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No Gods and No Masters

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AN: Second Yu Yu Hakusho crossover that I'm starting, going to be more serious then the other one. Yusuke and Kurama are in their mid-20s in this story. Enjoy.

Dirt in my face, hands feel scraped. It got in my mouth, a heavy wind blew by, eh nasty, like a plastic bag flying into your face at a bus stop. I spit it out and look around…what…the…fuck…

What the fuck happened to Japan…oh Jesus fucking Christ…all I remember was that dimension sphere thing, that Kuwabara once fell into, twice, I remember that demon outside Saitama spin it out. I remember…yeah, I fell into it…and…

"KURAMA!" I yell out. Please for fucks sake, man, please be nearby or something. I don't want to trek through miles of this…did someone nuke Saitama?! I'm standing next to a burnt out tire, half submerged in a gray, dirty puddle. I look around, rocks with dead weeds growing around them. Shit, I'm on some bombed out highway, the ramp up ahead knocked into rubble, this weird convertible wreck lying below a tall-ass shattered overpass. I turn around and my fucking God…rows upon rows of hollowed out buildings, like something from the Fist of the North Star cartoons. Whole planet looks like it died and is decomposing. Not even fucking Chernobyl or Baghdad could look like this.

"KURAMA!" I yell. Damnit fox boy! "Kurama! Say something!" "Yusuke!" I hear in the distance…there, some water tower. I climb over some rusted steel railing, take a glance at a traffic sign. Hm…it's in English, worn out but readable…'SPEED LIMIT 50'. 50 KPH? This doesn't look like any highways I know of in Japan, unless Shintaro Ishihara really pulled a dick move while we were floating through that sphere.

"Yusuke!" I hear again. I pull up my blue jeans, adjust my black leather belt, and tug on my grey boat shoes. I roll back the sleeves on my white leisure shirt and I start jogging to that water tower. I walk around some dead trees, like Chernobyl dead. Going around the pile of boulders…up a hill, down a hill…and there he is. Kurama, dressed in his brown slacks, black loafers, and red and white checkered collared shirt, got his right foot tangled on the barbed wire of the fence around the water tower. Fox boy's hanging upside down like a piñata.

I jump down and ask "Tried to jump from the top?" Kurama fidgets and says "I wouldn't begrudge some help right now. And to answer your question, no. I came to my senses in this position." Alrighty, fence ain't too tall, careful not to gouge the skin…there we go. He falls onto his knees and elbows, and then gets back up, saying "Thank you." No problem man, now here's the money question.

"Where the fuck are we?" I ask. Kurama frowns and says "If that dimension sphere is similar to Suzuki's, then I cannot answer with any degree of certainty. I recall him mentioning, all those years ago in the Dark Tournament, that the dimension sphere could quite literally transport us across, well, dimensions. Time and space stands irrelevant to the maneuver." "So we ended up in Kenshiro's playground? What the fuck man?" Kurama smirks and says "Perhaps." He then frowns as he realizes how fucking screwed we are if that's the case. I kinda like having certain luxuries like electricity and cable and oh I don't know CLEAN FUCKING WATER!

I put my hands behind my head and stretch back…place is kinda hot. Like Yokohama in the summer, a wet, humid heat. Sky looks weird…like it's…greenish or some shit. Pale and greenish.

Kurama suddenly asks "Can you fire your spirit gun?" Eh? "Why?" Kurama says "Just try it." He got this worried look on his face. Alright…I point at the fucked up half collapsed overpass and say "By popular request."

"I said…by popular request."

My Ki's gone, man. It's…gone. Like, just enough to breathe and move around, but…oh we got problems.

I turn to Kurama and ask "Rose whip not working either? Seeds too?" He says "If they were, I would not have required help removing my foot from the barbed wire." "So, we are living in some fallout crater with no demon energy, no spirit energy, no fucking nothing." "That seems about right," Kurama blankly says.

Oh we got some problems, man.

We start walking around the fence, toward the burnt out remains of some neighborhood. Like some wildfire came through and gutted the houses from the inside out, charring the exterior walls. "This is most concerning," Kurama says. "Water is also wet. Got any other breaking news?" I snarl.

"HALT! FRIENDLY!" I hear someone behind us yell and woah man! I raise my hands as Kurama takes a step back from the four eyed guy in some blue pajamas, aiming a weird looking pistol at us. Something tells me I shouldn't believe him, might be the fucking gun he's pointing at us with. Yeah, might be that. I yell "Easy man! We're just tourists!" Guy puts his gun into some side holster and walks toward us. He's got tinted eyeglasses and high cheekbones. A long, pointy Antonio Inoki chin and a crooked nose. Long black hair cut just above his shoulders and chin stubble. Guy looks Asian but not East Asian, kinda like a Kazakh or one of those mixed race guys from Russia. Kinda short, like a few inches taller than Hiei.

He flinches and turns around, drawing his gun again. His blue jumpsuit got the numbers '101' sewed in yellow dye on the back. The guy turns around, holsters his gun once again, and asks "Who are you two?" He got an American accent, like the kind you hear from news anchors in the Hollywood movies. Like almost a country twang but the same time, not quite there yet. Voice is kinda deep, frantic. Pissed off. Something along those lines.

I say "Yusuke Urameshi." Kurama takes a step forward and says "Shuichi Minamino." Jumpsuit guy says "Walter Joseph Karamazov." "What's with the pajamas, Walt?" I ask. Walter suddenly remembers to breathe, exhales, and then says "I…it is a very long story." Kurama speaks out "We would we satisfied with just the highlights."

Walter puts his hands on his knees, leans a bit, and then anxiously nods. He says "Alright, the highlights...I live…lived…no longer live…in Vault 101. A closed community…we were raised with the belief that the outside world died in the nuclear holocaust of 2077."

Wait what?


What the fuck?!

"Hold on…did you just fucking say 2077?" He gives us a look and says "Yes, I thought it was common knowledge outside the vault, seems the Great War created more regression in collective knowledge then Edwin Brotch believed. No offense." "What are you talking about?" I ask. Mr. 101 is talking in tongues here.

He looks at us, gives us a raised eyebrow, and then asks "What year do you think this is?" I say "2006, right? Well, originally. So what, it's 2077 now?" "2277, two hundred years after the Great War," Walter says. I turn to Kurama and his facial expression says it all. It's as if a stray nuke flew through the dimension sphere we rode on and just smacked us in the heads.

Kurama asks "Who caused the Great War? What triggered it?" Walter says "From our limited history books, biased and edited likely, Communist China triggered it by invading Alaska for the American oil reserves. America sent troops through the newly annexed State of Canada to push China out, and then sent forces into the Chinese Mainland. Then, according to Mr. Brotch and our books, the Chinese launched their nuclear missiles. America retaliated with their own arsenal. Though at this point, looking back at our dictatorial vault leader, I wouldn't put it past him to edit the books themselves, possible nationalistic slant. A theory, unable to investigate now, though. There was a cult of personality in Vault 101, that bastard Alphonse Almodovar."

"Who's he?" I ask, moving toward a rock to sit on. Walter and Kurama follow my lead and sit next to me. Walter sighs and says "The Overseer, whom until an hour or so ago, was our God. My…father escaped the vault, somehow, I didn't even know that it was possible. His assistant, his friend, my friend…Jonas Palmer, they beat him to death…I had to kill my way through the security…most of them being the parents of the people I grew up with…John Kendall, Stevie Mack, Paul Hannon Sr., Orson Park, Paddy O'Brien…damn it…"

"Why the fuck would this Alphonse guy care that your daddy ran off?" I ask. Walter looks up and says "Violation of Vault 101 law, punishable by death, though the real reason remains a mystery. Power trip perhaps? Amata helped me escape…his daughter, that bastard was going to have Stevie shoot her…" Kurama asks "His daughter, did I hear you correctly?" Walter nods and says "And my closest childhood friend. She…sealed the doors behind me. As far as they are considered, I am a ghost. I only wish that the bastard isn't hurting Amata now…dad…he's gone. I'm trying to find him. Try to…make sense of this, Jonas' death, the riot…"

Kurama says "We are trying to find…well…we…" I see him tripping on his words, not often do I see fox boy tongue-tied. Walter asks "Where you two from? A vault like me?" Kurama suddenly says "Yes. Yes! We are from an island far away, born and raised in a vault, though not sure if it matches the one you lived in. Apparently one with false records and history books." Oh, okay I get it. Don't want to make this guy's head explode by going into dimensional demon physics. Might give him a reason to shoot us, just to spare the headache.

Walter says "Interesting. Well, I downloaded some data from Alphonse's computer before I escaped. Also looted what I could take." I suddenly notice that he has a sack tied around his waist. Walter unties the sack and opens it…a bunch of crap…nice! There we go! Some pistols, riot police armor, helmets. "Can you bum us the pistols? We're on your side here," I say, hoping the guy doesn't freak out. He gives us a look and says "If we run into trouble, I will give you a pistol. For now, just take these lead pipes, should do fine against any radroaches." Kurama nod and says "Fare enough, thank you." We each grab a lead pipe, rusty looking, one of them got this greenish blood on it. I ask "Radroach? What's that?" Walter smiles and says "Cockroaches the size of computer monitors. Some of the files also mentioned giant ants." Great, just great, we stumbled into a nuclear freak show.

Walter rubs his chin hairs and says "Over to the southeast, there is this city called Megaton. At least, according to the files I downloaded onto my Pip-boy." "Pip-boy?" Kurama asks. Walter nods and says "I take it that your vault did not have any. It is a helpful interface that stores files downloaded from computers, displays vitals, time, serves as a flashlight, and contains a rough map of the area. Very useful for surveying, I'd imagine." Pip-boy…who names this crap?

"So what's this place?" I ask. Walter shakes his head and says "This neighborhood of burnt out homes? Not a fathomable clue. Perhaps we could find out in Megaton. Follow me, and keep close. I want to pick through a few of these burnt out homes for anything useful." Alright, probably a good idea. I look at Kurama and he gives me a nod.

"You got it, Walter," I say. Walter ties the sack up and pulls it around his back, and then asks "If I may, what island were you referring to?" Kurama says "Japan. Where are we? Not the specific location I mean. I am asking for the general area. Russia? America? Canada?" Walter 'hms' and asks "You do not know how you got here?" Kurama nervously says "Er, not quite. We were on a ship at one point, and then suddenly, we found ourselves here. We were unconscious." Walter says "So sea travel still exists and we are near water…good to know. Very good to know." Here's hoping that is the case, for more reasons than one. Walter looks up at the sky and says "We are in what's left of Northern Virginia. In the east, there used to be Washington D.C. I have no idea what's there now, likely a giant graveyard." So we are in America. Virginia. Post-apocalyptic Virginia. 271 years into the future. Suddenly, I really want that pistol in that sack.

We approach the first house on the right, a mailbox in front. Kurama pulls it down and says "I found a packet of cigarettes." Who stuffs freaking cigs into a mailbox? Walter says "Hold onto it, might be useful. I'm not sure what passes for currency here. Who knows, maybe it's the cigarettes themselves."

I climb through a burnt out window and step over a bathtub. And there it is, the first skeleton. "Poor bastard must have been burned to a crisp from the nuclear flash. Ain't a single thread left on him," I say. Kurama enters the rubble and says "Or it may be due to the corpse decaying for two hundred years." Yeah, yeah, very funny.

I turn and walk toward a fridge, maybe Indiana Jones is hiding inside. Opening…hm, some Spam, potato chips, microwavable Salisbury steak. I yell "Found food here, probably irradiated though." Walter yells "I doubt we have the opportunity to be picky. Take what you can carry." I nod and say "Alright…we need some kind of cloth or something to carry this crap around."

Kurama walks over to a broken down cabinet and lifts the rotting cabinet door open. He says "I found some clothing, dirty but surprisingly intact. One second." He unfurls a beige shirt and starts tying up the sleeves. I grab the food from the fridge and walk up to Kurama, dropping the loot onto the shirt. Kurama throws his newly found pack of cigarettes in and yells "Found anything, Walter?!" Walter, in the burnt up house across the street, yells "Just some empty whiskey bottles! Tin cans, garbage!"

Whole place looks like one giant dump, ain't all that surprising to me. Kurama ties up the makeshift sack and carries it with his left hand, lead pipe in his right. No sign of any roaches or ants yet…why is Walter waving at us like his ass is on fire? Guy suddenly goes prone on the burnt wooden floor.

We run up to him and hear him whisper "Get down now…!" "Why?" Kurama asks. I look to the left and past the half missing wall, squint my eyes, and then immediately shove Kurama to the ground with me. Walter whispers "You saw them?" I crawl to the edge of the wall. Gripping my lead pipe, I look up and through a square hole. Three of them, looking like they just came from a tanning salon or a Fist of the North Star episode. I say "Three, one girl in pigtails, one guy with a spiked Mohawk, the other bald. They're packing some kind of rifles." Kurama sighs and motions at Walter's sack. Walter nods and says "Here, quietly. Let's not attract a swarm."

He quietly unties the sack as someone yells "Who the fuck's out there?!" Guy's voice is raspier then a crackhead's. "They don't sound friendly," Walter says. "No, they don't," I say, running out of sarcastic things to reply to that nugget of fucking wisdom.

We trade our lead pipes for these weird pistols. Walter says "Both are full loaded, twelve 10mm rounds in each. Try not to miss, for I'm low on ammunition." I start breathing faster and say "Got it man, got it." Kurama stares at his pistol like it's in braille or something. "Ever shot from one of those things?" I ask Kurama. He frowns and crawls on his stomach, saying "From a crossbow. I'm not sure this is the same." "Same idea, point with the front," I say, hearing Kurama nervously laugh to himself. This is really happening.

Walter leans at the corner of what's left of the living room, lying on his right shoulder, looking up. Kurama and I are a few feet away, on our stomachs, our pistols resting on the floor, in our right hands. I hear the woman yell "Come out, we don't bite! Much!" A third guy yells "We got water, man. We're looking for someone to share with!" I hear something panting nearby, sounds like a dog. "We got a feral one, boys!" the woman yells. I hear the dog bark and snarl, and then *BANG* and a whimper, followed by two more gunshots.

The guy who spoke first, he yells "Told you it wasn't shit! No fucking wastelander's stupid enough to walk this close to Springvale." The other guy yells "Don't call me a fucking liar, Trevor, I heard some asshole speak." I hear the lady say "Must be all that jet you been smoking, Danny-boy. You want to hit caps, take down one of the caravans heading to Megaton. Only the dogs are retarded enough to walk around Declan's turf. Now go check the east side, we still need two more fuckers for the dig job." "Yeah, yeah," I hear Danny-boy say.

After a tense few minutes, Walter heaves a sigh and says "So they do exist. Raiders, the Overseer's files call them. We can't get to Megaton fast enough. Alright, if you were with those people, you would have shot me on sight. I will trust you two, for now, and only out of necessity. Do not betray my trust." "I appreciate the gesture," Kurama says, climbing to his knees, 10mm pistol in his right hand. He ties his mini sack around his waist and speaks "It's too dangerous to remain here." Walter nods and ties up his sack of toys, saying "No need to repeat yourself. Let's move fast before that patrol comes back."

The three of us get up, get out of the burnt out house, and turn left on what's left of the asphalt. We pass a small playground on the left, and a burnt out convertible on the right, followed by another burnt out house. We approach what's left of a gas station, this weird rocket on top of a platform.

"Red rocket," Kurama says, reading the label on top. To our left, more burnt out houses, plus an intact, single floor one on the near left, probably where those 'raiders' are shacking up. Walter points his pistol at a rusted sign. Sign has the phrase 'MEGATON' spray painted in yellow, with an arrow pointing to the right.

"At least this means we are going in the right direction," Kurama says, wiping sweat off his forehead. No kidding. I frown a bit and say "We're a little exposed here, guys. Let's save the sightseeing for the city." "Right," Walter says.

Tumble weed rolls down the asphalt as we sidestep another car wreck and go up the hill. Another spray painted sign points us to the right, and I think I see the walls of the city. A patchwork of car and plane parts, I'm guessing, I think I see a lookout on top. I hear footsteps, Kurama and Walter reacts to them too…a cow mooing? Eh?

We turn the corner of a large boulder and come face to face with a tall black guy clad in grey leather armor with brown shoulder pads, with black buzzcut hair, holding some knockoff IMI Galil Assault Rifle, a white guy with long black hair dressed in baggy camos and a survival vest, and a…two headed red cow with sacks all over its back. A two headed fucking cow. Like George Carlin said, we got the front row tickets to the freak show.

"FRIENDLY!" Walter yells again. Something tells me that's going to bite him in the ass one day. Black guy aims his rifle down its sights and says "Hands where I can see them. Here to trade? Holster the pistols and speak with Wolfgang." Deeper accent then Walter, kinda Southern-ish like Walt's. Kurama and Walt lower their pistols. White guy says in accent-less English "I think they won't be trouble, Peter." Guy turns to us and says "Welcome to Crazy Wolfgang's Emporium. I'm Crazy Wolfgang, and I provide nothing but the highest quality leftover crap that I scavenge on the road." I hear Walt say "Walter Joseph Karamazov. This man is Yusuke Urameshi, the other is Shuichi Minamino. We are looking for Megaton and a place to sell off our wares. Seems like we found both."

Wolfgang says "If you're looking for fission batteries, I got a couple from Moira Brown, the general goods merchant over there. Pressure cookers? Cherry bombs? You could build a couple of IEDs, take out some raiders." I say "We're here to sell. Got cash?" Wolfgang looks at us and asks "Cash? Pre-war cash? I got some but no one here uses that as currency. I got Nuka-Cola bottle caps, that's what we use here in the Capital Wasteland." Peter the bodyguard says "We should move back to the gates if we're going to do this. Declan's boys been getting bold lately, and we are way too close to Springvale." Kurama says "I second that."

So this is Megaton, one giant gated city made of junk. That lookout keeps staring us down with his rifle, gives me the creeps. I give him the finger and yell "Take a picture, it will last longer!" The guy laughs and yells "I can piss on you from here!" Dickhead. By the gates, some weird butt plug shaped robot beeps "Welcome…to…Megaton. Coldest whiskey…in the loitering…" Wolfgang unties a pouch hanging from the two headed cow, apparently called Brahmin here. I bet somewhere up in the sky, a Sikh is laughing his ass off. I hear the jingle and clang of bottle caps, so the people here actually use them for money. So he ain't trying to rip us off. If only I stole Kuwabara's dumbass collection before I fell through that demon's sphere with fox boy. Twenty-five years old and collecting fucking soda caps, what a dweeb. Here's hoping Kuwabara and shorty took care of the demon prick afterwards…shit…

There's got to be a way back, right? I mean, so what if we got no Ki here, my Spirit Detective watch will ring up Koenma, or Yama, or Botan, right? They exist here, right?

I look at my Spirit Detective watch, for the first time, with total fucking fear. C'mon Yusuke, this ain't something new…yeah…Kuwabara could cut through dimensions for fun, why can't fox boy and I pull it off?

I'm going to see them again, Keiko, Kuwabara, Hiei, Botan, Japan. I'm going to…I just gotta…relax man. Relax.

"Yoo-skay?" I hear Wolfgang say, like he's unsure if he's saying my name right. I say "Yeah?" I turn to Walter and see that his sack suddenly got a whole lot emptier. He now got a coin purse of some kind jingling with bottle caps, the purse tied around his yellow jumpsuit belt. Wolfgang asks "You got anything for me?" I turn to Kurama and motion at the small sack full of food and cigarettes. Kurama looks at me, and then at the sack, and then asks "Out of curiosity, how much for a box of microwavable steak?" Wolfgang says "I got none with me. If you're talking about selling, I'd give you three caps." "And a pack of cigarettes?" "Nine caps. Won't get better deals with Moira in Craterside Supply or with the Stahls at the Brass Lantern." I take it those are the businesses they got in Megaton.

I say "Kurama, let's keep the smokes and the food. Don't seem like stuff I'd go and sell in a post-nuclear wasteland." Wolfgang says "Your call. By the way, name is Yusuke, right?" I say "Yeah, pronounced like that." He extends his black mitt covered right hand. I shake it as he says "Wolfgang Haas." He extends his hand to Kurama and asks "Shuichi Minamino?" "Correct," Kurama says, shaking Wolfgang Haas' hand. He turns to Walter and says "I already remember you name." Walt and Wolfgang shake hands as Wolfgang says "If you ever get your hands on some serious salvage, wait for my caravan here. I make almost daily trips, and I will beat any price Moira would give. Just don't tell her that, or she would get sad and accidently set herself on fire or kiss a mole rat or something. Lady is a bit weird."

"Got it," Walter says. Peter just gives us a wary look as he, Wolfgang, and the two head cow head back down the ramp. The robot beeps out "Thirsty? Try…Moriarty's…saloon. Cold scotch...warm beds…moist Nova."

We knock on the gates, well Walt and I, Kurama got his hands full with a sack of food and cigs in one hand and a pistol in the other. After a pause, the massive gates creek open. This…is a city? Looks like one of those villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo that I saw in the Nat Geo magazines, houses made of car doors and tin roofs. Place looks completely made out of salvage. A black guy with a thick dark beard, a light brown cowboy trenchcoat, and a black cowboy hat with the rims folded up, walks up to us with a Type 56 Chinese Assault Rifle.

He says in a deep American John Wayne-style accent "Well I be damned. More newcomers, three of them." Walter blurts out "We're friendly, don't worry. Your lookout watched us trade with Wolfgang Haas, he can vouch for our civility." Cowboy guy eyes Walter and says "I'll ask Stockholm myself, see what he got to say about that. Name's Lucas Simms, town sheriff. And mayor, when the need arises. From what I see, I got a good feeling about you three, and I'm usually good with my feelings. So, welcome to Megaton. We got food down by the crater at the Brass Lantern, good place to kick your feet up and talk business. If you three need anything, just holler at me."

Pfft, this guy, what is this? High Noon? I let out a laugh and say in a fake Texas accent "Is that you...John Wayne? Is this me?" Lucas Simms turns to me and says "Oh, we got a joker here? Just remember, treat my people nice and fair, and you could make all the wisecracks you want. Steal or hurt anyone outside of self-defense, and it's a long way down from the top of the gate." Easy there, buddy. Kurama says "My apologies. My name is Shuichi Minamino, my friend here is Yusuke Urameshi. This other gentleman is Walter Joseph Karamazov. We are just here for temporary housing and a place to collect our bearings. Here." Kurama sticks his pistol in his belt…not exactly the smartest way to go about that. He extends his right hand as Simms adjust his rifle sling until his Type 56 hangs on his back. Simms shakes Kurama's hand and says "Friendly AND well-mannered. You, I like." Lucas turns to Walter and gives him a stare. Walter holsters his pistol and says "I am just here for information."

Simms shakes Walter's hand and says "Try the Brass Lantern, Andy or Jenny Stahl could help. There's also Colin Moriarty, he owns the saloon in the upper deck. Just, take my advice, don't trust a word that guy says. The man would slit his own mother's throat for 50 caps and a handjob." He turns to me. I raise my left hand and say "Relax, message received. I won't cause any trouble." "Good," Simms says. Walter blurts out "I'm looking for my father. He should have come here in either a jumpsuit like mine or a lab coat. His name is James Karamazov." Lucas Simms' right cheek creases a bit as he says "Maybe. I think he went to Moriarty's saloon." Walter nods and says "Thank you."

Simms turns his back to us and says "Follow me, I'll give you the quick tour." The three of us head down the sloped hill, water pipes on each side. One of them is leaking. Simms points at a large, patchwork building on the left and says "The Brass Lantern, run by the Stahls. They make good Brahmin steak, and they're always stocked with Nuka-Cola." Sheriff Simms then points to the right. Another two headed cow moos in front of a grey shack with some faded white poster, a dirt covered white guy with scruffy brown hair sitting next to the cow, wearing a white shirt and brown pants lifted up by suspenders. Lucas Simms announces "That's the clinic, run by Doc Church. The man's a bit rough around the edges, but a wizard when it comes to surgery. Can't even count the number of times he pulled bullets out of someone's stomach, and he even does radiation cleansing and detox. Now up in front is Megaton's famous eye sore…"

"A fucking atom bomb?!" I curse as Kurama and Walter flinch and take a step back. Kurama anxiously says "Please tell me it's inert." Simms laughs and says "Hasn't blown up for two hundred years. Water is pretty irradiated so don't drink it. And don't touch the damned thing, last idiot who did that got the religion beaten out of him by half the town." "Trust me Lucas, I ain't touching that shit with a ten foot pole," I say, staring at the group of weirdos crowding the nuke. They are dressed in rags, almost medieval European peasant clothes. An old white guy in rags, buzzcut with greyish blonde hair and with a large but thin greyish blonde beard, stands knee deep in the muck and rants about 'Atom's glow.'

Walter asks "Who is the idiot?" Lucas laughs and says "Confessor Cromwell, head of the local cult, the Church of Atom. That two level building with the hazard sign, up that ramp? That's their church. Don't worry, they're harmless, hell, they helped build the damned town. We let the guy preach during the day and he has his people work logistics, repairs, sometimes slaughtering the Brahmin."

We stand in front of the counter of the Brass Lantern, I see some sign in Chinese, kinda make the words out to say 'Megaton'. Nice touch there. A blonde white woman in a yellow jumpsuit waves and says "Hey there Simms." "Jenny," Simms says, nodding at her. Guess that's Jenny Stahl. Lucas motions us closer and then points at some globe-looking building with the letters 'SUPPLY' hanging above the globe on thin spears. He says "That's Craterside Supply. Moira Brown runs it, she sells pretty much everything, including guns and ammunition. Makes and repairs weapons too, good person to know. Pretty eccentric though, try not to get sarcastic with her. It flies way over her head." Lucas then points at the wooden sign way above and behind the cult church and says "See that sign that says Moriarty's Saloon? I'd give you zero caps if you guess what that is. To the left is the Common House, temporary lodging. First come first serve, so if you want to reserve a bed for the night, I recommend you move now. Now if you excuse me, I got a wanted poster to hang by the clinic."

Simms walks away and reaches into his right pocket, pulling out some kind of poster. I turn to Walter and Kurama and ask "What now?" Walter says "I'm going to visit this Moriarty guy, see what he knows. Go reserve a bed at the shelter, perhaps you will overhear something. Good to have multiple ears on the ground." Kurama nods and says "Agreed." I say "Sorry to ask, but got any water? I'm getting thirsty here, I'll pay you back later, trust me."

Walter digs into his back sack and pulls out a plastic water bottle. He hands it me and says "Grabbed a few in my exodus from Vault 101. Make it last, something tells me clean water here is worth its weight in diamonds." "I hear you there," I say, carefully holding the water bottle, scanning it. Yep, looks clean. Walter heads up the ramp to the right of the cult house and says "See you at the Common House." "Farewell," Kurama says.

And now it's just the two of us, alone, in the middle of a glorified junkyard, with a batshit crazy preacher behind us, worshipping an atom bomb that might go off any second now.

I wave my left hand at the far away ramp layered in stairs, catching Kurama's attention. I take the lead, walking past this white guy with a black eyepatch and a white bandana, dressed in a leather jacket with pouches around his neck, a red shirt under the jacket, and blue jeans. He nods at us and says "Hey." I nod at him, hearing Kurama say "Hello" behind me. Kurama walks up to my right side as the sun beats down on my sweaty brow. We head up the stairs. A blonde white woman with a ponytail, dressed in a leather jacket and grey jeans, says "Hi," as we walk past her. "Hey," I say as Kurama says "Greetings." She continues down the ramp as we approach the Common House. Two floors high, with a worn beige couch in front. Okay, first day in this nuthouse and I'm already going to a homeless shelter.

We step inside, close the door behind us, and scan the first floor. Four beds on the left, including a double decker, four on the right, also including a double decker. All got jackets and other crap on them, signaling that they been claimed already, and two of the beds got someone sleeping on them. Two sets of lockers in the far wall, bunch of footlockers on the floor by the beds. Some lanterns…place smells like sweat and piss. Egh.

We turn right and find a shelf with some assorted crap, a plunger, some old stale potato chips, burnt out books. To the right of shelf, a staircase. We head up to the second floor…a fridge, a railing with a full view of the first floor, dining tables, a shack door that's locked, another staircase. Here we go. We reach the third floor, a dining table covered in burnt books and a couple empty coffee mugs, a usable sofa, overturned chairs…a double decker bed, twisted and broken, mattresses still fine, not claimed. This works.

I sit down on the sofa as Kurama pulls his gun out of his belt and sets it on an overturned chair. He grabs one of the mattresses and pulls it off the bed frame, onto the floor. Kneeling on it, Kurama grabs his pistol and moves it to the bed. He then unfurls the sack and offers "Spam?"

I sometimes try to imagine the warning signs that I'm about to be fucked, just to get ready. Kurama offering two hundred year old Spam in a post-apocalyptic homeless shelter was not one I had in mind. "Fuck it, sure," I say, arcing back, stretching against the sofa. I unscrew the cap on my water bottle and take a heavy sip, wetting my throat. Screwing the cap back on, I say "I think I'm going to try contacting Koenma." Kurama pulls the lid off the can of Spam and says "I was about to ask about that." I nod and say "Right…right." "What's stopping you, Yusuke?" Kurama asks.

I don't know. Maybe my reaction if all I get is fuzz?

I heave a sigh and push a button on my Spirit Detective watch.

Nothing. I press again…nothing. No fuzz, nothing, like it's just a watch. I keep pressing, muttering "C'mon pacifier breath, answer…c'mon…c'mon." I steal a glance at Kurama, paleness covering his face like it's Kool-Aid in water. I start mashing the button, mashing, maybe it's jammed, that's it. Maybe he's away, no I'd still get his office…maybe it's broken. Maybe he's gone. Maybe they're gone. Maybe, just maybe, just Buddha's fucking wisdom we are fucked! We are fucked!

"It's…not working man. I'm…shit…sorry man…I don't know what to do," I say, crawling into a fetal position. I mutter "Keiko…Kuwabara…Hiei…Botan…man I don't…oh shit." I hear Kurama whimper and say "I promised Shiori I would bring her natto beans from the grocery…I'm supposed to be at her apartment in…two hours." It's starting to hit him too, like a megaton bomb.

I say "There's gotta be a way back, I mean it can't be a one way street. It can't!" Kurama yells "How?! Our Ki has been all but depleted! Your watch stands completely inert. If this is Human World, Botan would have arrived by now! If this is Demon World, why are there humans?! We are trapped. Buddha's blessing we are trapped! Zinaida, Shiori…I haven't spoken to my step-brother in weeks! Shiori is expecting me…oh no, damn this…I cannot let the last thing I tell my human mother be 'Stop worrying about traffic, goodbye!' Oh Shiori, mother…oh my…"

I hear the guy shaking on the mattress, in shock. Same, man, I'm in the same fallout shelter. Holy shit…I was supposed to get Keiko her birthday gift. She has her 25th birthday in a month…I was going to get her this silver pendant in that Minato Ward jewelers, the one with the pearl stone in middle, I was looking at it for weeks…oh fuck man. Fuck…

I put my hands on my face, let my fingers run up my hair. I'm stuck. We're stuck.

We're never going to see them again. Damn this wasteland to hell. Damn it again and again and a-fucking-gain!

I climb off the sofa and sit down on the mattress with Kurama. He pulls a slab of Spam out with his fingers and bites into it cold, probably got preheated in the fallout. I could see a tear rolling down his cheek. This is fucked, completely fucked.

I reach into the tin of Spam and pull a slab out with my fingers, like Kurama did. I bite in, not even caring that my fingers are dirty, not even caring that it's cold. Tastes so freaking synthetic. I gotta get used to it. To shitting in outhouses, eating irradiated TV dinners, wearing the same clothes, no showers, no brushing teeth, it's like I'm in freaking medieval times.

I'm never going to see my friends again, Keiko again. Never going to eat teriyaki again, or watch another Celtic F.C. game. It's over, it's freaking over man.

I hear Kurama cry through the tears, Spam, and total fucking bullshit of the situation. I hear him say "At least…at least we are not alone here." "At least…man. At least," I say. Fuck, he's right. If we got separated and landed on opposite sides of the country, holy shit would we be screwed.

I hear Kurama gulp down his fake meat and say "A C-class demon..." No shit man. I say "Wanted for killing cow in the country sticks of all freaking crimes. He did what only Yomi could pull off, send me packing. Hell, you too. A goddamn C-Class. I hope Hiei gave that prick the what for, can't let someone like that walk away the champ. Shit…Hiei…I hope he and Kuwabara picked up the spare."

I hear Kurama say "I will…miss them. All of them…it's…such a shock." No shit.

He whimpers and says "I feel human for once, genuinely human. I now understand what the rest of humanity lives through. Fear, shock, frailty…" I say "Haven't even remembered what that felt like for years. Welcome to the club, I guess." He painfully smirks and finishes his slab of Spam, wiping his fingers on the mattress.

We finish the can of Spam, barely talking. Fox boy takes a gulp of water and passes it to me. I sip, washing the salty pork taste down. Sighing, I ask "What now, Kurama?" Kurama rests his back on the mattress and grabs his 10 mm pistol. He scans it, looks down its sights, and says "Find permanent lodging here, somehow. Ask for the cost to establish a permanent residence, perhaps Walter could assist. Ask for any work that needs doing, perhaps this Doctor Church requires an assistant. My knowledge of first aid is limited, but I would wager it to be better than the average survivor of a nuclear apocalypse." I say "I wouldn't be so sure bout that, fox boy. Mother nature had 200 years to kill off the ones with their pants down." Kurama frowns and says "True…true. Still, a world so broken must have a demand for people to fix it. I don't intend to live the rest of my life in a homeless shelter."

"I hear you, Kurama. I hear you…maybe we can pull of a racket like that Wolfgang Haas guy. Salvage junk from wrecks, sell it, get by," I say, frowning, putting the sealed bottle of water down on the floor. I wrap my arms around my legs, back in the fetal position, damn I must look pathetic. I hear Kurama say "Simply 'getting by' in this world remains a very ugly reality. I would rather we do more than just get by." "Got any bright ideas, then?" I ask. Kurama puffs his cheeks and says "Wait, until an opportunity presents itself."

"We're fucked, aren't we?" I ask. Kurama doesn't respond, I take his silence as a yes. I close my eyes and hope whatever God is watching me, that he just gets it over with.

"Yusuke? Shuichi? It's me, Walter!" I hear vault boy yell. "Shut the hell up!" I hear some old guy yell in response. I yell out "We're upstairs, third floor!" Old guy yells "Keep your fucking yappers shut, I'm trying to sleep here!" I yell "Hey jackass, it's like 3 P.M. here! Get up you lazy geezer!" Old fart yells "Back in my day, we used to hang loudmouth outsiders like you! We called it the village sport!" Woah, okay, was not expecting that Ku Klux Klan shit, even in post-nuclear war Virginia.

I see Walter climb up the stairs, his forehead sweating. He says "Moriarty is a pimp, and the saloon is a brothel. The man has information, wants to sell it for a service. One his of prostitutes ran off in the direction of those burnt out homes, Springvale he calls it. He thinks that the one home that is still intact is her hideout. Claims she robbed him of several hundred bottle caps in a business deal gone wrong." Kurama frowns and asks "Are you actually planning to force her back into sex slavery?" Walter raises an eyebrow and says "Actually, he just wants to be made whole, 300 caps. That and a bullet in her skull. Now, I am not sure if she is armed, nor am I comfortable with the raider gang operating in Springvale. Help me along and I will consider it repayment for the water and the loaned pistols. Anything we salvage will be on a 'finders keepers' basis. Deal?"

"Deal," I say almost immediately. I ain't going to spend my whole day in this piss hole. Kurama looks up, wipes something off his eyes, tears I guess, and says "Very well. I will assist you." Walter nods and says "Good, good. Anyone need to pee? Smoke?" Kurama shakes his head. I say "I could save a cigarette for later. After we're done with this loan shark and contract killer gig." Walter raises his arms in protest and says "I am not enjoying this anymore then you are, but I need to know where my father disappeared to. It ranks in importance with food and drink." I stand up and say "Alright, got it Walter. Say, did you hear any work opportunities at the saloon? I doubt this shakedown is going to get us housing here." Walter frowns and whispers "Later, outside. We need to find Lucas Simms. I rather not say anything else, might cause a panic." Heh? Okay there, man, you got my attention.

I take two steps out of the Megaton Common House and go face to chest with this brown plated armor wearing bald fucker. I feel the asshole shove me into Kurama's arms and yell "Touch me again and I'll fuck your faggot ass up." Woah! Buddy, you're pissing in the wrong pot. I yell "Get out of my fucking way and it won't be problem!" The guy, looks a bit Latino, got like maybe a few millimeters of grayish brown hair on his shiny head, got the raspy sounding voice those raiders spoke with, he laughs and says "I shat out turds more dangerous then you three fuckers. Kid, I been putting screws in knees when you were still sucking on your mommy's tits."

This dickhead is playing with fire. I yell "Maybe I'll kick your face in, put that turd theory to the test, dickhead!" I run up to him and OKAY! Hold on! I go face to face with the barrel of a magnum revolver. Yeah, starting to miss the old armor chest plate. Easy there…

Baldy laughs and says "You got balls, kid. I respect that shit. Stay the fuck away from me and you'll live to use them on Nova. Got it, boy?" He holsters the magnum and starts walking away, looking smug, that piece of shit. I give him the finger and yell "Go fuck yourself, cue ball!"

I suddenly feel Kurama's arms pulling me away, dragging me to the railing. He coldly says "My sincerest apologies for my forcefulness, but I must make this point understood. Yusuke, we are not the men we were yesterday, if you somehow forgot. Go on threatening every individual in this town, and we will not live to see the next sunrise." "Easy there, Kurama. Easy…" I say. I hear Walter say "I thought his name is Shuichi." Kurama lets go of me and says "A nickname, between friends." Walter looks behind his shoulder, and then turns back to us, saying "That individual you just had an argument with, I met him in the saloon. He's called Jericho." "Fuckhead looks like a raider," I say. Walter says "He hinted so much in our…conversation would be too nice a word. Anyway, there is a much bigger threat here. Follow me down the stairs."

Reaching the bottom, we see that eyepatch guy sitting on a booth by the Brass Lantern, sipping what looks like one of those glass Mexican bottles of Coca-Cola. A girl, barely ten, if even that, struggles to sit on a booth next to him, long spiky black hair, a mauve tiara looking thing on her head, a pink worn shirt and some brown shorts. Looks East Asian, maybe Chinese. She pokes her left fingers at a kebob of some random meat. Jenny Stahl starts speaking to eyepatch, can't hear what she's saying, Retard Cromwell is drowning her out.

Walter flags down Lucas Simms nailing a wanted poster under the Chinese letters on the Brass Lantern. Walter says "Sheriff Simms." Lucas Simms turns around and says "Howdy." "We need to speak in private," Walter says.

We move behind the Brass Lantern. I scratch my right leg using the slide of my 10mm pistol, going to need a side holster soon. Kurama went back to keeping his pistol in his belt, like some Yakuza thug from a Takeshi Kitano flick. Gotta teach him that that's a pretty stupid thing to do. Lucas clears his throat and says "You have my attention. Speak."

"Are you familiar with the man in weird clothes, Mr. Burke? Lounging in Moriarty's saloon?" Walter asks. Lucas nods and says "Yeah, reserved fella, with the tinted sunglasses and the fedora. Drifted over here a month ago, even paid a serious amount of caps for that shack by the Lantern. What about him?" Walter licks his lips, pauses as if he's thinking of what to say, and then says "That man solicited me for a job." "So?" Lucas says, his cheeks creasing, I'm guessing that's his tell when he's getting uncomfortable. Walter leans forward and whispers loud enough for only us four to hear "He asked me to detonate the bomb." "What?!" Lucas immediately blurts out, matching my and likely Kurama's reaction. When John Wayne checks Walter's face and realizes that I'm the funny one, he says "Bullcrap. Not even raiders would do something like that." Walter says "He seems pretty adamant about it. Sought me out, specifically noted that I don't have roots here."

Lucas rubs his chin beard, looks down, and says "Damn. That reclusive bastard. Thanks for telling me." Walter then anxiously replies "We are currently running an errand for Colin Moriarty, debt collection, does not involve any Megaton residents, I assure you. We should return in a few hours. I advise you to wait for us to return, for there's strength in numbers." Lucas says "I'll take that under advisement." Walter pleads "Please, I am not sure if Moriarty himself is involved. It could be a trap, or a ruse to drawn you into the saloon." Lucas' face turns sour and he says "And yet you three are the one's running an errand for the Irishman himself. Have to say, I'm feeling threatened here." Oh crap. Walter eats his words and says "Please, you said you have a good feeling about us. Trust us. He only wants us to reclaim stolen caps from a runaway prostitute." Lucas Simms raises an eyebrow and says "You talking about Silver? The psycho-amphetamine junkie? He kept yelling at me to send Stockholm, called me a hypocrite for not enforcing his property rights. Stockholm said he saw Silver head toward the Springvale ruins. That was a week ago. Too many raiders, doubt you will even find her corpse. Well if you do bring back the caps, it would get Colin out of what's left of my hair."

Walter nods and says "Definitely. In exchange, would you wait for us? Just keep an eye on Mr. Burke." Lucas smirks and says "Like I said, I'll take it under advisement. But sure, I'll give you three hours. Any later and I'm taking Burke in, with or without you three." Walter says "Deal." Lucas nods and says "Stay safe out there, boys."

Heading down the ramp, passed the first Megaton sign, I finally feel Stockholm's rifle aiming at something besides my back. Guy is getting on my nerves. Interesting perspective, looking down the hill. Looking past that red rocket, I can see the broken down overpass, looking like dominos in suspension. I see the rows of fucked up houses, the ruins of Springfield, Springvale, however it's called. I see the faded mountain ridges, hills, whatever they are, far away, in the background. Like a giant green mist covering them, making it only possible to see the silhouettes. Probably Maryland over there, and then beyond, Pennsylvania, New York. New York City must be a giant-ass crater right now. Probably Philadelphia too. And San Francisco, Miami…Tokyo. Shit…

Sun's starting to make its descent obvious, skies turning a weird orange-green mix. Like it's poisoned or something, and trying to throw up the nastiness. Acid rain still going to be a problem 200 years later? Gotta ask Kurama about that, I'm the dumbass that dropped out of community college.

The three of us step past the red rocket gas station for the first time, breaking new ground. New ground means new bullshit.

"Shuichi, Yusuke, remain calm," Walter says. I see it, like right on fucking cue. A giant ass ant, the size of a bicycle, starts crawling at us, on the broken up asphalt. It's…teeth thing, they're shuddering in and out. These things eat meat? The hell?

Walter pulls a lead pipe out of his sack and says "Stay back. Don't fire, or this ant will be the least of our problems." "No shit," I say. Walter circles the ant, jumps back when the ant lunges at him. He swings the pipe at the ant, making it step back. Ant strafes right and goes in to bite. Gets smacked in the head for the try. Walter then jumps on its back and starts stomping the ant's head in. Its legs twitch a bit, and then stop. Walter pulls his foot out, green in ant juice. He turns to us and says "Shall we?"

"We shall," Kurama says, the three of us heading down the road. The intact house on the left, a burnt out house the right. Before the house on the right, a bus stop with a bench, and a trash can. Kurama pulls the top open, sticks his head inside, sticks it out, and then shakes his head at us. He waves his 10mm pistol at the burnt out house, guess he wants to run some salvage.

I run up to him, Walter checking the rear. We step in, floors a mess, debris everywhere, all garbage. Broken metal, burnt wood, that kind of crap. Kurama spots some wooden cabinet, doors kicked in. He approaches it and pulls it open. I whisper "Found anything?" He takes a clear bottle out and says "Empty." He places it back in as I approach the big gap in the wall by the cabinet.

"Springvale Elementary School," I say. I count three, maybe four floors, place looks gutted, the roof blown off. I think I see…SHIT!

I grab Kurama and pull him to the ground, whispering "They got their own Stockholm there. Saw a rifle poking out a window." Kurama frowns and sighs, saying "The intact building then. Nothing to salvage here." I nod and motions Walter to stay still. Kurama and I carefully crouch and move out of view of the elementary school. School used to just piss me off, never expected it to scare me shitless. Even before the car accident.

The three of us approach the house across the street, this time Walt in the lead, and Kurama watching the flank. Walt, bending his knees a bit, pistol in his right arm, curls his left arm into a fist. He looks like he's about to knock, and then stops. I can almost hear his heart beating. Guy's worried about a junkie. If those raiders come knocking, we are in real shit.

Walter moves his left hand to the doorknob and slowly twists it. Door's unlocked. Either the hooker is batshit insane or…well I don't want to think about that. Vault boy looks at us, nods, and then quickly twists the door open, moving in. I funnel right behind him, Kurama behind me, his left hand on my back for direction and support.

"The fuck are you?!" I hear some lady yell in a nasally southern drawl, still moving through the doorway. I get in and find a blonde white woman in a pink jacket and beige cargo shorts, holding a knife in her right hand, leaning her back against a kitchen counter. She's looking down and to the left…see it, a Smith & Wesson looking revolver on a dining table, next to a coffee mug and a coffee pot.

"Easy there, don't do anything stupid," I say. Kurama funnels in behind me, and immediately sees the revolver. I can feel him inching toward it. Walt sees that and shakes his head a bit, looking for the peaceful route. If there is one here. Lady, I'm guessing she's Silver, she says "You Declan's people? Move in and I'll cut y'all throats, I ain't going without taking one of y'all with me." She got pock marks all over her face, like a meth head picking at her skin. Guess that's what psycho really is.

Kurama says all diplomatically "We are on the behalf of Colin Moriarty, your former employer." Silver looks at Kurama like she ate something bad and says "Him? I ain't going back! I made a deal with the guy, hell I even slept with the creep to make it official. I'm retired now, stay back!" Colin sounds like a real sleaze ball. Walter inches a bit forward and says "He wants the 300 bottle caps you stole. Says you promised to set up a narcotics pipeline." Silver inches closer to the revolver, real close. Kurama moves his pistol to his left hand, guessing he's going to play slapjack for the six shooter.

Silver anxiously says "I ain't stole nothin' from no one. The Irish bastard is lying, the caps are my share, got it? Mine!" She's starting to sound high, going to be a bitch to negotiate with. I ask "You on something now?" "Coming down, asshole. Why you think I screw for caps? Moriarty reneges, says I can't leave. I took my share and ran. Now get out before I cut you."

Kurama lunges for the revolver, smacking his right hand on it, shielding it. Silver lunges at Kurama with the knife, Walt grabs her right wrist, pushes her arm down. Knife buries itself an inch away from Kurama's hand. He grabs the revolver and now's rocking the duel wield look, while Silver yells "Get off!" Walter slips his hands around her arms, got her in the full nelson.

I yell "Shut up you crazy bitch! Want to get the raiders to show up?! They ain't friendly like us!" "Screw you!" Silver grunts out. Kurama looks at me and mutters "Shh! You're not helping." Kurama hands me the revolver, I take it with my free left hand, and move the pistol to my left and the revolver to my right. Kurama then grabs the knife, pulls it out, and says "Moriarty also asked us to kill you on sight. We haven't. All we want are the bottle caps. Three hundred to satisfy the debt, and something extra to buy our silence." Fox boy gets slyer by the day. He went all Yoko Kurama just now. Well, maybe not, from the stories I heard. If he did go full Yoko Kurama, there would be a giant red smear on the wall.

Silver grunts and stops flailing around, saying "Okay, okay. Promise me. Say you found the caps, some empty psycho needles, but no me." Kurama nods and says "Leave the vicinity, and pay us 400 bottle caps, and we will promise." Silver looks down at the gash on the dining table. She mutters "400…alright…deal. Let me get them for you." She gently pushes Walt away and walks out the kitchen/dining room, turning right through a doorway. I follow, duel-wielding a new age pistol in my left hand and a Smith & Wesson revolver in my right.

I say "Make sure I see those hands, no sudden movements." Silver says "Yeah…yeah" as she crawls under a mattress raised by a bed frame. On the right, an elevated shelf holding a shot glass, a carton of some obscure brand of cigs, and…a crack pipe? Looks like it. On the left, a long wooden counter with a broken TV monitor, a hammer, this weird spider shaped thing with a needle, guess that's what they call psycho, and a radio of some Southern U.S.A. guy talking about Americanism and baseball. Sounds like a canned recording.

"Here," Silver says, dangling a big sack of what sounds like bottle caps. I grab it with my pistol holding left hand, maneuvering my fingers, keeping the revolver aimed at her. I wedge the top of the sack between my ring and pinky finger…feels about right. I ask "You sure this is 400 caps?" She nods and says "Yes, exactly 400. My entire savings." Eh. Fuck it, we need them more. At least we ain't putting crystal meth in our veins.

I whistle and Walter answers. I say "Take the sack, add it to yours. We'll split the bonus 100 caps three ways." Walter takes the sack of caps out of my fingers and weighs it with his left hand, nodding. He says "Deal." Silver claps her hands together and morosely asks "Is this where y'all going to rape me? Or shoot me first?" Woah! I look at Walt and he looks as taken aback as I am. I say "We don't do that shit around here. I don't know enough about what these raiders do, but I can tell you we ain't like them."

Silver smiles as if she doesn't believe us. She walks past us and says "Thank you. Bless yer hearts, y'all." Can't tell if she's serious or sarcastic over us making out like bandits with the bottle caps. Screw it, 33 caps should set each of us up for at least a few more days, food and drink wise. She turns toward the front door, and Kurama yells "GET DOWN!" *BANG*

I jump as I hear a freaking loud gunshot from outside. I hear wood splinter and I see blood and fabric spray out of Silver's back. She just flinches a little, barely moves. Another gunshot, again through the door I guess, same result, same reaction. A third shot, clean through her nose, out her head. Silver falls back like a falling tree after the lumberjack yells 'TIMBER!' I hear a raspy voice yell "Told y'all we got meat here! Knock knock, time to get fucked!" It's Danny-boy the raider. Showdown at Springvale.

I run to the doorway, press my chest to the left of it, lean to the right, and stick my revolver holding hand through the doorway. Through the holes, I count at least two, probably three. Shit, shit, first gunfight. Never shot one of these things outside the firing ranges in Tokyo…oh shit…shit…shit…the adrenaline's kicking in…fight or flight…fight man, fight.

Door gets kicked off its hinges, showing some sun-blasted, I guess white, bald man in his 30s, with BDSM looking spiked armor, got a motorcycle grille for a chest plate, right shoulder got spiked plating, pants are spiked, holding what looks like a Lee Enfield rifle. I unloaded two shots, gun smoke getting into my throat. I see his fingers shift and I immediately get back into cover. *BANG* Went into the rear door. I hear screaming and some woman yelling in raspy Mexican-accented English "Danny's been hit!" Shit, Kurama is back there!

I peer out again, shit! Some Latina looking woman with black long hair and a revolver, oven mitt patterned pants, entire left arm and shoulder covered in leather. Looks either 40 or taken way too much crystal meth. Danny is on his stomach, bleeding and groaning. She fires a shot at me, I barely duck back, wood from the doorframe splintering, adrenaline pumping, sweat pouring down my cheeks. Wood splinters fall on Silver's dead legs. I pull a John Woo and jump to the right, falling right shoulder first. I fire a shot from my new revolver, missed! Shit! Landing on Silver's legs, I watch a knife fly out of nowhere and into the bitch raider's right thigh. She yells "Puta madre!" and fires at me, barely missing my head, damn! Blood trekking down her right leg, there goes a gunshot, into her right ribs. She twists, trips over Danny, and falls on her ass, shooting at I'm guessing Kurama. Crap, crap…another gunshot from the kitchen, into her neck. Bitch chokes on blood, her legs moving with Danny's convulsing body, revolver falls out her hands. Fox boy just saved my neck.

I see the front half of Kurama appear, aim his pistol at Danny, and put the bastard out of his misery. Hell, Kurama just killed two of the fucks, not bad for someone that only shot from crossbows. Let's try that at a 100 meter range, *BANG* Shit, celebrated too soon, Kurama hits the ground. I look at him, he gives me the thumbs up, phew, that was just a tactical fall to the floor. Someone shooting from behind the rear door, sounds like a 10mm pistol like ours. I finally see Walter, his 10 mm pistol, he crouches by the rear door and puts his left hand in front of his face, as if to shield his face from splinters and bullets.

I spin onto my left shoulder, rolling on Silver's corpse, smearing her blood on my white leisure shirt. I unload the last three bullets of my revolver into the door, hearing some guy yell "Shit, it throbs!" Got him. Walter kicks the rear door down, ducks under a bullet, left hand shielding his face. He shoots twice from the hip, silencing the raider behind door number two. I stuff my spent revolver into my pocket, climb up, and reach for the Latina raider's own revolver, another Smith & Wesson. Got it, fox boy grabs the Lee Enfield and puts his pistol back in his belt. Here's hoping he doesn't accidently shoot his ass cheeks off, doubt there is a surgical procedure for that. I let Walt run out the rear, and I head out the front door, Kurama behind me. I say "Kurama, after each shot, pull the lever. It pushes out the used bullet casing." Kurama says "Understood." His tone really nervous, sounds high off adrenaline.

Outside again, looking straight ahead and to the left, see two raiders in the distance, two male, one black and with a spiky Mohawk, the other either white or Latino, bald and got this blonde Motorhead Lemmy moustache, both carrying sidearms, me thinks 10mm pistols. I see a couple more raiders head up from the school, too far away to make out race, gender, and the big question, the heat they're packing. I fire a shot at the two close-by raiders and send them to cover by a blue big mailbox. Mohawk guy yells "Goddamn, we got lively ones!" I turn right and then bolt for the red rocket, seeing Walter come from the other side. I yell "RUN!"

Pistol fire rains down at us, clanging against the burnt out car in front of us, car crushed by a rotting telephone pole with the wires still dangling. Walter runs and fires over his shoulder at the house, just to show those raiders he can. He takes cover by the wreck, behind the telephone pole. I join him, and then hear Kurama grunt and pant behind me, still there, I was worried I lost him. The burnt out house we were combing earlier, that shell now separates us from the two raiders. I hear cursing and more voices, seems the other two joined the fun. Kurama holds his Lee Enfield like a spear and fires a pointless shot at the house, hitting a beam on the rotting roof. I yell "The sights, Kurama! Aim down the sights!" I point at the small clamp shaped metal sights on the Lee Enfield, looks makeshift. He nods and says all adrenaline rushed-like "Understood!"

Motorhead moustache runs into the burnt out house, see three other figures follow. I fire a pot shot at him with my pistol, sending him back into cover. Kurama yells "Move! They're about to swarm us!" Walter nods and yells "Enjoy you bastards!" He stands up and runs backwards, knees bent, firing blindly at the house, left arm covering his face. I see Motorhead moustache back himself out of cover, take my shot. Two shots from my 10mm, one from the revolver. I see him go down and yell "Fucking arm, man!" Good, that should give them something to piss on.

I run out of cover, joining Walter, Kurama following suit. We sidestep a pile of trash and a yellow pedestrian crossing sign, and then zig zag toward the red rocket. We take cover behind a stationary, rusted car in the station and open fire on the two new raiders, both female, can't see their faces, both got rifles. The two duck, flail, and split up, one on the left taking cover by the telephone pole and the wrecked car, one on the right taking cover by the bus stop. Kurama takes a pot shot, kicking up dust and wood from the telephone pole. He pulls the lever back, expels a shell casing, climbs up, fires another shot at the telephone pole, and bolts for the ramp back up to Megaton. Walter follows, I get up and take the rear, emptying the last couple of bullets in my revolver at the bus stop.

The three of us run up the ramp, hearing gunshots behind us, dust kicking up in front of us. We get to the last Megaton sign and turn right, Walter taking a shot at the one raider crazy enough to chase us. She's either black or South Indian, wearing a welder's mask and covered in armor made out of car parts and pressure cookers, got an M1 Garand I think. We make a beeline for Megaton, Walter jumping over the rocks, me following, I hear Kurama slip, shit!

I turn around and watch the female raider aim down her M1 Garand at fox boy, yelling "Say bye-bye!" *BANG* like a bolt of lightning, a bullet from Megaton strikes her right in the upper chest. She immediately falls down on her right shoulder, drops her M1 Garand, twitches, bleeds, and finally croaks. I look up and yell "Stockholm you crazy bastard! Thanks man!"

Kurama crawls to the dead raider, snatches her M1 Garand away with his left hand, just to be sure, and then checks her pulse, smearing his right hand in blood. He then removes the helmet, black woman in her late 20s, pink dyed hair combed to the right. Fox boy starts funneling through the pockets on her armor, pulling out a dozen bottle caps, a box of .308 rounds, a can of Spam, some dirty water, and an empty syringe. He puts the syringe back in the pocket, unfurls his sack of food, amazingly still with us, and drops in everything, including the pistol, but except the rifles, into the sack. He ties it up and says "Remind me to repay this Stockholm individual with a drink."

The robot walks up to us, says "No…loitering…" and then walks back to the gate. I say "Made it, everyone. Whew, adrenaline still is pumping. Been in a lot of scrapes, but aside from that Sniper guy, first real shootout." Walter pants and falls to his knees, forcing himself to say "Second…second. First happened this morning…" I hear Stockholm yell "Y'all coming in or you waiting for the corpse to reanimate?! Get in, damnit!"

We push through the gates and immediately get greeted by Lucas Simms. He yells "What the hell happened?!" Kurama pants and says "Raiders, those lunatics from the school, barely escaped alive. Four confirmed dead, one chased us to the gates." Lucas says "And got a hello from Stockholm, I get it. Now, I've been keeping my eye on Burke. One of my contacts say he got a letter smuggled out, couldn't intercept. That makes me nervous. If you three are up to it, come with me. I'm ready to show him how Megaton handles wasteland justice."

I say "Can we visit that Moira lady and sell off some salvage? We also got payment from Silver." Lucas scowls at us and asks "Did you…" Walter answers "Raiders, out of nowhere. She's gone." Lucas' scowl turns to a flat look as he says "I see. Alright, I'll walk with you to Craterside, get you three introduced. After that, we're taking Mr. Burke into custody." "Got it," I say.

Stepping into Craterside…woah what the hell is that smell? Like ammonia mixed with bath salts or something! Dimly lit, shopkeepers counter on the right, pencils, clipboards, behind are several rows of lockers. East Asian guy in leather armor on the left, leaning against the wall, looks Chinese. Bowl cut black hair, clean shaven, thick eyebrows, got some kind of rifle on a sling, resting on his back. On the right, by some computer monitor, a redhead white woman in a sky blue mechanics jumpsuit gets off a chair and approaches us.

She speaks, with accent-less English, "Hey, don't mind the smell guys. Just mixing hydrofluoric acid and paint thinner, see what comes out. Don't worry, it's safe to breathe. Really!" Sounds…very…weird and simple. Like she's either an elementary school teacher or got Down syndrome. "Moira Brown?" Kurama asks. She giggles and says 'That's certainly me. Are you my new research assistant?!" What? Lucas interrupts and says "They are just here to sell, Moira."

Moira smiles and says "Oh okay, I always like seeing new faces and new things! What do you have for me, a mirelurk? No way! A living, walking mirelurk! I always wanted one!" O-KAY. Walter interrupt and says "No…just weapons and salvage, from raiders." Kurama tosses Moira his M1 Garand and asks "How many bottle caps for the rifle?" Moira takes the rifle to the counter, scans it, takes apart the barrel, and says "Surprisingly good condition for a raider gun. Let's say, fifty caps and we be all smiles, hehe." Kurama doesn't even try to haggle, saying "Deal. I also have a box of ammunition for it. 24 rounds." He unfurls his sack and hands Walter the loaned pistol back. Walter puts the pistol on the counter as Kurama shows off the box of ammo.

Moira takes the box, opens it, than reads the label. She says "24 caps, one cap per bullet." "Deal," Kurama says, bringing the total tally to 74 caps. Fox boy grabs the caps, and then turns to Lucas. He sets fifty caps aside and says "Give this to Stockholm, for saving my life." Lucas pockets the caps and says "Will do."

Kurama then reaches down at his pile of salvage and lifts up the welder helmet. He asks "How much for this?"

We step out of Craterside, 16 caps richer, with 17 new .32 rounds. Looks like Kurama's Lee Enfield got fitted to take .32s. Walter took back the 10mm pistols and sold them. I chambered twelve of the .32 rounds in my two new revolvers, Kurama put the remaining five to fill up the magazine for the Lee Enfield. We're also expecting 66 or 67 caps once Walter gives us our bonus from the Silver bullshit…this could have been a lot worse than it is. I stick a cigarette in my mouth and wait for Sheriff Simms to light it for me…need new clothes…they're drenched in psycho-junkie blood. I smell like dried blood now, like I just came from a slaughterhouse. I say "Thanks Simms."

I take a drag, keep the smoke in my mouth for a bit more than usual, and then exhale. I feel my nerves calming down for the first time all day. Lucas lights Walter's cigarette and gets a 'thanks' for that. Kurama inspects his Lee Enfield, aiming the sights down at the setting sun. He says "I think I understand how to use this weapon." Lucas says "Ain't much mystery to it."

I ask "Where can we get clothes…you know…with pouches and holsters." Lucas says "Crow, one of the caravaners, he was here in the morning. Check again tomorrow, he usually has a good selection. Now, I believe it's time we paid Mr. Burke a visit." "Agreed," Walter says, unholstering his remaining 10mm pistol.

Approaching the front door to Moriarty's saloon, I run through my head all the crap that happened today. I got sucked into a Suzuki style dimension teleport attack, with Kurama, by a second-rate demon that I could have taken out with two fingers had I not been cocky, discovered that I lost damn near all my spirit energy while I got sent with fox boy to Mad Max's world, haggled over bottle caps in the sight of butt plug shaped robots and two head red cows, worked debt collection for an Irish pimp with fox boy and some weirdo that lived in a freaking footlocker, got into a full on firefight with doped up nutjobs that would just as soon do funny things to my ass with me dead as with me breathing, sold guns with Kurama of all people, and now with a posse, helping the shantytown sheriff arrest some nutcase that wants to detonate the local atom bomb. I gotta be careful not to blow all my caps on booze tonight. Caps…freaking soda caps.

Lucas Simms goes in first, followed by Kurama, then Walter, and then me. Bar counter, some dining tables on the left…woah, barkeep looks like a burn patient, his skin's peeling off. Looks like a freaking zombie. He bangs on some radio and yells "Work dammit!" Guy has a voice raspier then the raiders, least he ain't going to eat my brains, otherwise Simms would have shot him a while ago. I see an amber haired white woman dressed in a washed out grey leather jacket and jeans, smoking a cigarette. She spots us and starts heading upstairs. Behind her, probably the sleezy fuck that runs the place, Mr. Colin Moriarty himself. Gray hair, thin moustache, giant goatee, like almost a beard. Slightly wrinkled face with snake-like eyes, slightly tanned skin. Rocking a black leather vest, a white undershirt, and dark grey jeans. He has one of those 10mm pistols in a side holster, right hand too close to it for my comfort.

Guy laughs and speaks in Irish-accented English, definitely him "Oh, ho ho. Now on what occasion does the sanctimonious Lucas Simms dare venture into this wee ol' den o' iniquity? Think of the children! Oh, and the daddy's boy is with you! Could it be? Has the venerable Lucas Simms finally fulfilled his promise of defending his simple folk's property rights?" Moriarty could wrestle Genkai to submission in a sarcastic comment contest. Lucas says "What you have to discuss concerning Silver is between you and Walter alone. Right now, we need to speak with a patron of yours, Mr. Burke." Moriarty places his left hand on the counter and says "The bloke's here, just keep the fecker alive. Queerhawk but pays caps on time. He…didn't do anything now, right?"

I say "Oh nothing special, just trying to hire people to set off the little radiator down by the crater." Ain't going to let him be the king of wisecracks. Colin takes a step back, makes sure no one else is in ear shot, and says "You're talking out your ass, boyo. Burke just sits in a corner and sips on the top shelf scotch, no information like that could…Janey Mac, that bastard. You two the Japanese boys that came with daddy's boy?" I say "Yeah, that us." Colin scratches his back and says "Over in the corner, by Lucy West, the blonde lass. I'll appreciate it if you don't make a mess." Lucas forces himself to say "Thanks Colin." He starts moving towards the side corner of the bar, right of the entrance, as Walter says "We'll speak about Silver later." "You got the caps?" Colin asks. Walter says "Be patient." Colin gives a crooked look and says "Remember Walter, no money, no daddy."

The three of us break off from Moriarty and walk up to a white clean shaven guy in a gray pinstripe suit, sunglasses, and a brown fedora. Mr. Burke I'm guessing. He's sitting on a chair by a dining table, smoking a really harsh smelling cigarette. Lucas Simms draws his Type 56 and says "I'm giving you one chance Burke, explain your business in Megaton. Now." Walt steps up next to Simms, 10mm pistol in his hand. The blonde girl with the ponytail that Kurama and I saw earlier, she nervously says "Excuse me" and walks away to the back, leaving behind a half drunk bottle of beer. I take her seat, drawing one of my new revolvers from my jean pocket. Kurama sits down in the seat across from me, holding his Lee Enfield rifle on his lap. I watch Mr. Burke set his cig down on an ashtray and say "I'm sorry…Sheriff…what are you arguing about?" Guy has a really creepy American accent, like the bad guy in a Saturday morning cartoon.

