the very latest though.

Tokyo Drift 4.6

Previous || Next

“Marq, hold your breath!” I yelled. Both of them drew their guns and fired in what felt like slow motion, and I reached into my back pocket for a bundle of the Devil’s breath. Channeling my inner pitcher, I tossed the hastily wrapped sack of powder into the path of the oncoming bullets, and it burst like like a sack of flour, seeding white powder everywhere.

I grinned, closing my eyes and holding my breath to a count of ten. What I’d just thrown was an admixture of scopolamine, more commonly known by its Colombian street name “Burundanga” or “Aliento de Diablo”, the Devil’s breath. It was becoming pretty popular in drug cartels around that time for its ability to induce a post-hypnotic state of extreme suggestibility. What I mean to say is that it’s a fucking hypnosis drug that’ll make them go nappy and do whatever the fuck you tell them to. It’s some real Houdini shit, it’s great. So long as you can keep from breathing it in yourself.

I opened my eyes and the powdery cloud had cleared, so I looked around for them. If they’d so much as sniffed it, we’d won.

Marq looked my way, still covering his mouth and nose. “Did it work?”

I nodded. “I think so.”

At first glance they appeared perfectly still, languid and frozen just like a sleepwalker. Then… bang.

“Argh!” Marq grunted as a bullet flew past him and grazed his shoulder, nicking him just inches away from his neck. He instinctively put a hand over the deep scratch to stop the flow of blood.

Nightshade? You and your cronies will have to do better than that, Marquis.”

Kichirō looked up and shook his limbs, wriggling his fingers and toes and cracking his neck the same way someone who’d just gotten up after their leg had fallen asleep would. Thinking on the same wavelength, Marq and I turned over some of the marble tables for cover and scrambled behind them.

“Al?” Marq said, a bit of panic creeping into his voice. “What’s going on here?!”

“I don’t know!”

I was fucking flabbergasted. I mean what? That’s all the effect it had? What was this guy? I looked at Yoshirō. Sure enough, he was moving too, slowly walking towards us, his armor clanking.

“We have been trained to resist a very long list of common and uncommon alkaloids and narcotics. Poisons, truth serums, knockout drugs, neurotoxins. We have immunities to about ninety-five of them,” Kichirō explained calmly. “Any weakness that could hinder or impede us was stamped out during our training.”

I stared at him. “… Bullshit!”

Yoshirō drew his halberd and calmly approached me and Sostene with a gait worthy of a true psycho killer. On Marq’s is end, Kichirō rubbed his neck and approached their cover with his gun in hand, the two hired help walking behind him.

“Hey Marq?” I said. “You okay taking those three? It seems like they like you for some reason, and I’d hate to intrude on your private time.”

“Oh kiss my ass, Al!” Marq yelled back. “You and Sostene take care of that joker so you can come help me! You know, any day now?”

“That joker” however was rushing towards us at full-speed like a bull, his halberd slashing through the air with superhuman speed. I barely dodged. The PT sessions I’d been having with Sostene and Theo were paying off, it looked like. Thanks to my enhanced muscle memory, I could now handle attacks that would completely overwhelm the average human.

Sostene popped into my field of view, still too fast to be perceived as anything other than a blur, and roundhouse kicked Yoshirō through the overturned marble table, smashing it and hopefully his face. But he still got up.

I hissed as I breathed through my teeth. More durable than I thought, even without the armor. A kick like that to the back of the skull should’ve pulverized his head-jelly. I didn’t know what it was yet, but something about this guy wasn’t normal.

Marq popped out of cover and started plugging away at the hired help, trying to get them out of the picture.

“What’s with these guys?” he asked. “Kochirō and Yoshirō I kinda get, but how are they still up ‘n at ’em?”

It was a good question. Neither of them had been trained like Kichirō had (or at least they didn’t show it), so what was the secret? We’d tried drugs and bullets, but nothing was working. Someone had to be at least a little affected by it.

By some miracle Marq landed two perfect headshots on the hired help, and their helmets were blown across the room, clanging emptily across the floor.

“Holy sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Marq whispered, because when those helmets came off and you looked inside, there was nothing inside those suits of armor.

“They’re familiars…” I muttered.

“Correct,” Kichirō responded. “More accurately, they’re tsukumogami, living suits of armor that came to life after a hundred years of service to my family. They’re a few of the many spirits in my employ.”

“Shit,” Marq swore. “I was afraid of this.”

“Afraid of what?” I said, keeping a close eye on Yoshirō as he brushed marble dust off his face.

“He’s a youkai tamer, Al,” Marq explained. “This is all starting to make sense now. I was wondering where you managed to find an oni and better yet how you convinced her to work for you. But that’s the secret, isn’t it?”

Kichirō remained silent. I swore quietly. Well that was great. That was just fucking great. Kichirō and Yoshirō were fucking übermensch and they were all friends with creatures from the goddamned ether. So all that powder I’d packed wasn’t going to do jack. That’s…. that was wonderful.

I looked at Sostene and hissed to get his attention. Throwing him some signals I’d seen the GIs use as a kid, I tried to tell him to circle around and grab Yoshirō from behind.

