Yoshirō Yamada

Street Lawyer 5.7

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Nearly two weeks had passed since Nayeli left, and Marq was getting desperate. He’d had our guys comb the entire city trying to find her, and when that failed to turn up anything, he’d resorted to taking Sigurd out on joyrides and flying over the countryside, trying to pick up Nayeli’s scent. So far, no luck. In the meantime, I’d been asked to pick up the slack in taking care of our three fugitives hiding out at the docks.

I stopped in front of Mickey’s old studio warehouse on Pier 6, the one I’d nearly burnt down a couple months ago. There were still scorch marks toasting the place and nobody had bothered to replace the broken windows. All in all, it couldn’t look more abandoned if you stuck a tumbleweed in front of it.

Balancing a food tray with my one hand, I knocked on the rolling shutter door with the other. Faster than I can react, the terrible end of Yoshirō’s turgid metal deathstick speared through the door’s thin sheet metal only a few terrifying inches from my face. I think I almost pissed myself.

Who. Is. It.”

Kichirō’s voice asked me tersely from the other side. I swallowed, trying to regain my composure.

“It’s Alfonso. I’ve got your food. Y’know… soup’s on…”

“… Oh. You can let him in, Yoshi.”

The shutter doors rolled up and I walked on inside, looking around for the three of them. Were they hiding?

“You know,” I shouted into the darkness, “you really don’t need to do that every time I stop by. Can’t you just tell it’s me by sensing my ki or whatever?”

“True,” I heard Kichirō say as he stepped into view. “But Yoshi doesn’t like you.”

I felt a snort of hot air on my neck and nearly dropped the soup all over my new loafers. The big guy was right behind me, wasn’t he?

“H-Hi, Yoshi…” I squeaked, turning around slowly. “How’s it going?”

“Don’t call him that. He’s still mad about how you drugged him back on the train, Kichirō said, snacking on a tiny bag of circus peanuts. “He says you’re lucky he doesn’t turn you into sashimi.

“Duly noted…” I said, slowly backing away. “Do I at least get some soy sauce?”

Kichirō raised an eyebrow at me.

I set the tray down on a toolbench and unwrapped the bread, breaking off bits of it in their soup. The chunks float for a few seconds before sinking to the bottom. Typical New York cuisine. Soup was so watery you could stick a boot in it and call me Ishmael.

“You know, not that I don’t enjoy these daily chats of ours, but why don’t you just go and lay low with the Four Beasts again?” I asked as I literally broke bread with my enemies. “I mean I like the smell of mildew and stewed human flesh just as much as the next guy, but this isn’t exactly a five star hotel you got here. Don’t you want some better digs?”

“Asking the Four Beasts for help again would be… unwise,” Kichirō said. “They seem to have heard about how we treated their men, and now they want revenge. They’ve already sent men after us numerous times.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell us?!” I said, dropping half a loaf in one of the bowls.

“We going to, but…” Ren started.

“… they don’t seem to be particularly thrilled with the Allesandris right now either,” Kichirō said.

“Yeah, and whose fault do you think that is?” I said, sighing. “Here’s your soup.”

The bowl clanked to the floor, spilling a few precious drops of its liquid sustenance. My immediate instinct was to reach for my hanky and wipe it up, but I held myself back. I figured the floor could stand to get a little dirtier. Once you reach a certain point of no return (like say, burnt clothing and human flesh), any new mess you make kinda just gets lost in the background. No point in dirtying a perfectly good handkerchief then.

Ren hesitantly picked up her spoon and took a nibble, then immediately spat it out.

“Bleh! This taste worse than yesterday!”

“Oh really?” I replied sardonically.

“Yeah! It taste like nuppeppō pus!”

“I have literally no idea what that is,” I said. “It’s cream of mushroom soup from a can. Just eat it.”

“Canned? I thought they use fresh ingredients?” Ren said, or rather accused.

“Yeah, right,” I replied, snorting. “Fresh water, maybe.”

“Ren,” Kichirō chided. “It’s impolite to criticize the food someone’s given you out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Kichirō raised his spoon to his lips and tasted the soup, smacking his lips.

“That being said, I have to agree. This does taste an awful lot like nuppeppō pus.”

“Still don’t know what that is,” I said. “And I thought you said it was impolite to criticize.”

“I also said the food had to be given out of the kindness of their hearts,” Kichirō said with a wry smile.

“Fair enough,” I sighed, taking a seat. “If the food tastes like crap it’s because our local kitchen just lost one of its biggest supporters.”

“God-girl, right?” Ren asked, blowing on soup.

“Yup,” I said. “Without her around they’ve had to switch to canned to keep up with the demand. Her disappearing act is throwing a lot of monkey wrenches in a lot of peoples’ plans.”

“Why you think she did it?” Ren said, blowing on her soup.

“Who knows?” I said, sighing. “Wouldn’t have been my first choice. All that matters is that Marq is tearing his fucking hair out trying to find her. If she doesn’t show up before a formal arrest is issued, they’re probably gonna send the Untouchables after her, and that’s not going to end well for any of us.”

“The… Untouchables?” Kichirō asked.

“Yup.” I cracked another loaf in half and offered it to Kichirō. “They’re an anti-magic law enforcement division, beholden only to the highest authority within the US government. Sorta like secret agents crossed with cowboys by way of Merlin.”

“Uh-huh. So what make them so special?” Ren asked, chomping on bread.

“Easy shortstuff,” I say, enjoying my one chance to say that to someone else for a change. “Each of them is given a special mythical weapon that only they’re allowed to wield. Y’know, astra and holy swords and all sorts of cursed shit. Real nasty stuff like that. They’re the government’s last line of defense against monsters and magic users.”

“Sounds dangerous,” Ren commented.

“You don’t know the half of it. If they caught wind that any of us had dealings with the Cintamani stone, we’d all be locked up right now faster than you can say ‘I plead the fifth’. We should thank our lucky stars they haven’t perfected the technology for audio-based psychometry yet.”