Lucas Simms switches off the safety on his Chinese AK-47 and says "You know damn well what I'm saying. The bomb, you want to blow it up. Have you left your goddamn mind at the gates?" Burke laughs a bit, all creepy like, and says "Why Mr. Simms, there must be some kind of…misunderstanding. Surely…someone must be spreading these…obscene rumors. I assure you that they will be dealt with…" He turns to Walter and the two of us. Turning back to Simms, he says "Personally."

Lucas Simms no sells the threat and says "I'm placing you under arrest, until I figure out what the hell is going on." Burke frowns and says "I don't believe I can…oblige your request. I have very pressing matters to attend to. Step aside, now." Simms says "This isn't an open debate. Come with me now or I will put a bullet in your leg and drag you out myself." Burke sighs and says "Why must I mingle with knuckle draggers every waking moment? Very well, I will follow." Simms holsters his assault rifle and says "Good, slow and easy. Walter, you watch the rear." WJR says "Loud and clear" as Mr. Burke climbs from his seat. Lucas Simms steps toward the entrance, Burke follows, Walter right behind Burke. Burke takes one more step and drives his left elbow into Walter's nose, sending him to the ground.

Crap. I get up, fox boy gets up, leaving the rifle on the floor. Burke reaches into his pinstripe blazer and pulls out a 10mm pistol with a silencer screwed on. This is some James Bond shit. I yell "Simms, watch out!" Kurama grabs Burke's right arm and drives him to the counter, I reach for Burke's left arm. In my peripheral vision, I see Lucas turning around, bringing the Type 56 to his arms. During the struggle, Burke yells "You are all going to die! Feeling excited?!" I press my revolver barrel into Burke's left rib and get reward with a back fist to the chin, causing me to trip over a stool and land on my ass. Kurama struggles with Burke's arm, I see him get kicked in the shin. He backs off and then lunges in again, I hear two suction sounds, smell gun smoke. Blood sprays out of Kurama's back. Fox boy gets kicked in the chest and pushed back into his seat, groaning in pain, two red circles on his lower abdomen. Motherfucker!

Burke aims his silenced pistol at Kurama *BANG* *BANG*. First shot misses, second hits Burke's right wrist, causing the piece of shit to drop the piece before he could kill Kurama. The shots came from behind me, Walter I think. Burke yells "Damn! I just had this suit dry cleaned!" He quickly scoops the pistol up with his left hand, ducking under Walter's next shot. I adjust my revolver and fire into Burke's left calf. He yells and struggles to stay on his feet, what is this guy made of?

Lucas unloads a burst of bullets into Burke's right side, causing him to jump back and lean against the counter, shooting his pistol at the ground out of reflex I think. Smell of blood is thick, real thick, and the sharks are coming in for the kill. The three of us unload four, six, hell I think ten more shots into this guy. He keeps yelling and grunting in pain, shooting the floor, unable to raise his gun to shoot us, like this is some Sonny Corleone shit. I suddenly see Kurama, chest and pants completely soaked in blood, fingers too, aim his Lee Enfield and punch a hole through Burke's chest. Burke lifts his feet leaning against the counter, and then lets gravity bring him back down. He falls forward and lands on his face, his fedora falling off. Four of us unloaded enough lead in him to take down a rhino. The bastard doesn't move, just bleeds.

Kurama makes some weird coughing sound, drops his rifle, and falls off his chair, landing on his left shoulder, smeared in blood. Shit, fuck. Fuck! I yell "Get the fucking doctor!" Simms yells "Yusuke, you with me! We'll take him to the clinic! Walter, secure the scene, deal with Moriarty!" I hear the Irishman yell "I asked you to not make a mess!" "Shut the fuck up, boyo!" I yell, lifting Kurama up with my right shoulder, adjust my revolver into my left hand. Simms lifts Kurama up with his left shoulder as the blonde ponytail white woman rushes to get the door opened.

Running down the ramp, almost tripping on his feet, I hear Kurama cough and try to say something, only making out fragments of words that don't make sense. I keep hearing 'Natto beans' and 'report due Friday' and 'bacteria analysis'. He looks like he's drifting in and out of consciousness. I yell "Kurama, stay with me. Please man, stay with me. You had worse and you survived it. C'mon man!" He actually might bleed out.

He's fucking dying! I yell "Faster Simms! Fucking hell, faster!" We finally get down the ramp, Simms yelling "As fast as I damn could. CHURCH! DOC CHURCH!" I hear the door to the clinic swing open. I see a short very dark-skinned black guy in his early 60s step out, with a grayish white trimmed beard and short grayish white hair. He's dressed in a gray sleeveless shirt with dried blood on it, light green cargo pants, a leather purse-like pouch around his waist connected by a shoulder strap. He says "Christ, what we got here?" Sounds pissed off, like I just ruined his evening or something, asshole. My best friend is fucking dying here!

Simms yells "10mm gunshot wounds to the abdomen! Through and throughs, both of them!" The doctor, Doc Church, yells "Shit, bring him here! Hurry!" We head up the ramp to the clinic, find a shack door in front of us and a doorway on the right. Simms tugs right and I follow. I see a dark brown operating table and a shelf with see through mesh drawers full of surgical tools, syringes, some tiny bottles, gauze, and a bottle of vodka. You fucking better save that for the disinfecting, asshole!

Lucas Simms and I lift Kurama up onto the operating table, my hands getting greasy from blood. Oh fuck, he's bleeding fast and hard, do something damnit! Church yells "Out! Out! No! Stay close, outside! I'll yell if I need help!" Holding a syringe in his right hand, he grabs Kurama's left wrist, scans it for a second, and then injects into a vein. Simms grabs me by the collar and pulls me outside, saying "Let Church work, he knows what he's doing."

Outside, hands soaked in blood, shirt caked in dried blood. Sweating, hungry, thirsty, and not sure if my best friend is going to live through the night. I grab my hair and damn near rip it out. Simms puts me in the full nelson and says "Easy there, easy. We did all we could." I yell "Yeah, it was fuck-all that's what it's worth!" Simms transitions to grabbing my shoulders and yells "I told you to relax! Got it?!" "Yeah!" I yell, not giving a shit what John Wayne here says. Simms sighs and says "I can pull my shirt up and show you the stiches from four months ago, when Boppo put four .32 rounds in my stomach. Doc Church had me moving in a week. This is child's play for him. If he couldn't fix your friend up, he wouldn't have walked through the front door breathing."

I stop panting, stressing, letting my hair grow on its own. I say "Alright, alright…okay man…thanks. Seriously, thanks…" Lucas Simms smirks and says "Thank you and your friend. Seems I'm getting old. Wasn't for you two, I'd be the one on that table, and I don't think I would have entered the clinic breathing, if you know what I mean. Thanks." I sigh and say "Yeah, don't mention it. Heat of the moment, did what I had to do. Should have just shot him then and there." Lucas reaches for a pack of cigarettes in his cowboy trenchcoat and says "What they say about hindsight? Always 20/20." I nod and say "Yeah, ain't that a bitch."

He offers me one, I take it. He then pulls out a lighter and lights my cigarette, then tends to his. We start smoking in front of the clinic…I take a few steps forward out of habit, though I doubt people here care about that kind of crap. Dying from cancer that's not caused by radiation seems like a winning lottery ticket here.

A crowd stares at us, Simms gives them a look and says "Everything's under control." They seem to listen and not ask any questions, returning to their canned dinner at the Brass Lantern or their sermons with Cromwell. I turn around and eye up the wanted poster that Simms set up earlier. Like an old American Wild West poster, even comes with a hand drawn sketch. Says on top in red dyed letters 'Wanted.' The sketch, pretty well done I can say, better than I could draw…shows the head and shoulders of a white guy in his late 20s, dark pock marks on his face, black bushy hair, a scar on his chin. Low cheekbones and a bony rat face. Clean shaven. At the bottom, it says in red dye 'Declan Carruthers, Springvale Raider Boss.'

I ask "Who's Declan? I keep hearing that name over and over again. He the boss of those raiders in Springvale?" Simms exhales smoke and says "Yeah, took over after I killed Boppa, the previous ringleader." "Boppa?" I ask. Who the fuck calls themselves Boppa? Simms says "Big Robert Papadopoulos. The one man stupid enough or crazy enough to attack Megaton. We almost lost Deputy Weld, our robot down there, and I took four shots to the gut, but we pushed them back. Me, Stockholm, and Jericho. They attacked with more than twenty, lost half of their people before they realized how stupid the plan was. I got Boppa in the back before he could escape. He bled out, not too fast though. They killed Mick, this vagrant we had living outside, probably a mercy…poor bastard was always near dead from thirst."

I ask "What's the deal with Declan?" Simms says "He was in the attack on Megaton, escaped, I got a good look of the guy though. Been attacking the caravans, scavengers, making it hard to get supplies and good trade going here." "Why don't you send someone to kill that prick?" Simms knocks ash off his cig and says "That's why I made these wanted posters. If you talking about me sending some of my people, then not happening. I trust Jericho enough to not shoot me in the back, but I won't leave him in charge of defense while Stockholm and I would play cowboy. If you want to take a crack at Declan, go ahead."

I ask "What's in it for me and Shuichi?" He says "100 caps. Bring his body here for proof." I yell "What? 100 caps for a gang leader? I could get more from selling a few of their guns!" Simms says "You can also do that too, ain't stopping you. Listen, these raiders have made it difficult for me to collect tax revenue from the caravans. The well is pretty shallow here, sadly." I give him a look that says 'You got to be bullshitting me' and say "You saying that all you will give us, for taking this bastard out, is 100 caps. That is what you are saying." Simms turns to me and says "Yeah, and free surgery for your friend here." Oh. He continues "And my good graces. And maybe, just maybe, the right to own a house here."

He grabs my right shoulder and points at the shack across the crater, to the right of the Brass Lantern. He asks "You see that shack?" I say "Yeah, I see it. No need to go all grab ass on me." He lets his hand go and says "That's Mr. Burke's shack, bought it a month ago. He won't be needing it anymore. If you collect this bounty, the shack is yours." "Deal," I say without even thinking about it. Water may be worth its weight in diamonds here, but a shack in a walled town, in the middle of Kenshiro's playground? That's a whole 'nother precious gem.

Simms nods and says "Good, good." He turns to the ramp leading to Moira's store and watches Walter Joseph Karamazov approach the clinic. Walter waves Simms over to see him. Simms says "Pardon me a sec" and walks up to vault boy, who, from here, looks to be bleeding from the nostrils.

I turn around and put my blood soaked hand on the sketch of Declan, and I realize that, literally, right beyond this thin sheet of metal, Kurama is bleeding fast, getting stitched up in a clinic, at a post-apocalyptic shantytown where, hell, even the medical supplies are salvaged. I curl my right hand into a fist and look to the floor, and realize that my boat shoes are already caked in dirt. And that if he goes, the clothes on my back are the only things I have left of home.

I lost damn near everything today, just like that. Like a snap of a finger, a bolt of fucking lightning, I got cocky and stupid, and I lost damn near everything. My…family, nearly everyone I know. Kuwabara…Hiei…Botan…Keiko…damn…Keiko.

Please, man, whoever is out there, please don't leave me alone here, in this radioactive hellhole. Please don't take the one friend I got left. Please don't make me die alone in this crater.

For the first time all day, and like the taste of clean, purified water on my tongue, I feel moisture in my eyes, on my cheeks, on my shoes. A breeze goes by, knocking ash off my cigarette, onto the floor. Damn this all. I hear Walter speak from behind me, saying "Yusuke, we need your help. I think I can disarm the bomb."

Chapter Text

My eyes stir open, a haze, fluorescent lights above me, the springs of an old mattress below me. My throat is parched and my body feels weak. My base wants and needs indicate to me that I am still alive. The former supreme commander of Gandara, wasting away on a bed in an American shantytown. I close my eyes, not prepared to face this world.

We used to be Gods, capable of tearing entire cities, continents asunder. In a span of what I assume to be twenty four hours, we have been brought to our knees by psychopathic addicts and the death of the Enlightenment. And it seems as if Friedrich Nietzsche's prophecy has come to pass, 'Gott ist tot'…God is dead. Perished in nuclear fire. Perhaps we, as Gods in our world, came to right this wrong. Perhaps this world has become accustomed to living without Gods, and has promptly stripped our Godhood to protect its freedom. Perhaps this is the world where Gods come to die.

The only values to worship in this land are power and freedom, and we have lost much of our former. Instead, we must live in fear of our own frailty.

I reach into the back of my hair, touching my rose, feeling its thorns. I concentrate, attempt to elongate it, please, please, damn. Damn this…nothing. Nothing. We have become nothing.

Kenshiro and Rei do not exist, and they are not Japanese. Zeus and Ares exists, and they are Japanese. And now they are mere humans. Intelligent, battle hardened humans that make death their bedfellows, but mere humans nonetheless. Fallen angels, fallen Gods, cast down to freeze under the flapping wings of Satan himself. The simple fact that I feel a foreboding sense of fatalistic terror only reminds me of the comfort that I am still sane.

Could this have been King Yama's work? Could…it? Impossible, he would have no means to know. He would not deal with demons, he despises us.

He brainwashed them before, this is not beyond the parameters of his ambition and spite. Stupid…stupid stupid! Thousands of chess moves predicted in advance, how could I not see this one coming?! Idiot!

Idiot! Idiot!

'Stop worrying about traffic. Goodbye'?! Those are my last words to my mother?! To the woman that saved my life?! My soul?! May they be the epitaph on my grave! If I even deserve so much. Shiori...I am so sorry.

I open my eyes once again…a tin ceiling, a fluorescent light bulb burning by a lantern. Two other beds nearby, both empty. A sky blue shack door separating me from the outside. Is this a prison?

I look down on my shirt…the checkered red and white awash in red, the pants caked in dried blood. Two holes…I touch them, wincing…stitched together. I feel my back, finding two more holes in my shirt, surveying with my touch. This is a clinic.

I climb off the bed and stand up…almost falling over. I grab my bed's frame and lift myself up, allowing my legs to adjust to their newfound mortality. I heave a sigh, grossly distressed that I wasn't dreaming some sort of nightmare. I pull the rose out, concentrating on it. Nothing.

We have fallen a long way to the very crater of hell itself. I yawn, my stomach empty, having been purged of life's blood. I holster my rose and approach the shack door, pushing it open. On my left, a very dark-skinned African-looking male in his early 60s, with short graying white hair and a graying white beard, dressed in a bloodstained beige shirt and beige cargo pants. He is tending to a Caucasian brunette female in leather plate armor, sporting bowl cut hair, low cheekbones, large brown eyes, and a bandage on the right side of her head. The female sits on an operating table, having her eyes examined with a flashlight. The African looking man says in American-accented English "No permanent damage from the concussion, looks like you got off easy." The brunette fakes a laugh and says in a Southern drawl "Yeah, can't say the same about Crow. Thanks, Doc Church." Doc Church says "I head Simms has someone looking into that. He thinks Declan's people were behind the attack." The brunette sighs and says "Should have seen them coming." She then turns her attention to me.

Doctor Church follows the brunette's line of sight to me, and then says "My, my, up already. I have to say, you got to be the luckiest and at the same time, the unluckiest son of a bitch walking." Hm? I say "I beg your pardon." Church speaks "Two shots, through and through, with no bone damage, no major organ destruction. Only issue was finding your blood type, which was a little weird but that's doctor patient confidentiality. I can safely call that the easiest emergency surgery I ever performed. Just stitch and go."

I suddenly remember getting shot by that bizarre individual Mr. Burke. I ask "What of Mr. Burke? And Yusuke?" Church sets his flashlight aside and says "Burke's dead, and I'm not keen to bring him back to life. If you are talking about your friend, the Asian, well, one of the Asians, they are fine. The one with the white leisure shirt was here all morning, only just left a few minutes ago for breakfast. How you feeling? I can sell you morphine to dull the pain. Just one syringe, however." So that was what I was injected with last evening. I suddenly recall the warm sensation pulsating through my veins, blocking out the throbbing agony of my spilt stomach. An incredible comforting warmth…

I say "Fine for someone who was shot the other day." Church says "You're built with better material than most. I'm amazed you're moving so early. Anyway, the surgery has been paid in full by Lucas Simms. Try not to get shot again." I force a smile and say "It seems to be a difficult promise to keep in this world." Church says "Yeah, well, back to work. Seems Declan Carruthers is getting more…well…stupid if you ask me. At least it gives me people with real problems to treat, not hypochondriacs that think Jenny Stahl's squirrel stew was spiked with plutonium. Morons." I notice that I am overstaying my welcome. I say "Thank you for saving my life." Church turns back to the brunette and waves me off, saying "Yeah, that's what I'm paid to do."

I depart through the front door without another word, and find myself welcomed by nearly blinding sunlight. Rubbing my eyes, I hear someone…Yusuke, say "Well ain't you a sight for sore eyes." I open my eyes once again, only to find Yusuke standing right in front of me, wrapping his arms around me in a tight, painful embrace. I wince and say "Thank…you…" "How you?" He asks, patting my left shoulder. I say "Fine…fine, just a little weak. Thirst and hunger, minor problems compared to sudden blood loss." Yusuke says "Yea, well good thing we're the same blood type." Hm?

A bashful, guilty smile appears on my face as I say "Yusuke, thank you. How much did you…can you walk?" Yusuke says "Just enough to keep you alive. Been busy while you were out. I'm having breakfast. In the mood for deep fried squirrel?" I fail to restrain a laugh. Sighing, I say "Sure, very well. Deep fried squirrel it is."

I watch Yusuke return to his stool by the Brass Lantern restaurant, the blonde woman, Jenny Stahl, at the counter. I take the stool to the left of Yusuke and stare at his plate and two skewers of what I assume to be deep fried squirrel. To the right of his plate is this half empty glass bottle of what seems to be Coca-Cola. I read the label and find it to be called Nuka-Cola, the source of the bottle caps that this land uses for currency. Jenny looks to me and says "Surprised you lived to see today, let alone walk without limping. There is a thick trail of blood leading from the clinic to Moriarty's." Yusuke takes a sip of cola and says "Yeah, well, we're made of stronger stuff." Jenny Stahl yawns and says "I..ahhh…can see. Well what can I get you…Shuichi right?"

I nod and say "That is correct. I will have the…do you serve anything besides squirrel?" Jenny says "We have deviled eggs, Brahmin patty, ramen noodles…" Good! "Ramen please," I say, relieved to delay my eventual consumption of small woodland creatures. Jenny asks "Anything to drink?" I say "Water would be fine." "We don't sell purified water, just saying," she reminds. Oh dear…I say "Then a…Nuka-Cola, as Yusuke." Jenny turns to a box of ramen noodles and removes the lid. She then places them into a steel pot and pours in water from a jug…irradiated I'd imagine. Placing the pot on a stove, she turns a dial and says "That would be twenty-nine caps." Twenty-nine caps?!

Before I could say anything, Yusuke stops me and says "Here." He reaches into his jean pocket and places twenty-nine bottle caps on the counter. I stare at him and ask "Where?" He says "Our cut from the Silver job, plus some other stuff. Walter is taking a dump now. When he gets back, I'll explain."

I turn around and see Jenny opening the glass of cola for me, pocketing the bottle cap. As she turns to the collect the bottle caps, the blonde woman frowns and says "You know...Andy would give me hell for this, but here, a discount. I'll just take twenty." She leaves nine bottle caps for Yusuke to place back into his jean pocket. His shirt is caked in dried blood, mine as well. We both appear as a beaten mess.

I say "Thank you. What is the occasion?" Jenny turns her attention to my ramen as I reach for my cola. I take a sip…sickeningly sweet and rather flat. I drink anyway, as to not truly put my bonus to waste. Jenny says "You were probably passed out during this, but your friend here, and the other guy with the glasses, they disarmed the bomb." What? I turn to Yusuke, who simply smiles at me, showing his cola stained teeth. He bites into his skewer of squirrel meat, chews, swallows, and then says "Speak with Walter for the knowhow, I just kept guard with Billy Creel the eyepatch guy to make sure none of the cult crazies get involved."

"Billy Creel?" I ask, sipping on my cola. Yusuke nods and says "Yeah, the guy with the bandana, always with that little girl. Remember from yesterday? Nice guy but talks like he mainlines caffeine." I hear Jenny snicker to herself. I let Yusuke continue, waiting for my ramen noodles, sating my thirst with cola. Yusuke says "Simms was worried that Cromwell and his people, who are indoors now, and staying there thank fuck, that they would give Walter shit over disarming the nuke. The cult nuts are pretty protective of the nuke, I don't know, many the radiation got to their heads. Apparently it's easier than it looks, disarming it, don't expect me to play around with them though. Anyway, Simms set me and Billy Creel to barricade the door and make sure no one gets out. Which a couple tried to do, got a little tense. Simms yells at me that the cult don't carry guns, so thank fuck for that. Meanwhile, Walter went to work, and now the giant round piece of shit is kid-safe. Aside from the irradiated water, but hey, I'd call it progress."

Jenny suddenly blurts out "I'd say too. Raiders come and go but that nuke has been the biggest reason why no one wants to trade within a mile radius of Megaton without getting paid extra. Now if only someone takes out Declan, then we can finally have peace here." I nod and frown, saying "Seems I indeed missed much while I was sleeping. There was a female in the clinic with me, seems to be recovering from a blow to the head. She mentioned an attack and a man named Crow, I recall Sheriff Simms referring to him as the clothing merchant." Yusuke nods and says "Yeah, yeah, know about it. Stockholm saw it from up top, says he saw four raiders attack Crow's caravan, took him and his cow hostage. Lady in the clinic took out one of them before her Springfield jammed, and then got shot in the head. Stockholm scared the other three off before they could finish her off. I think her name is…ehh…Kathy?"

I sigh, it seems we are doomed to walk in our soiled clothing for much longer. Jenny Stahl props my noodles on a plate and offers a fork. Hmph, I grown accustomed…oh well. I feast on my noodles, ignoring their heat, too hungry to care. Consuming half in record fashion, I slow down and greedily drink my cola. Wiping my lips, I ask "Jenny, how do you get all the necessary nutrients? Vitamin C? Calcium? Is scurvy an issue here?" Jenny washes out the steel pot and says "As long as we got whiskey, we don't have to worry about scurvy. Thirst too, for that matter." Yusuke laughs and says "See, Kurama, over here, whiskey is part of a well-balanced diet. Congratulations." Please do not mock me, Yusuke.

I hear Walter from behind say "Good morning." I turn around, hm, it seems he acquired a black duffle bag, in lieu of the sack. Oh, that reminds me, what happened to my sack of food? Hm, it seems Walter recently shaved, and now wears black boots and a leather jacket over his vault jumpsuit. I say "Good morning."

Walter seats himself to the right of Yusuke, prompting Yusuke to ask "You washed your hands, right?" Walter growls under his breath as Yusuke lightly laughs to himself. I ask "Did Colin Moriarty tell you where to find your father?" Walter nods, keeps his attention on the counter, and says "Indeed, though I cannot act on the information now. He departed to the ruins of Washington D.C. If I approach with my current weaponry, I would be dead in a fortnight. So for now, I need to collect caps and find better equipment."

Walter turns to me and says "In case, you did not hear, I disarmed the bomb." "I heard, well done. How?" I ask, wondering if nuclear physics were taught in that vault of his. Walter says "Back in the vault, I worked with this man named Stanley Armstrong, bless his soul, hope he is still fine. Just a glorified janitor, but knew his way through damn near any piece of machinery. He imparted as much of that knowledge into me as possible. On my 18th birthday, he gifted me a pre-war artifact of his…a nuclear bomb deactivation checklist that lists the order of wires to cut, date stamped March 19th, 2052, from a nuclear testing center in Arizona. Apparently the Armstrong family descended from a long lineage of nuclear physicists."

"And you simply followed the checklist down to the letter? What if that…thing…was a different model?!" I frantically ask, amazed at Walter's suicidal recklessness. Walter smiles at me and says "You are welcome." I sigh, perhaps blessed to count so much fortune amidst the brutal misfortune of being a heavily weakened fox demon in a strange and violent land. Yoko, the Bandit King of Gandara, he would love and thrive in this land. Shuichi Minamino, the former S-Class demon, the former biotech researcher…why does power always eludes those that need it most, and flocks to those that abuse it most?

I ask Walter "Is the bomb completely inert now?" Walter stares at me and says "It is fine." The lack of a definitive answer worries me. I return my attention to my noodles, Yusuke, having finished his squirrel yakitori, sips on his cola. I eat the ramen egg noodles eagerly, building my energy. In the midst of this, I hear Yusuke ask "So Walter, is the other Walter cool with the repairs?" Hm? Walter says "Yes, he says the purifier is running smoothly again. He is very grateful." I ask "Pardon, what are you speaking of?" Walter says "There is another Walter, Walter Robinson, who maintains the water purifier here. This morning, I offered Yusuke something to focus on besides you, had him find pipe leaks for myself to plug."

Oh. I ask "How long were you waiting for me to wake?" Yusuke fails to conceal a pained smile and says "Relax, Kurama. I had my sleep." Walter laughs and says "Yeah, three hours' worth." Oh dear, Yusuke…

Yusuke glares at Walter and says "Don't be an asshat." Walter puffs his cheeks and says "I was the man who let you sleep on my couch, in case you forgot." I ask "Couch?" Yusuke turns to me and says "Oh yeah, Simms paid Walter for the nuke job. 100 caps and a new house, right over there, above that shack. He is also offering that shack, yeah that one, Mr. Burke's old one, your surgery paid, and 100 caps to us if we collect the bounty of Declan Carruthers. He's the head of those raider dickheads from that elementary school."

I smirk and say "So it seems an opportunity has arrived." Yusuke nods and says "Yeah, Simms is pretty pissed off at these guys, he was swearing up a fucking typhoon when he heard that Crow's caravan got taken down. I don't know, if he's still alive and we rescue him…" I nod and say "Opportunities beget more opportunities." Yusuke nods and says "Yeah, bingo. Me and Walt are heading out to deal with them soon. Been thinking about recruiting that brunette Kathy, Crow's bodyguard." I finish the remainder of my ramen noodles, drink them down with cola, and say "Very well. I may as well get more practice with my rifle. Where is it? And the sack of food."

Yusuke glares at me, smiles, shakes his head, and says "Kurama, you got fucking shot yesterday. Take it easy, we got this." I feel a hot flash of anger and humiliation rise. I say "Yusuke…we have suffered through much worse than those cretins in Springvale. I have recovered from much worse injuries then two clean through and through bullets to the abdomen. I will be fine. Where is my rifle?" Why am I asking for a rifle?

How much damage twenty-fours and a deceptively dangerous leviathan demon could cause? Hm, I believe there are still a few more hours to go. Once they conclude, I will make a final tally. Yusuke stares at me, grimaces, and says "Your rifle…and the food…and the rest of our caps…they're in Walt's house. Safe, and sound, no one is breaking in. He even got a crazy floating robot to defend it, ain't that right, Walt?" Walt says "Indeed, Wadsworth the butler. Needs work on the humor heuristics, though." I sigh, splay my fingers out, and say "Yusuke, please do not patronize me. I am not going to sit on a restaurant stool while you enter a firefight with a gang of lunatics!"

I find my throat straining from the cola and my anger. I add "This may be a world where your mindless brute force mentality can find itself at home, but that is exactly what we have right now! A mentality! A mentality, experience for situations that no longer apply, and the clothes on our backs! The two of you pit them against an organized band of lunatics, and all you receive is an early grave!" Damn this, all this.

We once were capable of bringing King Yama himself to kneel, and now we walk with guarded steps against oversized ants. Ants.


Yusuke yells "You want your fucking rifle?! Go on, fucking take it! I'm sorry for giving a shit that you nearly died YOU FUCKING…ARGH!" He slams his glass bottle of cola on the floor as Jenny yells "Now calm down y'all!" Yusuke…

I grimace, putting my right hand on my abdomen, on my soiled clothing, on the two holes in my shirt. Walter approaches Yusuke to calm him down, whispering inaudibly. Yusuke gives me a cruel look and says "Fuck it, you get shot and bleed out, your problem. Go get your fucking rifle from Walter, I'm going to see if this Kathy chick is fit for bounty hunting. That way maybe all four of us could fucking die together, make it a spectacle!" "Yusuke…" I mutter, realizing my ingratitude. I became so absorbed of being separated from my prior strength, from my Ki, from Shiori, I completely ignored the hell he suffered through. Him thinking, fearing, that he would be left alone in this wasteland. A pang of guilt strikes me just about where Burke's bullets penetrated my flesh.

Yusuke kicks a shard of glass into the direction of the disarmed nuke and walks past me, muttering "Last time…give a goddamn…hit about anythi..."

"Yeah, name's Kathy. Kathy McCord. You Shuichi? Heard you took two shots to the chest and recovered like it was a radroach bite," the brunette from earlier asks, outside Doctor Church's clinic. I cradle my Lee Enfield rifle in my hand, my last remaining vestige of strength in this decaying planet.

Even as I relieved myself in the privacy of the men's restroom, I could not bring my rose whip to form, nor could I bring my seeds to sprout. As if Ki itself has died out in this dimension, whether in the nuclear holocaust or in its creation, I cannot say with any certainty.

I answer "Indeed. A pleasure." I shift my rifle to my left hand and offer my right hand. She shakes it, staring uneasily at my abdomen. In a sling around her back, Kathy McCord carries what she and Yusuke call a 'Springfield Model 1903' rifle. The rifle itself has a scope, should prove incredibly useful. And to think yesterday morning I was worried about bacterial analysis.

I feel Yusuke's left hand land on my right shoulder. He says "So, we're doing this? A four gun posse out to take this son of a bitch down? Anyone want to say anything, now's as good a time as ever." Walter pulls back the slide on his '10mm' pistol, inspects it, and says "The other Walter, Walter Robinson, he's happy with the repairs made on the pipelines. He asks us to salvage any spare parts to him, promises to compensate if they are useable. Compensate, as in with caps." Yusuke nods and says "Alright, good to know. Anyone up for a smoke break? A piss break?" Kathy shakes her head and says "Trying to quit." Walter shakes his head and says "I do not partake." Yusuke does not attempt to look at me, knowing my answer well in advance. He pulls his two revolvers out of his jean pockets and says "Alright, time to do some bounty hunter cowboy shit."

Walter walks over to the wanted poster of Declan Carruthers, by the clinic. The one that I earlier learned to be stained in my blood. Walter carefully pulls the wanted poster off the wall and says "Here, so we don't forget the face." Yusuke frowns, peers to the floor, and then peers at the wanted poster. He says "Keep it in your duffle bag, I want to keep my pockets free." Walter obliges and unzips his duffle bag, inserting the wanted poster inside. The four of us approach the Megaton gates, preparing to, as Simms fondly describes, 'exact wasteland justice'.

There, our first steps out of Megaton today, the honeycomb pattern of metal mesh tunneling around us, almost whispering, that once we pass these metal beams, we take our fate into our own hands. The robot, Deputy Weld, creaks to face us, mutters "Have yourself a…nice visit…partner." "Its programming clearly needs work," Walter quips, as the four of us pass a dark-skinned female of African descent, adorned in a survival vest and cargo pants, dragging a sack of salvage up to the gates of Megaton. Seeking her pound of flesh. The four of us pay no mind and continue on our violent journey, spurred on by the greed of survival.

Walter speaks out "Move right, up the hill. Might offer a better vantage point." Kathy says "Makes sense. Going to get some mileage out of this." She adjusts her sniper rifle into her hand, marching with it. Yusuke follows to the left of Kathy, both his revolvers drawn. I carry my rifle by the barrel and follow behind Yusuke. We pass a toppled telephone tower, the structure a mesh of wires and twisted steel, the open current long departed, the hollow soil under it. Walter waves his left arm to the left, and so we follow. Reaching a drop off, we leap down below, one at a time. Immediately down the hill, a broken pathway, shattered stones, gray, dead. A telephone tower, intact, right in front. Several meters to the right, a half destroyed billboard. A rhesus monkey on a space ship 'Captain Cosmos.' Some cartoon from centuries past. A destroyed vehicle right in front, rusted beyond recognition.

Walter immediately crouches down, the rest of us follow out of trust. Kathy immediately sights down her scope, saying "Dumb idea, they got a clear view of us from the school." Yusuke says "Walter, leave the tactics to me. Alright, slowly, crouch down, move left. Get behind the telephone tower, nice and fucking easy. They don't see us yet." Yusuke takes the lead and cautiously moves across the broken pathway and to the telephone tower. We follow.

Kathy eyes down the scope "I got one on the third floor, with a rifle. No scope, looks to be taking a piss out the window." "Nice detail," I quip. "See any ways to enter?" Walter asks. I hear Kathy McCord say "Nah, none from this side. Got a telephone tower to the right of the school, gated. Could be a way to flank, don't know. We can move left around the giant boulder in front, or right. If we chose right I gotta take the shot."

"Left it is," I say, eying the raider with the rifle. I hear Yusuke say "Same, they might got a patrol going through the houses. Don't want to go Leroy Jenkins on them and get fucked from behind." "Too much information," Kathy quips, as Walter, 10mm pistol in hand, cautiously moves to the boulder.

We hug the boulder, moving left, finding a small incline. Walter crouches by it and lifts Kathy onto the elevated surface, then Yusuke, then myself. Yusuke reaches down and helps Walter to the elevated surface, while I hear Kathy crawl forward. I turn around, spotting the top of the familiar red rocket. Yusuke whispers "This looks like a good place to snipe them." Kathy says "Yeah, was thinking that."

We press forward, slowly, our voices hushed, our tone exhibiting a false sense of confidence entangled in apprehension. Four dead trees, mere standing corpses, we snake around them, seeing more and more of the burnt houses below. The rotting husks of civilization past. I spot a crow overhead, another, flocking toward Silver's safe house. I watch as Kathy aims down the sights of her Springfield. She says "Seeing a few bodies by that house across the street. Looks fresh, crows are feasting." Yusuke says "Yeah, that was us yesterday." Kathy asks "How many you took out?" I say "Three, I believe. No…four. And a fifth may have been wounded." Kathy says "Good, good, they're getting thinned out."

We reach the edge of the elevated surface, a ten foot drop below. A barbed wire fence surrounds the gas station below, reminding me of my first brush with mortality in this world. The burnt out house I searched yesterday, the one in which I found nothing but an empty whiskey bottle in a cabinet, I can see with perfect clarity. Walter says "We're dropping down, taking cover in the house. You, Kathy, remain here, watch over us." She growls and says "Bullshit, I'm coming with you. Crow will have my ass if I don't." Walter says "That rifle is more useful up here then inside. Once we enter, I'd expect close hallways and men in numbers. That would make your rifle…" Yusuke completes his sentence "Tits on a fucking bull useless." Kathy says "I believe it's 'tits on a radscorpion' useless." Yusuke nervously laughs and says "Radioactive scorpions. Great…"

Sighing, Kathy says "Fine, but make sure you keep Crow alive. And tell him I've been a good help. He pays well and I don't want to develop a reputation as a half-assed bodyguard." Yusuke says "No problem. Can you describe Crow? So we, you know, don't kill him by accident." Kathy growls and says "Light-skinned Latino, thin mouth, brown, wide, thin eyes, got a slight cleft in his chin, like really slight. Has very short brown hair. Speaks in a dry voice. He's an ex-tribal." "Tribal?" I ask. Kathy says "Wastelanders that start making up shit, like worshiping half sunken boats and tattooing their bodies with ink mixed with radscorpion poison. Weirdos that try to make sense out of nothing, you know, to find answers to life and crap like that. He left his tribe a while ago, and he lives in the real world." Yusuke laughs and says "Where men sell propane and propane accessories." I restrain a much needed laugh. Kathy asks "What?" Yusuke smiles and says "Nothing."

Walter leaps down and ducks under a beam, crawling into the burnt house. Yusuke turns to Kathy and says "Remember Kathy, don't shoot until we start. I don't want to shit in my only remaining pair of pants." Kathy says "Got it" and proceeds to crawl to the far edge of the elevated platform, seeking a better vantage point of the school. I proceed to drop down the elevated rock platform and join Walter in the burnt out house.

Walter takes cover in the corner directly diagonally from the old cabinet with the empty bottle of whiskey. He sits down and rests the back of his head against the wall. I lie prone and carefully crawl around the debris, approaching the corner, damn! I take cover by the corner directly across from the cabinet, having seen it. A massive ant, from Silver's home, crawls onto the street. Yusuke…please be discr…too late the ant spotted him. Yusuke runs up the corner with me, his revolvers drawn. I grip my rifle, steering myself. I understand that, once I climb up, I will be easily spotted by any raiders watching from the near side of the school.

As I see Yusuke prepare to open fire, *BANG* *BANG*. "These fucking ants, man, they getting me pissed off," I hear an unrecognizable voice from afar, Pennsylvanian accent, raspy, indicative of either heavy smoking or significant narcotics abuse. Raiders. Mercifully Kathy has shown restraint, not a sound from her direction. "No shit, they been chowing on the dig teams like it's jet night," another raspy voice, male, accent-less otherwise. I listen to their footsteps…two, no three. I stick three fingers at Yusuke, who nods, lying on his chest, both revolvers in his hands. "You think we going to hit those vault assholes soon?" the first voice says, louder, crisper. They are heading in our direction.

I feel Yusuke pressing his body into my legs, scrambling for cover. I press my back further, offering him more room, which he greedily accepts. I see him struggling to control his nervous panting, his mouth agape, his revolvers at the ready. A shadow casts over us, right above, an African-looking male with a spiky black Mohawk, I believe the man from yesterday who helped send us into retreat. The back of his head facing us, I could smell his stench of sweat and Salisbury steak. I hear a match being struck, and suddenly I smell cigarette smoke.

"If those fuckin' ants stop eating our diggers, yeah, we'll hit those fancy vault cocksuckers soon. I'm getting hard just thinking about the pre-war shit they got. Going to be rolling in caps and morphine in no time," the Mohawk sporting raider speaks. I turn to Yusuke, who grimaces and looks to me for a suggestion. I think of one.

"At least we ain't doing stupid shit like fuckin' with Megaton, don't know what Boppa was thinking," a raspy female voice says in Pennsylvanian-accented English. Meanwhile, I set my rifle aside, cautiously, and reach for my belt and, very slowly and carefully, unbuckle it with nary a sound. Yusuke glares at me in confusion, I try to offer him a look that suggests a plan. He nods in trust, seems the message was received.

I pull my black leather belt out, tap Yusuke on his shoulder, and nod solemnly. The African-looking male in the Mohawk says "No shit. Dumbest fuckin' idea I ever heard. Didn't even have none of them big-ass missile launchers and…" I quickly rise to my feet, swing my belt through the gap in the wall and over the raider's head, and garrote the raider as he takes a drag from his cigarette. Right in front of me, two raiders, both Caucasian, one male and with blonde hair combed to the right, a thick moustache, and pock marks, bare chested and wearing leather pants adorned in steel plating, the other female, with fish fin shaped brown hair, thick eyebrows, a bra made entirely out of steel mesh, and spiked steel pants. The male on the left carries a 10mm pistol, the female on the right carries a…black police baton. The two proceed to back off and strafe to the left, the male aiming his 10mm pistol down.

"Holy fuck!" the male on the left yells as I pull my head down, strangling the life out of the raider right in front of me. I do certainly hope that the wooden and fleshy wall between me will absorb any incoming bullets. Yusuke suddenly yells "Remember me?!" I watch him rise to a crouch and aim his revolvers at the two raiders, my grip tightening, the Mohawk raider flailing violently, swinging his right arm up and down, desperation, as his throat likely cries for air.

I hear a loud gunshot from my left, the 10mm pistol wielding raider struck in the chest, falling over a faded red fire hydrant. Blood in the air, the wounded raider misfires, striking something to the left, in the far distance, rubble likely. The female raider charges, desperation, stopping short of yelling 'BANZAI', while the Mohawk sporting raider relieves his bowels, adding to the stench of urine to the cocktail of blood, sweat, cigarette smoke, and gun smoke. A shot pierces just below her left steel bra cup, spraying blood onto the dirt ground, slowing her approach. Another, this one to the right shoulder, causing her to twist and look to the right, as if to dodge the shot well after receiving it. A third shot, this time into the upper middle chest, likely the aorta, accelerating the blood loss. Her legs buckle as she falls onto her back, face in shock, grunting in agony. Her police baton falls from her hand, I continue to garrote the raider in my grasp, his flailing movements now slowed to shrugs. Very loud gunshots from Kathy's location ring out, as more raiders likely meet their demise.

The other Caucasian raider, by the fire hydrant, yells "Fuck man!" as he climbs to his knees, using his left hand to grasp onto the top of the hydrant. He climbs to one knee. *BANG* One of Yusuke's revolvers launches a fifth bullet, spawning a burst of blood around the left side of the raider's forehead. A spray of blood, and the raider thuds onto his right shoulder, nary a sound. I finally ease my grip and retract my belt. The strangled raider falls forward to a resounding thud.

Yusuke yells "Five for five, how ya like that, you freaks?!" Oh dear. I yell "This is not a video game!" Sometimes I worry for Yusuke. His carefree blunt force approach is rather ineffective against a hail of bullets and a lack of Ki. Another gunshot from Kathy's location as I refasten my leather belt. Walter climbs out of cover and runs up to the raider by the fire hydrant. He rifles through the raider's pockets as Kathy yells "I got three of them! Two more running to you, I'll take them!" I watch Walter quickly loot the three corpses, tossing assorted weapons, ammunition, caps, and narcotics into the duffle bag. He says "We got 10mm and .32 ammo." "Fucking ey, man," Yusuke says, climbing out of the burnt out house, taking cover by a nearby car wreck. I grab my Lee Enfield rifle and join them.

We press forward, in full view of the red elementary school sign. To the left of the school, yet another burnt out home. I suddenly picture a collection of violent, armed lunatics inside the house, waiting to spring out at us as we did to them. Two raiders run down the street, armed with either tire irons or crowbars, I cannot say. One appears light-skinned and female, unless a male raider decided to wear a mesh bra, with a welder's helmet obscuring her face, the other male, light-skinned, Caucasian I believe, with armor adorned in various car engine parts. A shot from Kathy's location rings out, kicking up dust between the two charging raiders. They jump and flinch violently, grabbing their heads for false security.

Another shot rings out, sending the female raider to the ground, on her back, yelling, grasping her left leg, appears to be bleeding. We press onward, myself keeping my rifle aimed down its sights, aimed at the two hostile creatures before us. A second shot rings out, causing the male raider to jerk to the left, drop his crowbar, and grasp his upper chest with his right hand. His legs buckle as he twists left and falls face first to the floor, blood seeping into the cracks of the road. The wounded female raider yells in agony "Shit, shit I think I broke a bone! Trevor?! Ah fuck!" The raider shifts her body onto her left shoulder, staring at Kathy McCord's position. Another shot rings out, through the chest, causing her to scream for several more seconds. And then, silence. The air grows thick with blood and death. I stare at the bodies and ask "Would I be able to fasten a lens to my rifle?" Yusuke laughs and says "Yeah no kidding, first gotta find one."

From above, Kathy yells "Keep going, I'll cover you all!" Walter nods at her as we run up to the sign, a victory in of itself. Keeping right, the three of us run towards a fenced in telephone tower to the right of the school. What is this…under the tower…orange barrels? Passing between the fence and the school, Walter says "Better move fast, my Geiger counter is acting up." ! "Geiger counter?" Yusuke asks. I yell "We are being exposed to radiation!" "Shit!" Yusuke yells, as we run alongside the school wall, avoiding the nuclear dumping grounds as if they were the plague itself.

Entering a divot in the school wall, I quickly realize that we are surrounded by clear, glass-less window frames. I 'hrn' to get Yusuke's and Walter's attention, and then frantically point at the windows with my left index fingers. Yusuke and Walter flinch and continue on, with even more speed. The corner of the building is within reach, two deceased trees on the right.

We turn the corner, finding nothing but a dumpster. Moving around the dumpster, we find a motorcycle, a spare truck tire, and a large hole in the wall on the left. I hear voices from inside. Walter pats my shoulder and shows three fingers…three raiders. I grip tightly on my Lee Enfield and crouch down, approaching the breached wall, Yusuke behind me, close enough for me to smell his breath of cola and squirrel yakitori.

Walter suddenly runs past the breach and takes the right side of the hole, essentially the other corner of the building. He crouches under the remaining brickwork and flicks his 10mm pistol holding wrist. Automatic gunfire rains down on Walter's position, damn, he must have been spotted. Walter grimaces and fires two blind shots from cover, yelling "One on the second floor! By the windows!" Suddenly, gunfire rains down on my position, also from the second floor, on the opposite wall from the first raider, sounding similar to Yusuke's revolver. I hear laughter from below. A figure leaps from the breach. A female raider in pigtails, the raider from yesterday, armed with a baseball bat, sporting leather over her breasts and left arm, wearing spiked pants. "Wanna dance meat? Let's dance!" she yells, swinging her baseball bat at my head left to right.

I prepare to open fire. *BANG* A bullet from Walter's pistol strikes the back of her head, exiting the upper left portion of her forehead, spraying blood and brain matter onto the spray-painted brick wall I was using earlier for cover. She falls on her right shoulder, and then adjusts to lying on her chest, bleeding from her head, her baseball bat under her corpse. Gunfire continues to rain down, I contemplate waiting until the raiders are spent.

Cowering behind a brick wall, from addicts that would be torn asunder in Gandara. What has become of us?

King Yama's work? Yomi? Mukuro? Enki?! An agent of a foe whom we wronged once before? What hateful creature cursed us with such terror? I would not wish such a fate for anyone. Karasu and Elder Toguro notwithstanding. "Wake up fox boy!" I hear Yusuke yell, my inner thoughts making me oblivious to the never ending fountain of bullets raining down on us. A couple of bullets managed to pierce through the wall and nothing else, and I was too consumed in thought to notice. I must react, adapt. Yoko would be in paradise here, and I have no interest in resurrecting him. Very well, if it means to survive, I will oblige his fantasy. With or without my demon energy.

I lie on my stomach, wincing in discomfort as dirt and ash stain my already blood caked clothing. Aiming my rifle down the sights, I roll to the right…there, on the second floor, right in front of a pair of double doors. It appears as if half the school has been gutted by an explosion, or bitten by a giant demonic creature. The raider, male, with a blonde Mohawk, armed with a revolver, he crouches down and aims at myself. I line up my sights and pull the steel trigger.

Missed, damn. I pull the lever, expelling the shell casing. Gunfire zips over my head, the gust of wind reminding me of my own mortality. I aim again, fire. I think I struck his left leg or knee, he falls forward, off the ledge down to the first floor, crashing to the concrete floor. I hear a gunshot from the crash, blood spraying out. Seems he shot himself by accident. The raider flails and spins around, his revolver flying out of his grasp. Walter uses the confusion to funnel into the building, firing overhead at the remaining raider, taking cover behind a chalkboard amidst half a dozen rotting wooden desks and a rusted steel desk. I expel the empty casing and follow, Yusuke behind me. Automatic fire resumes, the wounded raider ceases to move.

I hear muffled swearing, running. I peer around the chalkboard and find that the remaining raider, tanned skinned, of Mediterranean descent I'm assuming, has leaped over a half destroyed wall and onto a staircase leading to our floor. Walter opens fire, shooting one, two, three bullets at the remaining raider. The raider grasps his right abdomen, flings his assault rifle out of his hands and through the hole in the floor, to the basement below, and proceeds to tumble down the stairs. He tumbles, twists to the right, and falls through the hole in the floor as well, wheezing and groaning in pain. Walter quickly runs to the ledge and leaps down. I suddenly hear another gunshot. After a tense second, I hear Walter say "He's done."

As Walter loots the corpses, having found a fourth raider that fell into the basement bathroom, likely shot down by Kathy McCord, I keep aim at the lower doorway. Waiting for the steel doors to stir, anxious, sweating, my abdomen starting to pain once again. I am a 912 year old Kitsune from Wessex Mykker in Gandara. I am the former Bandit King of Gandara. I am a biotech researcher living in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, Japan. What am I doing here?!

If only we still had our power, this would be routine, mundane. Instead, we must fight for every inch of the unknown. I believe I finally understand how normal human beings feel. How Shiori, Zinaida, Kokoda, how they all feel. I wonder, why do they not despair?

Behind me, Yusuke paces back and forth, his pockets jingling with .32 caliber rounds and his lighter. Walter approaches us, now carrying a bizarre rifle, beige in frame with a scope. Yusuke stares at it and says "That's a Steyr Aug. How the fuck did these junkies get their hands on that?" Walter pants and asks "Are you familiar with it?" Yusuke nods and says "Yeah…never shot from one before, though. It's German I think, or Austrian." Walter adjusts the rifle's rear to his shoulder and says "As long as it keeps me alive. Here, there shouldn't be many left."

Yusuke kicks the door open, causing a piece of twine to snap and a cluster of small green egg shaped balls to fall. Yusuke immediately pulls me to the ground as Walter retreats. A massive explosion blasts the doors off their hinges and into the hole in the floor. My ears, damn it's as if they have burst! A second explosion erupts from inside, could not hear but felt its vibrations. Walter peers back into the doorway and waits. The ringing finally ceases.

After several seconds of waiting, Walter suddenly opens fire into the doorway, and then adjusts his aim and opens fire again. He yells "Got two of them, both down. Go, move fast!" Yusuke and myself funnel inside, finding two female raiders sprawled and bleeding in front of a burning electrical generator, one Hispanic seeming with a thin Mohawk, the other Caucasian and bald. Yusuke nudges my left arm and aims one of his revolvers at the doorway on the right. I hear Walter walking behind us, and then not anymore. Seems he took the doorway on the left.

"Just like old times, eh fox boy?" Yusuke asks. No. I say "Old times did not require us relying on human firearms." "Still equal parts fucked, though, with all the nutjobs that want to either eat us or do funny shit to our corpses," Yusuke says. "Perhaps there is some truth to that," I say, panting, anxious, sweating. Mercifully there is a coolness indoors, if only I do not catch a chill.

We approach a damaged wooden bookcase and…on the floor to the right…a decapitated, dismembered male corpse, the remaining limbs chained to a mattress. Even by Gandara standards, these raiders are vicious. Hiei would surely be amused by this display, his beliefs on the depravity of mankind validated. Walter yells "Over here!" We turn around and approach, walking across the hallway. Yusuke checks a door on the right, locked. In front, a female corpse in suspension, hanging by meat hooks, her head and forearms missing, a pool of blood below. The tears on her elbows and neck have gone a disgusting shade of green and brown, the bone fragments visible.

Walter presses onward, we follow, turning right. I suddenly see a shadow across the hallway, a raider, betrayed by the fluorescent light bulb above him. I aim down the sights of my Lee Enfield rifle and step forward, intentionally intensifying my steps, drawing his or her ire. The raider moves, male, East Asian, Chinese or Korean descent, either/or, dyed blonde Mohawk and an assortment of leather straps covering his body. Armed with a shortened rifle with two barrels, a shotgun it seems, wooden. He turns to face me, yells "Eat shit!" I fire.

I did not compensate the shift in stance adequately, struck his right arm instead of his neck. I pull the level and eject the spent cartridge, as the raider yells in pain, his right arm dangling by mere tendrils of flesh, lying on his stomach. Bleeding profusely. "Fuck, fuck, FUCK!" the raider yells, scrambling for his shotgun, grabbing with his left hand. Unsure as to whether he intends to ease his passage to the River Styx, or demand some company for the journey. He turns to face me. I stand still and fire a round into his head, just above the top of the nose. No more screams.

Behind me, Yusuke says "You're turning into a natural at this, Kurama." Hm. Nothing natural about this. Another door on the left, past the dead raider, past another generator. We enter.

A staircase, leading upwards, Walter follows in front, slowly, his automatic rifle at the ready. Yusuke follows behind, I cover the rear. We climb the stairs, a flickering lightbulb above us. We reach the top and hear muffled sounds, see an array of file cabinets. To the right of the cabinets, two posters, one titled 'We Will Be There', an advert for this company called 'Vault Co.' To the right of that, an advert for the Washington D.C. Museum of Technology. More muffled sounds, coming from the door on the right. "Shut the fuck up," I hear someone swear behind the door, in the raspy voice prevalent amongst these raiders. I approach the door, standing at the right side of the doorway. Yusuke to the left, Walter to the left of Yusuke. I kick the door open.

There, a Caucasian male, dressed in the hodge-podge of debris that these raiders typically wear, holding a light-skinned Latino looking male hostage, the raider's left arm around the hostage's neck, right arm aiming a revolver at us. At Yusuke.

The hostage, gagged by duct tape, is dressed in leather armor, and his facial features match Kathy McCord's description. At the very least, Crow is alive. The raider yells "Stay the fuck back, or I'll brain him. I'll fucking do it!" The male I assume to be Crow suddenly lunges for the raider's right hand, grabbing it, fighting for the revolver. Yusuke approaches, unsure, aiming both his revolvers at the two. The raider's revolver goes off as the two struggle, striking a mattress. I take matters into my own hands, adjust the rifle to my left hand, and pull my rose out of my hair.

I slide my rifle around the front of the raider's neck for leverage, and plunge my rose into the back of his neck, receiving a gurgling, muffled scream and the sound of my rose drilling into his spinal cord. The revolver falls to the ground. I retract my rose and immediately holster it, no doubt expecting both Walter and Yusuke to ask questions. So far, I receive none.

The hostage immediately grabs the revolver and retreats to a corner, tripping over the dead raider's corpse. He anxiously says "Stay back, I will not hesitate to fire." His American English is accent-less, with an air of sophistication. I hear Yusuke say "We just saved your ass. Don't believe us? Ask Kathy McCord outside. You Crow?" His facial expression betrays any potential desires to conceal his identity. Crow nods and says "Indeed, yours truly. So Ms. McCord is alive, I take it?" Yusuke nods and says "Yeah, and covering our asses right now. She's been picking off raiders like it's a sport." I see Yusuke is fulfilling his promise. Crow grips the revolver and says "Pleasant to know that I have not been forgotten. Did she send you?" Walter eyes the hallway to Crow's and my left, and says "I am here for salvage and caps. Yusuke, over here, and Shuichi, the one who rescued you, they are here to collect the bounty on Declan Carruthers, on Lucas Simms' behalf."

Crow dusts his knees off and says "Then I am in your debt. I'm sure Kathy has regaled you with the details of my work. My Brahmin has been slain, and my inventory squared away. If you recover it, I will allow each of you three to browse my inventory for an attire of your choice, per gratis." Mercifully, we will soon be clothed in suitable wear. Preferably an attire not caked in blood and sweat. I spot Walter tapping Yusuke's shoulder. We have company.

Yusuke enters the hostage room with myself and Crow, Walter takes cover by the other wall. "If y'all fuck off now, we won't pursue," I hear a male speak in a Southern drawl. Good, this means they are fearful. We must press on.

I tighten the grip of my rifle as Yusuke leaps out of cover. Shots ring out from multiple sources, Yusuke flinching and bending his knees, strafing to the right. I hear the clang of a rifle falling down the stairs, followed by two bodies. Yusuke opens the cylindrical portion of his two revolver and expels shell casings. He takes cover next to Walter and proceeds to manually insert rounds from his jean pockets. He slams the cylinders back into position and spins them, apparently his firing range hobby has paid dividends. I step outside, finding two raider corpses sprawled on the staircase leading above, a pistol and a rifle on our level. I speak "Crow, remain in this location, protect our rear." Crow rests his back against the doorway and says "Very well. Remember what we spoke concerning my inventory. I am a useful contact to have, I assure you." He fears that we will simply loot his inventory.

Walter says "We remember it well. Stay alive here." The three of us walk up the stairs, as I hear a rifle being across the floor below.

We reach the top floor, a dog snarling. Lunging. I strike it across the face with the stock of my rifle. Walter opens fire, drawing blood and a whimper, then silence. "It's killing time, boys!" I hear someone yell out. Walter runs ahead, firing blindly from the hip at the room on the right. We follow. Walter funnels into the room. We follow.

Three, four, perhaps five raiders, hiding behind the cover of ruined wooden bookshelves, ruined computer monitors. Paper cut outs of the English alphabet pepper the rotting walls. My Junior High School flashes before my eyes…rotting, corpses, skeletons, demons. These monsters are demons, the type that fill Hiei with disgust. Humans devoid of honor and courage, who treat battle as some children's toy and cry for mercy when they face something stronger and bolder. I feel a rage rising, adrenaline rising. I aim down the sights, barely able to see in the dimly lit library. A shot zips just past my left cheek, cutting it, wetting it. I open fire. The raider, male, nothing else visible, he falls. I expel the empty shell. I feel the loud *BANG* of Yusuke's revolvers on my right, coursing through my body, the bullets sending one, two…two raiders to the floor. There is blood in the air, and the Yoko in me is screaming to go kill more of these feral creatures. I adjust my aim to the left, by the computer monitors. I fall down on my chest, avoid bullets flying overhead. My abdomen aches from the impact, I wince. Rising to my knees, I aim. Fire. Missed, but the raider flinched in response to the muzzle flash and the loud retort. I pull the lever, savoring the opportunity to adjust my error. I fire, missed again. Damn this. Walter pushes me aside and opens fire until I hear a *Click*. The remaining raider falls to the ground as well, all four creating a chorus of groans and screams.

Walter retreats to add new ammunition to his rifle, as Yusuke crawls to the right of me, whispering "There can't be much more of them left." Four screams turn to three, three turn to two. I say "They would be more effective if they attacked us at once." Yusuke nudges my shoulder awkwardly and says "Be fucking happy we're dealing with crack and meth junkies here." The screaming ceases. Yusuke climbs to his feet and aim's his revolvers at the four raiders in front of us. I follow, scanning the two corpses on the left, all male, one Caucasian, bald, and clean shaven, the other African, bearded, and with short hair. *BANG* I swing my rifle right. Seems Yusuke only euthanized one of the raiders.

Walter runs up behind us and says "Stay…alert." I can sense him panting, fidgeting in his words. Adrenaline oscillating with fear. In Gandara, an S-Class would see no other equal aside from another S-Class. Here, there is no scale, no mystery. A single bullet makes us all very much equal. The lowest raider may slay the finest marksman, given the opportunity.

Walter exits through a hole in the wall, and then through another doorway, entering a much better lit hallway. He turns left and then immediately is set upon by an East Asian female with fish fin black hair and a serrated knife. As the two struggle, I run up to the female raider and swing my right leg into her ribs with such force, I believe I heard them crack. She spins around in retreat, still armed with the knife. As she climbs up to lunge, I drive the barrel of my rifle into her neck. She rises to her knees, lunging forward, insane. I pull the trigger, nearly decapitating her, her head dangling by her neck. My shoes and pant cuffs are soaked in red, greasy blood. I cough at the influx of gun smoke. I feel myself slipping back to Yoko the Bandit King. No…I won't…just will survive, as Shuichi, carry on. Not descend into an animal again. Egh.

Yusuke joins us in the hallway, turning right and entering a doorway. He holds this position as I lift Walter to his feet. The two of us then proceed to the end of the hallway, sidestepping concrete highway dividers that somehow been dragged inside. We turn left again, finding an array of lockers on the left, a Nuka-Cola dispenser at the partially destroyed opposite end, and a railing on the right. The two of us hurriedly run into the connecting hallway and turn right.

On the right, corpses mutilated, hanging, dangling from meat hooks in every imaginable position. Skeletons gibbeted in cages, their bones rotting. I think I see a female corpse nailed to a giant cage, crucified upside down. Walter and I look below, two raiders, pacing, confused, one male, Caucasian, the other female, a Latina. Both carrying revolvers, moving with the urgency and direction of headless chickens. I aim down the sights. *BANG* She falls, crawling out of view, behind a stone pillar. I think I struck her stomach or thigh, she yells in Midwestern accented English "Damn this hurts…two on the railing!" I expel the spent cartridge as Walter guns down the male raider, drawing no sound from him. I hear the female raider yell "Fucking hell!"

Suddenly, down below, from the doorway on the right, a male raider, African with short grey hair and a greying beard, armed with a rifle, opens fire. I duck and retreat as Walter runs out of the hallway, back to Yusuke likely. I crawl on my stomach, a gibbetted skeleton right in front of me. I stick my barrel through the gibbet cage, watching the raider, he hides by the doorway, perhaps a sliver of flesh visible from my position. I adjust my aim, wait for him to shift and attack. Inches away, no, a foot, to the left. He shifts to the left. I fire…connects to his right shin. He falls to the ground, yelling in agony. I expel the round and press the trigger again. *Click* Damn this.

I retreat back to the hallway, Yusuke and Walter now guarding the only remaining doorway left to explore on this floor. I crouch by Yusuke and yell "I need ammunition! Now! I left two downstairs, both wounded!" Yusuke crouches by me and reaches into his right jean pocket, fumbling with his right handed revolver in the process. He sets the revolver aside and resumes his search in his pocket, while I hurriedly open the bolt of my rifle, pulling it back. I. A slip, the rounds spill onto the floor. I hurriedly collect them, one, two, four, six. He mutters "Shit." I ignore and quickly and anxiously insert the rounds, one at a time. Pushing down with my right thumb, six loaded. Yusuke hands me four more, one inserted, two, damn I pinched my thumb somehow. A slight cut, I lick the wound out of habit, tasting the metallic flavor of my life's blood. And some of Yusuke's, given his recent blood donation. I insert the remaining two as Yusuke asks "You okay there, Kurama?"

I rise to my feet and say "No, but I don't believe it matters." He mutters a 'hmph' and climbs to his feet as well. We proceed through the hallway, yet another staircase, this one descending.

Walking down the stairs, Yusuke steps in front and aims at a hostile raider he noticed in cover. The raider, female, Caucasian, long amber hair, armed with a sledgehammer, she swings from cover. Yusuke blocks the wooden shaft of the sledgehammer with his right foot and aims his left revolver at the raider's forehead. A loud blast and the raider falls to her right shoulder and chest, killed instantly most likely.

We exit the doorway, another doorway across. I scan it from afar, a classroom, with rotting wooden desks, faded plastic letters of the alphabet, mattresses. Not a classroom, a fallout shelter. I look left, a cell. An open cell…littered with skeletons. I take a closer look…children. They could not have been more than ten. Ten…

My mind immediately flashes to Sensui…to Game Master…to Yusuke. Flashes to years before, centuries, memories of regret and anguish, a world away, and yet, so very close. Yusuke forcibly grabs my shoulder and yells "Fucking focus man, you want us to get shot?!" I snarl without forming a word and continue on. This world already sickens me, with or without the added torment of radiation exposure.

Looking ahead, at the hallway opposite the cell, lockers and another hallway on the right, an opened door on the left. I see movement from afar, behind the door. "Hurry!" I yell, moving right, into another hallway. Into the purview of three raiders, all armed with pistols. Two male, both Caucasian, one with brown hair combed to the left, other with short hair and a thick beard. One female, appears either Indian or Middle Eastern, with fish fin shaped black hair. I kick off from the wall and leap to the left, as the three open fire and my life fails to flash before my eyes, for my adrenaline would not permit it to. I land on my left shoulder and open fire. The bearded raider in the middle crumbles to the ground, on his back, while I crawl to modest safety behind a half destroyed wooden door. I hear automatic fire from behind, Walter I believe. I hope.

Wood easily splinters and shaves off as I hear Yusuke yell "Kurama!" I turn and see him charging forward, firing from both revolvers, two shots, three, five. I turn around and find the female raider joining the bearded companion on the ground, motionless. The remaining raider drops his pistol, grasps his chest, bleeding heavily, and steps backwards, until he backs into a row of lockers, generating a resounding *CLANG* The raider's knees buckle as he falls face first to the floor. I pull back the lever, ejecting the casing. Yusuke yells "You dumbass! Are you trying that hard to leave me alone in this shithole?!" I painfully smile, touched by his concern, and say "It is comforting to know you care." Yusuke yells "No fucking shit I care, you're all I got left here, man." I grimace, my abdomen aching fervently. Perhaps the residual effects of the morphine ultimately wore off…no, I would not have had an appetite earlier. Bizarre, uncomfortable. I feel a throbbing pain rising, not now…please not now.

I slowly rise to my feet, my abdomen now aching without prompt. I hear gunfire being exchanged across the rooms to my left, Walter's automatic fire drowning out the sound of general rifles and pistols. We press onward, turning left into another hallway. With four raiders, one male, Caucasian, bald, with a thick black moustache, armed with a revolver. Another, Latino, with a black mullet haircut and a thin moustache and goatee, armed with a revolver as well. A third, male, Caucasian, clean shaven, black bushy hair, with a barely visible scar on his chin, adorned in spiked shoulder pads, a breastplate made of a car door, and spiked leather pants. A bony, rodent-like face. Declan Carruthers, armed with a shortened shotgun, a cigarette in his mouth. To his immediate right, a Caucasian woman, with long hair dyed orange, armed with a 10mm pistol. I immediately retreat back to cover as the four open fire. Yusuke mimics my actions.

