Month: October 2015

Tokyo Drift 4.10e

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“Your subordinate is insane, Marquis,” Kichirō said. “Clearly he’s lost it if he thinks leaves will bring my brother back to us.”

“Hey, don’t diss the leaves!” I said. “They’re what got us into this mess, remember? So with the right leaves, why shouldn’t I be able to get us out of it? If you ask me, it’s lucky for you that we had some nep’ lying around. This makes your job a lot easier, pally.”

My job?” Kichirō questioned. Marq snapped his fingers.

“Yeah, yeah! I get where you’re going with this!”

I nodded. “Your job, Kichirō pally, is to guide Yoshi on a trip down memory lane. Nepenthe is a strong drug, with a high risk of emotional and physical dependency. It relaxes the body while stimulating the mind, promoting all sorts of memory recall and shit. It doesn’t do much for me that a patch of reefer couldn’t, but for Yoshi it’ll help him re-live some of his happiest memories in his life. You need to use this to ground him. Walk him through it, talk him down. The sedatives in the nepenthe should do most of the work for you, but you need to finish it off with the nostalgia tour. Flood his brain with dopamine, bring him back down to Earth. He won’t be sober but he’ll be calm, hopefully enough to realize what kind of situation he’s in and wrangle the poltergeist patrol back into their place.”

“I… see…” Kichirō said, barely comprehending. “Herbal medicine was never my forte, but this seems relatively straightforward. But…”

“But what?”

“He can’t talk,” Kichirō said, bringing up something none of us had considered. “How do I know what kind of memories he’s seeing?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. How well do you know your brother, I guess? Look, just pick a memory you know you’d both remember, then try and lead him to it. If that doesn’t work, then either keep guessing or we’re screwed.”

I turned back towards the fight.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and get myself hospitalized again.” I looked at Marq. “How difficult would you say it is to stick a cigarette in the mouth of a murderous lunatic with only half a jaw?”

“Very.”

“Wait,” Kichirō said. “I may… have a way to help. To make this easier. It’s the least I can do, for you and for my brother. Do you still have control over that dragon, Marquis?”

“Yeah… wait, don’t tell me you’re thinking of bringing that skeleton back!”

“I can control it!” Kichirō protested. “If we can get it inside the car, we can use its ribs as a makeshift cage. It’ll hold my little brother in place. Then, I’ll be the one to deliver the nepenthe.”

There was a moment of silence. Did we trust him? Did he understand the limits of his own abilities, especially with one arm crushed and his mind emotionally compromised? And most importantly, would any of it even matter if we all died anyway?

“… Alright. It’s all yours, Kichirō. Your family, your familiar. Your call.”

Kichirō nodded. “Thank you.”

He took the nepenthe from my outstretched hand.

“There are two cigarettes and about five buds left,” I said. “You can use either type, but you’ll have to administrate it differently if you’re planning on making him chew the leaves instead of smoking it.”

He stared at the cigarettes and the plant leaves in his palm, clenching his fist.

“Oh, and one more thing. Thanks for uh… thanks for sparing me another trip to the hospital. You’re a real pal.”

“Stop calling me that,” Kichirō said bluntly. “Marquis, have you called your dragon? Does he have my Gashadokuro?”

“Yeah,” Marq said, twirling the dragon whistle he’d given to Theo. “He’s on his way.”

Kichirō nodded. “Then I guess it’s about time I get a move on it.”

I watched with a certain admiration as Kichirō slowly started approaching his brother. Don’t get me wrong, I still think the guy is a overtly sanctimonious douche-canoe, but there was something about what he was doing that I could respect. The sacrifice. The mistakes and the redemption. The older brother protecting his younger sibling. This was how it should be. Family, looking out for family. Especially when they can’t look after themselves.

There was a trumpeting roar from Sigurd as he flew past and dropped a pile of dismantled bones into the pit.

I watched as they plummeted into the cold grey cloud of magma cooling at the bottom like someone was dropping chopped vegetables into a pot of boiling water. Sigurd had done quite a number on it. “That’s… that’s not good.”

“You know you could all stand to be a little more patient,” Kichirō said. “Just give it a second.”

Moments after they disappeared from sight, I felt the walls of the pit rumble. A giant skeletal arm appeared from out of the hardening cocoon, dripping with fresh red magma like a hot shower. The whole pit groaned as the anatomical model from hell pulled itself out of the lava at the bottom of the pit, its baking bones crawling over each other in a race to fit themselves back into place. So this is what made it invincible.

“Behold my Gashadokuro,” Kichirō said in a way that reminded me of a certain someone.

The skeleton climbed the wall one bony hand at a time, digging into the sides of the pit with fingers the size of screaming children as boulders trickled down around it like water. The final bone in its ribcage clicked into place and, as if taking Kichirō’s direct demands as literally as possible, the skeleton monster used both hands to throw itself at the train without its hips and legs, lunging at us like a cat poised to strike. It grabbed onto the hole it had made and started squirming its way inside (we made sure to give it a wide berth).

Yoshirō roared as the Gashadokuro’s hands started swiping at him like moving walls, trying to corral him into its barrel-like chest dripping with hot lava. The car’s atelier interior had been expanded to fit a ballroom dance floor but in the end there was only so far he could go, and the skeleton grabbed him, swallowed him whole and deposited him behind the bars of its ribcage, crossing its arms around its chest to keep him inside.

We all swallowed hard lumps in our throats. This was working well so far. Now came the hard part. Getting him to take his medicine.

“Al, you forgot to mention this but how the hell is he going to get him to take it?” Marq hissed. “He can’t smoke it or chew it with half his jaw gone, and even if he could how is Kichirō gonna make him?”

“I don’t know!” I said. “He took it from me before I could think of anything!”

Kichirō stopped a few feet from the Gashadokuro. The desperate pounding of an animal could be heard from inside its chest, and the bars on Yoshirō’s makeshift prison which had survived dragonfire and being submersed in magma were beginning to crack. The only thing separating him from a violent death at his brother’s hands was quickly starting to fail. Kichirō took a deep breath.

Yoshirō!” he yelled as loudly as he could. There was a series of loud thumps and cracks before a hole opened up in the giant skeleton’s ribcage and an arm burst out of it, its metal talons inches from Kichirō. He didn’t flinch. His brother growled with frustration on the other side of the cage, swiping as much as he could at something he just couldn’t reach.

