Kichirō straightened his tie.
“A clever feint, but not clever enough. You won’t be able to fool me or my brother like that. You see-”
“-our training has prepared us for that,” I said mockingly.
“-our training has prepared us for that,” Kichirō finished.
“Oh come on!” I yelled. “How?! How could your training possibly prepare you for that?! He’s blind and deaf!”
“Never underestimate the power of training,” Kichirō said. “But there is also a sixth sense you’re ignoring.”
“Eat me,” I said. “I’m a medium, I know all about this sixth sense crap.”
“You’re thinking of the wrong sixth sense then,” Kichirō said. “This is not one you have to be born with, medium. This is one that merely has to be opened. The eye of the mind that senses the flow of ki.”
“The flow of energy throughout the universe. I believe Western doctrines refer to it as ‘mana’ or ‘life force’. Perhaps we would as well, had it not been for those damn Sadoyas…” Kichirō sighed, taking a deep breath and relaxing his clenched fist. “By sensing the flow of ki, my brother is able to see again, despite his blindness. He and I can sense the flow of energy through your muscles, as well as the intent and colors of the emotions behind them. We know what you’re going to do before you do.”
So he can predict our actions by the changes in our life force…
“This is such horseshit…” I mumbled.
“Hey, be nice Al,” Marq said. “At least they were kind enough to tell us that.”
I wasn’t sure if he was serious.
Then I saw something flicker out of the corner of my eye.
I looked out the window and saw the entire world shaking, like we were on a roller coaster ride. This being the kind of fucking crazy world we lived in, I immediately assumed the worst.
What is that? Spatial interference? Earth magic?
“Marq?” I said with maybe a little too much panic in my voice. “What’s going on outside? What are they doing to the train?!”
Marq spared a second to look and then clicked his tongue. “Damn. They’re going at it harder than I thought.”
“Nayeli and Ren, Al,” Marq said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Nothing’s happening to the train. The shockwaves are just shaking things up outside. We don’t feel it in here because the leyrails are insulated against this kind of thing. I told Nayeli to take the fight somewhere far away if this happened, but it looks like it wasn’t far enough. If we can feel it from here, that means that they must be seriously changing the landscape. I didn’t think it’d go this far…”
“You’ll find Ren is more than capable of keeping up with your little pet demigod, Marquis,” Kichirō said confidently. “She may be more powerful, but Ren is infinitely better equipped. And so are we.”
Marq smiled nervously. “Yeah, I noticed. That’s orichalcum armor Ren and Kichirō are wearing, isn’t it? How much did that cost you?”
“As much as it needed to,” Kichirō responded. “A few million dollars is a paltry price to pay for what lies at the end of our journey, although I doubt the Yamadas will be too pleased with us when they discover where their money’s gone.”
“Oho?” Marq said. “Robbing from the boss, huh? That’s ballsy of you, Kichirō. They’re not gonna take you back after that.”
“No they’re not. But we got what limited use we could out of the Yamada group long before we left for this little train ride. Once we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do, they can try to kill us if that’s what they want. I’m far beyond caring because it honestly makes no difference at this point. Our die was cast long ago.”
“Too bad you sacrificed your only allies for nothing though,” Marq said.
What? I glanced over at Marq, never taking my eyes off of Yoshirō. What was he planning? Did he still have some surprises in store for us?
Kichirō narrowed his eyes. “And what makes you think that, Mr. Allesandri?”
Marq smiled his usual crazy smile. “Because we got something that’ll blow the socks right off of ya, you crazy, dumb bastard. I’ve kept it waiting in the wings for a while now in case of an emergency, and once I bring it out it’ll tear those little tin cans apart. Give up now, Kichirō, and I won’t have to use it.”
I smiled to myself. No way. The crazy bastard was gonna try to bluff us out of this situation. I couldn’t say it was the smart thing to do, but I respected the sheer weight of the man’s brass monkey balls.
Besides, I thought. It’s not like I have any better ideas.
Kichirō didn’t say anything for a while, like he was weighing the pros and cons, trying to see through Marq’s bluff. Finally, he said this.
