See Chapter Nine for Disclaimer There are beings of magic in this world other than the Slayer. Humans, basically, but with powers that go beyond the magician's ability to merely cast spells. For these, the supernatural is their birthright, part of them, bone and blood. Some use their inborn abilities for good, but far too often they can be found working to further evil causes.
Frequently these individuals are far deadlier than any vampire or demon the Slayer will face.
'The Slayer's Handbook'
Taryuu tugged idly at the sleeve of his suit jacket, listening to the voices that floated to him from nearby.
"-We can't fight them, it would be suicide!"
That was spoken by a reedy voice, quivering on the brink of panic. It was answered by another, this one rough with righteous anger.
"If we don't fight them, then we might as well be dead already."
"Easy for you to say! I've got a family; I have to take care of them!" Reedy-voice replied. It was easy to imagine the two men facing one another, bodies full of barely-restrained violence. Americans were just as uncivilized as he'd heard back in Japan.
"Do you want them to live in a place run by those bastards? If you're a coward then just say so, don't hide behind-" The righteous one, still trying to convince his reluctant friend, and incidentally, any others in the group who might be having second thoughts about joining this nascent group of 'heroes'. One of those doubters chimed in now.
"Hey, don't talk like that about him. Not all of us are as ready to charge in, guns blazing, as you are. That doesn't mean we're-"
"The hell it doesn't!" That one seemed to be the most firmly committed to their cause, Taryuu thought. He might well make the best example for the others. "This might not be a great place to live, but at least it belongs to us! Or at least it did, before they showed up. Now nobody does anything without their permission, and it's only going to get worse. We have to organize, now! If we wait much longer, they're going to have this whole city in their pocket, and then it'll be too late!"
Taryuu continued to listen with interest to the argument taking place a short distance away. The troublemakers gathered here numbered around thirty, and there were nearly as many differing opinions among them about what to do. It seemed that he and his master had overestimated the threat posed by these westerners. For the most part they seemed to be nothing more than rebellious youths, posturing and shouting, but unlikely to ever make good on their threats. Certainly there was no consensus here, nor even a real leader, though the fiery one with the rough voice seemed to aspire to that position.
"What about that girl, the one hanging with Alex?" Another young man, more thoughtful-sounding than the others. "You said she was willing to take them on. If I saw her do some real damage, then maybe I'd be willing to go along with you. But there's no way I'm going to take a chance on being hung out to dry if nobody else is willing to go the distance with me."
Taryuu nodded. That was the real danger; that someone would inspire these young people, that another's success would goad them into action. It could happen, unless they were dealt with harshly. Which was exactly why he and his soldiers were here.
"She is taking them on!" This was a much younger voice than any that had spoken so far; it sounded to be little more than a boy. "She's already fought them twice; she even fought Itai, and she beat him!"
"Then where is she? You said she would be here, but I don't see her anywhere, kid."
Enough. It had been a simple matter to dispose of the sentries the rabble had posted at the entrances of the abandoned lumberyard. The least of Dai's abilities had been sufficient for that task. Now she would unleash the full extent of her powers. Taryuu glanced to the side, where she stood waiting. Her body language seemed relaxed, though a hint of eagerness showed in her expression as she awaited his command. Amusement lurked there too; prey such as this was almost a waste of her talents. With a nod and a short gesture, he sent her forward.
The troublemakers had gathered in an open area set in the midst of a large, weed-choked lot. Tall piles of decaying lumber were scattered about, and a rusty fence surrounded the perimeter. It would have made for a safe, secluded meeting place, had not one of the young men's acquaintances sold the information to Taryuu's operatives. Now it would serve quite well as a killing ground. He had two dozen of his soldiers ringing the area, but they were there mainly to stop anyone from escaping. As for himself, he stepped just far enough around the stack of weathered lumber to take in the scene as it unfolded. When the killing began, he would take shelter behind it again. He was more of an administrator than a gunman, these days, and this task required a specialist; Dai had talents even the most skilled killer lacked. He watched now with interest as she went about her task.
The expressions on their faces were certainly interesting. Here they were, discussing their as yet somewhat nebulous course of action against the 'foreign invaders', and the next moment an attractive young Japanese woman suddenly strolls into view. He had to admit, Dai certainly didn't look very dangerous. She was small, barely five feet tall, and quite slender. Her large eyes were dark green; her long, straight hair fell to her waist like a fall of black silk. She wore silk too, a close-fitting jumpsuit that was mostly black, but with small stylized designs of ocean waves picked out in metallic green thread. The sash that wrapped around her slender waist supported several pouches, as well as the tools of her trade.
So stunned were the Americans, so unexpected this interruption, that she was actually able to walk into their very midst before any of them were able to recover and speak.