I paid close attention. It was make or break time. How was he gonna do this? He couldn’t just stick it in his mouth if it was just gonna fall right out again, and the only way to make him hold onto it was by force. Kichirō would never hurt his brother by choice. So how was he going to make this work?

Kichirō’s grip on the nepenthe tightened. Some leaves squeezed off and slowly fluttered to the ground, the plant’s thick, sticky-sweet sap dripping like honey from Kichirō’s palms.

“Yoshirō… forgive me, but…”

With a lightning-fast jab Kichirō flickered past Yoshirō’s defenses and the walls of his cage, jamming all the nepenthe into his wide-open gullet. In another equally fluid motion, he pulled his crushed arm back and flicked a lighter, burning the end of the joint while it was stuck inside his throat, and setting the whole clump ablaze inside him.

“If I must hurt you to save you, then that’s what I’ll do.”

I heard barely covered gasps from everyone around me. I agreed with them. For Kichirō to do something like that? That had to take some serious moxie. But…

“How the hell did he do that? Don’t tell me they ‘trained him’ how to light a cigarette at the speed of sound with a broken arm!”

Kichirō grit his teeth and bore it as Yoshirō howled like a dog with its leg caught in a bear trap. He knew. He must have known that this was the best way to force feed the drug to someone who wasn’t allowed to die. But that didn’t make it easy. Listening to that from your own brother… I bet he’d rather put his jewels in a vice and twist until he yelled two octaves higher.

He turned back to look at us. “Now what?”

“Try to remind him of a happy memory!” I shouted back. “Something that’ll calm him down!”

Kichirō nodded, and turned back to face Yoshirō.

“Yoshirō. Can you hear me?” he said.

“Bruh… ther…” he gurgled. That was good. Some of his original consciousness was already returning.

“I want you to listen to me very carefully,” he said, trying to be heard over his brother’s whimpers and gurgling screams. “I know it hurts but you have to pay attention to me! I need you to think. Ignore the pain, and try to remember your thirteenth birthday.”

“Muh… berfday…?”

“Yes, your birthday. Remember when we snuck out into the forest and I showed you the hitodama I found in the marshlands? They were so beautiful, and we played with them for hours. I even made them dance.” Kichirō laughed, wiping a melancholy tear from his eyes. “Saito was so mad at us when we got back.”

“Noh…!” Yoshirō grunted unexpectedly. “Mhad… a’ meh… noht yoh…! Beat meh! On… my berfday!

Yoshirō started to struggle, growing increasingly agitated. Kichirō backed off.

It’s not working!” he hissed. “I gave him a happy memory! He still didn’t calm down!”

“Try a different memory!” I called back. “Maybe that one wasn’t happy for him!”

“Why wouldn’t it be?! It was his birthday! We were having fun!”

But even Kichirō knew we were losing Yoshirō pretty quickly at this rate, so he tried something else.

“Ummm…” he said, snapping his fingers. “Remember the first time I showed you a tanuki?”

Yoshirō growled, losing more and more of his conscious mind.

“Okay, that didn’t work…” Kichirō mumbled. “What about the ice cream shop in New Delhi? We bought ice cream for everyone and Ren tried to get you to eat yours by shoving it against your faceplate, and it left this huge pink smudge on your armor? We laughed, and laughed. We all thought it was the funniest thing ever, especially when that stray cat wandered up to try and lick your face? Remember that, Yoshi? Wasn’t that fun?”

Yoshirō growled.

“Do you remember the New Year’s fireworks when we were visiting China? Remember how amazing those were?”

Yoshirō growled.

“What about the Gashadokuro? Remember when we fought the Gashadokuro? Wasn’t that exciting? Wait, maybe that’s a bad example…”

Yoshirō roared. Little flakes fell off the bones of the Gashadokuro and he pounded its sternum with his head, cracking it.

“What do I do?!” Kichirō turned back to us. “I keep trying to think of all the happy memories we could’ve had together but none of them are working! Am I doing something wrong?!”

Shit. This wasn’t good. We were seriously losing him. Much farther and we wouldn’t get another chance like this.

“Try something else!” I yelled.

“Like what?!” Kichirō snapped back testily.

“I don’t know! Fucking anything! Just try something else!”

Kichirō turned around. Much longer than this and he’d be in serious danger of being killed by his own brother. But he sighed, and sucked it up. A different look came over his face.

“Do you remember the first week we spent with the Sadoyas?”

Yoshirō stopped, and became completely silent. Kichirō gulped, and continued.

“You didn’t fit in at all there. We were from a different place, a different time. I remember we both felt lost. But you… you had it so much harder than I did.”

Yoshirō grunted angrily, whipping his head around and rattling the bars.

“Kichirō!” I hissed. “What the hell are you doing?! Say something positive!”

But he wouldn’t stop. As dumb, and as self-destructive as it seemed, he insisted on opening old wounds.

“Saito… he beat you practically every day. Sometimes he’d drag you outside so you wouldn’t interrupt the lesson. Other times he’d just discipline you right in front of me. I started losing track of how many times he’d hit you in just the first five days… so I started keeping score based on how many new bruises you had at the end of every day. I promised myself I would pay Saito back a thousandfold for each the day we got out of there. Well, you took care of that for me. Eventually anyway.”

Yoshirō grunted, roaring aggressively. He’d almost completely regressed back to the animal side, and after we’d gotten less than a minute of lucidity out of him. But then Kichirō said something unexpected.

“I remember…” Kichirō sniffed, stifling tears. “I remember going to bed the seventh day. You were really badly hurt. Your face was so swollen you could hardly talk. I couldn’t read you, that’s how smashed up your face was, but you looked dead inside. I tried to hold you… like Mom used to. I sang you lullabies. I tried so hard to make everything better, to tell you that everything was going to be okay, but… I started crying.”

Kichirō sniffled, but this time he couldn’t hold it back. He started to cry.

“I kept telling myself that I was going to make Saito… make our family pay for what they were doing to you. I made all sorts of idle threats, like how I’d pay Saito back a thousand times or how we were going to get strong enough to escape one day. I kept telling myself I was going to protect you. But after seven days, after seeing you so beat up… I just couldn’t fake it anymore. I was losing hope.”

Yoshirō stopped moving altogether, stopped completely to look at Kichirō, eating up every word.