“Hmmm… If they’re law enforcement like you say though, shouldn’t the Marquis just be able to buy them? That seems to be your family’s preferred way of doing things. Bribing people until the problem goes away.”

I grunt in annoyance. Cheeky little…

“Wouldn’t work. These guys? They’re incorruptible. The textbook fuckin’ definition of fanatics. Assassination, blowing up family-owned trucks and boats, smashing up entire warehouses then burning them to the ground. And that’s just the stuff they do to harass us. When the real monsters come knocking and the big guns come out, I’ve heard of entire towns getting written off in the name of their mission. Tabula fucking rasa, like they never existed. All to keep the peace, supposedly. Nobody knows where they find these psychos but they make the Vitalis look restrained by comparison. If you ask me, they dig ‘em up from the deepest pits of Alcatraz, give them a badge, then just turn them loose.”

“And your government let them get away with that?” Ren asks. I shrug.

“We live in crazy times, I guess. It all makes about as much sense to me as it does to you. All I know is that they’re tough, they’re mean, and they’ve got a license to kill. If they’re brought in to deal with Nayeli, we better just pray they bring her back in one piece.”

Ren snorted.

“Really? You worried about god-girl? When she can give Yamata-no-orochi a run for his money? It don’t matter what kind of weapons they bring. She tough enough. She can take it. God-girl is invincible.”

“Against an enemy like you who just uses brute force, maybe. But you weren’t there at Central Park.” I paused. “Anyway, you should always remember one thing. Demigods? They’re weak against magic.”

I soaked up the last of my soup with my half of the loaf, and stuck it in my mouth. Forcing my arms into my coat’s sleeves, I brushed myself off and got ready to go.

“You leaving already?” Kichirō asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I got two more mouths to feed back at home.”

Light shone through the slit in the door Yoshirō had made. Working my hands under the door, I lifted with my knees, and pulled up the metal sheet like a blind. Dark sunbeams from a cloudy but-not-too-cloudy sky pierced my eyes, flushing me back into the kind of daylight you only find hanging over New York City smog. I look back over my shoulder.

“I’ll be back tomorrow. Let us know from now on when the Four Beasts start to give you any trouble. We’re… working on a fix. Things have just been… well, you know the way they are right now,” I said. “I’ll let you know once Marq has something he wants you to do. For now, just stay put.”

“What you think we’ve been doing?!”

I walk out and let the door drop behind me, drowning out the incensed oni’s protests. The way things are right now, huh? And what exactly was that? What way were they ever supposed to be to begin with?

The stairs creaked softly as I walked up to our apartment on the second floor, carrying a bag of groceries. I only mention this because normally the stairs make noise like a pissed off cat whose tail someone just stepped on. I can think of a few good reasons for why today was different. For one thing, the bag’s lighter than it should be, on account of me having to skimp now to pay Frankie. I don’t know how much extra he wants, but I’m not about to go overspending and test the man’s generosity any more than I already have.

Second, they’ve been doing renovations around here lately, something they say is finally gonna have us all caught up with the new building code they instituted a few years after war. Been a miracle they managed to get away with not doing it for this long, but then again nobody’s in a hurry to pay for the living conditions of the working class.

Dwarves – excuse me, dvergr – clung to the architecture wherever I looked, hammering away and tearing down walls, ripping out electrical wires. That part was probably gonna be easy. Not much in the way of commodities here. We were lucky we had our own bathrooms, let alone lights. A few of them muttered something in Old Norse as I walked past them, which made me frown. If you’re gonna say something about me, at least say it to my face in the King’s English.

I walked to the other end of the hall where our apartment was, and noticed there was one thing they weren’t touching. The spriggan’s old room. So far it had been spared the hammer and the hacksaw. Not a single soul had touched it. I snorted. Probably because they were still figuring out how to get inside. The spriggan had always been a private old girl, and now that she was a tree she was going to be even harder to convince to leave.

As if to prove my point, a vine crept out of the mass of roots and flower buds that had already grown out of the wall surrounding her apartment and coiled around the doorknob, its slow, deliberate movements more than making the tenant’s wishes clear. She’d move when she was damn well ready to. As for us, I wasn’t sure what we’d do when they started fixing up our place. Probably sleep downstairs in the basement until it was fixed like everybody else. I could ask Marq for a place to crash, but I don’t think Annie would like that, and she’s plenty pissed at me as it is. Besides, he… needed his space right now.

I fished for my keys, trying to keep the contents of the bag from spilling over. Turning the key in the lock, I heard that satisfying ka-chunk that let me know “I’m home!” and then I shut the door to our apartment behind me.

“Annie? Theo?” I announced to seemingly empty space. “You guys here?”

I didn’t expect to hear much back. Theo wasn’t the talkative sort most of the time, and she said she would be out doing the laundry this afternoon anyway. As for Annie, she was still mad at me, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

To my surprise, I heard her call back, “Yeah Al, we’re in the living room!”

Funny, I could’ve sworn she still wasn’t talking to me this morning. “You’ll never guess who’s here!”

“Who’s here?” I asked, immediately suspicious. Had that shitty agent stopped by again? Dr. Evans?

I looked down and noticed an extra pair of shoes by the door. Spit-shined leather oxfords, with their laces carefully tied.

“Oh no…” I said to myself. I turned the corner into the living room, walking as naturally as I could. There I saw Annie in her wheelchair, and setting next to her was…

He looked up at me. “Oh, hello Alfonso.”

I tried smiling as convincingly as I could. “Hey there, Cavvy.

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Street Lawyer 5.1

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Finally the train arrived at the station and we all piled off, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. We’d left the scene of the disaster behind us, but it was only a matter of time before they tracked us down. Right now, what we needed to do was take the stone back to New York as quickly and quietly as possible. The rest we could ad-lib from there. As much as it’d pain Marq, I’m sure the Cintamani stone would make some pretty slick bail for-

“Hello, brother~”

Oh no. No. No. Not now. Marq and I swiveled our heads in unison to find ourselves confronted with the absolute last person we both wanted to see. Milo Allesandri. He smiled.