Yusuke stares at me, panting, anxious, his revolver barrels aimed at the roof. He starts to mutter inaudibly, I read his lips. He is counting, down I believe. I overhear a male yell in raspy English "That you, fucking Lucas Simms?! Come on the fuck out, let's settle this like gentleman!" Yusuke yells "Lucas got bigger things to worry about. He sent us for your head. Want to know how much you're worth, Declan?" I hear muffled laughter as the same man, Declan Carruthers himself, I assume, say "I call…five hundred caps and some back door from Nova. Am I…" Yusuke immediately leaps out of cover while Declan speaks mid-sentence, showing a craftiness I seldom see from him. He skips and strafes right, alternating between his revolvers, firing, and then taking covering on the opposite wall.

The hallway with the four raiders turns into a chorus of screams, with the one of the other two male raiders yelling "Declan and J.V. been shot, the meat is biting back! Someone kill that motherfucker!" I see someone crawling out of the doorway at the end of the hallway across from me as I face Yusuke. The African-looking raider I shot earlier in the leg, crawling forward, grasping his rifle. I yell "Yusuke behind you!" Yusuke turns around and aims his revolvers. I hear a click from Yusuke and my nerves jump, propelling me to strafe right and aim my rifle at the crawling raider. I aim down my sights, and pull the cold steel trigger. *BANG* *BANG* Yusuke's right handed revolver engulfs his right hand in gun smoke. My shot misses, striking the wall behind the raider, Yusuke's follows fair and true, into the head, left eye I believe, exiting out and into the wall as well, spraying blood and tissue matter on the floor, on the wall. I eject my casing, as Yusuke frantically opens his revolver cylinders and spills the spent shells to the floor. The raider from earlier yells "They're fucking reloading, move in!" "FUCK!" Yusuke yells, frantically digging into his jean pockets for his remaining .32 rounds. Oh dear.

I immediately turn from cover and enter the hallway, my vision focused, my aim steady. The two other male raiders remain standing, they approach, flinching at my sight. I aim at the bald raider, control my breathing, and open fire. A red mist spraying from his upper chest, near his neck, the raider's knees buckles at the Latino with the mullet aims his revolver at me. I can only dodge and hope he misses.


A sharp gash against my right forearm, not deep enough to kill, but enough to cause me to grunt in pain and step back, my back thudding against the wall. I do not even attempt to pull back on the lever to expel the spent shell, instead lunging my rifle at the raider as if it were a spear. Another shot from his revolver, misses, may have taken a few strands of my red hair. I drive the barrel of my rifle into the raider's neck, directly at his Adam's apple. The raider chokes and presses forward, attempting to press his revolver's barrel onto my head. I drop my rifle and grab the revolver barrel with my left hand, his right wrist with my right hand. The raider pushes forward, frothing, coughing, shoving me backwards.

We are in a men's bathroom, green stalls and dirty toilets on my left, dirty, rusted sinks and hand dryers on my right. The two of us struggle for the revolver, my right arm bleeding, the pain a throbbing discomfort. I refuse to let go of my grasp on the revolver barrel, twisting it upward. The raider shoves me into ARGH! The frame of a bathroom stall collides with my back, directly against one of my bullet wounds, sending jolts of pain. I clench my teeth and bend my knees, realizing that the raider is of slightly lessor height. I push forward and charge, driving the raider lower spine first against the sink. I slam his right wrist repeatedly against the concrete wall, prying the revolver out, again, and again, and again. I feel his grip slipping…yes! I pry it out, only to receive a sharp right hook to the chin, sending me to the ground. In the chaos, I accidently fling the revolver out of my reach, I hear it clang against porcelain.

ARGH! The raider swings his right foot into my ribs, his spiked shoe cutting into my abdomen. Damn! Argh! Another kick, this time a stomp on my back, mercifully avoid my stitches from before. I look for the revolver, there, under the urinals, next to a mattress littered in bloody human limps, freshly butchered. The raider steps over me, approaching the urinal. !

I grab his legs, just above his spiked shoes, and pull him to the ground. Adjusting to lying on my back, I twist his right foot, braving the spikes, and pull his right leg to me, hooking his leg with my legs. The raider struggles, kicks his left foot at air, cutting into the palm of my right hand with his spiked shoes with his struggling. Still holding onto his right foot, I extend my hips forward, drawing screams of agony. I feel the tension in his right leg, the muscle tearing. I hear the raider's voice go completely hoarse from his screams. Just a little more…yes. His leg snaps, my minor retribution for the suffering this world has inflicted on myself and Yusuke. Damn them all. DAMN THEM ALL! SHIORI!

The raider flails about, in such pain as to be oblivious of the revolver inches away. I retrieve my red rose from my hair, staining my hair with blood. Grasping the top of the stem, I drive the sharped bottom down on the raider's left cheek, drawing blood. Raise the rose again, pierce his nose. Pierce his neck, pierce, pierce. The screams stop, I sigh. No amount of piercing will bring me back, to Zinaida's embrace. To Shiori's embrace. Nothing, nothing!

I hold back tears, for they are not appropriate in the midst of battle. Once the dust settles, once the ringing in my ears stops, then I may indulge in self-medication. I hear sporadic gunfire from beyond, still sounding like Walter's rifle. I turn to face the doorway, and I see two revolver barrels peering through the right door frame. I yell "Yusuke, I'm fine." "Thank fucking God for that," Yusuke says. I am not sure if this world has a god to thank. I climb weakly to my feet, holstering my rose. I approach the doorway, now back in the hallway.

Yusuke walks up to the corpse of the female raider, lying on her left shoulder. He gently kicks her right shoulder until she lies sprawled on her back. I watch her eyes, clearly devoid of life. She lies in a pool of blood. Yusuke then turns to the raider I shot, kicks him, no response. I spot Walter appearing across the hallway, wheezing, panting. Walter aims at us as I yell "FRIENDLY!" Yusuke snickers as Walter motions that he will continue to search the rooms on the right. I yell "Remember, one by the giant cage!" He offers us the hand gesture for 'O.K.' and presses onward.

Yusuke suddenly notices the women's restroom and runs to it. He peers inside, disappears for a few seconds, and then reappears, finding it empty I assume. I shift to the ground and rest against a locker, finding a doorway with a direct view of the room with the giant cage and the array of mutilated bodies.

I immediately crawl away from sight and toward my Lee Enfield. Grabbing it by the barrel, I pull it towards my person. Seated, I aim my rifle through the doorway, spotting a female raider groaning by a pillar. The one whom I shot from the railing. Her left leg comes into view. I will take what I can get.

I press the trigger, it refuses to nudge. I haven't expelled a spent casing. I pull the bolt, expelling the casing into an open locker, and readjust my aim. I fire, startling Yusuke, and drawing screams from the female raider by the pillar. Yusuke runs past me, grabs my right shoulder, and tries to pull me away from the doorway. Argh, I wince, his grip worsening the wound in my right arm. I yell "Stop! Stop! My arm!" Yusuke yells "SHIT! You got shot?!" I nod and say "Just a gash…argh."

My ears ring, my body is drenched in sweat, my mouth is parched, half my body aches and stings and bleeds. I have smelt nothing today but blood, smoke, sweat, and urine. If my demonic heart could beat, it would burst through my chest. I hear pistol fire, and then Walter yelling "All secure! We're done!"

Yusuke leans by me and says "Sorry man." I nod and say "It is fine." Ergh, my abdomen. I fear that I may have reopened my internal cuts. I pant and take a deep breath, closing my eyes. I hear footsteps, Walter's I believe. He says "Raiders are dealt with, but we still have an issue."

Still resting against the locker, I watch as Yusuke drags a crate out of the women's restroom. Earlier, Walter notified us that he hacked the computer terminal of the Declan Carruthers raider organization, and learned of a plot to drill into Vault 101, the same vault he escaped from. Feeling some type of debt to his exilers, Walter approached Crow for assistance with clearing out the lower floors and dealing with an apparent giant ant infestation. I hear occasional gunfire down below. Yawning and sipping on a purified bottle of water that Yusuke found and graciously offered, I feel no obligation to move an inch.

Yusuke pries the crate open with a crowbar, his revolvers holstered awkwardly in his jean pockets. He whistles and says "Fox boy, we hit the mother-load. I'm counting four…five…six one liter bottles of Jim fucking Beam, four one liter bottles of Jameson, looks like the 12 year version, two of Dewar's White Label, five six packs of this beer brand called 'Ensbor', looks like it was brewed post-apocalypse, what else…three bottles of Sauza 'Conmemorativo' tequila anejo, and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka. Is this some parallel universe shit or what? I thought the guns themselves being similar was a big enough trip. Hey, at least you're getting stocked for, what, two months?"

I yell "Yusuke please don't mock my drinking habits! I have reasons for them, you know that!" Erh! Yusuke frowns and walks toward my direction, meekly saying "Sorry man, just making a joke." "Whatever," I reply, nursing my gash on my right arm, which Yusuke disinfected with an opened bottle of vodka found earlier. I sigh deeply as Yusuke says "Look, sorry, that was a low blow." I muffle a fake laugh and say "And now it appears I must drink for basic survival. Not many other ways to obtain vitamin C." Yusuke approaches the corpse of Declan Carruthers and says "Yeah, no kidding."

He pulls Declan's corpse from lying on its face to on its back, grunting as he pulls, muttering "Heavy for a skinny rat faced meth head…argh." He turns him around, his chest awash in blood. A bullet hole in his left lung, a second in his right leg, just in the thigh, his leg completely drenched in blood. I know of a critical artery in that area, likely cause of death. Bled out in mere minutes. An ignominious end, neither the last to fall nor the most notable in death. Bullets have a talent in sending warriors to ignominious destinies.

I hear Yusuke say "You know, with this whole school setting, this piece of fuck reminds me of Mr. Akashi. Remember him? From my school?" I search my 912 year old memory for a brief moment and request "Remind me." Yusuke says "The rat looking guy with the pointy chin and the buck teeth." Ah. I nod and say "Yes yes, I see the resemblance." Yusuke says "That bastard tried to screw with Kuwabara's test results, just to get one of his friends thrown out of his day job. Back when I was a ghost, trying to get my body back." I nod and say "I recall." I dare to crack a smile, to indulge in nostalgia. Yusuke says "Always wanted to beat that prick down, rat faced asshat." I weakly smirk and say "And now you did, with Mr. Akashi living, or dying must I say, vicariously through Mr. Carruthers." Yusuke lightly steps to the crate of alcohol and says "I'm going to miss them all."

"Me as well," I say. I close my eyes, remembering Shiori's embrace. Holding on, fearing that if I do not keep remembering, the warmth will be lost forever. Kuwabara's hearty laughter…Hiei's failed attempts at pretending to be disinterested in anything…gone. Only the memory will remain.

I suddenly find a presence to my right. I open my eyes…Yusuke has seated himself next to me. Taking my bottle of water, his sips on it, wetting his lips, his throat, returning the water bottle to me. He reaches into his back jean pocket, and retrieves a pack of cigarettes. Drawing one out, he asks "Should I move away?" I say "It is fine. I doubt second hand smoke claims many lives in these parts." He proceeds to retrieve his metallic lighter and strikes a flame. Lighting his cigarette, he takes a drag and exhales. Ironically, all the gun smoke I inhaled today makes the stench of his cigarettes seem rather tame.

Yusuke says "At least we solved the whole 'not dying of thirst and scurvy problem." I nod and say "Indeed, though I believe only the whiskeys contains enough Vitamin C relative to alcohol for us to normally function." Yusuke smirks and knocks ash onto the concrete ground. He sighs, exhales smoke upwards, his black hair drenched in sweat, bespecked slightly in blood drops. He says "Here's hoping that the others, that they are doing fine…do you think there is a way back home?" I frown and say "No."

Yusuke asks "Why not?" I say "I am not sure if Ki even works in the same manner as in our world. And I am certain that Botan would have located us immediately. Perhaps narcissistic of myself, but I do consider our disappearance noteworthy enough for Spirit World to wait for our return. I do not believe that there is a Spirit World here. I do not believe we are even in the same dimension."

Yusuke frowns, stares to the floor, and says "I wish I was a better fiancé to Keiko. I wish I wasn't a jackass NEET living off old glories and old nightmares." I frown and survey him, his face melancholic, sweat running down his cheeks. His pack of cigarettes by his feet. I drink from my bottle of water, swallow, feel the cool liquid go down my esophagus. I say "I have many regrets myself. I lived long enough to fill an ocean with them alone." Yusuke suddenly bursts out into laughter. "Pardon?" I ask. Yusuke turns to me, continues to laugh. He musters out "Kurama, you say shit like it's a Star Trek episode sometimes." Heh. I laugh, to my surprise.

I hear footsteps. I then hear Walter yell "Ant infestation resolved. Time to take inventory, return to Kathy McCord, and determine the logistical steps to hauling our newly earned…" Walter appears from the hallway on the left, Crow behind him. Walter continues "Treasure."

We finally have a home. Mr. Burke, that bizarre madman, his shack now bequeathed to us. Modest in space, but nicely furnished. Why he would purchase a home in a city he intended to destroy through nuclear fire, I cannot guess.

On my left, a gray leather cushioned seat, two metal storage boxes, a dining table with two chairs, a globe on the table. Behind the table, a small insert of wall, providing privacy to those sleeping in the bed beyond the enclosure. A pristine bed frame, and a rather comfortable mattress. We must invest in a second bed soon, unless Yusuke intends for us to rotate our sleep. On my right, moving from near the door to the far wall, three columns and two rows of metal lockers, a four tier shelf with two metal storage boxes and a bottle of Jack Daniels Old #7, a leather briefcase, empty, and a metal desk with three drawers, another bottle of Jack Daniels OId #7 on it, nearly empty. Tucked under the desk, a rolling seat cushion. In the middle of the floor, a massive pile of loot from the Springvale Elementary School battle.

As Yusuke, Kathy McCord, and myself collected and looted the ruins, Walter and Crow recorded inventory and discussed logistics. Sequestering Crow's stolen inventory and setting it aside, the final tally went as followed:

457 bottle caps, 17 of which Walter claimed to be brought in from his duffle bag from the other day. No one found the energy to protest. The 440 caps were immediately split four ways between myself, Yusuke, Walter, and Kathy. Then, a tally of the weapons. Fourteen 10mm pistols, three police batons, four crowbars, two baseball bats, eight Smith and Wesson revolvers of various types, a Steyr Aug rifle which Walter refused to even talk about relinquishing, an AK-47 from the corpses of the Wastelanders killed by the ants below the school, two sawed-off shotgun, three Lee Enfield rifles, a Mosin-Nagant rifle, three serrated knives, a sledgehammer, and four fragmentation grenades, alongside thirty-two .308 rounds, one hundred and seventeen 10mm rounds, one hundred and sixty-three .32 caliber rounds, forty-nine 12 gauge shotgun rounds, sixty-five 5.56 caliber rounds, eleven sharpened darts, and twenty of what Crow called 'railway spikes'. We decided to pay the raiders enough respect as to leave their armor on their bodies, looting only three welder's masks.

We also looted ten units of what I later learned to be 'stimpaks', syringe-like medical narcotics that supposedly restores bone and muscle tissue at a modest level, and increase red and white blood cell production at a very minimal level, a basic but temporary alternative to actual medical treatment. We also found four blood packs of the AB blood type, two of the B blood type, and one of the rare O blood type. Aside from the previously mentioned crate of alcohol, we looted four bottles of lager, two bottles of vodka, one already opened, a bottle of white wine from this nation called 'The New California Republic', and over twenty boxes of microwavable meals. We uncovered 10 bobby pins and, mercifully, five bottles of clear, clean water. We found four small bottles of painkillers, five units of the amphetamine 'psycho', two units of the crack cocaine lookalike 'jet', a tin full of Adderall pills…and four syringes of U.S. Army-grade morphine. Morphine…

Other salvage, correct! An assortment of hammers, scrap metal, batteries, and other junk, surely much that Walter Robinson of the water purification plant could make use of. We also found two cartons of Marlboro cigarettes and a pack of an obscure Mexican brand of cigarettes. We even found $500 in American paper currency, which Crow assures us to still be of slight value. Lastly, we found four books that are still intact, 'All the Pretty Horses' by Cormac McCarthy, an autobiography from 2054 of this Major League Baseball second baseman named Alejandro Contreras, a sheet music book of Franz Benda's works, and 'The Anarchist Cookbook' by William Powell. And Declan Carruthers' corpse, presently rotting in front of Doc Church's clinic, least I last checked.

Kathy McCord accepted three microwavable meals, all of the looted .308 caliber ammunition, the fragmentation grenades, the Mosin-Nagant rifle, the tin of Adderall pills, and the bottle of white wine as her payment. Walter claimed the Steyr Aug rifle, the AK-47 rifle, three stimpaks, the copy of 'The Anarchist Cookbook', several pieces of metallic junk, and all the ammunition we found aside from the .32 rounds which Yusuke and myself use, as the reward for the sweat of his brow. Yusuke and myself claim the rest, intending to visit Moira Brown, Doctor Church, and Walter Robinson, to liquidate our assets into tangible bottle caps.

I seat myself on the cushioned leather chair, sipping on an opened bottle of Jim Bean whiskey, just enough to calm my nerves without robbing me of control. The harsh, honey taste burns my throat, offering me something else to ponder then the world I will never return to. I grimace, tightening my fists. My right palm stings, I release my grasp, and recline. I refasten the cap of the bottle of Jim Beam and laugh to myself. I remember, my World History professor from my university, that pesky humanities prerequisite course that I was compelled to take. Professor Itami, the unapologetic Liberal Democratic Party of Japan advocate, the right wing of the Japanese political spectrum, who randomly claimed, mid lecture on the topic of the Opium Wars, that he earnestly believes that Jim Beam will one day be accepted as legal currency. I decide to remove the cap of the whiskey once again, and bring the neck to my lips. I drink, raising a bottle to Professor Itami. May he never find himself out of the Ramune he always consumes.

A knock on the door, a voice. Yusuke's "It's me Kurama. Crow's ready to let us pick out some new freaking clothes." Mercifully, I have not yet begun to defile myself.

Standing outside the Brass Lantern, Crow displays a dozen attires, capable of being separated into individual clothing, all arraigned on a blue cloth draped in front of the restaurant counter. I see a Caucasian male, in his 20s, amber hair combed forward, approach us, dressed in a black leather jacket, white undershirt, and jeans. He speaks in a very slight Southern-drawl, more akin to the local Maryland/Virginia accent I have been hearing predominately "Never got the chance to meet. Name's Andy Stahl, I run this restaurant. You met my sister Jenny? Or my older brother Leo?" He extends his right hand. I shake it, noticing a large revolver in a holster around his waist.

I say "Indeed as for Jenny, she makes good ramen." Andy removes his hand from mine and says "Just came here to say thanks for popping Declan. And you too, Yusuke right? I saw you and Billy Creel guard the door to the cult nuts while Asian Walter disarmed the fucking nuke. Thanks to you both, I'm looking at an uptick in those Wasteland types showing up with caps to spend." Yusuke nods at him and says "Just trying to earn a living here. You can also thank Walter Joseph Karamazov and Kathy McCord, they're up at the saloon. We won't say no to free drinks." Andy snorts and says "Fuck the saloon. Did you hear? Moriarty been pissing in the scotch for the hell of it. Crazy Irish bastard, thinks he's a fucking comedian. You want a good stiff drink, come to the Brass Lantern. No need to have Lucas Simms' heroes wasting away in that snake pit." He turns around and disappears into the restaurant inside, apparently satisfied with his sales pitch.

Crow whistles and I turn in attention. He waves at the array of clothing and says "My people say that the clothing maketh the man. Well, then, as an earnest thank you for rescuing my life and my property, allow me to remake…yourselves."

I exit Yusuke's and my new home, dressed in the attire I chose. Fits surprisingly well actually. A white undershirt, a red vest bespecked in gold dots, stitched black pants raised by my old leather belt, a beige trenchcoat duster, soft to the touch, with pockets on the outside. Two bandoliers stitched into the inside flaps, two black leather gun holsters on the waist, detachable naturally. Brown boots. Hot for this weather, but very practical for this world. And summer should end in a month or so here regardless. Perhaps we will live to see a nuclear autumn.

Yusuke says "All's that's missing is a black cowboy hat, Doc Holliday." "Who?" I ask. Yusuke smirks and says "Never mind." He is wearing black boots, stitched grey pants, a black shirt, and a grayish white vest, a black but otherwise identical trenchcoat duster draped over him. Yusuke displayed earlier the bandoliers stitched to the inside flaps. Crow says "Interesting choices. Those dusters are valuable, but I promised to allow you to choose, and so I must honor my promise." Yusuke says "Thanks, Crow. This is good, real good." I nod and say "Thank you." Crow speaks "I graced upon both attires as I toured the ruins of Nashville in the southwest. Uncovered several pristine sets in an old Pre-War clothing store, those were the two remaining that I had yet to sell. Enjoy, may they bring comfort in the cruel cold of the Wastes."

He rolls the blue cloth over the clothing and says "Farewell. And, thank you. For saving my life. And for bringing me to Lucas Simm' good graces, for he has promised not to tax my imports for six months. May fortune and prosperity find you both." "And you as well," I say. Crow turns away and approaches the ramp to the saloon, likely to retrieve Kathy McCord.

I turn to Yusuke and say "It feels good to not be caked in blood for once." Mercifully, the sinks of the Megaton bathrooms still run with cold water. It felt nice to cleanse my head of sweat, smoke, and blood, as well as my right arm. Doc Church saw to stitching my wound, assures that the risk of infection is minor. And that further medical treatment is only 50 caps away. Perhaps it is poor form to mock the man that saved my life.

Yusuke says "You said it, man. So, want to pay Walter Joseph and Kathy a visit at Moriarty's, or sell off our excess shit at Moira's and Doc Church's place?" I say "I would rather we sell before they close. Start with Moira Brown."

We enter Craterside, dragging a borrowed and nearly bursting duffle bag full of assorted weaponry, narcotics, and other salvage, finding Moira tinkering at a workbench. Her male leather armored bodyguard, either East Asian or Latino of Native descent, I cannot say, glares nervously at the proprietor. He spots us and glares at us with less urgency. Yusuke whistles.

A plume of smoke rises as a circuit shorts itself. Moira flinches and speaks "Aw, I was sure that tennis balls can generate electricity. Darn it." The red head turns to us and says "Oh hey! Yusuke, Shuichi, hello dears. Are you two going to be my research assistant this time?" I smile nervously and say "Pardon, no. We are simply here to sell our salvage from Springvale." Moira says "Oh I heard about that. And you Shuichi, poor you, I heard what that weird mean man Burke did to you. Here, I even made you a get-well-soon present." Hm?

I glare at Yusuke, who simply shrugs his shoulders. Moira crouches under her counter, rises, and approaches me with a clipboard. She hands me the clipboard, a drawing of a large, hairless rat. Moira says "I drew you a naked mole rat. It goes peep, peep, peep."


"Peep." Red hair, an utterly vacant smile…I turn to Yusuke, who seems to think the same thing. No, impossible.

"…thank you. It is touching," I say.

Moving on.

We proceeded to sell off all our excess weaponry aside from a spare Smith and Wesson revolver, larger then the ones Yusuke carries, and a baseball bat that has not been stained in blood. Moira also proceeded to repair our current stock of weaponry, my rifle and the three revolvers, surprising given how absolutely lackadaisical and insane she is. We also sold off all our American paper money, the welder helmets, the five units of 'psycho', and the two units of 'jet', leaving behind the four bottles of painkillers…and the syringes of morphine.

The warm sensation pulsating through my body, as if nothing could go wrong, as if this was all nothing more than an ugly dream…we then visited Doctor Church, whose first name we learned to be Emory. Emory Church gladly purchased our blood packs. We also sold him two small bottles of painkillers. Yusuke decided to keep the morphine and the remaining painkillers as emergency medication, in case one of us is shot again. We also sold him both bottles of vodka that came separate from the crate, as well as some surgical tubing from our salvage, and two thin leather belts to be used as makeshift tourniquets for future surgeries. We then visited Walter Robinson of the water purification plant, and sold him the bulk of our remaining salvage, batteries, scrap metal, other assorted junk. He refused to purchase two fission batteries, a sensor module, and a steam gauge assembly pipe, claiming they are too damaged for his use. We returned to Moira with those four items, and found a heavyily discounted price point for her to accept. In total, we finished the day with enough food to last two weeks, enough water to dole out for at least a week, enough alcohol to last a year, if not longer, very useful medicine, cigarettes for Yusuke, reading material, and 1071 bottle caps between Yusuke and myself. Sitting on our dining room table, across from Yusuke, I sip from the bottle of bourbon.

Yusuke yawns, motioning for the bottle of bourbon, appearing slightly intoxicated. He stares down at a clipboard and scribbles on a piece of paper with a pencil. Laughing to himself, he says "Damn we should ah gotten some glassware from Moira." I recline, the alcohol calming my nerves. I say "I believe there is a glass over on…that shelf there." Yusuke turns to it, sees it, and says "Damn I'm getting blind here."

He tries to climb from his chair, and then says "Ah screw it, too lazy. So, fox boy, how about this one?" I push the bottle of Jim Beam across the table to his side. He grabs the neck and says "A bank! We can, uh, set up a place for people to store caps, find other cities, charge a pee…fee…for security?" I rub my fingers against the fabric of my new duster. A bank, an excellent idea on paper. I say "These raider bandits seem to attack anything that moves. To actively transport caps across these lands, word will get out eventually, I speak from my experience in Gandara. A bandit spy will find a currency caravan, and every bandit will descend on the convoy like vultures. We would need to hire mercenaries that we can trust, and by the dozens. No, I would say no to the bank idea."

Yusuke drinks from the bourbon, sets it down, and slightly slurs his speech "Alright…how, hey about a casino? Like making the fucking Caesar's Palace here? Get cards, slots, it be great." I say "There is no room here to place a casino. Colin Moriarty might approve, but it will be on his property, with him taking the lion's share. Slightly more plausible then the bank idea, though. We would still need mercenaries, but they will be kept in one location. Better than in traveling convoys…if they do not trust each other. Very worse if they do trust each other. No, a casino in Megaton will be impractical."

Yusuke hiccups and says "Alright…how about we make a book about…hey…coffee tables! For coffee tables!" I groan and say "Yusuke, please do not quote American sitcoms." Yusuke waves me off and climbs out of his chair. He reaches for his opened pack of cigarettes, resting on the shelf, and his lighter. Pulling a cigarette out of the pack, he turns to me and asks "Would you mind?"

I smirk to myself.

I am unsure if it is the work of the bourbon, but I find myself rising from my seat. I approach his pack of cigarettes and retrieve one for myself. Wedging it between my lips, I borrow Yusuke's lighter and light the cigarette. I take a drag, too deeply, entering a coughing fit. Ceasing my coughing, staring at a shocked, taken aback Yusuke, I say "Not anymore."

"Why now?" Yusuke asks. I take a smaller drag, easing myself into smoking. Exhaling, a foul taste in my mouth, a burn in my throat, I say "We live right across an unexploded nuclear bomb. Which may or may not be genuinely deactivated. I think I will fancy my chances with smoking." I laugh, earnestly, as Yusuke lights a cigarette of his own. I do not see the appeal of this, but very well. I highly doubt there are many other recreational activities in this town/city/shanty.

A knock on the door. I immediately reach for my Lee Enfield. And at that moment, it dawned on me. A town, in which everyone is armed, paranoid, and, by necessity, intoxicated. Perhaps Moira could reinforce our walls.

"It's Walter, I got something for you." It's his voice indeed. I undo the top lock, then the middle one, then the dual locks below. Opening the door, I find Walter, adorned in a sky blue patchwork three-piece suit, with a reinforced steel cup for his groin, a bandolier across his waist, a pistol holster for his 10mm pistol, now outfitted with Burke's suppressor, and black boots. Around his neck is a reinforced brace. He holds two rolled up pieces of paper in his right hand. Outside, the sky is hued in a crimson red, a sunset.

"May I come in?" I let him inside, adjusting my cigarette to my lips. Walter waves smoke away as I close the door and set down my Lee Enfield rifle. Yusuke, leaning against the metal desk across the shack, says "Hey Walt, how's it going?" Walter grimaces and says "Better then I fear, worse then I hope. Crow mentioned of this thing called power armor, which I find quite necessary to traverse the D.C. ruins. If you two uncover any, I will buy it off your hands. In the meanwhile, I think I have adequate ammunition, and my new rifle should do fine. Also, since my Pip-boy serves me well, I have no need of this map. Here, enjoy."

He extends one of the rolled pieces of paper to Yusuke. I approach, a crude map of the Capital Wasteland, several locations noted. Walter says "Crow had multiple, gifted me a spare. Also, Kathy McCord says goodbye, and thank you." Ah, it seems the two left already. Very well, likely to see them again tomorrow. Possibly.

Walter then sidesteps our crate of liquor and places the second rolled up paper on the metal desk, saying "Here, I believe you should have this as well." Yusuke unfurls the paper…the wanted poster Walter pulled off the clinic wall, duct tape still attached to it. Declan Carruthers, his face stained in my blood, courtesy of Yusuke's hand. Yusuke drunkenly nods and says "Thanks!"

Still frowning, Walter speaks in a hushed tone "There is one last thing you must know." "Yes?" I ask. He waves Yusuke toward him to ensure he would listen. Leaning forward, Walter says "A white male in his…I wager his late 50s. Bald with thick brown eyebrows and a massive blackish-brown moustache, built like a Brahmin. Possibly six foot three, six foot four. He has been watching the front door of your shack for hours already, alternating between the railing by Jericho's house and the water purification plant railing." "Shit," Yusuke says, sitting down on the rolling cushioned chair by the desk. I say "Thank you for the warning."

Walter nod and says "Of course. Regardless, I am off to speak with Moira Brown. She is looking for a research assistant and promises to compensate me. Something about writing a book for the average struggling Wastelander. Something to work on while I bide my time for power armor and possibly better weaponry." "Good fortunes," I say. Walter nods and says "See you two later." He exits the shack door as I take an awkward drag of my cigarette. I then immediately seal all the locks, and then stare at my Lee Enfield rifle. Yusuke says "The bullshit never ends, eh?"

I turn around and seat myself on the leather cushion. Yusuke rises from his seat and grabs the wanted poster. He says "We going to need to spend caps on a fridge or shit. And a second bed. How you want to do this? I think we got enough room for both of us to fit." I say "If you are more comfortable with alternating sleep cycles, I will not protest." Yusuke shrugs his shoulders and says "Eh, don't care."

He grabs the wanted poster and approaches the portion of the wall between the metal desk and the four tier shelf. He presses the duct tape against the wall, hanging the wanted poster of Declan Carruthers. Patting the bottom of the poster, Yusuke says "How about this for work, fox boy? This will do?"

I walk up to it, scanning it, as one would scan a masterpiece in an art museum, a few feet from afar. I survey the ridges of Declan's face, the stain of blood on Declan's neck, his chin. Flesh for cash, a violent man's life for a fistful of bottle caps.

I turn around and approach the ashtray on the dining table. Knocking my first cigarette ash into the tray, I place the cigarette back into my mouth. Take a drag, exhaling, I say "It will do, Yusuke. It will do."

Chapter Text

Keiko…hey…just a bit longer…I'll get up soo…"Keiko?"

Tin roof, the same underwear I've been wearing for three days straight. I look left, Kurama, passed out on the floor, sleeping on top of his beige duster trenchcoat, wearing his pants. His shirt and vest are set aside on the floor. He rest his head on the crate, snoring. I'm amazed fox boy manages to sleep like that. I yawn, a nasty taste in my mouth. Been days since I brushed my teeth…eh. I reach down for my grey stitched up pants and pull them up, zipping them up. My throat dry, I walk up to the nearly empty bottle of Jack Daniels that Burke had left over. I unscrew the cap and do my bit to fight scurvy.

I almost gag as I sip on the whiskey, just the whole idea of drinking in the morning. Wiping my lips, I look toward the four tier shelf, to one of the metal boxes. Filled with the food we been salvaging over the past two days. I lift open the lid, the metal screeching. Kurama starts moving, I hear him yawn.

"Sorry man, didn't think it would screech like that," I say, frowning. The corn starch aftertaste of Jack Daniels pisses me off. I peer into the box…shit with a 2350 A.D. expiration date. Spam, industrial grade potato chips, Salisbury steak, instant mac and cheese, other crap. I wonder if Jenny Stahl would heat them up for a few caps, might try it. Assuming that the meat head outside doesn't give us any shit. I hear Kurama yawn again, and then hear him scratch his skin. He says "Good morning Yusuke." "Good morning, another day in this shithole. A step up from yesterday, eh?" Kurama says "Yes, indeed. With better clothes."

I pull out a box of mac and cheese, family serving. Good for two. I turn to Kurama and ask "Mac and cheese? I think Jenny won't mind to warm it up for a few caps." Kurama sigh, climbs up to his feet, and says "Preferable to squirrel." He reaches down for his shirt and grabs it. Putting it on, he says "We must deal with this mysterious stalker of ours." I nod and say "Yeah, no shit." Kurama buttons his shirt, leaving it hanging over his belt, and puts his red and gold vest on. He walks to the right corner by the door where his Lee Enfield is, and picks it up. I set the box of mac and cheese on the desk by the bed.

"I am going to wash up at the restroom," fox boy says, adjusting the barrel of rifle to his left hand. I say "Wait up" and put on my shirt and vest, wearing the shirt over my pants and belt. I refasten the cap on the sour mash whiskey and pick my pants slightly up, adjusting the belt on my waistline. I grab my two Smith and Wesson revolvers, now knowing from the label on them that they're Smith and Wesson 17s. On the shelf, the spare revolver, an eight inch barreled Smith and Wesson Model 29, like from the Dirty Harry movies. Ain't got no .44 caliber rounds, so it's about as useful as the baseball bat under our bed, but still, nice to look at.

I put on my boots, Kurama does the same. He says "Aside from our mysterious stalker, we have a shopping list to follow. Cutlery, brushes and toothpaste if they are available, more clothes, perhaps more ammunition." I put my two Smith and Wesson 17s in my shoulder holsters and say "And maybe a sling for your Lee Enfield. Going to suck lugging that long-ass crap around all day." Kurama nods like I read his mind and says "Yes, that as well." He exits the shack door, I follow. Good morning Megaton, you irradiated pile of dick.

I look around, scanning, see Jericho sipping on whiskey by a railing, Billy Creel and his adopted daughter Maggie walking by the water purification plant, Billy smoking a cig, Lucas Simms and his son Harden walking down the ramp from Craterside…oh great Cromwell's crazies are heading back out. Kurama grabs the back of my vest and whispers "There, by the saloon, to the left of the saloon entrance." See it, some guy in a white sleeveless shirt and brown cargo pants, standing like a giant circumcised dick. I nod and say "Lock the door, Kurama." I hear the door go click, and I head up the ramp, not even glaring at the dick upstairs or the crazies at ground zero with me.

I head up the ramp to the pisser, Kurama right behind me. I got both my hands on the grips of my six shooters, looking left to right, don't see cue ball. At the top of the ramp, right in front of the Common House, I see the door move. A black guy in a light orange t-shirt, beige cargo shorts, and brown boots too thick for this weather exits the Common House, got a gray poncho patterned bandana on his sweaty head, short black hair, and a black goatee. He looks at us and says "Hey." "Hey," I say, Kurama just nodding at him. Don't think he's with baldy. We turn right.

Walking around the back of the saloon, I hear a glass shatter from inside. Hey it's a freaking bar, I'd be worried if glass wasn't breaking. I see the men's room, to the right of the saloon's back door from here. A white guy with bushy dirty blonde hair and a five 0'clock shadow steps out, dressed in a white shirt and brown cargo pants, got this bag strapped around his shoulder. I let the guy pass, he doesn't see us, or if he did, he doesn't care. Alright, just a few more steps…attaboy.

I reach the door of the bathroom, and I switch off the safeties. I turn to Kurama and nod at him. He turns the safety off on his Lee Enfield. Alright, gotta bring a gun just to take a piss, hello Virginia.

We step inside, two urinals and the world's nastiest bathtub on the left, two sinks and a dryer on the near right. Past the dryer, two bathroom stalls missing the freaking door, and a third toilet that looks like someone put someone else's head through it last month. I watch Kurama lock the door, looks like we're in the clear.

Kurama says "And toilet paper. I forgotten about that. It seems whoever left that roll yesterday did so out of charity." I walk up to the urinal on the left and reach for my fly, saying "Yep." I hear Kurama set his rifle by the sinks and take the urinal on the right. Eyes straight, aim straight, whew, didn't even realize how bad I had to go.

I look to the roof and say "So Kurama?" "Yes?" he says. "How do you circumcise a redneck? You kick his sister in the jaw." I hear Kurama burst in laughter. He calms himself and says "We have a similar joke concerning ogres, back in Gandara. You won't understand the context though." I finish, zip my fly up, and walk up to the sink on the right. I hear Kurama zip up and walk up to the sink on the left. I turn the water on and say "How about this one? A bunch of sailors out at sea. After a few days, one of them gets the itch and starts fidgeting around. He goes up to the captain and asks 'What's the rules on scratching the itch over on this boat?'"

I dig under my fingernails with other fingernails, getting the dirt from yesterday out, shoulda gotten a switchblade or something. Did we sell one yesterday? Ah whatever. I continue "So the captain says 'Over there, an oak barrel with a hole in it, big enough to slide it in without getting splintered'." I reach down and cup some water, rinsing my mouth with it, Kurama mimicking me. I spit out a small chunk of Spam that got stuck in my teeth from last night. Rinsing again, I spit again and continue "So the sailor asks 'Okay, alright, when can I use it?' The captain says 'Everyday but the Fridays'. Sailor gets confused, he asks 'Why not Fridays?'

Kurama yells out "Because that's the day you're in the barrel!" I start laughing, turning the water off. Kurama does the same, both the laughing and the water. He cuts in front of me for the dryer, puts his hands under it, and says "Almost word for word, same joke in Gandara. Yomi…well, back when I commanded and he served as my subordinate, he relished to rile up the sailors at Svartgard, a port city in the Alaric, Mukuro's territory mind you. The port most near to the Alaric/Gandarian border, I would occasionally coordinate with smugglers that operated by the coves along the nearby inlets in the Deep Empty, the massive ocean at the edge of Demon World. Do you follow?"

I nod and say "I'm listening." Finally he stops hogging the dryer. I dry my hands, barely hearing Kurama yell "A trio of smugglers, hardened demons, upper B classes back when I myself barely ranked as an A-class. We met in Svartgard at a pub near the docks, the sector set aside for quarantined goods, essentially goods the local magistrates would hold hostage until a bribe has been paid. Yomi, myself, and a recent recruit, a stag demon named Mahkahz. A few of my men looted a massive shipment of fjordjina, a Makai spirit. We intended to sell to the smugglers, so they may avoid import duties in the cities further inland, such as the fortress city of Murnieks or the city of Uppskera. I am regaling you with unnecessary details, regardless. What is relevant, is that the six of us were imbibing on Makai rice wine, when one of the smugglers made a snide comment about Yomi's horns reminding him of the handlebars of a strider."

Eh? Kurama notices my confused look and says "A large domesticated Makai dragonfly used for transport. He essentially dubbed Yomi as a mule. Yomi responded in kind with the aforementioned joke, replacing sailor for smuggler. Alcohol in their veins, the smugglers drew sabers, we responded in kind. I killed two of them, Yomi killed the other and hacked off a barmaid's right arm in a drunken wild swing, the smuggler he killed happened to be the one that remained silent the entire time. We had to escape before the Svartgard militia attacked. I commanded us to retrieve the fjordjina, but we were too slow, and possibly too drunk. Mahkahz died from a militia arrow through his right eye socket, and the shipment was abandoned."

Woah, old school Kurama. I say "I don't usually hear about the stuff you did back in your Yoko days. I remember you talking about how Yomi was a crazy dick back in the day. Was that the first time he fucked up?" Kurama frowns and shakes his head, saying "No, that was the first time I struck him down with my fists. Regardless, the past is the past. Let's proceed, we still have an anonymous admirer shadowing our movements." Kurama reaches for his Lee Enfield rifle and grabs it. I don't say a word, just letting my mind process the story. I unlock the door with my left hand, keeping my right hand on my right sided revolver. Door opens, no land mines, no one in our faces.

We return to our shack, Kurama unlocking the door. I grab the box of mac and cheese, two of the lagers we looted from yesterday, and head out the shack. Kurama locks the door, and I turn to Jenny Stahl and the old white/Latina lady with graying hair combed to the side, dressed in a stitched beige tunic and stitched beige pants, seated on the stool on the far left. I say "Hey Jenny, we got beer and food for ourselves. Can we sit down?" Jenny turns to us, her hands folded. She says "Sure if you got caps. Five caps and I'll heat that mac and cheese up for you, give you plastic forks and knives." Kurama says "Deal", turning to face her. Jenny waves us over and says "Well come then, have a seat."

I hand her the box of mac and cheese and place our beers on the counter. I take the booth to the right of the old lady, Kurama takes the booth to the right of me. Don't see the walking dick yet, maybe he found someone else to bother. I turn to the old lady and say "Hey." She turns to me, a bottle of water in her right hand, and says "Why hello dear." She got a heavy Southern accent. Sipping from the water bottle, she says "I don't reckon we met yet, stranger. My name is Manya Vargas. My damn fool husband Nathan is the man with gray hair and the brown leather pouch adorned jacket. If you meet him, do yourselves a favor, and not take anything he says seriously. The old coot thinks a few floating robots spouting Enclave propaganda are the solution to the Capital Wasteland."

Eh? What the hell's the Enclave? Kurama says "Hello, my name is Shuichi 'Kurama' Minamino. My friend here is Yusuke Urameshi." Manya Vargas' wrinkly eyes light up as she says "Ah, you two must be the bounty hunters that helped stop Declan Carruthers. My sincerest thanks to you two, that brutish raider damn near starved the town with his constant caravan attacks. If you ever have any questions about Megaton, feel free to ask. I lived in this town just as long as anyone else, and I still got enough upstairs to remember."

Oh, good, can finally get the feel of the town. I say "Alright, let's start with the Enclave." I hear our mac and cheese sizzle. I hold onto the neck of the beer bottle and check if it's a twist off…score. I hear the pop and see white smoke blow out from the bottle. I turn to Manya as she says "One giant mystery. They claim to be the successor to the old United States government, keep broadcasting on the radio. John Henry Eden, claiming to be the current president, he speaks on the radio, or at least it appears to be so. Sound familiar?" I say "I think I heard of a broadcast about baseball or something. That him?" Manya nods and says "That is one of the recordings, having been looped in a cycle since I remember. They also broadcast with eyebots that scour the Wastes outsides, floating robots with antennae. Harmless, from what I heard."

I shake my head as Kurama says "I cannot say I've seen any." I hear him twist off his cap as I sip on my beer. Ech, tastes like American pisswater. Whatever, better than Nuka-Cola for 24 caps. Manya says "If you haven't seen any, you will soon. My husband believes that they will return and bring law and order to the Capital Wasteland, bless his heart. They likely do not even exist, and if they did, they should not be trusted. If what the Enclave say is true, then they are nothing more than the remnants of the people that caused this apocalypse in the first place." Interesting, good to know. Good to know.

Kurama asks "How did Megaton originate?" Manya sips on her water and says "As a giant crater in the ground. Many believed the bomb caused the crater. In truth, the machine carrying it that fell from the sky, laid the first brick of Megaton's creation. When my grandfather Louis Glaser first arrived, Megaton was nothing more than a place to hide from dust storms and roving raider gangs. Eventually, there was a lull in raider activity. The original inhabitants spread out and later returned with salvage and weaponry, forming the first Megaton market. Caravans would come to Megaton for a place to trade in peace, and Alan Simms, Lucas Simms' grandfather, would tax the caravans as the price of their safety. The increased activity caused raider attacks to intensify. It was at this time that Colin Moriarty, barely 14 years old, who inherited his father's caravan derived wealth after he died in a raider attack, suggested that everyone would pool resources and raise the now famous Megaton walls. I was hardly a teenage girl when my father, Richard Maldonado, laid the first sheet of metal down around the perimeter of Megaton, salvaging a nearby plane crash. Eventually, Cynthia Brown, Moira Brown's grandmother on her mother's side, returned with news of an abandoned airport in the northwest, I believe it was called Bule or Dule Airport…the labels were faded. The entire airport was striped apart and brought here. The parts suitable for support were used, the rest were sold to pay for labor."

She takes a breath and drinks from her bottle. I drink from my beer, imagine Kurama doing the same. She continues "The land of the airport itself has been reclaimed by the Wastes, barely a trace left, if at that. Shortly after I married Nathan and returned to tell my father the good news, the Children of the Atom cult, led by Confessor Philip Cromwell and his wife Maya, as you may have seen or heard before, arrived in numbers. They became a great help in fortifying the walls, laying down ramps, making Megaton a genuine place to live. All they asked for was space to worship the nuke. When Ryan Brown, Moira's father, suggested we move the bomb out of the city while we still has room in the walls, Philip Cromwell threatened to withdraw his support and his followers. My father Richard, mayor back then, relented, and so Megaton is the way it has been until your friend Walter Joseph Karamazov thankfully deactivated the bomb. While Philip Cromwell may not be quite fine with his icon being tampered with, the rest of the Megaton is very grateful to him, and to you two for stopping that madman Burke."

Jenny Stahl places two plates of mac and cheese on the counter, both with white plastic forks in them. Kurama hands her five caps and I dig in. Eating a few bites, damn not bad at all, ain't saying no to comfort food. Anyway, I swallow, wash the food down with some beer, and ask "So, since you been here for a while, what can you tell me of the people here?" Manya smiles and sets her bottle of water down, saying "Well, you met Lucas Simms. He is the sheriff and mayor, means well. You met Jenny Stahl of course." "Right over here. We came from what's left of Annapolis, Maryland. Anap City it's called now. I'm the youngest, then Andy whom you met yesterday, he owns the restaurant, then Leo, who works and cleans inside," Jenny says, cleaning a metal pot with a dirty rag.

Manya nods and says "Indeed, my dear. Who else…Emory Church came a few years ago. He was the first real doctor Megaton had for decades, has been invaluable to the community. I think he came from Rivet City, in the southeast. Colin Moriarty came from Ireland as a baby with his father Angus Moriarty, his mother Emily Moriarty, and his grandfather Derrick Moriarty. Derrick Moriarty, my grandfather, Lucas Simms' grandfather, and Moira Brown's grandmother founded Megaton. As for Colin himself, I advise you to be cautious around him. He is a brutal, evil man, poor Gob, how he abuses him. And Nova, she deserves so much better than that."

I go to work on my breakfast, Kurama too. I nod as to show I'm still listening. Manya says "You have met Moira Brown, I assume." I hear Kurama swallow his food and say "Yes, we are quite familiar with her." Manya says "Well, there is also Billy Creel. A good, good man, very full of life. He used to work as a bodyguard for the caravans. There is Arturo 'Stockholm' Fox, our gatekeeper, who has kept Megaton safe for over a decade along with Lucas Simms. And lastly, there is Jericho…" I see Jenny Stahl suddenly freeze in her tracks. Manya says "Proof that even raiders could reform themselves…I hope." Jenny says "Excuse me for a moment." She walks up to the front door of the Brass Lantern and steps inside.

Manya says "There are others, whom you two may meet in time. Do not worry, we are a peaceful bunch, if rough around the edges." I turn to Kurama, who is now halfway done with both his mac and cheese and his beer. He says "Yusuke and myself come from Japan." "Japan?" Manya asks. Kurama nods and says "Yes, an island far to the east. Far beyond the water." Manya's eyes light up as she asks "Ahh, what has brought you two to Megaton?" Kurama smirks and says "Fortune. Whether favorable or poor, I cannot say." Manya finishes her bottle of water and says "Well, I wish you two luck and success. Megaton always could use strong hands to help protect its walls." I say "Well, if the caps roll our way, we'll get shit done." Manya turns her back to us and says "I see. Well, farewell then. And also, if you see my husband Nathan, tell him to stop badgering that Moira Brown girl. Her brain doesn't need the further strain of Enclave propaganda." As she walks away toward the clinic, I say "Amen to that shit."

We finish our food, barely saying anything. Still with some beer left, I sip on it and say "Cue ball by the 'loco' cult building, getting bold." Kurama nods and says "I noticed." I ask "Any ideas on how to deal with this guy?" Kurama reaches into his right pants pocket and pulls out a pack of those weird Mexican cigarettes he got from that mailbox two days ago. He pulls a cigarette out, his second of his life I'm guessing, and turns to pack toward me. I say "Thanks" and pull a cig out, putting it in my mouth. I take out my lighter and light his cigarette first, fox boy awkwardly holding it in place with his fingers like a pool cue. He pulls, and then breaks out into coughs. Smiling a bit, he says "I will get used to these. Thank you." I light my cigarette and take a drag, calming my nerves. I exhale, good thing this place don't got a smoking policy. Hey, anarchy gots to have some fringe benefits.

Dragging on his cigarette without coughing, Kurama exhales and says "You remain inside our home, I will go shop for a few necessities at Moira Brown's store. Leave the door unlocked, remain armed. Only fire if he comes armed as well. I wish to gauge his reaction with the two of us separated." I say "You sure about that? Takes two hands to fire a rifle, and you going to have one hand carrying groceries." Kurama takes another drag and says "I will purchase one, no…two duffle bags or gym bags. Prudent for future adventures regardless." Eh, can't think of any better ideas. I say "Alright, but stay safe man. And with Moira too, lady is batshit crazy." Kurama nods like he means it and says "I have no argument for that. And thank you. I will take my time, move slowly. If I am not back in the shack in thirty minutes, speak to Lucas Simms." "Done," I say, killing my beer. I leave it on the table, hey maybe the Stahls recycle or some shit. I approach the door to the shack and knock ash off my cigarette.

I whistle at Kurama, nudging my head at the door. Exhaling smoke, Kurama says "Right, the key. My apologies." He pulls our house key out from his left pants pocket and tosses it at me. I field the catch and say "Again Kurama, be careful." Kurama smirks and says "You worry too much. I will be fine, even without my Ki. Experience is a weapon few can wield, and I am one of them."

Stepping inside, I kick off my boots and sit down by the dining table, facing to the shack door. Nice and closed, I look at the opened locks, Burke really spent on the security. I take another drag…these cigs ain't that bad, ain't that good. Well, free always makes any shit taste good, hell even dirt. Imagine paying to eat dirt.

I knock ash off the cigarette, into the ashtray, crap some spilled on the table. Sorry Keiko I'll clea…fuck.

Fuck man. FUCK!

Day three, Botan probably telling her right now that I've completely fallen off the face of the earth. Fuck knows how Shiori is handling it. Zinaida, Kurama's circle of friends. Kuwabara…damn it. I'm never going to see them again. No more of Kuwabara's pissing matches with Hiei, Yukina talking to Keiko about some movie she just watched, Botan dropping in…gone. Fuck man it's gone.

I'm sitting in a shack waiting for some weirdo to burst in and pull something. While in another fucking dimension, Keiko is starting to get thoughts that I'm never coming back again. Day three, that's when that shit starts. Damn this, I'm sorry Keiko, I'm sorry about this. She can't even hear me say sorry. I'll never hear her voice again. Never again.

I keep saying to myself, thank fuck that I'm with Kurama, as fucked up as it sounds for him. I feel like a prick for saying that, but I can't help it. Alone here, by myself? Might as well take these two revolvers and blow my brains out, say hello to whoever is running this show. I pick the ashes up with my fingers, pushing them back up the ashtray. There, clean, more or less. If only I could slide myself and Kurama back into our dimension.

I look left, at the wanted poster of Declan Carruthers. First one, first bounty. Still got that dried blood on it, for the added effect. Kurama, thank you for hanging in there. I don't want to know what kind of crap I'd pull if you checked out then and there.

I rest in my chair and pull the ashtray closer. Smoking, exhaling, thinking. I put my right handed revolver on the table, the safety off. Just in case. Still ain't going to shoot immediately, don't want to blow away Kurama. That would defeat the freaking purpose. I look back at the wanted poster. Our first one. 100 caps for a dangerous meth tweaker. Declan Carruthers. Damn, yesterday…before I only killed Shinobu Sensui. My only human kill, and Raizen was the one pulling the trigger anyway. Now…shit I don't even remember how many I took out. Alright…none on day one, two…outside yeah. Four…five…like what eight? Seven? Something like that. Including Declan here…got him in the thigh, bled him like a pig. 100 caps.

Maybe Kurama and I could find a corgi, get some crazy fake gypsy lady with a machine gun to join, maybe a girl with Asperger's to make it a three and a half human and one canine show. Heh, I'm thinking of the old Cowboy Bebop cartoon, watched it back when I finally enrolled into high school.

I close my eyes and start humming the opening theme 'Tank!' Hey, at least we bagged our first bounty. As it starts, as it ends, like Kurama likes to say.

I feel like an hour has passed, starting to get worried. I'm on the far end of my second cigarette. I crush it and hear a knock. "It's me, Kurama," I hear. Finally. I grab my revolver and yell "Come in." Door creaks open, Kurama with two new black gym bags around his shoulders, got his rifle in his right hand, hanging over the shoulder by a sling. He steps in, sets the rifle on the floor, and pulls the gym bags off, saying "I got us cutlery, toilet paper, toothbrushes but no toothpaste, a few sticks of mint gum, and some clothing. I believe you are a medium, correct?" I nod and say "Yea, what you got for me?"

Kurama unzips one of the gym bags and says "Forgive me if I'm being invasive, but I purchased you a couple pairs of boxers." Pfft. I say "Yeah, it's alright. Thanks…man." He shows two plain black boxers, a pair of sleeveless white shirts, one got a hole in it, and a pair of dark green cargo shorts. Kurama says "These are for yourself." I say "Appreciate it. How much do I owe?" Kurama looks up and says "A few meals would be nice. Please, I rather not involve myself in tedious accounting." I smile a bit and say "No problem, thanks."


What the shit, someone banging on the door, damn near caused me jump out of my seat. Kurama reaches for the Lee Enfield and picks it up, backing up. I get out of my chair and yell "Who there?"

"Oi listin ya fairies, open up ya feckin door!"

What? Was that a cross between a cockney English accent, an Irish accent, and random grunting sounds?

I look at Kurama, who gives me the nod. I reach for the door and pull it open, been unlocked this entire time. Yep, it's the big dick. Bald and pale, with a giant ass dark brown moustache, got a sleeveless white shirt and black cargo pants. Built like a Brahmin? More like Bluto from the Popeye cartoons. Guy pushes me aside and points at our crate of liquor, yelling "Oi ya feckin box o' fecks, ya holdin out on dem shipmint for o man Moriarty now. You lot takin me mate for a feckin eeejiet, I oughtta suplex yer backs and feck yer arses till yer two humble now yes." I say "Alright, repeat that. In 'fecking' English this time." Seems post-apocalyptia hit Brad Pitt pretty hard. Maybe Crow can get him some new clothes in periwinkle blue.

Baldy grunts with a pissed off face and says "Oi now yer arse bandits ar' just takin o' piss now. Listin yer feckin faggits, you pairs o' soddin' dog shites, I smash yer feckin faces with me only right fist on me body now!" He slaps his left forearm for emphasis, while I try not to burst out in laughter. I say "Tell you what mate, I'll wrestle ya fer whatever yer soddin' on o' bout, now yes." Oh this guy is going red, this is good. I'm feeling in the mood to pound someone's face into the dirt.

"Oh yu derty ballsy bloody soddin sod o' kiddy fiddlers, yu look like a chemo's ballsack! I feck yer faggit arse till yu love me yu soddin eejiet." The walking dick pulls off his shirt and shows off his other 'shirt', for no clear reason, which kinda freaks me out. I think there are freaking, no, feckin, flies hatching out of that jungle of body hair. He yells "Yu feckin unfiltered shithouse o' feckin dog shite. Feckin dog shite!" Kurama jumps in and yells "Did Moriarty send you?!" Hairy dick says "Aye yu bloody ladyboy, keep yer pecker up now yes, I'll settle wit yer arse-bandit arse soon nough now." Kurama yells "I'll repeat myself! Did Moriarty send you?! Yes or no!" "Aye," baldy says. Kurama says "Then send him here. We will speak to him personally."

Baldy gives Kurama and me a look, shakes his head, and leaves without saying another string of random syllables. I close the door and say "And I thought Jin was hard on the ears, but that 'eejiet' takes the prize." Kurama groans and says "Unfortunately, it seems my prior tale of Yomi and myself dealing with smugglers has some coincidental value for today. I believe Moriarty has a claim on our liquor." Ah fuck, bullshit creates more bullshit.

I say "Hey, we worked for that crate. That ain't our fault that Moriarty's people got popped by Declan's guys." Kurama nods and says "Agreed, but I doubt Colin Moriarty cares. Well, it has been quite a while since I negotiated in these instances. My forte, back when I ruled in Gandara." I start sealing the locks. Halfway done, I ask "So, am I going to see more of old Yoko today?" I hear Kurama sigh and say "Most likely. Just, do not be alarmed." I laugh and say "Oh, now you got my attention."

I turn around and watch Kurama sit on the spinning seat cushion. He says "I adopt different personas when in these type of negotiations. Given my limited interactions with that burly gentleman and with Colin Moriarty himself, I believe I have a suitable approach. I will see, once Colin Moriarty arrives in person." I say "I thought seeing a real Irishman in post-apocalyptic Virginia was something. An Irish Traveller saloon enforcer in post-apocalyptic Virginia? That's some twilight zone crap."

Kurama sets the rifle against the wall and says "When Moriarty arrives, allow me to speak. No insult intended, but your negotiation experience extends to one meeting with Yomi, which I tipped in your favor." Hey, that's a low blow man. I say "C'mon, what, my time selling cars don't count for nothing?" Kurama turns to me and says "Your time attempting to sell cars, Yusuke." "Alright, don't do me like that, fox boy. I can hold my own," I say. Kurama blankly replies "I have much more experience dealing with these types of cutthroats, as ironic as it may sound to you. Please, just believe me Yusuke." "Fine, alright. Have it your way," I say. "Thank you," Kurama replies, stretching his arms.

I take my old seat at the dining table, Kurama takes the seat across from me. I scratch my chin, feeling the nubs, and ask "So, what do you have in mind?" Kurama leans back in his chair and says "Pry out the exact purpose of Moriarty's actions, identify the various angles, and exploit them. I believe Colin Moriarty claims the crate of alcohol as his, though I did not see any labels on the crate to indicate as such. I am unsure as to whether Moriarty's claim is genuine or a ruse to extort us. If he simply wanted the shipment, why did he not approach us outright and buy it from us?"

"And how the hell does he even know we have it?" I ask. Kurama's eyes light up as says "Indeed, I was just about to say that. Perhaps Walter Joseph Karamazov, or Kathy McCord, or Crow, they made slip that we looted a crate. The three did visit Moriarty's saloon yesterday." I say "I don't see Walter as someone that sell us out to Colin, but fuck it, maybe." Kurama says "More likely, Colin Moriarty pried such information from one of the three with alcohol, perhaps a few drinks to 'reward them' for their service to Megaton." Hmm, yeah. I ask "You ever did that kind of crap back in Gandara?" Kurama just looks at me for a second, with a stone faced look, and says "At times. I used many tactics for…procuring information. I rather not speak of that." I guess I'm digging up buried history. "Alright, I'll lay off," I say. "Thank you, I appreciate it," Kurama says, frowning. Ehh, shit feels awkward now.

Finally, knock on the door. I hear from outside "It's Colin, lads. Please make haste before anyone takes a gander." I get the locks, Kurama gets the rifle, and Colin Moriarty, dressed in a grey shirt, a brown leather vest, and black cargo pants, steps inside our shack. He's keeping his arms raised, a Smith and Wesson revolver on a waist holster. I close the door as Colin Moriarty says "My apologies for Eddie-boy. As you have seen, I keep him for his rugged good looks, heh heh."

I return to my seat, Kurama presses his back to the wanted poster, and Colin Moriarty says "No hellos? A might rude of you two. Anyway, on to business. That crate o' booze is mine, you see." He points his right index finger at it so we don't confuse it with the invisible crate on our bed. I look at Kurama, he keeps quiet. I follow his lead. Colin stares at me, and then at Kurama, and then says "Silent eh? I can deal with that. Now, I know that it is my crate, because I ordered it meself, and that arsehole Declan Carruthers had the indecency to filch it off the caravan that was bringing it in. Alright, filch is too nice a word. How about violently eviscerate the fine folk transporting it, and doing ungodly acts to their pink balloon knots? Likely in that order. Now, I understand, you drew sweat on your brows, you expect to be compensated for it. Come with me over to the saloon and we will negotiate like gentleman. In the open, mind you, surrounded by several locals. I mean no malice. I just seek to be made whole."

Kurama asks "What was the contents of your order?" Colin Moriarty sighs and says "Fine, play that game. Let me see…hmm…six bottles of Jim Beam, the large bottles. I see you helped yourself to one already, very well. Two John Dewar's blended scotch, four Jamesons, was it four, or five, I believe five six-packs of beer from Ensbor way down south, three bottles of Sauza tequila and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka." Kurama just looks at him, not saying anything. I follow his lead. Colin scans both our faces, smirks, and says "From the steely looks you two giving me, I take it I nailed the inventory down good and proper. Now, given that I established my, what is the phrase, ah yes, my clear and unambiguous interest in that parcel of property, I believe I earned a fair crack at negotiating with you two lads."

"Why the cloak and daggers?" I ask. I take a quick look at Kurama, who just shrugs. Colin Moriarty laughs and says "Why, I am a man of influence, boyo. Men of influence take measures to guard their influence." Kurama blurts out "I have plenty of experience in these situations, back in Japan. I would wager that this is a smuggling angle. You are fearful of the taxing forces of Megaton, Lucas Simms I presume, collecting a fraction off the alcohol." Colin's face just went stone dead, fox boy called him on it. Shit, makes sense in hindsight.

Colin doesn't say shit. Kurama continues "We spoke with Crow, who thanked us, not just for rescuing his life and his property, but for putting him in position for Lucas Simms to grant him tax exempt status for a given period of time. Now, when Yusuke and myself sold our salvage from Springvale here in town, we were not bothered by Lucas Simms over any residual tax claims. From my understanding, individual salvagers or small traveling parties are tax exempt, while large caravan trading entities are taxed in earnest. I would assume that it was a trading caravan that handled the logistical nuances of the alcohol shipment."

Colin sighs and says "I am not saying anything." Kurama smirks and says "Perhaps I should seek Lucas Simms for counsel." Colin raises his arms as if to hush fox boy, and says "Now now, that is quite unnecessary." Kurama's smirk turns into one of those Yoko Kurama grins as he says "Perhaps I should speak with Andrew Stahl, see where his thoughts lie on this arrangement." Oh boy, Moriarty is fuming. Colin Moriarty groans and says "Jaysus, you clever feckin bastard. Yes, yes, that is the case. Now, I will compensate. Ignore me and consider you two lads banned from me saloon and forever imprinted in me personal shit-list. Speak over this with me over a couple o' drams, and I will shower with caps as befit your labors, and I will consider it a favor to meself."

Kurama immediately says "At seven P.M., first floor. We will come armed, the crate remains here. If we find ourselves in danger, we will not hesitate to leave. Any logistical details will be decided upon agreement of a sale. We will keep the opened bottle of Jim Beam, the rest is negotiable." Colin nods and says "Fair enough, lads. Seven P.M., first floor. And please be punctual, it riles me when I see tardiness in a proper business transaction." He walks toward the door and pulls it open. Turning to us, he says with a bit of sarcasm "I await your arrival, with bated breath." Door finally shuts.

"Well, that crap went better than I thought. So, was that some old school Yoko Kurama demon dealing I just saw?" I ask. Kurama sighs a bit, smiles, and says "A small sample, yes. Now, what time does your watch say?" I look down, it's 1:19 P.M. I say "Almost 1:20. We got a lot of time. I'm thinking of talking with the Stahls, see if I can get any work helping Jenny with the fry cooking. Make some Urameshi-style post-apocalyptic squirrel udon, hah." Kurama nods and says "And I will speak with Emory Church if he requires any assistance." He walks up to one of the metal boxes and pulls the lid out. Taking two bottles of lager out, he says "And I believe I still owe Stockholm a drink. Might as well repay him now." I say "You got it man."

"Here you go, Lucas," I say, serving up the latest Yusuke Urameshi production, mac and cheese loaded with grilled Spam cubes. Lucas, dressed in his usual sheriff uniform, is seated right across the counter. On his left, my right, his son Harden, same skin tone as his dad, with puffier cheeks and short black hair, dressed in a worn white dress shirt fitted for preteens, a mini navy blue blazer that's been stitched up well, a black and gold striped tie, and matching navy blue dress pants.

Lucas Simms takes a bite, sips on a bottle of clean water, and starts nodding to himself. He looks up and says "This…this a good idea Yusuke. Keep this on the menu, Jenny, you hear me? Hell, keep this guy on the job, he's creative with his food." I whistle and toss some ramen noodles up in the air with my skillet, got some stir fry for Leo Stahl coming up for his lunch break. From what I got from today, Jenny is the normal one, Andy is the dick, and Leo is the guy high off painkillers or some shit. Eh, I won't judge. Hell, Atsuko once had to go to rehab to get clean on those pills. That crap doesn't mix well with vodka.