“I buried my head in your shirt and I just… cried. I was so pathetic. There was nothing I could do to protect you. I felt like a failure. But then… then you started to rub the back of my head like mom used to, and even though you were so swollen you could barely speak you said, ‘it’s going to be okay’.” Kichirō took a deep breath. “That’s when I knew, Yoshi. That’s when I knew you were stronger than me. That you’d always be stronger than me. When it came to what was important, what was really important, I was nothing compared to you. They broke me, Yoshi. They made me a part of their stupid nightmare world. But you never stopped fighting. It’s not that you were a failure. You would just never give them the satisfaction, am I right?”

Yoshirō groaned, the embers in his throat starting to fade. “Ki… chi…”

I couldn’t believe it. It was actually working! Kichirō sniffed, and wiped away his tears.

“I don’t care what the Sadoyas thought about you or what anyone else says about ‘who the superior sibling is’, because I already know. I know something they don’t. That you’re the strongest person I know, Kichirō. You made mistakes, we both did, but you never stopped fighting. You never gave in, never broke, never compromised. Somewhere along the line I lost sight of that, and I became just like them, but you never gave up hope. That’s why I need you to be that brave little boy again, Yoshi. Show me that never say die attitude! You can beat this, Yoshi! You can beat them! Show them that this isn’t you!”

Yoshirō looked straight into Kichirō’s eyes. He reached out a hand. “Bruh… ther… Ahm… so-“

Suddenly he yelled, a human yell, gasping in pain and grabbing his head. He shook spasmodically, trembling as the living darkness around him flickered, fluctuating.

“No!” the children of the fox yelled in perfectly clear audio quality unlike Yoshirō, their voices reverberating. “This boy is ours! This boy is ours! You cannot have him!”

Kichirō snarled. “You ectoplasmic assholes… GIVE ME BACK MY LITTLE BROTHER!”

And then Kichirō punched a ghost. No, seriously, I’m not kidding. He pulled back his arm and made it into a fist, and somehow he punched a ghost. I don’t know how, but he did it. Knocked it straight the fuck out, too. The darkness curled to the floor and melted away like fog, and the train started to right itself as we cleared the pit and made it back onto solid ground. Everyone fell over but Kichirō just caught Yoshirō, holding the gigantic metal fucker with his crushed arm like he weighed nothing.

I got up, coughing and dusting myself off, and got a good look at the scene that had just played itself out in front of me.
“… Okay, if you try to tell me your ‘training’ let you do that too, I’m going to punch you in the face.”

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Tokyo Drift 4.10d

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Kichirō keeled over laughing, tears streaming down his face.

I said we needed them, you fucking grifter!” Marq screamed as he grabbed my shoulders and shook me, more panicked and angry than I’d ever seen him before. “Don’t you play the fucking twit with me, Al. Do you have any idea- any idea?- what you’ve done? You just shoved enough gum in the works to keep Chicklets in business for fucking years!”

“Marq, I-“

“I mean, what the fuck were you thinking? This guy’s more possessed than Anna fucking Ecklund, and what the fuck do you do? Fucking kill the Vitalis of course! The only guys here who know jack of all shit about exorcism besides Giggly Gus over there.”

I opened my mouth to say something but-

“I mean on any other day I’d give you a fucking promotion for that but today? Today of all fucking days? Do I have to fucking ventilate you so the oxygen can make it to your fucking brain?” He gesticulated with his bigass gat to my forehead. More than a little unnerved, I carefully lowered it.

“Marq, I’m sorry, I-“

“No!” He yelled. “No, don’t you dare interrupt me right now! I am not fucking through with you yet!” He yelled, stomping the ground. “You stupid fucking smooth fucking grifter fucking dingy fucking no-good low-to-the-ground Abercrombie head-in-the-sand curveball asshole! I… I…”

Marq stopped, panting.

“… You… you done?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yeah… yeah I think I’m good,” he said, totally worn out.

“Okay…” I said slowly. “Marq, I need you to relax. Now tell me. Why did we need them, and what can I do to fix it?”

Marq giggled raspily. “You think you can fix it?”

I shrugged. “Maybe. Why did we need them?”

Marq glanced at the brawl to make sure he was a safe distance away.

“That, Al,” he said and pointed over at the fight. “That’s why we needed them. To make him stop.”

Now that Theo had joined in, everyone else had backed off. She was handling Yoshirō pretty much singlehandedly, parrying all of his strikes and working her knives into the joints between his armor, targeting the soft spots. Yoshirō roared with rage that you could taste on the tip of your tongue but all he ever managed to do once he hit her was damage himself. The fight in Central Park played itself back in my head. If that encounter had taught us anything it was that Theo was the kiss off to any melee berserker types. If it wasn’t for the ghosts holding his body together with spit and a prayer Yoshirō would’ve been dead already. Guess that’s the kind of power you get in exchange for having godmetal for blood.

But that was the problem. As much as Theo damaged him it hardly slowed him down. He wasn’t a person or even a living thing anymore, he was an engine of rage, hewn together with bone and sinew and animated by pure hate. This “hate engine” wouldn’t stop as long as whatever was powering it clung to this Earth. Theo could keep it busy but that’s all she could do, and Yoshirō was taking every opportunity he could to find another living target. Something that could bleed. Fighting him while blocking every time he tried to lash out at something else, well… that was like trying to patch the holes in a boat made out of swiss cheese. A futile stalling tactic if nothing else.

“He’s not gonna stop because we tell him to, Al,” Marq said. “We needed them to make him stop.”

“Yeah, I’m seeing that,” I said. I snapped my fingers, trying to focus. “Okay. First we need to know why this happened.”

I turned to Kichirō.

“Do you know what could be causing this? Does he ever do this just randomly like when he’s asleep or unconscious or is there a trigger?”

“Don’t bother, Al,” Marq said, sighing. “He’s nuttier than a fruitcake. Lost it after you left. He keeps going on about how ‘everything is his fault’ and all sorts of crap.”

“That true?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said, his eyes still moist from laughing. “I am the reason for all of this. I am the reason why my brother’s body is falling apart. For why neither of us can sleep at night. All I can do is watch his empty eyes staring out at me from inside that armor.”

“You mean he doesn’t sleep?”

Kichirō seemed confused by that. “No, he doesn’t. But what does that matter?”

“Shut up, shut up! I’m trying to think of a way out of this,” I said. “I-I… I think I know why he went crazy at least.”

“Why?” Kichirō asked hurriedly. “Is there a way we can fix this?!”

“Oh, now you’re interested,” Marq said, annoyed. “And why? What do you think happened? You know something about this?”

I sighed. “Yeah, I think so. Unfortunately…”

“Well then what? Fucking spill the beans, Al!”

