Felicity Overscore

Tokyo Drift 4.12

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Meanwhile, in the minds of…

Alfonso and Marquis

Alfonso sat down next to the Marquis on the train ride back home, sighing as the Marquis flipped through a newspaper.

“Well that’s taken care of, I guess. Not the best way to cap off my career, but at least it was exciting.”

“Uh huh. Yeah,” the Marquis said dismissively, sounding bored.

“Hey. You listening to me?” The Marquis licked his thumb, flipping to the next page. “Hey. Heeeeey. You were serious about giving me that desk job, right? There’s a limit to how much even I can lie to my sister.”

“What? Sorry, I’m just reading about this whole drug scandal with the Yanks. It’s some fucked up shit.”

“Yeah?” Alfonso asked. “What’s it say?”

“Just the usual dick about mandatory drug tests. Says here though that the Bambino might’ve been doping on berserkergäng during the ‘26 World Series. They caught him with like five pounds of the stuff.”

Really? No shit?”

The Marquis raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, Al. No shit, because I’m totally reading the newspaper right now, and not trying to think of a way to save our collective asses and my girlfriend’s ass from the hammer of the Supreme fucking Court. Who needs to work on building a case when Baby fucking Ruth may have been caught with a couple of cadillacs in his Cadillac, am I right?”

“You have been really fucking passive aggressive lately and I’m not sure I like it,” Alfonso said.

“Yeah? Well get used to it.”

“Especially now that we’ll be hitting the mattresses with the Vitalis over this little shitshow. That’s what you mean, right?”

“Yeah, about that…” the Marquis said, dejectedly discarding his newspaper. “The bodies are gone.”

“What?!” Alfonso said, almost standing up. “What do you mean they’re gone?”

“I mean they’re gone, Al,” the Marquis said, sounding annoyed. “I went back to check the bodies and they were toast. Vaporized, burnt to a crisp. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. All that’s left is the metal shit. Choppers and crosses, mostly, and a few silver teeth here and there. Smells like… burnt potpourri in there.”

The Marquis flared his nostrils in disgust.

“Dammit!” Alfonso said, slamming his fist onto the armrest. “What are we supposed to bring to the Council now?!”

“Nothing. That’s the point. Those crucifixes they carry are probably enchanted to spontaneous combust after death so their bodies can’t be recovered. That way Romeo has the benefit of plausible deniability. Everybody fucking knows their secret little hit squad exists, they just can’t prove it.”

“So then what are we supposed to do? We can still testify, right? I mean we got witnesses!”

“Sure we can testify. And get laughed out of the fucking room. Psychometry’s a bust too. Even if we had anyone who knew how to do it, the Vitalis would probably just tamper with the train’s psychic imprint before we could get clearance to record here. Without proof we got nothing, and nobody wants to start a war over nothing, myself included. Not now.”

Alfonso sighed. He understood what the young capo meant. Not while their best weapon was in such a shaky position. Every family had their own different weapons to deter the others from messing with them. With Nayeli out of the picture even temporarily, the balance of power would shift while they scrambled to find something new to fill the void. This wasn’t a time where they could afford to start instigating any wars.

He groaned, rubbing his temples. Marq picked up on this, catching Alfonso’s drift.

“We’re not gonna lose her, Al. I’m not going to lose her. And you won’t lose Theo or your sister either. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it yet, but we’re gonna find a way to make this work.”

“Yeah…” Alfonso said, comforted. “But still. What a fucking time to leave the front lines… Why were they even here?”

“Probably to kill us,” Marq explained. “Exorcising Yoshirō was probably just an excuse for them to be here, or an incidental bonus. They noticed we’d boarded a train with a ticking supernatural time bomb and decided to capitalize on it. Another good reason you shouldn’t have killed all of them. If you’d left one alive, we would’ve had a case to make with the Council and could even learn a thing or two about what kind of secrets the Vitalis might be keeping. But nooooo…

“Oh stuff it,” Alfonso said before becoming serious. “Speaking of information leaks, remember what I said to you earlier?”

The Marquis picked up on it. “What, you don’t really think they’d-”

“I do. Why are they here? They said ‘the boss’ wanted them to keep an eye on things, but you didn’t send for them. At least you didn’t tell us you did. Eliminate you and that leaves two meanings of the word ‘boss’: the boss or another capo. I don’t think your dad would send these two or even bother with this job at all. That means one of your brothers or sisters did.”

The Marquis sighed. “You’re probably right.”

“You know I am. So what are we gonna do?”

“Wipe their memories, I guess. We can’t let the stone fall into Milo’s hands, or at least not the knowledge that the stone isn’t the one he thinks it is. Otherwise all this whole mess amounts to is just us pissing in the wind. That, and billions of dollars in property damage.”

“Sounds good,” Alfonso said, and the two mafiosos got up and started walking towards the guilty party. “You… were serious about the desk job though, right? I mean, I think it’d be a great compromise-”

The Marquis snorted. “Al, let’s be real here. We both know you’ll be coming back.”

“I’m serious, man!”

Leon, Figaro and Barbie

“Gahhh!!” Figaro sighed in frustration. “Here they go and make a big deal out of sending us in on this job and then we barely get to do anything! It sucks, it really fucking sucks! Don’t they know anything about handling your assets? And here I was hoping I’d to take Barbie out for a little exercise…”

“Stop saying that like it’s a bad thing we didn’t get more chances to go out there and almost get killed,” Leon said. “The sooner this job is over the better. And stop talking about your chainsaw like it’s your damn girlfriend!”

“Why?” Figaro tilted his head and leaned over to ask Leon.

Leon stared at him dumbfounded. “… Do I need to answer that question?”

“No, I mean why you gotta be like that?” Figaro said, frowning. “Here I thought we were having a good time and then you gotta go and be a wet sock about it. I thought we were friends, pally!”

Leon continued staring at him just as dumbfounded as before.

“Okay, one. I am not your friend. I will never be your friend. Because I don’t make friends with people who give kissy-lip names to their fucking chainsaws!” he yelled. “Two! I am always like this! I have never not been like this! And three. The sooner this job is over the better, because until then I have to wear this guy’s fucking face and everybody wants to fucking kill me! Now do you see why I’d be just a little fucking angry?!”

Figaro backed off. “Whoa. Chill, pally. You need a drink.”

“What I need,” Leon said, “is to shed this skin and get Boss Frankie off my back.”

Just then, two previously well-dressed men in tattered, stained suits approached them. They were both technically their bosses, but only one had the privilege of being addressed as such.

“Hey boss, hey Alfonso!” Figaro said chipperly. “What’s up?”

“Oh nothing,” the Marquis replied, drawing circles in the air with his finger. “I just want you to tell us everything you know about the Cintamani stone…”

Annie and Nayeli

Nayeli stared at the door to her compartment, her cigarette hanging loosely from her mouth.

“Ummm… what is this?”

In the open door stood a teenage girl on two crutches, unmistakably the younger sister of Alfonso Anastasio.

“Um yeah, sorry. I know this is weird. I was wondering if I could come in and talk to you about my brother, Miss… Nayeli, right?”

“Okay… and why would you wonder that?”

“Because I’ve still got a few questions about what happened today and no one is telling me anything. You’re a demigod, so I figured you probably had something to do with… that,” she said, pointing out the window at the smoldering, hundred kilometer wide crater. “I thought you might be willing to talk to me. Not that I’m blaming you for it or anything!”

“Uh huh. And let’s say I was the one responsible for what happened. That doesn’t scare you at all?”