"Hey!" One of several who had been facing each other now faced the interloper. Those four were the ones who had been arguing amongst themselves. The leaders of this group, such as they were. "Uh, how did you get in here?"
Taryuu, watching from the edge of the open space could only shake his head in disgust. These were the threat that had so worried him? They had not even made the obvious connection between the Japanese female appearing at their 'secret meeting' and the fact that their enemies were also Japanese. These boys were too stupid to live. No matter; minor thought it had been, the threat was about to be permanently ended. Stopping in the center of the group, the young woman swept her cool gaze across the four who had been speaking. With a movement whose grace belied its speed, she drew a matching pair of handguns from her sash. They were small weapons, their dark metal gleaming with intricate patterns of emerald inlay. She could have killed them then and there, before anyone could react, but she had been ordered to make this a lesson. So she paused, both weapons held upright, watching as everyone flinched back a step. Several of the individuals around the circle drew guns of their own, though her lack of any further action seemed to confuse them. They hesitated, watching uneasily as she brought one of her weapons to rest, the barrel pointing upwards, against her forehead. The man she was staring at, the one who had spoken, was doubtless seeing those cold green eyes gazing at him past the dark metal of the weapon.
It was the last thing he would ever see. Even in the late-afternoon sunlight, the nimbus of blue-green energy that grew around the handgun was plainly visible. The Americans stared, awestruck, as she slowly lowered the weapon until it was pointed directly at her target. A long moment passed and everyone stood frozen, watching, unable to understand what was happening. The man looked up from the mouth of the barrel and into her eyes once more. His lips began to shape a question, or perhaps a plea, but Dai spoke first; a single, whispered word. "Taihou"
Which in Japanese meant 'cannon'.
She pulled the trigger, and it wasn't merely a bullet that crossed the distance between her and her target. A sphere of blazing, blue-green light the size of a soccer ball smashed into the man; into him, and through him, without slowing. A huge gout of blood and gore splashed the young men standing behind him, and her victim's body was hurled twenty feet back, landing limply and sliding along the ground for another ten. The enormous hole through his chest was plainly visible, as were bits and pieces of his various organs, which steamed fiercely even in the warm air. The man was quite thoroughly dead. Dai looked from one man to the next, a faint smile tugging at her lips. In her soft, heavily accented voice she spoke again.
The stasis that had gripped the gathering shattered, and suddenly the clearing was a frenzy of activity. Several of the young men turned and fled. Dai calmly shot each of them once through the knee, and their anguished screams filled the air as they fell and began to writhe upon the ground. Others, finally shocked into using their own guns against a woman, began firing frantically. Impossibly, she stood there, untouched, even though some of the men were firing from less than fifteen feet away. Bullets whined past her as she turned in place, methodically cutting down anyone who attempted to flee. One of the rabble, a blonde-haired young man with wide, panicked eyes, managed to dive behind a low pile of weathered wooden posts. Ignoring the hail of bullets that continued to buzz angrily past her, Dai raised one of her guns. Shimmering force, a searingly intense scarlet this time, gathered around the weapon. Taryuu, still unnoticed by any in the confusion, watched with appreciation. Few were privileged with witnessing sights such as this; few who survived to recall the experience, at any rate. The term for Dai, and those rare individuals like her was Gan Youjutsusha;
Gun Sorcerer, or Sorceress, in this case. Besides a natural talent for shooting, her magic made her virtually unstoppable in combat. Bullets would not strike her, and she was able to enhance her own firearm attacks in several ways. Like she was doing now, for instance. Taking aim at the woodpile that sheltered her target, she spoke softly, almost lovingly. "Gouka."
A bolt of ruby light leapt forth as the gun fired, and when it touched the lumber there was a fiery explosion. Bits of flaming debris rained down for a hundred feet all around, and the scorched form of the young man came to rest in a tall stand of weeds.
Two of the Americans had used that distraction to flee, and they ran right past Taryuu. Raising his own handgun, he shot them both in the back. They sprawled headlong, and he moved closer before firing twice more into each of the bodies. A prudent man took no chances with a fallen foe. From the clearing behind him, the sounds of battle, if the massacre could be said to be a battle, were quickly fading as the Americans were dealt with. "Tsukinuku."
A flash of deep amber flickered across his peripheral vision, and he turned to see two young men fall, the bolt having passed through one to strike the other. With a series of movements so swift as to seem magical in themselves, the woman ejected the spent ammunition clips and inserted fresh ones taken from the pouch at her waist. One of the troublemakers, seeing the futility of guns, and the impossibility of fleeing, drew a knife and charged. He was only a few paces from her; he would cross the distance in just heartbeats. Lacking time to gather her magic, the woman settled for simply shooting him, once in each knee to halt his advance, once in each wrist, to make him drop his weapon, then twice in the heart, to end his life.