I resisted the urge to smile. It was just so rare to see Marq out of character like this. Normally he was so composed and above it all. I had to remind myself I was the reason Marq had steam coming out of his ears. If it wasn’t for me this situation would still be under control, which is why I had to fix it before I could make any smartass remarks.

“He doesn’t sleep anymore, right? When’s the last time you remember seeing him unconscious, Kichirō?”

“I… I don’t know. It’s been so long…” he said. “I mean he sleeps, for maybe an hour at a time. But it’s shallow, and you can see his eyes moving underneath. It’s not deep sleep, and he hasn’t done even that for over a month.”

“Would you say the last time you saw this happen was close to the last time he slept? Real, deep sleep? Maybe he fainted?”

“Y-Yes, now that you mention it…”

“If what I’m thinking is correct, Yoshirō can’t sleep anymore, otherwise he’ll be possessed. He’s keeping them out. The spirits will overtake his body the second he fully loses consciousness. That lapse in concentration gives them a way in.”

“And?”

“And… I think I gave them one. When I dosed him with ayahuasca dipped on my knife. It’s a powerful hallucinogen. I was trying to mess him up, but I think it must’ve taken enough control away from his conscious mind to let them in.”

“Oh no Al, you didn’t. You fucking didn’t,” Marq said to me, exasperated. “Did you really fucking do this?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know it’d have this kind of effect on him… Talk about a bad fucking trip…”

Suddenly the train made a horrific grinding noise and we all tumbled down a ninety degree plane, our tables and luggage careening across the car as it lurched onto its side.

“What the fuck?!” I yelled, rubbing my head.

At first I didn’t understand what had happened. I could still see the blackened sky out the window clear as day. If the train had tipped, which was theoretically impossible for a leyrail, then I should have been seeing brown; a faceful of dirt. Then I understood perfectly.

We had tipped. There was just no more dirt for the train to fall on.

“Shit!” I yelled, terrified. “Shitshitshit holy shit!”

“Mother of god…” Kichirō muttered.

“The collapse,” Marq huffed, holding his chest. “It’s caught up with us. The leylines have changed, so the leyrail’s changing with it.”

I looked outside, peering down intently over the side of the train. The positions of leylines were determined by geographic positioning and the local topography. Major geological events like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the shifting of tectonic plates could alter their positioning. Normally that kind of process occurred over time, but when two demigods go at it, or rather a demigod and a suped-up oni, that process can be accelerated. Dramatically.

That’s when I realized. Our train was riding down the sides of a sinkhole the size of Tonto National Forest.

“Holy fuck…” I whispered. “This is bad. This is seriously bad.”

“You think I don’t know that, dipshit?” Marq said, still angry. “I’m going to be buried up to my neck in legal bullshit for years after this. This kind of shit just doesn’t get ignored no matter how many palms you grease. This is why I told her to keep it subtle and under control. Dammit…”

He sighed, trying to keep it under control.

“Okay. Okay. Okayokayokay. We’re not going to get the opportunity to worry about any of that if we buy the farm here, so let’s focus,” he said, I think to himself more than me. “Al, you’re the only one who seems to know what to do right now so I need you to think of something. You get us out of this and I’ll ignore the fact that you got us into it. And Kichirō. What would you say if I said I have one more proposition for you?”

“Oh yeah?” Kichirō said as he wiped the blood from his nose. “What’s that?”

“If we figure a way out of this and get out of here alive… come work for us.”

“Huh?!” Kichirō and I both said.

Marq got up and dusted off his suit, putting his cool cat image back in order after his brief spazz.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for free. I’m not about to just overlook what you’ve done to me and mine. But I’m always on the lookout for fresh new talent to work for the family as uh… associates. So here’s the deal. You promise to hand over the Cintamani stone, and all the assets you bought with the Yamada’s stolen money, and I promise not to torture you for hours at a time. Plus, I’ll even try to find a way to fix what’s wrong with your brother’s body because I’m nice like that .”

“You must be joking.”

“Do you see me laughing?” he said, a tinge of that unhinged anger still creeping into his voice.

“Why in God’s name would I rely on you? A man like you is manipulative, and only uses others for his own gains.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“The answer is no. I will be the one to clean up my own messes. This was my mistake, and I have to-“

“Atone for it. Right?” Marq finished for him. Kichirō fell silent. “What? You think I don’t know what’s going on inside that head of yours? I wouldn’t be as ‘manipulative’ as I am if I didn’t know how to read people. Lemme try and psychoanalyze you right now, Kichirō. Let me try and guess what you’re thinking. You feel guilty, don’t you? You feel ashamed. You think it’s all your fault. I should know, you said so. You think you’re some horrible person who’s doomed his brother through inaction. You keep thinking about what you did wrong and what you could’ve done to stop it. You dwell on it. Obsess about it. It defines you. That guilt you feel… am I right?”

“… Yes…”

“That’s bullshit.

“What did you say?”

“You heard me right. That’s bullshit. That’s bullshit with a side of corn. You think this is your fault? What could you have done? Nothing. Your brother made that choice for himself. He walked up to that stone of his own free will, his own volition. You didn’t know. Neither of you did. How could you have known? You think you somehow drove him to do it? Well that’s his problem, not yours. He’s his own person, Kichirō. He’s responsible for the outcome his own mistakes. Saying it’s your fault isn’t just dead wrong, it’s selfish. You’re making him less of a person by claiming responsibility for his actions, and it builds you up. It makes you feel like some tragic hero or alone atoner, doesn’t it? Makes you feel righteous and strong, instead of just some powerless victim of fate. You don’t get to do that, Kichirō. You don’t get to take the responsibility for his own decisions away from him for your own benefit. You’re not the hero, Kichirō, because heroes don’t exist. I know, I’ve met them. They don’t live up to the hype.”

“And you just expect me to leave him there to rot? How can he take responsibility for anything he’s done if he can barely move outside that armor?!”

“You think Rome was built in a day? By one man with a pair of chopsticks and a pile of sand? Get real, Kichirō. That’s why we got family, and friends of the family. But that’s all they can do for you is help. So let us help you help your brother. This doesn’t have to be your mission anymore.”

“What makes you think you can even fix him? Huh?! We tried using phoenix yolk to cure him. It could not heal his wounds faster than the spirits could take him apart. And what do you want with all this anyway? The Cintamani stone is useless without years of research trying to understand its structure, and the orichalcum armor we acquired is all but shredded. You saw to that,” he spat.