“… Huh?” was his reply. I tried again.

“Get… behind… him… ” I mouthed silently while making the same signals and pointing at Yoshirō.

“… Look, Al, if you’ve got something to say, just say it,” Sostene said, annoyed. “I don’t speak fucking sign language.”

I groaned. “Just cover me.”

Preparing myself, I reached into my back pocket and made a mad-dash for Yoshirō, my knife held in my right hand. This guy was blind, but he could obviously see somehow. Dollars to donuts he could hear us too, but even if he couldn’t, it’s not like Kichirō was deaf. Blindsiding these guys was gonna be next to impossible. So we had to trick them instead.

I ran with my left hand outstretched, another small bundle held wrapped within, ignoring how much my fearful, rational side was telling me this was a bad idea.

He’s only human, I reasoned. No matter what kind of ridiculous training they put themselves through, they still have human limitations. You only have to get in close.

Sostene did his best to distract the guy, appearing behind him to try and use his illusionry to blind him for me. But Yoshirō wasn’t having any of that this time. Twisting around with almost unnatural flexibility, he caught Sostene by the ankle this time, grabbing his leg and shoving his halberd through Sostene’s chest. Blood trickled down the shaft and Sostene vomited, blood splattering all over Yoshirō’s face.

But if there’s one thing I’ll give that bastard, it’s that he’s almost as stubborn as I am.

He grabbed the shaft and broke it, shattering the steel rod and breaking the blade off the halberd, leaving Yoshirō with nothing but a glorified metal stick. That was my cue.

“You say you’ve been trained to resist alkaloids and narcotics,” I said, winding my arm up in a pitch. “But what about hallucinogens?”

I heaved the little powder sack at Yoshirō. He smacked it aside with the blunt of the shaft, spraying white powder everywhere again. But that was the opening I needed.

I could only guess that whatever magic or sixth sense allowed him to see was based on movement. Yoshirō was as silent as a mime with his throat cut, so a sound-based method of pseudo-sight like echolocation would be next to useless to him. That meant he was either receiving images directly to his brain via some sort of magic or detecting the subtle vibrations and displacement of air made by moving objects. The bag of flour I’d thrown at him would obfuscate my location just enough to let me get close to him with real hallucinogen, the knife I’d laced with my own special brew. Something I’d mixed up using the leftover curare I’d packed in my bag. A good ol’ cup of yagé.

Yagé is an aboriginal drink hailing from the lost tribes of the Amazon rainforest. It’s a plant mash like the tincture I’d made earlier, except its primary ingredients are leaves and vines containing muscle relaxants and hallucinogens like curare and dimethyltryptamine (DMT for short). Normally it’s used for spiritual awakenings and the conveying of visions, but today it was going to see a slightly different use.

I thrust my knife at his shoulder, right beneath the crook of the armpit. It didn’t matter how shallow it was, all I needed was a nick. His armor may have been made from orichalcum, but the joints, the moving parts? They weren’t. My knife would slice right through the steel mesh and then the DMT in the yagé would enter his bloodstream almost instantly. Within a few minutes his muscles would start to relax and he’d trip way the fuck out. Probably learn some really deep shit about the universe and the meaning of life if we weren’t planning on killing him immediately after.

My blade had almost slipped into Yoshirō’s armpit when he grabbed my hand and flung me aside like a rag doll. I felt the wind get knocked out of me as I hit the wall. I groaned, trying to get up. How… how could he still see me?! Had I been wrong?

Twisting his arm, Yoshirō threw his broken shaft like a javelin, nearly decapitating me if I hadn’t ducked. The metal rod shook in the wall above me like a fresh arrow. Okay, this definitely should not have been possible for a blind man. What was he doing that let him see like this?!
“A clever feint, but not clever enough,” Kichirō said. “You won’t be able to fool me or my brother like that.”

Okay, I thought. So now what?

Previous || Next

Tokyo Drift 4.5

Previous || Next

The sound of the explosions, if they could even be heard at all, were quickly dwarfed by the sheer chaos they created. Cacophony is the right word, I think. People screaming, loudspeakers blaring, and animals roaring and howling as metal screeched like it was about to give way. The circus car rocked as the animals inside rampaged, knocking over their cages as they scrambled to get free. Every instinct they had was telling them to run, and when you set cages full of lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) loose in a crowded train station, pandemonium is all that can ensue.

“What was that?” Annie yelled. “Are there… are there animals loose in the station?!”

“Hmmm… sounds like it,” Marq said nonchalantly.

“You’re being way too calm about this!” Annie accused. “What did you do?!”

“Me? I didn’t do anything!”

“Boooooob!” Nayeli wailed.

Marq got up out of his seat and walked out of the diner. It looked like it was his time to gloat. Despite the last minute crunch, the plan had gone off without a hitch. Disable the train and cause some chaos by spooking the animals into escaping. Delay the departure of the Nimbus for as long as possible and force a reroute. The passengers would transfer over to the City of Cleveland, and we’d have the Yamadas right where we wanted them. It all worked too perfectly.

Marq walked up behind the Yamadas, who stood stock still, staring at the chaos unfolding on their train, dumbfounded. He put a hand on Kichirō’s shoulder.

