The door slammed shut. There was an uncomfortable squelching noise as Yoshirō’s claws violently ripped their way out of Sostene’s back and spine, pulling entrails out like leftover strands of spaghetti curled around a fork. Sostene gasped for air, vomiting a little in his mouth. Motherfucker!
Lashing out with an errant kick he by no rights should have been able to perform, Sostene tripped the man-strosity. It tumbled to the floor onto Sostene’s level, staring at him unmoving with blind eyes. His sudden stillness extended for long seconds, his petrification eerie and frightening, like a coiled snake. Sostene blinked.
Yoshirō roared, spraying Sostene with flecks of blood, his voice a violent and inhuman scream of anger and pain. The cry seemed to carry on forever, far longer than was natural. His sheer rage and the indescribable agony of his existence surpassing the capacity of his mortal lungs, the cry ripped apart steel and defied space and time, buckling the foundations and tearing a hole in the ceiling of the car, an impenetrable atelier now violated. It seemed as though his voice would crush the car around them like a can of tuna fish.
Yoshirō reached out with a metal claw and clamped his orichalcum hand around Sostene’s leg as he tried to crawl away, his grip crushing like a vice. Sostene cried out in pain as he squeezed, crunching the bones in his leg and forcing it apart around his clenched fist like a collapsible tube of fluoride toothpaste.
There was a brief click and then a boom like a shotgun as the Marquis fired his gun, trying to stop Yoshirō from torturing his subordinate. The shot hit Yoshirō in the shoulder and bounced off the orichalcum armor harmlessly. But it was enough to get his attention.
Yoshirō squeezed even harder, unhindered, and ripped the leg clean off at the shin. He hurled it at the Marquis with enough force to simulate a car crash all over the capo’s face, but the supersonic boot pulled back at the last second, attracted to the pull of its body, and the Marquis was only knocked back, his nose snapping with an ugly crunch.
Slipping away only by pure luck now that his leg was flying around trying to find him like a bloody neon sign, Sostene put distance between him and the monster that was once a man. His leg was back but his body needed time to start catching up with his wounds. Any time at all.
And anything that could make that shit go faster, he thought as he haphazardly shoveled loose coils of his small intestine back into himself as it lazily snaked its way back into place, would be fucking fantastic.
He grunted. Immortal though he may be, a working class vampire like him did not feed often enough to repair this kind of damage. Already he could feel the rate at which he healed noticeably slow down. If he took too many fatal hits, eventually he’d be reduced to a motionless pile of quivering jelly on the floor. Same thing would happen if he went without feeding for too long. He’d dry up, like a dessicated corpse. Then all he could do would be wait and pray that something would come along and just happen to spill blood on him and revive him. The odds of that happening were fantastically slim, especially if Yoshirō went on to kill Marquis, which is why overtaxing his regenerative abilities was just about as close to a death sentence as a vampire could get. He couldn’t let that happen.
He hated to say it, or even admit he was thinking it, but right now, he needed help. What would dear old dad do?
An armored foot came smashing down on one of the loose ribbons of carrion still trying to crawl back into Sostene’s stomach, and it felt like someone squeezing the air out of his gut. Instinctively he pulled back and ripped the ribbon away so it could crawl back inside and finish healing in there. The Yoshirō monster laughed deeply with the sound of many voices both young and old.
Of course. Dad wouldn’t have gotten us into this fucking mess of a situation. A monster of that level wouldn’t even see this kind of shit as a challenge.
Laughing hurt. Guess it’s true what they say. Vampire newborns are like fruit. I’m still way too fucking green compared to someone like Dad.
Well, at least Al got away. Knowing that guy, he’ll figure something out. He and the boss, they make the real magic happen.
A few months ago when he first joined up, Sostene wouldn’t have been loathe to dismiss him as just more fresh blood, meat for the grinder. But the kinda guy who could take down an entire gang singlehandedly, the kind of guy even the boss relied on… a guy like that deserved Sostene’s respect. Maybe one day he’d even tell him the story of how he got here, about the debt he owed the Marquis of the Allesandri family… and about daddy dearest.
You decrepit old bat. I bet you’re watching this right now, aren’t you? Having a laugh on my fucking dime? You always were a fucking sadist. So come on, tell me. What the fuck am I supposed to do here?
It was mostly an appeal to inspiration. To any of the powers that be to give him something, anything. This guy was way too fucking powerful. If he didn’t figure something out soon, he’d be about as close to dead as a vampire could get. Then he’d kill Boss Marquis, and then he’d really be fucked. He wasn’t expecting his father to actually respond.
