Etsy Jones

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?”

Previous || Next

Tokyo Drift 4.10b

Previous || Next

Earlier…

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.

Sostene wheezed.

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.

Remember.

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.

Remember what-?

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.

You…!

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?”

Kichirō smirked.

“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.”

“What kind?”

“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?”

“Wha-“

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…”

“What?”

“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.

Now…

“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.”

Previous || Next

Tokyo Drift 4.7

Previous || Next

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.”

“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.

What now?

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.”

“Who?!”

“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.

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Interlude 3.a (Four Beast Gang)

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Last Night

“<I’m Kichirō. And you are?>”

“”

Ren… Yoshirō…

“…iiiiii. Oi, Kichirō. You awake?”

He groaned.

“I am now.”

Kichirō looked around for his brother. Yoshirō was leaning up against a wall on the far side of the warehouse, just like he had been five hours ago. Nothing had changed, for better or for worse. Same as always.

Kichirō sighed. Did he think he was still on guard duty, or had he just dozed off like that, unmoving? It was getting hard to tell if he was asleep or awake these days.

Yoshirō opened a single blank white eye, staring back at Kichirō. Then he closed it again.

“Jesus christ…” Kichirō muttered. “Ren, when was the last time you saw him sleep?”

“Hm? Why you ask?”

“Because I can’t remember what it looks like when he’s asleep anymore. How long has it been?”

“It been a month, I think.”

“Jesus fucking christ…” Kichirō trailed off.

He clenched his fist up against his head and felt the unpolished stone bite into his skin. He uncurled his fingers just to look at it one more time. The Cintamani stone. The fake, the false stone of miracles. A fleeting illusion of almightiness that men would and had killed for, himself included. When he’d sought it, he thought it could save his brother. He thought it could redeem him. And after all the blood he’d shed for it, it had turned out to be completely useless.

Kichirō stared unflinchingly into the rough facets of the stone. He tried as hard as he could, tried to find an image of his past self trapped in the crystalline matrix of the stone. Something of him preserved. But there was nothing. His face curled into an unrecognizable snarl. The stupid mud-red stone couldn’t even show him his reflection, much less save his brother. What was he supposed to protect with this?!

He felt an overwhelming urge to destroy the stone right then and there. To smash it into pieces and just go home, back to Japan, and put an end to this stupid, asinine quest. There was nothing he could do for his brother anymore. What was the point in endangering everyone’s lives trying?

What’s the point in not trying at all?

He was sure his brother hated him for what he’d done. More than sure. Yoshirō didn’t have to be able to speak to tell him that. What he’d done was unforgivable. Odds were that even if he succeeded, he’d still go to hell for what he’d done to his little brother.

You’d better make the most of the time you have left with him then.

The stone stared back at him, cold and unfeeling. How much blood had been shed over this thing already? Could he really wipe away his debt when the stone was just as guilty as he was? Could two wrongs really make a right just this once?

Is anything really “right” in this fucked up world?

Kichirō sighed, his grip on the stone weakening. He needed to bear with it. This was his last chance. If not to make things right, then to fix them at least. He just had to be patient a little while longer, with both his brother and the blasted stone. Until then, any grievances he had were irrelevant.

“Kichirō? What’s wrong?” Ren asked. “This not like you.”

Kichirō sighed. “It’s nothing, Ren.”

It was time to change the topic of conversation. Deftly making the transition to Japanese, he asked, “<Moreover, when did you decide to start speaking in English when we’re alone? There’s no one here to hear you, you know.>”

“” she said. “”

The back door clicked, and two lycans quietly entered the warehouse. A man and a woman, both five-seven with messy, unkempt hair. One was unusually short and the other was unusually tall, and they both smelled like wet fur.

“That not necessarily true.”

Kichirō studied them carefully. They’d hired the Four Beast Gang, a group of local lycans, to help them escape the city with the stone. They were an organization of a few thousand that recognized the authority of the bird, the snake, the lion and the dog, and whose lieutenants and generals all bore the traits of those animals. These two must have been the ones in charge of this hideout.

Aside from their height and generally messy state of dress, the two were complete opposites. One, the man, was incredibly pale while the woman had a crisp dark tan. Their hair were opposite shades of brown, one dark and greasy and the other practically sunbleached. Most importantly, the man’s ears were canine, the woman’s distinctly feline.