“You look upset, Marquis. Is there anything I can help you with? A certain stone that needs smuggling back into New York, maybe? Or perhaps you’re suffering from a guilty conscience? This is all your fault, after all.”

Theo brandished her knives while I stood stock-still. How. How was he here? How did he know? Wait, that’s a stupid question, I thought at I stared at Leo and Figaro. Who else could’ve told him?

Getting over his surprise, Marq cleared his throat, straightening his tie. “Sorry Milo, but the stone was a fraud. We don’t-”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Marquis. You’re better than that. We both know the stone is a fake, and we both know it’s hiding a much better prize.”

“The Cintamani stone,” they both said in unison. Milo’s tone was loud and triumphant. Marq’s was subdued and defeated.

Crap…

“How-”

“Did I know? Please brother, we both know I have my ways, just as you have yours.”

“… It was Figaro and Leon, wasn’t it?”

“Huh?” the two goons in question replied.

“You put them undercover on the train and thought we wouldn’t notice, but we did. I erased their memories of the stone, but they must’ve been bugged too. Clever. You knew even if we caught on to them we wouldn’t bother checking our own men for surveillance devices, didn’t you?”

“…”

“…”

This was it. Would Milo admit to it? No, of course not. No logical person would. Even if you knew they knew too, admitting to it doesn’t benefit you at all. It only gives them ammo to use against you later, even if it’s brick-shittingly obvious you did it. The only one who’d admit to that would be a narcissistic psychopath. Then again, that’s what Milo was.

And that’s exactly what Marq was banking on.

“Uh, boss Marquis?” Figaro asked. “What are you talkin’ about? What stone?”

“I’ll admit, it’s a pretty brilliant scheme. So clever I’m a bit surprised you came up with it. You even used low-tech bugs too, didn’t you? Something basic like a pocket mic I’m guessing? So we wouldn’t think it was you, the amulet-obsessed magic tchotchke-freak. You’ve surprised me for once, Milo. Congrats.

Don’t push it, I thought. Feeding into his psychotic ego was all well and good, but sarcasm wasn’t going to help.

Milo frowned. “… I have no idea what you’re on about.”

What?!

Marq maintained his cool. “Sure you don’t. And I’m guessing you just happened to come here because you wanted to meet your beloved half-brother at the station to make sure he was alright? I’m touched, Milo, really.

Milo sighed. “My sources, of which you will not be made privy to, have never and will never incorporate either of these two. Doubt me all you want, brother, but I didn’t send them.”

Marq and I exchanged quick glances. Something was definitely wrong here.

“That being said however, I suppose I am here to congratulate you on what can loosely be called ‘a job well done’. Believe me, it’s the only one you’ll be getting after the devastation you and your… friends caused here.” He looked at us with disdain. “Make no mistake, I have no intentions of defending you or that raging bull of yours in front of the federal court, let alone father. Your best defense right now is compliance. Make me look good in front of father, and it makes you look good by association. I’m sure as a fellow attorney you realize this is your best option at this point, yes?”

Marq nodded. “Yeah.”

“Then hand over the stone.”

Marq didn’t do anything for a second. Then he nodded slowly at Kichirō, who nodded back. Approaching the banged up boxcar of the Nimbus, Kichirō forced open the sliding door with his good arm, revealing stacked cages of animals. Nayeli squealed, the prospect of getting to see Bob making her momentarily forget her funk, and clambered inside.

“Ohooo…” Milo sneered, mildly impressed. “So you hid the stone with the animal feed.”

“Not quite,” Kichirō said. “We actually hid it in the cargo container. It’s connected directly to the boxcar containing the animal’s cages, so no ordinary passengers would be able to fumble in here by mistake. Or by design.

The tone of his voice showed just how much he trusted Milo: only about half as far as he could throw him. Which judging by the look on his face was something he had definitely thought about doing.

“Stay here, Annie,” I said. But she glared at me and propped her crutches on the rim of the car, pulling herself up. After what had happened between us earlier, I decided not to press the issue.

Everyone clambered inside, carefully stepping over the strewn hay and bountiful craps of the animals that had been released in the chaos earlier that morning.

Hmmm… in retrospect, maybe that doesn’t clear things up a whole lot. The chaos at the train station then.

We all followed Kichirō, who stepped with confidence. Worst came to worst, we all figured he’d do his new allies a solid by offing Milo rather than letting him get his hands on the stone. Sadly, fate and a certain gassy ungulate had other plans.

“Where’s Bob?” Nayeli asked, looking around the empty cages. But everyone ignored her.

“We hid the stone in a bottle of ceremonial champagne the shipping company included as a gift for the Monkey King. He likes having little presents hidden in the bottles,” Kichirō explained. “The boxcar should be just up ahead- oh. Oh no.”

Everyone leaned and took a peek over Kichirō’s shoulders. It was difficult to see in the darkened boxcar, but the door had been opened. Violently. Crumpled in like the lid on a pack of goddamn cigarettes.

No one rushed. We all tiptoed in slowly, dreading what we might find.

“What the hell happened to this place?” I asked. “It looks like a damn minotaur got loose… They didn’t actually have a minotaur in here, right?”

“No,” Marq said, sighing. “They had something much worse.”

I looked around. There were some holes poked in the side of the car where dim light shined in from outside. Did I say “poked”? I meant more like “stabbed”. Splinters of wood and broken glass were everywhere, making the place look like it had been torn apart.

Who was I kidding, it had been torn apart. But by what? What could stab a hole through a sheet of solid magically-reinforced steel and looked like it munched on hunks of wood and glass bottles?

Wait…

I groaned. Oh no. I hated it once I figured it out, but I caught on to what we were gonna find just a few seconds after Marq did.

Finally the light beaming in revealed enough and Annie gasped. Nayeli just flipped the hell out.