“I get the distinct impression that you’re lying to me, Marquis.”
Fuck… I swore under my breath.
Marq frowned. “Oh yeah? And what makes you say that?”
“Because we’ve fought once before, and I know what you’re like. It’s your style to settle the battle in the first move. You like to open strong and finish things before your enemy gets wise. But…” Kichirō closed his eyes. “If you fail that first move, you’ll steadily lose steam until you’re all out of cards to play. That’s the type of man you are, isn’t it Marquis? I’ve seen it once already. Once we neutralized your vampire friend back in New York, you couldn’t stop us from getting away. Now that your first move is over, we’ve seen all the surprises you intend to play for us. So I think it’s time for me to show some of my own.”
Squares of brightly colored paper started dropping and fluttering out of Kichirō’s sleeves. Like they were possessed of a will all their own, the paper started telekinetically folding itself into tiny origami shapes, little cranes and birds mostly, hanging in the air free of gravity. Once finished, they gathered around Kichirō and oriented themselves so they hovered facing us, their paper beaks pointing in our direction.
“These were the tools I used to outsmart your men back in New York,” Kichirō said. “Do you know what they’re called?”
Marq grit his teeth. “Shikigami. They’re spirits bound to sheets of paper.”
A bright flash of light followed as one of the paper birds shot forth like a bullet, destroying Marq’s gun, and his hand too, if he hadn’t let go.
“Correct. I see you’ve done your homework, Mr. Allesandri.”
“Well, I briefly toyed with the idea of studying your school of magic, but after a while I decided it’d be more worth my time to learn more about demonology and mainstream Taoism. Let me tell ya, the lessons on feng shui did wonders for my office,” Marq snarked back, crouched behind what remained of his table.
“A pity,” Kichirō said. “Perhaps if you’d studied more you would’ve realized the extent to which you were unprepared for this fight. Now then, if there aren’t any more pathetic bluffs you intend to make-”
“Really darling, he has a point. I mean, what was the reason for leaving these back in the compartment? Dramatic effect?”
Two empty suitcases dropped to the floor like dice, their lids hanging wide open, and two 100-round drum magazines were jammed into place with a quick chack, the sound of metal grinding against metal. A sharp click-clack meant the bolt handles had finished sliding back, and then all hell broke loose. Without so much as a warning, Felicity opened fire with Tommies akimbo, shredding Kichirō’s familiars to bits as he jumped for cover.
She sighed, the smoke from the cooling gun barrels wafting past her hair.
“Such a pity I had to be married to such a useless man.”
Marq smiled. “Felicity, dollface! I knew you’d come! Your timing is impeccable.”
He pecked her on the cheek. She didn’t seem to react.
“Save your affections for the presses, darling. Here, I brought you what you asked for.”
Felicity handed him a black box about the size and length of my forearm, hand-included. Marq was grinning like a kid in a candy shop as he opened it, and what he took out of it was a gun the likes of which I have never seen since and had never seen before.
An octagonal barrel over a foot and a half long attached to a five-round cylinder the size of my fist, ending in a black grip and collapsible stock that looked like it belonged on a rifle. The body was gleaming stainless inox steel, and when Marq cracked it open I saw that the damn breech was break-action, not a rotating cylinder like most revolvers. Even the chambers looked like they were designed to hold fucking shotgun shells. Everything about that gun screamed long, hard, and made to penetrate.
“I call her the Waymaker,” Marq said. “She’s an 18mm bore revolver with a bagua barrel based on the eight trigrams and made from enchanted stainless steel that reduces the weight of the frame to 1/18th of what it would normally weigh. She fires unique, custom-made enchanted cartridges as fast as you can pull the trigger, and thanks to her break-action cylinder, she reloads in under 15 seconds, firing its next round with a new enchantment in 18 seconds. Designed her myself.”
“Speaking of which,” Felicity said, pulling out another smaller, thicker box while keeping one eye trained on Kichirō while the other looked at Yoshirō. “You’ll need these.”
Marq opened the box full of actual fucking 12gauge shotgun shells, each of them color-coded, and started loading them into the gun. First green, then white, then black, then black.