I hear Harden speak behind me "This is good mister. Thank you." I smile and say "Hey, just trying to make a living here, doing what I do best. Used to run a noodle stand back in Japan. Had better crap to cook with, no offense, but hey, you make do with the hand your dealt, ey?" I turn to Lucas and watch him say "I'd raise a glass to that." I say "I'd raise one too, but I don't think Andy would like it if I drink on the job." I hear Jenny say "Yeah, he would not." Going back to my noodles…alright, they're done.

I grab a ceramic plate and pour the noodles out of the skillet, yeah, that looks nice. I take a bottle opener and pop the cap off a bottle of beer that's missing its label. I set them down on the counter and say "Go get your brother Leo, Jenny. I got his lunch for him." Jenny says "Right" and heads inside the Brass Lantern interior. I reach under the counter for a plastic fork, plunge it into the noodles, and look ahead and why the fuck is Walter Joseph drinking the freaking nuclear bomb pond water?!

"Walter what the hell are you doing man?!" I yell, walking up to Walter, dressed in his blue stitched suit clothes from yesterday. He coughs, wheezes, and swallows the irradiated crap, saying "Moira wants to study radiation poisoning. I made a promise to her. I honor my promises." This guy. I yell "Did that promise include getting leukemia you dumbass?" He wheezes, crawls out of the shallow water, and says "Moira assured me that I will develop tolerance. May ser-serve useful in the Wastes."

I face palm myself and walk up to his face. I lean down and yell "Yo Walter, there was a guy in the news back home where Kurama and I came from. Russian guy like you, I think his name was Sergei." Walter wheezes and says "I'm not Russian. I'm half-Chinese." "Where the hell you got the name Karamazov from?" I ask, feeling confused. Walter rises to a seat position and says "Mother side is mostly pure Chinese, father side is a mix, most prominent roots are Irish, Swedish…French Canadian, Algerian, Turkish, and Ta-Tajikistani. Like a typical modern day American." "Gotcha, anyway, beside the freaking point. That Russian guy, Sergei-boy, you know what he did for fun? He drank cyanide and ate funky mushrooms, to, you know, build up a poison tolerance, thought he found the secret to living forever and all that jazz. He went at it for years. You know how he died? OF FUCKING CYANIDE POISONING!"

From behind, I hear Confessor Cromwell chant "See?! Even Atom's great defiler has come to bask in Atom's glow. On behalf of Atom, I forgive you my child." Walter ignores the dumbass. I ask "So what's this, feeling about stripping down and joining the Atom freaks?" Walter sighs and says "I am a proud Presbyterian, and I have intention of severing my connection with Christ." This guy, man. I say "From the looks of things, you might want to work on that whole connection to Christ shtick, seems he's kinda too busy to miracle the radiation out of your ass. Here, you're done, man. Done. Take my hand." I lift him up on my shoulders and start carrying him toward Doc Emory Church's clinic.

Walter groans and says "No, to Craterside. Moira promised free treatment there, plus extra doses of radaway." Eh? The hell's that. Whatever, fine, his body, his mess to clean up. I take a 180 and head toward the ramp to the upper levels, saying "You know, for a guy smart enough to decommission a goddamn nuclear bomb, you are pretty ass-retarded." Walter groans and says "Err…perhaps I did not think this…through enough. No matter, I think I will be okay." I laugh and say "Yeah, with three arms and no balls. Hope Moira's paying in pure gold or shit."

Halfway up the ramp, I hear Walter groan and say "It was not right what you and Kurama did." Heh? "What?" I ask. He speaks "Extorting Silver for all her worth. She may plunge herself into sin but it does not make it right!" "What are you talking about?" I ask. He says "The debt was at 300 caps. Now, even though Moriarty suggested, I never explicitly promised to kill Silver. I did, however, promise to collect. And I collected. Yes, what I did was wrong, God forgive me, but I made a promise. I did not however seek to profit off her misery and drive her cap-less. Your friend, Kurama, why?" Oh for fucks sake man.

I say "Would it been better if we waited until she got shot down? And then took her caps? Or would it have been holier for Declan's people to take it and shove it up their asses? She was a freaking junkie, man. Relax, I think all the radioactive water you drank got to your head." Walter groans and says "It's not right, it's not Christian." Oh great he's one of those. I hear Walter mumble "It's…not Christian" once again, and then pass out, still feel his pulse. At least I don't have to listen to any more sermons.

Climbing up to the top of the walls, I approach Stockholm's perch by the front gates. I rest my Lee Enfield rifle on the ground next to him and say "Hello Arturo." Stockholm, seated on a sky blue lawn chair, dressed in sand-colored plated clothing somewhat similar to that of Japanese Defense Force personnel. Sporting motorcycle goggles and a white bandana, he says "Hey. Here to say thank you for not dying the other day?" Armed with a wooden framed sniper rifle, Arturo speaks with accent-less English. What little I could see from his face: he is clean shaven and olive skinned, with large brown eyes. I pull my gym bag off my shoulders and speak "Indeed. I brought us some refreshment."

Stockholm scans the vast plains and hills of the Virginian wasteland and says "Scouting for raiders in the open sun is pretty thirsty work. What you got for me?" I pull two bottles of beer from my gym bag and say "Lager. As to what brand, I'm afraid the label is gone. Oh dear, I just realized that I lack a bottle opener." Stockholm sets his rifle down, draws a bottle opener from a front sided pouch on his combat vest, and says "Give them here." He opens both bottles of lager, hands me one back, and says "Appreciate it. What's your name again?"

"Shuichi Minamino, but most refer to me as Kurama," I say. Stockholm raises his beer and says "Then I will refer to you as most do." He takes a slow drink of beer, sets it down, and then immediately wraps his lips around the neck before the sudden surge of lager exits the bottle. After a pause, he retracts the bottle and speaks "Always forgot about that. So…Kurama. What brings you to Megaton, besides killing raiders?"

I seat myself on the floor next to him and say "Survival. Perhaps holding onto the small shred of chance that I will return to my home with Yusuke." "Where's that?" Stockholm asks. I say, yet to touch my beer "Japan. It is quite a long story." "Well sorry but I'm in a rush," he says with a bounty of sarcasm. I let out a laugh and say "It is complicated as well. Do not worry, Yusuke and myself have no intention to cause trouble. Reduce it even, perchance." Stockholm says "Well, I won't pester you on the details. Declan Carruthers being left in a ditch has boosted trade in Megaton. We still have shortages in food and medicine, but the ammunition problem has been resolved. And with your friends Yusuke and Walter Joseph helping our Walter at the purification plant, Simms is back to selling clean bottled water to Moira, Doc Church, and the caravans. What little he could sell, at least."

"We have a food and medicine shortage? And why does he not sell to Moriarty and the Stahls? It seems more logical that way." I ask. Stockholm turns to me and says "Where are my manners? Cheers." We clang our bottles. I drink, a rather unpleasant taste but I am in no position to protest. Wiping my lips, I hear Stockholm say "Yeah, a food and medicine shortage. We still got a few Brahmin, but when we slaughter those, then we got real problems. I'm speaking of weeks here, maybe a month. Some of the food caravans are being harassed by the raiders over by the Anchorage Memorial sewers, and by the raiders at the Super Duper Mart. The caravans that trade in food usually have stimpaks, morphine, and radaway too, and we are pretty low on all three, last I heard. As for not selling to Moriarty and the Stahls, that's just Simms trying to look neutral. I don't know, people call Moriarty a weasel but he done right by me. I just come in, drink some whiskey, or wine when I feel like living it up, and hope Megaton ain't hounded by a giant raider army while I booze up."

I drink greedily from my bottle of beer, wetting my throat, quenching my thirst. I ask "Is Lucas Simms taking any measures to solve the food and medical supply shortage?" "Hell," I hear Stockholm swear to my confusion. He sets his beer on the floor and grabs his rifle. Climbing off his lawn chair, he walks to the railing and stares through the scope. I grab my rifle and join him at the railing, asking "What is it?"

He ignores me for several tense seconds, and then sets his rifle down, saying "Just a wasteland scavenger hauling salvage to the gates. Here's hoping that sack he's dragging is full of ramen noodles and candied yams. And that he wants to sell." He seats himself back on the lawn chair, myself returning to my prior seat on the floor. Arturo yawns and reaches for his lager, saying "I spoke with Simms this morning. He likes how well the bounty on Declan Carruthers went, and might try the same on either the raiders at the Anchorage Memorial sewers or the ones at the old supermarket. Probably the later, kill two problems with one .308 round. Problem is, finding someone to finance the bounty. I rather not say anymore on that, Lucas Simms might get upset at me for blabbing about the town bookkeeping."

I nod and say "I understand. I won't mention this to Sheriff Simms." "Appreciate it too. I'm not all that worried, just rather not get chewed out next morning. Tends to put a damper on the rest of the day," Stockholm replies.

I ask "Do you know a bald, Caucasian male with a thick moustache, speaks in a rather broken Irish accent?" Stockholm laughs and says "Edward Howie McLiddy, Moriarty's dumb muscle. Why, you and your friends ran up a tab at Moriarty's?" I shake my head and calmly say "No, I just had an encounter with him recently. Charming fellow." Stockholm bursts out into laughter and says "Dumb as a super mutant with a nail in its skull, and slightly less ugly. That's McLiddy for you." "Super mutant?" I ask.

Stockholm turns to me and says "Seems they really are a North American only phenomenon. If you head into the D.C. ruins, you'll see them soon enough. Large, ugly, greenish orange monsters that are smart enough to fire guns, shit in buckets, not swallow the bones of the humans they eat, and that's about it. Just as bad as the raiders, and take a lot more firepower to bring down. Maybe the only bright side about fighting them is that they're a hard target to miss." I sigh and say "It seems this land is full of monstrosities." Arturo raises a beer to the vast Wastes and says "It's one giant circus out there. Bring the iguana on a stick and enjoy the show. Until the show enjoys you with some Nuka-Cola hehe."

I look away, toward the vast unknown, as Stockholm laughs at his own humor. Sipping on my beer, I wonder. At the creatures, human and otherwise, that lurk beyond these gates. Raiders, super mutants, giant ants, giant scorpions, and yet not a shred of Ki on this planet. I frown and realize that, once again, after the brutality of my childhood, that I once again must struggle to survive.

At the very least, the company is most comforting. To wither away alone is nightmarish. It is a fate cruel for even the most foul of creatures.

"Hey Jenny, sorry about that. Looks like Moira found someone crazy enough to help with her experiments," I say, puffing my cheeks on the inside, knowing that Walter just barely avoided growing a second head. We're inside the Brass Lantern restaurant, alone, in the back offices. It's 6:17 on my watch, the sit down with Moriarty coming up soon. Good thing I just had some complementary dinner from Jenny and Andy. She says "It's nice to see someone that cares. This town has been running low on that." I say "Hey, Walter helped us out in binds. Crap, yesterday he probably saved our lives on at least one occasion. Didn't think I had to save him from his damn self but hey, what can you do?"

Jenny leans back against a desk with a coffee mug full of beer, and says "We had a vagrant living outside. Mickey was his name. He was always barely dying of thirst, maybe one kind soul every few weeks would give him a bottle of water. Just enough for him to go back to dying of thirst a couple of weeks later. It was ugly to watch…I'm almost glad that those Springvale raiders, back when they were run by Boppa, that they killed him in the Megaton attack. They gave him more charity then any of the cold, selfish bastards here gave."

"Seems like a rough hand to get dealt with," I say. Jenny nods and says "Yeah, it seems that way."

We end up in an awkward silence for about a minute. Out of nowhere, Jenny asks "So, I get Walter is from vault. So you and Shuichi or Kurama or however he calls himself, you two are from this island called Japan?" I nod and throw in a lie with the truth "Yeah, came here by ship. Blacked out one day in our cabins, woke up a few meters apart near Springvale. Now we're here." "Anyone waiting for you back in Japan, any family? We had to leave behind our uncle, he couldn't travel. Back east in Anap City."

Keiko…I say "Some, yeah, but I don't think I'm going to see them again. At least not in this world, if you know what I mean." She grimaces and says "I think I do." Somehow I doubt that. I ask "Well, do I get the job? Three caps an hour plus free lunch, right?" Jenny nods and says "Andy says yes. Show up at 9 A.M. and work until 6. Tell me in advance if you're going to show up, since you said you might be doing bounty work if that comes up." I say "Well, that's cool with me. Thanks."

As I walk up to the shack door, I suddenly see Jenny's right arm come out of nowhere and press the shack door shut. She looks at me and smiles, that kind of smile. I say "Hey what's this?" Jenny leans closer and says "What do you think? A young, single lady in a town full of old timers and salty caravaners, and a real cowboy from an exotic and mysterious place far far away. What could I possibly be driving at? Unless, there is something I need to, heh heh, know about you and the red head." I laugh and say "Nah, nothing like that. I just, I kinda noticed you and Billy, and, I…" Jenny glares at me and says "You're actually finding an excuse?" I blush and raise my hands in surrender, saying "No, I just…"

Her lips taste like Salisbury steak and cheap beer. I run my fingers up her neck, into her thick blonde hair, just make sure she's real. I feel the blood rush going down below and I feel my brain going on autopilot. Leaning forward, I press her back against the metal shack door and move my left hand onto her jumpsuit, snaking upwards, feeling the stains of grease on it, speeding my palm up to her left breast. I poke my tongue at the crack between her lips. She opens the gate and lets me explore more of her.

After thirty seconds of this, I suddenly feel her slender fingers trailing across my vest, sliding under my belt…oah. Keiko flashes before my eyes, shit! "Stop," I say, almost out of instinct. She pulls her left hand back and glares at me coldly, asking "Why?" "I'm engaged," I say. "Well why the hell didn't you say that from the start?!" she yells, quiet enough so no one outside the shack could hear unless they were already paying attention. I frown and say "Well, that's part of the lost family thing…I don't think…it's 2277 right now, right? 2277, the year?" She pulls away from me and says "Yeah? What you trying to say?"

Damn this. I'm sorry I left you alone Keiko. I'm sorry I'm never going back. Damn it all, I hope you find someone better for you back home. Someone with a real job and actual stuff between his ears. Sorry.

I say "I don't think I'll ever gonna see her again. Like…ever…alright, damn this. Okay." "Okay?" Jenny asks. I say "Okay, I want this." Jenny frowns at me and says "Well the ship is starting to sail so…" I reach forward and pick up where I left off, except I mean it this time. I reach for the zipper on her jumpsuit and pull it down, finding a black bra and a couple of thin scars on her ribs. I reach for the left side of her neck and go to work, hearing her breathing speed up, sound more urgent. She says "Promise me. This is a one-time thing, do not tell anyone. Not…ugh…Billy, not Leo, and definitely not Andy."

Breaking off, I ask "So, you and Billy?" She says "Hasn't said a word yet." She reaches down my pants, smirks, and says "His loss." I groan, feeling her fingers brush against it. I lift her up slightly and move her to the metal desk, sinking my lips into her neck. I look up to her and say "I'm not one to kiss and tell." I find myself hungry again for the taste of Salisbury steak and cheap beer.

Standing upon Moriarty's front door, I turn to Yusuke and remind "Allow me to speak, I am more comfortable in these scenarios. Remain alert. Fire only on my command. Though I doubt it would come to such a grisly predicament, it pays to be prudent." Yusuke nods and says "Got it."

With my Lee Enfield in a sling, hanging on my back, I enter first into the saloon, Yusuke following. The bar counter still has very slight stains of blood from Mr. Burke, I can see that it has been scrubbed feverously. Gob, the necrotic bartender, he looks at us and whistles. I see Nova, the local prostitute, turn her back and proceed up the stairs. A rather ominous omen.

I hear a second whistle and turn right. I see Colin seated at the table where myself and Yusuke sat two days ago, watching Mr. Burke. Colin says "Ah, punctual are we? Good, good." In the far alcove where Mr. Burke sat and drank days before, I see Edward McLiddy sitting put, staring at us. I cannot make out his right hand, it seems to disappear under the table. Colin himself is seated perpendicularly to where Yusuke and myself sat days prior. Yusuke takes his old seat, his back facing McLiddy, I take my old seat, my back facing the rest of the saloon. I feel a sudden knot in my stomach, a reminder of my near brush with death.

Colin reaches for a pack of cigarette and displays it to us both. He asks "Fancy a smoke?" I shake my head and say "Perhaps later." Yusuke mimics and says "Same." Colin frowns and pockets the pack, and then says "Perhaps a drink. Gob, bring these two gentlemen a shot of whiskey! The Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select! Now!" I glare at him, cautiously. Colin laughs and says "Jaysus, I'd be a truly shite proprietor to poison my customers in me own damned saloon. Calm yerselves, the only poison I ever served in my establishment is poteen. Oh the retching mugs on my patrons on that fine day, truly a spectacle."

I speak "Jaysus? Forgive me, but I never took you for a religious man." Colin laughs and says "Ah, life is full of such perverse ironies. Gob! Where are my damned drinks?! And you better not forgotten about meself!" The necrotic bartender hurries to our table, nearly spilling a few drops of whiskey from the two wide-rimmed shot glasses. Colin glares at Gob and mutters "You seem to have forgotten about meself…" Gob frantically runs back and says "Sorry! Don't hit me!" Colin turns to us and says "Word of advice, lads. If you ever rope someone into debt slavery, do your due diligence that your rube isn't an absolute tool. Now, on to business. You two are in possession of a parcel that belongs to me. You two liberated said parcel from a consortium of proper lunatics, and must be compensated for your troubles. Now, I propose 30 caps for the whole fecker. We shake, and we then drink our sorrows away until we birth new sorrows in their steed."

"30 caps is a joke," Yusuke suddenly blurts out. Sigh, he is headstrong, but I cannot scold him for speaking the truth. Cradling my whiskey, leaving it untouched as Yusuke leaves his, I say "It is indeed. 30 caps was the price of my breakfast yesterday. A plate of ramen noodles and a bottle of Nuka-Cola. I cannot conjure a world in which sixteen one-liter bottles of spirits and five six-unit cases of beer would equal one bowl of ramen and a cola, and I assure you that I can be quite creative."

Colin glares at us, and then yells "Gob where is my fecking whiskey?!" After a few tense seconds, Gob returns with Colin's shot of whiskey. Colin's brings the whiskey to his lips and says "Seriously, I did not spike your drams. Do not be queer with me lads, drink." I watch Colin sip on his whiskey. It may easily been poured from a second bottle, but I don't see the necessity involved. Colin stands to lose much in reputation, and with half a dozen patrons behind my back, he lacks the opportunity to be discreet. And aside from the ramblings of his henchman, he has acted with some discretion.

I take the glass of whiskey to my lips and drink. Hm, smoother then the corn starch tasting whiskey that Mr. Burke left behind. Yusuke notices my willingness to drink and follows suit. I ask "Well?" Colin frowns and says "I paid a 450 caps advance to the poor bastards that oversaw the shipment. I must recoup my expenses." I smirk and say "And yet you seek to bypass Lucas Simms' imposed tax code. As far as I believe, we are committing smuggling here. We also claim barely a day of residence here, and as such we need to be compensated for the risk we are assuming here."

Colin waves us off and says "Oh, what bloody risk? If Lucas Simms' took taxation seriously, Megaton be the sprawling metropolis ol' Calamity Jane be fantasizing about." I immediately say "Oh, fascinating. Perhaps I should speak with Lucas himself, see if there is any stock in that." Colin frowns and says "Now don't be daft." I sip on my whiskey and say "Perhaps you speak the truth, that speaking with Lucas Simms about whether or not he properly enforces his tax code is rather foolish. Perhaps I will speak with a fellow business owner whom I can trust, like Andrew Stahl." Colin grits his teeth and says "Oh we traveled this route before, boyo." I laugh and say "Boyo? Why Colin, does my youthful appearance deceive you?"

I take a glance at Yusuke, who stares at me in wonderment. This is a side of myself I seldom show, an element of Yoko Kurama. And as it shames me to admit, I do feel a remote thrill in these discussions. A reminder of what I could do. Sun Tzu spoke that the mundane disarm an army through deadly force. But to disarm an army without firing a single arrow, or unsheathing a single sword, that is the true Art of War. Colin leans back, a sign of retreat, of retrospect. I lean forward, seizing the center ground. He speaks "You are a might peculiar ginger, I have to say. You lack the odor, but your guzz-eyes, they make you for the cutthroat you are. So, you two lads from Japan I take it. You must regale me with any tales of the adventures of the ol' grizzled smuggler 'Shuichi of Japan'."

He wishes to divert the subject, and rethink a new approach. Very well, I will see what he has planned. Perhaps I will pry more information in the process. I say "Yusuke and myself, while unaccustomed to raiders and super mutants…" I see slight confusion in Yusuke's eyes. I continue "we have much experience combating with all matter of violent, dangerous creatures. And while I may lack the odor, as you say, I have plenty of experience…on the other side, as well. Respect me as such and I will respect you in kind." Colin smiles and sips on his whiskey again. He sets it down and says "A pinch more eloquent then Jericho, Jesus my witness. I myself come from Ireland, arrived here as a wee lad. My granddad founded this settlement, me dad built this settlement, and meself keep this settlement drowning in booze, caps, and poon. Respect me as such and I will return the favor."

I take a sip of whiskey and say "Then we have aligned interests. Now, out of curiosity, how has the rest of world fared following the Great War? We lacked the historical records in our native land." Colin sets his whiskey down, shrugs his shoulders, and says "I wouldn't begrudge a man a history lesson, if you are so inclined. Very well, as you likely know, China and the United States engaged in World War IV following the third oil crash, wrecking each other and their respective allies."

"Wait, World War IV? What happened in World War III? What caused that?" Yusuke asks, echoing my confusion. Colin says "Same cause as World War IV, a bloody oil crash. In supply, I mean. The damned Middle East tried to keep prices up, and NATO fell apart like a rat arsed ghoul in a hurricane. The U.N. at last revealed itself as the useless tossers they are, and by the 2050s, became a lot of glorified peckerless wankers. The E.U. invaded the Middle East pining for grease and honey, while Uncle Sam, amazingly, stayed neutral due to Peking breathing down his neck, leading to a Yankee army buildup in the Pacific. Eventually the E.U. fell apart as Germany and the second United Kingdom withdrew from it, everyone then bickered over who gets to feck with which oil rig. Old World War I style alliances rose from the grave, Spain and Portugal became Hispaniola, and then allied with France, England annexed Scotland and made an alliance with Norway and Sweden, Germany and Russia found common interests. By the time the alliances have been formed, Turkey, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Poland, and me own Ireland gone kaput, with Finland, Switzerland, and half the entire Balkans on the verge. Then a terrorist from Jaysus knows where blew up damned Tel Aviv with a dirty bomb, setting everyone's nerves on pins."

Colin sips on his whiskey, coughs, and then continues "And then, after claiming Iran and Libya for therselves, France-Hispaniola cast the first die, getting saddled in a war that dragged on for years. Germany and Russia chose Iraq and Kuwait, while the English-Nordic union went at the entire Saudi peninsula, while carefully guarding their vast oil reserves at home. After decades of getting nuts at one another, Uncle Sam, already annexing Mexico, and Brazil, annexing half of South America, formed their own alliance, while China and your Japan annexed Southeast Asia, putting an end to that old World War II treaty. Using the distraction of the European-Middle East war, Uncle Sam and his Brazilian friends played a few dirty games with the China-Japan alliance over who gets to appoint which ruler in the oil pumping parts of Africa. In 2060, the Middle East gone dry, making the whole conflict a waste of time and caps. The rest of Europe then killed and nuked each other over the North Sea and Russian oil reserves. Three years later, India, Pakistan, and Balochistan blew each other up over Kashmir and Rajasthan, the Third Great Congo war sent southern Africa arseways, and a giant oil reserve was found in Alaska. China pined for a portion, America said nay. A decade later, China invaded, triggering the Anchorage conflict. America liberated Alaska, after annexing Canada for its strategic military routes and dwindling oil reserves, and after outfitting its military in fancy power armor. Then the first group of Yanks landed in China. Then the two superidiots unleashed their massive nuclear arsenal upon the world, bollixing all that hadn't been proper fucked yet. And now we are here."

"And now you are here," I say. I sip on my whiskey and ask "And where exactly in Ireland did you arrive from? Are there any organized nations remaining in the world?" Colin laughs and says "I don't see why it matters what irradiated bog I left behind. And as for the second question, if they existed, they would have conquered the entire damned world by now. I'd bet 5,000 caps that the largest settlement on the planet doesn't exceed a million. Anyway, I believe I have drifted ourselves off course, forgive me."

I say "Indeed you have, through the detour has been…illuminating. Now, as I recall, you offered us 30 caps for the shipment, which I regard as highly insulting. Now, as I also recall, from Walter specifically, spirits, aside from pure vodka, are priced at three caps per shot. I have, rather embarrassingly so, plenty of experience imbibing on spirits, and so with roughly 20 shots in a liter, if not more, that brings us to 60 caps per liter. For ease I will count the vodka the same as the rest. We have sixteen bottles, and we intend to sell fifteen of the sixteen. I'm afraid we already helped ourselves to a bottle of Jim Beam. Now, factoring in the thirty bottles of Ensbor beer, priced at three caps per bottle here, that would total to 90 caps. Combing the beers and the spirits bring us to…60 by 10 is 600, 60 by 5 is 300, plus 90…990 caps being the amount you could sell right now if the demand exists. With the 450 caps you already invested, that brings your profit to 540 caps. I do not see how 30 caps makes remote sense, and I suggest you offer us something more sensible before we leave and sell to Andrew Stahl himself."

Surprisingly Yusuke has remained quiet. I glance at him to see him staring in surprise. Colin himself says "Well, when put in such perspective, I can see your concerns. Very well, one hundred and fifty caps, and my good graces. I regard such as fair." I frown, even the leviathan demons of the Alaric were less stubborn then this swindler. I turn to Yusuke, who seems rather content with the offer. I frown and shake my head before he could speak a word. Good, message has been received well. Colin himself asks "What, you don't approve?"

I say "I, with discretion mind you, inquired about the tax rate for incoming caravans. 10% is the figure I repeatedly came across, of gross revenue itself. Which in your instance, would total to 99…let us declare it 100 caps. That is the value of our silence. And as such, that is the premium I expect on top of the 150 you offered. 250 caps is my offer for the shipment." Colin Moriarty shakes his head and speaks "No, lads, that's quite rich. 250 caps will not settle quite right with meself. I will go to 175 caps and remain there."

I stare at Mr. McLiddy and say "You sir, McLiddy is it?" I catch perplexed gazes from Colin and Yusuke in my peripheral vision. McLiddy rises from his seat and speaks in his unique way of speaking "Aye fairy boy?" Excellent, I have the imbecile's attention. I ask "Pardon my curiosity, but McLiddy is an Irish name, correct? Did you arrive from Ireland as Mr. Moriarty here?" Colin laughs and says "Now I do not see why wee ol' Edward suddenly demands such attention." "Nay, ya feckin arse-bandit arsehead, I hail from the Pool. We wreck fag gits like yu there fo' the craic." I laugh, lean back, glance down, and scratch my forehead. Still smiling, I look up at McLiddy and speak "I had the pleasure, or misfortune perhaps, of being labelled a thief and a bandit before. A bandit of gold, weapons, at times, to my great humiliation, people, men and women alike, oh I certainly am not proud of it. But I never felt the need to plunder arses, well, perhaps the gold I spent on whores back in my youth may beg to differ, but I never fashioned myself a bandit of arses. The Pool, you say. Forgive my limited knowledge of English geography, but do you happen to refer to Liverpool?"

"Now what the hell matters if McLiddy comes from old Liverpool or…" Moriarty speaks as Yusuke glares at me in stunned and perhaps bemused silence. This is quite thrilling, I haven't felt this way in decades. I press on "Well?" McLiddy approaches by a step and speaks "Aye." I can smell the aggression in the air, this is perfect. Moriarty my good sir, you have been undone by your own devices. I speak "You see Mr. Moriarty, I found my prior encounter with Mr. McLiddy to be, oh how do I say it, worthy of further inquiry, yes? Yes. But McLiddy's origins seem to answer my most pressing question." "Oi fag boy?" McLiddy speaks. I say "Now that I know you hail from the 'Pool', I finally can comprehend your urgent fascination with my 'arse'."

"YOU FECKIN GINGER GHOUL'S BALLSACK!" McLiddy roars to the attention of everyone as Colin restrains the man and Yusuke bursts into hysterical laughter. "SHUT YOUR TRAP EDDIE!" Colin yells. I take my chance "175 bottle caps, Mr. Moriarty, and we also keep a bottle of tequila." "FINE! DONE!" Moriarty yells, wrestling McLiddy to the ground. He draws his revolver and places the barrel in McLiddy's mouth, yelling "If you don't calm yerself immediately, I will blast your brains to Rivet City!"

I rise from my seat and say "We will bring you what we agreed to bring momentarily. I assume our payment will be ready when we arrive?" Colin yells "Yes! Fine! Jaysus you are a clever fox." "Why Mr. Moriarty, you don't even know the half of it," I say, amused with myself. I finish what remains of my whiskey and say "Thank you for the whiskey, it was quite pleasant. Perhaps I will order myself another dram in a week's time." As Yusuke finishes his drink, Colin rises from threatening McLiddy and speaks "175 caps, for the beer and the 14 bottles of spirits. Now." "Be back momentarily," I cheekily smile.

"Holy crap Kurama, I did not expect that side of you," I say. Between Jenny earlier, the whiskey, and the demon negotiation shit Kurama just pulled off, I'm feeling pretty damn wired. 175 caps in, all but the Jim Beam and the Sauza out. Just made the final run, oh the look on McLiddy's face. It's awesome when the other party screws it up for themselves.

Kurama sighs and says "Well, I did warn you not to be alarmed." I laugh and say "Looks like you used Yomi's little side jab." Kurama reaches into his pocket for his pack of cigs and says "Every negotiation demands the right approach. If Moriarty was McLiddy and McLiddy was Moriarty, I would not have spoken in that manner." I reach in my pocket for my lighter and say "Well, can't argue with the results. Shame about losing all the liquor, but hey, at least we got paid for it. And Moriarty's respect." I light Kurama's cigarette as he says "Indeed. The latter may prove to be the more valuable prize."

I whistle and say "Woo hoo, I'm freaking pumped today, I don't know how I'm going to sleep." I clap my hands together and say "Watch Kurama go all Yoko on an Irish saloon boss? Check. Score a side job? Check. By the way, how did it go with Doc Church?" Kurama takes his vest off and reaches for the bottle of Jim Beam. He unscrews the cap and drinks from the neck, his cig in his left hand. Wiping his lips and taking a drag, which is a rare sight in of itself, Kurama says "Church asked me if I could perform surgery like he performed on me. I answered that I can't. He then claimed that I was squandering his time. Oh well, perhaps Walter Robinson might require assistance."

"That reminds me, Walter Joseph, our Walter, he spent the afternoon drinking the water from the nuke crater," I say as Kurama gives me a confused look. I say "Not even jerking around, Walter said Moira paid him to get radiation exposure, cause she wants to detail it on some survival book she's writing. Amazingly, Walter got out okay, even claims he feels some tolerance to the rad exposure. Maybe it's the chems that she pumped into his veins to flush the radiation out. Also, her next assignments are for someone to go check out this landmined out ghost town in the northeast, or check out this supermarket for food and medicine. Walter wants to take an ice pack and rest for a few days, but he says he will bring us along for the ride."

Kurama sits down on the dining table, facing me, my back to the exit. He drags the ashtray to him and says "I spoke with Stockholm this afternoon. Apparently Megaton has a food and medical shortage, due to raider attacks in the east. One of the raider bands originate in a supermarket, I believe that is the same supermarket Moira is referring to. Perhaps we could convince Moira to draw up a bounty."

I take the bottle of Jim Beam from Kurama's side and say "Works for me. Oh, by the way." I drink from the bourbon, ending today on a high note. Kurama says "Hm?" I say "Whew, I'm going to drink tonight, haha! Oh yeah, Walter, our Walter, he's some kind of Jesus freak apparently. Thinks you suck for taking that hooker to the cleaners for those extra 100 caps." Kurama laughs and says "And yet he gladly accepted his share of the bottle caps." I wave my left hand and say "Woah, no he did not. Here's the funny crap. The man told me in Craterside that he donated his share to the crazy cult. I mean that makes no sense on many levels. One, he says he's Christian, why he's donating to a bomb worshipping bunch of nutjobs, I have no idea. Two, imagine how this went. 'Oh hey Crazy Cromwell, sorry about disarming your sacred bomb, here's 33 bucks. Go buy yourself a beer and a handjob'."

Kurama starts chuckling to himself and says "True, I cannot see much reason behind it. Well, logic is panic's prey, as I say. And perhaps living in an eternal graveyard may spur one to panic and despair." "And finding out your dad been feeding you bullshit your entire life. Come to think of it, fox boy, you never talk about your parents," I say.

Kurama raises an eyebrow and says "I do not follow. You personally met Shiori and my step father." I say "I'm talking about your demon parents. You know, back in Gandara."

His face completely went bad, violent almost, like I just stepped on a land…holy crap he looks upset. He coldly says "Please do not dig for buried history." "Sorry man," I say.

I sit down across from him, pulling my pack of cigs out, setting it on the table. I pull a cig out and light it. Taking a drag, I exhale and ask "Ever had a damn near stranger come up and try to have sex with you?" "Pardon?" Kurama asks, now looking real confused. I say "Just asking." Kurama glares at me and says "No. Why?" I half grimace, half smirk, and look away, working on my cigarette. I look left, finding Kurama leaning a bit forward. He asks "Nova the prostitute? No, that is her is employment, it would not been noteworthy." I crease my cheeks upward a bit and knock ash off my cig. Kurama suddenly looks at me and mutters "Jenny Stahl?"

"Hey, I don't kiss and tell," I say, shrugging my shoulders. Kurama says "Are you an absolute fool?" "Hey what the hell man?" I ask. Seriously, what's his problem? Kurama places his right hand on his forehead and looks down. He then turns to me and asks "And how do you expect to continue this romantic tryst while her overzealous brother makes his home right across from us? Or work alongside her? Have you completely taken leave of your senses? And what of Keiko?!" "Hey, she said it's a one-time thing. We fucked, we said goodbye, that's it. I mean c'mon, look at this place here, damn near every guy in town is either old, got crabs, homeless, or related. Hey if you so pissed about it, I'll just go fuck Nova or something. Maybe bring her here, make you shut up." "I beg your pardon?" Kurama says like he just saw a Russian dash cam video. I keep my mouth shut, smoking my cig.

"You lost all hope," Kurama finally says. "What gave it away?" I ask, frowning. Kurama shakes his head and says "If you lost hope, then there is no point to wish for a miracle. Shiori…at least…nothing. Nothing." He leans forward and covers his eyes with his right hand. I can hear him crying…damn. "I'm sorry man, but it's your words. No Ki, no key, so yeah, I gave up. I ain't proud, but it's the truth."

Kurama grabs the whiskey from my hand and damn near chugs it. Setting it down, he says "I was born to a peasant family in Wessex Mykker. My father Zekiko was a starving farmer, so was my mother…Metuka. At the time, our farm came under the auspices of a genocidal warlord named Dvelik. He…well, he was a Sussex Mykkerian, he spoke a different dialect and regarded the Wessex Kitsunes fit for extermination. But…he did not wish to stain his hands…so he essentially taxed our crops to our starvation. I endured eleven cruel, meager winters, always frail, half-starved. And then my mother, miraculously surviving her second pregnancy, gave birth to my sister Jairu."

"You have a sister?" I ask, surprised as hell. Kurama frowns and says "Please, allow me to continue." "Sorry," I say. He nods, frowning, looking ready to burst in tears, and says "Zekiko presented himself at Dvelik's war camp. He dosed himself in oil and set himself ablaze in protest, a Kitsune version of seppuku, giving Dvelik's men an amusing show and essentially dooming myself, my mother, and Jairu to certain starvation. Three weeks later, I stumbled upon my mother with Jairu in the kitchen…a knife in her hand."

"Oh fuck no…" I mutter, sick at the images in my head. Kurama weakly says "Metuka cried and said that at least two of us should live. When I buried that knife into her neck, I took her words to heart. I…the first person I ever slayed…my own mother." I feel like I just got hit with a dumbbell. I frown and say "Shit, man, I had no idea." He looks at me, his eyes wet, his cheeks wet. He says "I took Jairu with me to the wilderness. I nearly poisoned myself eating berries out of desperation. Recovering, us both on the verge of starvation, I overheard a small caravan full of salted meats passing by the trees that I chose to die in. I eventually worked up the nerve to slaughter them all, three men and a woman. I was a crazed animal, slashing with that same knife that I cut open my mother's throat and watched the words spill from her neck."

He suddenly smiles, weakly, like a comfort to himself. He says "I slowly ate the salted meats in the caravan, just enough to gain my strength to carry. I plundered a sword, clothes from two of the slain, and the entire shipment of meat. When I got to Jairu, she no longer had the strength to cry. I…oh dear…I chewed the meat and fed her as a mother bird feeds her young. What a pleasure to hear her cry again, to know she had the strength to do so. We…carried on for three more years, myself raising Jairu, looting caravans, eluding patrols searching for bandits in the perimeter. Until our third winter, when a pneumonia-esqe virus took her. I…buried her as I buried my mother, and I ran. To Essex Mykker, fool, I should have done so from the start. I feared what would happen, that I would be struck down like a rat in the sewers, with Jairu bleeding on my chest. I…stepped through the gates of the town of Vashnitak and immediately sold myself into indentured servitude. As I signed my freedom away for ten years of food and board, I promised myself to never know hunger again."

"What happened next?" I ask, almost scared to find out. Kurama weakly smiles and says "My new warlord, Gladinsk, he forcibly ended my indentured servitude after four years and conscripted me into his militia. There, I learned swordplay and military tactics. Following a few skirmishes with the Shenku Mountain clans, I was given leave from military service. I immediately offered to serve in the Vashnitak city watch, and was accepted. Eventually, I became city watch captain, and grew fat off bribes and 'taxes'. This continued for a few centuries until I decided to cross into human world, where I then found more prosperity as a hedge knight in Eastern Europe. Then I returned to Gandara, became Yoko the Bandit King, and the rest is familiar history."

I frown and say "I'm sorry man, I had no idea. I shouldn't have asked." He smiles painfully and says "It is comforting that someone knows my story." I say "Well, you don't have to worry bout going hungry here. We got food, money, and hell, we soon got a supermarket to raid." Kurama leaves his cigarette in his ashtray and says "Forgive me for chastising about you and Jenny Stahl. It is none of my business." I say "You raised some good points man, I respect what you said. It's not going to be a problem, trust me. We're both adults, we act like ones." He pushes the whiskey toward me and says "Indeed…indeed. And Yusuke?" "Yeah?" I ask.

"Thank you for offering me all those many years with Shiori, with Zinaida. Thank you, for that night on the hospital rooftop, with the Forlorn Hope artifact," he says. I smile and say "Thank you for not kicking the bucket back then, and for saving my ass all those times." He nods and says "My pleasure."

I ask "What about Zinaida?" Kurama shakes his head and says "I never allowed her to become too attached, three years together, yes, but I lived for centuries. I am adept at keeping my distance when necessary. Perhaps for the best." I 'Hm' and drink from the bourbon. Thinking over it, I take a drag on my cigarette, exhale, and say "You gave your little sis a few more years, that's something in of itself. I mean…I cannot imagine being put in that situation, and trust me Atsuko had done some shit that had me thinking about sleeping with a knife under my pillow, but still…that is rough. And no, you don't have to worry about hunger here, as crazy as it sounds."

Kurama returns to his cigarette, drags until it's halfway burnt to ash, knocks the ash off, and says "I spent the vast majority of my 912 year old self believing that life was nothing more than vulgar game played by forces beyond my control. And then Shiori nearly bled to death shielding me from broken glass, and suddenly I found reason to live beyond simple survival. Hunger or not, your company is good enough."

"Heh," I say, exhaling smoke. The shack is thick with this haze. I wave the smoke away and say "Same here. Hey, I'll be sleeping on the floor tonight. You get the bed." Kurama laughs and says "I do recall how you claimed the entire mattress for yourself. Oh well, I slept on worse surfaces." I laugh and say "Hey, I passed out. Maybe next time we can steal a mattress from the shelter, really get the smell of urine in the room." We both start laughing, slightly drunk, smelling like cig smoke.

And suddenly, in all the whiskey and the smoke and the laughing and the crying, I feel an amazing sensation. Of freedom. That for once, for fucking once, I have control of life. With my bare hands, my charm, and the two revolvers hanging on my waist, I finally decide my own fucking destiny. Not Koenma, not King Yama, not Raizen, not my boss, not anyone. But me.

I promise myself to never lose this feeling.

Chapter Text

I stir, the bare skin of my back creasing against the mattress. I immediately register the smell of cigarette smoke. Opening my eyes to another chapter of this foul wasteland, I arc my head to the left and spot Yusuke smoking a cigarette, seated on the rolling seat cushion, knocking ash into the tray on the desk. A nearly empty bottle of Jack Daniels by his side, the last remaining drops of Burke's already opened bottle. Yusuke turns to me, already dressed in full aside from his duster overcoat. He grabs the bottle of sour mash whiskey and pours the last drops into a shot glass, saying "Hey Kurama. Good morning. Here's your medicine." As good as any mouthwash at this rate.

I reach for my pants and pull them up, just enough to conceal my boxers. I then reach for my shirt and clothe myself in it, buttoning from the bottom up. Stuffing my shirt into my pants, I pull the zipper up and fasten my leather belt. I then reach for my vest, also on the floor, and wear it, leaving it unzipped. Reaching for the shot of whiskey, I begrudgingly say "Thank you" and mull over the glass. Frowning, I drink it hurriedly, and then hurriedly scrub my tongue with my upper teeth. Urgh, foul. Perhaps I pampered myself with the more pristine variants.

I look down at the desk and notice a poster with a drawing on it. "A new bounty?" I ask. It has been three days since Yusuke and myself sold our crate of alcohol to Colin Moriarty. Two days ago, Lucas Simms approached Moira Brown about financing the bounty on the bandit leader at the 'Super-Duper Mart'. Yesterday, Moira Brown agreed to finance the bounty at one hundred bottle caps, a paltry sum but a sum nonetheless. Only caveat happens to be that no one knew the identity of the bandit leader himself, or herself, or if they even sport a leader. It seems that that issue has been rectified.

Yusuke says "Yeah, this morning, some scavenger sat at the Brass Lantern and started talking to Leo Stahl and Manya Vargas, said he's been drifting from Kigo Pruss. Said it's some settlement by the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. He said he and a couple of his traveling friends went to camp by the Potomac on the Virginia side, under this giant ass overpass that's falling apart. He then said that a bunch of raiders snuck on the camp, shot one of his friends in the face and took him and his other friend back to the mart for 'fun'. Well, he and his other friend escaped, she got shot in the back and bled out along the way, and he then made it to here. Here's the kicker, the guy says that the group that took him were led by this black-haired white woman dressed in U.S. National Guard fatigues. Says he's pretty sure she's the leader, cause she was shouting the commands and was the only one not dressed in random car part crap. The uniform said 'Kuhn'."

I glare at the poster, drawn in a similar 'mug shot' style that the Declan Carruthers poster displayed. Long black hair parted at the widow's peak, full cheeks, shadows on her eyes, two dimples right under the left corner of her mouth, a rounded chin, medium cheekbones, thick black eyebrows. Appears to be Mediterranean…Italian descent perhaps, or Greek. Possible amphetamine or crack cocaine abuse, minor if true. I see the phrase 'Wanted' written in red dyed letters, above the sketch. Below, also in red dye, 'Zoe Stampanato'.

I say "I do not see the name 'Kuhn' on the poster. I take it that you found her actual name through other sources." Yusuke smirks and says "Yeah, was about to get to that. Remember Jericho?" The retired bandit that you nearly provoked into killing you? I say "Indeed, quite a difficult character to forget." Yusuke nods and says "Tell me about it. Anyway, while I was grilling the scavenger for details and Simms went to work drawing up the poster, Jericho walked by and sat down at the Lantern. He went to work on a beer, and then suddenly said "Fuck" and turned to us. He knows the Super-Duper Mart people, said they were the bunch that made him quit. Said they disrespected him or something like that. Anyway, he gave us the name, Zoe Stampanato. He said she got some Chinese sword that she keeps sharpened for her 'fun' with captives. Said he watched her cut some old guy's heels off just to watch him crawl and bleed out, she likes the classics. Also said that she got like 15 people with her back when he left, one sniper and one rocking the flamethrower, most only got revolvers, maybe a few automatic rifles. Jericho also said the front door got this tripwire that sends a basket of live grenades at our feet, so, yeah."

Surprising, this is more information than I expected. I ask "When exactly did Jericho leave this band of raiders?" Yusuke sighs and says "Didn't ask, didn't feel like pushing my luck. Maybe later, shit, maybe we can get the guy to tag along. Going to be a pain in the ass hauling all those guns, food, medicine, other crap, just the three of us." "Three…? Oh, Walter, of course," I say. Yusuke turns to me and asks "You think we can trust Jericho? What's your read on him?"

I sigh and grab my duster overcoat from the floor. Draping it over my shoulders, I say "Trust him? Doubtful, but I believe he can be readily dealt with if he betrays us." "Speaking from experience there, fox boy?" Yusuke asks.


I say "Indeed, from both sides of the coin. Anyway, I will proceed to the restroom." I reach for my Lee Enfield rifle, resting by the wall to the right of the doorway. Grabbing it and pulling the sling around my right arm, I hear Yusuke whistle. I turn around and ask "Hm?" "You forgot your revolver," Yusuke speaks, pointing at the elongated revolver that Yusuke seems to term 'The Dirty Harry'. I'm afraid I never seen those films he speaks of. Regardless, I grab the revolver from the nearby shelf and place it inside my right waist-side holster. I have Walter to thank for selling us a box of .44 ammunition, procured from a recent foray into a raider-occupied shell of a 'Bed and Breakfast' lodging. Claims to have slain five of the bandits. Walter even spoke of discovering a new Vault bunker, though he stated that he did not investigate past the front door. Perhaps a future destination for us.

I nod at Yusuke, open the metal box on the lower shelf, grab my toothbrush, and say "I will be for a rather bit long, so do not assume the worst immediately." "I think we're stepping into the area of TMI there, Kurama," Yusuke replies with his usual carefree snark. He crushes his spent cigarette in the ashtray. I force a smile and say "Forgive me."

I wave awkwardly at Jenny Stahl and say "Hey, good morning." She smiles weirdly and says "You already said that two hours ago." "Oh yeah, whoops," I say. Shit got awkward in record time.

I seat myself down by the Lantern and say "Kurama should be coming here any second now, as long as he didn't eat any rolls of string last night." "Eh?" Jenny asks. "Nothing. We chasing our second bounty today. The raiders at the Super-Duper Mart," I say. Jenny says "You said that two hours ago too. Do you even remember what I made you for breakfast?" "I think it used to be cute and furry," I say, throwing some passive-aggressive bull into the awkward crap.

"Sounds about right," Jenny says, turning back to the stove. She asks "Well, what can I get for you now?" I say "Me? I'm good. I'll wait for Kurama to come back and order, don't know what he wants. By the way, know where your brother Andy is? Moira wants us to 'research' to see if there is still food and medicine in these supermarkets, she didn't really say she'd buy the food. Just saying, maybe work something out. Been hearing on the grapevine that food's getting tight here."

I hear Jenny sigh. Her back to me, working on a stir fry, she says "Standard rate, three caps per boxed meal. One cap per bottle of beer. 75 caps per liter of spirits or wine." 75? Eh. I ask "Alright, gotcha. What about plates, knives, forks, that crap, you need?" Jenny turns to me, hums to herself for a few seconds while looking upwards in thought, and then says "We could use a few more plates and pitchers. I'll give a cap for each one you bring intact." "Deal," I say.

Should I bother Emory Church about prices for meds? Nah, I doubt he got the time to haggle anyway. Alright, going to make some money today. Might even get one of those Pip-Boys that Moira has for sale. Walter says it's no different than his model. Maybe they came from that Vault he found yesterday, who knows?

I feel a pat on my back. I turn right and see Kurama, smiling, looking wide awake. Maybe it's the whiskey or something. He turns to Jenny and says "I will have the instant mashed potatoes with pork and beans, and one lager." She says "Got it. That will be…16 caps." Beer is ten times cheaper than cola here, lesson well learned.

As Jenny goes to work, Kurama sits on the stool to the right of me. He turns to me and says "I came across Mr. McLiddy while on my way." Oh, that dumbass. I ask "What did he say?" Kurama says "I'm not quite sure." Haha, pfft, I walked right into that one. Jenny laughs with me, that's a good one, fox boy.

I ask "So, Kurama. We got Walter Joseph with us, that makes three. Thought about what I said?" "About recruiting Jericho?" Kurama asks. I could swear I saw, in the corner of my eye, Jenny freezing up. I say "Yeah. So?" Kurama shrugs his shoulders and says "As I said before, perhaps. I will speak to him after breakfast." "More like brunch," I say. It's creeping into noon now. Felt nice to sleep to 10 today, after the early morning wakeups past couple of days. Piling on those caps, some blue collar cooking. Funny that, in this world, Kurama is the unemployed one.

After a wait, Kurama gets his brunch. I, in turn, go to work on my second cigarette of the day. Knocking ash into a black tray, I watch Kurama eat his fill and I start whistling to the opening theme of Cowboy Bebop. I catch Kurama snickering a bit, I remember back in high school, well, my high school, super senior and all, when I lent him VHS tapes of the show. Spent the whole weekend burning through the show and like ten pounds of onigiri and pocky sticks.

I hear someone say behind me "Morning. Or noon." It's Walter Joseph, dressed in a new armored Vault jumpsuit that he got from Moira a couple of days ago. He got his Steyr Aug hanging on his back, a leather sling around his right shoulder. I see that he also got an ankle holster for that silenced 10mm pistol, the frame budging through the cuffs. He also got a knife sheathe around his waist, with a bowie knife in it. I say "Hey." Kurama waves at Walter from behind, too focused on eating. I say "Kurama here is going to hit up Jericho, see if he could tag alone. We're doing this on a finders-keepers system, except for real. Since we all got bags to carry crap around. Whoever kills Zoe Stampanato gets the caps bounty. That cool with you?" Walter says "I have nothing to protest." Cool, so we definitely got three rolling in this posse.

I hear Kurama drop his fork into his apparently empty plate. I turn to watch him wiping his lips with his left sleeve and downing the last of his beer. He says "Thank you, it was most filling" to Jenny Stahl. Turning to the two of us, Kurama says "Neither do I. Now, I will see to the individual collectively known as 'Jericho' and see if he wishes to join our…merry band of bounty hunters."

I approach the individual known as Jericho, standing outside Moriarty's saloon, smoking a cigarette. I currently have a cigarette in hand as well, partially burnt through. My first of the day…I find my nerves calmed by the act. Jericho himself is clothed in the same leather armor I seen him wear when I first met him. Threatening to kill Yusuke with a large revolver, if I recall correctly. I speak "Jericho, I presume." He turns his head to the right, glares coldly at me, and irritably says "Yeah, the fuck you want?" I say "My friend Yusuke said how you spoke to him about Zoe Stampanato?" Jericho knocks ash over the railing and says "Yeah? You going to kill that bitch, right? Collect some bounty or whatever it is you assholes do?"

I say "Actually, we thought about recruiting you for the job." "Fuck that," Jericho says without pause. I smile and say "We will operate on a finders-keepers basis. Whoever kills Stampanato, receives the full bounty. Now, I heard you have some prior history with her." Jericho glares at me and says "You got shit in your ears? I said, fuck that. Now I don't need to babysit some green around the ears vault faggots. I'm retired."

I sigh and irritably say "I'm not sure you should pursue that line of talk." "The fuck you just said?" Jericho blurts out, walking within millimeters of my face. He extends his burning cigarette within scant millimeters of my right eye. I can see the embers leaping from the tip, just out of reach of my irises. I say "Green around the ears? Tsk, tsk. A wise man who lived near my homeland, long ago, said 'Know thyself, and know thy enemy, never see the cruel gaze of defeat'." I lick my fingers of pork grease as I watch Jericho's demeanor change to outright confusion. I press on "'Know thyself, but not thy enemy, one victory for every defeat'. Now, you have failed one of these criteria already."

Jericho takes a step back and asks "So, what, you also some kind of raider? Nah, you ain't got the smell. Some Paradise Falls slaver asshole?" I ask "Jericho, have ever seen a small child impaled on a spear?" "What the fuck?" Jericho says, raising an eyebrow, adjusting his cigarette into his left hand. I press on, moving my right hand to my holstered 'Dirty Harry' revolver. I ask "Jericho, have you ever seen your allies force a peasant to eat the corpse of his own daughter, for sport I mean?" He says nothing, his right hand no longer sliding toward his holstered revolver. I smirk and say "I believe we have a common understanding, now. And yes, to answer your question, I was…'some kind of raider'. A leader, in fact. A king…if you will. I was the most ruthless 'raider' in my homeland's sordid history. I controlled swaths of territory that the average 'raider' warrior here would soil his or her pants at the mere thought of controlling. Stick a burning cigarette into any of my eyeballs once again, I will spill your intestines and examine what you enjoyed for breakfast."

We remain in silence for three solid minutes. Finally, Jericho speaks "You want to take out Zoe Stampanato, right?" I say "Indeed. And, to reiterate, I offered you an opportunity to collect some salvage, and exact revenge on a besmirching of your honor." "A bes…what?" Jericho asks. I say "An insult, revenge for an insult. Now, while I cannot demonstrate right in this moment, for Lucas Simms would likely protest, his opinions on anally-inserted impalement and flaying with rusty daggers withstanding, I believe I have convinced you that I am not a 'green around the ears'…oh what was it, 'vault faggot'?" Jericho smirks and says "Just words there, red chief. Don't be a menstruating bitch over it."

I sigh, I have dealt with men like him. More often then I care to admit. I say "And while I cannot speak for Walter, Yusuke carries himself quite well. Lacks the creativity in the killing that I employ, but makes up for it with…'Brahmin-like' stubbornness. So, will you join us?" Jericho takes a drag on his cigarette, exhales away from my general direction, a sign of respect and deference I take it, and says "As long as I keep what I loot. Just for this job, got it? Also, I get five meals of my choice, no matter who calls dibs." I nod and say "Understood. We will meet at the gates in one hour. Bring your own sack or duffle bag, and likely some water and a can of food. I doubt we will be out for more than another sunrise."

Alright, stepping out of the Megaton gates, me and fox boy in our dusters, rocking our revolvers and Kurama's rifle, got our cowboy getup on. Walter tagging along in his armored vault jumpsuit, got the Steyr Aug out and the pant cuffs rolled up, so he could draw the 10mm out faster. And lastly, Jericho, the asshole who put a revolver into my face on day one, in the leather combat vest and pants getup, rocking the Colt Python on a waistline holster, carrying some version of the AK-47. It looks like the Romanian version, if I remember from the magazines. Even got the shiny laminated buttstock and ACOG sights. Like it's his trophy for doing all sorts of fucked up shit out here.

"So, baldy, how long since you left Stampanato's people?" I ask, the four of us walking east from Megaton. Jericho says "Fuck off." Just noticed how much he looks like Bill Goldberg, pfft. I look left, seeing a row of elevated highway broken up and barely standing. I see another row in the distance, and a rusting grain silo in the near foreground. Looking straight and to the right, I see derelict, half exposed buildings, a mesh of steel, most barely five floors, a nearby water tower, a cliff, and then Washington D.C. itself. I squint my eyes and say "Hey Kurama, look, right over there." I point and say "See that giant dick? The Washington Monument, half circumcised."

"What are you, some fucking tourist?" Jericho blurts out. I yell "You want to fucking do this? And by the way, I asked you a fucking question!" This guy, dickhead. Kurama says "Now, Yusuke raises a valid point. We cannot judge the veracity of your information unless we know how fresh it is." Jericho turns his head left and to us and asks "Veracrap what? The hell you're talking about? Look, I bounced from that bunch of shitbags four years ago. I've been raidering for a while, you don't swell up numbers unless you got some heavy target to hit and can play politician with other assholes. Zoe's people barely be more than a dozen, I'd put caps on that shit. That's why I'm tagging with you shoot-from-the-hip dicks."

"Nice line, I gotta use that sometime. Hey, what's your real name, Jericho?" I ask. I look to the left of the far away Washington Monument and see that domed pointy building, what was it, the Capitalist Building? Cartwright Building? Jericho groans and asks "Why you want to know?" I say "Jericho is three syllables, I want something easier to use." I hear Walter and Kurama snickering around me. Hey, bite me.

"Guilherme Magalhães de Jericho," Jericho says in a kind of forced accent that I hear when Brazilian soccer players give interviews in English. He goes on "Now go count the syllables and suck off a deathclaw." "Fucking asshole," I say loud enough for everyone to hear.

"You are Brazilian?" Kurama asks. I vault over a wooden, rotting fence, looks like this place used to be some farm. Watching Kurama and Walter walk through the gap in the fence, I hear Jericho say "No one calls it that anymore. I'm a Rio de Homem Alton, came here with my daddy, not like that shit matters." I hear Kurama muttering to himself. I get closer and hear him say "Rio de Homem Alton…Rio de Janeiro? Did your home city have a giant marble statue with outstretched arms watching over a large hill?"

I watch Jericho freeze in his tracks. He starts walking up to Kurama and yells "How the fuck you know that, red locks?! You fucking stalking me?!" Oh shit. I rush Jericho and tackle him by the ribs, sending him to the ground. "Fucking get off me!" Jericho yells. Kurama walks over and says "I assure you that you are nowhere interesting enough for me to stalk. I am just quite familiar with maps, and I know a fair amount of Brazilian geography. Stems from my interests in botany. Now, calm yourself or I will cause you an injury."

Fucking hey, finally Raging Bullcrap here calms down. Jericho shoves me back, climbs to his feet with his AK hanging from his neck by the sling, and then grabs it for real. He says "Fuck this" and keeps going. Motioning us to the water tower with his left hand, Jericho kneels by a chain link fence and says "C'mon."

The three of us get close as Jericho yawns loudly. I notice, right beyond the water tower, the drop is like a couple of floors high, with a half-burnt strip mall down below, followed by more buildings, including a giant one that looks like a warehouse. Maybe that's the supermarket. Jericho says "Alright, Zoe Stampanato got like a dozen people, maybe more, like I said. Usual wasteland raiders, you know…take what they can get, scratch their itches, high off all kinds of shit. Been there, done that. Now, the fucking thing with Stampanato, she got a son that barely knows his way around pussy, forget about raiding. But she sticks to the kid like a mama yao guai. Kid was like, sixteen when I left. Fuck, he was the reason I left. Chris, Chris Stampanato, that's his name."

Walter asks the magic question "What did he do?" Jericho lets out a laugh and says "Here I am, about to stick my dick into this caravaners' daughter, one of you people I think. Asian. Got radroach bites on her ass but fuck it, that was some nice ass I was looking at. Oh, took me some time to get her to stay fucking still, taking pliers to her teeth did the trick, just some friendly raider advice." What…the…fuck.

Jericho continues "So I got my dick going, and I was on some of that downer shit so it wasn't easy to go full cocked, and I was halfway into her, when that fuckface Chris blows her fucking head off cause he thought it would be funny. I mean, fuck, I'm not going to stick my dick in some dead bitch, I got my standards man." What…the…fuck…Walter's face says it all. And Kurama ain't even bothered by this crap…oh man don't even think about that. Some crap is best left buried.

Jericho keeps talking "So I go try to find out what the big fucking idea is, and he calls me some old washed up smack head with a 'pecker as useful as super mutant pussy'. I, being the honorable man I am, 'proceeded', as you big word using assholes like to say, to go beat the shit out of the little shit. Then Irwin Kebede, that dogass prick, gave me this look like Zoe going to know every detail, down to the piss streaks on momma's boy Chrissy's legs. And that's when I realized that raiders these days, don't know nothing bout respect. So I retired, made myself useful in Megaton. Felt I been owed at least that."

"You are a sick, disgusting psychopath," Walter says without flinching. If there is one thing I admire of Walter, even with just a few days knowing him, it's that he means what he says and says what he means. I gotta respect that. Jericho laughs at him and says "Vault boy, if you think I'm sick, go 'educate' yourself. Take a little scenic view like Yusuke here, get your nose into the downtown D.C. rubble and go 'conversate' with some 'intellectual' super mutants and raiders. Or Bethesda, or Evergreen Mills, or, shit, I hear the Pitt got nice sun tanning for you pampered Vault dickhead types." "Get to the point," I say, sounding just enough pissed off to make him know that I ain't cool with the shit he just said. Jericho glares at me, raises both his eyebrows, and says "My point? Kurama, or Shuichi, or whatever the fuck his name is, he said he and you ain't green behind the ears. Now him, I think he's playing straight, but you? Nah, chickenfuck more like it. My point, these shits that Stampanato's running, they're jackasses."

I grind my teeth and keep myself from elbowing this prick in the face. Kurama changes the subject and asks "Anything else you know about Stampanato's band?" Jericho nods, frowns a bit, and says "Yeah, yeah. There's Zoe and Chris, and Irwin, I told you bout them. One thing bout Irwin, Zoe's people like to make bets on these games, where they tie up their wrists with rope and see who can get out first. Irwin always won that shit, and he got that escape route mindset, so, if there is anyone over there that you want to shoot first, that's him, and don't fucking miss. He makes people pay for missing and keeping him alive. Now, Zoe got her inner circle where she involves people into planning and debating and all that bullshit. Besides Zoe, Chris, and Irwin, there was…uh, this white guy with a giant black beard, forgot his name, this short haired Asian lady, Tammy…yeah…Tammy Forteza…she one of them Asians that speaks Spanish, don't know shit about where her folks came from…and that's it. Rest tag along until someone in inner drops dead and they fill their seat. It's been long enough for almost everyone to be dead, including Chris and Irwin, so I don't know what we see inside. I don't think they lost the sniper rifle and the flamethrower, unless they really gone fucked up. I remember Irwin rolled with the sniper, and he usually took watch of the front door from behind this counter. Got his rifle mounted on the counter, all bipedal and crap. And I already said how Zoe got this weird Chinese sword. She's pretty good with it, I give her that, though it's fucking retarded to carry that in a shootout."

"Anything else?" Kurama asks. Jericho shakes his head and says "Nah. Yusuke told you bout the grenade trick at the front, right? Besides that, nah, nothing." Walter, still sounding pissed at Jericho, asks "Are there any places we can fire from above? Any derelict buildings?" Jericho smirks and says "Smartest shit you said all day, and yeah, but we don't need. They got like a few guys watching the parking lot, rest stay inside, on the first floor. The upper floors collapsed, stairs and all. Now, when I think about it, they set up planks on the shelves, kinda like a second floor or something, and some did walk across. So look straight and a bit up, you should be fine. Trust me, these guys are idiots."

"So, you talking about these towns and places. Where the fuck are we?" I ask. Jericho looks around the chain link fence and says "See that giant sky blue building over there? Behind that strip mall? The one taking up a goddamn block? That's the Super-Duper mart. Entrance is on the other side, rear got a loading station but it's been sealed up nice, you need C4 or a missile launcher to stick your dick through the backdoor. I think they used to call this place McLean, pre-war I mean, seen it on some signs. Keep going that way, you hit the Potomac and some asshole mirelurks."

"Alright, let's do this," I say, trying not to yell out 'LEEROY JENKINS', cause only Kurama would get the joke, and I don't think making him laugh is worth getting shot at by Jericho. Suddenly, Walter says "A moment." "What?" Jericho asks, sounding pissed off like always. "I need to relieve myself," Walter says. I say "So? Go huddle up by that wooden farm fence, pick your branch to piss on." "I require more than that," Walter says.

"Is this asshole serious?" Jericho asks, and for once I'm agreeing with him. Kurama says "Jericho and myself can scout the abandoned coach bus on the street to the left of the apartment buildings. Yusuke will stand watch for Walter. Perhaps those apartment buildings would suffice, Walter?" Kurama ends with a little snark, as if he's calling Walter a pampered asshole. Walter smiles uneasily and says "My apologies, I just rather not soil myself in a shootout. Would not send the right message." "No, it won't," Jericho adds dryly like it's pinched salt.

So, here I am, with Walter, inside Ruggerio's half collapsed pizzeria, with a radroach as our chef. Its head now under my shoe. I ask "So, is the toilet fine or you going to need the Taj Mahal treatment?" I hear Walter unzipping his fly and pissing right by the pizza oven. I ask "Hey, I thought you needed…"

"How many people did you kill?" Walter suddenly asks, mid-piss. What? Okay that caught me off guard. I ask "What's it to you?" "Just answer the question," Walter says, still pissing.

I look around, trying to see if there's something out here I should notice. I say "Define people." Walter says "Humans, like you and me. And like Gob. How many?"

I grit my teeth and ask "Including Declan Carruthers' people?" I hear Walter zip up his fly and say "No, leave them out. Everyone before you met, raider or caravaners, slaver or slave. Everyone."

"Two," I say. He turns to me asks "Why?" I answer "Because they were going to kill everyone I care about." "What were their names?" Walter asks, staring at me. I say "You won't know them." Walter takes a step closer, kneeling, putting his right hand on his silenced 10mm pistol, in its holster. I put a hand on each of my holstered revolvers. Sweat going down my forehead, this is freaking me out. Walter notices my posture and says "I just want to see your face when you say their names."