“Bob!” she yelled, running over to the prone, horse-like animal lying on its side. About eight feet long and seven feet tall if it were standing upright, it had a bright white coat with brown age spots and was unmistakably a unicorn. It also was unmistakably slurping alcohol from a bottle it held in its drunk-ass purple lips, noisily smacking it down.

“Ohhhh, now I remember!” Marq said, going “aha!”. “Bob was retired from the races ‘cause they said he had a drinking problem!”

I look at him weird. Weirder. “Horses drink?

“Oh yeah, all the time, Al,” Marq said in a calm, relaxed tone that made it clear he was completely fucking serious. “Their jockeys feed it to them all the time. They especially love hoppy beer.”

He turned his head. “Hey, Nayeli? You might not want to do that.”

Nayeli, for her part, was trying to get as close to her dream animal as possible (hopefully to make some good memories before we all sailed down piece-of-crap street here in the next few weeks). She had tiptoed her way most of the way there already before stopping to kneel, the unicorn so ass-blastingly drunk it hardly noticed her. She reached out to touch Bob with her outstretched hand. Then she started to stroke him.

“There there, Bob…” she said lovingly. The horse-monster’s eyes snapped open. Forgetting that it was supposed to be drunk and thus sloppy and uncoordinated, it flipped its head around and clamped its chompers around Nayeli’s outstretched fingers.

“Owwwch!” she yelped, pulling her fingers back. Surprisingly, they were red and starting to swell. “B-bob… why?”

The unicorn neighed wildly, bucking and flailing even though it couldn’t stand up on its own. It tried jabbing Nayeli with its horn but to no avail now that she was ready for it.

“Bob!…” she protested, obviously feeling let down.

“That’s a unicorn for you,” Marq said, sighing. “They don’t like anyone who’s not a virgin. They can smell it on you. Drives them crazy.”

“B-but that’s not fair…” Nayeli said with tears in her eyes as she looked at Bob, who’d settled back down now that she’d backed off a bit.

No, I thought. What’s not fair was Marq not telling you this from the beginning.

“These uhhh…” Milo said, picking up the empty bottles scattered around the floor. “These wouldn’t happen to be the bottles you hid the Cintamani stone in, would they Kichirō?”

Our tall Japanese friend sighed. “As a matter of fact, they are.”

Bob belched.

“Oh, that is just disgusting,” I said, plugging my nose as everyone else tried to waft the scent away.

“So what do we do now?” Milo said. “I don’t think I have to remind you what happens to your crew and that homunculus should you fail to hold up your end of the bargain, do I Marquis?”

Not on your fucking life, I thought. Nayeli was already in the shit, but I wasn’t letting Theo join her.

“Well Kichirō?” Marq said, sighing and letting his hands fall to his sides. “What can we do?”

“We can wait for the creature to pass it.”

How long will that take?”

“A few days… a few weeks… who knows?” Kichirō said.

“Okaaay… any other options?”

“We could surgically remove it?”

Marq clapped. “Great! Al, get on it.”

I froze. “What?”

Marq motioned at the prone, bloated Bob blob. “Get on it. You’re Mr. Medicine Man, right?”

“Whoa whoa whoa,” I said. “Slow down. In fact, back up. You want me… to do gastrointestinal surgery… on a unicorn?”

“Yeah… What’s the problem?” he asked me dangerously slow-like.

I gulped. “Well… do you realize how fucked up that is? I mean, it’s a goddamn unicorn!”

“Oh grow the fuck up, Al!” Marq shouted out of nowhere. “This isn’t some fairy tale with pretty pink little princesses, and I’m not going to let you fuck us because you don’t wanna cut open the poor widdle unicorn! It’s a goddamn animal! There’s nothing special about it! I thought you said you’ve worked in the operating room before!”

I stared at him. “I’ve assisted in an operating room before. I’ve memorized how to perform certain surgical techniques, and practiced a few. This isn’t one of them. And even if it was, what makes you think just because I can operate on a human means I’m qualified to chop up a goddamn horse?”

“What’s the difference?!”

“They have four stomachs, Marq! Horses have four stomachs! How am I even supposed to know which one the stone went through?”

“That’s cows, Al. Horses only have one stomach,” Annie said, correcting me. “It’s separated into a front and hind gut.”

I sighed. “Fine. You want me to cut up the goddamn unicorn?”

Yes,” Marq said through grit teeth.

“Well too bad, ‘cause I can’t!” I said. I regretted saying it right away, but I was too angry, too caught up in the moment to stop. “You saw what Bob did to Nayeli when she tried to get too close, right? Well some of us here don’t have adamantine skin, and I’m pretty fond of my fucking hands. How about you?”

“Well there’s gotta be someone here who can!” Marq said, his desperation obvious. He was losing his cool. “Come on Al. Give me something. Give me anything. Isn’t there anyone here who’s a virgin?”

I hesitated. We were pinned down here. We needed that stone, or all of this, literally all of this, would’ve been for nothing. There had to be something we could salvage from this, something that had even the slightest bit of meaning that we could look back at and say “well at least we did that” when we were thinking of just how much this job had cost us all. But there was nothing.

Milo sighed. “Well, this has been fun, but if no one else has any ideas, I propose we just shoot the damn thing and take the stone out from its body by force. Any objections?”

Milo spun the chamber on his revolver, leveling it at Bob’s head. Nayeli sprung into action.

“Yeah! Here’s a few!” she said, shielding Bob with her body. “Go fuck yourself! You want me to kill you right here and now?”

“Go right ahead,” Milo said. “But know you’ll only be adding to your list of crimes by doing so, and once our father gets word of it, expect Marquis’ head to be next on the chopping block once he learns his pet bitch offed his other son. That’d certainly kill his chances in the war for succession. Or would you rather just keep standing in the way like an idiot so I can tell our father Marquis refused to cooperate in retrieving the stone?”

Nayeli was sweating like crazy, and it wasn’t just because the boxcar was damp with animal shit. Milo had had her trapped like a rat again. I bet she wasn’t eager to relive the same experience.