“Wow, looks like your train broke down and all the animals escaped. That means they’re gonna have to wait until they round up all the animals and fix the train before they depart again. That’ll take like what, two days? Maybe three? That’s too bad, Kichirō ol’ buddy.”

“You… I know you had something to do with this!” Kichirō said.

“What, me? Come on Kichirō, let’s be practical. There’s no way anyone could sabotage those trains, they exist in their own separate space! Nothing can cause them to break down,” Marq said, feigning innocence. “Unless you had brought some kind of explosive charge designed to penetrate ateliers, of course. But then you’d have to prove such a thing existed in the first place, and what then?”

Marq smiled crookedly.

“How would you accuse us of using a weapon that doesn’t even exist yet?”

Kichirō stared at Marq, the agitation clearer than the frown lines on his face. Marq was right, and he knew it. Even assuming any court in the states would take the word of a visiting immigrant over the word of one of the five families, he couldn’t prove we had a weapon that wasn’t supposed to exist, because no one else had thought of it yet.

Marq backed off, giving Kichirō some space.

“Of course, you’re more than welcome to join us for a ride in my private car.”

“Absolutely not!” Kichirō yelled, the hand gripping the briefcase at his side whiter than a sheet.

“Aw come on Kichirō, don’t be like that,” Marq said. “They’re just gonna transfer you anyway. And don’t you have tickets for a boat in California to take you back to Japan? You stay here too long and you’ll miss it. You might not get another chance like this. Besides…”

Marq looked around at the chaos we’d created as a thunderbird flew overhead.

“If you don’t leave now, the birdies and the beasties may just gobble you right up.”

He pointed to Sostene’s eyes and I watched them constrict until they were slits so thin you’d swear he didn’t have pupils. The imminent sign of a vampire about to use some high-level illusion magic. The threat was as clear as it could be. If he didn’t agree and come quietly, we were more than capable of killing them and making it look like an accident.

Kichirō hesitated, then sighed. “Very well. I guess we have no choice except to dine with the devil.”

Annie looked at me uncomfortably as we walked down the aisle alongside the Yamadas, surrounding them on all sides.

“Al, who are these people?” she whispered. “They look dangerous.”

“Errrrm…” I responded half-heartedly. “They’re uh… they’re friends of Marq’s. Former business partners.”

Hey, technically it was the truth.

Marq walked with a spring in his step, happily explaining everything about his personal car, just to fuck with them.

“It’s a 1913 luxury passenger car they had refitted to be perfectly silent. Totally soundproof, it doesn’t rattle-”

“None of the leyrails rattle, Mr. Allesandri,” Kichirō said under his breath.

“-and it’s got all the amenities. I think you’ll love it. No, I know you’ll love it.”

Finally we stepped outside onto the connecting platform. I grabbed Annie’s hand. She frowned.

“This way, lady and gentlemen.”

Marq flourished as he opened the door. He was having way too much fun with this.

The Yamadas stopped at the entrance. Their hesitation was incredibly obvious, at least for Kichirō and Ren. If you watched closely, you could almost see the steam pouring out of their fucking ears. You couldn’t blame them. They were about to walk into enemy territory. However…

I turned my gaze towards the armored giant wearing a metal jockstrap on his face. Yoshirō was different. His face didn’t betray the slightest feeling of trepidation, like some kind of fucking stone man. He should have been going “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” like everyone else. Was it the mask? The way it covered his mouth and his ears made it hard to tell what he was thinking, what with the way it covered his face.

“Well?” Nayeli asked impatiently. “Are you coming or what? Don’t make me ask nicely.”

She cracked her knuckles and I sighed. Subtle as always, Nayeli.

Reluctantly, the Yamadas walked into our car, the two faceless suits of armor keeping pace at least ten steps behind. Like I thought, they weren’t officially part of the group. Must’ve been hired help.

I kept pace with Yoshirō, examining his facemask. There were two carved hands laid over each other on his mouthpiece that looked like a ball gag. Two other hands decorated his ears, one covering each ear.

“Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil. The three wise monkeys. That’s what you’re getting at, isn’t it? That’s an old Buddhist saying about dealing with impropriety, right?” I said dryly. “It’s cute. But you’re missing a part.”

“Hrm,” he grunted.

“The eyes,” I said, pointing to mine.

He turned his head to look down at me, and for the first time I took notice of his eyes, and looked deep within them. Turns out he wasn’t missing anything. Well, except for maybe one thing.

He’s blind… I thought to myself.

And it’s true, he was. But you’re not supposed to be able to tell. True blindness, natural blindness was something invisible, something you were born with. This man was given his blindness by something, and it showed in the way the tissue in and around the eyeball was scarred, the way you couldn’t even see his pupils. There was a mist covering his eyes, like a veil someone had placed over his head.

As if he’d sensed I’d figured it out, Yoshirō immediately turned his head away from me, our brief moment of contact done, leaving me to wonder. How did he move? How did he fight? He should’ve been struggling to find his way around but he was having no problems at all.