“You’ve got ten incendiary rounds, five shock, fifteen vortex, and twenty special rounds made from the leftovers of Mr. Wang’s new explosives,” Felicity said calmly. “Try to use them carefully.”
Marq pushed in a red shell and snapped the gun shut.
Kichirō eyed Marq warily. “I am impressed with the degree to which you feel you need to compensate for your inadequacies Marquis, but what do you honestly think a gun is going to-”
Marq lifted the gun with one hand and squeezed off a shot. Immediately Kichirō’s arm was surrounded by a sheath of high-pressure wind that moved so fast you could see it with the naked eye. The tiny ball bearings in the buckshot spun wildly within it like paper in a storm, shredding Kichirō’s right arm like a wind-powered blender. When it finally stopped, the blood-soaked little pellets dropped to the floor with a clatter, bent out of shape and covered in bodily fluids. Kichirō’s arm looked like a manticore had been chewing on it.
Yoshirō charged at Marq as he took aim again, shoving us and everything else that was in his way out of his way to get to him. Then suddenly Marq readjusted his aim and Yoshirō found himself looking down the wrong end of the massive gun just like Kichirō, the electrically-charged buckshot leaving the barrel faster than even he could hope to catch. It crashed into him like a cannon, electrocuting his entire body through the armor and throwing him into the air like a rag doll. He screamed unintelligibly with pain and anger, a sound like hot mud bubbling up through his throat.
Satisfied with his demonstration, Marq turned the gun on the suits, and blasted them with shells filled with the same ball-bearings that had been used in Mr. Wang’s explosives (for the record, I actually had no idea that was his real name). Each suit took one shell to chestplate, the one on the right receiving additional damage as some of the pellets strayed towards the shoulder joint. Orichalcum was a metal so damage-resistant you could drop a bomb on it and not even scratch it, but it stood no chance against projectiles that ignored the laws of time and space, let alone whatever puny alloy mortals could put in front of it.
The suits staggered as the buckshot struck, going straight through them and the wall behind them. Wind from the outside started pouring into the car from the tiny holes in the wall, howling like wolves, and one suit of armor lost an arm, the hunk of orichalcum metal dropping to the floor with a barely audible clunk. There were gaping holes in their chestplates where the buckshot had hit.
Wait… why were they bleeding?
We started hearing muffled groans coming from the armor. Not so much groans really as moans of pain, and finally there were some weird biting and licking sounds before a lycan’s head crawled up through the armor’s neck stump and started shouting at us.
“Stop! Stop! Don’t fucking shoot us!” the guy said in a cockney accent.
Marq and I both looked at each other and raised our eyebrows.
“.. who the fuck are you?”
“They’ve got us trapped in here! That maniac tied us up and shoved us in these suits of armor and… wait. You’ve never heard of me?”
We shook our heads. “Should we have?”
“… I’m Etsy Jones? Lieutenant of the Four Beast Gang’s Manhattan crew?”
Marq and I looked at each other. Sostene shrugged.
“Aw come on, I’m the Tyke of Times Square! The Downtown Dog!”
“Never heard of you,” all three of us said in unison.
Another head popped up out of the suit next to him.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Etsy! Stop waving your cock around and ask them to help us!” said a swarthy feline.
“Right, right…” Etsy said. “Well um, you see, the thing is… we didn’t actually think we were gonna get shot at when we said we’d help him. We didn’t know what was going on between you two! He just asked us if he could stay at our place for a while, and then we said we’d help him out with whatever the hell this is, he knocked us out, tied us up and shoved us in these suits of armor! We’re innocent, we swear! Just please stop shooting us, it really hurts!”
Marq raised an eyebrow. “We never said you were guilty of anything.”
The two lycans gulped.
Marq turned to Kichirō, who was clutching his shredded arm.
“This all true, Kichirō?”
The yōkai tamer grunted painfully, his breathing jagged and heavy. “Yes. It’s as he says. We brought them here as a last resort, a deterrent in case we couldn’t handle you, and to absorb the bullets. Well, Marquis? Will you really be able to shoot through them? Risk causing a gang war between the Allesandris and every lycan in New York City?”