There was nothing we could do. Every way out was a dead end. It seemed silly, but this one little fucking unicorn had become a symbol for this whole fucking job, and if we let it die it’d be like fucking this whole thing up all over again. Something good had to come of this. Anything. But unless we could think of something fast, nothing would. We’d be right back where we started. Totally defeated.

That’s when we all heard a sound no one was expecting to hear. Bob nickering in his sleep.

“Ummmm… I could do it.”

I turned around to see my sister kneeling next to Bob in a sea of booze, broken glass and horse piss. The smell was was so bad it was almost physically repelling, but she just knelt there, bearing it as she stroked the incensed unicorn to calm it down.

“And who are you?” Milo said.

“She’s my little sister,” I said. “And… she’s the only one that can do this.”

I hated saying it. I wanted to protect her, protect my little sister from anything that could hurt her, but right now we didn’t have a choice. Either she operated on a wild, dangerous animal in my place, or we all paid for it. Theo, Marq, Nayeli, me. This was the best option. The only option.

“Lil’ squirt…” Nayeli said, almost teary in the eyes.

“Don’t get me wrong!” Annie said, looking at Milo and Marq. “I’m not doing this for any of you. I just want my brother and Theo back home safely. And this unicorn doesn’t deserve to die either! Is violence all you people can ever think about? There are other solutions!”

Milo snorted. “Feh. Fine. Do as you wish. It’ll probably just end up dead anyway.”

Annie looked at me, asking me what to do first. For just this second, I had some of her trust back.

I sighed, and flipped open my knife. I passed it to her gently.

“Here. Use this. It’s sharpened to surgical standards. Bob should be okay on pain, he’s kind of already… self-medicated.”

The unconscious unicorn farted loudly, and we all pinched our noses.

“Okay,” Annie said, taking the knife. “Where should I cut first? Shouldn’t we sterilize the equipment and move him somewhere clean?”

“We can’t really worry about that right now,” I said. “We’ll leave those problems for the vet. Speaking of…”

“Right, already on it,” Marq said, exiting the car to find the station’s phone.

I looked around. Dark. Damp. Smelly. Probably full of shit and other things that could cause infections. This was hardly the ideal operating room. But we didn’t have much else. It was time to start.

“Alright, first you need to shave the area you’re going to make an incision into. In this case, that’d be his midline,” I said, instructing her as I pointed where to cut and what needed to be shaved. “We’ll use some of the leftover booze as antiseptic. Wait for me to pour that stuff on before you make the first incision.”

Angling the blade carefully, Annie made a few ragged passes, shaving a rough patch into Bob’s belly. Dabbing part of her dress in alcohol, she sponged the area down with our makeshift cleaning agent and antiseptic. With me guiding her, she slowly, very slowly, made the first incision.

Almost immediately Bob whinnied and neighed, but quickly fell silent again. I felt ready to jump in at any minute to yank Annie back. If Bob hadn’t been so completely trashed, I doubt we would’ve been able to do this. A conscious unicorn would turn us into a horn kebab.

Annie finished the long first incision, stopping after more than a foot. Perhaps a bit too generous, but this was my sister’s first impromptu veterinary surgery. All things considered, I thought she was handling it pretty well.

“Okay Annie, this is gonna be the hard part,” I said carefully. “Things are gonna get kinda gross, but I want you to stay strong, okay? Now, you gotta reach in there-”

Without even hesitating, Annie dove into Bob’s guts up to her elbows, smearing blood all over her hands and dress.

“Okay,” she said, turning to look at me calmly. “What am I looking for?”

Damn, I thought. My little sister was a bit more hard-boiled than I’d thought.

“Uhhh… the small intestine,” I said. “You need any help describing what that looks or feels like, or-”

“Nope,” she said, dragging a coil of guts out onto her lap. “I got it.”

“… Alright then. You see a bulge, feel any bumps where the stone might be?”

Annie squeezed the unicorn’s gut-piping in her hands, groping like a pro doctor administering a mammogram. Wrong form, but you had to admire her enthusiasm. Finally, her fingers closed around a section of intestine with a slight bulge in it.

“Find it?” I ask.

She nods. “I think so. It’s big. You want me to make another cut?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Gently, though. You don’t want to poke the tip through both sides.”

She did so, a little squeamishly at first with shaky hands, but in the end she made it through without perforating Bob’s intestines. Pantomiming what she’d need to do, I slowly guided her through the process of squeezing the stone out of the hole she’d made.

A few pushes later and it was finally done. The stone clattered to the floor, a dark orange, almost blood red color like amber. I breathed a sigh of relief, and grabbed my sister in a hug.

“Hrrmmmm… Al,” she said, but ignored her. “… Al. That’s enough.”

She shoved me away, or tried to. I was much stronger than her weak little arms. I let go of her.

“Ah, and there’s the prize~,” Milo said, reappearing just in time to scoop up the stone. “With this I should be able to heal whatever it is that ails father. That should be more than enough to ingratiate myself into his will. Though admittedly, it does stall our family’s little feud somewhat. Such a shame, isn’t it Marquis?”

“Yeah,” Marq proffered with venom. “Should paint a nice fat target on your back now that you’re the frontrunner for the inheritance.”

Milo just smiled. “We’ll see.”

He turned and walked away. And that was the last we saw of him. Till that dreadful day when Nayeli’s fate would be decided.

Previous || Next

Tokyo Drift 4.11

Previous || Next

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 4.10e

Previous | Next

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what?”

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

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

I turned back towards the fight.

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

“Very.”

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

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

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

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

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

Kichirō nodded. “Thank you.”

He took the nepenthe from my outstretched hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yoshirō… forgive me, but…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kichirō nodded, and turned back to face Yoshirō.

“Yoshirō. Can you hear me?” he said.

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

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

“Muh… berfday…?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoshirō growled.

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

Yoshirō growled.

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

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

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

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

“Try something else!” I yelled.