“Alright, let’s begin!” Marq said, pulling up some chairs. “There’s a lot for us to talk about Kichirō, so… where would you like to begin?”

Kichirō looked around uncomfortably. “Is it really necessary for the woman and the girl to be here?”

“If you’re talking about Nayeli, I assure you she’ll be more than fine-”

“I wasn’t talking about her,” Kichirō said. “Your wife and the little girl. I don’t want them getting involved in this.”

“Wait, why? What’s that supposed to mean?” Annie asked.

“I don’t want them being hurt, understand? I gave up on my honor long ago, but I don’t plan on staining the Yamada group’s reputation with their blood.”

Annie’s eyes opened wide. “W-Wha-”

Kichirō,” Marq said firmly. “Don’t say things you might regret. Family business should stay in the family, don’t you agree?”

Kichirō smiled nervously. “What? Afraid to expose yourself for what you really are?”

Marq grimaced. “Felicity darling, would you please escort Annie back to our compartment and wait for us there? There’s some business we need to discuss here with Mr. Yamada.”

She nodded curtly and grabbed Annie’s wrist. “Come with me.”

“What?” Annie said in surprise. “No! Let go of me!”

“Annie,” I said sternly. “Listen to her.”

She stopped, her eyes fearful. “Huh?”

“Don’t worry. Just go back to the compartment and wait there with Felicity,” I said. “We’ll see you soon.”

“But Al-”

“Hey, I said don’t worry. It’s gonna be okay. And I promise, once this is all over, I’ll explain everything. I mean it.”

“Al,” she said. “What do you mean by that? Al? Al?! Aaaaaaal!”

I listened to her yell my name at the top of her lungs as Felicity dragged her out the door and shut it tight, sealing us inside.

“You have a lot to answer for, Kichirō,” Marq said. “You do realize that regardless of what you may say or do, we’re still honor-bound to hand you over to the family for… enhanced interrogation, right?”

“Heh. There is that word again. ‘Honor’,” Kichirō laughed. “Yes, Mr. Allesandri, I am well aware of the way your family does things. Ours operates somewhat similarly. We will be tortured, yes?”

“Of course,” Marq said, not trying to hide. “What did you expect? Don’t worry though, ours is one of the best. He’s quick and he’s clean, and above all else, he’s had a lot of practice.”

“I see,” Kichirō said. “I am glad to hear we will be in such capable hands. Now, is there anything you’d like to know before you begin torturing us? Pain has a way of exaggerating the truth, so if you want answers, I suggest you get them now.”

“Okay then,” Marq said. “Why did you renege on our deal?”

“Us? Renege? We did not renege on anything, Mr. Allesandri. You were the ones who overstepped your boundaries.”

“Ah yes, the philosopher’s stone. Tell me, what exactly is it you need that stone for? Wealth? Power? World domination?”

“None of the above.”

“And where does your little fake fit into it? The Cintamani stone, I mean.”

Kichirō frowned. He obviously didn’t expect Marq to know about that.

“It seems you’ve done your research, I’ll give you that much. Very well, you’ve earned an explanation of that much at least. We intend to trade it.”

Marq narrowed his eyes. “Trade it? To whom?”

“I cannot say.”

“For what?”

“The real philosopher’s stone.”

“Where did your buyer get it?”

“I cannot say.”

“Why would they trade it to you for an inferior imitation?”

“I cannot say.”

“You’re playing a dangerous game with me right now, Kichirō,” Marq warned.

“I cannot say because I do not know,” Kichirō said. “We were just as surprised as you are. However, we didn’t have the luxury of asking questions like you do.”

Marq stayed silent.

“… What are you here for, Kichirō?”

“To save my brother’s life.”

“In what way?”

Kichirō stood up. “If that is everything Mr. Allesandri, I think we will be going. Our buyer is waiting for us at the end of the Nimbus’ line, and I don’t intend to keep them waiting.”

“I don’t think you understand,” Marq said, laughing dangerously. “You’re not allowed to leave, Kichirō.”

“Oh, I understand perfectly.”

Marq frowned. “I take it this means negotiations have broken down, haven’t they?”

“Indeed they have. Although I would hardly call kidnapping us and threatening to torture us regardless of what we do ‘negotiations’.”

“… Nayeli?”

Nayeli looked up. “Hmm?”

“I need you to take Ren and open up the ceiling hatch so you two can fight outside.”

“What?!” the two of them said simultaneously. “Why?!”

“Because,” Kichirō said. “If the two of you were to fight in here, the shockwave would have nowhere to go and it would kill the rest of us.”

Marq smiled. “Do you really think your little oni friend is enough to match Nayeli?”

Kichirō smiled back at Marq unflinchingly. “More than enough.”

Marq flicked his wrist and the ceiling hatch swung open. Begrudgingly, Nayeli and Ren jumped out onto the roof.

“Oho,” Kichirō said. “I’m impressed. For you to acclimate so quickly to a rented atelier…”

“Don’t be. I can only do basic tricks with it. Besides, this car wasn’t built to be a magical workshop. My power remains unchanged.”

“Well that is certainly a relief. For a second I thought maybe you had given yourself another unfair advantage. Shall we begin then?”