Anastasia shrugged. “You must have had your reasons the way I see it. If you just wanted to cause random destruction and chaos, you wouldn’t have done it out in the middle of a nature reserve.”

“Okay,” Nayeli said, understanding but slowly losing her patience. “So what do you think I can tell you that no one else can?”

“What my brother was doing while you all were fighting,” Anastasia said confidently.

Nayeli looked at her like she’d had her head chopped off.

“Sorry, but I don’t care what your brother does. Ask someone else.”

“What?” Anastasia said. “Why?”

“Because to be honest, I don’t think I could care about what your brother does. No way, no how. Anything he could do compared to me or to my family… that’s nothing. Like an ant pissing in the wind. It just doesn’t register to me.”

“… Are you saying we’re just like ants to you?” Annie said almost indignantly. “You’re still human too, y’know.”

“You can call me a monster if you want. I won’t mind. I… I probably deserve it. It’s just…” Nayeli said, struggling with the words. “Ugh. There’s a difference, in how big things are where I come from. In your world, Al can kill a man and that’s just this world-ending news to you. In my world, the head of the house can literally end the world, and that’s a lazy Sunday. Our worlds are just too far apart, and they’re only connected by this one tiny little bridge…”

“The Marquis,” Annie said.

Nayeli nodded. “Yeah.”

“What do you see in him?”

Hey,” Nayeli warned. “It’s been a long-ass day and I’m tired as fuck, but if you talk shit about the boss I will kick your ass.”

“… You do realize I have cancer and I bruise really easily, right?”

“You do realize I don’t give a shit, right?”

Anastasia blinked. “Wow… that is the first time anyone’s ever said something like that to me… But I’m being serious! It was honest question. What do you see in him? You obviously love him, but why? Especially when he’s already married!”

“Engaged!” Nayeli corrected. “There is a difference!”

“That doesn’t make it okay!”

Nayeli snorted. “What the hell would you know? You’re just a damn kid. You don’t know anything about love or the way this world works…”

“Alright,” Annie said. She plopped down on the seat across from Nayeli, arms folded like she’d just had a toy taken away from her. “Then explain it to me.”

Nayeli stared at her.

“No, I meant… you weren’t supposed to… gahhhh! Fine! Herc’s greasy fucking taint…” she swore, rubbing her temples and taking a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s assume brotherly or sisterly love or whatever is the same thing as romantic love, which it’s not!”

Nayeli mysteriously jammed a finger up at the sky before returning to what she was saying.

” What would you do if someone said you couldn’t be with Al for some completely stupid arbitrary reason, like you couldn’t be his sister because you’re not blood-related? You’d be pretty fucking pissed, right?”

“That’s not the same thing!”

“Yes it is!”

“You just said it wasn’t three sentences ago!”

“Just answer the damn question!”

“I… I guess I’d be pretty mad, yeah.”

“And so what would you do? Would you just listen to what they said and be happy never seeing him again?”

“Of course not!”

“You see? That’s exactly what I mean!”

“But… sometimes it already feels like that…”

“… Hah?” Nayeli said, her cigarette dangling on the edge of her lips. Anastasia stared at the floor, fidgeting. Nayeli sighed.

Don’t give me that fucking look…

“Alright, fine. Sit down.”

“What?”

“I get the feeling there’s a story here, so come on, spit it out,” Nayeli said, gently but forcibly using her great strength to seat Anastasia next to her. She took a breather from her cigarette, spouting a puff of smoke. “Let’s have a little girl talk and get this over with so we can both move on with our fucking lives.”

Anastasia looked suspicious of her. “This… doesn’t seem like you.”

“Hey, what do you know about me, huh? Maybe I’m actually just a big fucking teddy bear who likes to cuddle. You don’t know that. You don’t know shit.”

“Yeah, but somehow I doubt it…” Anastasia mumbled, sighing. “It’s just… it’s Al. Sometimes it just feels like we may as well be living on two different planets.”

Nayeli raised an eyebrow, suddenly interested. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well… it’s just like…” Anastasia said, struggling with the words. “He says he wants to protect me, right? Well I want to protect him too. I don’t want this for him.”

This?”

“Yeah,” Anastasia said, making confused hand gestures. “This. What he’s doing right now. He has this whole idea in mind for what my life should be like, and he’s doing all sorts of stupid things just because he thinks that’s what’ll help. But because I’m stuck in these stupid crutches and wheelchair, I can’t do anything to stop him. It’s like… it’s like I’m not allowed to have a life with my brother. The kind of life I want for him, where he’s not always trying to get himself killed, or worse.”

Not allowed to have the life you want, huh? Nayeli thought.

“And it’s just… so frustrating, feeling like I’m this powerless waif. That I’m stuck in this situation where I just can’t do anything.” Anastasia laughed bitterly. “But someone as strong you probably thinks that’s really stupid, don’t you? You’re a demigod, after all. You can just take whatever you want. No one can tell you what you can and can’t do.”

Nayeli exhaled a puff of smoke. “Nope. You’re wrong.”

“Huh?” Anastasia said, looking up at Nayeli.

“There’s a lot of stuff I can’t do. I can’t vote. I can’t get a job doing anything besides manual labor. This bracelet I wear, with the little axe on it? I’m not strong if I’m not wearing it, because of a curse. And I… and I can’t be with him.”

Silence passed between them, Nayeli’s words hanging in the air.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Anastasia said, looking at her, confused. “I thought you already were.”

“Oh, if you mean we’re fucking, then yeah, we’re doing that,” Nayeli said as Anastasia blushed. “But I can’t be with him be with him. I’m not ‘qualified’. I’m a mutt. A stray. I don’t fit in in his family.”

“Why?”

Nayeli shrugged. “I’m not fully Italian. Y’know on top of being not fully human. The whole world doesn’t like me, so I can just forget about dinner with the in-laws. I guess what I’m trying to say is… I get it. The whole ‘wanting what you can’t have’ thing.”

Anastasia looked up at her, truly looked up at her, for the first time. “You do?”

“That’s what I just said, isn’t it? It’s hard to keep on living when something you can’t control keeps you from ever being with the ones you love. I get that, I do. But…”

Nayeli paused, looking away and out the window. “We should at least be grateful we’re able to spend the time with them that we do. You especially. At least you still have your brother. Your relationship isn’t gonna be perfect, because they never fucking are, but at least you got family that loves you and cares about you. Even if it is that weirdo.”

“Miss Nayeli…” Anastasia said, hesitating. “Does your family…?”

Nayeli looked down at the infirm teenage girl sitting beside her, and while she never said anything, she didn’t need to. The intensity in the look in her eyes told anyone looking to back off. Then, she closed her eyes.

“Nah,” she said. “Now get outta here, and don’t tell anyone I played nice with you. I got a reputation to keep, kiddo.”

She gave Anastasia a friendly pat on the back, making her go “oof”, and sent her on her way. Halfway to the door, Anastasia stopped.

“Miss Nayeli… thank you,” she said. She didn’t turn around. She didn’t feel like she had to. They weren’t friends or gal pals or anything like that, but even so… she felt like a connection had been made today. Maybe someday, she’d get to call on it again.

Nayeli sighed.

“Go on, get outta here,” she said, waving her hands. Anastasia obliged, leaving with the tiniest hint of a smile.

Felicity and a gentleman caller

In the back of the train, the daughter of one of the most powerful men in New York crammed herself into a tight phone booth and started thumbing coins into the slot to make a call.