As if on cue, Sostene’s brain erupted into a five alarm migraine so intense he felt like he was whiting out. He roared, something halfway between a scream and a groan, as patches of grey like a worn out film reel crept into his peripheral vision.
Aaaaghhhhh!! Fuck you!
Don’t resist, Sostene. Just remember.
But suddenly, he did. Time and space fell away, and he found himself in a world of grey, muted colors all except for the emerald grass beneath his feet surrounding him. Brief flickers of an ephemeral feminine face crossed his eyes, her name so close but completely out of reach. Who was she? Where was this? Was he supposed to know what this meant? He needed a sign here, dammit!
Poor thing. It seems you still do not remember things properly, said a feminine voice. Here, let me help you, Sostene.
The woman’s face changed, becoming older, more mature. The voice deepened as the clouds darkened, distorting into something and someone completely different. His father’s voice.
Look down. Do you remember now, Sostene?
He looked, and saw the grass beneath his feet stained bright red with the color of blood. Bodies and flags and blood-stained swords surrounded him for miles in every direction. This was a killing field, and he was the last one standing.
He lifted up his hands and found them covered in blood. His own. A large worm-like tube attached to his stomach stretched for nearly seven meters behind him, ending in a fat protuberance that had gotten stuck in the hole, and a knotted rope on the other end. He felt his own hands slip away as he lost control, lost all feeling in his body. What was happening to him? Was this finally it? Was this… death? Funny… it felt a lot less peaceful than he’d imagined.
Standing erect like a statue on the grassy knoll, even though he had long since lost his ability to move even a finger, Sostene stared, immobile, at the setting sun behind the clouds, trapped in his own body like he was watching a movie. A single bright red tear fell down his face.
Yes, that’s it, Sostene. I want you to remember. Back to those days. Remember who you truly are…
The Marquis got back up and set his nose back into place with an equally unappealing crunch. Nayeli would never forgive him if he came back with some goon having smashed up his beautiful face.
He leveled his sights at one of the openings in his armor and pulled the trigger, squeezing out another enchanted round at the rampaging Yoshirō. The bullet was true to its mark but without even looking up from the subordinate he was mauling, Yoshirō swatted the shots the Allesandri capo had fired out of the sky with the tail-like tendrils growing out of the cracks in his armor.
“Damn,” Marquis said, reloading and switching to Mr. Wang’s special armor-piercing bullets.
He looked outside the window. The sky was blotted with an ash cloud that took up his entire field of view, and it was coming this way. But he hadn’t seen or felt any earthquakes or bright flashes of hot light in the last couple minutes. Was the battle drawing to a close out there? There was no way to tell if they were safe, at least not until the ever-increasing sinkhole outside decided to catch up to them and swallow the train tracks too.
Damn… I told her to be subtle and keep to the forest, what the hell is going on out there? At this rate this shit’s going to make the world news, nevermind the national or the international! This was not part of the plan!
Sensing an opportunity, Kichirō lunged and tried to grab the Marquis’ gun hand.
“What the hell?!”
Kicking him and shaking him off with all his strength, the Marquis wrestled the ex-Yamada group representative to the floor and pointed the barrel of the enormous gun at his face.
“Okay Kichirō, start talking,” Marquis said. “That oni’s a lot stronger than you let on. And your brother… he’s possessed, isn’t he?”
Kichirō frowned. “… Yes.”
“By what? Where the hell did you three come from?”
“Does it matter?” Kichirō said, laughing. “It will be the death of both of us. A fitting end for one such as myself, to meet with his sins and in the end be slain by his own twisted creation. I only wish I didn’t have to spend these last few moments with you.”
The Marquis grabbed Kichirō by the lapels and lifted him up.
“Listen pal, I don’t have the patience for any more of your self-deprecating martyr complex bullshit. Always going on about how terrible you are and how you deserve whatever it is that’s coming to you. That’s your bullshit, not mine. You may like playing the sad tragic hero, but I don’t, so don’t drag me into it. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of dying here. So what is that thing?”
He heard a crashing sound in the background and saw Sostene wrestling Yoshirō to the ground in a blind rage, Yoshirō’s talons digging deep into his sides as Sostene slammed him through a marble table, powderizing it, before he was whipped aside by tendrils that had burrowed deep into his ribs.