“True, but orichalcum can be re-smelted, and I have more immediate plans for that stone anyway. And besides, I know where to get things much more potent than phoenix yolk,” he said. “For the right price of course. Come on, Kichirō. What do you say? There’s someone I know who could really use a lesson on how to hold on to a sword.”

Kichirō didn’t say anything at first. You could see him visibly age with the weight of the decision. Finally, he said, “Fine. You win, Marquis. I accept. Now fix my brother.

Marq nodded. “Al? Got anything yet? Come on, work with me here.”

“Well,” I said. “We can’t exorcise him or subdue him with holy methods anymore.”

“Yeah, thanks to you.”

“I’m not finished! If my theory is correct though and Yoshirō’s too distracted by his nightmare trip to control the spirits, bringing him down might give him enough control back to stop rampaging.”

“Okay, sounds simple so far. Is there an antidote to this aya… whatever you gave him? I’m not that good with plants.”

“Technically it’s a mixture of plants and vines,” I said. “And no… no there isn’t.”

“Well that’s great. That’s really helpful, Al.”

But!” I said before Marq could interrupt me again. “There might be another way. Remember that time we took shrooms when we were fifteen and you had to talk me down because I was freaking out?”

Marq eyes sparkled as he started to get it. “Yeah, yeah! The madam at the whorehouse told me to give you some sedatives and try to talk you down out of it.”

“We can do the same thing here,” I said. “We ain’t got no barbies like we did back then, but any sedative should do as long as it’s strong enough.”

“And?”

“And I think I know where we can get some.” I turned to look at everyone else taking a break from the fight. Figaro, Leo, the heavily wounded Sostene and the two lycans. “Alright everybody, I’m gonna need to borrow Theo for a few seconds! You need to cover us until then! Except you, Leo! You stay there and make sure Sostene doesn’t move!”

“Huh?!” Leo whined, but Sostene immediately started growling and thrashing  under his grip, forcing him to keep his mouth shut if he didn’t want to get fed on.

I nodded. “Okay, Theo! Break free next chance you get!”

She grunted as she blocked another strike from Yoshirō. “I shall try!”

Marq looked at me. “What are you planning?”

“You’ll see in a second,” I said. Then I stopped, and turned around. “… That reminds me, Marq. Did you call in any extra help for this job?”

“What you talking about the Vitalis? Does it look like I arranged that?”

“No no, I mean anyone who works for the family.”

“Hmmm…” he said, considering it. “No, not that I can remember. Not unless you count Siggy’s rack of ribs as a payroll.”

“Right…” I said. Something about this wasn’t adding up. If Marq didn’t send for Figaro and Leo, then that left Frankie and the siblings. But… No, I had bigger problems right now.

A knife got deflected and spun out of the holder’s hand, stabbing into the wall next to me like it was trying to get my attention. I turned towards the fight, trying to stop my knocking knees and look like I had a pair. I licked my lips nervously. I couldn’t just have Theo do all the work here. But… this might just be even dumber than the stunt that landed me in the hospital. At least I was mostly just fighting humans there. Here, I’d have to get up close and personal with that inhuman meat grinder, and I was distinctly aware of my odds. If Sostene and Figaro together with two lycans could barely manage to scratch him, what chance did I have?

Relax. Focus on the things you can do. Do not focus on the giant ragin’ asian death machine that is most likely coming to kill you. Do not focus on that.

I took a deep breath. Then Kichirō grabbed my leg, and I half-jumped out of my skin.

Fuck!

“What are you going to do him?”

What?” I asked testily.

“I said what are you going to do to him? He’s my brother. My little baby brother. I am fully prepared to die at his hand rather than kill him a second time. If you want to hurt him, I swear to everything that is holy to you and to me that I will make you regret it. Even if it costs me my life.”

“Yeah. Jesus guy, I get it. We’re not going to hurt him anymore. Calm the fuck down. Get copacetic, feel the zen. You’re good at that, right? The whole zen thing?”

He glared at me. I gulped. I think we both knew I was talking myself up just as much as I was him.

Meanwhile Theo took a bad hit and was slammed against the hole in the roof, holding onto both sides until her palms bleed. The wounds closed quickly but the bigger danger was in where she stood. Riding on our sides, being forced out of the hole in the roof would mean falling for miles to the bottom of the sinkhole, a huge ring-out. I felt my stomach sink as I watched her choke in Yoshirō’s grip, her fingers loosening up as he tried to shove her out of the car.

She took a deep breath in. Tucking her legs close to her body, Theo suddenly lashed out like a spring with a violent jackrabbit kick, nailing Yoshirō with both legs. His grip broken, she found her opening and broke out of the fight, Figaro and the lycans swarming in to replace her.

She ran up to me, panting. “What is it, Master Alfonso?”

Marq whistled.

“I-I told you to knock it off with the ‘master’ shit,” I said, glaring at Marq. I sighed, slightly embarrassed. “Do you still have that tin of smokes I gave you?”

“… Yes, right here,” she said, confused. She handed me the tiny metal box.

“Awesome. You’re a doll, Theo.”

I took the lid off the tin and inspected the contents. There were still three joints left. They were a bit dry, but they’d still work. Hopefully. Reaching for the sprig of mistletoe, I started rubbing my hands together, getting them nice and slick with blood.

“Al,” Marq said. “What is that?”

“Nepenthe,” I said bluntly.

“Uh huhhh…” Marq muttered. “And… why do you have that? Wait, no. Don’t tell me. I don’t wanna know.”

“So this is your brilliant plan?” Kichirō said, dumbfounded. “You’re going to have a smoke?!”

“No,” I said. “Your brother is.”

With a word I made the joints grow into full plants, sweetly budding leaves opening like flower petals. I plucked them, and showed them to Marq and Kichirō.
“The way I see it, we sent him on a trip, and now it’s time we bring him back.”

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Tokyo Drift 4.10c

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The cloud spears dropped like anvils, hurtling towards us like giant bullets. I’m willing to bet the harmless, puffy, looks-like-a-bunny-rabbit-made-of-marshmallows cloud isn’t the first thing you think of when I tell you to think of a weapon of mass destruction, but leaving aside the sparky-sparky bits that live inside the cloud, there are a lot of good reasons why watching one fall out of the sky directly towards you should make you shit your pants harder than a stiff with the post-mortem squirts.