I looked at Marq. “What do we do now?”
Marq sighed. “What do you think?”
There was a boom as Marq shot the last of his rounds into Etsy’s suit, causing it to burst into flames.
“We keep fucking shooting them! I don’t care who they are, if they’re with Kichirō, then they’re already an enemy of the Allesandris!”
“You asshole!” The suit yelled in return.
“Al!” Marq said as he cracked open his gun. “Cover me!”
Believe me, I was going to, but when I looked back, I saw Yoshirō struggling to get up, and that gave me one hell of a good idea.
“Sorry Marq!” I yelled, jumping over an overturned table. “Sostene, you’re it!”
I tagged out, slapping him on the back as I rushed past him. My knife was gonna be crucial for this. That, and my last bottle of yagé.
I still had a chance. While his nerves were still fried from the electric shock, he’d be too slow to dodge, and I could get a hit in. One hit was all it would take, and it didn’t matter if I got knocked out of the fight doing it. If this was the best I could do… well that was enough. I guess I’d have to settle for only taking out their second-best flunkie.
I dribbled the hallucinogenic brew over the blade, and then poured the rest into my mouth. I sprinted towards Yoshirō, knife hand outstretched.
Aim for the shoulder joints…
I didn’t have much time. Just as Yoshirō started to find his footing, I thrust the knife. Lazily, sluggishly, Yoshirō twisted his shoulder so the knife missed the joint, and slid off the orichalcum plating in a shower of sparks. Then, he grabbed me by the neck and lifted me into the air.
We looked into each other’s eyes. The look in his said, Too slow, white boy.
Mine said, Fuck you.
Struggling for air, I spat the yagé into Yoshirō’s eyes. The effect was immediate.
Yoshirō dropped me like an entire sack of hot potatoes, and started rubbing at his eyes, roaring incoherently. Tears fell down his cheeks.
Kichirō’s eyes widened. “You… What have you done?!”
“Heh. Stings, don’t it?” I said, my own vision getting blurry. Crap. The yagé was already diffusing into my bloodstream. Cheek tissue and gums are notoriously thin, so it wasn’t surprising. In a few minutes I probably wouldn’t be able to tell mushrooms from mayflowers.
Yoshirō only responded by roaring, a scream so furious he sounded like an animal. He began clawing at his eyes, digging and gouging, and when that didn’t work, he started ripping away his armor, trying to fight off whatever he was seeing.
His armor was filled with nothing but bones.
I couldn’t believe it. Inside of the suit there was nothing but a thinly muscled skeleton with diseased, rotting organs attached, seemingly as an afterthought. There was no skin, at least not around his chest cavity, and his ribs were just hanging out for everyone to see, a cage holding his organs in place while his entrails flopped around his legs. What the fuck was keeping him alive?!
Finally Yoshirō stopped tearing himself apart, his armor, or should I say his container tattered and ripped apart in places, his chest plate dangling loosely on one side, revealing his insides. He just stopped, his hands covering his bleeding eyes. I held my breath. Something was wrong.
Slowly, Yoshirō lowered his arms and hung them at his side, his head tilted back, his blind, bloody eyes staring up at the ceiling, at nothing. For a second, I truly believed he’d just killed himself. The stupid bastard had just destroyed his iron lung.
“Yoshi…” I heard Kichirō whisper.
A long silence passed where the only sound was crackling of the fire and Etsy’s hoarse cries. No one spoke. Then there was a sound that everybody heard.
Metal squealed as Yoshirō tried opening his mouth, forcing apart the steel face mask with his jaw until it shattered, the edges around his mouth jagged like teeth. Black mist like smoke started pouring out of the armor’s every crevice, and his eyes started sizzling like fried eggs, burning from the inside out. He tipped his head back and screamed, a sound that was part pain, part rage. No, now that I think about it, it was more like a roar.
Thinking this had to be the part where I started tripping fucking balls, I looked to Marq, looked to Kichirō, someone that would be an anchor of sanity to remind me that this nightmarish vision of Yoshirō was just a hallucination, but they were both dead serious.
“What the hell have you done…” Kichirō wheezed.