“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?