You see, the thing people tend to forget about clouds is that for all their child-pleasing fluffiness, they’re also really really really really really really big. Like, holy shit you don’t even know how big. Your pitiful knowledge of cloud and atmospheric dynamics is in inverse proportion to just how dog-mad big these sons of bitches are. We are talking about water vapor, yes. But we are also talking about cubic kilometers of it, enough to fill multiple Olympic-sized swimming pools, being compressed into a projectile so heavy it’s falling out of the sky at hundreds of meters per second towards the ground.

Now replace all the water with pumice and set it on fire the only way Mother Nature knows how: with lightning. Lots and lots of lightning. The friction from the eruption creates a charge differential between the ash cloud and the ground, and the whole thing lights up like charcoal on a barbecue. In the aftermath of Ren and Nayeli’s apocalyptic fisticuffs, Yoshirō had basically just been given full control over a mega-sized pyroclastic flow. And he was sending it straight at us.

None of this really becomes real to you until you see it in person, and in retrospect I think the only reason I didn’t shit myself was because the ayahuasca had impacted my shits until they were harder than clay in a kiln.

I heard screaming coming from the car. Many different voices. The giant skeleton had begun expanding the hole in the roof, trying to fit inside by prying it open like a can of sardines. I closed my eyes as arms ten meters long fished around inside and grabbed some poor soul before biting his shrieking head off. I tried to ignore the fact that it was drinking his blood like a barfly popping the top off a beer bottle and just prayed it wasn’t anyone I knew. Or that if it was, it was at least Sostene.

“Master Alfonso,” Theo said calmly. “We should go.”

“What, inside there?!” I asked incredulously, pointing at the car. “Are you kidding me? I just saw a giant skeleton drink a guy. There is no way we’re going inside there as long as that thing is still there.”

“Does that mean you would go if it was only the armored one in there with us? Even though he is by far more dangerous?”

I stopped. “Well, uh… yeah I guess.”

She nodded. “Understood. I believe the problem shall be taken care of shortly then.”

A gust of wind broke over my head as the flapping of wings broke through the clouds that were growing ever closer to earth. There was a mighty goddamned roar, and Sigurd, now the size of a city fucking bus, swooped in and latched onto the skeleton’s back, carrying it into the sky.

“… huh,” I said. I was running out of things to say by then, really.

The nodded. “Let us go then.”

“… No! No! Nonononono! What the fuck?!” I heard the normally calm and composed Kichirō scream as I opened the door to the car. “A dragon?! You brought a dragon?! Where did you even get a dragon?!”

Marq laughed, wheezing. “Well, that’s for me to know, and for you… no, you’ll probably never find out, because I’ll never tell you. But trust me, it would be hilarious if you knew.”

Kichirō snarled. “You planned all of this, didn’t you Marquis?”

“‘Plan’ would be a bit of an overstatement considering just how much has already gone wrong, which by the way I compliment you on, that’s very hard to do to me, but yes. There were contingencies in place in case anything went catastrophically wrong. A lot of contingencies. Though I wasn’t quite expecting our current situation with Nayeli, Ren and your brother. It’s going to take a lot of doing to make the right people ignore this, especially now that psychometry can be used as evidence in a court of law…” Marq sighed. “… Did you really think you’d be able to out-prep us, Kichirō? You’ll never be able to plan as far ahead as we can, especially not when you already blew most of your stolen money on those orichalcum tin-cans. That wasn’t a smart business decision, my friend. There’s only so much you can do once the money dries up. It’s money that buys security. Money that buys silence, safety, success, and everything else in this world. Money makes this miserable little planet go ’round. They say time is money too, Kichirō. Now… doesn’t that mean you’re out of it?”

“Damn you…”

“You called that thing a Gashadokuro, right? Yeah, I’ve heard of it before. Legend has it’s supposed to be both invincible and indestructible ,” Marq said with a grin. “Let’s put that to the test, shall we?”

I smiled. You sly dog.

I looked around. Was everyone else okay? I could see Marq and Sostene, Figaro and Leo were fighting with everyone else, and Nayeli was out there bringing down the fires of World War fucking Two. We’d left Annie back at the compartment (far away from all this insane violence, I noted as as I watched someone’s torso go flying across the room), which left the goons and Felicity.

“Pssst. Hey. You there. Guy. Shortstuff.”

“Alright, who said that?” I said as I looked down at my feet.

“Me, you goddamn sonuvabitch!”

The torso I’d seen flying past me had somehow crawled its way over here. Some British bastard with awful dentistry. Still looked handsome enough though in spite of it, which pissed me off somehow. He was grabbing on to my legs with both hands and wouldn’t let go.

“And… who the fuck are you?” I asked, weighing the pros and cons of just stomping on his face and walking away. I could tell right away this guy was annoying but he also looked pretty dead, and I didn’t need any more poltergeists in my life.

“Etsy? Etsy Jones?”

“Never heard of you,” I said, growing increasingly agitated.

“Oh come on! I’m a lieutenant for-“

“Yeah. Uh huh. Fascinating. You uh, mind just letting go and having the decency to die someplace else, or are you going to keep wasting my precious time with this? I mean, it’s okay if you are. It’s not like I got any friends out there getting killed or nothing.”

“I’m a lycan!”

“So?”

“So I’m not dead yet!” he said in protest. “Listen, umm… I need you to do me a favor.”

I sighed. “Jesus christ, what?”

“Throw me outside and onto the tracks.”

“And why would you want me to do that?”

“Because I don’t wanna be here! Just throw me to the tracks. Then I can get the hell out of here and Purnima won’t get pissed at me! You can sympathize with that, right?”

I stared at him. We were all fighting with our lives on the line and this bastard, who couldn’t even die, wanted to run away. So I did what I could. I kicked that bastard right back into the fray, yelling and screaming.

“The nerve of some people…” I said offhandedly to Theo. Now, there was still one person here who was unaccounted for…

I squinted. I could see Felicity hiding behind the bar reloading a tommy gun, but there was still this… weird haze around her. Invisible shapes and stuff, like fractals. Was I still high? I rubbed my eyes and the vision went away, so I dismissed it and just figured it was nothing.

Everyone was crowded around Yoshirō, and much to my dismay, coming down had not helped make him look any less scary. He’d lost his lower jaw, his tongue flapping wildly around his mouth. He was bleeding every time he moved, hot hemoglobin spewing out of the cracks in his armor. It was black like ink. Just like the fog that had sort of settled around him in this animalistic shape. Nine tails, claws and fangs. He was a sight to see, but I’m not sure who’d want to. Not up close anyway.

Things weren’t looking good though. It was all of him versus all of them and they were barely holding on, so I decided to give them a little extra backup.