“Like what?!” Kichirō snapped back testily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 4.10b

Previous || Next

Earlier…

The door slammed shut. There was an uncomfortable squelching noise as Yoshirō’s claws violently ripped their way out of Sostene’s back and spine, pulling entrails out like leftover strands of spaghetti curled around a fork. Sostene gasped for air, vomiting a little in his mouth. Motherfucker!

Lashing out with an errant kick he by no rights should have been able to perform, Sostene tripped the man-strosity. It tumbled to the floor onto Sostene’s level, staring at him unmoving with blind eyes. His sudden stillness extended for long seconds, his petrification eerie and frightening, like a coiled snake. Sostene blinked.

Yoshirō roared, spraying Sostene with flecks of blood, his voice a violent and inhuman scream of anger and pain. The cry seemed to carry on forever, far longer than was natural. His sheer rage and the indescribable agony of his existence surpassing the capacity of his mortal lungs, the cry ripped apart steel and defied space and time, buckling the foundations and tearing a hole in the ceiling of the car, an impenetrable atelier now violated. It seemed as though his voice would crush the car around them like a can of tuna fish.

Yoshirō reached out with a metal claw and clamped his orichalcum hand around Sostene’s leg as he tried to crawl away, his grip crushing like a vice. Sostene cried out in pain as he squeezed, crunching the bones in his leg and forcing it apart around his clenched fist like a collapsible tube of fluoride toothpaste.

There was a brief click and then a boom like a shotgun as the Marquis fired his gun, trying to stop Yoshirō from torturing his subordinate. The shot hit Yoshirō in the shoulder and bounced off the orichalcum armor harmlessly. But it was enough to get his attention.

Yoshirō squeezed even harder, unhindered, and ripped the leg clean off at the shin. He hurled it at the Marquis with enough force to simulate a car crash all over the capo’s face, but the supersonic boot pulled back at the last second, attracted to the pull of its body, and the Marquis was only knocked back, his nose snapping with an ugly crunch.

Slipping away only by pure luck now that his leg was flying around trying to find him like a bloody neon sign, Sostene put distance between him and the monster that was once a man. His leg was back but his body needed time to start catching up with his wounds. Any time at all.

And anything that could make that shit go faster, he thought as he haphazardly shoveled loose coils of his small intestine back into himself as it lazily snaked its way back into place, would be fucking fantastic.

He grunted. Immortal though he may be, a working class vampire like him did not feed often enough to repair this kind of damage. Already he could feel the rate at which he healed noticeably slow down. If he took too many fatal hits, eventually he’d be reduced to a motionless pile of quivering jelly on the floor. Same thing would happen if he went without feeding for too long. He’d dry up, like a dessicated corpse. Then all he could do would be wait and pray that something would come along and just happen to spill blood on him and revive him. The odds of that happening were fantastically slim, especially if Yoshirō went on to kill Marquis, which is why overtaxing his regenerative abilities was just about as close to a death sentence as a vampire could get. He couldn’t let that happen.

He hated to say it, or even admit he was thinking it, but right now, he needed help. What would dear old dad do?

An armored foot came smashing down on one of the loose ribbons of carrion still trying to crawl back into Sostene’s stomach, and it felt like someone squeezing the air out of his gut. Instinctively he pulled back and ripped the ribbon away so it could crawl back inside and finish healing in there. The Yoshirō monster laughed deeply with the sound of many voices both young and old.

Of course. Dad wouldn’t have gotten us into this fucking mess of a situation. A monster of that level wouldn’t even see this kind of shit as a challenge.

Laughing hurt. Guess it’s true what they say. Vampire newborns are like fruit. I’m still way too fucking green compared to someone like Dad.

Sostene wheezed.

Well, at least Al got away. Knowing that guy, he’ll figure something out. He and the boss, they make the real magic happen.

A few months ago when he first joined up, Sostene wouldn’t have been loathe to dismiss him as just more fresh blood, meat for the grinder. But the kinda guy who could take down an entire gang singlehandedly, the kind of guy even the boss relied on… a guy like that deserved Sostene’s respect. Maybe one day he’d even tell him the story of how he got here, about the debt he owed the Marquis of the Allesandri family… and about daddy dearest.

You decrepit old bat. I bet you’re watching this right now, aren’t you? Having a laugh on my fucking dime? You always were a fucking sadist. So come on, tell me. What the fuck am I supposed to do here?

It was mostly an appeal to inspiration. To any of the powers that be to give him something, anything. This guy was way too fucking powerful. If he didn’t figure something out soon, he’d be about as close to dead as a vampire could get. Then he’d kill Boss Marquis, and then he’d really be fucked. He wasn’t expecting his father to actually respond.

Remember.

As if on cue, Sostene’s brain erupted into a five alarm migraine so intense he felt like he was whiting out. He roared, something halfway between a scream and a groan, as patches of grey like a worn out film reel crept into his peripheral vision.

Aaaaghhhhh!! Fuck you!

Don’t resist, Sostene. Just remember.

Remember what-?

But suddenly, he did. Time and space fell away, and he found himself in a world of grey, muted colors all except for the emerald grass beneath his feet surrounding him. Brief flickers of an ephemeral feminine face crossed his eyes, her name so close but completely out of reach. Who was she? Where was this? Was he supposed to know what this meant? He needed a sign here, dammit!

Poor thing. It seems you still do not remember things properly, said a feminine voice. Here, let me help you, Sostene.

The woman’s face changed, becoming older, more mature. The voice deepened as the clouds darkened, distorting into something and someone completely different. His father’s voice.

You…!

Look down. Do you remember now, Sostene?

He looked, and saw the grass beneath his feet stained bright red with the color of blood. Bodies and flags and blood-stained swords surrounded him for miles in every direction. This was a killing field, and he was the last one standing.