Both men stopped to look. The berserker Sostene got back up immediately, seemingly blind to all pain, and rushed back into the fray. The sound of dull impacts and clawed fingernails scraping against impenetrable metal screeched in their ears as Sostene destroyed himself in his attempts to inflict any damage he could to Yoshirō, no matter what the price.
The Marquis frowned indecisively like he was swallowing something bittersweet. Sostene normally didn’t act like this. Fighting like an animal with no regard for pain wasn’t his style. Even that which is immortal is not indestructible. Like this, he might be able to match Yoshirō, if only barely, but how long could it last, and could he survive the attempt? This could buy him a lot of time, but it could also cost him one of his best men.
Kichirō wheezed, clearly becoming more and more unhinged. “Alright. You want to know then, Marquis? Fine. I see no harm in telling you a story before we die. After all, it’s not like either of us will be getting a chance to repeat it. Without Ren or your demigod here to subdue him, Yoshirō has become unstoppable. Tell me Marquis, have you heard the story of Tamamo-no-mae?”
“I’m familiar with it,” Marquis said through gritted teeth. “A shapeshifting fox spirit posing as a courtesan gets outed by the court’s onmyoji for trying to poison the emperor to death on behalf of an evil daimyo, and is hunted down by two legendary warriors and all the emperor’s best men. The night before the battle, the fox spirit appears in the warriors’ dreams to beg them for its life but is killed anyway. They say her angry spirit attached itself to a nearby stone and poisoned the land so thoroughly that nothing would grow, causing anyone who touched the stone to immediately die. What of it?”
“No… no you didn’t.”
“We did. Or at least we tried.”
“But I thought the stone was purified by the priest Genno in the 19th century!”
“It was. What we dragged up from that stone was not the spirit of Tamamo-no-mae.”
“Then what was it?”
“Have you ever met a fox spirit, Marquis? I have. They’re quite powerful. The more tails they have, the older they are and the stronger they’ve become, with the maximum number of tails a fox can have being nine. Tamamo-no-mae was one such nine-tailed fox. Their power is said to be great enough to cripple entire regions and bring a blight to the land with a single curse. This fox in particular was said to be capable of taking on many different forms, and could make the very forces of nature itself bow to her every whim. What do you think it would take to subdue such a beast? A squadron? A division? What about a platoon or a regiment?”
The Marquis’ eyes widened. Kichirō smiled wickedly.
“Yes, it would truly take an entire army just to kill something like that, and that’s what the emperor sent. Eighty thousand sacrificial pieces to distract the beast and create a big enough hole in the fox’s defenses for the two true heroes to step in and slay it. Those two brave warriors survived. The rest all died, no doubt terrified and cursing their fate, their hearts filled with hatred for the fox and the emperor who sent them to die. Now, what is it that makes the ideal conditions for poltergeists again?”
“So the things that Yoshirō is possessed by-“
“Correct! They are the psychic imprints of those dead soldiers given form as poltergeists, fused into one massive concentration of twisted malfeasance and hatred. A super-ghost made up of the dying thoughts and emotions of eighty thousand terrified, angry men. Once they were kept subdued within the stone, kept in check by the presence of the fox. But with the fox removed, they were free to well up from within the stone like a pus, waiting to inflict an even worse fate on the next fool who dared touch the stone. They call themselves ‘the children of the fox’,” Kichirō said, sounding almost sickly satisfied. “That is the curse I have foisted on my brother. That is why his body is rotting from the inside out, and why we need the philosopher’s stone to fix him. Do you understand?! I killed my brother a long time ago, and this was my last chance to bring him back to life! I was planning on saying something like ‘I’m not going to let you ruin this for me, Marquis’, but it seems we’ve both already done a fine job of that. There’s nothing we can do to stop it now.”
“Okay…” Marquis said, patiently. “How do we kill it?”
Kichirō frowned. “Like I’d let you. And besides, weren’t you listening to anything I said? Yoshi is host to over eighty thousand angry poltergeists. We’d need someone as powerful as Ren or your demigod to subdue him.”
“Okay, I can do that.”
Sostene crashed into the bar missing his bottom half. His top half toppled over behind the bar, and two terrified yelps could be heard. The possessed Yoshirō held the legs aloft and roared like he was Tarzan beating his chest.
“Okay, I might be able to do that.”
“It doesn’t matter if you can or can’t. Did you forget? There’s no way to exorcise those spirits without killing him. That is something I refuse to do. Even weakening them would take at least eight experienced exorcists working in unison to apply exorcism rites and holy sacraments.”