I tensed. Both of them eyed each other’s guns. Kichirō had pocketed a semi-automatic Colt M1911 .45 ACP handgun, while Marq’s fingers curled around his huge .357 S&W Magnum revolver.
“… Draw!”

Previous || Next

Tokyo Drift 4.4

Previous || Next

It was half-past five in the morning when we pulled into the station. The train wouldn’t be departing for another hour. In other words, we had time here. Lots of it.

I watched Annie exit the train out of the corner of my eye. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three. She was out of earshot. I turned to Marq.

“Okay, so what do we do now?”

“Breakfast. The Monkey King’s train won’t be pulling in for another half an hour. We have until then to get our shit in order. You remember what I told you, right Al?”

“Yup. Pop one in the sigil system to cap the train’s movement, then another in the cargo hold to spook the animals, make them rampage. Then drop the last one off in the conductor’s bag.”

“But don’t detonate it,” Marq reminded me as Nayeli said something about the animals in the background.

“Right. Make it look like sabotage from within,” I said as Nayeli started shaking Marq by his shoulders.

“I want you in and out as soon as we have confirmation that the three of them have left the train,” Marq said, his voice wobbling like paper in front of a fan with each shake. “Even they have to eat and they won’t go far, so we’ll plan to wait after our meal and intercept them in the station’s diner while you and Sostene rig the rails to explode. That means you two are gonna have to be quick. Dine and dash so you can skedaddle to the rails before they see us and then skedaddle right on out once you’re done in case we need backup. I doubt they’ll cause a scene in a public restaurant, but you never know with these types.”

“These types?” I asked. “What, you mean asians?”

“No,” he said, scolding me. “Don’t be a racist.”

“What?” I said. “I ain’t a racist. I got plenty of demihuman friends.”

“You are a demihuman, Al. And I meant types like these guys in particular. These ‘hero’ types. I’ve been thinking about it all since we left New York, and these guys have got something to do, something to die for. They’re on a mission. For what or for who I don’t know, but they’re not like us, that’s for certain. They’re still on the other side of the fence. They’re willing to die and they’re willing to kill, but not for themselves. Not yet.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I said. “You think I kill people because I want to? Well, maybe that’s how Nayeli rolls, but I sure as hell don’t.”

Marq smirked while Nayeli made the exact opposite expression. “No, it isn’t, is it? But, you work for the family now, Al. That means you kill for the family. And what does the family want?”

I faltered. “… Money, I guess.”

“That’s right Al, they want money. Money, and power, and to live forever on top of a gold fucking throne surrounded by wine and beautiful women. That’s what my dad wants. That’s what his dad wanted. And his dad before that, and his dad before that, all the way back to the beginning of fucking time. That’s what they want most, for everything to go great for them and for their lives to be nothing but peaches and daisies. Some of them wanted it so bad they were willing to kill. The determination to change the world has always been built on a foundation made of desire, and beneath that a bedrock of greed. The lust for the ideal life in an ideal world, regardless of what form that may take. Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Buddha, Jesus fucking Christ. It doesn’t matter who it is or what you think your motives are, selfishness is what motivates us as a species. It’s a rare man in this world who’s truly selfless, and they’re always the ones who can’t be dissuaded or bargained with. Because they’re the ones who’ve suffered the most. And that’s not us, Al. That’s never been us.”

“So what, you think people are selfish for wanting a better world? You think I’m selfish for looking out for my little sister? That doesn’t make any fucking sense, Marq!”

He smiled knowingly, then handed me something.

“Here. It’s a two-way rune. I had it carved on a small enough stone to fit in your ear so you can listen in on the conversation while you’re working the train. The range is only about forty or fifty meters though, so stick close to the train. When you hear me say the word ‘macaroni’, that’s your cue to get out of there and back to us.”

Marq started walking towards the diner without waiting for my reply, Nayeli on one arm and Felicity on another, leaving me all alone to just think about what he’d said. He never asked me to get it. I don’t think I ever did.

When we sat down at the diner I ordered continental. They didn’t serve vampires there, so there was nothing Sostene could eat. Needless to say breakfast went by fast, and thank god for that. After everything that happened on the train, I don’t think I could’ve stood another minute of the atmosphere at that table. I paid for my meal and stepped out, citing an emergency bathroom break due to last night’s lousy train food as my excuse. Shouldn’t have been too hard to believe.

I ducked behind the bathroom and wedged the smooth little stone into my ear so I could hear what was going on in the diner. At first I didn’t hear anything, but then someone coughed and apologized in Annie’s voice. The awkward silence at that table could fill a room.

Jamming my hands in my pockets, I snuck back outside and blended in with the crowd as best as I could. I looked around for Sostene, and as always, it wasn’t very hard to spot a vampire in the daylight. Just keep walking until you see the yellow umbrella.

I sighed as I walked towards him. “I can’t believe you brought that butt ugly thing.”

Sostene frowned, part of his fangs showing. “My mother bought me this.”

“Yeah? And how long ago was that?”

“… eighty years ago,” he said awkwardly. “… it was a nice umbrella when she bought it.”