He lifted up his hands and found them covered in blood. His own. A large worm-like tube attached to his stomach stretched for nearly seven meters behind him, ending in a fat protuberance that had gotten stuck in the hole, and a knotted rope on the other end. He felt his own hands slip away as he lost control, lost all feeling in his body. What was happening to him? Was this finally it? Was this… death? Funny… it felt a lot less peaceful than he’d imagined.

Standing erect like a statue on the grassy knoll, even though he had long since lost his ability to move even a finger, Sostene stared, immobile, at the setting sun behind the clouds, trapped in his own body like he was watching a movie. A single bright red tear fell down his face.

Yes, that’s it, Sostene. I want you to remember. Back to those days. Remember who you truly are…

The Marquis got back up and set his nose back into place with an equally unappealing crunch. Nayeli would never forgive him if he came back with some goon having smashed up his beautiful face.

He leveled his sights at one of the openings in his armor and pulled the trigger, squeezing out another enchanted round at the rampaging Yoshirō. The bullet was true to its mark but without even looking up from the subordinate he was mauling, Yoshirō swatted the shots the Allesandri capo had fired out of the sky with the tail-like tendrils growing out of the cracks in his armor.

“Damn,” Marquis said, reloading and switching to Mr. Wang’s special armor-piercing bullets.

He looked outside the window. The sky was blotted with an ash cloud that took up his entire field of view, and it was coming this way. But he hadn’t seen or felt any earthquakes or bright flashes of hot light in the last couple minutes. Was the battle drawing to a close out there? There was no way to tell if they were safe, at least not until the ever-increasing sinkhole outside decided to catch up to them and swallow the train tracks too.

Damn… I told her to be subtle and keep to the forest, what the hell is going on out there? At this rate this shit’s going to make the world news, nevermind the national or the international! This was not part of the plan!

Sensing an opportunity, Kichirō lunged and tried to grab the Marquis’ gun hand.

“What the hell?!”

Kicking him and shaking him off with all his strength, the Marquis wrestled the ex-Yamada group representative to the floor and pointed the barrel of the enormous gun at his face.

“Okay Kichirō, start talking,” Marquis said. “That oni’s a lot stronger than you let on. And your brother… he’s possessed, isn’t he?”

Kichirō frowned. “… Yes.”

“By what? Where the hell did you three come from?”

“Does it matter?” Kichirō said, laughing. “It will be the death of both of us. A fitting end for one such as myself, to meet with his sins and in the end be slain by his own twisted creation. I only wish I didn’t have to spend these last few moments with you.”

The Marquis grabbed Kichirō by the lapels and lifted him up.

“Listen pal, I don’t have the patience for any more of your self-deprecating martyr complex bullshit. Always going on about how terrible you are and how you deserve whatever it is that’s coming to you. That’s your bullshit, not mine. You may like playing the sad tragic hero, but I don’t, so don’t drag me into it. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of dying here. So what is that thing?”

He heard a crashing sound in the background and saw Sostene wrestling Yoshirō to the ground in a blind rage, Yoshirō’s talons digging deep into his sides as Sostene slammed him through a marble table, powderizing it, before he was whipped aside by tendrils that had burrowed deep into his ribs.

Both men stopped to look. The berserker Sostene got back up immediately, seemingly blind to all pain, and rushed back into the fray. The sound of dull impacts and clawed fingernails scraping against impenetrable metal screeched in their ears as Sostene destroyed himself in his attempts to inflict any damage he could to Yoshirō, no matter what the price.

The Marquis frowned indecisively like he was swallowing something bittersweet. Sostene normally didn’t act like this. Fighting like an animal with no regard for pain wasn’t his style. Even that which is immortal is not indestructible. Like this, he might be able to match Yoshirō, if only barely, but how long could it last, and could he survive the attempt? This could buy him a lot of time, but it could also cost him one of his best men.

Kichirō wheezed, clearly becoming more and more unhinged. “Alright. You want to know then, Marquis? Fine. I see no harm in telling you a story before we die. After all, it’s not like either of us will be getting a chance to repeat it. Without Ren or your demigod here to subdue him, Yoshirō has become unstoppable. Tell me Marquis, have you heard the story of Tamamo-no-mae?”

“I’m familiar with it,” Marquis said through gritted teeth. “A shapeshifting fox spirit posing as a courtesan gets outed by the court’s onmyoji for trying to poison the emperor to death on behalf of an evil daimyo, and is hunted down by two legendary warriors and all the emperor’s best men. The night before the battle, the fox spirit appears in the warriors’ dreams to beg them for its life but is killed anyway. They say her angry spirit attached itself to a nearby stone and poisoned the land so thoroughly that nothing would grow, causing anyone who touched the stone to immediately die. What of it?”

Kichirō smirked.

“No… no you didn’t.”

“We did. Or at least we tried.”

“But I thought the stone was purified by the priest Genno in the 19th century!”

“It was. What we dragged up from that stone was not the spirit of Tamamo-no-mae.”

“Then what was it?”

“Have you ever met a fox spirit, Marquis? I have. They’re quite powerful. The more tails they have, the older they are and the stronger they’ve become, with the maximum number of tails a fox can have being nine. Tamamo-no-mae was one such nine-tailed fox. Their power is said to be great enough to cripple entire regions and bring a blight to the land with a single curse. This fox in particular was said to be capable of taking on many different forms, and could make the very forces of nature itself bow to her every whim. What do you think it would take to subdue such a beast? A squadron? A division? What about a platoon or a regiment?”

The Marquis’ eyes widened. Kichirō smiled wickedly.

“Yes, it would truly take an entire army just to kill something like that, and that’s what the emperor sent. Eighty thousand sacrificial pieces to distract the beast and create a big enough hole in the fox’s defenses for the two true heroes to step in and slay it. Those two brave warriors survived. The rest all died, no doubt terrified and cursing their fate, their hearts filled with hatred for the fox and the emperor who sent them to die. Now, what is it that makes the ideal conditions for poltergeists again?”