The phone rang approximately once before someone picked up on the other side.

“Hello. This is Asset Felicity, making my report.”

Felicity sighed. “With all due respect, must we really communicate this way? Speaking like one of them just feels so… wrong.”

A moment of silence.

“Yes,” she said, nodding. “Yes, I know what our mission is. No, I haven’t forgotten. Yes, subtlety is key. We can’t force the Marquis to do anything. Only shape the circumstances around him so that he has no other choice. With that in mind, I think there may be a way for us to spin this in our favor.”

Felicity adjusted herself in the tiny booth, and took out a notepad.

“The daughter of the Olympians will be facing severe criminal charges for this offense. That’s bad for our agenda, but if I may be so bold, it could also provide us with an opportunity. If we use the demigod like this…” There was silence in the booth, the young woman’s hushed whispering being absorbed by the glass. “Yes… what do you think? Eh? What do you mean by that? ‘What do I think’? Surely that’s not important…”

The voice on the other end could not be heard or understood, but the young woman’s facial expressions were easy enough to read.

Elimination? No. No, I really don’t think there’s any need for that yet. With all due respect, the demigod is troublesome but she could still prove to be a useful blunt instrument in the future. I can handle her. Besides, killing her could have the opposite of the intended effect on Marquis. However…”

Felicity looked back, craning her neck to catch a glimpse of them. The brother and the sister.

“… there may be a few variables whose usefulness could be reevaluated.”

Her grip on the phone tightened subconsciously. That damn thing. Asking to play nice with it, that she could handle. But to simply ignore it after it had insulted her like that? It was like being talked down to by a child. No, by an animal, or an insect. Something so vastly your inferior that its gall to criticize you made you feel indignant. And what was wrong with it anyway? Was it so spoiled by its idyllic life that it had forgotten what its role in all this was? And how easily it could be replaced?

While some of us are out here working hard and trying to prove ourselves, that filthy half-breed thing

The voice on the other end crackled.

“What? No. No, I haven’t forgotten. Yes, I realize it’s important, but… what? No, I do not feel jeopardized! My position is as secure as ever! And I will not allow any rumors they might spread to persist. I will cement my place in the Marquis’ household without fail! I know my results as of yet have not been promising, but-”

Her bravado faded.

“Yes. Yes, I understand. No, no I do not need to be reconditioned. I will not fail this time. With the demigod out of the picture for a while, I should have some more room to maneuver. Hm? Satisfaction, you say? With all due respect, I have all the incentive I need! I am completely dedicated to… yes. Yes I know. No I am not refusing your kindness. Okay. The hospital then? You can really do that? Okay. That sounds fantastic. Please do that then.”

The crackling grew harsher.

“Yes. Yes I know you’re not doing this for me. The asset needs to be reactivated. We cannot afford to lose control of it at this point. I understand. Goodbye then.”
She hung up.

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Tokyo Drift 4.11

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The train stopped, and it was over. It was finally, really over. So, when all’s said and done, when you’ve won the day, gotten the girl (in our case represented here by the darling Cintamani stone), and everyone, even the bad guys, live happily ever after, what else can you say?

“Well that was a fucking disaster.”

I grimaced along with Marq. Well I guess there was that. Both of us staring outside at the massive gaping hole where a tenth of the entire state of Arizona used to be kinda put our personal victories into perspective.

“That… got out of hand quickly…” I said, agreeing with him.

“Indeed,” Theo said.

Marq groaned. “People are gonna have some really fucking interesting things to say about this. One thing’s for sure, this is not going to help come election day.”

“Ah come on, Marq,” I said, trying to cheer him up. “It’s not that bad. Like they have any way to trace this back to us or Nayeli. And even if they did, what are they gonna do? Johnny Dumani destroyed an entire fucking mountain fighting that hydra and they let him get away with it.”

“First, that was in defense of public property,” Marq said, sighing. “The collateral damage might’ve been pretty severe in the surrounding areas, but Johnny still saved the entire county from total annihilation. That alone negates half the charges against him. This was completely senseless, not to mention a thousand times worse. We’ll be lucky if people aren’t still talking about this when we’re all old and gray.”

Marq turned to the two Yamada brothers. “Kichirō! What the hell did you give Ren that made Nayeli go all-out like this? Some kind of mythic weapon?”

Kichirō glared softly at him. He was cradling Yoshirō, who was barely conscious and barely breathing. “I appreciate your help, Marquis. More than you’ll ever know. I never thought you’d actually deliver on your promises. But right now my brother is still gravely injured. He’s in pain, and he needs me. Whatever this is, it can wait.”

“Really?” Marq said. “The biggest un-natural disaster in recorded history since the Lost Renaissance… and it can wait? Look, I didn’t even know Nayeli had that kind of strength. This places her in the United States’ top ten for demigods, if not top ten in the world. If this had gotten any worse, she might’ve cracked the whole damn continent in half. Now I don’t know what you or Ren did that made this possible, but I need to know, because right now we are on a countdown until this place is swarming with feds and cinder dicks and aaaaalllll sorts of Untouchables, and we are all implicated. If I don’t even know where to start building a case, how could I possibly-”

“Waitwaitwaitwait. Wait,” I said. “What do you mean we’re implicated? We had nothing to do with this!”

“It won’t take a genius to check the registry and see our names listed right next to Nayeli’s, Al,” Marq said. “She’s a registered demigod and a known associate of the Allesandris. Trust me, the legal system and I are both intimately acquainted with her.”

“Uhhhh…”

As her lawyer, Al,” Marq said, telling me to keep it quiet around others. “Even if we personally had nothing to do with this, we’re all persons of interest.”

“Okay, so what? How are they going to prove anything? We’ll just pay off the judges like we always do. Make it look like some kind of natural disaster. Like, I dunno, a volcanic eruption. The Allesandris have always been good at covering our tracks. That’s why we’re top of the New York food-chain, right?”

“Second to the top, Al,” Marq said. “You forgot the Pescatorres. We’re pretty neck and neck with the Sartinis right now too, and you can expect a major upset now that we’ve got this to deal with. Besides, you’re missing the point. The second one I forgot to mention earlier.”

I did a mental search of all the conversations we’d had in the last forty-eight hours, seeing if anything fit what he was talking about here. Then…

“Oh,” I said. “Oh shit.

“You remember, don’t you? The bill just got passed last week. Psychometry can now legally be used as evidence in a court of law. And with a disaster of this size? The feds are gonna be rolling out the spirit cameras by the thousands, capturing every possible angle. Soon this entire crater is going to be on lockdown, and they’re gonna rewind the whole damn thing, Al. They’ll have a frame-by-frame playback of the whole fight. Even if they do think it’s just a natural disaster, they won’t be thinking that for long. Which brings me back to my question, Kichirō. What did you do?

Kichirō stared at us silently.

“… The nepenthe should be dulling the pain,” I said. “For what it’s worth, your brother probably doesn’t feel a thing right now.”

Kichirō hesitated for a moment, then gave in. “Phoenix yolk. I gave her phoenix yolk.”

“Phoenix yolk?”

“To activate her power of zenkai, Ren needs to be close to death,” Kichirō explained. “I gave her a belt of phoenix yolk vials so she could fight at full health while retaining the extra power she gained from each zenkai. Ren is strong, but there are people much stronger than her, like your demigod. This was a strategy we developed to fight those people that allowed for theoretically infinite gains as long as phoenix yolk was in steady supply.”