"Kosuke Toguro and Shinobu Sensui," I say, gritting my teeth, eying up the outlines of Walter's right hand. He eases his posture, good, and says "I had to see for myself." Alright, let's try it this way "Your turn, four eyes. How many and who?" Walter fakes a smile and says "I already told you. I told you since we first met. I named them all. The security officers of Vault 101." I nod and say "Okay, okay."

"How long have you known Kurama?" Walter asks. "Since childhood, why?" I reply. "Before we met, how many people did he kill?" Hmph. I ask "Humans like you and me and Gob?" Walter nods and walks up to the register, trying to pry it open. He takes his silenced pistol out and starts banging on the register with the grip of the pistol, saying "Like you and me and Gob."

"I don't know," I say. "A rough number would be good enough," Walter says. I say "I don't even have that." Walter gets the register open and starts funneling out the pre-war cash. He unzips his duffle bag and starts layering the cash into it. Zipping the bag up, Walter asks "Same criteria. How many did he rape?"

"Fuck…you," I say, hissing at him for saying that kind of shit. Walter leans his back against the counter and asks "How many?"

We don't say a thing for a solid few minutes. Walter breaks the silence "How many people do you think Jericho raped? And killed? And why?" "Don't compare Kurama with that sick fuck," I say. Walter laughs and says "You say you known him since childhood. What aren't you telling me?" I clench my fists and say "He's older then he looks."

After another pause, Walter says "If we are to continue this, I need to be made sure. Am I going to be a party to a rape? Or some type of torture?" "No," I coldly say. "Why are you so sure?" Walter asks. "Because Kurama is not the guy he once was," I say, causing Walter to raise his eyebrows just a bit, like he just found what he was looking for. Walter frowns and asks "And when the shots are fired and the air smells of blood, what will keep Kurama from becoming the man he once was?"

I coldly say "He's done a good job at staying who he is now. Ain't no amount of nuclear fallout going to change that." Walter sighs and says "If only the fallout is all that we have to fear." And like on cue, I hear gunfire from outside.

I run out the front first, my Smith & Wesson 17s in my hands, ready to kill assholes. Walter comes up from behind, his silenced 10mm pistol out. I yell "Go right! Right!" That's where Kurama and Jericho were, at that abandoned bus. We turn right and run down the parking spaces in front, hoping over a dead bush that looks more like a sleeping hedgehog. We turn right, stepping around a burnt out minivan, and step into the perpendicularly-adjacent road with the bus.

We see two olive skinned people, one male and with a turban, the other female, both in this black military armor with football style black shoulder pads, and in greyish green cargo pants and black combat boots. They are dragging a white woman in similarly dressed clothing on their shoulders, her chest bloody, while Jericho and Kurama advance and shoot at something on the right. With their free hands, they carry some kind of automatic rifle. I give Walter a tap on his shoulder and say "C'mon!"

We run up to the slightly burnt and broken brick wall on the building to the right of the bus. Jericho sees us and yells "No! You, four eyes, with me! Stampanato's people!" Jericho runs up to Walter and snaps his fingers in front of Walter's face. Walter grits his teeth and follows our friendly local rapist piece of shit. Kurama turns to me and runs to cover where I am at, saying "Firefight, these three and four raiders. Four casualties, three of theirs, one of these soldiers in black. The raiders retreated."

The three in black head up the stairs in the bus, running inside, yelling in some accented-English, sounds British. Kurama and I run up to the bus stairs, ducking our heads out of instinct. We head inside and see the two in black that are still standing, the female Indian looking and with long black hair, the male also Indian looking, with a trimmed beard and a mauve turban. They both got MP5Ks, so I was wrong on the automatic rifle thing. Well, half wrong. The other woman, bleeding on a coach seat, got short blonde hair and burn marks on her chin. The turban guy pinches an artery on her lower abdomen shut, stopping the spurting of blood.

The Indian woman immediately aims her submachine gun at us and yells "State your business!" Yeah, sounds British. I notice a white bird's claw logo on her chest plate and…yeah, same on the other two. I say "Saving your ass. And killing asshole raiders for money." The turban guy says in British-accented English "Bounty hunters." Kurama adds "Zoe Stampanato is our target. Seems we have mutual goals."

The female Indian lowers her MP5K just enough for the barrel to aim at our feet. She says "We were approaching a different target when these highwaymen shot at us." She turns to the turban guy and anxiously asks "What is the med-sit on Layla?" "Bollocksed, she needs this artery sewed or she will bleed out," he says, his hands soaked in blood.

British Indian woman turns to us and says "Alice Mishra. He is Trevor Singh." "Yusuke Urameshi," I say. "Shuichi Minamino, we have a doctor in Megaton," I hear Kurama say. Trevor anxiously says "No, she won't live to see it, we need surgical tubing…now." Kurama quickly says "The supermarket, it should have a pharmacy. One of you help us collect on Zoe Stampanato, we will let you access the medical supplies." "Deal," Alice says without blinking.

"Obviously, I'll stay here," Trevor says, keeping the artery pinched together, sweat wetting his beard. I ask "Who are you with?" Alice says "Talon Company, hired to hunt some arsehole that betrayed the wrong man. East Asian, biracial perhaps. Long black hair, glasses, wears a vault jumpsuit. Name is Walter."

Fuck, she saw the look in my eye.

You can cut the tension with a butter knife. Alice frozen, her fingers twitching. Trevor, looking at us with just his right eye visible, probably thinking if he should let go of the artery and pick up the submachine gun on the floor. Layla, going in and out of consciousness, occasionally letting out a muffled groan. And me, my Smith & Wesson 17s aimed at the floor when they should have been aimed at these three assholes.

Kurama breaks the silence "I believe we have a raider to kill." Alice's jaw shifts to the right as she almost exhales a deep breath. She speaks in a low voice "We have someone to kill, indeed."

Trevor lets go of the artery.

My ears ring like a jackhammer went through them, while Alice's neck explodes in blood, sending her falling backwards. She shoots at the roof above us, bangs her back against the side of a cushioned bus seat, twist to the left, and falls on her face, blood spraying everywhere. I can't hear shit, my head feels like it's in a vice. Another bang, shredding Trevor's right knee. I think he's yelling, can't hear, only see his mouth flapping like a clipped bird. He falls over on his MP5K, face first, his right leg on Alice's right leg, the latter twitching once, just once. Kurama stomps on Trevor's left arm with his left leg, then his right arm with his right leg. A blank look on fox boy's face, he fires his Smith & Wesson 29 into the back of Trevor's head. Blood and brain matter gets all over Kurama's and my boots. I look at the artery on Layla's stomach spurting blood, like a soap dispenser.

I finally can hear again. I hear Jericho yell "Holy shit." I turn around and see Jericho and Walter on the steps of the bus, likely seeing Kurama go Doc Holliday on what I'm guessing are mercs. Walter just looks on like he just saw something amazing and terrifying at the same time, his mouth open.

I'm trying to count in my head, the number of seconds between the first two shots. It's like when Hiei fucked up Seiryu. Except it is Kurama. Without his Ki. With a fucking magnum revolver.

No hesitation, nothing, just point and shoot. Cold as ice. He turns to me, half smirking, half frowning, and says "Better than a crossbow, I must confess. Less of a delay." "What was that?" Walter asks, in shock. Kurama says "A trio of bounty hunters. And you were the bounty." He curls another half-smirk half-frown and adds "You are welcome." Did…Kurama overhear us?

We drag the three dead Talon Company pricks to the back of the bus, going through their pockets and pouches. Got 43 rounds of 10mm ammo, plus half full magazines in the two MP5Ks, two serrated knives with leather sheathes, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, three cans of Spam, a syringe of morphine, two flashlights, a piece of paper, and three bronze dog tags for Alice Mishra, Trevor Singh, and Layla Wineland. Since Kurama did the leg work, he got first dibs on all the stuff. He let me have one of the MP5Ks, which I filled up with more 10mm rounds. Fox boy took one of the knives, placed it in its leather sheathe, and asked us to look away as he hid it on himself. No comment. He put the rest of the stuff in his gym bag, barely saying a word. Suddenly, Jericho whistles as he reads off the bounty on Walter.

Jericho says "'Find Walter Joseph Karamazov and show how we treat people that fail to live up to Mr. Tenpenny's expectations. Attached is a physical description of the…troglodyte. You know what happens to those that fail me.' Signed…Calvin Burke. Woohoo, vault boy, you pissed off silk sheet Tenpenny himself. Good thing I got burned by that wrinkled-ass faggot, cause he pays well when he actually fucking pays."

"Who is Tenpenny, and what are Talon Company?" Walter asks, saving me and quick draw Kurama the energy for speaking. Jericho crumbles up the bounty on Walter and fastballs it to him. He says "Tenpenny is some old English asshole who lives in this ritzy tower in the southwest. Owns the place. He's like Moriarty, except doesn't know how full of shit he really is. Talon Company are a bunch of serious assholes with expensive guns. They even got those laser rifles that the Brotherhood of Steel carry. Legit mercenaries, they got a couple of camps in the D.C. ruins, and they own Fort Bannister in the west. They ain't like Stampanato's people, they know tactics and shit. I killed like four of them, over time, with some of my earlier groups. Tough fucks."

"Good to know," Kurama says, pulling three .44 rounds from the inside of the duster. Fresh bullets in his right hand, he opens his revolver cylinder and awkwardly pours the six bullets into his left palm. He extends the six to me. I pick out the spent brass casings and toss them on Trevor's body. Kurama says "Thank you" and places the remaining three in, followed by the three he just pulled from his coat. Slamming the barrel back in to place, he pulls back on the safety and sticks it into his side holster. Kurama then maneuvers his Lee Enfield around to his arms, pulls back on the bolt, and starts fishing into his coat for .32 rounds. As he reloads his rifle, fox boy says "Well, unless anyone sees any incoming mercenary assassination teams, I believe we may proceed to Zoe Stampanato." Yeah, sure.

Jesus Kurama.

Chapter Text

Three corpses strewn in the supermarket parking lot, raiders in various makeshift attires using pans, motorcycle handlebars, stove tops, other rubbish. Two male, both Latino, one female, appears Arabic. All in various states of narcotics abuse, drowning in pools of life's blood. An unusual convertible vehicle roasts in a blaze nearby, blood and bullet casings in its proximity. A few mostly intact minivans behind us, the supermarket in front of us. Boiling blood coursing through my veins.

The blood of Yoko Kurama, the bandit king of Gandara. Nearly tearing through the fabric of my composure. Nearly turning my hair the ghastly silver gray of the beast of my past. He is in paradise. I am in paradise. No. Stop.


Jericho speaks "Recognize one of the guys, was a hang around. The heavy hitters are either on a raid or inside. Stack up on the doors." We do so, myself taking the right frame of the double doors, Walter behind me. Jericho secures the left frame of the doors, Yusuke behind him. I see Yusuke cradling his new 'submachine' rifle. Jericho reaches into a pouch and retrieves a fragmentation grenade, I believe they are called. His rifle hovering in the air, hanging on a sling around his neck, Jericho pulls out a steel ring from the grenade, kicks the doors open, and lobs it into the supermarket. He returns to cover and yells "Special delivery, you fucking bitch!"

"Oh shit!" I hear someone yell in Maryland-accented English. A loud retort and a scream rings out as I leer around the doorframe. I spot a tripwire tied by two steel posts. I yell "Stand back!" Sticking my rifle through the doorframe, I crouch, steady my aim, and fire a shot into the leftmost steel post. The four of us retreat from the doorway as a much larger retort thunders from inside the supermarket. The double doors fly off their hinges and sail in the air, before clanging against the asphalt parking lot with a loud metallic thud.

A loud gunshot, similar to Kathy McCord's Springfield rifle, rings out from inside the supermarket, followed by another shot. I hear Jericho yell "Don't shit your pants, it's just suppressing fire!" I find myself with Walter taking cover behind a grey rusted minivan, Jericho and Yusuke on the other side of the parking lot. I strafe to the front of the minivan and press my Lee Enfield on the hood of the vehicle, aiming the sights down at the doorless entrance. I have a 45, perhaps 30 degree visual angle of the interior of the supermarket. What…argh! A massive explosion knocks me and Walter off our feet. I yell "YUSUKE!" "I'm good!" he mercifully replies. Walter yells 'They have incendiaries!"

I climb gingerly back onto my feet and resume my earlier stance, aiming at the entrance. A bearded Caucasian male, Western European seeming, with a long black beard and thick black hair, armed with a shotgun and adorned in an attire comprised of boiled leather and half broken pool cues and television frames tied together with duct tape, takes cover by the left interior doorframe. I remember Stockholm's advice and slow my breathing, steadying my rifle. He turns and approaches the outside. I pull the trigger, the rifle recoils back, the doorframe stains with blood. Shot in the chest, he collapses forward, firing his shotgun at the nearby asphalt ground. He yells and groans, turning onto his left shoulder. I keep aiming at the doorframe, letting the man bleed to death.

I run forward to the door, 'stacking' up by the right side of the doorframe. The raider I shot refuses to move, must have struck a major artery. Walter runs up to my side, firing his 'Steyr' into the doorway. I see Jericho and Yusuke running up to the left side of the doorway, Yusuke nodding at me in acknowledgement. Yusuke takes the lead from Jericho and inches to the edge of the doorway, his submachine rifle held by his waist. Yusuke turns to me, and moves his lips without speaking. He is counting down in Japanese.

Three, two, one. Yusuke runs inside, lowering his head. I follow.

A flash, argh! Shot in the left shoulder, just flesh lost, nothing more. I follow Yusuke to cover behind the short side of the supermarket shelves. "You okay?" Yusuke asks, his tone full of fear. "I had much worse," I reassure. We take to opportunity to scan our surroundings.

On the front wall with the doorway, I see a row of plastic pushcarts and a few cigarette and ice cabinets. To the far right, I see another cigarette cabinet. I peer right around the aisle, one, two, three raiders, one with a sniper rifle, behind a counter in what used to be a pharmacy. I spot a row of soda, juice, and alcohol coolers on the near wall to the right of the entrance, from where we are. The sniper keeps his attention on the doorway, does not notice my head sticking out of cover.

Yusuke nudges my wounded shoulder, causing me to wince. He mutters in a hushed tone "One raider got her legs blown off, dead as a rock. Aisles got wooden planks on top of them. And I think storage is directly in the back. Here, switch spots." I crawl over Yusuke's legs and aim my rifle down the length of the aisle, the aisle adorned with some canned food items and a few paper magazines. And a shredded corpse of a female Caucasian raider, one of her legs pinned to the shelves with a rod of shrapnel. Yusuke takes my spot on the left edge and yells "Run when you hear it!" I hear gunfire from Yusuke's submachine gun, along with a few swears in English. I hear Jericho and Walter, I assume, run behind us and toward the far wall to the left of the entrance.

I mutter in a hushed voice between the submachine fire "Keep…them…at bay. I have an idea." I see Yusuke's chin bob up and down in acknowledgement, and so I take my plan into action. I step into the aisle with the corpse and proceed toward the back of the supermarket. I pass cans of food, leap, awkwardly land on my feet, near the end, damn!

A female raider, of African descent, with short black hair and a round chin, adorned in an attire of boiled leather sleeves, a steel mesh bra, stitched patchwork cargo pants of various colors and fabrics, holding a revolver in her right hand and a serrated knife in her left. She hasn't seen me yet, two meters away, turning now. I proceed to aim down, spotted! I fire, missed! She aims! I immediately arc myself to the right, strafing toward her.

*BANG* Barely avoided. I duck as she fires again, letting the sling of my rifle free itself of my head. *BANG* Still of a corporeal form. I use what I'm familiar. I swing my rifle akin to a baseball bat. The buttstock strikes her in the right hand, sending her revolver into the shelves, sliding in the direction of the exit outside. I may have broken a few of her fingers. She yells "Fuck!" and drives her knife toward me. I hold her at bay with my rifle's frame pressing against her head, my right knee pressing against her lower abdomen.


We struggle, my back to the shelves. She uses her wits, argh! My right knee pierced by the knife, just enough to draw blood and pain, avoids the bone I think. I pull my rifle to me, and then at her, striking her face with the length of my Lee Enfield. She staggers back, her knife in her left hand, red with my blood. I hear gunshots in the background and feel the beast of Yoko Kurama clawing out for retribution. I grit my teeth and repeat my strike with my rifle, this time into her throat. She staggers once again, choking, coughing, blood, sweat, and gunsmoke in the air. I drop my rifle and put my Samozashchita Bez Oruzhiya lessons to the test.

As she lunges the knife toward my neck, I grab the bottom of her left wrist with my right hand, extend my left hand and grasp the back of her head, and drive her face directly into my rising right knee hungry for revenge. Her head jerks back, fractured nose, bleeding, yells "You fucking asshole!" Southern drawl closer to the Virginian accent I've been hearing. My right hand does not let go. I place my left hand right under her left elbow, and drive my fist clenched left hand upward, going the opposite direction with my right hand. She yells, arm dislocated. Refuses to drop knife, persistent.

I twist my right hand until the point of the knife faces her chest. Gunfire rings out in the background. Using my left hand for support, I drive it into her right shoulder, piercing enough for the knife to remain in place. She gasps in pain, her face of shock. She reacts with a wild swinging right haymaker. I duck under and let the blow sail over my head. Rising, adrenaline coursing through my veins, I grab her right wrist with my left hand, hold her arm in place, and drive my right fist into her face, causing further damage to her nose, drawing more blood. I retract my right arm, swing her right arm with my left hand around until it stretches to my left, and grab the hilt of the piercing knife. I pry it out, sending a spray of blood toward my pants, and then, serrated side down, I drive the knife into the top of her neck.

I feel resistance and throttling as I drive the knife down and split her neck in half, summoning a geyser of blood. Before her body becomes uncooperative, I pull the knife out and drive it into the middle of her abdomen until the blade disappears. Using the knife handle as a human shield handle, I grip it with my left hand and keep her now deceased corpse upright. I reach for my holster and draw my 'magnum' revolver. I then stick the barrel through the gap in her neck, and drag her corpse onward, struggling with the greasy texture of the raider's blood coating my hands. The macabre genius of Yoko Kurama at work.

Dragging her corpse into the open, in the space between the aisles and the storage room, I find the man behind the sniper rifle, East African seeming with spiky black hair, dressed in an attire comprised of oven mitten fabric and beige curtain drapes, continues to fire in Yusuke's general direction. Irwin Kebede, I presume. Adjacent to him, a Caucasian male raider with burnt skin, a blonde Mohawk combed to the side, and an outfit of patchwork leather vests and cargo pants, rises from cover, armed with a flamethrower. Adorned with a fuel tank on his back, the blonde raider climbs awkwardly over the counter and advances on Yusuke's position, both raiders oblivious to my presence.

Decisions, decisions. I make my choice. My revolver's barrel sticking through my corpse shield's neck, I pull the trigger. The shot pierces cleanly through the fuel tank, placing roughly ten seconds of pressure on me. I immediately turn thirty degrees to the right and pull the trigger again, as the blonde raider yells in Pennsylvanian accented English "What the shit?!"

Before Irwin Kebede could adjust his rifle to my position, my .44 round pierces his skull. His lifeless eyes stare at the ceiling as a mist of blood swirls his body. Still holding the sniper rifle, he falls backwards, akin to a domino.

The blonde raider yells "Crap!" and swings his flamethrower nozzle to my direction. He presses on the trigger as the pierced fuel tank engulfs him in highly flammable gas. With a blink of the eye, the raider screams violently for mercy as his flesh cackles under the intense flames of his own idiocy. He flails left and right, sending streams of flame in every direction except myself. I kick my corpse shield off and step back to avoid getting singed. Within a few more seconds, he collapses onto his knees, no longer screaming. His eyes melt as his face erodes away, and within another blink of the eye, he collapses face first to ground. My nostrils register the foul stench of burnt flesh. Performing a quick accounting of our actions today, I come to the conclusion that only a few raiders remain.

I press onward, vaulting over the pharmacy counter, my eyes staring down the sights of my revolver. I leave my left hand free as I approach a doorway to what I assume is the medical storage room. Perhaps I could find clean water and other supplies for Emory Church, such as painkillers, surgical tubing, blood packs, morphine, morphine, morphi…

Argh! Why must I play the fool? A black haired woman in military fatigues with the name tag 'Kuhn' shoves me right shoulder first into the doorframe. I swing my revolver into Zoe Stampanato's direction as a double edged jian sword lunges at my midsection. Damn, she is left handed. The wall on my left and shelves of medical equipment on my right, I pull my revolver down and press the barrel against the upper edge of the jian. I twist my body to the left, dodge the thrust, and slide the barrel of my revolver along the jian, generating sparks and sweat. I slide up to the jian hilt and then swipe the barrel across her face, left to right, drawing blood and a Maryland-accented "Damn!"

She quickly steps back and swings her jian at my head, spinning left. I duck my head, spin left, and find myself out of her sword's range. Excellent, I am for her head. I see her right leg jerk, argh! A glass vial shatters as it strikes my chin, myself failing to spot the debris on the floor, failing to account for her ability to kick accurately. I recoil and fire a blind shot, mercifully shattering glass vials and nothing else. She thrusts her jian at my midsection again. I bring my right elbow down and my wounded right knee up, catching and holding the jian in a Muay Thai styled grasp. Fool, now I cannot fire my revolver at her, failed again to account for her left handedness. We struggle, the threat of the jian neutralized with the lack of momentum. I fire a round into the ceiling. She flinches. My chance.

I push my left palm against the left sided blade, cutting my hand but protecting my midsection from becoming pierced. I drop my revolver and immediately shove my left forearm into her neck, driving her backwards. She curses "Red-haired asshole" as manipulate her left wrist with my right hand. I feel greater resistance. She twists left, pushing, I lose balance. My back hits the shelf behind me, it teeters slightly. I refuse to let go of her wrist. I press my left palm against her face. The blood from my palm seeps into her eyes, blinding her.

Argh! A sharp kick to my left shin staggers my balance. ARGH! Her left knee strikes my groin, sapping the strength from my legs. The obvious route, how could I have failed to prevent? Idiot, even beasts know how to use tactics! Is this what is to be of Yoko Kurama, slain by a petty human highwaywoman?!

I fall backwards into the shelf of medical supplies, knocking it to the ground. I hear more shelves knocked back, more glassware shattered, akin to a domino effect. The shelf separating me from the shard covered ground, I rest my spine against the cold metal bars as Zoe Stampanato raises her jian into the sky, preparing a downward hack.

I hear a sound, akin to a balloon popping. The sword falls just barely to the left of my face, as I felt the rush of air caressing my cheek. Her legs buckle and her body spasms as she stutters her screams and collapses onto the ground. Clear wires stick on her body, tracing to the left. I look left and see, standing in the doorway, a middle aged dark skinned male of African descent, clean shaven and bald with a scarred forehead, dressed in a patchwork leather and denim jacket and stitched denim jeans, armed with what I believe to be a Taser. Staring blankly at my person, he inserts a yellow square cartridge into the weapon. Oh dear.

Argh! My neck! My…I…can…not…see…

Second time in my life I got Tasered. Son of a bitch leather jacket wearing Masaharu Funaki lookalike with the fucking Taser gun. I got my hands tied around my back with cable wire and a sack over my head. I'm on something moving, sounds like a car or something, feels like I'm on the back of a pickup truck or something like that. I roll left, shit, feet tied up too. I bump into someone, hearing some muffled sounds along with the car engine's humming. I reach with my fingers, got hair, thick hair…cut my finger on some rose thorns. At least Kurama's still kicking. I yell "It's Yusuke!" Must have sounded pretty muffled behind the sack. I hear Kurama barely say "African looking male, bald, with a Taser. Stampanato Tasered as well." So this ain't her people, shit. This seems too left field for raider shit.

I roll around away from Kurama, bumping into someone that hasn't showered in years. I yell "That you Jericho?" "Fuck off!" some guy yells in Maryland-accented English. "Who that? You one of Stampanato's people?" I say, more confused bout the whole situation then pissed off at the response. The guy yells "I'm Chris you Regulator dipshit!" Oh great, Zoe's dumbass son. I suddenly hear Jericho yell "Chris! You fucking asshole piece of cunt! You lucky those shockers were there before I was going to bash your head in with the stock of my rifle!" I yell "Who else here?! Walter?!" I hear Walter yell "Present, sadly. So is an Emily Clarkson, one of Zoe Stampanato's remaining lackeys."

I hear Kurama yell "Zoe Stampanato?! Are you there?!" I hear a woman yell in Maryland-accented English "Yeah, you the prick I kneed in the balls?!" Oh that's fucking messed, where does this bitch get off doing shit like that?! I yell "Hey, try fighting fair for once. Dick and vag shots are bullshit, even in post-apocalyptia!" Zoe yells "Kiss my ass! And why you guys even after us?! You with the Regulators?!" Kurama yells "We are bounty hunters! You are the bounty! Do you know these people?! Bald male, scarred forehead, African descent, dark skin tone, with a square jaw! Familiar?!" Zoe yells "No! Fuck off!"

We suddenly stopped. I hear hushed talking from inside the truck, van, whatever it is. I hear someone yell in a southern drawl "Alright, start with the blonde!" Blonde? I guess it's that Emily girl, by process of elimination. I hear someone get dragged out of whatever the hell we are in and fall to the ground. I hear some grunts as I hear feet dragging on concrete, along with muffled swearing. And then, quiet.

"Take the boy next, Brian," I hear the same southern drawl again. This time, I hear Chris Stampanato cursing up a storm. Same process, same thud against the floor, same sound of legs dragged against concrete.

Walter went next, then Zoe, then Jericho. Then I hear the southern drawl say "Brian Rampton, get the cowboy with the black hair. I'll handle the red head." I hear Brian Rampton, I assume, speak in Pennsylvanian accented English "Alright man." Some thick meaty hands grab my heels, and suddenly I hit the ground. I feel two separate arms lift me by the shoulders, my feet dragging on the floor, and suddenly I'm off, to fuck if I know. I hear another thud behind me, fox boy probably. What the hell is going on?

I hear a door getting pushed open, slowly, like it's rusted or something. HOLY SHIT that smells bad! Chew the skin off your thumbs and set it on fire, then throw in a raw mackerel into the bonfire. Take that, plus dogshit, and you get a good idea of how bad it smells. I hear the guy Brian say "Zhang, right?" I hear some guy say in generic American accented English "Yeah, Vinny Zhang." So that's at least three guys IDed. No, five, the guy who Tasered me and the guy helping the southern asshole with dragging fox boy. Odds getting worse by the second.

My feet go across metal stairs, rusted metal, feeling glad I'm wearing shoes and got my tetanus shots. I hear the sound of groans and screams coming close. Suddenly, I'm lifted in the air. I hear Vinny Zhang say "In the hole you go." Hole?

A shove and oh shit I'm falling! I'm, fuck! Landed on something, no, someone. That's moving. I yell "Who the fuck is that?!" "It's fucking me, Jericho, you fatass piece of shit! I think you broke my motherfucking knee!"

We've been dragged into this cold, damp, grated floor room. Myself, Yusuke Urameshi, Walter Joseph Karamazov, Guilherme Magalhães de Jericho, and whom I'm assuming to be what's left of the Stampanato raider band: Zoe Stampanato herself, her son Chris, and an Emily Clarkson. The trio continue their chorus of colorful swearing, occasionally accompanied by Jericho himself. He continues to complain of pain in his left kneecap. I find myself stung by the gash on my left shoulder and the stab wound on my right leg. Getting shot, again. A most unpleasant, throbbing sensation. Foreign, alien to a 900 plus year old Kitsune. Clawing slowly but surely to the surface. Defanged, without rifle nor revolver, only armed with a concealed rose and a concealed knife. Hands bound, feet bound. Cornered. Only fueling the bubbling rage of the Yoko within me. Depending on the caliber of our captors, I fear I may be unable to contain the bandit king's fury.

Company. I hear the footsteps, one, two, four, eight…eight it is.

The blinding sack over my head rises and departs, as the blinding lamps sting my eyes. After a time, I adjust…a sewer, drains. We are in a large storage compartment of an underground sewer.

Before me, an East Asian, perhaps Japanese, male, of heavy built, with thick black hair covering his forehead and peering over his thick black eyebrows, tanned skinned with a slight cleft chin and broad, flat cheeks. He is dressed in a patchwork black and light brown leather jacket, a white undershirt, and grey bloodstained cargo pants, armed with a Lee Enfield rifle attached to a sling.

My rifle.

I scan around, spotting the bald male of African descent that subdued me earlier, leaning against a metal shelf to the right of a sealed doorway, armed with an MP5K submachine rifle. To his left, a Caucasian female, of Central European descent I'd wager, with long, curly brown hair tied into a ponytail, a crooked nose with a bandage over it, and barely visible pock marks on her cheeks. She is dressed in a patchwork denim jacket, a black undershirt, and grey jeans caked in dried blood, carrying Jericho's rifle.

To the left of the doorway, three individuals, one male and of East Asian descent, likely in his late 50s, sporting short black hair combed forward, dressed in a white shirt and beige cargo pants, armed with an MP5K. Another, male, Latino, appears elderly, his face wrinkled and his head square shaped, sporting a thick grey moustache and heavily balding grey hair. He is dressed in a mostly intact brown leather jacket, a grey t-shirt with a logo of the Washington Monument, the logo slightly stained in blood and other fluids, as well as black stitched jeans, armed with a shotgun that I do not recall seeing earlier. Stepping away from the other two, a necrotic male, similar to Gob, dressed in a brown survival vest smattered with various pouches, holsters, and straps, patchwork blue pants, and a red and yellow polka dot conical hat, like one would see at a pre-teens birthday party. His lips and nose are missing, his flesh peeling. In a sword sheathe on the right side of his waist is the jian sword Stampanato attempted to execute me with. On the opposite side of his waist, a long magnum revolver.

My revolver.

I do not even attempt to identify the two on the far left, they are not worth my time. The creature whom I identify as the leader, he kneels at my side, just enough, to stand a head above me. I shudder as to the meaning of this…to take us alive. I harken back to Jericho's tale of his attempted rape of a caravaner's daughter…and my limbs stiffen. Rape? Torture? Both?

He smirks and dares to speak "Hello, you seven. My name is Leonard Otis Gallo, and this is my little kingdom. This fine gentleman is Brian Rampton…" This Leonard Gallo speaks with the same hoarse accent that Gob speaks in. He points his corroding right index finger at the individual who subdued me. He then points at the Japanese seeming individual with my rifle. Leonard Gallo continues "Eli Miyazaki…" he points at the woman with Jericho's rifle "Ashley Krull…" he then gestures at the East Asian male armed with the other MP5K "Vincent Zhang." Leonard then coughs and continues, gesturing at the Latino male "Joaquín Calva…" he then gestures to the two Caucasians in patchwork colored t-shirts and jeans, both armed with shotguns, one male, in his late 30s, with long brown hair combed back, the other female, in her early 50s, with slightly graying short black hair and pierced ears adorned with brass ring jewelry. Leonard Gallo announces "Bill Spritzer on the left, and the lovely Christine Garnier. And guarding my lovely kingdom as we speak, we have Francis Haydon, Andrew Stewart, Johanna Hermann, and…what is his name…ah yes…Henry Hamilton."

"Why the fuck should we care?!" Chris Stampanato yells out. Leonard smiles softly and answers "I believe our nutrition has the right to know whom it will be serving." Nutrition? Walter speaks out frantically "Listen, we are not raiders, the other three are, Clarkson and the Stampanato family. We four are simply bounty hunters seeking their heads, myself Karamazov, and my partners Uram…" Eli Miyazaki immediately cuts Walter off, saying in a southern drawl "No, you don't get it, you got no names. Does a guy name his can o' beans when he chows on it?" Chow…

Cannibalism. This lot of parasites practice cannibalism.

Fucking cannibalism.

"What the fuck?! I swear that guy's hair was red earlier!" Vincent Zhang yells out, terrified of a simple shade of silver. I hear the detective mutter "Kurama? What's going on?" Such naivety! Christine Garnier and Joaquín Calva nod in agreement to Vincent Zhang, Garnier speaking in a generic American accent "Same here." Calva speaks in Midwestern accented English "And I thought it was the Jet." Leonard Gallo yells "So?! I still see a few good cuts of meat for my chop steak! Look, gander yourselves! Here's the chuck…" he draws a line in the air in front of my neck "the shank" across my shoulders "flank" across my abdomen "enough to feed us all for two days, at the minimum!" I look left, and it appears that Walter, Yusuke, and Jericho finally realize the nature of this vile pack of vermin.

The detective yells "Oh fuck no, man, c'mon I'm skinny, I'd make a shit meal." Jericho laughs nervously and says "Hey, I know Chris Stampanato over there, the guy in the fatigues. He's a real corn fed silver spoon shit, don't even got to worry about the traces of Psycho and Jet." "You fucking bastard, I should have shot you when I had the chance!" Zoe screams out as her son's teeth shake in fear. I will not give these creatures the satisfaction. I arc my head slightly back, tilting my head left and right, attempting to shake my rose out of my hair, into my grasp.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. I'm 70 kilos of weed smoking human and Mazoku, I don't think I'm part of a well-balanced fucking breakfast! Oh shit, shit, Jericho is looking sick, Chrissy boy and Emily are pissing themselves, Walter got the whole shit scared smile look going, and Zoe is doing a bad job at not looking freaked out.

And fox boy just stares at Leonard Gallo with a stone-dead look. And, what the fuck, he's in Yoko mode? Can he even do that with no Ki? He's fidgeting, just barely, like for a reason. Eli Miyazaki speaks out "Hey, four eyes over there got something to say. Well, get on with it, holler." Walter hyperventilates with that nervous smile, saying "Listen, you are making a mistake." Brian Rampton says "We are doing what we have always been doing. Tell us how we are making a mistake." He got some sarcasm there at the end. Walter heaves the breath of breaths and says "You can't survive off cannibalism. It is impossible."

Leonard, Christine, and Joaquín all laugh as Ashley nudges Brian with her shoulder, like we are some sideshow joke. Leonard says in that raspy ghoul voice "We seem just fine right now, better than the meat out in the wild. No, I think we will be fine." Walter yells "Listen!" He heaves another deep breath and continues "Listen, I was vault born and trained in medicine by my father, one of the elite doctors and scientists left on the Lord's planet. The human brain is susceptible to a…particle called a prion."

Leonard frowns and nods, saying and making fun "Go on. Preach, good doctor, preach." Walter ignores the jab and says "Prions are essentially parasites in the brain that self-repli…they clone and make new copies of themselves. These prions essentially eat away at your brain, disabling motor functions and…they basically cause you to lose parts of your brain until you die a withered husk. Your body shakes and you sink into insanity and fits of laughter, and then, you die a painful death."

Eli asks "So, what you driving at?" Walter smiles with confidence for the first time since we got jacked by these freaks. He says "There are two ways to become infected with a prion. One, you are born with it, in which you carry with it until you exhibit symptoms at an old age. Two, you feast on someone that carries the infection. Transmitted infection kills within a year, and is delayed. Yet, I don't see any symptoms on any of you, so there is still a chance!"

Holy shit, Walter might pull us out of here. Leonard nods like he is impressed. He asks "So if we avoid eating the brain, we remain prion free? I always despised the taste of brain." Walter cackles madly…oh yeah, he's not one to lie.

Fuck this shit.

Walter continues to cackle and say "I cannot assure you of that. I can assure you that death by prion is a terrible fate." Ashley speaks out in local Maryland accented English "Can't be worse than radiation poisoning." They all nod in agreement, that the seven of us are on the menu. And I've been trying to pull apart my hand bindings all this time, and I may have stretched a millimeter of the turd. All we got is stalling.

I yell "Bullshit, you ain't got the balls to do this! You don't look like raiders and ain't going to eat the same old shit when you probably looted the supermarket and hauled out three months' worth of food!" Emily yells out in Pennsylvania-accented English "Listen to the Yozkay or whatever his name is, you could eat like Brahmin barons for months! Don't settle for tainted raider meat!" Christine says "Well, we always could use something extra for the lean months." Emily screams and starts crying, yelling "Please, fuck sake, don't kill me! I'm just 20 years old, I don't want to die! Please! Please! I signed up because my group got wiped out by the super mutants, I don't do the same shit as those freaks! PLEASE!"

She keeps crying, shaking in fear. Leonard sighs and whistles. Ashley Krull walks up to Leonard Gallo and switches Jericho's rifle to her left hand. She awkwardly digs inside here jacket and pulls out a rusty crowbar. She hands the crowbar to Gallo, who says "My thanks."

Gallo nods at Bill Spritzer, who walks up to Emily and drags her by her long blonde hair. Pulling her to the middle of room as Emily keeps sobbing, now praying to whatever the fuck she believes in, Spritzer pulls her up into a seated position and digs his left knee into her back, almost like it's to keep Emily still. Leonard says "I understand your qualms about this all. Please, let me reassure any fears." Oh fuck…what's he going to do?

Leonard leans by the praying, crying Emily and says "I studied a fair bit of medicine myself. I used to be a doctor in the Nashville ruins, before I fell on my head scavenging a water treatment plant, that doubled as a nuclear waste disposal site. One of life's many ironies, it seems. Regardless, I have a sound base of the human anatomy." He adjusts his crowbar into his left, rotting hand, and moves his right index finger to the left side of Emily's neck. He speaks "Right here, where I have my finger, is the location of the internal jugular vein." Okay…I'm joining Walter in the hyperventilation department. Leonard continues "This vein serves as a vessel of transport for the vast majority of the blood in the human body, or in this case, it." He's calling her 'It'…what the fuck?

Emily keeps sobbing and praying, might be slowly getting comfortable with the idea of being al a carte. Gallo says "When ruptured, it will experience rapid blood…removal, and then it will be lulled into an everlasting sleep, free from the suffering of modern existence. It will only last a few seconds, that is all." I can't stop breathing heavily…my demon heart is 'beating' out of my chest…why the fuck is KURAMA SO CALM?!

Leonard switches the crowbar to his right and says "Allow me to demonstrate." I can't look away, I can't, I…

Like he practices this shit on the daily, Leonard rips out a chunk of Emily's neck. Blood just gushes out like a cracked open piñata. She gasps and gurgles for a second, two…goes stiff…falls face first into her own ocean of blood. Pool growing fast…larger. That metallic smell gets in the air. Leonard climbs back up and says "See? Painless." He turns around and says "Ashley, Vincent, Christine, Brian, and Bill, remove this carcass and go to work on chopping and salting. Eli, Joaquín, guard our herd. Any resistance, torture as you will." Fuck, fuck.

The five cannibals lift Emily up and carry her around like a butchered fucking cow. They exit out the door and turn left into some hallway. I turn back to the other three cannibals. Eli smirks and asks "The brunette is cute. Can I fuck her?" I turn to look at Zoe, she doesn't flinch, just glares in that silent rage. I keep trying to pull my binds apart, cutting into my skin, I think I'm already bleeding. Emily's pool of blood seeps toward us…we are sitting on drains…it's getting closer. I back up, watch the blood pour down into the sewer drains.

Leonard glares crookedly at Eli and speaks "Eli. That is bestiality at its essence." I don't even know how to respond to that shit. Eli laughs and says "Darn it, why you care? Heck, I'd fuck her dead too, if you're so rigid about that." Leonard leans and angrily says, smirking "Your seed, is not a seasoning." The zombie glances back at us, and then says "Take the two in the dusters, if you will. They will be chum for the ferals anyway." Chum, take us…oh fuck no…shit…shit…SHIT…WHY IS KURAMA JUST STARING AT THEM WITH HIS WHITE-ASS HAIR?!

Leonard turns to Kurama and approaches, saying "You have been awful silent and calm. What troubles your thoughts?" Kurama leans up at Gallo and says in Yoko's voice "Mr. Miyazaki, in your possession is a rifle, Lee Enfield, bolt action, operates with .32 ammunition." Miyazaki turns to Kurama and says "Yeah? What you hollering at?" Kurama says "That happens to be my property. Other items of my property in your possession include, I believe, a shotgun with a wooden stock, claimed by me after I slew the previous owner in the doorway of the supermarket. Also, a MP5K submachine rifle, mine after I executed the previous owner. What else, I believe a 4 inch barrel revolver and a couple of serrated knives…several units of morphine, canned foodstuffs, medicine, bottle cap monies…a significant amount of ammunition appropriated from my duster. That sword in your possession, Mr. Gallo, I claim ownership of that, as I was in the midst of eliminating Ms. Stampanato here, who rudely struck me in my testicles before your idiot lackey Brian Rampton electrocuted the pair of us." I hear Zoe grunting and muttering swears under her breath. Kurama is starting to loosen up, faking a frown a bit, looking up at the sky like he is reciting a grocery list from memory. I'm seeing elements of fox boy back when he negotiated a bootlegging deal with Moriarty.

Fox boy turns his head back to Gallo, Calva, and Miyazaki, and says "And that revolver, magnum I believe it is termed, out of endearment I wager. I believe the specific name is 'Smith and Wesson 29'. Stores six rounds, fires .44 ammunition. Yes, I think I will use that to kill you."

The three cannibals just laugh as the remaining five of us soon to be lunchmeat fucks just stare at Kurama like he lost it. Gallo climbs back up, slows down his laughing, and says "Eli, do as you wish with the red haired one. Hell, use this…sword…when you are done. I will consider it a favor." Gallo pulls the sword and scabbard off himself and sets it by the doorway. He adds "I will be in my chamber." The zombie boss hands Eli the crowbar, heads into the doorway, and turns left. Calva walks toward the doorway and flips a switch, sending the metal door up. He says "Might want some privacy now."

Chris yells out "Please man! Don't do this! Look, you need numbers, we can join you! C'mon, we're good shots, all the useless fucks are already dead. C'mon!" Calva sighs and asks "Want me to shut the meat up?" Miyazaki laughs and says "It keeps it up, might just do it myself." Chris screams "Please! Please! I got cancer or some shit! My meat'll kill you!" Miyazaki whistles and says "You know, Calva, the ferals we got caged up been getting hungry again. Shame we couldn't use them, but when the meat helps butcher itself, no need for any bait and distractions." Calva yawns and says "Think we should feed the sow to the ferals? Gallo said only the dusters get fed to the ghouls."

I try to buy some time by saying "Chris here, he's the raider high off whatever the hell he uses. Feed him to the ghouls." Zoe yells "You fucking bastard!" I don't need to look at her face, I'm more worried bout the two humans wanting to dine on some human/Mazoku surf and turf. I've gotten those hungry ass looks before, but first time one of my old human kin-dudes got the taste for man-meat. Shit.

Chris yells out "Your boss said to leave me alone for now! Don't listen to the asshole!" Miyazaki sighs. He hands Calva the crowbar and reaches into his pockets. The freak pulls out a serrated knife in his right hand and starts walking up to Chris. I can hear Chris whimpering, hell I can smell piss. Miyazaki grabs Chris by the chin and coldly says "Open your mouth." Chris shakes his head, his eyes staring at the point of the knife. Miyazaki winds his left leg up, kicks Chris Stampanato right in the crotch.

As Chris opens his mouth, gasping for air, Miyazaki sticks his left hand into Chris' mouth. I see his left arm twitch, and then the knife go into Chris Stampanato's mouth. Chris starts screaming, flailing around, and then stops screaming, still flailing. I see blood coming out of Chris' mouth, around Miyazaki's arms. I see Zoe stiffening, staring stone-faced at what's happening. Miyazaki jerks his left arm back.

He cut out Chris' tongue. The fucking freak then walks over, stares at Walter, me, and fox boy, smirks, opens his mouth…oh fuck.

His face is covered in blood, his hands, his pants…he's…fucking chewing on the tongue. He…swallows…I just saw a guy eat another guy's tongue…I think I'm going…vomit is flowing onto the drain like from a firehose. I feel sick, dehydrated.

Miyazaki turns to fox boy. He says "Now, lean forward, or I'll find out how your tongue tastes, and I don't think you will be partial to what I have in mind."

I arc my left shoulder just enough to wipe vomit off my lips. I turn to Kurama, who just stares at Miyazaki. Miyazaki asks "Well? Bless yer heart, I will take you how I please. I haven't scratched that itch for Lord knows too long."

Kurama just glares at Miyazaki. I see his lips about to move. He says "By all means, try to do so. I promise you, I will tear your throat asunder. I will watch your cries of mercy seep out of your wretched fucking neck."

That was the fourth time I ever heard fox boy drop an f-bomb. Miyazaki laughs and says "Yeah, you looking in position to do that now." He kneels down by fox boy and leans forward, almost face to face. Kurama tenses up, stares with that assassin look he has when shit gets serious, and almost playfully says "You should know better than to corner a fox."

Kurama jerks his head forward and bites into Eli Miyazaki's nose. As Miyazaki screams, Kurama's face gets coated in blood. I see the nose tearing…tearing…it's gone. Kurama immediately spits the nose out, then spits blood soaked saliva out…he calmly says "Your turn."

"MOTHERFUCKING DOGGONE BASTARD!" Eli Miyazaki screams out in his Tennessee sounding accent. The old Latino cannibal Calva runs up to Kurama, shotgun held in his right hand, crowbar in his left, and starts kicking the living shit out of fox boy. I keep going to work on my bindings…shit Kurama, c'mon do something…I'm not even thinking about how he just bit some guy's nose off, that's for later. I barely make a dent in my bindings…Miyazaki walks back, covering his face, screaming…I hear screaming from outside…shooting, keep hearing Kurama's grunts and Calva's foot hitting fox boy's ribs…c'mon…c'mon…

Calva turns around to Miyazaki and yells "What you want to do with this thing?!" I blink, and Kurama is on his feet, two sets of plastic cord on the floor. I blink again, fox boy has his rose pierce through the base of Calva's spine. Kurama quickly crouches and pulls the Remington shotgun out of Calva's grip, letting Calva fall backwards and lean on Kurama's right shoulder. Calva groans in pain as Miyazaki suddenly realizes what's going on. He lets his hands slide off his face, what's left of his nose squirting blood, and yells "Oh shit!"

Miyazaki reaches for the sword scabbard by the doorway. *BANG* Kurama fires a shot just to the right of Miyazaki, scaring him away. Kurama pumps the shotgun, sending a shell bouncing against the sewer floor. Miyazaki tries to maneuver the Lee Enfield into his arms. *BANG* Another shot, this time into the sky, keeps Miyazaki from any more sudden movements. He yells "Please fella! It was a joke darn it! A fucking joke! Please!"

Kurama shoves Calva aside, the latter falling back first, his head almost at my feet. He loses grip of the crowbar as he groans in pain, muttering "Can't…feel…legs." I look at Kurama, approach Miyazaki, like the war's over and he's out to the shoot the wounded. Miyazaki extends his arms out in the air, surrendering, yelling "Please man! I wasn't serious!" "I don't care," Kurama coldly says, armed with the Remington shotgun, while the cannibal backs up into the metal door. He claps his hands together, almost like he is praying to fox boy himself, yelling "Please! Wait a darn minute!"

Kurama swipes the barrel of the shotgun across Miyazaki's face, knocking several of his teeth out. Kurama then arcs the shotgun upwards, pressing the barrel against his chin. He pushes up, lifting Eli by the chin with the barrel, and moves Miyazaki back into an upright position. Kurama says "Still conscious? Good! This will only last several seconds, and it will be extremely fucking painful!"

I can't stop watching, like I'm enthralled and scared shitless at the same time. I watch Kurama slide the barrel of the shotgun under Eli's chin. I watch him raise Miyazaki a few inches off the ground, using the shotgun like some kind of pole. I watch him tilt his left arm 45 degrees to the left, and cover Eli's neck.

I hear grunting and wheezing as Kurama presses his weight against Eli, pinning him the door, keeping him from flailing. I hear some sound like oranges getting squeezed, I see a few drops of blood fall at fox boy's feet. I hear something tearing, like a big tree branch being slowly broken off. And just like that, I watch Kurama tear the front of Miyazaki's neck off and bath his own pants and shoes in blood.

Kurama lets go of Miyazaki's dead body and allows it to fall face first to the floor like a falling tree. He switches the shotgun around so that both his hands are gripping the stock of the Remington, kind of like a baseball bat. Kurama walks up to Joaquín Calva, not even looking at me. His face is covered in blood right below the nose, his hands are caked in blood, his clothes are caked in blood. He has red lines in his hair. Holy shit, he looks like he was at the end of his fight with that piece of crap Karasu.

Except he's standing, and unfazed, and looking like Kazuo Kiriyama from the end of Battle Royale. With that homicidal stone-faced look, that occasionally slips hints that he's having some kind of fun. Kurama…Yoko, he kicks the crowbar away with his left foot and stomps on Calva's stomach with his right foot, probably pushing the rose deeper into his back. Calva groans in pain as Kurama shifts his leg off the paralyzed fuck's abdomen. Yoko then swings his shotgun down on Calva's chest, barrel first. Once, twice, four times, six, each time grunting angrily, mixing a smirk and boiling anger. Eight, nine, eleven, Calva still groans in pain and shudders with every hit, thirteen, fourteen, Calva's lower chest soaking red. The smell of shit fills the air, I think Kurama opened up Calva's intestines.

Suddenly, Kurama stops. And then, out of nowhere, he arcs his back and raises his shotgun in the air like Tiger Woods getting ready to tee off. I blink, and watch the barrel swing at Calva's head…and I get a face full of Calva's blood, skin, cartilage, and something heavier, like bone fragment. I shake my head around, shaking off a piece of what I'm guessing was Calva's forehead. Opening my eyes, I see what's left of Calva's forehead, his skull exposed, hell, a few penny-sized holes in his skull itself. Kurama drives his buttstock through the forehead, and no more of Joaquín Calva.

I think my heart is going to beat out of its chest. My demon heart I mean, and figuratively, holy shit…

I just saw Kurama, the old Kurama, Yoko Kurama, in body and action, I saw…I feel like…I barely got any words to say.

Kurama pulls Calva's body to him, flipping it on its stomach. He pulls his rose out of the corpse and turns to me. Not saying anything, he steps behind me and quickly cuts open my bindings. I can feel my wrists once again. Next…my legs. I start shaking them around, let the blood circulate through them, get the feeling back. He goes to work on freeing Jericho, and then Walter. Jericho says "Yeah, those eyes, that look, I know where you come from." Kurama sarcastically says "Sure." Jericho grabs the Remington shotgun and says "I won't push."

"And us?" Zoe asks, not so much as to beg, more like to get an answer as to who's going to kill her and her fuckhead son today. I look at the two, Chris looks like he is choking or something. The four of us ignore them, as I hear zombie noises from outside, more gunfire. Jericho says "Eli mentioned they got ferals, I seen this shit before. Collect a bunch of ferals, starve them up, and let the fuckers loose on a camp or a stronghold. Put down the survivors, and loot away."

"Ferals?" Walter asks. Jericho says "Ghouls like Gob, except they gone batshit crazy. Something about the radiation they got exposed to getting into their brains or something, making them do nothing but growl, shit, and eat anything that moves." "Is it contagious?" Walter asks. Jericho lets out a nervous laugh and says "Fuck no, this ain't some comic book. They bite you, no different than one of those stray dogs biting you. And don't do the 'shoot only the head' bullshit. They might need an extra round, but hit the chest and they go down like anyone else."

Kurama says "They were captured to serve as distractions. Then let them distract." He got those killer eyes, his clothes are soaked in the red. Kurama leans down and grabs the Lee Enfield rifle on Eli's back. He pulls it free, with the sling, and hands it to me, saying "Tread lightly, for I will exterminate with prejudice." "AND US?!" Zoe yells out, the four of us turn to the two raiders. Chris is choking, coughing, his chin covered in blood. Kurama steps forward, unsheathes his sword, and calmly says "It appears your son is suffocating from excessive blood in his air pathways." "Will you do anything about it?" Zoe coldly asks.

Kurama turns around and points his Chinese sword at the door. Walter, now with the crowbar, hits some switch and the metal door slides into the floor…holy shit we got zombies. I fire a shot from the rifle, take down two at once, through and through and through and through, both in the chest. The zombies fall to the ground as Jericho unloads on three more charging at us, taking out two with shots to the chest, and one with a shot to the head. The zombie's head explodes as I hear Chris keeling over.

The four of us get into the hallway. Looking left, we see a barricade on a downward sloping floor that's been overrun, a few ferals walking around the bottom. I think I see two half eaten corpses, both male, don't recognize the faces from earlier. The ferals see us. I aim down the rifle, bang, one down, think I got the chest, hard to see, dark at the bottom. I pull the level, bang, one more down. Last one runs up, Jericho lets it trip over a rubber tire. He then runs up to it and bashes its skull in with the shotgun. We turn around, see a few ferals heading at us. Walter goes to work, ripping one's throat out, driving the bottom of the crowbar through another's chest…Kurama steps in, rose in left hand, sword in the right, and swings the sword left to right, decapitating the remaining one. And…oh crap, sounds like a big swarm of the zombies heading our way from up top. Kurama suddenly yells "To hell with this!" Without warning, he runs at the crowd of charging ferals, fuck!

Jian pierces the feral's chest cavity, warm blood pools on my blade. I pull right, meeting resistance from the grease of its body fat. A spray of blood against the floor, against the air. Overwhelming my nostrils, beckoning me to seek and execute. This vile lot of fucking cannibals will suffice. Gunfire, in front. A feral charges from my side, followed by another. The rose pierces the heart of one, the jian slashes the legs off the other. More ferals, I keep hacking and stabbing, hacking and stabbing, more fall, and more, and more. I turn around, seems I dashed past a large cluster.

Gunfire, rupturing heads, oozing flesh. Yusuke and Jericho made quick work of the group in front. They may continue to exterminate the ferals, for I have a different set of vermin in mind.

I press onward, to a four way intersection of the sewer tunnels. On the left, two still feral corpses. On the right, a feral being pushed to the ground by Ashley Krull, pinned at its neck with Jericho's assault rifle. I holster my rose into my silver blood stained hair, decapitate a charging feral with my jian, and then approach Ashley Krull, her back to me, on her knees.

I leap and drive my right foot against the back of her neck. The blow shoves her within millimeters of the feral. Screams register in my Kitsune ears as the feral bites Ashley Krull's lips off, tearing at the flesh. I spot an opened doorway on the left.

Bill Spritzer, an unrecognizable brunette female, Johanna Hermann by default, and Vincent Zhang, barricade themselves with overturned shelves in a supply closet. I quickly bury my jian sword into Ashley Krull's back, piercing the feral through the heart in the process, and grasp onto Jericho's assault rifle as Ms. Krull continues to scream and flail in agony.

My arms around Ashley Krull's back, I immediately adjust the assault rifle into my hands and pull the frame of the rifle into her neck. I twist the rifle clockwise to the right, hearing the snap of her neck and the silence of the screams, and then adjust the rifle to aim at the supply closet. I believe Vincent Zhang took notice of me, the last thing he sees before his pathetic spirit wanders the wastes for time immemorial.

He raises his MP5K at me, through the metal shelves. Ashley Krull's corpse as a poor-man's body armor, I open fire. Bullets, dust, and blood zip around the supply closet in nary a second. Vincent Zhang's bullet shredded head bleeds profusely as it rests on one of the overturned shelves. Bill Spritzer convulses in a corner, a few shots to the chest and abdomen I believe. Johanna Hermann backs into the wall of the supply closet, coughs out blood, and slowly raises a revolver, Jericho's magnum revolver I believe.

I pull the trigger on the rifle. Nothing, seems the rifle is spent. I let go and immediately grab the hilt of the jian sword with my right hand. Using my left leg for support, I pull my jian out of Ashley Krull's spine. I immediately roll left as a shot sails to the right of me. One more gunshot…I rush to the edge of the doorway and anticipate. I hear wheezing, Johanna speaking in Maryland accented English "First…the ferals…then the meat…who set them free?"

I see the revolver barrel poking out of the doorway. I reach for the barrel with my left hand…grasps it! I pull to the right and drag Hermann out of the supply closet, her gray shirt stained in blood coalescing around a single gunshot wound to roughly around her right lung.

Johanna Hermann suddenly pushes her right shoulder at me with all her weight. I see her strategy, a poor one. How fortunate when the prey snares itself in the trap of its own machinations! The blade perfectly vertical, I thrust my jian forward…into her right armpit. She screams and swears as the blade exits out of her right shoulder blade.

She desperately shoves the right side of the revolver into my stomach, only serving to enrage me further. A thundering retort as she fires and fails to aim at my abdomen, the barrel perfectly parallel to my torso. I pull the jian back.

I cleanly bisect her right arm with slight bone and muscle resistance. She screams with such ferocity and agony that her larynx may soon rupture. The cut exited at her right wrist, half severing her right hand. The revolver predictably drops, as she grasps at what remains of her right arm with her left, fumbling in agony as to where to apply pressure and stop the torrent of blood. She falls to her knees, screaming. I drive my right leg into her ribs, knocking her onto her back, fracturing at least two ribs from the sound of it.

I watch in delight as this cannibalistic vermin writhes and pours out life's blood. The pool expands, rapidly…her movements slow, her eyes flicker with her consciousness, stillness, death…as I watch Metuka's words come out of her arm her neck her knife against Jairu's neck against her neck as I plunge and slit and kill she whom spawned me for three more years of her starving and suffering and and and…

Jericho whistles. I turn to him, watch him fire the shotgun at more charging ferals. By the hallway across, with the two motionless feral corpses, a metal door slides down. A figure…Christine Garnier…I yell "To your left!" Jericho responds out of instinct and fires a shot, attempts a second only to find no more ammunition. Christine Garnier, armed with a shotgun of her own, hops awkwardly backwards on her right foot, before falling to the ground, the doorway behind her painted in a fresh crimson red. I yell "Jericho! Your rifle and revolver remain here!"

The three approach my person, crouching, seemingly catching their collective breaths. Jericho greedily pockets his revolver as the detective asks "Kurama man, what the fuck?" I offer a pained, reflective smile of my sordid, Kafkaesque past and press on. "Kurama!" Yusuke yells, his tone full of concern. I press on, blinking. I must say something. I say "Protect the flank. The amount of ferals far outnumber the requirement for a distraction. There may be a swarm of the creatures. I will deal with Mr. Gallo and his remaining constituents. I will make their last gasps of life the most agonizing they will ever experience, and heaven protect those that seek to stop me." I turn the corner, coming face to face with a row of deceased ferals and two still breathing ferals feasting on a Caucasian male in leather clothing. Seems only Mr. Gallo and Mr. Rampton remain.

I press forward, walking to the left of the feasting ferals. One snarls, turns to me. I causally tilt my blade toward its neck and run the steel through it, slitting its throat. The second rises and snarls, extending its arms as if to intimidate. I pull my rose out of my hair and arm my left hand with it. Leaning slightly forward, I drive my jian diagonally through the feral's left shoulder, to its navel. I then swing my left hand left to right and pierce the feral's neck with the stem of my rose. Using my left leg, I push the dead feral backwards, my blade cutting through grease, soaking itself in human fat. My body aches, my knees sting from my stab wound, my testicles still throb from Stampanato's strike, my chest still burns from the Taser prongs electrocuting my body. And all this is secondary to the infernal rage in my veins and the taste of blood in my mouth of my blood of their blood of…and the crimson red dye of my clothing. And my Kitsune nostrils smell nothing but blood and prey, and beasts that dare to call themselves men.

Yells, English. One coarse, the other nasally…Gallo and Rampton. Across, the sewer hallway turns to the left, a metal grated door on the left wall meters before the turn. I approach, cataloging the various routes that these rats may attempt to pursue in their eventual flight. They will see no escape from me, no quarter. Let's determine what kind of 'men' these cannibals are, when cornered by a fox.

"Get the droolers out of here! Push them back!" I hear Gallo yell. I approach the door, jian in my right hand, rose in my left. The door slides down, a feral ghoul's skull crushed by the grip of my Smith and Wesson magnum revolver. Gallo pries the grip out, holding onto the barrel of the revolver, and kicks the deceased feral in the chest, sending it to the sewer floor. I hear mauling from the far side of what I glance to be the dining hall, opened refrigerators and tables adorned in grilled human flesh…Emily Clarkson's corpse stripped naked and hacked into cuts of steak. Biting down on my rose cautiously, I reach from cover and grab the grip of my revolver. I gaze and savor the foolish stare on Gallo's face as he realizes that he is about to die. I arc the revolver slightly to the left, facing no resistance from the agape, well, soon to be, Leonard Otis Gallo, and I pull the trigger. His grasp on my revolver releases as the upper half of his right shoulder erupts in a burst of rotting flesh and fabric.

"Oh hell!" Gallo screams in horror as his left arm slaps the doorframe. I hear a button pressed and I see the door slide back shut, a pathetic scramble to delay the inevitable. I see movement from the right corner of my eye. Mr. Rampton, armed with one of our MP5 submachine rifles, wielding it as a club. He leaps over what appears to be air…hmm.

He swings the submachine rifle left to right at my skull. I deftly duck, bend my knees, twist to the left, and allow my jian to cut across the sinew of his left thigh. He grunts and mutters "Damn", wincing visibly. Not enough. He swings the rifle, barrel first, at my crouched position, the MP5 barrel expanding in size rapidly. Appears he is wanting of ammunition. I weave and strategically step backwards, holstering my revolver in my pants, feeling the sting of the burning revolver barrel against my rear. He tosses the MP5 at my head, I dodge to the right. The idiot charges the fox, eager to experience his death throe. We grab each other's forearms, as I stall his charge.

We circle around, as Combat Sambo wrestlers, sizing up an opportunity to attack. I see sweat trekking down his cheeks and I smile. I see him smile, his teeth shaking, fear. I laugh, it pleases me to know that these cretins fear death. Will make the rest quite delightful.

He attempts to wrestle me down, a double leg grab I anticipate. I quickly fire my left knee upwards, generating a satisfying crunch against Rampton's chin. His head jerks back as he back peddles. I leap forward and drive the stem of my rose into his right eye, just enough to keep him from bleeding out. A blood curling scream scratches my eardrums. Good. GOOD!

I dive at his legs and wrap my arms around them, carefully grabbing the blade of my jian with my left hand, for support. I lift the vermin off his feet, and suddenly, I feel a curious need to learn why he stepped over empty air a minute prior. "No! Wait! Argh!" Rampton yells as I surge forward. Tripwire, excellent, the rat will snare itself in its own trap. One more step, and I heave, and throw him forward, and then immediately kick the tripwire.

A thundering bang, from a shotgun most likely, oh, what a lovely sight. His legs fall on the floor in scattered pieces, akin to shattered terracotta. A fine mist of blood and sinew in the air, my rose standing upright in his eye socket. His stubs of legs spurt blood out in quick form, as his voice dies in his screams and flails. He will bleed out in short order…nothing left to see here. Only Gallo remains. I tighten my grip on my jian and reach for my revolver with my left hand. I still have my knife concealed in my boxers. The combinations are endless…

The doorway open, likely Rampton's exit, even more likely Gallo's parody of a 'trap'. Even amongst the rotting corpses and grilled fillets of human muscle, I could sniff the cannibalistic ghoul with ease…left side of the doorway. Perhaps it's time to collect my pound of flesh.

I approach the doorway, a fire axe swinging at my abdomen. I casually turn my upper body to the left and watch the imbecile hack at air. I then angle the point of my jian at his grasping, rotting right hand. I thrust, severing a few fingers and the ghoul's possession of the fire axe. I laugh and yell "Did you honestly expect that to kill me?!" His face flushed with terror, his right shoulder bleeding, staining his clothes, Gallo grasps onto his severed finger stubs with his left hand and yells "Wait, argh, stop! You need my help to escape the ferals!" I approach, my teeth grinding. I yell "I slit my own mother's throat to protect my sister from your ilk! Can your reptilian mind even imagine what I will do to you?!"

"Wait! Please!" He backs into a counter, adorned with various baseball memorabilia, a dart board swarmed with thin knives, and a Taser gun. His left hand leaves his flowing right fingers and scampers for illusions of defense. I take another step, my breathing venomous. I concluded as to what I am going to do to this fucking bastard.

Gallo pleads "We were desperate, please! We spent decades struggling to survive off the land! These are raiders we are killing, the scum of the earth! I saw what your friend, the bald one is, I know of him! He…he raped and killed Johanna Hermann's mother! He and his kind dosed Eli's parents in gasoline! Just leave, please! Take all we have!" I reply "I'm on your schedule, my necrotic companion." I smell urine in the air…already. Quite the fortitude we have here. I press on "I was most curious on your method of execution…I tried it myself." I display my blood-soaked right arm and continue "It seems that even one's nails would suffice, at Mr. Miyazaki attested to." Gallo's left arm reaches for the stun gun. I quickly shatter his left forearm with the flat of my blade.

His eyes back to me, his back pressed against the counter, he struggles to decide which hand to nurse what. I continue "So, what shall we have today? The Wellington? Or shall we sample the steak tartare?!" "Wait! I have treasure! Weapons! Armor! Medicine! Secured away in the D.C. outskirts! Let me live and I will lead you to it, I swear on every god in every pantheon!" Swear? Oh dear, I couldn't contain my amusement. I speak "I am rather talented in finding valuables. I believe we will make due with what's on hand. Now, I believe I have a promise to fulfill."

I see tears well in his ducts. He coarsely wails "I see your eyes! I read your words! You understand what survival is, what survival takes! You understand hunger, the primal depths we take to live on! Please!"