“It… Doesn’t matter, I suppose. But where would you even get that kind of manpower on such a short notice-“
The door to the compartment burst open. White-clad banditos with rosaries burst open.
“Everybody freeze! You’re all under suspicion of harboring the undead and one of the ones possessed by them. The verdict is guilty! The sentence is death!”
They all raised their machine guns and swords.
“The jury is adjourned. The convicted may step forward.”
“Well isn’t that just convenient,” the Marquis said. “Looks like we don’t have to worry about where to find the men anymore, huh Kichirō?”
A hand jutted out of the wrecked suits of armor the Marquis had shot to pieces earlier. Steaming and in pieces, it slowly wrenched itself back together in a regenerative process all too different from vampires. Old flesh was replaced by the new flesh that knit itself around it, expelling it. The newly restored digits grasped for the edges of the hole in the armor, and once they had found it, they began to pull, slowly separating the invincible metal apart with great difficulty. Finally, a head poked its way out, panting and gasping for breath.
“Oh fuck this!” Purnima Avninder swore as she squeezed herself through the hole, neverminding the sharp edges. “Etsy! Get your sorry ass out o’ there!”
There was a meek whimpering from within the scorched shell.
“Get out o’ there before I drag your sorry ass out!” the British-Indian woman yelled, ripping apart the armor. Grabbing Etsy Jones by the wrist, she yanked him out tail-first and dropped him on the ground. He tried to crawl away but Purnima stomped on his shaggy, foul-smelling burnt tail.
“Get up you useless bastard! It’s our turn to fight. First the Marquis, then that fucking armored piece o’ shit over there!”
The Marquis stuck his head out. “For all our sakes, may I suggest the other way around?”
“First the Marquis, then that armored piece o’ shit over there!” she repeated.
With a sigh, the hulking shape of Figaro stretched itself out from behind the bar, donning a hockey mask.
“Come on Leo buddy-boy, it’s our turn to fight too. We ain’t getting out of here if we don’t.”
“What?!” the cowering doppelgänger said as he was picked up by the scruff by the chainsaw-wielding maniac. “Didn’t you hear the boss, Figaro?! Our job is to observe! O-b-s-e-r-v-e!”
“Can’t do that if we’re dead, can we?” Figaro said, chucking the doppelgänger at Yoshirō. Slowly, they all closed in, backing up the berserker Sostene.
“S-Sir!” one of the undercover Vitali hitmen said. “We’ve got four more, sir! Two lycans and a doppelgänger. Fourth is unknown, sir!”
“Damn. These subhuman freaks just keep crawling out of the woodwork! Everyone, get ready to fire!”
The white-clad men all leveled their guns at Yoshirō and the crowd surrounding him, preparing their chants and incantations, rosaries aglow.
“See?” the Marquis said to a stunned Kichirō. “We got this under control. Kinda, at least.”
Kichirō grit his teeth. “No…”
“I won’t let you kill him…” Kichirō said with ragged, gasping breath. “I won’t let you kill him… That’s my little brother!!“
Kichirō ripped a small cloth bag off the string hung around his neck and emptied the contents on the floor at his feet. Dozens of tiny bones spilled out onto the floor.
“Come to me…” he whispered.
Miles behind them, the roof of the train station exploded outwards. At the same time, Yoshirō roared, his voice carrying across the state and into the sky. Seconds later, something large and heavy knocked against the side of the car, grabbing hold of it in bony, death-like hands. The vacant eyes of a giant skeleton peered into the car through the hole in the roof.
“Gashadokuro…” Kichirō rasped, smiling.
“That,” she said, pointing to the monstrous giant skeleton clinging to the outside of the train. “That is why we should not be outside the train.”
A thunderous roar brought their attention to the skies. High above them, the clouds of ash that had so quickly covered the entire state were beginning to broil and roll themselves into giant elongated spears that pushed themselves out of the greater cloud bed, as if the sky itself was giving birth. Thunder and lightning crackled across the tips of the mile-wide spearheads, creating enormous atmospheric weapons truly befit of the most thunderous of gods. Quickly, and with great speed, they began their descent, ready to cover the land in plasmatic fire and brimstone.
Alfonso balked. Theo stared above, remaining calm and analytical. She turned to her newfound master and pointed at the clouds.
“Also that. That is another good reason not to be outside, I suppose.”