Marq became deathly pale. “You mean to say-”

“Yes. It is theoretically possible that Ren became strong enough to kill your demigod friend. Just as possible as it is that she killed mine.”

“Or!” a voice cried out in the distance. “Or maybe we could both be alive, and you could be crying for nothing, ya worry-warts!”

I poked my head out the car door. Two smokey female figures started to resolve themselves on the horizon. Both were covered in ash, and one was leaning on the other. The taller and bustier of the two (I assumed Nayeli) waved at us.

“Also, we could use a change of clothes!”

“Yes! Quickly!” the shorter one (Ren) said while she tried to strategically cover herself with her hands. “Before anyone see!”

“Heh. Heheh,” I chuckled, before wheezing and breaking into gut-busting laughter. “Hahahahaha haaaa. Holy crap! Marq! You’ll never guess who it is!”

“Nayeli!?” Marq yelled, all too relieved.

“No, uh, seriously boss. We need clothes,” Nayeli yelled back. “Like, right now. Please?”

“Oh, uh… right. Rightrightrightright!”

Marq scurried back into the car, panicking and trying to find some clothes to cover them up. I laughed again. Somehow, in spite of or maybe because of how much of a literal trainwreck this day ended up being, this was the funniest thing I’d seen all day.

I poked my head back outside.

“You do know you two ladies look like English chimney sweeps right now, right? I don’t think anyone’s seeing nothing until they give you like five baths and a de-skunking, at least.”

Fuck you asshole, you already got a free show and I’m not giving you another!” Nayeli said, her middle finger raised high.

Marq rushed outside carrying a children’s night-gown in one arm and his coat in another. Handing the night-gown to Ren, who scurried off to change behind the train where nobody could see her, he wrapped the coat around Nayeli and proceeded to bombard her with the usual slew of questions.

“What happened out there?”

“Things… got really out of control.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No, not really.”

“Define ‘not really’.”

“I got some bits of a spear stuck inside me.”

“Oh jesus…”

“Relax boss, it barely even hurts anymore.”

“You got bits of a spear? How did that even happen?

“I uh… kinda crushed it with my abs.”

“Okay one, that’s kinda hot and I am so tearing the clothes right off your body as soon as we get home. Y’know, after we give you like, five baths and a de-skunking,” Marq said, causing Nayeli to blush (though you could hardly notice it). “Two, what the hell were you thinking?!”

W-What?” Nayeli said, flustered by Marq’s sudden outburst. “Well, I mean I was kinda thinking that if I let her stab me I could-”

“Not what I meant, but finish that thought later. I mean what the hell were you thinking when you let this happen?!” he almost shouted, pointing at the gigantic hole in the state that a lot of mapmakers were probably gonna get pretty pissed off about, come to think of it. “And I meant that for both of you! I told you to keep things discreet, Nayeli, that’s why I told you to fight outside in the middle of nowhere! And Ren, why did you egg her on?! Do either of you have any idea what you’ve just done?!”

“Oh come on, it not that bad,” Ren said, stepping out wearing the night-gown. “This Arizona. We fight in the middle of giant forest, there no cities for miles! Besides, there no way they can trace this to us.”

Marq sighed. “First, yes there is, and second, no, but there are towns. A good handful if I remember correctly, and they’re going to want to know why their homes and their loved ones are now part of a giant hole in the ground! This is serious, like ‘eyes of the world’ serious! We will all be lucky if a ten-year legal battle is the worst that happens to us as a result of… this.

Marq gestured at the giant hole. I swallowed dry as the high from the battle came crashing down. Yeah, it didn’t really occur to me until just then, but uh… wow. When you looked at it, this was… wow.

I tried to forget about it. Not like we didn’t belong way down below already. This was just… this was a little more extreme than we were used to, I think. I mean, no one wanted this to happen. Even Nayeli seemed a bit shaken up by how scary her own power was.

“Hey… I uh… so Marq I mean boss I… if you w-want me to, I can just… go, I guess is what I’m… t-trying to say,” she said, sniffling. “I mean I know I… I… oh god… I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to, I swear I didn’t!”

The woman I thought was an invincible stone-cold bitch started crying like a little girl, and Marq welcomed her into his arms. Was it because she knew she’d just killed gods know how many people and regretted it, or because she wanted so desperately for Marq to not hate her? I dunno. Which was more sad, do you think?

“Shhh, shhh, it’s okay. I’m not mad, it’s okay…” Marq said, trying to comfort her. If that was a lie, it wasn’t a very convincing one.

“No, no it’s not ‘okay’! I mean holy shit, I… I-I-I-I…”

“Just don’t think about it, babe,” Marq said. “Focus on me, okay? You listening? We’re gonna make this alright, Nayeli. One way or another. I don’t know how, but it’s gonna be okay. Just… trust me. We’ll think of something.”

Nayeli sniffled into his coat. No response, in a situation for which there really were no words.

I suddenly became acutely aware of just how cold and clammy I was for an Arizona morning.

This was the world we lived in, a world forever changed by gods and monsters, where one minute everything is great and peachy and keen and the next minute everything you thought you ever knew and would never go away gets swept up in an instant by some storm of heavenly or demonic violence that was just so much greater than you were. So great it may not have even intended to put you in harm’s way to begin with. And then? You get fucked. Just like that. Straight up fucked, like DVDA.

I looked out at the huge pit. This time it was Nayeli, and Marq. How long before the uncaring hands of the Fates came after me and Annie?

Panting with exhaustion after the stress of the recent battle, Felicity pushed the door to the car open and came stumbling out. She quickly picked herself up and dusted off her suit.

“If,” Felicity said, huffing, “you two are quite done, I’d like to remind my husband of his position, and recommend he start taking action if he wants to keep it. Starting with unhanding a wanted fugitive.”

Nayeli heard what she’d said and surprisingly clung to Marq instead of saying anything, begging him with her eyes not to do what she said.

“You know, before anyone starts to get the wrong idea.”

Desperately, Nayeli mouthed, ‘no’.

“Felicity…” Marq said slowly, still holding on tightly to Nayeli.

“Now darling, you need to begin preparing a preliminary statement in your defense if you wish to have any chance in the upcoming election, or else your campaign will tank like the Titanic.”

Felicity…” Marq said, his tone sharper.

“Of course I’d recommend just cutting all ties completely to save face, but I know my sentimental fool of a husband would never do something as sensible as that. So instead, I’ve devised a plan that will hopefully still prove to be effective if we can’t just deny we know anything about her. If you throw the demigod under a bus, darling -figuratively speaking of course, there’s no way that would kill a mutt like her- then you may still be able to make an appeal to the public-”

Felicity!” Marq shouted. His eyes were sharp and cold like a reptile’s. “I appreciate your input. But I’m not your husband yet. So if you’d kindly fuck off, I have business to attend to. Allesandri business. You know, with the family.”

Nayeli didn’t quite smile, but she looked relieved. Felicity snarled.

“Listen, you-”

“I’m sorry, did I not make myself clear? Take it to a ten cent box, or I’ll call one for you. Or better yet, a meat wagon.”

“Al! Allllllll!”

Everyone’s heads turned. I heard the voice of my little sister as she crashed through the door to the dining car. She stumbled, catching herself on the rails before she fell. She was… running. I couldn’t believe it. She was running!

“Al!” she yelled, jumping down off the train and heading straight for me like an adorable cruise missile. I welcomed her in my arms and caught her with a bear hug.

“Annie!” I said, relieved.