"We are not unalike, please! We are not monsters! We just do what we must to survive!" I believe I found an appropriate epitaph for this cockroaches' grave.

I seethe, my anger boiling at the surface, at the blood, at the spirit. I say "Monsters are terrifying. And it appears that your knees are shaking. Care to revise that last sentence, as I eviscerate your insides?!"


I thrust my jian into his naval, the blade tilted horizontally. "WAIT!" he yells, stunned. How pitiful. I lift the blade up, lifting Gallo a centimeter off his feet, and I thrust the jian into the counter until the blade buries itself from view. Gallo flails around, helplessly. I reach my blood soaked right hand into my pants…my underpants…I retrieve the serrated knife still in its sheathe. Using my teeth, I remove the leather pouch. Using my right hand, I drive the knife into his left ribs. Using my left hand, I fire my revolver into his right, the gunsmoke distorting the image of Gallo's insides tearing inch by inch. I pull the knife out and thrust again, fire again, more flesh giving way, these ghouls seem to fall apart quickly, stab again, fire again, stab, fire stab, pierce with barrel, stab, pierce, stab, pierce stab, STAB, STAB, STAB!

His lower body tears off the tendrils of flesh and sags to the floor, his intestines strewn, his ribcage visible, and his blood delightfully restrained in its exit. His screams bring the warm comfort of retribution…I take my knife and skewer a piece of Gallo's intestines. His mouth agape, I silence him by stuffing his bowels into his gullet. His body convulsing, his agony excruciating, he teeters to and from consciousness as his organs lie on the floor. I aim my revolver at his head and press the trigger.

"Ahh, only six rounds, I seem to have forgotten. My apologies. How unlucky," I add, as images of Metuka and Jairu and that faithful day flash before my eyes and my nose and the taste of blood and chewed salted meats and failure and failure and further further failure and…

I pull the sword out the counter and watch the upper torso of Leonard Otis Gallo drop to the ground.

For nearly 900 years, I forbade myself from caring and mourning and lamenting my inability in saving you and avenging you. And then, when Shiori opened my eyes and my soul, and the sins of my sordid, violent, vile past crushed upon my shoulders with the force of the Gandarian peak Mount Chitkavul's eruption, it was you, scarcely a kilo in my arms, that crushed most heavily.

I back into an elevated table, Emily Clarkson's filleted corpse behind me. I let my revolver and jian fall to the ground, and I feel my adrenaline evaporate in an instant, leaving behind the cold reality that my hell has become my own doing. Jairu…Shiori…everyone. I seem to forgotten how dry my eyes are…

"Kurama," I say, noticing his ears going back to Shuichi size, noticing the few remaining strands of grey hair disappearing back into red. He turns to me, guy looks broken, like he's in worse shape than the piece of crap lying on the ground.

Kurama weakly frowns and coarsely asks "Did you witness that?" I say "Yeah, I did." "I'm sorry you had to see that," Kurama says. I follow up with "Yeah." That's all I could get myself to say.

We stare at each other for a minute, not saying anything, just blinking, Kurama quietly tearing up. I frown a bit and walk up to him, asking like a dumbass "You alright?" Kurama smiles weakly, rubs his stab wound on his right leg, and says "No, but thank you for caring." Heh? "Why wouldn't I?" I ask. Kurama smiles a bit more and says "I will grieve for old bones later. Let us…catalogue the salvage. Secure the area…something to take our minds off…well…yes…" "Okay," I say. I pat him carefully on the left shoulder, don't know if his shoulder got shot or not. He's had it rough this past few days like water is wet. Hm.

We step out of Gallo's meat locker, me holding my recently looted MP5K. I just loaded a fresh set of 10mm bullets into it. Kurama checks out a room set aside for sleeping and dining, just yelled that he found a pair of pet radroaches. I yell "Well don't feed them the canned stuff." Heh.

This is has been a new level of fucked up. Kurama…holy shit. Like quick drawing those British Indian mercs? That was something…but this…he turned Yoko and…I'm staring at Brian Rampton's corpse, the rose sticking out of his eye. I walk up and pull it out, avoiding the thorns. The eyeball drips out some more blood, the bottom of the stem dripping too. I hold the rose in my left hand and turn down the ramp, watching Jericho inspect his Colt Python. Don't see Walter anywhere…there he is, coming out from where we used to be tied up…HOLY SHIT THAT'S ZOE STAMPANATO!

"Jericho! Fuckhead, check your back!" I yell. Jericho turns around, and yells "Oh fuck!" He gets his magnum halfway around to Zoe when Zoe bull rushes Jericho and takes him to the ground. Jericho fires his magnum at the ceiling, as I hear someone drop porcelain plates behind me. I stick Kurama's rose between my left ear, cutting my forehead a bit, and I aim my MP5K at Zoe…fuck I can't get a clean shot, damn this downward sloping ramp!

Jericho wrestles with Zoe's left hand as Zoe's right hand pushes downward…looks like she got a knife. Damn it…hell I don't even like the guy but I can't just blast him away. I yell "I got the machine gun here, Zoe, drop the knife!" I hear Kurama running behind me. I barely hear Zoe say "If I'm…going…I'm taking as many of you…fucks with me!"

Walter runs up from the very bottom of the ramp, where the ferals probably came from. Without saying anything, he gets up behind Zoe, grabs her by the hair with his left hand and, still got the rusty crowbar…rips open Zoe's neck. She drops the knife and rains red on Jericho leather armor…and then goes out like a match, falling face first just to the right of Jericho, her legs on top of his legs. Jericho pushes Zoe's body off, as Walter snarls and says "Appears I am owed 100 caps." He says it like he now needs to wash his mouth out.

Shit, at least that solves the bounty issue. So this day wasn't a complete disaster. And it probably can't get any worse. I hope.

We recovered all our weaponry, all of our remaining ammunition, our duffle bags and other mobile storage containers, and our meager canned foodstuffs. Along with four shotguns, several knives that can be used beyond dining, a baseball bat, a nail gun, six revolvers, two stun guns, a Springfield sniper rifle with a scope, three assault rifles, five hand grenades, and a unit of C4. We also recovered four sets of reinforced leather armor, over a dozen shirts of various colors and designs, four leather vests with sleeves torn off, ten pairs of jeans, and thirty-one pairs of various kinds of shoes. We also recovered five units of Jet, two bottles of painkillers, one sealed syringe of morphine, just one, seven Stimpaks, four 'Radaway', two 'RadX', two 1-liter bottles of Bacardi rum, one half empty 1-liter bottle of Glenlivet 18 year scotch, which I immediately claimed ownership of, roughly a dozen units of canned meals, six boxed microwavable meals, three bottles of clean water, six bottles of dirty water, five much needed boxes of 'Abraxo Cleaner', and an assortment of various junk and salvage that a craftsman may make use of. We recovered two books: an illustrative novel about types of avian eggs, and a novel titled 'The Siege of Trencher's Farm' by Gordon Williams, fittingly perhaps. Lastly, we recovered over a hundred rounds of various calibers, it appears these cannibals preferred to use ferals and stun guns to subdue their targets.

Our estimates of the quantity and type of salvage suggest that Gallo and his ilk haphazardly looted the supermarket. More salvage remains, strewn amongst the corpses. We immediately decided it as our next destination.

We found a trail of feral ghouls leading to a ladder and a sewer waystation. Opposite the sewer, a long path that led to a cage. With a padlock shot off, by a .44 magnum round, according to Jericho's commentary concerning a single shell casing near the cage door. Near the casing lies a few torn threads of light brown silk and a long strand of greyish-blue hair.

Standing outside the waystation, Jericho, Yusuke, Walter, and myself, the four of us drag our salvage toward a Toyota pickup truck model that I do not recognize. Jericho claims the driver's seat, Walter claims the passenger seat. Yusuke and I climb onto the pickup truck rear, resting against our duffle bags and rucksacks. The sun continues its descent, the sky a grayish orange. I hear the key in the ignition turn…I hear Walter say "Hm, this dial…"

I hear music for the first instance in days. Familiar, it is rock music, English…

"I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand. Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain…"

Warren Zevon, 'Werewolves of London'. I hear nervous snickering from Yusuke. Hm.

"He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook's. Gonna get a big dish of…beef chow mein."

I close my eyes and sigh. My shoulders feel rather heavy.

"Aoooooo! Werewolves of London! Aooooooo!"

Chapter Text

Werewolves of London heh? Shit is funny and perverse at the same time.

My hair is soaking wet, my face is covered in dirt and sweat, I smell like raw sewage and blood. Kurama, opposite me, he looks like he just took a shower under a slaughterhouse meat grinder. His right leg got stabbed, one of his shoulders got shot…and I'm kinda concerned about him getting Hepatitis or…knock on wood. Knock on fucking wood.

"Ya hear him howling around your kitchen door. You better not let him in!"

I reach into my pockets and pull out a pack of Marlboros. I open it, take my lighter out of my other pocket with my left hand. My wrists are sore, and they sting from those cord bindings. Look red and chapped. I set my lighter aside and fish out a cig with my left index and middle fingers.

"Little old lady got mutilated late last night. Werewolves of London again."

I look at Kurama…he looks like he's daydreaming of nightmares. Stone-faced, not even reacting to the bumps in the roads as we drive up McLean, Virginia, passing derelict strip malls, apartment buildings, I think I see a fire station…shit…I think I see raiders. Dropped my lighter in the truck rear.

Jericho speeds past them, I didn't even need to warn. I turn back to Kurama, extend the cig in my hand, and ask "Want?" "Please," Kurama says, almost begging. I frown a bit and lean forward…he bites onto it, his face caked in dried blood. I look for my lighter…

Got it. I lean forward and light Kurama's cig…he takes a drag and nods. Exhaling, he says "Thank you." I nod to show I heard him…I reach for my pack and fish out a second cig. I light it, take a deep drag, doing my bit to ease my anxiety. I exhale toward the orange sky.

"He's the hairy handed gent, who ran amok in Kent. Lately he's been overheard in Mayfair."

I knock ash out of the truck.

"You better stay away from him, he'll rip your lungs out Jim." I see Kurama fidgeting a bit. "Huh, I'd like to meet his tailor." I say "And she'll draw you a molerat that goes peep, peep, peep, hah!" Kurama actually cracks a smile, barely, almost better if he didn't smile at all. He says "I believe you mean Crow, not Moira." Damn, got their names backwards, tried to be funny. I say "Ah shit, well, you know what I meant."

I reach into my duffle bag, pull out one of the books we got from the sewers. I read the title, "The Siege on Trencher's Farm." By this Gordon Williams guy. I say "Looks like some reading material. I know how you're the bookwo…" Kurama just stares at me, like I called him the Kitsune word for kike or something. He coarsely says "I already read it." He takes a deep drag on his cigarette, as I try to pull my foot out of my mouth. Smooth one, Urameshi.

I exhale smoke and dig through my duffle bag, just to look at it…guns, food, water, medicine…bunch of sharp needles to watch out for, these Stimpaks or whatever they are. "I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's." Shit, that would hit the spot right now. "And his hair was perfect." "Yeah, cannibal blood really gets into the roots, for that rough, manly chic," I blurt out of nowhere. Kurama sputters a weak laugh and looks to the side. I go on "Something bout that whole 'double distilled' effect." Kurama cracks another weak smile, laughs a bit. He says "You flatter me." "Just trying to add some levity to this down to hell day."

The car stereo, playing an MP3 player I'm guessing, cuts to a new song, some country blues rock song or something. Don't know shit bout who's playing. "I had a dream, last night, while I was leaning, on my bed…"

I see the Super-Duper mart, coming close. Maybe a kilometer away. "And the whole world, was standing still, and the moon, was turning red." I burn through my cig, seeing that Kurama's been keeping pace with his cig. "I saw a sign, in the sky. 'I have come, to set you free.'" That be nice. "There's a light, shinin' bright." Ain't going to be shining for long now. "Shinin' down, down on me."

"What does it say on the stereo, Walt? What's the song's name?" I ask. "I saw fire, fire and brimstone. Comin' down, on my head." Walter fumbles around in the passenger seat. He says "Eject here…MP3 folder…Link Wray Fire and Brimstone." "Thanks," I say. "Never heard of him," Kurama says. "I heard a voice, say 'Come to me'." I say "Same, kinda sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd." "And the whole world, was shaking free." Kurama sighs and says "Every American song with a southern accent sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd or, rather ironically I may add, Neil Young to you." I smirk and say "Heh, sounds about right." "No, it rather does not," Kurama dryly replies.

"Hah, screw you," I reply, as Kurama waves me off. Nice to see him distracted and not thinking about recent events. "I need to piss," I say. Kurama sighs and says "The feeling is mutual. So, do you expect resistance at the supermarket?" I knock ash out of the truck and say "You're taking a breather and an ice pack. I'll go with Walter." "Hm?" Kurama mutters. I grimace and say "You got stabbed in the knee and I think Jericho's still bitching about his leg." Jericho yells out "Yeah, maybe if you eat less Spam, I'd still be having my sunny disposition, fatass prick." I flip Jericho the bird, and get responded with "You want me to stop this and send you flying?" I dig into my incredible grasp of Portuguese and reply with "Porra!" Jericho yells "You don't even know what the fuck that means!" I yell "It means 'porra'!"

Kurama starts cracking up, as I tap my fingers to the beat, or lyrics more accurately. Jericho shuts up, the radio keeps playing. Getting close enough to make out the cars in the parking lot, including the one that was burning earlier. "I feel a rumblin', beneath my feet." Kurama says "Perhaps we should silence the music." "And the whole world…" "Was just about to say the same," Walter speaks out. "Was shaken free…I saw." Stereo dial gets turned all the way back, seems like there's no one out in the parking lot. I say "Remember, doors got blasted out, so anyone can hear us pretty easy. Maybe park outside the lot, in case we need to get out fast?" Jericho says "Yeah, I know. Not my first rodeo, japa viadinho."

"The hell you just called me?" I ask. Kurama speaks out "Why, I thought your Portuguese was impeccable." I say "Yeah, yeah. Si, si, claro, porra, Pele, Anderson Silva, caralho. All I need. Set me up for the river cruise." "Dumbass," Jericho mutters under his breath loud enough for me to hear. I ignore him and focus on fox boy, who's at least pretending to not be in Kazuo Kiriyama/sulking guy covered in blood and guts mode. Hm…maybe I should take Jericho with me instead of Walter…Jericho…the raider.

And Walter the post-apocalyptic Jesus freak and moral absolutionist or however it's called. Who just ripped open Zoe Stampanato's neck, saving Jericho I may add, but still. Guy has some weird moral code. Damn, kinda reminds me of Kuwabara.

No man. No time for beating yourself up that you're stuck in this radioactive hellhole. Got to stay focused. Can't daydream if I am caught in a shootout.

I'm going to take Walter with me. Jericho looks like he got too much tied up in that retirement shack on the upper floors to risk fucking up a double cross. And he's sharp enough to handle a surprise raid from the outside. Yeah, that will work. I hope.

Armed with his two revolvers, Yusuke carries his MP5K in a newly acquired sling around his back. Walter does the same, letting his Steyr Aug sway side to side on his back, his suppressed 10mm pistol in his right arm. Jericho sits perpendicularly on the driver seat, his legs hovering a foot over asphalt, his Romanian AK-47, I believe Yusuke refers to it by that name, resting on his lap.

I toss my cigarette out of the truck, as Yusuke adjusts the belt around his pants. He speaks in a hushed tone "You hear gunshots, come in, but slowly. Alright?" I nod in acknowledgement. I feel anxious seeing him enter this firefight without me. I am unsure as to whether I can trust Walter. As for Jericho, I already know the answer.

I shift my Lee Enfield into my hands, regretting that I failed to fasten the scope of the Springfield to my rifle. I lack the expertise in doing so. "Alright, stay safe man," Yusuke says, his face animated with worry. I answer "I will attempt to do so." He nods, accepting my response, albeit with reservation. Safety is as scarce as clean water in this barren, hateful land. A quarantine fit for a Kitsune thief king and medieval sellsword, whose legacy is built upon the skulls of…tens of thousands? Seems correct.

The two proceed toward the parking lot, Yusuke darting concerned stares in my direction. I do not break my gaze, perhaps out of some superstitious delusion that it would sufficiently shield him from harm. My base, urgent need to urinate drowns out my lingering thoughts of what just transpired. That, and my urgent need to taste our recently procured scotch. As much as I try, I cannot compromise with low quality bourbon. I have indeed spoiled myself. No more guaranteed clean water, easily accessed meals, and internet access, and it is the dearth of Yamazaki whiskey that perturbs me the most. I feel rather disappointed with myself, in hindsight.

I gingerly climb off the truck. I speak to Jericho "Excuse me as I urinate." I take four steps away from the truck, a storm drain, this will do. I separate the zipper on my pants and carefully pull my length through the fly, all aware of the soiled condition of my fingertips. Suffering through a moment of pain as I permit my body to lose a shred of shame, I relieve myself to my pleasure. I hear Jericho sneer "Oh what the hell! Couldn't take a few more steps…damn that stinks! What the fuck is Gob putting in your drinks?" "I drink with Yusuke's company at home," I answer. Mercifully we now have an alternative to Jim Beam whiskey and Sauza tequila, though I doubt the scotch will last us long enough. Oh well, best to savor the simple pleasures while we can. I am unsure of how long we can last in this world. I am unsure as to why I haven't sped my journey days ago.

The cruel punishment of the forces that sequestered myself and Yusuke here. To feel the humanity I enveloped myself in slowly erode away, chisel away, until Yoko the Bandit King is all that remains. And for the man I consider my dearest friend…for him to watch me reduced and reduced and reduced, until a wild animal is all that remains. Honesty wounds worst when used against delusions.

Lifting my pant zipper, I wipe my hands against the side of my pants and return to the pickup truck. I open my duffle bag and quickly siphon through my salvage. I restrain myself from touching the sealed syringe of morphine…desperate for that blanket of warmth, that reprieve from pain and anguish, that sensation that peace has finally been earned and collected. No…not yet. I settle for the Glenlivet single malt scotch, aged 18 years. I set the concoction on the rear floor of the pickup truck, mentally preparing myself for defilement.

I turn to Jericho and, in a perverse sense of charity, offer "A drink, perhaps?" Jericho eyes me anxiously, and then says "No thanks, maybe later. Feeling thirsty." He retrieves a cigarette from a waist side pouch and reveals a lighter. Igniting his cigarette, Jericho leans back and sighs. I reach for my pack of Marlboro cigarettes as well. My second of the day, or is it the third. No, third, I enjoyed one prior to breakfast.

I retrieve a cigarette from my barely spent pack, and I retrieve a set of matches from a pouch in the inside flap of my duster. I strike a match and light my cigarette. The act of smoking calming my nerves, I speak out "I am quite parched as well." Jericho darts a queer look and says "You know that's going to make it worse, right?" I sigh and answer "It numbs the anguish, which comforts me better then water." "Your call, boss," Jericho replies, turning away, disinterested in continuing this conversation.

I drink from the neck, hmm, better, cleaner, less of a burning residue. I drink greedily, but careful so to not spill more than a drop…I stop. My vacant stomach and psychological state should complement the saturating of my blood…intoxication and the illusion of serenity should set in momentarily. Before that, I must request one thing.

"Jericho?" I ask, my tone somber and free of emotion. "Yeah?" Jericho asks, turning his head. His leather armor is stained in cigarette ash. I say "If Yusuke and Walter do not return, please honor my request." "Hm?" Jericho hums, more so to spur me to continue. I oblige "When you are going to kill me, please shoot me in the forehead…from behind. I'm afraid my heart is trickier than others." Jericho simply stares at me, exhales smoke, and blankly says "I'm on your schedule, red chief." "Thank you," I speak, allowing myself to be lulled into a state of apathy…


Gunfire from inside the Super Market…YUSUKE! Jericho asks "You going?" I speak "Yes! To the front entrance!"

Jericho returns his feet to the truck, turns the ignition, and speeds into the parking lot…argh, he scratched the right side of the truck against a barricade. Nevertheless, we are here. I climb out of the pickup truck, grip my Lee Enfield with both hands, and yell "Leave without us, and I will hunt you down and kill you! I would have little else left to live for!" My decision to not use descriptive language or complex words seem to discomfort Jericho enough that I am certain he will stay put. Damn, and now I find my adrenaline clashing with my soon to arrive drunken stupor. I must move fast. I step through the front entrance.

Oh dear.

What have I done…what the fuck…I should have listened to Walter man…I…

Stepping into the supermarket, I draw my two revolvers and nudge Walt in the left shoulder. I whisper "You got a legit silenced pistol, you lead, I follow." We crouch down and approach the shelf that I earlier took cover at, firing suppressing fire at that sniper while Kurama made his way to the other side.

I already know that we got company. The bodies outside the supermarket have been moved to lie next to the cigarette display cases, along with most of the bodies that were left here. Maybe the cannibals took one of the corpses for the road. I still smell that nasty odor of burnt skin, that dead raider with the flamethrower. I whisper "How many did you and Jericho take out?" Walter whispers back "Three, two on the wooden beams by my hand, the other by Jericho's hand." Alright, with those three, plus Emily, Zoe, and Chris, yeah, should be everyone. Or if not, maybe one or two raiders. I whisper "I remember Jericho mentioning a Southeast Asian lady called Tammy. You shot any that fit the details?" Walter shakes his head and says "No."

I hear muffled music, like it's coming from a set of headphones, footsteps. Counting the footsteps, the jingle of…pistols I think. I whisper "I hear four of them, two, maybe three guns. We move fast, we could take them out before they even know it." Walter frowns and says "Perhaps we should have brought the stun guns." Eh? I ask "Why? Who else here besides us and the raiders? More cannibals?" Walter says "More of us. Scavengers, bounty hunters. Possibly from our Megaton."

I puff my cheeks and say "Bounty hunters would be a problem. Since, you know, you're the fucking bounty. And how you know these scavengers are going to be friendly?" Walter glares at me and asks "How do you know they are hostile?" I say "Easy. They are here, and in low numbers. They got to be retarded not to be hostile." Walter stares at the floor and uncomfortably says "True. I suppose your logic is applicable. Too late regardless." I nod and say "Yeah. Tell me about it."

She staggers back, holding her neck with her right hand, her left hand on her stomach, her left hand sloping diagonally due to her pregnant belly. I blink, and she is on the ground, right next to the counter, near where the raider got burnt to a crisp. Her hands are red, her right forearm has lines of blood running down to the elbow.

We turn right, into the aisle where the female raider got her legs blown off. Two guys, each carrying 10mm pistols, wearing backpacks. The near guy on the left, he's white, looks of Western European descent, dressed in a black leather jacket with the sleeves torn off, some undershirt, I think it's sky blue, wearing dark-blue blood and mud stained jeans, got brown wavy hair. The other guy, a little taller than the first, African descent, dark brown skin, with short jet black fuzzy hair and a thick goatee/moustache combo. He's wearing a shirt made of stitched together red and white plaid, blue corduroy, blue denim, even some white silk, wearing half torn cargo pants that are coated with blood and dirt by the ankles. He also has earbuds in his ears, the wires leading into his left cargo pant pocket. The two of them are collecting cans of food and salvage off the shelves, stuffing the loot into their backpacks. The white guy turns his head left, whistling.

He sees us. Shit. I see Walter in the far right side of my peripheral vision. I see Walter's shoulder flinch. I hear what sounds like a mouse trap snapping on a tail. I smell gunsmoke. I watch as the shelves get painted with blood and brain bits, the bullet ding against the shelf, and the guy fall lifelessly backwards, onto his right shoulder. The black guy turns left and says in Pennsylvania accented English "What? Joe? The…" *Snap* A shot right in the back of his head. He goes out like a light and falls down face first. I move up, stepping over them, picking up the pace. That ding against the shelf got me worried…damn. I hear footsteps…someone yelling in Pennsylvania-accented English "Cecilia?! You there? Ben?!"

I reach the end of aisle, look a bit to the left…oh shit! This light brown long haired Western European looking woman has her back to me, holding what looks like a shotgun. Dressed in stitched together jeans and a brown survival vest. She's turning around, saying in Pennsylvania-accented English "I'm here…" I can't step back… the corner of her eye, she suddenly creases her smile down, her arms lockup. I blink and pull trigger. Fuck! I miss! I shoot again!

"Cecilia!" I hear the guy yell to my right. I turn right and quickly fire, hitting him in the gut I think. He folds down, dropping his lead pipe. Western European, with light brown hair, dressed in a black survival vest and cargo pants torn at the cuffs. I look left…where is the shotgu…oh…oh…

I swear to god she had a shotgun, she wasn't pregnant! She wasn't…oh fuck…oh…oh, I feel my legs going weak, my dry throat choking me…oh. I yell "No, no, fuck no! NO! She had a shotgun! Walter, she had a shotgun! I…" Walter coldly says "Clearly, she does not." I…uh…

You fucking idiot! She was holding her belly! You dumb fuck! Look at her! LOOK AT HER!

She stops moving, her right hand falling from her neck, lying on the floor by her side. Her eyes rolled back…a small blood pool forming around her. I done it now, Urameshi. I done it now.

I hear groaning and whimpering on the right. The guy I shot in the stomach, he lifts himself to a seated position, whimpering. I hear him cry "Cecilia…sis. I'm…I'm sorry…only had a few more miles to go…so close to Philly…" He turns to us, grunting, his abdomen red and greasy. He rises to one foot, pressing his left hand on the bullet wound. I yell "What the fuck you doing here?! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE?!" They shouldn't be here, they shouldn't be here, they shouldn't have come.

He cries and pulls a can of sardines out of his right pocket. He yells "We came for food you assholes! Here! Take it! Just take it and get it over with!" He throws the can of sardines at my feet. Gripping his right hand on the lead pipe, he moves his left hand, red and slippery, from his gut and onto the thin side of the next row of shelves. He grabs onto the edge of a shelf and pulls himself to his feet, yelling "Get it over with!" I stare, not moving. I can't breathe, my hands shake until they feel numb. He raises the lead pipe, tears rolling down his eyes. He yells "GET IT OVER WITH!"

He charges at me, and I can't move. I…I hear the sound of a mouse trap snapping again. Right in the nose, I see blood splatter along the shelves. The guy staggers for a second, and then falls face first, landing by my feet. I can see through the back of his head into his skull, his brain.

I turn to Walter, who glares at me angrily and asks "Had I not been here, would you have let him bash your skull in?" I don't answer. We stare for a few seconds. Walter coldly says "Good to know." I hear Kurama in the background, yelling "Yusuke!" Walter's eyebrows twitch…he looks like he's seething. He turns his back to me and yells "GODDAMNIT ALL!"

I turn around and stare at Kurama, who glares at me with a shocked look on his face, a cigarette in his mouth, his Lee Enfield in his hands. He puts his cig in between his left index and middle finger. Kurama asks "What happened?" I puff my cheeks, clench my fists. I turn toward the dead preg...FUCK!

I kick the edge of the aisle shelves, again, and again and AGAIN! Punching it! Shooting it! I cut my forehead open banging my head against it and I don't care and don't care and DON'T CARE!

I feel Kurama snaking his arms around my shoulders, holding me back, pulling me to him, yelling "Yusuke! Please! What's done is done!" I cry and yell out "IT WAS A FUCKING ACCIDENT! I DIDN'T MEAN TO I, I, I THOUGHT SHE HAD A SHOTGUN WALTER I TOLD YOU I SAID SHE HAD A SHOTGUN I, I, FUCK WHO THE HELL GOES INTO A RAIDER HANGOUT FOR FOOD I MEAN WHY WHY DAMN IT'S THEIR FAULT IT'S THEIR FUCKING FAULT IT'S…" I can't speak anymore, and I can barely see through my eyes.

I done screwed up now. Oh forgive me ma'am, please!

Kurama turns me to him, grabs me tightly by the shoulders and yells "What is done is DONE! Please! Let us return home and let time cool your nerves!" "Fuck off!" I yell, shoving Kurama aside. I hear him mutter "Yusuke…" I don't care. I say "Whatever. Just take the backpacks and go. I had enough of this shithole. I…" I feel more tears going down my cheeks. I punch the thin edge of the aisle that I cut half a centimeter through the skin between my left middle and index fingers. It hurts but I don't care. I just don't care.

We returned to the pickup truck, Walter and myself carrying four backpacks and a small assortment of canned foods, morphine, vaccination medicines, and slightly dirtied bottles of water. Jericho looks at us and asks "What the fuck happened there? Yusuke all turtled up and shit." "Fuck you!" Yusuke yells out, his tone full of grief and regret. Jericho grits his teeth and says "Need me to knock some teeth out? No skin off my ass." "No…don't," I coldly mutter. I prepare to say something when Walter, stepping into the passenger seat, blurts out "There was an accident. I won't say anymore." "Was there someone there?" Jericho asks. Walter closes the car door, as I climb up to attempt to comfort Yusuke. Walter says "Yes." Jericho asks "Do we know them? Did we?" Walter coldly answers "No."

"Then fuck 'em," Jericho says, as if that was that. I can see Yusuke teetering between boiling rage and misery, alternating his anger at himself and those around him. My prior grief feels as if it's just a footnote, Yusuke's demands more agency.

My stomach pains, I need to eat. And I feel my coordination slipping.

I picked an atrocious time to drink myself into a stupor. Resigning to uselessness, I recline against the edge of the pickup truck rear, and stare at the sky. I hear the engine spurring to activity…feel us moving…see Yusuke's head buried in his knees. Someone, Walter possibly, turned the dial on the radio, returning its voice. A hard rock song, likely American. 70s or 80s. I believe it is The Doors. 70s it is.

"Don't it make you feel bad when you're tryin' to find your way home you don't know-which way to go?!"

Hmm, perhaps not. "If you're goin' down South they got no work to do if you're going North to Chi-Ca-Go!"

I ask, rather drunkenly "Walter…do you…is this The Doors?" "The who?" Walter asks, bookending an amusing pun. "Ayeah! Ayeah! Ayeeehehe!" "Led Zeppelin," Yusuke morosely says. Ah, I see. I see. Walter suddenly blurts out "The song is called "Led Zeppelin", by 'When the Levee Breaks'." "Other way around, Walter," Yusuke weakly corrects, his head shielded by his knees.

Yusuke suddenly rises to his knees. Wiping tears off his eyes, Yusuke turns his back to me. I see him holding onto the edge of the truck with his left hand, fiddling with his belt with his right. Hm? Oh, I see.

I look toward the sky and allow Yusuke to urinate out of the truck without prying eyes. "Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good. No. Cryin' won't help you, prayin; won't do you no good." Yusuke returns to his seat, muttering "Sorry." I reply "It does not bother me."

"When the levee breaks-mama you gotta move. Oh ooh."

I offer Yusuke my bottle of Glenlivet 18 year, as one vagrant would offer another. The most constructive offer of comfort? Likely not, but in my own increasingly intoxicated state, I have little else to offer. And given that we are both cursed with life for yet a bit longer, I feel rather selective in who I share my alcohol with.

He stares at me, like a wounded animal, and then slowly nods. I roll the sealed bottle across the truck. Yusuke awkwardly lunges after it, as if he already is drunk off his own anguish. He removes the cap and drinks from the neck, first pensively, and then greedily. I reach one of the looted backpacks, unzipping it. I fish inside the backpack and find a small square tin can of dried kidney beans, expiring 2528 AD. I pull back on a ring lever and open the tin.

"All last night, sat on the levee and moaned. All last night, sat on the levee and moaned! Thinkin' bout my baby and my happy home. Uh-huh."

I place the edge of the tin against my lips and carefully tilt the tin upwards, letting a small cluster of the kidney beans fall into my mouth, halted by my raised tongue. If only I had access to running water. And soap. Alas. I chew and swallow, nursing my hunger. Turning to Yusuke, I extend the tin of kidney beans. His face blank, in deep thought, he seals the bottle of scotch and grabs the tin can. Yusuke repeats my motions, consuming the beans with little emotion. I look at the blood red sky and hear Yusuke say "Thank you."

"You don't have to say that," I reply. I don't see his reaction.

I suddenly hear him crawling. I look back down and find Yusuke moving to sit next to me on the pickup truck. Tin of beans in his left, scotch in his right, Yusuke offers me both. I take the beans, optimistically hoping that a little snack could starve off total loss of my coordination.

Consuming the beans, I look up at the sky again, and sigh. I hear him do the same, imagine him staring at the very same sky.

A bump in the road, and my neck bangs slightly against the edge of the truck. A minor discomfort, all things considered. I trade my tin of beans with Yusuke for the bottle of scotch. A billboard hovers over us as we drive west toward Megaton. We both stare at the billboard, white letters in a faded canvas of blue, the bottom half rotted beyond comprehension. All I can see is the logo for Delta Airlines and a phrase. To the left of the logo, in white rigid English lettering, 'Our Culture Fuels Our Success'.

We both laugh at the violently ironic display fading from our sight. Another billboard, this one more intact. 'Why Settle For Enough, When The Lord Jesus Christ Offers More? .' We intensify our laughter. "Going…going to Chi-ca-go, going to Chi-ca-go." Yet another, what does post-apocalyptic Virginia have in store for us now? A blank canvas spray painted in slime green cursive 'FUCK YOU!' "Sorry but I can't take you." "That's perfect, man!" Yusuke blurts out, as we laugh and, for a brief moment, pretend this day never happened.

"Going down. Going down now, going down. Going down now, going down. Going dow…"

"Is it one size fits all?" I ask Moira Brown, checking out my new Pip-Boy. Moira says "Oh yes, could even fit on your cute, cuddly pet iguana." Yeah, I'm going to do that. With the iguana I don't got and have no plans on getting. I say "Eh…thanks. Enjoy the salvage. You think we could get a fridge set up in our place?" Moira nods, her hands on the counter, inspecting the Springfield rifle for the sixth fucking time. She says "I have two in storage. I just need some space and help to move it." I nod and say "Okay, good. I'll talk to you about that tomorrow. Shuichi will come here a bit later to get his Pip-Boy and Lee Enfield outfitted." "Sure thing!" she says all cheerful like. She weirds me out, and that's without those mole-squirrel doodles of hers.

On top of all the other salvage we got from the cannibals, we also took 27 more canned meals and eight boxed meals, plus seven bags of industrial grade potato chips and five bags of candy, including, surprisingly, Swedish Fish. Looks like even the nuke couldn't kill those fuckers. We looted a bottle of Smirnoff vodka from the scavengers, three pistols, the third pistol left on the pharmacy counter several feet away, a lead pipe, a few bottles of dirty water, like seven syringes of morphine and twelve vials full of vaccine medication that haven't somehow expired, mostly for tetanus and mumps, which Doc Church took for caps like a communion wafer. We also took a few pocket knives, some nails, a hammer, a set of binoculars, and a pamphlet for 'Mifflin City' in what's left of Philadelphia, looks like some fortified place like Megaton, except it seems larger.

I already sold off whatever plates and pitchers we got from the cannibals that were still in one piece, got five caps off them, but still. We sold off all the guns except one of the MP5Ks, which I'm keeping, and all the ammo but the .32, .44, and 10mm rounds. We sold off the vodka, the painkillers, all the clothing except Zoe's National Guard uniform, which Walter traded in for the 100 cap bounty, the hand grenades, and all the melee weapons except for two serrated knives. Walter took the C4 for himself. I had Moira remove the scope from the Springfield, later today she's going to get it attached to Kurama's Lee Enfield. What else…

The assorted trash and scrap, we sold off to Walter Robinson, Moira Brown, and Wolfgang Haas, who was in town when we drove through the gates.

Jericho got first pickings on the meals, guy really likes mac and cheese. Asshole. We still got enough food to last us for a few more weeks, me and Kurama. Decided not to sell any to the Stahls. Lucas Simms gotta settle with trade being freed up with Gallo and Stampanato pushing sewer daises.

The four of us decided to leave the pickup truck parked in the gates, behind the Brass Lantern. Lucas Simms made it clear to everyone that it's us fours' truck. Not even Moriarty would pull a stunt knowing that. We put figuring out who owns the truck for a different day, everyone's too tired or fucked up to play property lawyer. Altogether, with the 189 caps we looted from the cannibals, the Talon Company mercs, and the scavengers, hell, and the ferals, and setting the 100 caps for the bounty aside, we made 1671 caps. We split it four ways, to 418 caps each, with Walter getting the extra cap for taking out Zoe. At least Moira threw in the Pip-Boys as a bonus. For the whole medicine and raiders can be found in these supermarkets thing. And the whole cannibalism thing. She really was into the whole cannibalism thing. Research for her book, I hope. Anyway, the Pip-Boy. It even got an MP3 player, a radio with no fucking working stations aside from the Enclave crap, a pdf downloader for reading files and whatever, and a full version of Tetris.

And I got the MP3 player and earbuds from the innocent guy Walter shot cause of me, just so I always remember what a piece of shit I am.

I take Kurama's Pip-Boy in my left hand and slip it inside my now empty duffle bag. I then tug on the sling of my MP5K so the stock stops banging against my right kidney. I head out the front door…I wonder if I should check on Kurama in the bathroom. First thing he did when he got here, was take some Abraxo Cleaner and run to the public men's room, while people were stepping out of his way, probably thinking he just ripped a raider's stomach out and ate it. He only asked me to keep the scotch, the rum, the morphine, the books, and the sniper scope. Come to think of it, why morphine? Probably got a deal with Doc Church or something. Anyway, I dropped off the stuff Kurama and I are keeping, including the binoculars, the flashlights, and the dog tags from the mercs, in our shack. Might as well head down and tidy up.

Stepping outside, into darkness, I press play on my MP3 player. I look down on the slightly cracked screen, don't recognize the brand of MP3 player. It plays 'Man in the Box' by Alice In Chains.


I belong in this world. I was a fool to think or expect otherwise.

I deserve this.

Using some twine and duct tape, I hung my wet shirt, vest, pants, and duster by the ceiling. Abraxo Cleaner miraculously removes blood and bile well. Perhaps Moira or Crow could assist with sewing shut the tears and holes.

I look down, at my shirtless chest, at my grey boxers, my belt in my left hand, the bottle of Jim Bean bourbon on our mattress. I recline back, resting my back against the mattress. Feeling the springs and fabric rub against my flesh. I sigh and resign myself to my fate.

I will be a withered shell soon enough anyway. Might as well. Alcohol has served me well, in numbing the pain of my memories. Of Yoko Kurama, the Bandit King of Gandara, the Fox Knight of Medieval Eastern European. The little Kitsune in his Wessex Mykkerian village, grasping the knife coated in his mother's blood. Might as well. Why settle for enough?

I want to know what happiness feels again. Freedom from hunger, freedom from fear, freedom from regret. No Gods. No Masters. Just myself, seeking pleasure, shelter, acceptance of the animal that I am. The Will to Pleasure, as Sigmund Freud would say. Humans seeking enjoyment and avoiding suffering. Reduced to their most simple structure, to their ancestral roots as animals sitting alongside us fellow demons. There is an inspiring honesty in such a concept.

I rise to a seated position and look to the floor. A square of toilet paper. A morphine syringe. I prepare my ritual to commune with God himself. Unless Nietzsche prophesized correctly. Very well, then I will find something to commune with regardless.

And Shiori's love? What of it?

Hiei's snide remarks and Kuwabara's machismo reactions? Yukina's soft voice and Shizuru's sharp wit? Botan talking herself into a corner and awkwardly making her exit. Yusuke's lack of a filter generating an amusing verbal assault from Keiko.

Memories. Happiness.

And they are all gone. All but Yusuke. At the very least, he will have company when he passes. It is a cruel thing to die alone. Yusuke…

I would be a proper coward to leave him here to die. No, no. Not yet. Not yet. A simple reprieve will do. A promise of what to follow. Yes, yes.

And Yusuke's response to my brief journey, guided by the poet Virgil himself?

He has no choice but to accept. I am not a slave to his judgment. Or any others'. Yoko Kurama would not have it any other way.

I am ready.

I unscrew the bottle of bourbon and take the piece of toilet paper. I press the toilet paper with my left palm against the opening of the bourbon bottle. I upend the bottle and quickly bring the bottle back down. Screwing the cap back on, I set the bottle aside on the floor and glaze the underside of my entire left bicep and elbow with alcohol. I toss the toilet square to the floor.

I take my leather belt and wrap it tightly around my left bicep. I bite down on the end of the belt and pull, squeezing my bicep. Veins on the soft, fleshy underside of my elbow become more defined.

I reach down for the syringe and grab it by the plunger. I move the syringe toward my restrained left hand and awkwardly scissor the cap of the syringe with my left index and middle finger. I tighten my two fingers and pull back, removing the cap. I let the cap fall my grey boxers and stare at the tip of the needle. I scan the tip. I press the plunger, just a bit, watching the clear potion drip from the tip. My demon heart races, as if I am Kaiser at the banks of the Rubicon. And all my doubts have been cast to the wayside, barred entry from my mind forever.

I bite harder on my belt, pulling, denying the vein any opportunity of escape. Memories of the whorehouses and the taverns and the endless nights of debauchery flood my mind, both of the Human World, and my native Demon World. I hitch my breath and slowly gravitate the needle toward the vein, hesitantly. My conscious grasps for straws, thoughts. Yusuke, Shiori, Hiei. What would they think?

I am slave to no judgment.

With that thought, I plunge the needle into my arm. I push...nothing. Idiot! I pierced the vein, wasting precious morphine. I retract, drawing a droplet of blood, stalking a second viable vein like a lioness stalks a gazelle. Yes! I plunge, more carefully. And I push…oh. All the way…oh!

I feel my body swathed in silk, a warm heat tunneling from my arm to my chest. I pull the needle back, having injected all of the liquid. Quickly grabbing the cap cover, I reinsert the cap on the syringe and run up to our metal container waste receptacle, hurrying so as to not waste my euphoria on the mundane. I toss the syringe into the container, the lid removed in advance, and I simply prop the lid back on top, making no effort to seal. I return to my mattress and lie perfectly on my left shoulder.

I feel weightless, like a spirit itself. Is this what it feels to be a ghost? I envy Yusuke. I envy, and always fear to ask, for the suspicious gazes such inquiry would bring. No, no inquires. Just pleasure.

Incredible, warm, pleasure. Like Shiori's loving maternal embrace, warm and doughy sata andagi, the sun caressing the skin on a pleasant spring day. I feel peace. True, genuine peace. No regrets, no fears, nothing. Nothing but the warm glow of my body. As if I am genuinely resting on a cloud.

My left arm itches. Slightly. I scratch, intensifying the euphoria, as if my body tricked me into scratching. I squeeze my right knee, at the stab wound that I earlier disinfected with alcohol. Nothing. I try to press harder, to see if I could cause pain in this state. I realize that I lack the motivation to even try. I marvel at this revelation.

For the first time in decades, I feel completely at ease. My smile widens, I close my eyes.

I am content.

Opening the door, I step inside. "Hey Kura…" I stop myself. The guy is sleeping, his belt and socks are on the floor. He earned the rest.

I set my duffle bag by his Lee Enfield rifle, next to the door. I then set my MP5K carefully on the ground, the safety back on. Billy Creel is chatting about 'deathclaws' with Jenny Stahl and Kelly Topolski, the town locksmith, at the Brass Lantern counter. I close the door before they could wake Kurama up, going down the order in switching on all the door locks. I take off my holsters with my revolvers in them, setting them on the dining table. I remove my duster, and pull my shirt out of my pants.

I dress down into my boxers, setting my clothes into a pile next to my duffle bag, and then take my dark green cargo shorts, the ones that Kurama got me a few days ago. I put them on, then put on a white, sleeveless shirt that was hanging by one of the dining chairs. My chest hair is really wet from all that sweating. Feels nice to cool down a bit. Piece of toilet paper on the floor, I'll get to it later.

Walking around in my grey socks, I slowly move to the four tiered shelf. I do my damn best to lift the lid off one of the containers without waking him up. Phew, got it. I take a water bottle out and carefully set the lid back on. I then unscrew the cap on the water bottle and take a big gulp, drying my throat. That feels good. Yeah.

Felt nice going down, yeah. I take one more sip and then set the bottle on the metal desk, screwing the cap back on. I take my new MP3 player and stick it in my right cargo short pocket, putting the earbuds back on. I hit play, continuing from the near end of 'Man in the Box' by Alice In Chains. I pick up the toilet paper.

"Feeeyeyeyeed my eyeeeeees! Can you sew them shut?" What the, smells like alcohol. Whatever, I go to the trash container. "Jeeeyeyeesus Christ! Deny your maker." Good, lid not pushed in, don't need to worry about screeching metal. I set it aside, carefully. "Heeeyeye-he who tries! Will be wasted."

I see the syringe. Army grade morphine, right on top of the opened tin of Spam. "Uh feeee-eyeyeed my eyeeeeees! Now you sewn them shut!"

I sigh and put my left hand on my forehead, rubbing it. I turn around, staring at him. Peaceful as a baby tucked in bed. Smiling ear to ear.


Chapter Text

Nice to take a day off from work, bounty hunting and cooking. Woke up 8ish anyway out of habit, at least I won't screw up my sleeping schedule. Sitting across from Kurama in our house, I take a spork to a nice plate of mac and cheese with Spam. If it wasn't for all the heavy duty work, I'd be feeling pretty doughy right now. Kurama's working on a TV dinner of fried chicken tenders, sweet corn, and mashed potatoes. We're both sipping slowly on shot glasses half full of Bacardi rum, trying not to get drunk before 10 AM.

I'm in my green cargo shorts, Kurama is in his gray boxers. We're both shirtless and smell like we haven't showered for days, which is pretty much what's going on. Day is so damn hot and humid, pushing 100 degrees at least.

I dart brief stares at the injection marks on Kurama's left arm, right under the elbow. I saw a second syringe in the trash yesterday. Been four days since I found the first syringe, since the cannibals and Zoe Stampanato and the…pregnant woman. "Something wrong?" Kurama asks. I shake my head and say "Nah, just…burned my tongue a bit." Not a lie, did burn it from the first bite. Was too hungry to think straight. Kurama buys the line and keeps working on his mashed potatoes, the corn already gone and the chicken half gone.

I chow on some Spam and macaroni, washing it down with small sips of rum, getting that harsh rum burn at the end. I remember throwing the trash out yesterday, in the bin behind the Children of the Atom church, seeing the needle glint under the flashlight of my Pip-Boy. Fucking hell, Kurama…morphine?

It's his business, I mean, hell Atsuko did stuff just as bad, and she was stupid from the start. I mean, hey why not, not like there are any laws against that here. We even have a few caravaners selling crystal meth for 25 caps a toke. Still…it's his business. Kurama…

Day ten. We lived to day ten. Every time we walked out of the walls, we run the chance of seeing something fucked up. Hell, every time we head out the door. I frown a bit, timing it so Kurama couldn't see it. I bite on a thick chunk of Spam and some pasta. I watch Kurama grab the piece of fried chicken and tear a side of skin off with his teeth, a piece of corn stuck between his two front upper teeth.

I look a bit to the right of Kurama, at the posters of Declan Carruthers and Zoe Stampanato. Walter did kill her but hell, we still collected on that bounty anyway. The caravans been moving through Megaton more now. One of the major meds and medical supplies caravans, Doctor Simon Hoff's Candyshop, he came over two days ago. Emory Church, Edward McLiddy, Leo Stahl, and Moira Brown bought up damn near his entire stock of meds and supplies, plus half the food he was carrying around. I kept an eye on Kurama, he didn't go to see Doctor Feel-good. One of the big caravans, Jenny told me. He has like five bodyguards and is cool with the boss in this settlement called Canterbury Commons, in the northeast. Apparently Crow and Wolfgang Haas set up base there too.

After Doc Simon Hoff passed into town, a bunch of small independent scavengers waltzed in. One white guy with a brown Mohawk, Western European looking, with a pack Brahmin, showed up selling mole rat meat, scrap metal, and Nuka-Cola, set up shop by the Brass Lantern. He got a couple of takers on the cola, and Walter Robinson from the water treatment plant bought up the scrap metal. Then in the evening, two days ago, a pair of raider looking types, a white guy, a little Mediterranean looking, with slick black hair combed back, the other a biracial woman, like Caucasian and African mixed, with really long brown hair tied almost at the very tip, they set up by the big nuke selling assorted crap, small guns, knives, half-worn leather vests and jeans, some other junk. The clothes had blood stains and bullet holes…probably killed for the stuff. When the two scavengers went to Moriarty's saloon, one of Lucas Simms' people, Caleb Herston, the guy that lives next to Lucy West's shack, shadowed the two. Kurama saw it, guessed that it was over the tax issue, though they didn't exactly fall under the 'large caravan' category like Simon Hoff's outfit did. Yesterday, I asked Gob the ghoul bartender about it while having a smoke with Kurama, in the saloon. He didn't answer cleanly but I get that nothing happened from that.

Yesterday afternoon, a middle-aged bearded Latino looking guy, with a New Jersey accent, showed up with bottles of what he called 'fresh Brahmin milk'. When Lucas tasted it and found out it was expired mayonnaise, he cracked open the asshole's jaw and threw him out of town.

Later today, a giant ten man food caravan is showing up, Billy Creel told me. From Canterbury Commons, 'Frei and Company'. Some Stephanie Frei runs the outfit, but her younger brother Travis usually heads the Brahmin to Megaton. Creel thinks that, with Stampanato's and Gallo's people gone, the caravan could do a small detour around the 'Anchorage Memorial' and avoid the raiders by the sewers. Rocksalt, they call the guy that runs those raiders. Lucas Simms told me that the guy's name is Felipe Herrera. Felipe 'Rocksalt' Herrera. Lucas said that he's looking for someone to bankroll that bounty, like with Zoe Stampanato. He thinks he could set up a bounty hunting racket here, wants to contact some 'Regulator' friends of his to northeast.

Kurama asks "You in the mood for a game of catch? I purchased two baseballs and two leather gloves from Moira yesterday. They are in acceptable condition." "Hm? Inside the walls or out?" I ask. Kurama frowns slightly, and then says "Not much room inside. Perhaps out, by the front gate. Stockholm could offer some protection for the entertainment." To be fair, fox boy's got an idea there. When we ain't fighting to save our asses, we're bored out of our minds. Only so much whiskey I can drink, cigs I can smoke, and rounds of Tetris I can play, before I get excited at the idea of bashing open my brains against the nuke. But, it is stupid and dangerous…ah fuck it. "Sure, why not," I say. I feel sweat collect on my chest hairs…I swipe with my left forearm. I look into Kurama's eyes, he looks a little happy, probably that he has something to take his mind off things. I'm in the same boat, fox boy. I know all too well. All too…

I hear a knocking on the door. I leave my spork in the mac and cheese and reach for one of my Smith & Wesson 17s. Kurama nods at me, chewing on the last piece of chicken. He swallows and reaches for his Smith & Wesson 29 magnum. I hear the click of the safety on Kurama's magnum being switched off. I do the same, and then ask "Who's there?"

"Hello, Yusuke, Shuichi right?" I hear a female voice, soft and slightly Southern, local Virginian I'd guess. I ask "Yeah? Who's this?" "It's Lucy West. I…um, thought we could talk about a job. No bounty hunter stuff…just want something delivered." I turn to Kurama, who sets his revolver on the shelf, safety still off. I switch the safety of my revolver off and put it on the dining table. I then go to work undoing the locks…almost…got it. I open the door calmly…yeah it is Lucy West, got her blonde hair in a ponytail. She's wearing a sleeveless green undershirt and a sleeveless black leather jacket, grey jeans, and dark grey leather 'bracers' on her forearms. She suddenly blushes and smiles awkwardly, saying "Oh my, is this a bad time?"

I laugh a bit to myself, remembering that I still got my biceps and stuff, though my chest got a little flatter and less ripped, even before we got here. Kurama still keeps in shape. And the sight of us two, shirtless and next to firearms, I get her reaction. And then there is the fact that we smell like sweat, dried blood, and underwear that hasn't been washed in 10 days, you know, to remind her even more that we are men.

I wave her in and say "Nah, it's just the fucking humidity got to us. How you can walk in a leather vest, I don't know. So, we've been having some late breakfast, well, almost done. Want a drink?" Lucy shakes her head and says "Thanks, but no."

Kurama leads her to the cushioned seat by our metal desk with the drawers. I watch Lucy stare at the two wanted posters with the Xs drawn on them. I notice a pistol bulging in her leather vest, by her left hip. She turns back to us and says "I haven't seen my family in months." "And you desire an escort?" Kurama asks, staring at Lucy, measuring her. Lucy shakes her head and says "A courier. I have a satchel full of letters and I need someone to deliver. I will pay 50 caps up front. My dad will pay the rest, he always believes in rewarding honest work. He…gets a bit corny at times, don't get put off by that."

Lucy brushes her hair, feeling embarrassed. She looks young, our age. Mid-20s I guess. I say "We haven't agreed on anything yet, but go on. Where we going?" Lucy blinks and says "Arefu, it's a settlement to the northwest, on a broken bridge that goes over the Potomac." "Describe Arefu," Kurama speaks out, leaning against the shelf, his magnum lying behind him. Lucy looks up, as if she's thinking, and says "Well, there's the Wests, that's us. My dad Davis, my mom Matilda, and my younger brother Ian. There's Evan King, the cranky old guy, he's the community leader. Just say I'm delivering letters from Lucy West in Megaton and please, PLEASE, do not rush into town. Mr. King is…bad with trusting people, and gets nervous fast, and that was back when he still had hair."

Lucy takes a breath, and then goes on "There are the Ewers, Brailee and Ken, Ken is handy with a wrench, and Brailee is…kinda out there. There's Karen Schenzy, she's a bit rude and…hostile. Try to avoid her. Then there's the Dankers, Thomas, Lydia, and their daughter Jamie. There is Mark Glatkowski, lives like a hermit at the edge of the town. These two former caravan bodyguards Clive and Lizzie O'Conner, they are brother and sister, ironically the friendliest of the bunch. And that's pretty much it. We're a closely knit community that is wary of strangers. Evan King might have some trade for you, and the big caravans occasionally make a visit."

She is so out of place in this world, yet the way she looked down when talking about Arefu, she has seen some shit. Maybe that's why she's here now. I say "I saw Arefu on our map, should be a two day round trip at most. So I'm guessing distance ain't an issue as for…" Lucy nods all serious like and says "It only takes a few meters outside of Stockholm's range. With Declan's group gone, it's a lot easier to breathe, thank you again for that, but there are still small raider bands out there. The kind that pick off half-starving Wastelanders or wounded scavengers or those with just a pistol against a sniper rifle or worse, the worst of the psychos. The most cowardly. The kind that cry and beg as soon as you have them at…sorry I went into a place I shouldn't have." "We all have," Kurama says, adding some ironic punch at the end.

Lucy smiles weakly and asks "Will you take the job?" I turn to Kurama. He shrugs and nods. I say "Sure, 50 caps up front, and your dad Davis West pays us the rest." Lucy smiles widely and says "Thank you! I'll get the satchel from my place." She pulls out 50 caps from inside her leather vest, sets it by my half-eaten mac and cheese, and heads out the door. I lock the door and say "Looks like we got to take a raincheck on the baseball." Kurama shrugs it off and says "No matter, we have time. Or at least another reason to stay alive." He smiles a bit at the end, as I return to my food. Kurama reaches for a recently purchased sleeveless grey sweatshirt and says "I will be back in a few."

Dressed in my beige duster and red vest attire, the cuts on my pants and shirt mended with grey fabric, I continue the consumption of my first cigarette of the day. My Pip-Boy declares that it is 11:51 AM. Clear skies leave the sun's intense heat beating on our brows. In 9 minutes, it will begin its descent, and for that, I am grateful.

Yusuke, in his black duster and grayish white vest attire, converses with Walter, dressed in his blue stitched suit attire. They were earlier talking about Walter's recent incursion into this location called Minefield. Apparently Walter was required by Moira to disarm explosives on his way to the center of a booby-trapped carcass of a town. Apparently Moira intends to include a section on anti-personnel traps in her Wasteland Survival Guide. Apparently an extremely hostile sniper lives in said ruins. Apparently even Walter is capable of lying, though his tone indicates shame in the act. I am a little amused by his lack of tract in telling us the truth, that he lied to Moira for payment. I wonder if it indicative of trust and friendship, albeit tightly guarded, or just the naivety that comes with being raised in a controlled environment. Truth be told, Moira is rather dull headed to even realize she's been lied to, even if Walter himself provides photographic evidence of the fact.

The vault escapee wishes to travel with us to Arefu. He earlier mentioned his struggle in obtaining better armor for an eventual incursion into the Washington D.C. ruins. I doubt an isolated community such as Arefu would have a set of 'power armor', and if it does, I more strongly doubt its people are willing to part with it.

It is the two scavengers from two suns ago, the raiders that sold freshly looted weapons and clothing, that command my attention. The male, his skin chapped and browned from the sun, his grey slack pants caked in dried blood, his slime green, red, and white plaid buttoned shirt displaying his left nipple through a brownish-red hole, he approached us less then fifteen minutes ago, wishing to travel with company. He said that his name is John Marinos, and that he makes his caps by moving goods to and from settlements. A budding merchant he styles, his reptilian intentions embarrassingly obvious. His companion, calling herself Amy Weaver, she converses with subtle whispers to her partner by Emory Church's clinic entrance. Her grey jeans and beige, dirt slathered and red spotted shirt contain similar bullet holes, as if the pair pretend that each of their victim's clothes have been freshly washed prior to death, and that each fresh kill requires a change of wardrobe. Parasites.

I don't trust them, but I trust that they have a fair share of caps. And I trust that they will lead us to a larger share of wealth hidden amongst a larger collective of tapeworms. I nodded at Yusuke when I accepted their offer of help. He nodded back, his stern look showing that he understands, I hope. Perhaps Walter too, if his raised eyebrow and subsequent fidget is any indication. Opportunities beget opportunities.

Sadly, Jericho removed our pickup truck tires and sold them to Wolfgang Haas to liquidate his claim. A shouting match between Yusuke and Guilherme Magalhães de Jericho achieved nothing, though a few choice words of my own made it clear to Jericho that I consider Yusuke and myself owed. I will deal with that bridge when it is time to cross it. For now, I stare with annoyance at our disabled pickup truck and lament at the 10 mile journey to…to…

As we exit through the Megaton doors, all five of us carrying duffle bags or rucksacks of some kind, I ask Yusuke "Did you consult with the map? What are the nearest landmarks to Arefu?" Yusuke pauses several meters in front of the entrance, retrieves the map from his duffle bag, and unfurls it. His MP5K hangs on a sling, his Smith and Wesson 17 revolvers concealed under his duster. I look at Walter, his Steyr Aug in his hands, a silenced 10mm pistol bulging around his left ankle. John Marinos carries a plainer black pistol, made of hardened plastic. I noticed the phrase 'Glock' written along the barrel. Amy Weaver herself carries a 10 inch long machete, no firearms visible on her person. Unless she took pains to conceal one…

My Lee Enfield rifle hangs on a sling, creasing against the tail of my duster coat. I feel the weight of my jian sword on the left side of my waist. My Smith and Wesson 29 feels heavier, nestled in its holster on the right side of my waist. I hear Yusuke announce "Almost exactly northwest…a little more north then west. We're going past 'Reston'." Walter blurts out "Ruins, nothing remains. I engaged with raiders at a 'Bed and Breakfast' near the ruin outskirts. Further on, we would find that vault door that I mentioned. Vault 106. Beyond, not quite sure, but Arefu is clearly marked here…at the Virginia side of the Potomac." "Then it is settled," I announce. The other four nod in agreement. The ruins of Reston first, then the vault.

Within two miles of walking, Amy Weaver suddenly speaks in southern accented English "You sure about Reston? I heard a bunch of raiders moved in a few days ago." "So quickly? Why?" Walter asks. If he didn't know, he knows now. Our eyes meet for a second, yes, Walter knows. There is hope for him yet.

John Marinos continues for Amy "Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts, from Fort Independence. They been pushing into the Maryland border more." "Why?" Walter asks, calmly. John slightly stutters and says "Well, they…I don't know. Doing whatever the fuck they do, maybe they found some fancy locker full of laser rifles by some ruins in-by the river and thought they hit pure water or something." "Reston is a decent distance short of the river," Walter correctly states. Marinos shrugs his shoulders and says "You know what? If you see any of the rusty bastards, ask them yourself." Walter rolls his eyes and feigns disinterest. I turn to Yusuke, who is walking forward, pretending not to pay attention. I say "Very well, where do you propose?"

Amy Weaver says "Go west, along that giant half collapsed overpass, over there, you see?" I see the thin grey line of the elevated highway. Yusuke asks "What's west?" Amy Weaver replies "A separate highway, a short one but rarely gets foot traffic. We take it all the way north, should be close to Arefu. Maybe we need to walk a mile more at the end." Yusuke shrugs his shoulders and says "Works for me." Walter and myself offer our approval with our silence.

I ask "So, Amy, you must have seen some serious shit." I'm sweating like an Anu in Okinawa, holding the rolled up map in my right hand. I want to turn on the radio but that Galaxy News station is still giving static.

Amy says "Yep," like she doesn't want to get into details.

These two pricks bug me. I think they are trying to pull something, that much is obvious. I just don't know what. Robbery, or something more fucked up?

We just got under the crumbling overpass half a kilometer ago. My lips are thirsty and I'm in the mood for another cigarette. Fox boy and I been burning through them, not like a chimney you know, but consistently. His hair no longer smells like that shampoo he usually uses, now got the stink of cigarette smoke and sweat. I look around…he's got this serious look on his face, his red stubble giving him a legit 'Clint Eastwood' vibe from the American westerns. He's got Doc Holiday's look, hell, he's slowly getting his way of talking, but it's his way of walking and carrying himself that Kurama's been showing more and more of. I seen it before, plenty of times. The times he's slipping into Yoko-mode, even if his hair stays red. Like what happened at the sewer waystation in McLean, with the cannibals. Like he is sniffing out heartbeats that he wants to snuff out.

I ask "So how'd you meet up with Mr. Marinos here?" John answers "We met up in the west. We had a group, collected people, lost people. You know how it goes?" Walter asks "Any of your group left? Or just you two remain?" Amy quickly answers "Just us…ferals, raiders, slavers. It's a shithole out here. Only takes one coordinated group to overrun a camp." Walter nods and says "I'm a recent vault escapee. This is my…tenth day outside…here. It is grotesque." Amy lets out a bit of a chuckle and says "Look at you with the syllables."

I ask Kurama "How you holding up?" Kurama answers "Fine, you?" I say "Nothing worth complaining about. Think we should stop for a drink? Or a smoke?" John quickly says "Nah, trust me. This out in the open? Let's get further up a bit, raiders operate here and got scouts sweeping. I know this route, there are some cliff sides we can hide behind." Interesting.

Can't speak in Japanese, Marinos and Weaver will get jumpy. Hmph. I think.

Kurama says "I've been recalling back to Asato Kido's con that he attempted in Saitama." Eh? What's he talking about? Genki's stupid test with those psychics? Weaver asks "Who? What? Where?" Kurama smiles a bit and says "A gambler that tried to con us out of caps in a game of dice." Heh? Kurama continues "I hoisted and hanged one of his cretins upside down, Yusuke knocked another bodyguard unconscious. He quickly surrendered." I get it. Kurama is talking in code.

These assholes are trying to trap us and rob us. I already figured that out. "What happened to this, Kido guy?" Marinos asks. I say "We let him go, didn't think he was worth the ammo. Now, Kurama, on the topic of Kido, was it Tarukane that tried to get us on the Yokohama job, or Yomi?" Translation: are these fuckheads here to enslave us, or eat us? And Yokohama…fox boy should remember that time when Kuwabara's car broke down over the Yokohama Bay Bridge and caused a three mile long traffic jam. Cause that dumbass didn't pay attention to the warning light that said 'Low Battery'.

I keep walking straight, Kurama behind me. After a pause, he says "I'm rather certain it was Tarukane. Yomi never bothered with elaborate schemes." So fox boy thinks this is a slave grab. Or at least a stickup with worse. Got it. Now, the issue…will Walter react how we want him to react?

I remember back to the pregn…that woman called Cecilia…I remember what Walter said. 'Good to know'. He's hard to read…I mean that guy nearly got leukemia just cause Moira Brown paid him to drink irradiated pisswater. I ask Walter "Been out this far in your adventures? Or not past Reston?" After a sec, I hear Walter say "Not this far east."

Shit. Here it goes. I ask "Did you find anything other than ants at the Silver Inn hotel? The one with all that psycho?" I hold my breath, hoping Walter doesn't say something stupid. I let my left hand fall to my waist, my fingers inching toward the revolver on my left waist holster.

Walter coolly says "Just radroaches and skeletons." Amy says "Here's hoping that's all we see out here." Check. All we got to do is get Mate. And for that, I just need to hear Kurama. Hear him give me an idea of what the code phrase is for 'Shoot these assholes now!'

A light shining through a gap in the overpass, several hundred meters away. To the left and right, two ramps leading to the overpass, the one on the left traversable, the one on the right damaged to the point of uselessness. I detect the faint scent of urine…hmph. Marinos says "Just a bit longer, once we pass that old bus, we take a right. Should take us to Arefu." We will see if those words are in need of salt.