“And now it looks like something the cat dragged in,” I said. “Listen, no offense Sostene, but you need to do some shopping. Your clothes don’t last as long as you do, you know.”

“Oh really? This coming from mister rags to riches?” he said angrily. “I remember what you looked like when I first met you. The suit you were wearing looked like it worked double time as a hotel for the rats.”

“Hey, I didn’t have money to buy any new clothes,” I said defensively. “You have to have something saved up from Marq, right?”

He just looked at me funny. “What world do you live in?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He sighed. “Forget it. Here I am still working just to pay off my mortgages to the boss and he’s showering you with expensive clothes and free train rides. I guess it’s just easier to give charity to someone with a face people can’t mistake for a nickelodeon horrorshow. Wouldn’t want the family getting the wrong idea.”

I paused. “Wait, are you saying… Sostene, are you broke?”

“I rely on Marquis almost entirely to pay for my house and living expenses, so yeah, I’m broke. And you’re not?”

“Wellllll…” I said, trailing off. “With everything that’s been happening lately the money’s just been kinda disappearing one way or another. And you know what they say about how underpaid rookie soldatos are…”

“Admit it, you just lost it all because you weren’t careful enough with it.”

“Hey, I can’t help it that I’ve had more hospital bills to pay than a hooker has pubic lice. I mean between me and Annie…”

“In the first place, you could’ve at least not gotten yourself put in the hospital. Ever think of that, genius?”

A loud horn blew and the sound of the Nimbus rolling into the station derailed our conversation as we both immediately got ready to work. I waved to Sostene and he disappeared, reappearing in the rafters up above. I jumped down onto the tracks inbetween the Nimbus and the parked City of Cleveland, careful to hide myself behind box cars so no one on the other side of the tracks would notice me.

“See anything yet?” I whispered to Sostene. He could hear me, but I couldn’t hear him, so he just nodded, pointed to the clock, and held up three fingers. They were positioned at three o’clock. That means that at an average walking pace, they’d cross the tracks and see me in less than thirty seconds.

I climbed up onto the side of the Nimbus. Poking my head up to window height to make sure the compartment had been emptied, I lifted the window and crawled in. By the looks of things, I was halfway to the boxcar where they were keeping Bob and the other circus animals, and halfway to the cab where I’d find the sigil system.

The sigil system is more important, but the cab is more likely to still be occupied than the boxcars, I remember thinking. A choice had to be made.

-Well well, if it isn’t Mr. Yamada and friends. So good of you to join us-

I heard that and immediately took off down the hall towards the cab. We were already pressed for time. Even if I could only set up one before I got caught, the sigil system was still the obvious choice. It was the most important target. If I didn’t take that one out, this whole plan would be in the shitter, so it didn’t matter if there were still people in there or not. If the conductor was still hanging around… well, I guess I’d just have to off him.

I jumped over the couplings to the next compartment.

-Mr. Allesandri, I heard Kichirō say in a slightly muffled voice, as if he was far away. This is unexpected. What brings you to Arizona?-

-Nothing much. Though judging by the way you and your friends are dressed, I’d say you’re here for work. What is that, orichalcum armor?-

-With a bronze finishing-

I slammed open the cab door and looked around. Nobody. I was in luck. I fished out some of Mr. Wang’s Surprise from my jacket pocket and wedged it between the spaces in the floor, cutting open the carpet with my knife. The larger portion of the sigil system that powers the train is usually directly beneath the cab, so setting it there would ensure I at least broke the connection to the leylines by blowing a hole in the sigil.

-Well, it is great to see friends so soon after leaving New York, but I’m afraid we really must be going, Mr. Allesandri-

-Really? Leaving so soon, Kichirō?-

-Yes. Is that a problem?-

-No, no. I have no intention of keeping you. But I’m telling you, missing out on the breakfast here is a mistake. The macaroni and cheese here is to die for-

I put away my knife and stuffed a handful of the Surprise into the conductor’s handbag. Time was up, and I needed to go. I ran in the opposite direction, back to where I’d crawled in through the window. I couldn’t see Sostene them at this point, all I knew was that they’d left the diner. Getting out of here without being spotted by them was going to be a matter of pure dumb luck.

I hoisted myself out the window and landed on the tracks, quickly looking around. I couldn’t see them, so I looked up at Sostene. After he gave me the thumbs up, I dashed across the tracks and climbed onto the couplings of our own train. Looking back, the three of them were still nowhere in sight, so I decided to toss the rest of the explosives I had underneath the car holding the animals. It wouldn’t be as good a scare as sticking it right on the door, but it would have to do. I nodded at Sostene, and he disappeared from the rafters as I slipped back onto the platform.

“We’re good to go,” I said as soon as we’d made it back to the diner. “The explosives are underneath the animals’ boxcar instead of on the door, but I think it’ll still be good enough to leave an impression on ‘em.”

Marq grinned as I whispered into his ear. “Good. Nice work, Al.”

“What are you two talking about?” Annie asked suspiciously.

“Nothing, I was just having Al check up on something for me back on the Cleveland,” Marq said. “Well then, shall we go?”