“Oh thank god you’re alright, Al!” she said on the verge of tears. “I don’t know what happened! You disappeared as soon as I left and when I tried to look for you outside everything was exploding, it looked like the world was about to end!”

“Yeah…” I said hesitantly. “Yeah, it was a… volcano… right, Marq?”

Felicity opened her mouth to say something, but Marq shut her up.

“Yeah, that’s right. There was some kind of eruption. They think it was due to some unexplained seismic activity in the area. Sounds like Gaia having a stomachache, doesn’t it, Nayeli?”

She nodded. Good. About time someone shut Felicity up.

“I’m just happy you’re okay!” Annie said. “But… you’re sober. How did you do that so quickly?”

“I, uhhhhh…” I said, trying to explain.

“It was because of me, Mistress Anastasia,” Theo said, approaching Annie in full maid mode. The red party dress and bloody knives did not sell the look.

“Theo?!” Annie shouted in genuine surprise. “I thought you were in Montreal! How did you-”

“I flew here on the back of a dragon. It is not important,” Theo said dismissively, shrugging. Sorry Theo, but even I think that sounds like a big deal.

Annie looked around. First at Theo, then the wounded Yamadas, then to the dragon circling almost silently in the clouds above us. The wounded Sostene, Felicity who was still carrying her empty Tommy guns. Then her gaze settled on Marq and the half-naked Nayeli, and I think that’s when she put the pieces together.

“Al…” she said slowly, with trepidation. “What’s going on here? What happened?”

“What do you mean?” I said. “We told you, there was an earthquake followed by an eruption and-”

“Don’t give me that crap, Al!” she said with a ferocity I wasn’t accustomed to that may have scared even me. “Something’s going on here, I know there is! First all this stuff with the Marquis, and now these people we don’t even know, this disaster…

“What, you can’t seriously think Marq caused that,” I said, laughing nervously.

“That would be ridiculous,” Theo said dully, nodding.

“Answer me, Al! Why do those people have weapons? Why are they wearing suits of armor, and why do you have a gun?!” she said with alarm as she spotted the revolver I’d tried to keep hidden. “There’s something you’re not telling me, and I can guess what it is! Why have you been hanging out with the Marquis? Why do you have this gun and a knife? Where did Theo really come from, and what happened here?! What have you been doing brother, and don’t tell me you’ve just been working at the hospital and that Marquis is your financial advisor, because I know that’s a lie!”

Tears started dripping down her face onto the arms of my suit.

“Tell me, Al!” she said, close to sobbing. “I don’t want to hear it from someone else… but I will if I have to!”

She glared at Marquis, who instantly took a step back from the crippled invalid girl, my little sister. When she wants to be, my little Annie can be as scary as a bearcat. But… what did I tell her? I knew this day would have to come eventually, but not this soon! Not now!

Kichirō and Ren stared me down with a look of urgency. Figaro unsubtly mouthed “no”, while Leon and Felicity looked like they couldn’t have given less of a shit. I looked at the expression on her angry, tear-stained face.

Tell… me…

I looked over at Marq, silently asking for his permission. He shrugged, and I sighed with resignation. So this is where it ended, huh?

“… Annie… I’ve been working with Marquis.”

“I knew it…” she choked through hot, angry tears. “How could you, Al? You know what he does! He’s a murderer-”

“Hey!” Nayeli said.

“-and a thief-”

“He certainly is,” Felicity said.

“-and a no-good lying bastard son-of-a-bitch!”

“Guilty as charged,” Marq said nonchalantly.

“You’re not helping!” I said, pointing at Marq. “And you watch your language!”

“Why? Because you said so? Why should I listen to anything you have to say if you aren’t going to listen to me?”

“Because I don’t want you growing up like me!” I blurted. We floated through the awkward silence for a moment before I sighed, and tried to explain myself. “I was running out of money to pay for your cancer treatment-”

“Then why not just ask me to help with the finances? I’m sure there’s something I could do to make money! Or better yet, why not ask Marquis?! If he’s such a good friend of yours, why doesn’t he help pay for our hospital bills?”

“You know you’re in no condition to be working, Annie, and besides, the family business is a family business. You can’t expect them to just hand out money. A boathouse burned is a dollar earned, and it’s a lot better than owing them money. Trust me.”

“Or y’know, trust me because I’m the one who usually has to hand out those punishments to all the naughty boys and girls!” Figaro said with a chipper voice.

“Then we need to budget ourselves better!” Annie protested. “You work at a hospital! Even as an assistant nurse you should be making more than enough to-”

“Annie!” I said, interrupting, already regretting what I was about to say. “I… I didn’t get the job at the hospital. I never did.”

She looked confused. “W-What?

“They turned me down, Annie. Because I was a medium. I was ‘the least favorable candidate’ because they didn’t trust my powers, so they gave the job to an elf instead. I’m sorry. I… I didn’t have the heart to tell you. That was the last straw. We had no more money, we didn’t have any other options, so I went to to work for Marq.”

“I bet that’s how it happened,” she said, glaring at Marq. “That’s when he suckered you in-”

Actually,” Marq said. “Your brother came to us.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Ouch. So quick on the comebacks…”

“She’s got your number, Marquis,” Kichirō said, rasping wheezily.

I sighed again. “No, he’s right, Annie. I did. I came to them looking for a job, because it was the only way I was going to be able to pay our bills. I already had a history as one of Marq’s associates, and as it just so happened another made man had gotten bumped off recently, so they, y’know, held a ceremony and welcomed me into the family.”

“I was there!” Sostene pitched in unhelpfully with a slurred voice. He sounded really dizzy. “Can someone get me some blood? I think I… I think I ran out…”

“I can’t believe this…” Annie said, shaking. “I don’t want to! That you would… you said you’d leave that life behind once you became an adult! So you could look after me! Those were your words! How am I ever supposed to trust you again, Al?”

Everyone looked at me. Yeah, great. Put me in the fucking spotlight why don’t you?

“I… I dunno,” I said, giving up. “How can I make you trust me again, Annie?”

She glared at me. “Stop telling me lies.”

“Okay.”

“You promise this time?”

“I promise.”

“And you’ll start listening to me from now on?”

“I promise.”

“Good. Find another job.”

“No can do,” I said, throwing my hands in the air.

“Al!” she said. “Already?!”

“What do you expect from me, Annie?” I said. “Once you’re in the family, you can’t just leave!”

“He’s right, you know,” somebody added.

“It’s a life-long commitment, both in honor and in blood!”

“There are people who would kill me just for being Allesandri, Annie, and they’d kill you too!” I said, trying to sound as urgent as possible to convince her. “The only reason we don’t have to worry about those kinds of no-good punks is because we’re under Marq’s protection! Even if I could just turn in a letter of resignation to Franky Allesandri and walk away from the mafioso lifestyle, we’d have to constantly look over our shoulders! I don’t want that life for you, and if I have to bite the bullet so you can live like a normal, happy girl, then that’s just how it’s gotta be! That’s my decision, Annie!”

“But you’re making it about my life!” she said. “And you’re my brother, Al! Don’t I get a say in this? I don’t want to see you become something like him!

Marq sighed. “And again she singles me out… Listen, Annie. You know the rules, or at least I think you do. Your brother can’t just leave us. There are strict laws and codes of conduct in place about how you honor the family. Pay your tributes, respect the family, never snitch. It’s all about omerta.”

Go to hell,” she said.