We continue onward, the beam of light shining through the overpass growing in my vision. The scent of urine peaks and wanes as we walk…I think…yes…I see. Just barely in sight, obscured by rocks, at least two rotting corpses, far enough to hide their odor. Yusuke and Walter are walking in front, Weaver behind them, and myself walking behind Weaver, with Marinos at my side. I steal glances at his Glock pistol waving in and out of view, behind Marinos' right side. The window of opportunity is dwindling...

I ask "Are you certain this is the correct way Marinos? The map seems to say otherwise." Marinos turns to me and asks "Yeah, I'm certain, the hell you talking about?" I turn to Yusuke and say "The map, please." We stop and gather, Weaver, Yusuke, and Walter turning to us two. Yusuke slowly approaches Marinos with the map, as I steal passing glances at Weaver. As Marinos takes the map with his left hand, and as Yusuke steps to the right of Weaver, Marinos asks "So what is the problem?"

"We have a tendency to show our teeth!" I yell, knowing Yusuke will understand the implication. Weaver and Marinos freeze as I grasp the hilt of my jian with my right hand, draw, let the sound of the scabbard rustling against steel cause my neck hairs to rise, and then slash horizontally and a quarter of the way through the left side of Marinos' neck. Marinos jerks his head to the right, silent, likely in shock, as his neck and left shoulder redden at a rapid pace. He drops the Glock pistol on the ground and falls awkwardly to his right shoulder, as Yusuke drives his left elbow into the right side of Weaver's head.

Yusuke pries the machete out of Weaver's grasp and tosses it out of view. Walter, his silenced 10mm pistol aimed at the two, he coldly says "Stop or I'll shoot." I immediately draw my Smith and Wesson 29 with my left hand, aiming at Walter's head. I say "Stop, these bastards are muggers." Walter grits his teeth and says "I was speaking to Amy Weaver." Good, I allow my relief be visible.

Amy Weaver mutters "Hold…wait…wait, what the, what the fuck you doing?!" She is flailing in Yusuke's full nelson hold, her head pinned forward as her arms swing pointlessly. I skip the pleasantries and approach with the point of my jian, sternly asking "How many? Five? Ten? What firearms? What traps?" "What are you talking about…wait?!" she speaks, her voice raised to a suspiciously high decibel.

I say "Walter, remove her bottoms." "What?" Walter speaks, a worried look on his face that slowly turns into hateful scorn. I repeat "Her bottoms, Walter. Her jeans and underwear. Or must I demonstrate how?" "Kurama…" Yusuke mutters, his grasp loosening for a second, which Weaver attempts to take advantage of…to no avail. A flash of anger hazes my mind…centuries of foul memories flooding through the mist. I coldly say "I am…not here for that. Walter, remove her bottoms. Now."

"Stop, wait, no you fucking bastards! Sto…" I press the point of my jian to her left eye, kneel slightly to keep eye contact, and say "In France, there exists a bird prized for its meat…an ortolan. A small brownish bird that aggressively gorges itself in the dark. To expedite this, the bird's eyes are ripped out and the bird is tossed in a pile of grain, where it stuffs itself past its fill…" I see Weaver's mouth quivering…a strong stench of urine fills my nostrils as her jeans darken around the crotch. I continue "The bird is then plucked, and then drowned in brandy, as its flesh marinates in a still of burned wine. Raise your voice again, my little ortolan, and I will settle for the irradiated waters of the Potomac."

Her eyes white with fear, she mutters quietly "Okay…okay…" Yusuke stares over her head, his face betraying his attempts to hide shock and discomfort. Walter simply kneels to my level, and says "If this is what I think this is, I will gladly drown you instead." He has a backbone, at the least. Though perhaps, so do goldfish.

Walter reaches his left hand for Weaver's jean button and unfastens it. He then pulls down on the zipper as her teeth clatter annoyingly. Walter then takes pains to avoid the patch of urine and goes to pulling down her jeans by the sides, tugging each side in turn. Eventually, her jeans are at her ankles, revealing white underpants soaked in urine, translucently revealing her genitals. Walter suddenly exclaims "There is something protruding from her rear…" "Shit…" I hear Weaver mutter.

Walter pulls the back of her underwear down and quite literally pulls a snub nosed revolver out of Weaver's arse, the revolver covered in a plastic condom shaped holster. I am familiar with the like, a few of my men would smuggle lockpicks, Makai rum, and small daggers past sentries and prisons with this approach, except the holster was made of 'yangrou' intestine.

I take the revolver from Walter's left hand, the short barrel covered in the condom. I wipe the plastic sheath off against Weaver's shirt and ask "What do we have here?" "All we have is a revolver that I keep for protection, just in case. It doesn't means shit…" she speaks, though her eyes speak a different tale. And not exactly the choice of words and the tone of speech an innocent scavenger would use. I think, hm…worth a try.

Scratching my chin with the backhand wrist of my left arm, I say "Yusuke, Walter, escort her to the ramp and send her to her friends. And do make sure she makes haste. If she takes a leisurely pace up the ramp, gun her down."

She breaks "Five more up the ramp, rifles and a crossbow, proximity landmines along the middle of the ramp. I swear it!" "Thank you," I say, and I then pierce her heart with my jian. She gasps for a brief second, and then expires.

"She…couldn't fight back," Walter mutters. "Would you prefer that she had time to prepare? Or perhaps you will apologize for your assumptions and admit that I was right," I reply, doing my best to drive the point deep into his skin. Yusuke lets go of Weaver's corpse and lets it crumble to the ground. He approaches what remains of Marinos and takes the map, bespecked in droplets of life's blood. I reach for Weaver's rucksack and collect our spoils.

Walter simply approaches Marinos' corpse and rummages through his rucksack. I retrieve a zip-lock bag stuffed with bottle caps, at least fifty, if not more. As I set them on the ground, I say "If we act fast and silently, we may avoid a drawn out firefight." Walter and Yusuke, they both turn to me, the former staring in disgust…Yusuke…his pensive frown wounds me. I speak "I make no apologies Yusuke…our safety and prosperity comes first. It has. It does. It forever will be."

When we finished looting the two raiders, we got ourselves one machete, one Glock, one Saturday Night Special revolver, a small box cutter, 117 caps, eight .22 rounds, a box of 30 10mm rounds, two tins of Spam, and a dirty bottle of water. We left the bodies where they fell. Now, standing a dozen feet behind where the large beam of light hits the ground, the three of us crouch down and watch through the gap in the overpass. I see one of those traffic divider things they have on highways, the cement colored divider running horizontally across the edge of the hole. Looks like a place to take cover.

Kurama waves us to move up and to the left, getting a better view of the right edge of the hole. Kurama slowly falls to his belly and starts crawling, his scoped Lee Enfield rifle in his hands. Walter follows with his Steyr Aug, and I whiff up vault boy's farts with my MP5K.

We stay this way for what felt like an hour already. I look to Kurama and raise my eyebrows. He looks back, scrunches up his face in a slight frown, and then nods, as if to say that I have a point. Fox boy, he reaches at a cluster of baseball sized rocks, grabs one, and throws toward the middle of the square created by the beam of light. I watch the platform, a guy…white I'm guessing, with sunburnt skin, wearing pieces of a wooden drawer for shorts, like two wooden drawer panels covering his front and back, and two more panels with the handles still attached covering the sides. Leather straps hanging onto his shoulders keep the wooden shorts up, basically suspenders. Shirtless, he's wearing a grey sack on his head with holes cut in for his eyes and mouth, like an executioner's hood. He's got some kind of rifle, no scope attached.

That's what they do. Lure people into the beam and pick them off. Then carry them up the ramp, loot them, and throw them over the edge. Walter leans to me and whispers "Clever, and the main party avoids exposing themselves to retaliation. Until now, at least."

The raider in the grey hood yells "John? That you? Amy?" I hear someone yell "Shut the fuck up!" Hooded guy turns left and says "Listen Jasmine, there's someone down there, so either ge" *BANG*

I hear Walter grunt and hiss at Kurama as he picks the scorching hot shell casing out of his thick black hair. I look back to the ledge, and I barely notice a red spot on the raider's right knee as the raider leans forward, starting to yell. He falls through the hole, and I blink as his hood covered head bashes against the rocky floor, face first. I watch the head jerk back and the grey hood immediately turn darker, the rifle landing half a foot to the right. "Oh shit we got company!" I hear someone else yell out, barely recognizing a Virginian accent.

We run toward the ramp on the left, almost immediately spotting the zig zag row of landmines leading up the middle. Walter takes the lead, and I see that he has a bowie knife in his hands. He yells "Cover me!" and sticks his hand toward the landmine…it's beeping! Beep…beep…beep, beep, be…good, phew. From behind, it looked like Walter pushed down on it with his left hand and sliced off some wires with his right hand, I gotta have him teach me that. He collects the landmine and heads up, stopping at another landmine that's on the near bend of the zig-zag pattern…shit we got like seven more to go. Kurama mutters "Disarm this one, and we will rush past the rest." Walter nods in approval and goes to work on mine #2. Done. He stuffs the disarmed mine in his bag and hugs the edge of the ramp. I'll count us down.

"Three, two, one, RUN!"

I keep my left hand against Walter's back, my MP5K in my right hand, hard to hold. I feel Kurama's Lee Enfield pressing against my duffle bag as we run up like three lines of Roman soldiers ready to fuck shit up or die trying. *BEEP BEEP* I hear barely, my adrenaline pumping…explosion behind me, my body shakes, almost lose my footing, almost falling on a landmine, gunshots, sun stinging my eyes, a haze, it's all a haze.

We reach the top, three with us, one nearby, female, white, tall, and dressed in patchwork grey, rust, and bronze metal plating, making her look like a NFL quarterback. Shortish blonde hair covered in dirt, biker goggles, armed with a rifle, looks like a Mosin-Nagant with a scope. She's reloading, means she already fired a shot. Maybe she got me, and I'm too stupid to realize I'm already dead. Walter unloads with his Steyr, and I see a red mist kick up behind her. That stupid cement colored traffic divider is behind her, useless given she's on the wrong side of cover. The raider still holds onto her rifle as her legs buckle. She falls leftwards, onto her left shoulder, her arms in spasms. I can barely see her sucking in air, and I notice two flashes past the divider, coming from a long, rectangular hut made out of car doors and metal plates, like one of those Congolese shanties I seen on TV. More gunfire, as Walter runs to cover behind a burnt out car that smells like shit. Probably their toilet.

I join Walter in cover, my back to a burnt out left front-side door. Kurama is strafing right to left, firing one shot, expels casing, two…he's not moving fast enough. I reach out and yank Kurama into cover, grabbing him by the hips. He expels the 2nd shell casing mid-grab, and gives me a perplexed stare. I say "You were out in the open for way too long." "Thank you," Kurama replies, sounding like he means it. Three more to go.

Bullets whizzing by, through, don't think this cover helps much, shit. I yell over the gunfire "We need to move up before a lucky shot catches us in the neck! Try the traffic divider thing!" Walter yells back "Bullets go through it just as easily, maybe more!" I see Kurama panting, glaring at nothing at all. Like he is in a trance from being high off adrenaline. I blink and his hair has gone white. I yell "We got to move up or fuck off! Go, you and Kurama, go crouched! I'll give them something else to shoot!" "Yusuke?" Walter asks, not liking the idea that much. Don't know if he's worried about me or his own ass. I yell "GO!"

Kurama leaps from cover and fires, as Walter prepares to move. Fox boy returns to cover and ejects a casing as Walter makes a beeline for the traffic divider. Kurama gives him a second step, and then moves out of cover to follow. I swallow my spit and rise from cover, aiming down my MP5K at the longhouse. I see flashes of light, from the gunfire, from the sun, sweating, sore, thirsty, angry, might die. I pull the trigger.

I empty the last of my barrage, felt like half my magazine, shot off one of the metal planes holding the roof, left a lot of holes in the rusted metal side wall. No more flashes of light…no more shooting. I hear groaning, voices overlapping, I think I hear a man yelling, another man laughing. I move out of cover and join Walter and Kurama. I hear more laughing, screaming, groaning…I don't get it. Did I shoot both of the raiders through cover? What is so funny? What is so fucking funny? I move past the divider, past the gap in the overpass, so I can find out. I hope this joke is a good one.

We step into the longhouse…two raiders, both male, one bald, looks Latino, with slanted eyes and thin black eyebrows, large round ears and a round chin. He's resting on a towel, face down, the towel a light dirty brown where it once was white, now got streaks of red on it. The raider on the towel is wearing a dirty set of torn jeans and a red bandana with white smoke trails on it, shirtless and with two holes in his back. The raider's AK-47 is out of his reach, right under a kitchen oven that they somehow managed to drag up the ramp. He's the groaner.

The other raider, he's black and dark skinned, with short black fuzzy hair, round eyes, and low cheek bones. He's chubbier then the raiders we usually see, guessing that he's the leader if only by that. Guy is a bit short too, and his chin strap beard is wiry from lack of shaving. He's wearing a sleeveless grey shirt with a red bullet hole around the gut, along with blue cargo shorts that are in surprisingly good condition. His M14 rifle is at his feet, the stock and the trigger broken and red with the blood from the fingers I shot off. The raider stares in shock at the rifle, resting his back against a dining table that has glass pitchers of fuck knows what in them, looks like instant coffee. He's the screamer.

I move my MP5K around until it rests on my duster. At this point, all three of us, myself, Kurama, his hair back to red and eyes not in a crazed trance, and Walter, we stand upright and just stare at the two wounded raiders. I draw my two revolvers, letting out some air. Sighing. Kicking the rifle away from the fingerless raider. Ever since my ramen stand got shut down by bureaucratic assholes demanding I pay for a permit, I always joked that government assholes are the kind of people that show up after a battle to shoot the wounded. I aim with the revolver in my right hand at his heart and put the raider out of his misery. *BANG* That was a loud one, haven't gotten used to the sound yet. He stops screaming, slumps to the right, looked like he tried to move at the last second. I turn to baldie, see him crawling toward the AK-47. I aim with my left handed revolver this time, moving faster, I fire. *BANG* He shakes and yells in pain. "SHIIIIT!" he yells, reaching with his left hand for the bullet in his upper back. Almost got him in the spine. I'm making it worse.

I calm myself down and move the barrel closer, only a foot away from his head. I fire, jerking back to avoid the blood and brain matter spraying out, got some on my pants. He's done, clean and painless. Owed him at least that much. I now hear someone laughing again. Coming from the right of the entrance, a separate room in the longhouse. WHAT IS SO FUCKING FUNNY?!

They tied up a guy, black hair up to his shoulders, arms tied to bed posts, feet tied to bed posts. Completely naked, on his knees, laughing hysterically. His back is covered in whip marks…he looks Latino, with high cheekbones and somewhat thick black eyebrows. He hasn't shaved in a while, black choppy beard covering his face. He has black bangs of hair that almost reach his eyes. Nearby, there is a naked dead woman, white or Latina, can't tell, her face been smashed in by the stocks of the raider's guns, her…crotch bloody. Looks recent. He keeps laughing hysterically. I hear Kurama's sword leaving his sheathe.

I watch him cut the guy down, as Walter stares with his mouth agape. The guy crawls away from us and sits in fetal position on a plane of the metal wall that fell off, maybe from the shooting. He laughs "One hour! Just one hour! They could have waited one fucking hour!" His accent sounds local, Maryland I'd bet money on. "One hour!" he yells again. I turn to Kurama and Walter, looking at them for something to say. They keep quiet, even Kurama looking sick at this. Probably from the laughing, poor guy looking for the only way he could express his feelings right now, looking insane in the process. I know what you mean, too well.

He crawls toward the bed that he was roped and raped on, pulls off the white shower curtain that they used as drapes, and then crawls toward the dead woman. I notice a trail of blood left behind, his feet red and black from blood and scabs. He covers the dead woman's face and laughs "One hour!"

Walter morosely says "She mentioned five. I count only four. She mentioned a crossbow. I see none." Kurama shakes his head and states "I neither smell nor see anyone else. If there is a fifth raider, kill him or her. Or it, seems to be more appropriate for this lot of vile bastards." Kurama grits his teeth, his eyes red with anger. His right fist flexes while gripping the jian. Kurama, he looks to the left, just a bit, like he is remembering something. He turns his head just a bit, looks to me, and then calms down, relaxing his grip. Fox boy continues "Now, what may we do for him?" "One hour! One hour! Ahahaha!" the guy screams. I can see his eyes are wet and bloodshot. His hands, feet, they are shaking. Like he has tremors.

"Let him figure it out himself. Just…loot and go. Maybe to that vault you mentioned before, Walt. Maybe straight to Arefu. Just let's go," I say. Kurama frowns and nods, giving his approval. He says "The vault it is. Vault 106, you called it?" Walter heaves a sigh that gets drowned out by the laughing. He pushes up his glasses, turns away from the laughing man, and says "Yes. Vault 106."

I turn on my Pip-Boy...accidentally hit the menu for media, for audio books...British accent, a chorus...sounds like a musical...

"Let us take the road! Hark! I hear the sound of coaches! The hour of attack approaches! T'your arms, brave boys and load!"

I struggle to shut it off, Kurama giving me dirty stares as I look up. Damn, I'm making this worse...

" Let us take the road! Hark! I hear the sound of coaches! The hour of attack approaches! T'your arms, brave boys and load!  See the ball I hold!"

"ONE HOUR!" Damn this...

"Let the chemists toil like asses! Our fire their fire surpasses. And turns all our lead to gold! Let us take the road!"

Chapter Text

A male, of African descent, dark brown skin chapped under the heat, sits on the uneven rocky ground. A white bandana, soaked in sweat, covers his forehead. He appears to have recently shaved, with large brown eyes and patches of black stubble dotting his chin, his cheeks lacking any hair. A red blotch of skin half morphed into a scab hangs over the bottom of his chin. His lips are chapped dry. A futuristic, at least to us, pistol in his right hand. He stares at the three of us.

The man continues to remain silent, sitting in front of the cavern entrance to what Walter assures is Vault 106. He is dressed in a dark green camouflage patterned survival vest, adorned in various pouches, belts, and hooks, black leather gloves, dirt sodden grey sweat pants, and black leather boots. His short black eyebrows stand at attention, yet he does not stir to movement. Taking a step further, I scan his facial appearance…certainly African-American or at least of West African descent, with a trapezoid shaped chin, a wide jaw, and two creases running diagonally away from his nostrils. He speaks…Pennsylvania accented-English I tentatively wager "If…you are…I don't got much. Don't even got ammo. I'm…dying here."

The seated man looks down and meekly adds "Water. I don't care if…it is muddy. Or irradiated. Water…or just…please. Shoot me. Please, just decide." "We're not raiders," Walter replies, as I scan the individual, and then my surroundings. He indeed appears to be dying of thirst, and his pistol does appear to not be loaded, the slide drawn a centimeter back.

"C'mon Kurama, we got some less then clean water to spare," Yusuke speaks, his tone depressed and somber. I can hardly fault his reaction to witnessing rape for the first time, or at least the immediate aftermath. Him or Walter. Our journey since leaving the highway overpass, and the captive driven to delirium, was uneventful, with seldom a word spoken. If for nothing, I think Yusuke simply wishes to offer charity so as to cling to a tendril of hope, that this world is not irrevocably broken, and that we will not irrevocably break ourselves as we survive.

The two stare at me, with sheepish, passive eyes. In time, they have seen me as a leader. In our old Human World, Yusuke led and I advised. Here, he lasted scantly two days before seceding leadership to myself. It is true, I am the natural choice. I have more experience living like a savage beast then anyone on this godforsaken ball of rock.

I simply hope that Yusuke remembers, and never forgets, that I too wish to cling on to what remains of my humanity. More so then him, I selfishly believe, for I already know of the depths of my sordid soul. I reminded myself every day in Human World. I am reminded every waking moment here. And few things terrify me more so, then to permanently slip into Yoko Kurama the murderer of his own mother, the mercenary sellsword of Medieval Eastern Europe, the Vice-Captain of Vlad the Impaler's Royal Guard and the impaler of thousands upon thousands. The Bandit King of Gandara, wading through life in a debauched, vile, drunken haze.

I answer "Okay." If any deity in this world take my charity for karmic redemption, they would be most mistaken. I simply do not wish to see myself reduced into an animal, like the animals Yusuke and myself have been shooting and slashing at for ten horrifying days.

As Yusuke searches through my rucksack, I add "Give him two bottles, and a tin of lima beans." "Thank you," I hear Yusuke speak, a queer choice of words given that this near-dead man before me is the one in need of our charity. Yet, I understand, and I concur.

The man spoke not another word until the opened bottle of label-less water creased against his leather gloved right hand, the man's pistol resting harmlessly on the ground. His hands shake as he brings the water bottle to his lips, and he finds himself struggling to raise them. Yusuke kneels by him, solemn. Wait, that is too close! You do not know if…!

To my relief, the man simply nods as Yusuke lifts the bottle of water to his lips. The man drinks, streaks of water running down his chin and onto his vest. Not a care given for the source of the water, the man consumes half the bottle in a matter of seconds, and then proceeds to drink more deliberately. With a quarter remaining, the man speaks "God bless your souls. All three of you. I…was ready to bash my skull against a rock, but I was too thirsty and too hungry to have the energy…thank you."

The man wishes to cry, and ultimately succeeds, a scant few drops of tears running down his cheeks…all he could summon. His body betrays even his wish for relief. Yusuke approaches "Here, a tin of lima beans and a second bottle. If you go east far enough, you'll get to Megaton. It's a town, like six miles away."

The man weakly stares at the second bottle of water, and the tin of beans. He seems to wonder if this is an illusion, or a dream. After daring to believe, the man speaks "I do not know who you three are, or who you belong to, but I owe my life to you three." "My name is Walter," Walter speaks. "Yusuke," Yusuke adds. The man turns to me. I reply "Shuichi, though I go by Kurama." The man nods as if to show he listened, and then says "My name is Benjamin."

"What do you know about Vault 106?" Walter asks. Benjamin looks genuinely surprised. He answers "There is a vault back there? I was several steps away from the front door, when I fell and was too ready to die to get back up. Irony, it stings, doesn't it? Well, I guess I can't complain, given your generosity. I promise, when I get well, I will pay you three back in kind. I get by with guns, and I been in shootouts before. I'm also familiar with caravan trading, and can advise you three on that. You three headed to the vault?"

Walter speaks "We are ultimately heading to Arefu for a delivery. We considered scavenging the vault along the way. Listen, Benjamin, if you wish, I could carry you to Arefu with me." Benjamin shakes his head and says "Thank you but it isn't necessary. I don't want to be more of a burden that I have to…" Walter cuts Benjamin off and says "You might possibly require more medical attention then you think. I'm sure Arefu will have someone who can tend to you. Please, if you die from shock or illness, it would only make what we done a waste of time."

Benjamin extends his right hand to Walter. Walter grabs it with his right, and pulls until Benjamin grunts to his feet. The man is about two inches taller than myself, perhaps more, as he currently is hunched against Walter's left shoulder.

Walter turns to us two and says "My Pip-Boy has the directions to Arefu. If you wish to scavenge the vault, do so." "Are you sure that is wise?" I ask Walter. I admire his selflessness, a trait I had little opportunity to witness. It is his wisdom, and lack thereof, that concerns me. Walter replies "It is the Christian thing to do." He turns to us and proceeds toward the path around the cavern, the setting sun creating an orange hue against his solid black hair. As he takes a few meters more, Walter replies "Good luck, and may Jesus Christ keep you safe." "Thank you…" I speak, finding Walter's comments slightly amusing, given what I know, yet touching all the same.

As the two escape from our view, Yusuke turns to me and says "So, Kurama. You and me, against whatever the hell is in that vault. Feels like Maze Castle all over again…not knowing what to expect." I grimace slightly and naively say "May we find nothing more threatening than a Makai insect."

We all have our delusions.

I play with some levers…pull down a handle. I hear some loud beeps, like a missile launching out of a silo. Then I hear steam, and the giant cog shaped metal door with '106' painted on in rusted yellow pulls back and my ears fill with this holy shit that screeching sound is annoying. The door rises up and spins to the left. By the entrance, a pair of skeletons, the skin gone and only a few chunks of clothing left. We step inside.

Everything looks like the color of shit. Browns, dark rusty reds, flickering lights, this looks like a panic room that I once saw on television. Thank fuck that the red flickering lights don't come with more annoying sirens. I see a long-dead giant cockroach, squashed to the point that its legs stand up. This large cylinder thing in the middle looks like a generator. It smells weird, like cantaloupe and fresh salmon and a little bit like skunk weed. I say "If this is like where Walter grew up, no wonder he's so weird." Kurama tries to whistle, ends up blowing air but he got my attention. He says "We are in unfamiliar territory. Tread lightly." "No shit," I say, drawing both my revolvers. There's a small open office on the right, gonna go check it out.

Five skeletons piled high, all mostly rotted, some with this blue fabric left, like the jumpsuit Walter wore when we first met him. If Kuwabara was here, he'd be saying some bullshit about how he sees ghosts or something. I don't see them, but I know they're there. This is a graveyard, and we're doing some digging. Eh.

I loot some scrap metal and a crowbar. There's a pistol here too, futuristic like Walt's, but it's rusted to the point that I doubt there are any good parts left. I leave it here for now, and head back to Kurama. I shake my head, and he understands. He draws his magnum revolver and flicks his wrist towards a metal door ahead. It smells like chocolate now, weird.

I push the button with the barrel of my right handed revolver, and the door slides down…flickering lights, smells like roses now. I turn to Kurama, nothing different about him…we step inside, more of some generator room. A couple of radroaches flapping their wings. I watch Kurama holster his magnum and slide around his Lee Enfield. Angling the stock of the rifle, he crushes one of the radroaches dead center, crouching as he drove downward. The other is turning to us, making this flickering sound, like a cricket. It leaps at Kurama, I spare him the bug bite by kicking it with my left leg. It's on its back now, struggling to get up. I drive my left foot down on its head. That's done.

"Thank you," Kurama says, wiping bug juice off his rifle, using a metal railing. I say "No problem. You smell that?" "Yes, smells of smoke and hot coals," Kurama says. Heh? I say "Smells like roses and honey to me. Did you do something?" Kurama raises his left eyebrow a bit and says "No, that is unusual. Be on your guard, something is not right here." "And water is wet," I reply. We keep onward, turning right. Another metal door. I push the button.

Water seeps in, room is like an inch deep beyond the doorway. The opposite side of a long hallway with a, thankfully, off generator is sealed by another door. I know it's off, because the radroaches would have been tasting deep-fried Kitsune and Mazoku otherwise. Smell is getting stronger…it's nice. We step back and let the water spill in more, so our shoes don't get soaked in. Kurama nudges his head toward the hallway and we head inside, water now not more than a centimeter deep.

Inside, we walk past a few skeletons, most of them just bones, a few still got meat on them. One body, naked, has been rotting for a bit, its nails and hair grown long, its eyes eaten out. Now we know what radroaches like for dinner. At least, I think it's radroaches. Ah stop kidding yourself, it's not radroaches, cause that would be too easy. There is some giant fucking irradiated monster or a group of rapist cannibal raiders out there and Kurama and I are going to die, and I'm the shmuck too stupid or too proud to tell Kurama to stop and turn around. Water may be a centimeter deep but we're up to our necks in evil. This is what this shithole is. A whole bunch of fucking evil.

We reach the end of the hallway. Kurama pushes the button, some cogs in the door turn, and the door lifts up. And a slightly short, naked Asian man with long black hair, sunburnt skin, and scars all over his chest and face, charges at me with a fire axe. The psycho yells "Keeping tickling and the ants get in your bones and and and…!"


I hear Kurama fire his Lee Enfield, doesn't stop the psycho. I fire with both my revolvers. *BANG* in the gut. *BANG* left shoulder, this time he yells. *BANG* in the chest, still fucking charging! I hear Kurama yell "Yusuke! RUN!" Psycho bringing the axe down, I charge forward instead. I bite the bullet and grab the streaking nutjob by the waist before he could hack at me. I move my right foot behind his feet and trip him, fall with him to the metal ground, and stick my right handed revolver under his chin. *BANG* he's done. And instead of smelling like blood, it smells like the nabe yaki soup I used to make. And asphalt, and gasoline and…

I turn around, and…I'm in Tokyo. I'm…in the middle of the street. I hear a siren, an ambulance. I blink, I'm floating an inch over the ground, a pickup truck next to me. Our pickup truck from Megaton. The doors open…Jericho steps out of the driver seat, Walter out of the front side passenger seat. They are both wearing suits…I know those suits. Jericho is wearing Mr. Iwamoto's green suit, Walter in Takenaka's clay brown suit. I hear Jericho say "Fuck em." Walter just shakes his head in disgust. What the fuck…

I remember this, and I think I know what happens next.

I look down and find mom lying on the asphalt, pregnant and dressed in the white silk robe she was buried in. Her robe half torn, her belly ripped open, and someone with his head turned away is eating the insides with his bare hands. Long, large, spiky black hairs and tribal tattoos. Oh…fuck…what…the…the freak turns his hedgehog head to me, and I see me and me sees I.

And I start to scream.

"Yusuke! Yusuke!" I yell, frantically, stumbling over overturned metal drawers. I find myself in a technician's office…a metal desk and a rusted rolling chair, a cabinet full of assorted tools and electrical wiring components, another desk with a bulky square shaped black monitor in the middle, a black keyboard in front. I approach…the product is a Lenovo…very bizarre. I don't recall them ever producing these 1990s styled monitors.

I press a square button on the bottom right corner of the monitor…where is the rest of the computer? Curious. The monitor flickers and then materializes…a black screen populated with green characters. I proceed to read…'Vault 106 Secondary Technician Latisha Washington, assistant to Lead Technician Tyrone Metcalf. Authorized access only.' No mouse…I press the tab button and read out the tabs…'Incident Reports, Incoming Messages, Personal Files'.

I select 'Incident Reports' and hear a rumbling from the hallway I entered through. I yell "Yusuke!" He disappeared shortly after that stark naked lunatic charged at our position. I hear humming…no…I draw my Smith & Wesson magnum revolver and pull back on the hammer until it holds its position. I see someone…dressed in a vault jumpsuit akin to Walter's…Vault 106. A Caucasian female of Central European descent, German or Bohemian I observe, with dark brown hair, a bony round chin, and thin medium cheeks, slightly emaciated. She sings in a local Maryland accent "Merry Serri's Little Fairy, Faced the Jorugomo Large and Hairy." This…this was a…favorite nursery rhyme of my village. From Wessex Mykker…"Merry Serri's Little Fairy…" The…woman, she is holding a machete in her right hand. She charges.

I fire…miss…"Jorugomo Large and Hairy!" he accent deforms…I smell salted jerkies, cuts of Makai bison. The room turns a sterile purple hue…I grab her machete wielding wrist with my right hand, spin clockwise, and pull her arm over my shoulder. She continues to sing…her voice losing her Maryland…her human accent.

I dip my knees, bend my hips forward and to the left, and push my right hand, revolver dropped, toward her right shin. I grab her crotch, hook my left leg against her left leg, and jerk my right hand upwards, lifting her. I tug my left hand further to the right as I sweep her left leg, and the singing creature sails over my back in a front flip motion, landing on her back. Her head closer to me then her legs, she appears to be upside down. "Merry Serri's Little Fairy…" Kneeling, I immediately grab my revolver and aim the barrel in point blank range at her forehead. "Face the Jorugomo…" *BANG* I silence her singing, her voice almost demon-like.

I rise to my feet…"Wesolch Serri Mali Hochlik…" I…that is the language of the Wessex Kitsunes, Old Polish, as brought to our tongues by Trezuma the Third, the demon warlord king of the Kitsunes circa 900 AD, former warlord of Kruzwica during his time posing as a human warrior. That accent…I turn to the corpse…no…a Kitsune…long pointed ears, reddish amber hair stained in blood, high cheekbones and a pointed chin…I dare to step around and face her directly…

Jairu…as she was when I drove a dagger through her skull and euthanized her. Jairu…grown…adult…what could have been. Sister…I'm sorry. Jairu…tears well in my eyes. I cannot breathe…my fists clench until they pain. My failure, as a son, as a brother, as a surrogate father. Both my mother and my sister dead, at my hands. She continues to sing, in our old language. Her smile wide as her lips moves and the words come pouring out of her bleeding skull. I cry, and I turn to the monitor. And I see a pair of human legs dangling through the screen…thighs…an exposed vagina. I…what is this…

The lips of the vagina part…and a small bird…an ortolan peeks from inside…red instead of its usual green…I…do not understand! I blink, and I find a white napkin obscuring the vagina…and then a terrible crunching sound…and a red-haired Asian male's decapitated head rolls to my legs. And I scream. And scream. And turn to flee.

It's Byakko. He's trying to bite through my neck, pinning me to a jukebox in the cafeteria where I psyched out and punched out Shigeru Murota. I knee the tiger demon in the gut and get some space. I then step forward with my left foot and drive a right handed uppercut into the stray cat's gut, sending him reeling. I reach down for my Smith & Wesson revolver lying on the floor, scoop it up, and look up to see Byakko desperately charging me. He pins me to the jukebox, this time causing me to hit some button. I push the barrel into his hairy ass gut and pull the trigger, smelling blood again. He steps back, one more bullet to the gut. On his knees, I aim at his heart, and pull the trigger. He falls backwards like a domino as the jukebox plays 'Taiyou ga mata Kagayatoki' by Hiro Takahashi. In Japanese. "When my letter reaches you, please don't break the seal."

His knees bend and his legs spread out, like he fell off a chair or something. I walk over his dead body, my head throbbing. "Just wait a little while, give it time to heal." It's raining inside, a thunder storm. Suzaku's Makai zombies are beating on the glass, I see the faces. Mom, Keiko, Takanaka, Botan, Hiei, Kuwabara, Shizuru...barely see Genkai's rotting face pressed against the glass, right at the bottom edge of the windows. "And I'll believe you'll understand, just exactly how I feel…" I sit on a cafeteria table, holding one of my revolvers, the other in the holster. I yell "WELL WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU ALL STARING AT?!" "This is my last, and my most loving, request." "GO ON, KILL ME! OR FUCK OFF!" And then I see him. Kurama…behind the zombies, dangling from a noose. Kicking, struggling. No, this is bullshit…THIS IS BULLSHIT!

I fire at the glass, first I'll put him out of his misery, then myself. Glass shatters…just an illusion. A guy in a Vault 106 jumpsuit, with short black hair and some beard, falls over the railing to the floor below. I see a large oval window ahead, staring over the giant hole the jumpsuit guy fell through. I reach for the glass, going to follow. Find fox boy. Find Kurama. No more of this nightmare. I'm fucking done!

I can't see. I am blind, shooting aimlessly, the smell of wraith weeds in my nostrils, from the fire demon lands. I hear voices. "His decay has gotten worse these past few days," Yomi's voice says. I crash into a window, the glass raining down at the touch of my shoulder. Broken glass, everywhere. I walk carefully, feeling glass crush against my boots. "He hardly speaks anymore, it hurts him too much," Yomi continues. I remember, Genwaku Kyoushu, the moth demon I sent to kill Yomi, my…partner in crime. The demon that…blinded him…

"It was three hundred years ago when he sent a man to kill me. Still, I remember it like it was yesterday," Yomi continues. I hear glass crunch, crackle, shatter. I hear moans and a man babbling incoherently. I hear "He was the leader, and I, his right hand man. We were greedy, and had designs on styling ourselves lords, as he styled himself in human world…in this place called Wallachia. But to be a lord requires power and wealth, and to acquire both, we became lords of the highways. We led a legendary horde of bandits, raiding all corners of Makai for its precious golds, silvers, gems, and women. I was hotheaded then, obstinate, and thirsty for action, quite like yourself perhaps. Soon, I erred and cost the lives of several of our best men on a raid on the richest fortress in Gandara. I didn't think, I was hungry and tired of risking my life for the low hanging fruit. I just wanted to become what he became in human world."

I yell "Yomi?! What is this?! Where are you?! Yomi?! Yusuke! Yusuke!" I am lost and confused. I factored many possibilities in my life. Blindness in this situation was not one I properly planned for…it is dark…so dark. And humid…Gandara was always humid. A choking heat…glass everywhere. Every move is a risk…that crushing sound grating against my ears. Yomi continues "Looking back, I should have expected it, despite us being friends. We were polar opposites. He was cruelly hungry, but in a different way. Coldly calculating, and yet lost in appeasing his urges for sex and intoxication, content in whoring and drinking day in and night out. Oh he shared the spoils, but that was all he was concerned about. Given power, and for all his intelligence, he couldn't know what to do with it if he had six ears and still had eyes. Yoko Kurama, the bandit whore of Gandara, the wine lord of the forest. It didn't take long for him to feel threatened by my need for real title and authority. It must have been difficult to make his careful plans with such a loose cannon at his side. Yet, he included you into his fold well enough. Seems he is doomed to repeat his self-manufactured nightmare for time immemorial."

"So what should I do with him?" I hear…Yusuke speak. "YUSUKE!" I yell, screaming for help, pitiful, but I do not care. Yomi speaks "Finish what I started. It is only right." What? I do not understand! I DO NOT UNDERSTAND!

I feel my back press against a railing, cold and steel. Hands grasp my shoulders, as I kick and punch and flail about. I hear Yusuke speak "I'm sorry Kurama." What? "Yusuke! Please! What is this?!" I yell, perplexed, anxious. I feel a kiss on my lips…soft wet flesh. I…I do not…what? A leather belt wraps around my neck. I feel a pair of hands grab my ankles. I feel the ground below my feet levitate away, and I find myself in the neck! I can't breathe! I am being hanged! Yusuke! "YUSUKE!"

My revolver holstered, my jian holstered, my rifle and duffle bag hanging by my shoulders, I reach up and grasp the part of the belt above my noose, pulling up…air…sweet air. I cannot see. "Yus…KE!" I muster somehow. I hear screaming, swearing. "KURAMA! LET HIM GO YOU FUCKING BASTARDS!" I hear the detective yell. I hear a blood curling scream, and the noose loosens. And fall…argh! On my rear, against cold metal flooring…my vision is returning! There! A dark haired and bearded Caucasian male in the standard Vault 106 jumpsuit. He is bleeding from the left shoulder, grinning. He mutters in Virginia accented English "Just a bit more Kelvin! Just a little bit more! The flies always thought you were the tastier one!" He is frothing slightly at the mouth, a beige wooden baseball bat in his hands. I draw my revolver. And blink. And Genwaku Kyoushu knocks the revolver out of my hand with a flanged steel mace.

"Damn you!" I curse, grasping the hilt of the mace, right above Kyoushu's moth demon hands. I twist right, he does the same, we struggle and grapple. I use my left leg to kick the sides of his right leg, at the shin. He says "I kept your fucking secret for centuries, and look what it did for me!" I sweep the back of his legs, falling forward, landing on his torso, our legs intertwined in a half mount position. I press my left elbow against his mouth, raising it slightly to then lower it, feeling my bone bruise and break and cut his lips and jaw. I yell "I paid you for your steel and silence!" I reach the hilt of the flanged mace with my right hand, and I push and bang his left hand, still holding the mace by the bottom of the hilt, against the cold metal floor. I hear the crackle of bones, and I pry the mace out of his hands, tossing it aside.

Argh! His right hook cracks across my chin. His legs each tighten their scissoring grasp of my right leg as Kyoushu grabs my neck with his right hand….gripping argh tightly. I grab his right arm with both hands and wrench it free, pushing his right arm down and pinning it to his chest with my right hand. I then rain shots against his bleeding lips and swollen jaw with my free left hand. One shot, two, four, six, damn! He grasps my left hand with his own left on my seventh attempt. Kyoushu spits out purplish blood and slurs "And you think…that it means you own me?!"

His legs flail and his torso thrusts upward, lifting me a couple of inches off his body. Kyoushu turns and twists to the right as we roll along the metal flooring, this time myself on my back and the moth demon towering over me, fully mounted. I flail my arms around, desperately trying to grasp his wrists…argh! A shot to my nose, another downward fist to my jaw. Another to my lips, almost grasped his right hand. I taste blood, my blood.

I grab his right wrist with my right hand! Now! I drive a sharp strike with my left fist into his throat, he's stunned! I push off against his torso and twist to the right, rolling us along, until now I am mounted on top of the moth demon. He swings a wild left handed hook from below, I dodge to the left just out of range, push his torso back until it is flat against the floor, and then dip my torso forward and over his right, bleeding shoulder. I then wrap the back of my right arm against the back of the moth demon's neck in the beginnings of a one handed guillotine choke attempt, with a minor twist. I place my right hand on my belly, securing the hold, and then I lift my right leg into a kneeling position, for leverage. I then curl my left hand into a fist, slip it just under Kyoushu's chin, and I crank back his head with my right shoulder. I hear him frothing, gurgling words, barely yelling "STOP! IT HURTS! CAN'T…BREATHE!" I yell "AND NEVER WILL AGAIN!" Jerking back with all my strength, I tear one of his upper spinal discs and crush his trachea.

I release my hold and stand up, watching in delight as the flesh on his skin turn a purplish hue. His arms no longer flail about, likely paralyzed from the neck down. How amusing. He is unable to move his hands to fan and suck in oxygen that he cannot consume. And with a mouth full of white foam, his eyes go still. Unconscious likely, will suffocate completely in a dozen more seconds. And now for the bastard that attempted to hang me.

I look up the railing and hear another blood curling scream, and then two figures fall over the railing, one male, the other female. I blink and it's Yomi and Raizen! The two grapple as I approach, and then I find myself elbowed in the jaw, staggering me back. Argh!

I trip over my feet and fall right by my magnum revolver. I reach forward and grasp it, *BANG* a gunshot thunders behind me, flashing the room for a second. I feel a hand grasp my back and I immediately spin around, grasping both of his legs, pinning them together, and driving Yomi to the cold metallic ground. I quickly hover the barrel of my Smith & Wesson 29 over his forehead, yelling "What sent you here?! Why Yomi?! WHY?!" "Shuichi…" I hear softly. I blink…Yusuke. "Oh my God!" I cry out, immediately dropping my revolver out of sheer horror. My demonic heart beats at a hyperactive pace as I pant in relief that I avoided executing my dearest, closest friend. I feebly mutter "Yusuke…I'm…I thought you were Yomi…" Yusuke smiles weakly, his face caked in sweat, his hands caked in blood. He replies "I thought you were Kurama." "I'm so so sorry! I'm so sorry I put a gun to your head," I cry out, on the verge of tears. Yusuke smiles painfully, his smile searing through me. He replies "No harm done fox boy. Now get up, you need to lay off the microwavable fried chicken."

I earnestly laugh and oblige his request, my relief palpable. It seems that we developed an at least partial immunity to the hallucinations in this foul, wretched shithole. I notice that his hair has elongated to his Mazoku form. I mutter "Your hair..." Yusuke sighs and says "I know, stress reaction I guess. Another reason to kill every fucking asshole in this vault."

I stare at the corpse of the long-haired dark skinned African-looking female dressed in a brown scavenger vest littered with pockets, grey jeans, and brown work boots with holes in them, blood spraying out of the bottom of her neck. I study her fac…oh my! "Yusuke, was this your work?" I ask, taken aback by what remains of her eyes. I turn to him and study his hands…his thumbs completely soaked in blood. He gouged her eyes in. Yusuke…

He speaks "This stuff in the air…I…I thought she was…" "The…woman you…shot at the supermarket?" I ask, a slight frown on my lips. "Botan," Yusuke replies. Oh. He elaborates "She was saying…these things…I lost it. I snapped. And her eyes were burning into me, so I just reacted…" "What did she say?" I ask, worried to know the answer. He refuses to gaze at me. Yusuke speaks "Things…that I…uh…was nothing more than a slave to Spirit World, and that with it gone, I had no more reason to live. So I should just blow my brains out. She then…said other things…fuck-ups that happened, stuff that I think were fuck-ups…I'm sorry to scare you, man. I just lost it. I…never meant to think of Botan like that…I just…lost it. I feel like complete shit for just thinking about it."

I place my right hand on his shoulder and say "Just a hallucination. The work of some parasite or another. There is still a possibility that Spirit World still remains." Yusuke laughs and says "Do you even believe it?" I truthfully answer "No, but I still intend to send every slobbering imbecile in this vault toward Koenma's general direction." My teeth grit as I recall my foul hallucinations. I clutch my fists, holster my revolver, and draw my jian. Yusuke rises to his feet and holsters his revolvers. He bends down to reach the baseball bat left behind by 'Kyoushu'. As his spiky hedgehog-like hair scrapes against his rear, Yusuke asks "Was this you?" I speak "The gunshot to the shoulder was yours. I take credit for the rest. Is he still alive?" Yusuke kicks the man's head and then asks "No, why?" I reply "I wasn't quite sure of how well I crushed his trachea." Yusuke stares at me with slight sadness, and speaks "Your hair has gotten silver again." "Stress reaction," I reply, to which he smiles once again, weakly. "You have to show me that move, Kurama," he says, staring at 'Kyoushu's corpse'. I nod, and suddenly my ears pick up a faint chorus of frantic footsteps.

"Seems I have plenty of volunteers for a second demonstration!" I yell, my blood boiling, my jian at the ready. Yusuke stands by my right side, baseball bat gripped tightly. Neither of us wish to offer these feral animals the gift of a painless death. "Steady…" I command, attempting to count the footsteps, staring at the long winding hallway from this 'plaza' that we are standing in. At least half a dozen. "Steady…" I repeat…the first turn the corner, female, Latina, armed with a machete and dressed in a jumpsuit. Another, with a tire iron, male, Latino, stunted height, short black hair and a thick moustache. Also in a jumpsuit. Two more, both female, Caucasians, armed with baseball bats and dressed in tattered Wasteland clothing. One more, male, Caucasian, and then another, female, Caucasian. The first breaches the doorway to the plaza. I yell "Slot or shatter the bastards, I don't care! Just make them suffer!" "FUCKIN' 'A!" Yusuke yells out, our war cries giving these babbling idiots pause.

I see you, you piece of shit! "No one will leave flowers on your grave!" I hear Keiko laughing psychotically, armed with a medieval war axe, like Bui used to carry. This is just an illusion, this is just an illusion! And I'm going to fucking rip out the throats of everyone in on this joke! Keiko swings the axe down, I side step to the left. I drive my right boot hard on the hilt of the axe, pinning it down. I then wind up, yell "FUCK YOU!" and bash in the forehead of whoever the fuck she is. 'Keiko' falls on her back, her legs stiff as logs. I go for a double and swing the bat down, getting another nice crunch from the skull. "WHO'S NEXT?!" I yell, feeling like I am the Grim fucking Reaper himself, the one in the books and bibles I mean. I look left, and some leviathan demon is grappling for Kurama's sword, hitting buttons on his Pip-Boy. Music starts playing, creepy piano cords, as Kurama kicks the shithead back and slashes his sword so hard across the demon's lips that I think I heard his neck snap. The demon's head twists to his left, as he crumbles on his back. "RUN FROM THE LIGHT!"

War drums and gothic guitar chords sound off, and my dick gets hard thinking of the shitheads I'm going to kill. Two worm demons, each carrying wooden clubs. They attack at the same time. I duck under a club and jab the handle of my bat into the gut of the asshole on the right, pushing her back. I then use my right hand to elbow the demon on the left in the worm mouth, giving him some of the handle too. Demon on the right is closing back in, I give her a kick to the kneecap, give her something to think about. She falls backwards, and I'm left to focus on the prick right in front of me. Another horizontal club swing, another moment of me ducking my head. I swing my bat right to left against the standing worm demon's left leg. That's a triple! He goes to his knees, screaming something that I don't want to listen to. Going for the fucking cycle! I wind up my swing, his neck working as a nice ball tee. I swing as hard as I fucking could, and it's gone! Along with the upper part of his head, some skull and brain stuff, and a quarter of my wooden bat.

I feel like I'm slipping, into a murderous blood haze. I feel my Mazoku skin marks pulsating, and I can suddenly see the heartbeats of everyone around me. And the one on the right, oh she's scared alright. I see the worm demon crawl backwards, yelling "Stop it Mommy! Stop hurting me!" I drive the pointy, broken, jagged end of my bat into her neck, and snuff out her heartbeat, and it's like my brain is rewarding me with good feelings. "Your eyes, black like an animal!"

I turn to Kurama and find that he has hacked and slash his way past the other two demons. I see him sniffing, his Kitsune eyes turning to the hallway. He sees it too. Heartbeats. Assholes. I'll kill them. I'll fucking kill them all! "Deep in the water…" I grab the machete on the ground and charge the hallway, Kurama at my side. And it's as if the whole vault, the whole Wasteland, the whole world, has turned into a haze, and I have become the avenging angel of fucking death himself.

Now they're sending bare chested demon and human men and women in faceless masks. And they charge us, and we charge them, and I hear Kurama yell "WE'LL MAKE A FEAST FOR THE FLIES!" A dark skinned human man without a face comes at me with a knife. I shoulder charge him and shove him against a wall, grab his head, bash it nice and red against the glass, and then take my machete and carve out his gut right to left, spilling his guts on my shoes. "And care for no one but the offspring…of your…might…"

A faceless white man and a faceless female blue-skinned ice demon come at me with scythes and swords. I step back from a downward scythe swing as I see Kurama's sword flash in my peripheral vision. Another flash, this time cutting a quarter of the way through the white human's neck, turning it red very fast. He falls to his knees and grabs his neck, as the ice demon winds up another scythe swing. I hear a thud from the human Kurama just scratched off as I block the left-to-right scythe swing with my machete. "Run from the one who…comes to find you…" I kick the shit out of her heels, send the ice demon to the ground, flat on her back, and lift the machete up and DOWN AND DOWN AND DOWN! And I can taste her fucking blood on my lips, and eyes sting. And another heart beats for the last time, and my hands shake and my jaw aches and my eyes snap left and right as Kurama and I give these fucking jokers A REAL ILLUSION!

"Wait for the night that…comes to hide…" I watch the detective slit the throat of a Turkish Janissary of Mehmed the Second's invading army. The dew of the Wallachian grassy flatlands crease against my calf skin boots reinforced with iron plating. My lamellar hauberk is awash with blood, as I saw down through the upper left shoulder and mailed chestplate of a Turkish Sipahi armed with a scimitar. I saw to the navel, my bastard sword sharp as ever, and kick his corpse off my blade, watching Yusuke slay another of Mehmed's petty pawns with his falchion, a clean cut through the left hand. Death from blood loss should occur in a minute or so. I must admit, Yusuke looks quite the bravado in his chainmail hauberk, his sigil of the Phoenix flashing across his breastplate, reflecting the moonlight rays. "Your eyes black like an animal…" I shout with my withered grasp of Old Romanian "Ciorile vor fi ospăț bine in seara asta!" The crows will indeed have much to caw at! "Black like an animal…"

What a lovely fiery sight the Ottoman military encampment makes for! There is scarcely a tent not engulfed in an inferno. I can only frown at all the fine vintages consumed by the blaze. Perhaps I will take my sorrows out on this trio of stumbling, routing peasant infantry, brandishing daggers and woven giant hats. One, a dark skinned gentleman wielding a rather ornate dagger stands and challenges, I believe his hilt bespecked in semi-precious stones. I desire it. An optimistic stab at my neck that I easily avoid with a simple backwards weave of my head, and I swing my bastard sword right to left almost perfectly horizontally into his waist. I saw an inch shy of the navel, and then pull my sword out backwards, feeling resistance from his body fat, as the peasant screams and joins the multitude of freshly anointed ghosts. "Crossing the water…"

I feel youthful once again. Youthful, indestructible. The foul nightmare of my childhood lingering as nothing more than a shadow. I am a Lord. A commander. I own thousands of acreage. My subjects worship and fear me as a God! Even my voivode, my warlord, Vladislav the Third of House Drăculești, Vlad the Impaler, even he has considered me as a candidate to marry into his powerful House, if only deterred by my mercenary origins.

"Lead them to die!"

NO! STOP! I cannot…how many have I killed?! Enslaved?! Raped?! Living this psychopath's fantasy! Stop this! This illusion is a lie! I am not this man anymore! I AM NOT THIS MAN ANYMORE!

My entire right arm is so red with blood that the handle of my machete wants to slip out like wet soap. The drums of the soundtrack of whatever the fuck this is, they are pushing me on, hungrier and more pissed off than ever. What am I doing? Two faceless ogres, one green, the other gold, they both grab onto Kurama, beating down on him with clubs. I slit the throat of the kneeling stag demon in front of me and go help fox boy.

The gold one turns to me first, I bury my machete so deep into her skull that I just lost my grip of it, the blade lodged in her head, splitting halfway through. I get a kick to the gut and I trip over a corpse, the stag demon I think, landing on her legs, the gold ogre fall down on me, pinning my legs. I watch Kurama swing like a dancer with his Chinese sword right to left, trying to decapitate. The green ogre ducks and waits until Kurama has his back to the ugly faceless fuck. The green ogre slides his arms over Kurama's arms and behind his neck, locking in the full nelson hold.

I try to shove the dead ogre off me, damn she is heavy. Shit…shit, green piece of crap got the hold locked in tight, damn this…I reach for the machete right in front of me. I start wrenching it out, pull…Kurama bends forward, drops his sword, moves his hips to the left, and steps his right foot between the ogre's planted legs. What is he…Kurama extends his right arm toward the ogre's right leg…he hooks his right arm around the ogre's right knee…does the same with the left arm almost immediately afterwards…he is lifting the ogre off his feet…slammed the ogre on his ass, ogre still holding in the full nelson, but weaker.

"We press for the water, press for the river, press for the rain."

I watch Kurama use his right arm to elbow the shit out of the ogre's face, breaking free of the full nelson hold. Kurama gets back up, his golden Kitsune Yoko eyes lost, like he is in some kind of blood-crazed trance. Fox boy is hyperventilating, his neck bulging a bit…he winds his right foot back…and soccer kicks the ogre in the left side of his head. The ogre turns around onto his stomach, yelling in pain. A second later, I see Kurama lift his left leg up…

"We press for the water, press for the river, press for the pain."

He curb stomped him. I heard the ogre's skull crack open. And it's like a part of me is trying to claw me out of this blood haze. What are we doing…? More of them. Four more. Just go away. Please…

"We press the wateeer (press for)." I slash a demon male across the chest. "We press for the rivvveer!" I teep kick with my left foot against a slightly tanned skinned human male. "We press for the wateeer (press for)." Kurama grips his jian like a one-handed thrusting spear and spins on his left toes, cutting up a female demon's chest and half decapitating a male demon. "We press for the rivvveer!" He turns to the two I'm fighting with, slashes the back of the ankles of the demon male, and drives his jian directly up from the bottom of the human male's head, exiting the sword through the top of the human's head. The human's eyes bulge as his body shakes, and with a flick of the wrist, Kurama pulls his sword back and splits the head half open like a coconut, raining blood and brains everywhere. I just drive my machete cleanly into the demon's neck and call it a day. I pull my machete out and let the demon fall face forward. I am tired. What are we doing?

A flash. *BANG*. Glass window breaks. I drop my machete and quickly draw my revolvers. Some human female in silk white robes, wearing a black reaper mask. She's inside some medical laboratory. I fire at her, missed, missed, she turned fucking invisible! I keep shooting…missed…hear a thud!

Kurama wipes broken glass off the window frame with his jian and vaults into the medical lab. He turns to the side and hits something with his left fist, a button I think. The metal door slides open and I step inside. Yeah, a medical lab. I see a streak of blood on the floor and this weird discoloration. A rifle, Mosin-Nagant, right under an empty operating table, a foot away from the discoloration. I see x-rays, cabinets and desks full of random guns, food, junk, even a hole in the wall stretching into the cavern. We approach the weird discoloration. It smells normal again. Like gun smoke and blood and piss and bullshit. I hear groaning. The discoloration looks like it is reaching for the rifle. I watch Kurama approach and press a button on his Pip-Boy. He says "Chelsea Wolfe…Feral Love. Never heard of them. Regardless, we need no distractions for this…"

Kurama steps down on the discoloration and speaks "Reveal yourself." The discoloration yells in pain and morphs, and it's as if there was some kind of weird cloaking device. A woman in a white lab coat with a Vault 106 jumpsuit underneath, with shoulder length black hair and onion colored skin, wearing a black gas mask. I noticed that the overhead ceiling lights are flickering a bit. Kurama puts his blood soaked right boot under the gas mask and starts prying it off. The woman yells in Maryland accented English "Alright, stop it! Take it easy, take it easy!" She pulls the gas mask off. Southeast Asian, with thin black eyebrows, bangs over her forehead, a round jaw and high cheekbones. Her eyes are thin and wide, and her nose has cotton stuffed in the nostrils.

Kurama coldly stalks "Are you fond of hallucinations madam? I used to be quite skilled in them myself. I once had a…something less than a man, subjected to the most nightmarish hallucinations until the end of his days, which, quite frankly may not ever come. Alas, I must make do with a freshly sharpened sword and a rusted crowbar. So madam, shall we hallucinate that you once wore a face?" The woman yells "Woah, woah, hold on! Look, I don't know what the fuck you went through, I just stumbled in here like you two did, some pre-war guy named Albert Leris ran this place. Go ask one of the skeletons, they'll direct you to him."

Kurama stomps on the woman's wounded right arm again, causing her to yell. She says "I'm speaking honest with you! Go read the notes in that computer over there, by those x-rays! I just came here for a scavenge run, snuck past most of the crazies with my Stealth Boy. If I hadn't brought my gas mask I'd be running around naked and humping lightbulbs like the rest of those freaks." Her voice is raspy, hoarse. She sounds raiderish.

Kurama asks "And how, by chance, did you stumble upon all of this salvage, when most of the lunatics were fortunate to wear clothing?" The woman smiles really nervously, showing her teeth. The kind of smile that one shows when they want to say "I ain't dangerous" but don't got the nerve to say it. She says "Hey, sometimes one of the freaks takes out the other one. Sometimes they lie on the floor sleeping. I just take and go." "And hibernate like a chipmunk forever?" I ask. Something doesn't add up.

Kurama lets go of her arm and kicks the Mosin-Nagant further out of reach. He approaches a panel with four screens and speaks "Security cameras. You seen us enter…" "Yeah, so? Not like I could have sent out an S.O.S.!" she replies, like she is talking for her life. Kurama asks "So, do you sleep with a gas mask on?" "Well, yeah, I uh…got used too…" she starts screaming as Kurama breaks her right arm with a foot stomp. "Fuck, fuck! You broke it! You fucking broke it!" she yells, grabbing her right arm with her left hand. Kurama stares toward a corner, and I see it too. A giant ass…naked mole rat? In a dog cage, trying to claw its way out. A wooden stake on top of the cage has the name 'Jackie' written in black marker. Her pet rat, I take it.

Kurama stands over her head and says "Lie to me once again and I will make this last for days." His golden eyes look stone dead, like he is already planning out an itinerary for the woman. She cries "What the fuck do you want me to say?! I was scouting for shit, I found shit, I lived in said shit!" Kurama screams, his eyes almost bulging "You lure wanderers and then drive them to madness! And then once filched of their sanity, you rob them of everything else! Less than the hyenas that call themselves raiders, you are nothing but a foul, wretched vulture!" "LOOK I'M SORRY! I'll make it up for you…c'mon what do you say? I know people, they got caps. Lots of caps! Please, it was a joke! Just a joke!" I can see the way his eyes twitch to know that that was the worst thing she could have said to Kurama, and I'm on his level here. This fucking bitch thinks that what I saw was…just a joke?! JUST A JOKE?!

I walk around, scanning the junk all over the place. Something catches my eyes. I walk up to it…a blue framed sporty crossbow. Labeled as the Sabertooth 10A. The company logo says 'Barnett Crossbows'. It has an ACOG sight and even a holder for spare bolts.

A crossbow…

I ask "You, whatever the fuck your name is, where this come from? You with those raiders on the overpass?" She lifts her head up, stares at me for a second, and then says "Woah, no! I ain't with those raiders on that overpass if that's who you two are hunting. Some guy came here with that crossbow. Shit, you two probably killed him. And the name's Tammy."


I say "Tammy Forteza?!" Her eyes light up, like she could almost smile. Now she's smiling, looking relieved. She says "Fuck me, you with Zoe Stampanato?! Sorry about that, I thought she forgot about me!" "Zoe Stampanato is dead," Kurama says, still looking pissed off. "Wha…what? What happened?" Tammy asks. I say "Remember that Brazilian guy named Jericho? Guilherme Manglice or something like that." "Jericho popped Zoe?! The fuck happened?" Tammy asks. I reply "No, Jericho helped us collect on Zoe. One of our guys ripped her neck out with a crowbar." And just like that, she's back to begging for her life. I add "Kinda like how we took out the raiders at the overpass. The one near the Reston ruins."

"You're…Regulators…" she says, barely able to say the words. She then adds "Please man, take it easy on me! I just did scavenging and cataloging, I didn't do shit!" Kurama angrily says "What did I mention about lying to me?" Tammy screams "I'M FUCKING SERIOUS!" Yet at the end, I can hear a little hesitation in her, she's having a hard time keeping eye contact with Kurama.

I say "We're bounty hunters." "Who the hell put a bounty on me? No one knows me!" Tammy yells again, her voice getting really hoarse from all that yelling. Kurama replies "No one did. I just wish to kill you." He says it like he just ordered breakfast at the Brass Lantern. "Why?! What the fuck did I ever do to you?!" Kurama raises an eyebrow and says "Besides shooting us? I noticed a lack of hallucinogenic gas in this location. I doubt the mask could filter sufficiently. No, I would wager that somewhere in this room is a switch or a control that manual activates and deactivates your foul mist. Perhaps I will toss you outside and test my hypothesis right now…"

"C'mon guys! Be reasonable! Please, look, wait! Wait! I'll…I'll…" she stutters like she's fishing for something to say. Tammy continues "I'll suck your cocks. Both of you!" "What?" Kurama and I say at the exact same time. She stares at Kurama, her body shaking, her teeth clattering. Kurama grits his teeth and says "It has been centuries since I encountered such a loathsome, pathetic creature as yourself."

I hear laughing and whining noises from outside. Gripping my revolvers, I turn around and stare through the window. Two more crazies, an Asian woman in a survivalist vest and ripped grey jeans, shoulder length dark brown hair with a widow's peak, and a tanned skinned Mediterranean looking man with slick black hair flowing over his ears, dressed in a jumpsuit. Both carrying something, looks like police batons. I whistle and say "Kurama, two more of the guys." "Deal with them," he coldly says. I say "It's not their fault they went apeshit…" "Are they armed?" Kurama asks. "Police batons, but yeah," I emotionlessly say. "Are they approaching us?" he continues. "Yeah," I repeat. "Then deal with them. I want no distractions right now," he repeats, sounding colder then Hokkaido. "Whatever," I say. It'll probably be a mercy anyway.

I let them come closer, whistling a bit to myself, to drawn their attention. They babble about something, drooling, can't really hear what they are muttering. I steady the aim of my left handed revolver and track the middle between the Asian woman's eyes. She's almost at the broken window. *BANG* Between the eyes, letting her go down easy. I aim at the guy next, steadying my hand at the head. My fingers are so slippery from all the blood, I almost dropped my left handed revolver when I pulled the trigger. *BANG* Missed. *BANG* Missed again, keep going for the head…maybe grazed his left ear. I press the trigger again, empty. Left handed revolver again. *BANG* Got him in the nose, he goes down. Sorry people. I empty my revolvers and let the casings bounce off the floor. I go to work reloading the cylinders when I hear metal scraping behind me. I slam the cylinders back in for both revolvers and give each a small spin.

What am I fucking doing?

I turn around, and Kurama has the mole rat cage on top of Tammy, the gate of the cage opened and pressed against Tammy's abdomen. I watch the mole rat, like the size of a small basset hound, move around the cage, walking over her stomach. I hear Tammy say "What, what are you…please man leave Jackie alone! She didn't do anything! SHE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!" "I don't care," Kurama says, and suddenly I notice the blowtorch in his left hand. What is he fucking doing?

"Wait, wait, WAIT! STOP! IT WAS A JOKE, A JOKE!" she yells as Kurama turns on the blowtorch, a burning blue flame at the tip. "Indeed. It is all a joke. It always has been," Kurama says, frowning a bit, his jaw clenching. He presses the flame against the top of the cage…it's freaking on fire. I smell burning gasoline…there, some plastic container. The flames flicker and the smoke makes my eyes water, and I hear Tammy yell "WAIT! PLEASE! I'M SORRY I'M SORRY I'M SORRY! JACKIE WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" I go for a closer look.

Kurama is scaring Tammy's pet mole rat into eating her way through her owner…this is sick. This is fucking sick. Rat torture. Like in American Psycho. No, no, fucking stop this. What are you doing? "What are you doing?" I ask, speaking as cold as he did earlier. "Settling a debt," Kurama replies, not even looking at me. He's tricking an animal into eating its way through the woman. No, it's worse than that. He's forcing her fucking pet to eat her guts out! Her fucking pet…I scream "WHAT-THE FUCK ARE YOU…DOING?!" He turns to me, his golden eyes reflecting the burning flames, his mouth open and his teeth looking like they are about to break from how his jaw clenches. "So you have come to judge me too?! You and Walter?!" Kurama yells.


All I can hear are Tammy's screams and cries for someone to help her. Kurama just shakes his head and hoarsely asks "So you suggest we just let her go?" I yell "I think it might be too fucking late for that now!" "HELP! ARGH! AHH! STOP IT! STAAAAAAAAHP!"