Nayeli handed him a cigarette and he took out his lighter. Immediately I got the message to plug my ears and close my eyes because that was the detonator, and Marq was about to press the plunger.
He flicked open the lighter, raising it to his lips. The wheel spun. That’s when everything went to hell.

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Tokyo Drift 4.3

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The clock wound down. I watched Marq and Nayeli dance, feeling kinda bored and drinking until I lost count of how many I’d had. Eventually I clocked out for a few hours. When I woke up, I was the only one still hanging around Marq’s private car. Even Figaro and Leo, bless their piece-of-crap souls, had left after moving me to the couch and draping a blanket over me.

I groaned. Well, sure enough, was going to have a hangover sooner or later. I could feel it, kinda like how you know when you’re gonna throw up. Or maybe I just really did need to throw up, who knows?

Recalling an old recipe the spriggan taught me, I rounded up some potted plants and made a tincture of skullcap and St. John’s wort in the bar sink by mashing it all together with everclear and vodka. Normally tinctures are supposed to seep, but right then, that didn’t seem pressing. As long as I could get at those natural pain-relievers, it was good enough for me. Besides, mashing them up was a good enough substitute for soaking in solvent for a few weeks, right?

Taking a big gulp of leaf juice, I pocketed the rest in empty beer bottles and left, rubbing my head the whole way back to our compartment.

“Ah, back in the land of the living, I see,” Marq said snidely. “You really should’ve thought twice before loading up before you even got to dinner, Al.”

“Bite me,” I said, giving Marq the bird.

“What did you just say?!” Nayeli yelled as she stood up, but Marq gently tugged on her arm and brought her back down.

“Go get ready, Al. We’ll be waiting for you here.”

I nodded and left, trying to find our compartment at the end of the hall. Our room number was 1804, but I hadn’t been paying much attention to the layout of the train. Even if I could remember all the separate details like catalogued frames from a camera, putting it all together was still hard. Yet another way super-memory isn’t what people think it is.

“GET OUT!” I heard a voice that sounded like Felicity scream, and all of a sudden Annie was kicked out of our room, the door slamming behind her as she stumbled out.

I ran, or rather hobbled quickly at a moderate pace to catch up to her, and helped carry her.

“You told her, didn’t you?” I asked.

“I don’t know what it was I did,” Annie said, looking like she was about to burst into tears. “I just told her that the Marquis was seeing someone else and that she should find someone better than him to marry and then she told me that I was a lying rat and to never talk to her again and to keep my big fat nose out of her business and then she kicked me out of the room and-”

“Okay, I think I get it,” I said, stopping her. She sniffed, burying her face in my shoulder to cry and let off some steam. I let her.

“It’s okay, Annie,” I said, hugging her. “Let me go and talk to her.”

“Really? You’d do that for me, Al?”

“Yeah, of course. I’m sure it was all just a misunderstanding. If I tell her what’s going on, maybe she’ll apologize.”

Shutting the door behind me, I approached Felicity from behind.

“What the hell was that all about?” I said, putting a firm hand on her shoulder. “Who told you it was okay to talk like that to my baby sister?”

Felicity whipped around like she hadn’t realized I was there, knocking my arm away, and I took a step back. Her body was lighter and more fragile than I was expecting. When she tried to shake me off, it felt like I was wrestling with someone who was all just skin and bones. That’s not why I let go.

I let go because of her eyes.

The way she stared at me was cold and vicious, like an insect, slowly examining me, trying to find out who I was and why I was here. There was nothing but seething, calculating contempt behind those eyes. Finally, it looked like she recognized me.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said. Turning her back to me again, she continued what she’d been doing without a second thought. She clearly thought of me as being beneath her. I suppose I expected the mayor’s daughter to think that way. I might’ve been shocked if she didn’t. Picking up the strength that had been knocked out of me by her icy stare, I confronted her again.

“I want you to go outside and apologize to my sister,” I said, pointing at the door. “Right now.”

She didn’t do anything except continue pushing aside various dresses she’d stored in the closet. I grit my teeth.

“I mean it. I don’t care if you are the mayor’s daughter, or Marq’s fiancee, or whatever. You don’t get to talk to my sister like that. Go out there and apologize to her. She adores you, it’s the least you can do to make it up to her after all the things you said to her.”

I waited, but I still wasn’t getting any reaction.

“Are you even listening to me?!”

“… Andre, was it?”

I frowned. “Alfonso.”

“Alfonso, right. Sorry, I usually don’t bother remembering the names of the help. I find it’s uneconomical, like adding extra baggage. The reason I’m not going to apologize to your sister is because there’s nothing for me to apologize for.”

“What did you say?”

“I said there’s nothing for me to apologize for. I did nothing wrong. I just defended my reputation and the reputation of my future husband,” she said, picking out a dress. “In fact, I’d say that she should be the one apologizing, for defamation of character.”

I snorted. “You’ve got some fucking nerve. Well take it from someone who knows. She’s right. Marq is seeing someone else. In fact, he’s screwing her in brains out every day. I’ve seen it.”

“And?”

“And?” I repeated, confused.

“What does any of that have to do with me?” she asked. Then she started taking off her business suit.