“Ah ah ah,” Marq said, tutting. “You’re gonna wanna hear what I have to say. It might make you change your tune. I did say your brother can’t leave us. I didn’t say he had to keep doing what he’s doing. There are other jobs available to a made man besides being a hired gun. It was just my preference that Al’s skills be put to good use. If both of you want, I can try to find him a different job besides being a hatchetman. Say, maybe, butter and eggs?”

She looked at him, confused. Marq sighed.

“He could work the bankroll. Manage finances. Maybe do work as an information broker? I’m sure he’d be good at that. Point is, there are less lucrative but also less violent jobs we could have him doing. How does that sound? Would that help you forgive your brother for lying to you?”

Annie blinked.
“Huh?”

Previous || Next

Tokyo Drift 4.10d

Previous | Next

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.”

Previous | Next

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 4.7

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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Tokyo Drift 4.5

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The sound of the explosions, if they could even be heard at all, were quickly dwarfed by the sheer chaos they created. Cacophony is the right word, I think. People screaming, loudspeakers blaring, and animals roaring and howling as metal screeched like it was about to give way. The circus car rocked as the animals inside rampaged, knocking over their cages as they scrambled to get free. Every instinct they had was telling them to run, and when you set cages full of lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) loose in a crowded train station, pandemonium is all that can ensue.

“What was that?” Annie yelled. “Are there… are there animals loose in the station?!”

“Hmmm… sounds like it,” Marq said nonchalantly.

“You’re being way too calm about this!” Annie accused. “What did you do?!”

“Me? I didn’t do anything!”

“Boooooob!” Nayeli wailed.

Marq got up out of his seat and walked out of the diner. It looked like it was his time to gloat. Despite the last minute crunch, the plan had gone off without a hitch. Disable the train and cause some chaos by spooking the animals into escaping. Delay the departure of the Nimbus for as long as possible and force a reroute. The passengers would transfer over to the City of Cleveland, and we’d have the Yamadas right where we wanted them. It all worked too perfectly.

Marq walked up behind the Yamadas, who stood stock still, staring at the chaos unfolding on their train, dumbfounded. He put a hand on Kichirō’s shoulder.

“Wow, looks like your train broke down and all the animals escaped. That means they’re gonna have to wait until they round up all the animals and fix the train before they depart again. That’ll take like what, two days? Maybe three? That’s too bad, Kichirō ol’ buddy.”

“You… I know you had something to do with this!” Kichirō said.

“What, me? Come on Kichirō, let’s be practical. There’s no way anyone could sabotage those trains, they exist in their own separate space! Nothing can cause them to break down,” Marq said, feigning innocence. “Unless you had brought some kind of explosive charge designed to penetrate ateliers, of course. But then you’d have to prove such a thing existed in the first place, and what then?”

Marq smiled crookedly.

“How would you accuse us of using a weapon that doesn’t even exist yet?”

Kichirō stared at Marq, the agitation clearer than the frown lines on his face. Marq was right, and he knew it. Even assuming any court in the states would take the word of a visiting immigrant over the word of one of the five families, he couldn’t prove we had a weapon that wasn’t supposed to exist, because no one else had thought of it yet.

Marq backed off, giving Kichirō some space.

“Of course, you’re more than welcome to join us for a ride in my private car.”

“Absolutely not!” Kichirō yelled, the hand gripping the briefcase at his side whiter than a sheet.

“Aw come on Kichirō, don’t be like that,” Marq said. “They’re just gonna transfer you anyway. And don’t you have tickets for a boat in California to take you back to Japan? You stay here too long and you’ll miss it. You might not get another chance like this. Besides…”

Marq looked around at the chaos we’d created as a thunderbird flew overhead.

“If you don’t leave now, the birdies and the beasties may just gobble you right up.”

He pointed to Sostene’s eyes and I watched them constrict until they were slits so thin you’d swear he didn’t have pupils. The imminent sign of a vampire about to use some high-level illusion magic. The threat was as clear as it could be. If he didn’t agree and come quietly, we were more than capable of killing them and making it look like an accident.

Kichirō hesitated, then sighed. “Very well. I guess we have no choice except to dine with the devil.”

Annie looked at me uncomfortably as we walked down the aisle alongside the Yamadas, surrounding them on all sides.

“Al, who are these people?” she whispered. “They look dangerous.”

“Errrrm…” I responded half-heartedly. “They’re uh… they’re friends of Marq’s. Former business partners.”

Hey, technically it was the truth.

Marq walked with a spring in his step, happily explaining everything about his personal car, just to fuck with them.

“It’s a 1913 luxury passenger car they had refitted to be perfectly silent. Totally soundproof, it doesn’t rattle-”

“None of the leyrails rattle, Mr. Allesandri,” Kichirō said under his breath.

“-and it’s got all the amenities. I think you’ll love it. No, I know you’ll love it.”

Finally we stepped outside onto the connecting platform. I grabbed Annie’s hand. She frowned.

“This way, lady and gentlemen.”

Marq flourished as he opened the door. He was having way too much fun with this.

The Yamadas stopped at the entrance. Their hesitation was incredibly obvious, at least for Kichirō and Ren. If you watched closely, you could almost see the steam pouring out of their fucking ears. You couldn’t blame them. They were about to walk into enemy territory. However…

I turned my gaze towards the armored giant wearing a metal jockstrap on his face. Yoshirō was different. His face didn’t betray the slightest feeling of trepidation, like some kind of fucking stone man. He should have been going “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” like everyone else. Was it the mask? The way it covered his mouth and his ears made it hard to tell what he was thinking, what with the way it covered his face.

“Well?” Nayeli asked impatiently. “Are you coming or what? Don’t make me ask nicely.”

She cracked her knuckles and I sighed. Subtle as always, Nayeli.

Reluctantly, the Yamadas walked into our car, the two faceless suits of armor keeping pace at least ten steps behind. Like I thought, they weren’t officially part of the group. Must’ve been hired help.

I kept pace with Yoshirō, examining his facemask. There were two carved hands laid over each other on his mouthpiece that looked like a ball gag. Two other hands decorated his ears, one covering each ear.

“Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil. The three wise monkeys. That’s what you’re getting at, isn’t it? That’s an old Buddhist saying about dealing with impropriety, right?” I said dryly. “It’s cute. But you’re missing a part.”

“Hrm,” he grunted.

“The eyes,” I said, pointing to mine.

He turned his head to look down at me, and for the first time I took notice of his eyes, and looked deep within them. Turns out he wasn’t missing anything. Well, except for maybe one thing.

He’s blind… I thought to myself.

And it’s true, he was. But you’re not supposed to be able to tell. True blindness, natural blindness was something invisible, something you were born with. This man was given his blindness by something, and it showed in the way the tissue in and around the eyeball was scarred, the way you couldn’t even see his pupils. There was a mist covering his eyes, like a veil someone had placed over his head.

As if he’d sensed I’d figured it out, Yoshirō immediately turned his head away from me, our brief moment of contact done, leaving me to wonder. How did he move? How did he fight? He should’ve been struggling to find his way around but he was having no problems at all.

“Alright, let’s begin!” Marq said, pulling up some chairs. “There’s a lot for us to talk about Kichirō, so… where would you like to begin?”

Kichirō looked around uncomfortably. “Is it really necessary for the woman and the girl to be here?”

“If you’re talking about Nayeli, I assure you she’ll be more than fine-”

“I wasn’t talking about her,” Kichirō said. “Your wife and the little girl. I don’t want them getting involved in this.”

“Wait, why? What’s that supposed to mean?” Annie asked.