“Theo,” I said. “On my signal.”

“Understood,” she complied.

Now we just needed to attend to the matter of-

“What are you doing?! I said restrain it! There’s no time for distractions!”

Is what a Vitali family man shouted as he held a long spear at arm’s length. The head, shaped like a crucifix, was imbedded in the gaps between Yoshirō’s armor, trying to keep him still. But even with five guys, it wasn’t working. One of them had broken formation, and was pointing a gun at Sostene, then at us, then back to Sostene, trying to decide who to shoot.

“I can’t, captain! The vampire keeps closing in on me! Permission to kill freaks, sir!”

“This isn’t Belleau Wood you little asswipe, and I ain’t James fucking Harbord! Just do it and get back here as soon as you can!”

Sostene looked bad. Worn down, and ragged. Eyes bloodshot, fingernails bloody. He was breathing heavily and lashing out at anything that touched him like a wild animal, even his erstwhile allies. Maybe that was how that lycan had lost his legs?

Not good. Severely not good. I’d never seen him like this before, but I could guess that whatever was happening to him wasn’t a good thing. He seemed ferocious but it was obvious he was getting weaker. Strength from desperation, like a cornered animal. If I let them attack him now, he might even be killed.

I had to do something, at least. So I did what I do best. I remembered things.

I closed my eyes, and the palace doors swung open, a portal to another world, a building of infinite rooms. A flurry of pages like snow whipped past my face, bearing information on the procedure of magic.

Equivalent exchange: The demand made by the world for adequate compensation whenever one casts a spell. A symbolic offering.

Mana: Also known as life-force, chi, qi, ki, prana and telesma amongst many other names, mana is the sum total energy of a system at any given time.

Spell framework: A materialistic offering of things with ritualistic significance such as incantations, totems or burning plants and incense. Combined with the spiritual offering of mana, they form the basis of equivalent exchange.

I randomly snatched papers out of the air, confident my brain would not mislead me by giving me anything less than the exact information I required. This was the one place that would always be mine. It bent to my will.

I took a deep breath and opened my eyes in front of an elevator, open and waiting in the wake of a ding that felt like it rang a thousand years ago. The elevator only went one direction, and that was down. To other people’s forgotten times. Though things aren’t ever truly forgotten and left behind in my brain, some things just can’t constantly be at the forefront of my thoughts. So they get archived, for later. This is where I go to find them.

The doors opened and I walked out into a wax museum full of living displays in glass cases, moments of my life playing on a loop. Twenty four years of memories were housed here. Every second of every day. Looking at it makes it seem like so much it’s a wonder my head doesn’t explode, but navigating it is easy. I just focus on what I want to see, and it appears before me.

Another day spent studying under the spriggan. I remember watching in plain awe and astonishment as she plucked two mistletoe leaves from a pot sitting next to her, and with nothing but a bit of cow’s blood and rubbing made plants grow weeks in advance. This was one of the few times I’d ever seen her use actual magic instead of druidic practices. She never told me how to actually use the spell, but I was a clever kid. I sussed it out.

Two leaves of mistletoe. I looked around. Luckily, the train company had already started preparing for Christmas. A sprig of it was hanging in the doorway just above us. I plucked it down and held it in front of Theo.

“Kiss?” I said jokingly.

Looking at me like I’d just swallowed a live frog, Theo turned her head and said, “Maybe later.”

I took out my knife and flicked the obsidian blade open. I didn’t have any cow’s blood, but I figured some of mine might make do. Blood is blood after all. All I had to do was add a few words of incantations to make absolutely sure my offering was still equivalent. I slashed my palms open and smashed the leaves inbetween, rubbing vigorously and adding my own mana until the leaves felt like paste. The power flowed through me. This was a completely different sensation compared to when I’d enchanted myself three months ago. This was magic. Real, honest to god magic.

I raised my hand, preparing the spell that would end their lives, and probably save Sostene’s. Marq’s eyes widened.

“No, Al! Don’t do it!” Marq shouted. “They’re on our side this time!”

But it was too late. The words had already formed on my lips like dew drops.

Fás.”

No one stopped to acknowledge me. No one payed any attention. And for a while, nothing happened. It looked like Marq was even letting himself hope whatever I’d done hadn’t worked.

“… Master Alfonso?” Theo said tentatively.

“Shhhhhh…” I smiled. “Just give it a sec.”

Dutifully, she turned around to look.

“Ughh…” One of the Vitali goons gurgled as he backed off, holding himself like someone who was about to ralph big time. He burped, a rancid acrid-sounding emission, his stomach rumbling in protest.

“And one, two…~”

He started hacking and dry-heaving, spit and stomach acid spilling onto the floor and his nice white suit. Something was trying to get out of him.

“… Three.”

I watched as to everyone’s horror a root started crawling out of the man’s mouth, growing straight up and out of his esophagus from his intestines. It hung loosely from the corner of his mouth like a thread of spit or an ugly second tongue, and as he ambled around doubled-over the angry gurgles of his stomach eventually started turning into screams. It was growing inside him. That made everyone stop and watch.

“Interesting fact,” I said, addressing all the Vitali’s men. “Did you know that the human body at any given moment contains up to a few hundred grams of undigested plant matter and pounds of bacteria? And did you know that all you need to grow that plant matter is a few leaves and the right potting conditions? No seeds required. Now the human intestine isn’t exactly a great place to grow things but in a pinch it can work, especially if you’re using magic. Set things up for the little leaf cuttings just so and you have an instant potted plant, full to the brim with warmth and fertilizer.”

The man’s stomach and pelvis started to bulge like a pregnant woman’s, and I held my hand over Theo’s eyes.

“You might not want to watch this,” I said.

She looked at me like I was an idiot and lowered my hand for me. Maybe I was, I dunno. She’d probably seen a lot more gruesome violence than I have. Still, there was something about letting a woman see this that I just didn’t think was right.

His abdomen swollen to sickening proportions, the man simply keeled over and coughed up blood as he convulsed in pain, lumps and bruises growing in patches all over his stomach. The signs of heavy internal bleeding. He shit himself red as more roots started finding their way out the back door, and finally, mercifully he died, a tiny head of baby cabbage suffocating him as it worked its way out of his mouth like a budding flower. His eyes rolled back into his head.

Voila. An instant garden grown with nothing but the salad from last night’s dinner. Cut him open and you’d probably find him stuffed with corn cobs and a bunch of herbs too.