“Hey, what’s all this now?” the man said, dropping his grocery bag. “You sayin’ something about us, mate? The Four Beasts are being awful kind letting you people use one of our hideouts. You should show us a little more respect. You wouldn’t want us to throw you back to the Allesandris, now wouldya?”

“Oi, that’s not funny. If they find out we had anything to do with this, we’ll be killed too,” the woman said. “So shut it, ya big twit.”

The man snorted. “Better a twit than a twat.”

“What the fuck did you just say?”

“Nothing,” the man said. “Lay off me, wouldya? Christ on a cracker woman… All I’m saying is we’re sticking our necks out for these ungrateful blokes. The least they could do is show us a bit of fucking respect instead of talking behind our backs in that weird fucking moon language.”

Kichirō listened intently. Not to their words, but the meanings behind them. Both the man and the woman exhibited fairly thick English accents, Kichirō noted. The woman’s was Scottish perhaps and the man’s a thick, immediately identifiable cockney. That meant they were probably fresh off the boat. Forced immigration after depopulation. The man with the greasy hair was more than likely one of the survivors of the recent attack led by the Wild Hunt.

“If your god really does exist, he must certainly be a cruel one,” Kichirō said, thumbing bullets into the magazine of his gun.

“What did you say?” the lycan responded. “You bein’ cheeky with me, mate? Come on then! You and me! We’ll see how good you talk shit once I’ve ripped out all your teeth!”

“Etsy!” the woman said, grabbing his shoulders. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! These are our customers!”

“Like I give a fuck!” the lycan said, wrenching away from her grip.

Kichirō sighed. “I was only trying to offer my condolences for what you must have lost in the attack on London. But it appears you don’t want it.”

“Heh. Is that it then? Is that what this is about? This fake pity? May be news to you mate, but I’m fuckin’ Welsh.”

Kichirō raised an eyebrow. “But you were born in London.”

“So what if I fuckin’ was? I’m no Londoner anymore. I lost my home five years ago to the Queen of Blades! Cardiff burned to the ground in bloody fuckin’ cinders!”

“I always think Cardiff would be destroyed by aliens,” Ren pitched in. “You hear it in news all the time. Wrinkly grey lizard-people with black eyes who look like corpses.  Always something flying over Cardiff.”

“Yeah well, some fuckin’ little green men would’ve been nice compared to what we got. Fire everywhere, people going half out of their fuckin’ minds while the rest get turned into bloody fuckin’ ghouls… I still have nightmares about that night.”

The man began crying softly, and Kichirō looked away.

“There there, it’s okay…” The Indian woman started patting him on the back like a baby, his muffled sobs absorbed into his jacket. “Let’s go fix you up a nice bowl of soup, we’ll get you sorted in no time.”

“I’m sorry…” Kichirō said. “I’ve never been that good at speaking to people. They only sent me and my team on this job because we knew how to speak English.”

The woman led her… Kichirō still couldn’t decide if he was her friend or not, but she walked him to the door, his sobbing becoming more and more pronounced.

“You’re lucky, you know,” Kichirō said. “She spared you from a far more horrible fate.”

That got the lycan’s attention.

“Are you jokin’? You think those London shits went through worse than we did?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t there. All I know is that three hundred thousand people made it out of Cardiff. A third of that made it out of London. You should be grateful.”

“You… you think you’re so fuckin’ high and mighty, don’t you? You think you got it all figured out, like the rest of us are all just fuckin’ stupid or something!”

“I don’t remember ever saying that.”

“Well I’d like to see you keep talking all that good shit after you’ve had to watch your gran-gran get eaten alive by fucking zombies!”

The woman interjected. “Actually, I think they’re called-”

“I know what they’re called! My brother was one of them, you know. My little kid brother. I had to put him down because he was trying to snack on me grandmum. You know what that’s like, pretty boy? You know what it feels like to kill your own brother?!”

“As a matter of fact,” Kichirō said, locking the slide of his gun in place. “I do. And right now I am trying so very, very hard not to have to experience that again. So while I thank you for your hospitality, if that’s all you had to say I’d prefer it if you would leave us alone. We have work to do.”

The Indian woman looked at him.

“We’ll be out of your hair by morning,” Kichirō assured her.

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