“I don’t want them being hurt, understand? I gave up on my honor long ago, but I don’t plan on staining the Yamada group’s reputation with their blood.”

Annie’s eyes opened wide. “W-Wha-”

Kichirō,” Marq said firmly. “Don’t say things you might regret. Family business should stay in the family, don’t you agree?”

Kichirō smiled nervously. “What? Afraid to expose yourself for what you really are?”

Marq grimaced. “Felicity darling, would you please escort Annie back to our compartment and wait for us there? There’s some business we need to discuss here with Mr. Yamada.”

She nodded curtly and grabbed Annie’s wrist. “Come with me.”

“What?” Annie said in surprise. “No! Let go of me!”

“Annie,” I said sternly. “Listen to her.”

She stopped, her eyes fearful. “Huh?”

“Don’t worry. Just go back to the compartment and wait there with Felicity,” I said. “We’ll see you soon.”

“But Al-”

“Hey, I said don’t worry. It’s gonna be okay. And I promise, once this is all over, I’ll explain everything. I mean it.”

“Al,” she said. “What do you mean by that? Al? Al?! Aaaaaaal!”

I listened to her yell my name at the top of her lungs as Felicity dragged her out the door and shut it tight, sealing us inside.

“You have a lot to answer for, Kichirō,” Marq said. “You do realize that regardless of what you may say or do, we’re still honor-bound to hand you over to the family for… enhanced interrogation, right?”

“Heh. There is that word again. ‘Honor’,” Kichirō laughed. “Yes, Mr. Allesandri, I am well aware of the way your family does things. Ours operates somewhat similarly. We will be tortured, yes?”

“Of course,” Marq said, not trying to hide. “What did you expect? Don’t worry though, ours is one of the best. He’s quick and he’s clean, and above all else, he’s had a lot of practice.”

“I see,” Kichirō said. “I am glad to hear we will be in such capable hands. Now, is there anything you’d like to know before you begin torturing us? Pain has a way of exaggerating the truth, so if you want answers, I suggest you get them now.”

“Okay then,” Marq said. “Why did you renege on our deal?”

“Us? Renege? We did not renege on anything, Mr. Allesandri. You were the ones who overstepped your boundaries.”

“Ah yes, the philosopher’s stone. Tell me, what exactly is it you need that stone for? Wealth? Power? World domination?”

“None of the above.”

“And where does your little fake fit into it? The Cintamani stone, I mean.”

Kichirō frowned. He obviously didn’t expect Marq to know about that.

“It seems you’ve done your research, I’ll give you that much. Very well, you’ve earned an explanation of that much at least. We intend to trade it.”

Marq narrowed his eyes. “Trade it? To whom?”

“I cannot say.”

“For what?”

“The real philosopher’s stone.”

“Where did your buyer get it?”

“I cannot say.”

“Why would they trade it to you for an inferior imitation?”

“I cannot say.”

“You’re playing a dangerous game with me right now, Kichirō,” Marq warned.

“I cannot say because I do not know,” Kichirō said. “We were just as surprised as you are. However, we didn’t have the luxury of asking questions like you do.”

Marq stayed silent.

“… What are you here for, Kichirō?”

“To save my brother’s life.”

“In what way?”

Kichirō stood up. “If that is everything Mr. Allesandri, I think we will be going. Our buyer is waiting for us at the end of the Nimbus’ line, and I don’t intend to keep them waiting.”

“I don’t think you understand,” Marq said, laughing dangerously. “You’re not allowed to leave, Kichirō.”

“Oh, I understand perfectly.”

Marq frowned. “I take it this means negotiations have broken down, haven’t they?”

“Indeed they have. Although I would hardly call kidnapping us and threatening to torture us regardless of what we do ‘negotiations’.”

“… Nayeli?”

Nayeli looked up. “Hmm?”

“I need you to take Ren and open up the ceiling hatch so you two can fight outside.”

“What?!” the two of them said simultaneously. “Why?!”

“Because,” Kichirō said. “If the two of you were to fight in here, the shockwave would have nowhere to go and it would kill the rest of us.”

Marq smiled. “Do you really think your little oni friend is enough to match Nayeli?”

Kichirō smiled back at Marq unflinchingly. “More than enough.”

Marq flicked his wrist and the ceiling hatch swung open. Begrudgingly, Nayeli and Ren jumped out onto the roof.

“Oho,” Kichirō said. “I’m impressed. For you to acclimate so quickly to a rented atelier…”

“Don’t be. I can only do basic tricks with it. Besides, this car wasn’t built to be a magical workshop. My power remains unchanged.”

“Well that is certainly a relief. For a second I thought maybe you had given yourself another unfair advantage. Shall we begin then?”

I tensed. Both of them eyed each other’s guns. Kichirō had pocketed a semi-automatic Colt M1911 .45 ACP handgun, while Marq’s fingers curled around his huge .357 S&W Magnum revolver.
“… Draw!”

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Tokyo Drift 4.4

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It was half-past five in the morning when we pulled into the station. The train wouldn’t be departing for another hour. In other words, we had time here. Lots of it.

I watched Annie exit the train out of the corner of my eye. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three. She was out of earshot. I turned to Marq.

“Okay, so what do we do now?”

“Breakfast. The Monkey King’s train won’t be pulling in for another half an hour. We have until then to get our shit in order. You remember what I told you, right Al?”

“Yup. Pop one in the sigil system to cap the train’s movement, then another in the cargo hold to spook the animals, make them rampage. Then drop the last one off in the conductor’s bag.”

“But don’t detonate it,” Marq reminded me as Nayeli said something about the animals in the background.

“Right. Make it look like sabotage from within,” I said as Nayeli started shaking Marq by his shoulders.

“I want you in and out as soon as we have confirmation that the three of them have left the train,” Marq said, his voice wobbling like paper in front of a fan with each shake. “Even they have to eat and they won’t go far, so we’ll plan to wait after our meal and intercept them in the station’s diner while you and Sostene rig the rails to explode. That means you two are gonna have to be quick. Dine and dash so you can skedaddle to the rails before they see us and then skedaddle right on out once you’re done in case we need backup. I doubt they’ll cause a scene in a public restaurant, but you never know with these types.”

“These types?” I asked. “What, you mean asians?”

“No,” he said, scolding me. “Don’t be a racist.”

“What?” I said. “I ain’t a racist. I got plenty of demihuman friends.”

“You are a demihuman, Al. And I meant types like these guys in particular. These ‘hero’ types. I’ve been thinking about it all since we left New York, and these guys have got something to do, something to die for. They’re on a mission. For what or for who I don’t know, but they’re not like us, that’s for certain. They’re still on the other side of the fence. They’re willing to die and they’re willing to kill, but not for themselves. Not yet.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I said. “You think I kill people because I want to? Well, maybe that’s how Nayeli rolls, but I sure as hell don’t.”

Marq smirked while Nayeli made the exact opposite expression. “No, it isn’t, is it? But, you work for the family now, Al. That means you kill for the family. And what does the family want?”

I faltered. “… Money, I guess.”

“That’s right Al, they want money. Money, and power, and to live forever on top of a gold fucking throne surrounded by wine and beautiful women. That’s what my dad wants. That’s what his dad wanted. And his dad before that, and his dad before that, all the way back to the beginning of fucking time. That’s what they want most, for everything to go great for them and for their lives to be nothing but peaches and daisies. Some of them wanted it so bad they were willing to kill. The determination to change the world has always been built on a foundation made of desire, and beneath that a bedrock of greed. The lust for the ideal life in an ideal world, regardless of what form that may take. Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Buddha, Jesus fucking Christ. It doesn’t matter who it is or what you think your motives are, selfishness is what motivates us as a species. It’s a rare man in this world who’s truly selfless, and they’re always the ones who can’t be dissuaded or bargained with. Because they’re the ones who’ve suffered the most. And that’s not us, Al. That’s never been us.”