“So the things that Yoshirō is possessed by-“

“Correct! They are the psychic imprints of those dead soldiers given form as poltergeists, fused into one massive concentration of twisted malfeasance and hatred. A super-ghost made up of the dying thoughts and emotions of eighty thousand terrified, angry men. Once they were kept subdued within the stone, kept in check by the presence of the fox. But with the fox removed, they were free to well up from within the stone like a pus, waiting to inflict an even worse fate on the next fool who dared touch the stone. They call themselves ‘the children of the fox’,” Kichirō said, sounding almost sickly satisfied. “That is the curse I have foisted on my brother. That is why his body is rotting from the inside out, and why we need the philosopher’s stone to fix him. Do you understand?! I killed my brother a long time ago, and this was my last chance to bring him back to life! I was planning on saying something like ‘I’m not going to let you ruin this for me, Marquis’, but it seems we’ve both already done a fine job of that. There’s nothing we can do to stop it now.”

“Okay…” Marquis said, patiently. “How do we kill it?”

Kichirō frowned. “Like I’d let you. And besides, weren’t you listening to anything I said? Yoshi is host to over eighty thousand angry poltergeists. We’d need someone as powerful as Ren or your demigod to subdue him.”

“Okay, I can do that.”

Sostene crashed into the bar missing his bottom half. His top half toppled over behind the bar, and two terrified yelps could be heard. The possessed Yoshirō held the legs aloft and roared like he was Tarzan beating his chest.

“Okay, I might be able to do that.”

“It doesn’t matter if you can or can’t. Did you forget? There’s no way to exorcise those spirits without killing him. That is something I refuse to do. Even weakening them would take at least eight experienced exorcists working in unison to apply exorcism rites and holy sacraments.”

“What kind?”

“It… Doesn’t matter, I suppose. But where would you even get that kind of manpower on such a short notice-“

The door to the compartment burst open. White-clad banditos with rosaries burst open.

“Everybody freeze! You’re all under suspicion of harboring the undead and one of the ones possessed by them. The verdict is guilty! The sentence is death!”

They all raised their machine guns and swords.

“The jury is adjourned. The convicted may step forward.”

“Well isn’t that just convenient,” the Marquis said. “Looks like we don’t have to worry about where to find the men anymore, huh Kichirō?”

“Wha-“

A hand jutted out of the wrecked suits of armor the Marquis had shot to pieces earlier. Steaming and in pieces, it slowly wrenched itself back together in a regenerative process all too different from vampires. Old flesh was replaced by the new flesh that knit itself around it, expelling it. The newly restored digits grasped for the edges of the hole in the armor, and once they had found it, they began to pull, slowly separating the invincible metal apart with great difficulty. Finally, a head poked its way out, panting and gasping for breath.

“Oh fuck this!” Purnima Avninder swore as she squeezed herself through the hole, neverminding the sharp edges. “Etsy! Get your sorry ass out o’ there!”

There was a meek whimpering from within the scorched shell.

“Get out o’ there before I drag your sorry ass out!” the British-Indian woman yelled, ripping apart the armor. Grabbing Etsy Jones by the wrist, she yanked him out tail-first and dropped him on the ground. He tried to crawl away but Purnima stomped on his shaggy, foul-smelling burnt tail.

“Get up you useless bastard! It’s our turn to fight. First the Marquis, then that fucking armored piece o’ shit over there!”

The Marquis stuck his head out. “For all our sakes, may I suggest the other way around?”

“First the Marquis, then that armored piece o’ shit over there!” she repeated.

With a sigh, the hulking shape of Figaro stretched itself out from behind the bar, donning a hockey mask.

“Come on Leo buddy-boy, it’s our turn to fight too. We ain’t getting out of here if we don’t.”

“What?!” the cowering doppelgänger said as he was picked up by the scruff by the chainsaw-wielding maniac. “Didn’t you hear the boss, Figaro?! Our job is to observe! O-b-s-e-r-v-e!”

“Can’t do that if we’re dead, can we?” Figaro said, chucking the doppelgänger at Yoshirō. Slowly, they all closed in, backing up the berserker Sostene.

“S-Sir!” one of the undercover Vitali hitmen said. “We’ve got four more, sir! Two lycans and a doppelgänger. Fourth is unknown, sir!”

“Damn. These subhuman freaks just keep crawling out of the woodwork! Everyone, get ready to fire!”

The white-clad men all leveled their guns at Yoshirō and the crowd surrounding him, preparing their chants and incantations, rosaries aglow.

“See?” the Marquis said to a stunned Kichirō. “We got this under control. Kinda, at least.”

Kichirō grit his teeth. “No…”

“What?”

“I won’t let you kill him…” Kichirō said with ragged, gasping breath. “I won’t let you kill him… That’s my little brother!!

Kichirō ripped a small cloth bag off the string hung around his neck and emptied the contents on the floor at his feet. Dozens of tiny bones spilled out onto the floor.

“Come to me…” he whispered.

Miles behind them, the roof of the train station exploded outwards. At the same time, Yoshirō roared, his voice carrying across the state and into the sky. Seconds later, something large and heavy knocked against the side of the car, grabbing hold of it in bony, death-like hands. The vacant eyes of a giant skeleton peered into the car through the hole in the roof.

“Gashadokuro…” Kichirō rasped, smiling.

Now…

“That,” she said, pointing to the monstrous giant skeleton clinging to the outside of the train. “That is why we should not be outside the train.”

A thunderous roar brought their attention to the skies. High above them, the clouds of ash that had so quickly covered the entire state were beginning to broil and roll themselves into giant elongated spears that pushed themselves out of the greater cloud bed, as if the sky itself was giving birth. Thunder and lightning crackled across the tips of the mile-wide spearheads, creating enormous atmospheric weapons truly befit of the most thunderous of gods. Quickly, and with great speed, they began their descent, ready to cover the land in plasmatic fire and brimstone.

Alfonso balked. Theo stared above, remaining calm and analytical. She turned to her newfound master and pointed at the clouds.
“Also that. That is another good reason not to be outside, I suppose.”

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