Taryuu smiled wryly as he observed. Dai did not take threats upon her person lightly, and would doubly punish anyone who put her in real peril. Nearly all of the Americans were on the ground, now. Those few who had failed to either fight or to flee were now attempting to surrender. They would be dealt with in a few moments, but for now they were of no concern. Taryuu stepped into the clearing, raising his arm to wave his men forward from their outer positions. It would be offensive to Dai to have her finish the cowards and the injured.
A scream drew his attention, and he saw a boy, younger than the rest, suddenly run three steps forward and hurl a narrow, nail-studded plank like a spear. It struck the sorceress even as she turned, striking her in the side and tearing the immaculate silk of her clothing. She dropped one gun, pressing her hand there as she stared in wide-eyed disbelief at the boy. When she pulled the hand away, Taryuu could see blood there. The wound looked to be minor; the mages would doubtless be able to heal it within minutes of their return to the Citadel. Dai apparently did not see things in that light. Her lips quivering with rage, she raised the weapon she still held in her other hand. Blue-green light crackled in a wild aura around both her hand and the gun. Seeing the boy frozen in horror, Taryuu turned away. "Taihou!"
A flash threw his shadow against the weeds in front of him, and he heard a wet splash, then the thud of something striking the ground. "Taihou! Taihou! Kaji!"
The last was fire, and he turned slowly, to see the scattered pieces of the body burst into greasy flame. More than one of the men who had surrendered were on their knees, vomiting helplessly. Dai stared furiously at the remains, but there was not enough left of the boy to strike again. She retrieved her dropped weapon from the ground, and then stalked away. Taryuu sighed, and then began to give instructions to his men, carefully not looking at the smoldering scraps of flesh that until moments before had been a foolish boy. Foolish he had been, yet still braver than any of the others, managing to at least injure his foe. In the end, though, courage counted for little. That was the way of this world.
The Gan Youjutsusha's
wound was unfortunate. In all likelihood she would have been too weary from her exertions here to be sent along with the soldiers who were tasked with dealing with the spirit warrior, but he had hoped to send her along. Her absence would make it a strictly mundane attack, with a correspondingly diminished chance of success.
He shook his head, forcing himself to push his doubts aside lest they cripple him with hesitation. The trap he had planned was simple, but that very simplicity should allow it to succeed. He returned his thoughts to the here and now, watching as a pair of his men returned from the vehicle where their tools had been left during the slaughter. Setting the black plastic cases on a convenient stack of cargo pallets, they opened them and withdrew the bulky implements from within.
As Taryuu watched, he considered again the advantages that modern technology had brought to those in his profession. In olden times, a favored means of torture had been the insertion of heated wires through the flesh of a victim. The wires, slender, yet rigid enough for their sharpened ends to pierce human tissue, were passed through the arms and legs of the subject. Sometimes other body parts received similar attention, but in his mind that was a bit excessive. If sufficient care was taken with their placement, bleeding from the wounds was minor, and the victim remained fully conscious and able to appreciate the agony and horror of their torment.
Of course, such a procedure might well take hours to complete, and one drawback of the modern world was that time seemed always to be in short supply. Which brought him back to the present. A variation on the classic theme, updated to utilize modern tools, would show the doubters that the Thousand Year Storm did not take threats of rebellion lightly. The survivors would be left alive, and able to describe the slaughter of their cohorts, but they themselves would be an equally powerful symbol of their cause's futility.
The two men had finished preparing their implements. Each held a bright yellow device that resembled a bulky power drill. That was not what they were, though they were construction tools. They approached the prisoners, who were now forced to lie facedown on the ground. Three soldiers held each of them in place, though none of them were struggling. That would doubtless change very soon.
The first man knelt next to one of the young men, and an assistant positioned a short length of lumber under the prisoner's forearm. The wood was roughly as long as his arm, from fingertips to elbow, and around two inches thick. The American, the side of his face still pressed firmly into the dirt, watched fearfully as the device was pressed against his forearm, opposite the length of lumber.
"W-What're you doin? Hey man, I was just here because my brother wanted me to come, I never did jack to any of you-"
Having adjusted the placement of the implement with finicky precision, the Japanese man pulled the trigger.--BAMP-
A cross between a muffled gunshot and a piece of iron being slammed into concrete, the sound echoed briefly around the old lumberyard, followed closely by the prisoner's disbelieving scream.
* * * * *
The sounds came with dreadful steadiness, hammering through the shrill chorus of hoarse screams. In the tall stand of weeds where he had been thrown after the Japanese witch had nearly blown him to bits, the man lay with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. He wished with all his heart that he could somehow close his ears, too, but he dared not move. The burns were really beginning to hurt, but he bore the pain as best he could. No matter how bad he had it, his friends were suffering far worse.
He would have to wait until the bastards left, then he could try and make it to where he'd left his car. What he would do after that, he just didn't know.
* * * * *