“So what, you think people are selfish for wanting a better world? You think I’m selfish for looking out for my little sister? That doesn’t make any fucking sense, Marq!”

He smiled knowingly, then handed me something.

“Here. It’s a two-way rune. I had it carved on a small enough stone to fit in your ear so you can listen in on the conversation while you’re working the train. The range is only about forty or fifty meters though, so stick close to the train. When you hear me say the word ‘macaroni’, that’s your cue to get out of there and back to us.”

Marq started walking towards the diner without waiting for my reply, Nayeli on one arm and Felicity on another, leaving me all alone to just think about what he’d said. He never asked me to get it. I don’t think I ever did.

When we sat down at the diner I ordered continental. They didn’t serve vampires there, so there was nothing Sostene could eat. Needless to say breakfast went by fast, and thank god for that. After everything that happened on the train, I don’t think I could’ve stood another minute of the atmosphere at that table. I paid for my meal and stepped out, citing an emergency bathroom break due to last night’s lousy train food as my excuse. Shouldn’t have been too hard to believe.

I ducked behind the bathroom and wedged the smooth little stone into my ear so I could hear what was going on in the diner. At first I didn’t hear anything, but then someone coughed and apologized in Annie’s voice. The awkward silence at that table could fill a room.

Jamming my hands in my pockets, I snuck back outside and blended in with the crowd as best as I could. I looked around for Sostene, and as always, it wasn’t very hard to spot a vampire in the daylight. Just keep walking until you see the yellow umbrella.

I sighed as I walked towards him. “I can’t believe you brought that butt ugly thing.”

Sostene frowned, part of his fangs showing. “My mother bought me this.”

“Yeah? And how long ago was that?”

“… eighty years ago,” he said awkwardly. “… it was a nice umbrella when she bought it.”

“And now it looks like something the cat dragged in,” I said. “Listen, no offense Sostene, but you need to do some shopping. Your clothes don’t last as long as you do, you know.”

“Oh really? This coming from mister rags to riches?” he said angrily. “I remember what you looked like when I first met you. The suit you were wearing looked like it worked double time as a hotel for the rats.”

“Hey, I didn’t have money to buy any new clothes,” I said defensively. “You have to have something saved up from Marq, right?”

He just looked at me funny. “What world do you live in?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He sighed. “Forget it. Here I am still working just to pay off my mortgages to the boss and he’s showering you with expensive clothes and free train rides. I guess it’s just easier to give charity to someone with a face people can’t mistake for a nickelodeon horrorshow. Wouldn’t want the family getting the wrong idea.”

I paused. “Wait, are you saying… Sostene, are you broke?”

“I rely on Marquis almost entirely to pay for my house and living expenses, so yeah, I’m broke. And you’re not?”

“Wellllll…” I said, trailing off. “With everything that’s been happening lately the money’s just been kinda disappearing one way or another. And you know what they say about how underpaid rookie soldatos are…”

“Admit it, you just lost it all because you weren’t careful enough with it.”

“Hey, I can’t help it that I’ve had more hospital bills to pay than a hooker has pubic lice. I mean between me and Annie…”

“In the first place, you could’ve at least not gotten yourself put in the hospital. Ever think of that, genius?”

A loud horn blew and the sound of the Nimbus rolling into the station derailed our conversation as we both immediately got ready to work. I waved to Sostene and he disappeared, reappearing in the rafters up above. I jumped down onto the tracks inbetween the Nimbus and the parked City of Cleveland, careful to hide myself behind box cars so no one on the other side of the tracks would notice me.

“See anything yet?” I whispered to Sostene. He could hear me, but I couldn’t hear him, so he just nodded, pointed to the clock, and held up three fingers. They were positioned at three o’clock. That means that at an average walking pace, they’d cross the tracks and see me in less than thirty seconds.

I climbed up onto the side of the Nimbus. Poking my head up to window height to make sure the compartment had been emptied, I lifted the window and crawled in. By the looks of things, I was halfway to the boxcar where they were keeping Bob and the other circus animals, and halfway to the cab where I’d find the sigil system.

The sigil system is more important, but the cab is more likely to still be occupied than the boxcars, I remember thinking. A choice had to be made.

-Well well, if it isn’t Mr. Yamada and friends. So good of you to join us-

I heard that and immediately took off down the hall towards the cab. We were already pressed for time. Even if I could only set up one before I got caught, the sigil system was still the obvious choice. It was the most important target. If I didn’t take that one out, this whole plan would be in the shitter, so it didn’t matter if there were still people in there or not. If the conductor was still hanging around… well, I guess I’d just have to off him.

I jumped over the couplings to the next compartment.

-Mr. Allesandri, I heard Kichirō say in a slightly muffled voice, as if he was far away. This is unexpected. What brings you to Arizona?-

-Nothing much. Though judging by the way you and your friends are dressed, I’d say you’re here for work. What is that, orichalcum armor?-

-With a bronze finishing-

I slammed open the cab door and looked around. Nobody. I was in luck. I fished out some of Mr. Wang’s Surprise from my jacket pocket and wedged it between the spaces in the floor, cutting open the carpet with my knife. The larger portion of the sigil system that powers the train is usually directly beneath the cab, so setting it there would ensure I at least broke the connection to the leylines by blowing a hole in the sigil.

-Well, it is great to see friends so soon after leaving New York, but I’m afraid we really must be going, Mr. Allesandri-

-Really? Leaving so soon, Kichirō?-

-Yes. Is that a problem?-

-No, no. I have no intention of keeping you. But I’m telling you, missing out on the breakfast here is a mistake. The macaroni and cheese here is to die for-

I put away my knife and stuffed a handful of the Surprise into the conductor’s handbag. Time was up, and I needed to go. I ran in the opposite direction, back to where I’d crawled in through the window. I couldn’t see Sostene them at this point, all I knew was that they’d left the diner. Getting out of here without being spotted by them was going to be a matter of pure dumb luck.

I hoisted myself out the window and landed on the tracks, quickly looking around. I couldn’t see them, so I looked up at Sostene. After he gave me the thumbs up, I dashed across the tracks and climbed onto the couplings of our own train. Looking back, the three of them were still nowhere in sight, so I decided to toss the rest of the explosives I had underneath the car holding the animals. It wouldn’t be as good a scare as sticking it right on the door, but it would have to do. I nodded at Sostene, and he disappeared from the rafters as I slipped back onto the platform.

“We’re good to go,” I said as soon as we’d made it back to the diner. “The explosives are underneath the animals’ boxcar instead of on the door, but I think it’ll still be good enough to leave an impression on ‘em.”

Marq grinned as I whispered into his ear. “Good. Nice work, Al.”

“What are you two talking about?” Annie asked suspiciously.

“Nothing, I was just having Al check up on something for me back on the Cleveland,” Marq said. “Well then, shall we go?”

Nayeli handed him a cigarette and he took out his lighter. Immediately I got the message to plug my ears and close my eyes because that was the detonator, and Marq was about to press the plunger.
He flicked open the lighter, raising it to his lips. The wheel spun. That’s when everything went to hell.

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