The men backed off, fear growing on their faces while plants grew in their gullets. Immediately a few of them started to feel the pain, and the same process started repeating itself over and over again, until all of them were writhing on the floor. My little human garden.

“You know in any other circumstance this probably wouldn’t be possible,” I said. “There’s no way I’d ever have enough mana on my own to make something like this happen with such a crude spell. But because you forced our hands and made me make a contract, I’m overflowing with life energy right now, like a goddamn volcano. I mean, I am going to have to jack off for hours to get rid of all this.”

There was a gross popping sound as a bamboo shoot exploded from some guy’s stomach, growing straight up and out through his belly. I winced.

“Ouch, someone must have had the chinese food last night.”

The last one finally became still, and I gave Theo the signal.

“Now!”

“Understood!” she yelled, and leaped into the fray, clashing and slashing alongside the rest of the Allesandri front-runners.

I stepped forward to talk to Marq.

“Well, that was close. Bet you’re glad I showed up when I did, or they might’ve killed-“

“Alfonso you fucking idiot, we needed them!” Marq yelled.
“… What?”

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Bonus Interlude (Ren, pt. 3)

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Blinking, Ren slowly came to.

Huh? I’m… not dead? What is this? Why do I feel warm?

Someone’s arms were wrapped around the crook of her legs and armpits, carrying her like bride or a princess. She felt a comforting strength radiating from those arms, like they could carry her for a million miles and never drop her. Ren smiled.

Ahh… I see. This is Kichirō’s warmth. He’s the one carrying me. Which means this must be the afterlife. Oh Kichirō, why did you have to follow me here?

She looked up at him.

Still… I’m glad I get to walk into heaven with you… Wait.

Her vision gradually focused, losing the bright and blurry bloom until she could recognize a face that wasn’t Kichirō’s. It was sharp, spartan, slightly angular, and it did not look kind. Hair the color of thistles covered in dirt fell down its scalp like a waterfall.

Ren’s eyes widened. She knew that face. That meant… that this wasn’t the afterlife. And this… wasn’t Kichirō!

Finally she could see clearly again. The face of the demigod Nayeli Knossos loomed down at her.

“Yo. Finally awake, huh?”

Ren stared up at her, mouth agape. For a minute she did nothing.

“… Gah?!?!”

Ren panicked, flailing. What the hell?!

The demigod sneered, annoyed as her flailing limbs smacked her. “Would you cut that shit out? I’ll drop you.”

“God-girl?!” Ren squealed. “What the hell is this!? What are you doing, and why are we naked?!” she realized to her mortification.

“Our clothes burned up in the fight, remember? Or are you too stupid to remember how heat works?” Nayeli intoned mockingly. “And what does it look like I’m doing? I’m carrying you, you idiot. Now stop squirming and shut up, before you break something again.”

Ren’s red face became even redder, darkening with embarrassment.

“Stop acting like you care about me! Let me go! This feels so wrong! This isn’t what I-“

Ren felt something crack.

“My back…” she whimpered, going limp in Nayeli’s arms. The demigod sighed.

“I fuckin’ told ya, but noooooo…”

Ren looked at Nayeli through teary eyes. “What did you do? Why I still alive?”

“Because I gave you my blood,” Nayeli answered. “Why do you think? It healed you, and you weren’t gonna survive in that state without some of it. So stop squirming and breaking things. You’ll heal soon if you just let me finish carrying you, you fucking ingrate.”

The two of them walked in silence for a while. The ash was thick, enough to choke, and neither of them took many breaths. They saved their energy for walking. Climbing piles of debris, and new mountains. Eventually, Ren spoke.

“… Why did you save me?”

“A ‘thank you’ would be nice.”

“I being serious. Why? I your enemy. I try to kill you. You were going to kill me. But you save me anyway. Why?”

“Well it’s not because of your stellar personality, I’ll tell you that much,” Nayeli remarked, mumbling to herself. “Seriously, show some fucking gratitude…”

Ren looked around at the devastation. Fires coated the horizon and the morning sky had gone dark with ash. It looked like a volcanic pit, only it was miles wide. This… is what they’d done?

“… We kill a lot of people just by accident today. You know that, right?”

“Uh huh.”

“And we gonna have a lot to answer for when we make it back.”

“Yup.”

“So what difference does one more life make? Just another number at this point, right?”

“Jesus, are you still fucking on about that? Maybe I saved because I didn’t want anyone else to die! Did you ever think about that?”

The oni went quiet, the two of them walking in solemn silence.

“That the real reason then, isn’t it? You feel guilty.”

“I told you, I just don’t like killing other demihumans,” Nayeli said. “That’s all there is to it. Don’t go thinking you’re special or anything.”

“…” Ren stared at the growing fires on the horizon. “It hard for me to imagine what it must be like for you. To live knowing that you can do this. That it inevitable that someone will die because of you no matter how hard you try to control it.”

“Jesus, you make it sound like we’re trying to kill people. We’re not. It just… happens.”

“Earthquakes do not try to kill people. Volcanoes do not try to kill people. They just do. They no can help it. It just how they are. As long as they exist people will die, but they can’t help that. It very sad. Living like that.”

“Yeah well get used to it. You’re living that life now too.”

Ren shook her head. “No. Zenkai no last long. I can already feel the power fading. I keep some of it, but not all of it. Not enough to be as powerful as you are. Besides, you demigods always attract bad luck. It in your blood to cause trouble. Get in fights. Kill people. You in mortal danger every week, so you have no choice but to fight. I can go back to the forest, and hunt by myself. Alone.”

“Is that what you’re gonna do then?”

Ren thought about this. “No. I have someone I look after too. Someone I need to protect. I think that familiar to you, right? He do the thinking, you do the fighting.”

Nayeli chuckled. “Yeah… that sounds about right.”

Ren sighed.

“Well, things work out somehow for you. They always do. I thought I die today. Turns out I wrong. God-girl much more forgiving than I thought she’d be,” she said with a smirk.

“Feh. Don’t make me let go of you, shrimp.”

“Not unless you want me to swing from those giant udders, you dairy cow.”

“Bitch.”

“Whore.”

“Slut.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you.”

“…”

“…”

The two of them laughed uproariously, straight from their bellies. It was happy laughter. Guilty laughter. Sad laughter. Shocked laughter. Glad-to-be-alive laughter. Every kind of laughter there was in one giant melting pot of complicated emotions, summed up by just about the only thing either of them could do about it at that point.

“This is a fucked up world, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it definitely is.”

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