“W-What the hell are you doing?!” I asked, shocked by the suddenness of her behavior.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she said. “I’m taking my clothes off. I can’t wear a dress over my suit.”

“Yeah, but I’m still here! Don’t you wanna save the show for Marq or something?”

Sighing, she said, “Like I care about what that drooling simian thinks of my body. Whether he’s entranced by my beauty or disgusted to the point of sickness, I couldn’t care less.”

By now I could see everything, and she didn’t seem to care. The cup of her shapely breasts, not too big and not too small, perfectly proportioned in every way and artfully symmetrical. The curves of her hips, full and ready to both give and receive life, the ideal child-bearing hips. It was all visible. As we used to say back in med school anatomy class, she was definitely a “smokin’ hot momma”.

Any ordinary man would’ve fallen for a beauty like her instantly. It was only her bad luck that Marq didn’t have eyes for her. After all, her opposition didn’t exactly play by the rules. No matter how beautiful a human being you were, a human could never be as attractive as a demigod. That was just a fact. Marq had been claimed by someone else a long time ago. No matter what she did, she could never catch Marq’s eye like Nayeli did. But she certainly could catch mine.

I swallowed, not sure what to make of the situation. “Ms. Felicity, are you trying to seduce me?”

“What? No. Why would I ever try to seduce you, you worthless pile of human garbage?” she said without pity.

“Then why are you… I thought maybe you were trying to get back at Marq for…”

“How many times do I have to keep telling you I don’t care?”

“Then why did you freak out at my sister?” I said, remembering why I was angry in the first place.

“Because she was trying to interfere with my business, as are you. You’re trying to spread dangerous rumors that my husband to be is sleeping with another woman.”

“They’re not rumors,” I said. “He really is! Get over it!”

“There’s nothing to get over. Like I said, I don’t care. I don’t expect him to love me, he can do what he wants. And he shouldn’t expect me to love him back.”

“Then why-”

“Because spreading rumors like that is bad for business,” she said, slipping one leg into a large feminine formal dress. “Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant. What matters is whether or not people believe it. That gets them started talking about it, which affects approval ratings, which affect sales and poll results, which affect the balance of local politics for which I and my father are responsible. Projecting the image of a happy, successful nuclear family with a house and two point five children is what’s best for our business, and as long as he can keep people believing that, I don’t care if he nestles up next to a goat at night. But as soon as your sister, and you for that matter, start opening your big fat mouths and spreading rumors about how my husband is sleeping with another woman, you’ve officially overstepped the boundaries of what I will tolerate.”

She snapped her shoulder straps in place and fit her hands snugly inside a pair of opera house gloves before turning to face me.

“Is that understood, Alonso?”

“Alfonso.”

“Alfredo.”

I frowned. “Understood, ma’am.”

Walking past me with a click-clack noise, she stopped to grab her purse on the way out and opened the door. No words were exchanged between her and Annie as she left to go to the dining cart, and when she was gone, Annie poked her head into the room.

“H-How did it go, Al?”

She tried to talk to me but I was still a little too shocked to speak. What I’d just met was a person who treated love like a tool. Less than a passion, less than even a sport, she treated it like it was something to be used. She was a machine, I’m sure of it.

“Al…?” Annie said.

Snapping out of it, I said, “Sorry Annie, I was kinda lost in thought there. Listen, you shouldn’t talk to her anymore, okay?”

“You mean she didn’t forgive me?” Annie said, looking like she was about to cry again.

“No,” I said sadly. “No she didn’t.”

I wanted to say something more than that, tell her something comforting like “she’s just a bad person” or “she’s really just incredibly lonely and bitter”. But after the words “no she didn’t”, I couldn’t think of anything like that. What I’d seen in there I’d never seen before. I mean, I know evil. I’ve seen it, and I’ve done it. What I’d seen in there was cold pragmatism, without an inkling of what right and wrong or any kind of human emotion felt like because it had never experienced it. Someone who knows only the feeling of cold contempt and to whom the feelings of normal people are as alien to them as they are to others. How are you supposed to explain something like that?

Instead, I just held her, and let her sniffle softly into my shoulder. I knew what it felt like. Losing a hero. It feels a lot like a sucker punch, and it catches you off guard. If I gave her some time to adjust and let off some steam, she’d regain her balance emotionally.

“Come on, Annie,” I said, lifting her up and trying to be comforting. “It’s not that bad. Tell you what. Let’s skip out on the dining cart and just buy some snacks from the food cart. Then we can take ’em down to the reefer and eat with Sostene. How does that sound?”

She sniffed. “Okay…”

And you know what? That’s exactly what we did. We bought a bunch of potato chips, candy bars, crackers, Tootsie pops and caramel and we shared ’em with Sostene, along with some ice cold brewskies (root beer for Annie). We sat there covered in blankets and we just chatted it up and had a good time until Annie and I both fell asleep. I wondered if I should ask Sostene about his father again, but it seemed like a bad time. Call me what you will, but I know when everybody’s having a good time. Far from me to ruin that.

The next day, in the early hours of the morning, the train finally pulled into the station in Arizona. For better or for worse, our “vacation” had ended.

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