Kurama just snarls and looks away from me. I hoarsely mutter "Shuichi…" Kurama's arms tighten. He yells "So you believe that you can just say my human name, and suddenly I am swayed by feelings of mercy?!" I feel my fingers slipping from the blood as I clench my fists. I yell back "Well it kept you from blasting a fucking hole in my head!" Kurama just looks down, seething, shaking his head. He says "She lured me into a dark, dark place." "And you think she didn't do the freaking same to me?!" I yell. I turn to Tammy. "FUCK THIS!" I yell again, taking action for fucking once here.

I walk to the left side of the cage and kick it off Tammy. Jackie the mole rat runs out and towards Kurama's feet. I stomp on her tail with my left foot and euthanize the rat with my right handed revolver. Kurama doesn't say anything. I turn to Tammy, her body convulsing. Half her insides have been eaten through…I can look into the insides of her intestines. I should have stopped this horseshit earlier. I kneel at her chest, stick my left handed revolver's barrel at her forehead, and say "Sorry." I pull the trigger, close my eyes, hear her brains blown out, feel a spray of blood on my face. No more convulsions. I open my eyes, and suddenly I take my right handed revolver and shoot another bullet into her head. And then my left revolver. And my right. And left…and right…AND LEFT…AND RIGHT!

"Yusuke stop!" I feel Kurama's hands sliding around my waist, lifting me off her. I taste blood mixed with my tears, I can barely see anymore. "Stop this, enough, she is dead. I'm sorry. I crossed a line…you were right, just stop this," he says, sounding guilty. Sounding like Shuichi again. I want to clean my tears but my hands are covered in fuck knows how many people's blood. I reach my right hand, pretending to aim for his right shoulder for support, brushing my right forearm against his ears. They are normal again. He is Shuichi again.

I feel Kurama grabbing my shoulders with both hands, as if to try and calm me down. He says "It's over. It's done. No more hallucinations." I bury my head into his chest and keep crying. It feels so good to do that, after so long. To cry that my family is gone. That almost all my friends are gone. That my best friend and myself are going to suffer in this irradiated shithole until we drop dead from dehydration or some stray bullet or worse. It just feels good to cry. I wish I can stay like this forever, resting against his chest, just like that.

Chapter Text

The gas has completely dissipated. The broken window has been boarded shut with duct tape, a nail gun, and scavenged sheets of plywood. The shards of broken glass have been swept aside. And the corpse of Tammy Forteza and her pet mole rat have been moved to the plaza, along with most of the other bodies. The smell of death and burning gasoline has mercifully subsided. Yusuke and myself even took pains to wash the blood off the floor, after we washed our hands and faces clean of blood using the medical lab sink. The effort calmed ourselves, kept our minds preoccupied, which was pleasant.

After we concluded disposal, we went to cataloging Tammy Forteza's trove of salvage. An assortment of rifles, pistols, revolvers, shotguns, knives of various sizes, blunt weapons of various sizes, grenades, C4, spare weapon parts, and even a medieval styled poleaxe and what Yusuke referred to as an 'RPG' rounded out our list of weaponry. Dozens upon dozens of various caliber ammunitions followed suit. We also found three complete sets of reinforced combat armor similar to those owned by the Talon Company Mercenaries. We found cabinets stocked with a couple dozen microwavable meals, a refrigerator stocked with Nuka-Cola, beer, and American, French, and Italian wine, Grey Goose vodka and 'Kraken' rum, which was a very pleasant surprise, assortments of junk salvage ranging from children's toys to rubber truck tires, and a cabinet full of Stimpaks, RadAway, Rad-X, painkillers, Adderall tins, and military grade morphine, six syringes. The only nightmare remaining today, is the logistical route we will take to carry all our salvage to Arefu, still a mile or so away.

If only I could find a means to excuse myself for an hour without causing Yusuke concern. I will wait, regardless of my cravings for that euphoric warmth. I owe the man at the very least that. And much, much more.

A thick and freshly washed, with irradiated water but regardless, carpet serves as a mat for us to rest on. It is slightly damp in parts, but the hot plate we used to dry out the carpet mercifully avoided singing the mat. Our dusters are removed, our belts removed, and our vests removed, my vest soaked in Yusuke's tears and the blood of all those we were 'spurred' to kill. So many corpses, what have we been doing indeed? At the least this monstrosity, this…orgy of violence, has been contained in these walls. Yusuke…

I stare at our dinner. A plate of highly preserved grilled salmon, heated with an electric hot plate, on a white ceramic plate, accompanied with kidney beans served in a tin and bleached rice boiled in a pot over an electric hot plate. Yusuke glares at his meal of microwavable country fried chicken heated over a hot plate and glazed with white gravy, accompanied by sweet corn and mashed potatoes, served also on a white ceramic plate. We both have been blessed to find forks, knives, and glassware, which we promptly cleaned with sink water and Abraxo cleaner. We both are holding cups of red wine poured out of a bottle of Barolo, from Novara, Italy apparently. I only hope that the age and exposure to the elements has not reduced its taste to grape vinegar. For dessert, a jar of honey, slightly heated to return it to a flowing, viscous form. Two metal spoons are currently lodged inside the jar. I bring the tumbler glass of red wine to my lips and sip.

Somewhat too acidic for my taste, but better than I expected. I nod at Yusuke, who sips as well, almost gagging at the taste. I say nothing of the matter, simply taking a second sip, which Yusuke matches. Our picnic within the medical lab smells of a choking cocktail of old wine, old salmon, gravy, and the cigarettes we left in the ashtray just next to the carpet. Wouldn't be prudent to set the carpet on fire, it was difficult enough to put out the flames on the mole rat cage. My doing, I am keen to remind myself of. I grasp my fork and plunge into the edge of the grilled salmon.

I tear a piece off and swallow…almost burning my tongue. The lemony salmon taste is sickeningly strong, but I am too hungry to vocally complain. Perhaps the kidney beans would be gentler…indeed they are. I sample the rice. It is rice, a little hard to the teeth but edible nonetheless. One more sip of wine. We have a bottle to drink through, and then a few more afterwards. In time, I will be lulled in such an intoxicated stupor as to not complain of the taste.

We finish half our meal in remorseful, solemn silence. Well, remorseful at least for myself. I have acted akin to a savage this past week. Vindictiveness, cruelty, and arrogance. Apt words for my old House standard. Alongside intoxication and whoring. Ser Zbigniew Lis the Fox Knight of Eastern European. What a sordid embarrassment of a chapter of my life! And to think I promised to myself that I would never look to those memories with fondness.

Of all the hallucinations I suffered, the one that recreated the night assault on Târgovişte caught me most unawares. Ironically. It was not the battle itself that haunted me, but the aftermath. Ten thousand Turkish levies impaled on freshly oiled spears in an array along the highway leading to Târgovişte. A few thousand the work of my hand, and my subjects. More corpses to pile onto those I had executed in my old feudal lands of Giurgiu.

The horror of betraying my old friend Yomi already played through my mind, and Yusuke's immediate forgiveness after I aimed my revolver at his head set my mind at ease of the nonsense of him hanging me. But memories of Kurama the Bandit King of Gandara, and Ser Zbigniew 'Kurama' of House Lis, those memories were buried deep in my subconscious. They were almost exclusively memories of drunken pleasure, thievery, and pointless boasting by a hearth fire. And enough evil to fill hours of the Chapter Black videotape. To think of them now, after being reborn as Shuichi Minamino, after learning what love and compassion is, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. As awful as the salmon I'm consuming right now. I am unsure if Yusuke could comprehend the man I used to be. The man I, given the wine glass in my hand and the pile of corpses rotting in the plaza, may very well slip into. I only pray…bah…pray…I only hope that a bullet cradles itself comfortably within my brain before that reality comes to pass.

"Is old wine supposed to taste like this?" Yusuke asks, placing his cup aside and cutting a hearty piece of gravy coated chicken cutlet with fork and knife. I reply "If it has been improperly stored. Turns the taste to vinegar, I speak from experience." "I thought you only drink hard booze and sake," Yusuke asks. Sigh, he has a point. I reply "For the same reason I drink alone. It's an economical way to numb the memories. Yoko Kurama drinks wine. Shuichi Minamino drinks whiskey."

"Are you really two separate people inside there?" Yusuke asks, seeming pensive, as if he feared the question would cause offense. I warmly smile to ease his worry and reply "Perhaps I should have phrased my response better. I am one and the same. Yoko Kurama's soul fused with Shuichi Minamino's soul at Shuichi's birth. I have the memories of both. My personality in of itself is a result of life experiences, as is yours. I simply collected a prior life's experience, and all the baggage associated with it." "So when you turn into…Yoko Kurama…who am I speaking to?" Yusuke asks, scooping up mashed potatoes with his fork. I reply "Kurama, as always. Until I reached my old strength, Yoko Kurama could not manifest inside me. Once I reached my old strength, following your…death at the hands of Sensui, I could manifest Yoko Kurama almost at will. I do so as a psychological reaction to stress and a breakdown of my inhibitions."

Yusuke's eyes spell confusion. I elaborate further "I only become my old Kitsune form when my anger reaches a certain threshold. In this vein, Mukuro and myself are not all that dissimilar." Yusuke nods and replies "I think I understand now. Like how I would turn into Mazoku mode and my hair gets all fucked up." I speak "Likely the same. Humans and demons are both capable of tapping into hidden sources of strength when inhibitions break down, as a result of the 'fight or flight' question." "That's why no one should ever corner a fox?" Yusuke asks, with a smirking smile. I laugh slightly and reply "Indeed. Now, I believe I have enough wine for the moment. I will seek the water, or cola."

As I climb to my feet, Yusuke stares upwards and says "Shuichi Kurama Minamino, turning down a drink. We're living in interesting times." I smile and say "Oh don't worry, I will sip wine with you later. I just rather be sober when I cut your hair again. Wouldn't wish to trim one of your ears." I see Yusuke redden slightly, his left hand holding the glass of wine. He says "Oh yeah. Thanks man, I appreciate it." I turn toward the refrigerator and open it, collecting a bottle of Nuka-Cola. I press the tip of the bottle against the medical lab countertop and I angle my left palm over the sealed bottle cap. With a thrust, I pull off the bottle cap, chipping wood and drawing white smoke from the cola. I pocket the bottle cap and drink from the neck, somewhat more pleasant when chilled. Still causes my throat to burn.

We were halfway through our meals and my cola when Yusuke asked "So, when did you become such a wine guy?" I mull over my cola, staring glances at the bottle of Italian red wine, and answer "I am unsure if I mentioned this before. After I was freed from indentured servitude by my Essex Mykkerian warlord, and after I gained training and experience in combat, I joined the Vashnitak city guard, in Mykker, Gandara. Within a hundred and a change years, I was promoted to city watch captain. The magistrate saw me as a Kitsune that respects authority and his liege, while still willing to forsake honor for a service or two. I was horrendously corrupt, extorting local vendors, arresting locals for fabricated offenses and releasing them after I received a bribe. Occasionally I would dispose of a Kitsune or a spider demon or any other individual that ran afoul of my magistrate's goals. I nearly sparked a riot on my 4th year as captain, when I snapped the legs of a local Kitsune for eating a raw golbus, a Makai pigeon, in front of my sight, right off the street. I had a rather weak stomach and took offense to the act, which spoiled my appetite. Fifteen Kitsunes were killed in two separate brawls, a Leviathan demon was tossed out of the sixth floor window of a monastery on accusation that he was one of my spies, and over a dozen shops were looted, two razed to their foundations. I received a thousand lashings, was stripped of my rank, and was sentenced to fifty years imprisonment."

"A thousand lashings and fifty years? Jesus…" Yusuke mutters, frowning. I say "They even salted the whips that racked against my back. As for the jail sentence, I was released within a year regardless, and was kept isolated from all those I imprisoned before. I stored emergency gold for the off-chance I was arrested following a political power shift, though I did not expect my magistrate to imprison me to save face. She usually did not care for public image. Regardless, I was reinstated in rank, and kept under close scrutiny. So, I did what any corrupt bastard would do in my situation. I targeted traveling merchants and harassed them for 'tax revenue'. I even distributed the proceeds to my men and my magistrate, which was my first real taste of politics. After a couple hundred more years of captaining the guard, and drinking Makai wine and whoring my days away, I grew wanderlustful and set off for Human World."

"Wait, what…whoring?" Yusuke asks, raising an eyebrow, appearing incredulous. I sigh and say "I was quite the lustful creature in my youth. A day spent without a cup of spirit in my belly…and a mouth around my manly bits…was regarded as a day wasted." Yusuke bursts into laughter as I redden in shame.

After a while of silence, and us finishing our meals, aside from the honey, Yusuke asks "So, where'd you go in human world?" I answer "What is now known as Poland. In 1392 A.D. I was a sellsword hedge knight." Yusuke finishes his glass of wine and says "I remember you occasionally mentioned that when you were drunk, both here and back when…we were in Japan. I always wanted to ask about it." "How much did I say?" I ask. "Just that you were in Eastern Europe. What's up? What you do over there? Did you deal with kings and stuff like that? Tournaments?" Yusuke asks, his eyes full of curiosity. I weakly smile and say "There is a reason why I only mention that chapter of my life when drunk. Please, allow me to cut your hair first. Then we will discuss over wine and honey. It's a bitter, foul story, and I rather indulge myself to handle the taste."

Yusuke smiles warmly and says "C'mon, it can't be that bad. I have known you for years." I laugh slightly and say "Normally I would consider you naïve for saying so, given that I have lived for much more than years, but I do recall how I behaved today, and these past few days. That you would say such a thing knowing how vindictive I can be truly shows that you are a saint. For that, thank you." Yusuke shakes his head and says "You're my best fucking friend. Yeah, I've been freaked out by it, but I'm still here. Eating with you, drinking with you, hell, sleeping in the same shack with you. I'm not here to fucking judge you, just trying to keep you from going completely batshit crazy."

I laugh earnestly and take a sip of wine. I smile and reply "It is okay, I have acted the tyrant as of late. And I thank you for your words, they…are encouraging. Now, I believe I have a mane to cut."

Shirtless and in my socks and my grey stitched up pants, I sit down on a spinning seat cushion in front of the medical lab sink. I look at the mirror reflection of myself, my hair stretching out of view, my eyes red, my nose bleeding a little from a punch I took earlier. I take the piece of toilet paper in my right hand and blow into it, turning it a bit red. I toss the piece of toilet paper on the ground and say "Again Kurama, thanks." "Someone has to," Kurama says, as I watch his reflection wipe his jian clean with a white towel.

A day without booze and a fuck was a day wasted for him? How little you know a guy until you start asking him questions and get him drunk enough to answer them. Eh, well Atsuko was Atsuko, drinking and doing shit knows what with weirdos…along with painkillers and all the other crap she put in her body. I won't say anything. I didn't say anything when Kurama shot up morphine, why should I say anything about this? Hell, this even happened way back before there was even a Tokugawa Ieyasu. It's as ancient as Japanese Buddhism.

"Hold still," Kurama says, and I do that. I watch, in the mirror, his free left hand snake around behind me, and I feel something tightening my hair. I then watch his jian shine for a second before it disappears. I don't flinch, that would be insulting to the guy. I don't care what he did before, what he did in Medieval Europe, what he did in Gandara, what he did in Japan, what he did here. I do not flinch, I owe him that. One swipe, and I watch Kurama pull out literally three feet of black hair, like he just bagged a rabbit.

He sets the hair by my bloody toilet paper and lets it go, then returns to standing behind me. I feel him grab more tightly, his left elbow now visible. I see the tip of the blade sticking from the side of my head, and then a jerk of the right arm, and another chunk of hair is gone. "Yusuke, check if there are any scissors in the cabinets. I will inspect the cabinet by the operating table," Kurama says, sheathing his sword and dropping another foot of hair onto the ground. I lean forward and pull open the drawer, painkillers, some RadAway, bubblegum. I close, and open another cabinet…boxes of ammunition. "Found it," Kurama says. I turn around and watch him walk up with surgical scissors in his right hand. He says "I rather not trim the rest with a double edged sword."

"Were there scissors in Medieval Europe?" I ask, turning to face the mirror. I watch Kurama's reflection shake his head as he starts trimming the back of my hair. Fox boy says "We used daggers and shaving razors for that. A dagger to cut the length, and a razor to trim the hair on my forehead. For reference, I kept my Kitsune form back that. I had to crop my ears, which was rather painful, but I preferred not to draw the wrong sort of attention. People back then were quite the superstitious ones."

He cuts some of the long strands of fringe hair that hang down below my chin, one cluster at a time, shortening them to eyelash length. "What should I do with the fringe?" Kurama asks. "Leave everything above the eyes," I say, watching Kurama's reflection trim the rest of the fringe down to size.

After twenty minutes of Kurama's fingers holding my hair in place and fox boy trimming them down to human size, Kurama sets the pair of scissors down by the sink and says "There, that should be it." I take one look and say "Thanks, I appreciate it." I get up, turn on the faucet, and wash the loose hairs out of my head and face. I then grab a nearby roll of paper towel and wipe my face down. "Any more and I would have recommended using it for firewood," Kurama says, laughing a bit. Definitely a step up from feeding someone to her own pet rat. Don't, Yusuke. He's all you have left.

I return to our wine and honey on the floor as I hear Kurama wash his hands. I turn around and see that he has taken off his shirt and is squeezing out sweat over the sink. He turns around, tosses his shirt at our pile of upper body clothes, and sits down across from me. Kurama pulls out the cork on the bottle of Italian red and pours a little into his half empty glass, and then fills my empty glass to almost the top. He recorks the wine and says "So, where do you want me to begin?"

I take a deep gulp of the wine, it goes down better in bulk. Taking one of the spoons in the honey jar, I treat myself to some dessert. Swallowing, I ask "Why Poland?" "Because of my native tongue, Wessex Mykkerian. Which is almost identical to Polish," Kurama says. Huh? I say "I don't get it." Kurama sips on his wine and says "Ever wondered as to how my Japanese and English is so proficient?" I shrug my shoulders and say "You were raised, well, as Shuichi, in speaking Japanese, and like me, you took English in high school. Hell, you even went to college here in America for a few years, I just got so good in English because I liked learning the language, and needed at least some kind of edge in my resume." Kurama nods and says "True, there is that. Though I spoke English before I spoke Japanese. Yusuke, have you ever wondered what languages demons speak? And why so many speak Japanese or English?"

I take another spoonful of honey and say "It did cross my mind a few times. Why?" Kurama answers "Because English and Japanese, alongside Portuguese and Arabic, are the Makai trade languages. All demons with a modicum of intelligence are at least bilingual, and almost all Demon World tongues came either entirely or in pidgin version from Human World, through a conquering warlord or a confederacy of rulers. A Kitsune once traveled to Poland in the 900s, became quite powerful and wealthy there, brought treasures to Mykker, and used those treasures to fund, feed, and rule over an army and a vast tract of territory over the Kitsune lands. He also brought the Polish tongue to Mykker. Before that, the Kitsunes spoke a pidgin of Thai and Tamil. Hence why most of our cities and villages sport Indian-sounding names. And hence why I was raised to speak Old Polish. The Sussex Mykkerians spoke, and still speak, Croatian with now a few pockets of Romanian and Hungarian speakers. The Essex Mykkerians speak Old Russian with only the very elderly Kitsunes speaking Classical Armenian. The Mykkerian portion of Gandara itself used English as a trade language. As such, when I departed for Human World, I was fluent in Old Polish, Old Russian, and Middle English."

"So the Kitsunes were Polish or Slavic or something?" I ask, sipping on wine, suddenly remembering that I didn't finish my cigarette. I pick it off the ashtray and take a drag, exhaling. Kurama shakes his head and says "No, Kitsunes are Kitsunes. We simply adopted languages from Human World. Almost all demon species did so, usually at the behest of their warlords." Interesting. I ask "So, what do fire demons speak back at their home?" Kurama smiles a bit and says "You're referring to Hiei, I take it? This is rather complicated, given Hiei's history." He reaches for the ashtray too, taking his cigarette, taking a deep drag, exhaling. I nod and say "Yeah, I know. We got time." Kurama finally takes a spoonful of honey, swallows, sips some wine, and says "The fire demons speak Cantonese, though Hiei was never raised in their lands. His fellow group of bandits lived in the Alaric. Over there, Nordic and Baltic languages are predominate, alongside a few scattered cities and strongholds that speak in the Bantu languages of Africa, such as Lingala and Zulu. Hiei's group spoke Eastern Finnish, Savonian Finnish, I believe it is called, as does Hiei…did…"

We frown at the same time. I rather ask all the questions now to get it over with. "What about Mukuro? And Yomi? And Raizen?" I ask. Kurama takes another spoon of honey and says "Mukuro spoke Lithuanian. Yomi spoke Thai. And Raizen spoke Old Farsi. That is alongside all the other languages they learned over the centuries. It is considered that a demon that does not know his or her native tongue is a snake not to be trusted, while a demon that only knows his or her native tongue is a lowly peasant yokel to be viewed as such." So it looks like racism and nationalism ain't just a human thing after all. I ask "And the Koorime? Must be an old language given how isolated they are…were…who the fuck knows?" Kurama nods and says "Precisely, Yusuke. The Koorime speak a very old variant of Latin."

"Interesting Kurama, thanks," I say, processing it all. So demons have been active in human world for that long, huh? Kurama nods at me as if he read my mind and asks "So, what do you wish to know now? I am surprised we haven't gotten into the invasive questions already." I snort and say "Hey, we still got a couple more bottles of wine to go." Kurama laughs, showing his teeth as he laughs. They are red with wine. He takes his glass and finishes the whole drink in one go. I follow his lead and down the whole drink at once…whew that was better. Give me beer or sake. Fuck, give me whiskey, better than this crap.

Kurama pours into my glass and then pours the rest into his. Raising the glass up, he says "One down, two to go." I clang my glass to his and say "A-freaking-men." We start chugging half the glass in seconds. I stop, wipe my lips, starting to feel woozy. Smoking, wine, and 100 degree nuclear bunkers don't mix, or do, depending on what you want, heh. I'm starting to see Kurama's skin redden a bit. He wipes his lips with his left forearm and says "I once was dared to drink a liter of rakiya, a Serbian type of brandy. It was at a whorehouse in Konigsberg, now the city of Kaliningrad. I drank the entire flask within a dozen or so seconds. Woke the next day in a blacksmith's forge, smelling of soot. Absolutely no recollection of what happened in-between."

I can't help myself, I start laughing at the image of Kurama passed out like a dumb jock doing a party trick, oh shit I'm crying from how funny that sounds. Kurama laughs with me, saying "Oh I was young back then. Demons are considered adults at a very early age, though as you can see, and as you can attest to, maturity is not something that is simply granted when you hit a certain age. And then there is the part that such behavior was, depending on the locality, rather tolerated. In the Teutonic Lands…not so much. Did not return for years, to be safe."

Yeah right, funny, jerk. So, since we're stepping into that territory, I ask "When you first got to Human World, what sort of crap did you do?" "Collect gold coins," Kurama replies, without skipping a beat. "Like Sonic the Hedgehog?" I bite back. Kurama chuckles a bit and says "I stepped into that one." He stares at his glass of wine, drink from it for a few seconds, sighs, and says "I was a tall, slender man with silvery hair, silk clothing, and an 18 inch sword made of brittle iron. And nothing else of value in Medieval Poland. I immediately sought mercenary work, which was much more difficult than you'd likely imagine. Nevertheless, my grasp of Old Polish allowed me to maneuver around the town of Wieliczka and learn of two distinct occupational opportunities for a man such as myself. Mining salt, and hunting bandits. Guess on your third try which option I pursued."

I take another spoonful of honey and say "I don't know, all that World of Warcraft you used to play has me wondering." Kurama laughs and says "What an absolute waste of time…regardless, a dozen or so bounties collected, and I owned enough zlots to outfit myself with chainmail armor and a steel bastard sword. Then I traveled to Krakow, when I discovered that Wladyslaw the Second of House Jagiello, the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania, was hosting a feast with his Lithuanian allies in the very city. Lists were created and jousts were arranged. I lacked the horse, the lance, and the experience to attend, but I later learned of a melee in which any local idiot may enter and receive a broken neck. I entered, broke the legs of three Livonian sellswords and paralyzed a local watchman, and earned a purse of 200 zlots. That was the currency used in Poland, that and Italian florins. Afterwards, one of the men I bested in the melee introduced himself as Casimir, offered to buy me a mug of ale, and directed me to the…seedier parts of Krakow."

We both take healthy gulps of wine, almost done with our glasses. I nod to show that I am listening. Kurama looks down, shakes his head, and then looks back to me. He says "I at first thought this man meant to poison me and steal my reward, so I planned various means to dispose of him and strip his corpse of valuables. Instead, Casimir brought me to a whorehouse. He bought me the mug of ale as promised, and I tasted it and found it lacking of any toxins. I doubted any human toxins could kill me anyway. Regardless, after a second and third mug of ale, I learned of the Teutonic Order's past hostilities in the region, the Mongolian incursions into Old Rus, and the machinations of the Holy Roman Empire in pitting the Teutonic Knights against the lands I stood on. Later that night, I then learned of the various ways a blonde female whore could bend her legs."

I start cracking up as he talks, shaking my head. Kurama adds "That became my life, on that day. Travel, find a melee or capture a bandit, or sign onto a raid against a group of outlaws, clash blades and collect zlots and florins, and drink and rut my wealth away. Saving just enough for better armor, then a horse, then I paid a retired jouster, a Bohemian named Ser Vaclav, for lessons. Then I alternated between the melees and the jousts, gradually become more skilled at the latter. I traveled throughout the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, to Kievan Rus and Novgorod, to the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Denmark. From Moscow to Aarhus. From Riga to Buda. And then one day, while I found myself deep in a bottle of German wine in the port city of what was then called Danzig, now called Gdansk, in northern Poland, I heard rumblings of renewed hostilities between the Teutonic Order and the Polish-Lithuanian Union. And conveniently for myself, Danzig was both a Teutonic stronghold and a mercenary recruitment center. I signed on as a freerider, alongside two Prussians and a dozen of the most ruthless Swedish warriors I ever had the pleasure of encountering. We merged with a dozen mounted Silesian mercenaries, Silesians are a German ethnic group, and then were put under the command of a Bohemian fourth son of some powerful noble house from Praha, named Ser Conrad of House…I do not recall. I was convinced for weeks that Conrad was a demon like myself until I mentioned Demon World, and he cracked my jaw for 'drunkenness in his presence'. I only then started to realize how alike humans and demons were. Due to King Yama's machinations against Demon World, we were led to believe that humanity was a collective race of lambs. The low-hanging fruit, as some described. I was very, very wrong, as I later found out."

I take a deep drag on my cigarette, knock off ash into the tray, exhale, and ask "So this is where the fucked up stuff really starts?" "Yes," Kurama says, finishing his cigarette and crushing the cigarette but in our ashtray. He sighs and says "The Second Polish-Teutonic War. This followed after the Grand Duke of Lithuania converted to Catholicism and married into the Polish royalty. The Knights Teutonic were a crusader order determined to conquer and convert the Baltics, they were a highly militarized state that owed its very existence to the religious zeal of its knights and the promise of plunder for its levies. Lithuania was the primary target of their aggression. Once Lithuania became Catholic, all justification for a crusade evaporated. So the Knights of the Teutonic Order did as humans and demons do, when they covet the property of another. They fabricate a justification, in this case, arguing that the conversion and marriage was a sham. And then they waited for a spark, and they eventually found one, when a stretch of Baltic land rose up to expel its Germanic invaders. Tempers flared, skirmishes were fought, and villages were put to the sword with murder and rape abound. Both the Teutonic Grand Master and the Polish-Lithuanian King delayed the inevitable through diplomacy, while meanwhile tossing florins, zlots, and ducats at sellswords and neutral states alike. My company, under Ser Conrad, was devoted to scouting and harassing supply lines…and more…"

"And more?" I ask, taking one last gulp of wine left in my glass. Kurama notices my empty cup, climbs up, and walks toward the fridge. He pulls out another glass bottle, this one with the cork still tightly attached. Taking his rose out of his hair, Kurama corkscrews the stem into the top of the cork, and then pulls, once, twice, got it out. He pulls the cork off, hides his rose back in his hair, and closes the fridge. Walking to me, Kurama says "Riesling white wine. German, from the Saxon region. Let me see…from a vineyard near Meissen. Funny, Riesling wine was a favorite of mine in my mercenary days. Appropriate for the occasion." He pours into my glass until it's full, and then he fills his glass. I take a sip, tastes better than the red one. At least it doesn't taste like vinegar.

Kurama sets the bottle of German wine to the side and says "We continued what the outriders did in the build up to the war. We would find villages and burn them to the foundation. Now, while an argument may be made that the Knights Teutonic were bound by the laws of Catholicism to not rape and murder peasants, a very poor argument but an argument nonetheless, we ourselves were mercenaries that did not pledge any allegiance to the church. As such, simple cultivated morality would have been required to perform a clean and proper massacre…." Kurama starts shaking his head and laughing a bit at his own dark humor. Looking down at the carpet, he adds "We lacked even that."

I ask "So, you jousted and fought in free-for-alls?" Kurama raises his left eyebrow and says "Yes, but I wasn't speaking about…" "How was it? Riding a horse and throwing down a lance? Was it like drag racing or…" I continue on. Kurama sighs a bit, like he doesn't want to talk about this. He says "It was…exhilarating, a game of precision. I was thrown off my horse at times, especially in the early going. Once, I slammed my head against a rock and was unconscious for hours…lost the feeling in my arms for a week. Wine helped." I continue asking, taking a sip of white wine "How about the…free-for-all or however you call it? Do you use a real sword or some hammer or what, your fists?" Kurama looks up, as if he is trying to remember something. He takes a spoonful of honey, swallows, puts the spoon back in the jar, and says "Bladed weapons were virtually always forbidden, I only heard of the Mongols that would have melees with bladed swords. Most purchased or rented blunted tourney swords from the local blacksmiths. I, for a spell, owned my own blunted sword that I had tailored to my needs. I preferred a thin steel with a diamond shape, so as to maximize damage to shins."

"How did you fight? Was it like in the TV shows and the cartoons?" I ask, leaning forward, glass of wine in my right hand. I finish my cig and crush it into the ashtray, right next to Kurama's cig. Fox knight answers "Would you be surprised if I spent most of my time in battle wrestling with my opponent?" Heh? I ask "How? Doesn't the armor weigh like, a shitload?" Kurama smirks and says "Exactly. No better way to render an armored knight immobile then to send them to ground. I usually wore lighter then plated armor, which gave me some mobility. One swipe of the leg, one push in the right direction, and I have my fist or a dagger at their throats, drawing their yields." No way, learn something new every time Kurama speaks. I say "So, it's like your…judo classes that you took back in Tokyo." Kurama laughs and says "Oh that? That was to keep active and in shape, but it is quite similar. And it is called sambo. It is a Russian variant of judo in which strikes are included. As much as it is considered a new form of martial arts, being 'created' in the early Soviet Union, knights and swordsman used virtually identical forms of combat since swords were created. There is a reason why the Ancient Greeks included wrestling as one of their chief Olympic sports. In fact, there were schools in the Holy Roman Empire and the Italian city states that included wrestling-like fighting styles in their swordplay instructions. Even in Gandara, in Mykker, wrestling was a cultural sport. Which, I must admit, has added to the annoying false stereotype that us Kitsunes are…well…uniformly homosexual. Or at least, ready to mount anything that moves."

I start cracking up at Kurama's delivery, staring down at my glass, not looking at him. I think of something to say. I then ask "What, was it like the scripted shit on TV? Or like the ones in the Olympics?" "The latter," Kurama says. He sips on some wine and says "The focus was make the opponent say that he yields. I was quite good at it during my time as a watch captain in Gandara. I was better in Medieval Eastern Europe, so much, that once, in a melee, I wrestled a former Teutonic Knight fully clad in black and white checkered plated armor, into the ground, and tightened my legs around his neck until he lost consciousness. I became quite the local topic in Kiev that day, and…attracted a few admirers. Did not have to pay for once in a while…" He starts smirking and shaking his head, as I do the same thing.

I take a deep drink of wine, drunk enough to start having stupid ideas. I ask "So Kurama…" "Yes?" he asks, taking another spoon of honey, the jar half empty. I say "You said you'd show me that move you pulled off earlier. Where you broke that guy's throat or something." Kurama laughs, puts the glass of wine down, and says "I'm a little too drunk to risk harming your trachea, so perhaps some other time. I could show you other techniques." Without thinking, I climb up and say "Alright, let's do it." Kurama raises any eyebrow, and then shrugs his shoulders. He climbs to his feet, his naked chest a little wet with sweat, and says "Indeed, I could use the exercise. And I do recall you alluding that I am going fat…" He finishes with a smirk, one that promises that he's going to kick my ass. Alright, fox boy, let's see what you got.

We found a few patchwork bed sheets and a second, larger carpet. Should serve to cushion the contact with the ground. And at the least, we can avoid sleeping on cold steel.

I use my right hand to remove my right boot, struggling with my heel…now it is off. I set it next to my left boot and walk in my socks on the bed sheets, Yusuke already standing in his socks. The flickering light of the overhead lamp reveals Yusuke's darkened chest hairs glistening with sweat. If only the air conditioning survived. Actually, no, perhaps it's better that it didn't, Buddha only knows what evil this vault was originally planned for. I read the files on the computer…the security and the officials in this vault intentionally pumped psychotropic gas into the airways. For what end, I can only fathom. Walter did mention that he suspected his vault of being a social experiment. But to lure refugees here and…then…do that? Bastards. Vile, foul, bastards.

Spacing my wine with food has kept me at least somewhat coordinated, though I rather not demonstrate any chokes on him in my current state. I still have much to speak of, much to…confess. If not now, I am unsure of when I can be mentally ready again. Very well, I will indulge the detective.

"Alright, you saw I had some moves before, when that crazy naked guy went at me with an axe," Yusuke boasts, while I simply bend my knees and slowly strafe to the left. Yusuke strafes to the right as well, smirking. He has a plan, which piques my curiosity. He lunges towards my legs…a feint. Yusuke rises back up, grasps for my left shoulder, and attempts to snake his right leg behind my legs. I simply let him follow through with the motion, turning my hips right just as he falls down with me. We end up falling on our fours, Yusuke to my left, our legs tangled. I won this match.

Using my superior speed, I pounce on Yusuke's back, using our tangled legs to hold him in place. I wrap my right arm around his neck, causing Yusuke to grasp my right arm with his left hand. I slip my left hand between his left arm and his neck as Yusuke grabs my right arm with now both his hands. My chest pressing against his back, I snake my left hand around his left bicep and grasp his left wrist, as his right wrist pulls my right arm back. I let him dangle my arm back…now! I slip out of his right hand's grasp and press my right hand against the left side of his head, pushing his head to the right. I then slip my right foot out of his legs, twist my body to the left, and swing my right leg around his head. I pull back on his left arm and pin his body down with my left leg, my right leg resting between his face and the bedding. He yells "Alright, you got me!" I immediately let go…that was entertaining.

Yusuke rubs his left bicep and says "Hey, you said no chokes, that you're too drunk for that." I smirk and say "I never said I would complete the choke." "Heh?" he says. I explain "I baited you into pulling your right hand back, it allowed me the momentum to push you to our right and wrench the arm back." "Sneaky, man," Yusuke pouts, rising to his feet. I rise to mine and say "I am a fox, after all. And if I would attempt an actual choke, I would have slid my hand under your chin in a knife-shaped movement. Like so." I flatten the fingers on my right hand and slide them from ear to ear. I then boast "Now, I believe it is 1-0." "Not for long," Yusuke says, and suddenly he charges me.

He lunges for just my left leg this time…I take a step back….he strafes right and wraps his right arm around my left thigh, hooking me in. I leave my right hand between my thighs so as to block his left hand from wrapping around my left leg…no he opts for the right side of my hip instead. Yusuke twists, arcs his body to the right, and I lose my balance, falling on my back, the detective above me. I'm starting to sweat profusely, the physical exertion clashing with my current level of intoxication. Yusuke is mounted above me, face to face, my legs between his. Think…think…

I grab the bed sheets and pull back, my rear rubbing against the ground. Yusuke notices this and squeezes his legs together, causing more friction in my attempt to escape his mount. He reaches for my left hand as I snap back from his grasping arms, possibly attempting an armbar? I'm not quite sure he knows what he is doing…I have an idea.

I slide my right leg out of his pinning mount and offer my right arm as bait. Yusuke reaches with his left hand…good…he is panicking. I pull back with all my might, draining my stamina, as I nearly wrench my left leg free from his body. He grasps my right wrist with his left hand, bending his left arm at an ideal angle. I immediately turn my body to the right, swing my right leg over his rear, over his back, and behind his left arm. I continue to turn clockwise to the right, my right leg hooking his left arm around the shoulder blade. I slide my right leg down, grabbing his left wrist with both hands. I rise to a seated position, Yusuke currently facing down to the right of me, on all fours. I then pull Yusuke's left arm to his back with my left hand, my right thigh between his arm and his back, and I reach my right hand and press it tightly against the right side of his rear, holding him in place. Was aiming for his right hip but should suffice regardless. I apply a little pressure and complete the omoplata. Yusuke immediately yells "I'm done!" I immediately let go, rise to my feet, and say "2-0." I am starting to pant, sweat rolling down my neck. Yusuke is panting slightly as well.

Climbing up to his feet, Yusuke wipes sweat off his forehead, his hair fringe dripping onto the sheets. He asks "What the hell was that?" I reply "An omoplata, a bit of jiu-jitsu to be frank, though the Kitsunes call it 'tachki', or wheelbarrow in Japanese. It is designed the snap the shoulder blade like a twig, rendering the arm completely useless. In my sambo classes, back in Japan, I actually learned how to do one in reverse. I rather not demonstrate while drunk, as I will either muck it up or actually cause you injury." I smile to show that I mean no malice. Yusuke's reaction shows that such a smile isn't necessary. He bends his knees slightly. He refuses to give up, as usual. I bend my knees as well, sizing Yusuke up once again. We strafe left and snatch at each other's arms…grasping each other's shoulders, our heads lowered. Our foreheads rubbing sweat against each other, our faces close enough for me to smell the fried chicken and wine on Yusuke's breath.

Yusuke slips under my grasp, at my left ribs, feel his feet behind my legs…I find myself falling onto my back, Yusuke to my left, on his right shoulder. I immediately turn right and onto my knees, attempting scramble away. I pry myself out of Yusuke's grasp and move forward, no, hands are grasping my right ankle. An ankle submission. I immediately roll left onto my back…Yusuke rolls with me, not letting go. He applies pressure, uses his legs to hook and trap my right leg…argh my knee, fine, you have this one. "I yield!" I announce, dejected. Should not have underestimated the detective, that is certain.

Yusuke rises again, his neck drenched in sweat. I confess that I found myself rather damp as well, using the moisture on my back to escape Yusuke's earlier grasp in our grappling. I find myself panting heavily. I feel something rising up my gullet, and I let out a graceless burp, to Yusuke's great amusement. I say "Very well, I will forfeit for now, or else I will know what microwavable salmon tastes of with a good wine marinating." That only further adds to Yusuke's amusement. I indulge and laugh with him.

Oh dear I'm exhausted…I crumble onto the bed sheet, resting my back against them, soaking them in my sweat. Yusuke kneels by me and sits down, asking "You alright?" I smile and reply "Quite am, thank you for the distraction. It was quite fun and refreshing to fight with someone without being required to kill them." "Tell me about it," Yusuke says, frowning, rocking back and forth in his seated position. He suddenly smirks and says "Looks like I beat fox boy at his own game." I roll my eyes slightly and reply "You challenged me when I was in no…condition to grapple." "I learn from the best," Yusuke replies, smirking like a thief in the night. I let out a laugh and say "Such foresight wounds me." I lift my head off the bedding and grunt "Argh…I didn't realize how exhausted I am. I…I am still not done talking…" "Then talk," Yusuke replies, as if it is nothing.

I frown, close my eyes, and clothe myself in the guilt and regret of hundreds of years of sociopathic debauchery and sin. Look at myself, I have become the preaching bishop that I grew to detest for so many centuries. Fool, no…a fool before, wise now. The price of wisdom…damn this. I say "I am…no one ever knew my story. My entire story. I…I want to confess." Yusuke sighs and replies "Think I was born yesterday? I figured that out a while ago." He frowns, stares off to the side, and adds "Think you're the only guy that wants to get something off his chest?"

"Hmm?" I mutter. What could Yusuke possibly feel regretful about? Truly regretful? He only lived twenty-five years! Yusuke replies "Just because I'm young, doesn't mean I haven't been neck deep in shit. Or did you forget that I'm not like everybody else?" He…has a point. We…both have endured extreme psychological torture in our early years. He has bared the defense of all three worlds at some point or another. Maze Castle, the Toguros, Sensui, Yakumo, Yomi…Atsuko's liver failure, his own drinking problems, mirroring mine own disturbingly enough…perhaps I have been selfish. Old habits die hard, as Yusuke would say.

"If you want to speak your mind, do so. I won't judge you," I reassure, climbing to a seat position. Still panting for air. Yusuke provides me with a sweaty pat on the back, and speaks "I'm going to need more booze in me before I starting uncorking that trash." "Myself as well, perhaps," I reply. I admit, alcohol loosens my tongue quite well. It is as if the potion corrodes the chains that bind my words to the inside of my throat. And I will need plenty of chains broken to satisfy my need for catharsis. Perhaps we should move to the spirits…mixing alcohols. Foolish, reminiscent of my youth. Well, perhaps appropriate, given the context. Spirits it is.

We're resting against the medical cabinets, using them to keep us upright. In our hands are glasses half full of this black 'Kraken' rum. The rum comes in this weird shaped squid bottle, the bottle right next to the ashtray. The two of us are having another cigarette…third of the day? Or fourth? Fuck if I know…second of the bunker at least.

Kurama sips on some rum and takes a drag on his cigarette. "How is it?" I ask. Kurama shrugs his shoulders and says "Sweet to the taste, harsh on the way down. Reminds me of vanilla, to be honest." I take a sip, it's nice…damn it's rough going down. Feels like I just got strep throat. Damn that is some boozy stuff…98 proof? Well, we're getting drunk tonight.

"So, we left off with you going to war with some Swedish guys and some asshole named Conrad," I say, bringing us up to where we left off. Kurama nods, frowns, and then says "We set upon a Jewish village near Badzyn, Poland. Roughly fifty peasants. They were the first. The men were hacked in their beds and their heads pierced by pikes. The women were…" "Did you…?" I ask, feeling sick for asking. Kurama stares at me, frowns, and says "I never forced myself on someone…during battle. I…just watched. I…only engaged in the massacres when…asked to. I found killing the unarmed to be a…waste of time. Lazy work. I was…rather shocked by the brutality by my fellow Silesian, Prussian, and Swedish warriors." Wait, I know Kurama. I know when he starts phrasing things a certain way. I say "You said you never raped someone during battle…"

Kurama starts to cry, shaking his head, pressing his right hand on his forehead. He hoarsely asks "May I ask you a question?" "Sure," I say. Kurama nods, cries a bit more, and stares at his rum. He says "Picture a man entering a whorehouse with a purse of coins." "Okay," I say. I already pictured that half an hour ago. Kurama continues "Picture then, a brothel-keeper. He accepts the coins, and rents out his whores." "Okay…" I say, not sure where he's going with this. Kurama cries more, his eyes red, his cheeks wet. He then asks "When the whore resists, whose sin is it? The man entering the brothel, or the pimp that rented her against her will?" I try to say something, finding it hard to say anything. Kurama continues, now really in tears "When the…'whore'…is a Romani slave or a peasant woman stolen by a warring army and sold to a ruthless pimp, whose sin is it? When the man has his purchase retaliate, and the man has the…purchase…has her…has his…fingernails torn off, teeth removed…eyes removed…" "Kurama, what the fuck?" I say. I literally don't know what to say in this situation.

Kurama wipes tears off with his right arm. He sips on the rum, as if it makes him brave enough to speak. He says "I spent the vast majority of my coin on whores and wine. I visited virtually every single brothel in every single city of note in an area stretching across five large nations. Some resisted. And the ones that did not, I always wondered as to how willing they were. A percentage were…slaves. The bulk of the slaves were gypsies…Romanis. Especially in the brothels near the Black Sea. I…I am ashamed of myself…deeply ashamed. Why do you not say anything? If you wish to call me the monster I am, just say so."

I shake my head and say "I'm just shocked, that's all. You've been peeling layers away and revealing new ones that I never thought you had. I'm not going to judge. I'm no saint myself." "You never forced bed slaves against their will…never prompted a brothel-keeper to mutilate them for biting a customer's penis," he says. Hmph.

We both take sips of rum and drags of tobacco. I arc my head back and ask "What happened after the first village?" Kurama sighs and says "Shortly after the village near Badzyn, we razed, raped, and looted two more villages while moving north, to Kurzetnik. Badzyn was on the border between the Teutonic occupied lands and the Polish controlled lands. Our goal was to fool the Polish into following our trail of destruction to the northeast, into an ambush later at Kurzetnik and a pointless siege at first, at which they would have been struck from the north while unawares. The Polish army engaged Kurzetnik for a day, but immediately abandoned it to the southeast, collecting villages and castles, extinguishing Teutonic garrisons. We suddenly found ourselves chasing after an army a thousand times our size, scouting them. The Polish zig-zagged their way to Grunwald, and the Teutonic army that intended to flank them at Kurzetnik intercepted them. There, the Teutonic Order was defeated by the Kingdom of Poland, after a substantial reinforcement by the Lithuanians. My company avoided the Battle of Grunwald, being kept on scouting duty to warn against an assault from the north, which never came. We instead moved north, clashing with the Poles and the Lithuanians, fleeing. My company was caught by a small force and we barely escaped, thanks to myself. I slew over three dozen men and awed both the Swedes and Ser Conrad. We were ultimately driven to the north of Prussia, while the Poles laid siege to the Teutonic city of Malbork."

Kurama takes a breather, and then continues "At this point, our company went rogue. Slightly. We plundered and looted the Prussian and Polish villages considered under Teutonic dominion, raped and razed…my company grew more and more barbaric. We would blame the Poles and hide our treasures upon ourselves. Gems, gold, silver, the like. We eventually found ourselves in the Battle of Koronowo. Some up-jumped Silesian knight rode to challenge the Polish army to a duel, the Poles accepted, and then proceeded to embarrass the Silesian knight. Then the blows came, and the battle waged fierce, until the armored Germanic knights began to fall. That caused the levies to break and rout. My company escaped, found a village, and…took our frustrations on them. I…watched Conrad force a man to…eat his own daughter."

"Jesus…" I say, as Kurama squeezes out the last drops of tears he has left, I think. He takes a healthy drink of rum, and says "The Polish-Lithuanian Union signed a victory treaty with the Order a year later. The Order was forced to pay substantial monetary penalties and was never the same again. I never received the pay for my mercenary contract, though I left with enough looted coins, gold, silver, and gems to live comfortably for a year. I…I traveled with one of the Swedes. A blonde, slender man by the name of Hans, from Uppsala. We traveled together afterwards…we were both unaccustomed to the brutality of medieval human warfare, and were left rather cut by the aftermath."

"Were you friends?" I ask. Kurama smiles sadly and says "He was the first man I ever dared to call a friend. We…became more than that." I watch Kurama scan my face, as if he is looking for something. I say "I know you don't pick sides about that, and I'm not freaked out about it. I'm not Hiei." Kurama laughs a bit and says "No, you're not." He takes a drag on his cigarette, and then adds "A recurrence of the Black Death in western Belarus took him three years later. I…was deep in my wine for a spell." "You cared about him," I say. Kurama replies "I thought I forgot what that even meant, until later. To care, as I cared for Jairu. It...happened gradually. He was good humored, and not inherently cruel. And he was as prideful as any demon I met, and for that I came to respect him. And then…care for him."

"What happened after?" I ask, staring at my rum. Kurama sighs and says "I returned to traveling and entering tournaments. I largely abandoned melees and took a serious approach to jousting. At that point, I spent most of my time traveling throughout Ukraine, eastern Belarus, and the western edge of Russia. From the village that…my company razed, after Koronowo, I took a small boy named Arkadiusz as my squire, he attended to carrying my weapons around, filling my cups with wine, and fitting me into armor. I became quite good at the lists in time, and I was able to commission my own bastard sword from a talented Ukrainian blacksmith. The fox sword it was called, with a fox head for a pommel carving. Solid steel and very sharp. I used some more proceeds to custom design my lamellar armor, and I fabricated a noble house to serve as my backstory. I took on the name Zbigniew and I became known as Ser Zbigniew of House Lis, the Fox Knight, for the fox painted on my armor and shield. I was…popular with women later. They did not care to look at a melee warrior, aside from the time I choked unconscious an armored Teutonic, but a knight jousting in the lists? The songs and the fables come to life, that was what they saw in me."

I watch him take a sip of wine. He frowns a little and then adds "Brothel keepers knew how to use and administer birth control. A baker's daughter…not so much." Holy shit. "You're a dad?" I ask. Kurama turns to me and says "Multiple times over." "Multiple? How many?" I ask. Holy shit, I did not expect that. "Seven…" Seven? "…ty-four. Give or take five," he says. "Give…or take five?" I ask. Kurama says "I only met a few of them in my life, and all when they were still babes. Some did not live to take their first steps. So yes, I fathered around seventy bastard children," Kurama says. Bastard…children. I feel my fist tightening. "Yusuke?" Kurama asks, staring at my fist. I say "Bastard children…like me." "I'm sorry for using that phrase," Kurama says, like that's that. I shake my head and say "I never knew my father. All I know that he was some john that my mom got knocked up by. I…sometimes liked to imagine how he looked, always changing the faces every time I picture him."

He frowns again and drinks a gulp of rum. No, don't do this shit Yusuke. He already got a lot to think about, don't add to it. I turn to him and put my left hand on his right shoulder, saying "Sorry, I shouldn't have lashed out like that. It was a long time ago, and they're all dead anyway. And the dead got nothing to bitch about." He doesn't say anything in immediate response, just nods at me a bit and takes a drag on his cigarette. He exhales toward the roof and says "So does that make my sins absolved?" I smile weakly and say "I'm not a holy enough guy to pull that off." "You've been resurrected, time and time again. You were an agent of Spirit World. I'd say that qualifies you," Kurama smiles as he finishes that line.

I smile back and say "Well, Walter's homeboy, Jesus, he was crucified next to two thieves." Kurama laughs, almost crying from laughter. He nods and says "Indeed, yes." "What happened next?" I ask, bringing us back to Fox Knight and the seventy-four half-demon illegitimate babies.

Kurama reaches into his pocket and pulls out his old wallet from Japan. He fingers through the slits, pulls some piece of tape out from behind one of his college IDs, and says "One hour, forty-three minutes, and twelve seconds." "Of what?" I ask. "Of the Chapter Black tape," he answers. Oh.

Kurama says "I met a Croatian mercenary by the name of Mirko, during a joust in Lvóv, Ukraine. We became traveling companions." "Like Hans?" I ask. Kurama shakes his head and says "Everything Hans was, Mirko was the mirror opposite. He had the ambition of Yomi and the sadism of Elder Toguro. He was a cruel, manipulative human psychic, but he engaged in the same behavior that I engaged in, and he never crossed a man he considered an ally, at the least. In time, we heard rumors of a power struggle in Wallachia, amongst the Drăculești and Dănești royal houses. One of the sons of the assassinated warlord of Wallachia and Dobruja, a slender, pale skinned Romanian by the name of Vladislav Drăculea the Impaler, he recruited an army to retake his father's nation."

"Wait, what…Dracula?" I ask. "He was not a demon if that was what you are asking. But yes, the man that became the inspiration for Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. The man was backed by a Hungarian general named John Hunyadi, as part of a strategy to halt the Ottoman invasion of Europe. Vlad Dracula buried a dagger in the usurping Dănești warlord's neck, and became warlord of Wallachia and Dobruja. He then hosted an Easter feast and had nearly the entire Dănești clan impaled through the anus by spears. We dined, myself, Vlad Dracula, Mirko, and five other knights. We were instructed to pick a Dănești to impale…I chose the niece, not even in her teens. The…spear would exit through the neck or shoulder blade…eventually. Impalement could take days."

I watch Kurama shake his head and take another sip of rum. Jesus…it's getting gorier and gorier. Kurama continues "The feast invited dozens, perhaps more than a hundred of the Wallachian upper class and merchant elite. They were all arrested and placed in cramped cells. The next day, all above the age of twenty-five were impaled along the walls of Târgovişte, the Wallachian capital. The rest, the children…they were enslaved and sent to rebuild a derelict castle by the Argeș River. Until they dropped dead from starvation or exhaustion. I was named Vice-Captain of Vlad Dracula's royal guard, Mirko was named Captain, and the other five knights rounded out the rest of the royal guard. Two Romanians, a Moldovan, two Serbians, a Croatian, and Kitsune posing as a Pole. I was given a keep outside Giurgiu and permitted to live there so long as my warlord does not command me to be at his side. I was then engaged to the second daughter of the Lord of Giurgiu and given promise of greater power. I became a Lord."

"You had your own castle?" I ask. Kurama shrugs his shoulders and says "A keep is not a castle. My holdings were modest at first, essentially just enough to raise me to Lord status. I owned a few thousand acres, and shared a border with the actual Lord of Giurgiu. I was married to Lady Alexandra…she was only ten. Her sister Bogdana was fourteen. On…Mirko's suggestion…"

"Yeah?" I say, getting worried about Kurama not being all that ready to continue. I take a sip of my rum, getting closer and closer to being completely drunk. Makes hearing this a bit easier. Probably makes saying it easier for Kurama. He married a freaking ten year old girl, what the fuck? He says "I scaled the tower to Bogdana's bedroom and strangled her to death." It's almost as if he feels better for getting that out of his chest. I say "So you become heir to the…whatever the hell that city is called." Kurama nods and says "Giurgiu. Her father died a few years later…natural causes…a toothache infection that spread to the brain. I became Lord of Giurgiu and owned a large patch of territory bordering with Ottoman Bulgaria. I was essentially entrusted with the first line of defense in case of an invasion from the south. For that, I was compensated well by Vlad the Impaler. I…ignored Alexandra, and let her be tended by servants. I instead spent the bulk of my time having whores brought to my quarters, having wine imported, listening to bards compose music. I grew fond of collecting treasures and trinkets, likely what later spurred my plan of becoming a bandit warlord in Gandara. My…quarters would be adorned with African gold and ivory carvings, gems and daggers from Arabia and the Byzantine lands. I even owned a painting created by Sandro Botticelli. I acquired it when I went on a diplomatic mission with an ambassador and Ser Tihomir, one of the seven of the royal guard, to Milan."

"Milan?" I ask. That's a pretty far fucking distance from Romania. Kurama says "Indeed. Vlad Dracula was ambushed near Rucăr, not by the Ottomans, but by our Hungarian benefactors under Matthias Corvinus. Matthias Corvinus was grown weary of the lack of support by the Catholic nations in his war with the Ottomans. So he captured and detained us to appease the Ottomans and sue for peace. We were…not exactly imprisoned. We had free reign of the castle in Buda and would receive all we asked for. At one instance, I convinced Matthias Corvinus to allow myself and a small delegation to sway a few Italian states to our side. We approached Venice, Ferrara, Mantua, Modena, and Milan. Venice was bogged in bureaucracy and refused to listen to us. Modena did not allow us to pass through the gates. Ferrara and Mantua allowed us to speak our case, but we failed to make any headway. In Milan, however, I…struck a friendship with the Duke. Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a vibrant man brimming with youth and capable in speaking passable Romanian, which I myself became proficient in."

"What happened next?" I ask, as Kurama takes me through a whirlwind of history I never realized existed. Kurama says "We shared common interests in music, wine, and whores. We both possessed a type of dry wit and…were easily offended. I once watched him have a baker roasted in his own oven and had the meat put into stew to be served to the poor. For the crime of serving bread with flakes of some unidentifiable rancid meat inside. It took me back to the Kitsune youth whose legs I shattered, for eating a pigeon in front of my presence. And yet…the man also enjoyed raping the wives and daughters of his own nobility simply to exercise his authority over them. And it was that, that nuance, that I held onto. I…the man was a mirror image of myself, but as long as he committed his crimes against the female nobility, I considered myself more…sinless then him. How arrogant and foul of myself…"

Kurama laughs and shakes his head…and then a few more tears slide down his cheeks. He burns through half his cigarette, exhales, coughs a bit, and then adds "He…gifted me with a Sandro Botticelli painting from his collection, and offered three hundred of his mercenary men to be transferred to our side, with Galeazzo paying for their wages. In time, Matthias Corvinus was persuaded to let Vlad the Impaler leave Buda. With a reinforced army of hardened Italian mercenaries and a few thousand Hungarians, now under the command of Stephen of House Báthory, alongside a few Pro-Dracula Wallachian nobles and a detachment of Moldovans from one of Vlad the Impaler's cousins, we marched onto Târgovişte and ousted a Turkish-appointed Dănești warlord. The Dănești, whose name eludes me now, he fled with his Ottoman and Wallachian forces to the mountains, while Stephen of House Báthory departed with his men to reinforce their holdings in northern Romania, in Transylvania specifically."

We both take drinks of rum, mine larger than his. I feel my neck going red, my forehead sweating. I fan myself a bit, my fingers covered in sweat. Kurama continues "The Ottomans seized the opportunity and set upon us in an ambush along the road between Giurgiu and Bucharest. The fighting spread to the forests, and there I saw Vlad the Impaler fall to his death, along with several of the royal guard and thousands of men. I…took my horse and fled...toward Transylvania. And after a year of wandering, I encountered a few fellow Kitsunes. With my sword to their necks, they relented and led me to a portal back in Gandara. The rest, you already know, well the general gist at the least. First a few bandits, then Yomi, then Kuronue, then a few others still. And then an ambush by King Yama's Spirit World Special Defense Force, and my soul escaped to human world, to be merged with a recently conceived child who is now named Shuichi Minamino."

Kurama finishes his rum and sighs. Like a massive weight was lifted off his shoulders. He turns to me, his green eyes staring at me, his red hair wet with sweat and smelling of cigarette smoke. He asks "So, what do you think?" What do I think? What do I fucking thing? I think you did some completely fucked up shit in your life. I think you got put through some completely fucked up shit in your life. I think that you spent the majority of your life not figuring out right from wrong because everyone has conveniently forgotten to tell you. I think you've been spending your life as Shuichi drinking your life away for shit that happened way too long ago for it to matter anymore, no matter what Kuwabara, or Koenma, or Botan or whoever the fuck might say. I think that you are the smartest man I ever met in my life, and yet you are too fucking retarded to realize I've been in love with you for ten years.

And just like that, it's out. I admitted it. Ten years I've been fighting with myself from admitting it, and all it took was a week and half in this shithole for my brain to spill the beans. I'm not even ashamed anymore to think of this. I don't care, and even if I did, it's too late. I can't unscramble an egg. And do I even want to?

"So, am I the monster you feared me to be?" Kurama asks, as if he already knows the answer. I say "I never feared you, fox boy. Sorry if it wounds your ego." He smirks a bit and says "You did not really answer my question."

I stare down into my rum, taking a sip. I set my glass down, then set my cigarette down by the ashtray. I turn to him and ask "You remember that book that we had to read for high school foreign literature? Well, I think you had to read it too. We went to different high schools, and I entered later then everyone else, but I think it's the standard. Did you have foreign literature class in high school?" Kurama raises an eyebrow and says "Yes, I did…may you specify which book?" I think for a second, and say "That book by that Russian guy. The one where the characters have the same last name as our Walter." Kurama suddenly nods as if he just got the answer, and says "The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Yes, I read it."

I smile a bit and ask "You remember that story within the story, of the guy that's supposed to be Jesus Christ being locked up by the head of the Spanish Inquisition, because Jesus being alive went against the Inquisition's plans?" "A little oversimplified in the explanation, but yes, I remember," Kurama says, watching me closely.

I lean forward and kiss him softly on the lips. He tastes like the rum we've been drinking.

We stare at each other and smile for what feels like days. Finally, Kurama asks "So am I Tomas de Torquemada? And you are Jesus Christ?" I say nothing, like Christ did in the story. I just smile. "Or are you Alyosha, and am I Ivan?" It's taking every muscle in my body to resist kissing him again. I keep quiet. Just smile.

"Must I simply embrace the mystery?" Kurama says. You are not Tomas de Torquemada. You are not Ivan Karamazov. You are just the idiot that cannot see the obvious when it's been smack dab in your face for ten fucking years. Kurama sets his rum aside and says "Well, I always considered you as a brother." "Same," I manage to say.

He reaches over, coming closer. I don't know what to do, I'm frozen. He…wraps his arms around me, I feel his naked chest burning hot. He pats my back and says "You are the greatest friend I ever had the pleasure of knowing." And is it such a horrible thing that I want more?

I press my own arms against his back, staring toward the wall. What have I freaking done? I…can't just un-think it. I…I have to live with him. I want to live with him but…no that's not what I mean. Like I, I already knew for a while that he isn't against being with a guy but…oh fuck. Now I am scared of him. You fucking devil man, you won. You made me scared of you more than anything in world. And it's all cause my brain couldn't keep its ideas shut!

"So am I Tomas de Torquemada? And you are Jesus Christ?"

Is this what you wanted Kurama? People to shit their pants at the sight of you cause you think you are a inherently fucked up guy? No no, Yusuke, you are drunk, that's completely not the case. You did this, not him. You, fucking you alone. Don't blame him for your mess.

It's been so long since I felt that gaping empty feeling in my stomach, the kind where I feel like I'm gasping for air. I…almost forgot how it felt like. Jesus man, what have you freaking done? He is your best friend, you have to live with him. What if he says no? What if?

I haven't been so scared since the day my ancestor Raizen possessed my body and had me kill Sensui. And I can't take it back. And…to feel his chest against mine, his arms around me, I'm doing everything I can not to get…well, down there. It's just…I'm just drunk. And now I'm lying to myself. Cause drinking enough can make the past ten years go away, yeah right. See how well that's working out for fox knight.

He lets go, and I immediately feel empty inside. Kurama smiles at me, his green eyes looking away for a second, then back at me. He says "Thank you for letting me…confess." 'I have something to confess too' I wanted to say. 'I love you' I wanted to say. Leaning in for another kiss, I wanted to do. "Anytime, Kurama," is all I got myself to say. Fucking chicken, that's what I am. A chicken. A scared little chicken that took ten years to admit something and now is going to take hell knows how long to say the words. We don't got another ten years. I don't know if we got another ten days. Then why the hell am I so afraid to say anything? Shit, Yusuke, why? Why are you doing this to yourself? Why?

"Is there something wrong?" Kurama asks, his voice sounding like he's worried about me. I smile a bit, and say "Nah, nothing. Just, nothing." "Just nothing?" Kurama asks. I say "I'm not freaked out about what you did, if that's what you're worried." It's something else about you that I am freaked out about.

Kurama looks to his Pip-Boy and says "It's 10:19 P.M." I say "Well, not like I got to wake up for the Brass Lantern shift tomorrow. We got booze and the whole vault to ourselves. So, want to play that game of catch you asked about in the morning?" Kurama laughs a bit and says "Dear god, I'm afraid I would sooner fall over my heels then field a ball. And we do lack for space." I say "We did sweep the place, cleared it out. Did you find anyone after…Tammy?" Kurama shakes his head and says "Just a few radroaches." I say "Same. And I combed over the places on your side too, just to be careful. And we did lock down the vault, remember?" Kurama nods and says "Yes we did. We should have no uninvited guests, unless there is a compromise in the walls, and if that is the case, at worst we will find another giant cockroach."

No Yusuke, don't say it. No…damn, no…my lips are moving on their own…"Kurama." "Yes?" he asks, taking a drag on his cigarette. I watch him exhale and say "…no offense but we smell like we haven't washed ourselves in days." "That tends to happen when we do not wash ourselves in days," Kurama sarcastically says, laughing a bit and working on his cigarette. I immediately say "I…uh, this vault was at least advertised for normal human beings. And normal human beings like to shower once in a while. I think I saw a public showers by the gym on the east wing."

Kurama thinks to himself for a bit, and then says "The water is likely irradiated. And I rather not speculate as to what bacteria has accumulated on the shower floors." I say "Hey, we don't have to drink the stuff. And we got RadAway if we start feeling like our genes are screaming. As for any shitty floors, we got Abraxo cleaner and literally a water source right above the shower floors. And I bet if we go digging through the living room drawers, we will find at least two pairs of flip flops."

Kurama starts looking up to the roof, as if he is weighing the risks. I say "And like I said, the vault is locked down. We can lock up the doors and go in with our guns if anything. C'mon, I'm tired of smelling like Hiei's 'apartment' back in Tokyo." Kurama bursts out laughing, saying "I completely forgotten about that apartment that Hiei acquired. If I recall, he waited until the elderly occupants passed away and simply moved in when no one came to collect the apartment deed." "Yeah, something like that, I hope," I add.

Climbing to his feet, Kurama says "Very well, go collect the Abraxo cleaner. I will set out to look for suitable footwear."

No, this won't do. Use your wits, Kurama. No…panama hats are not suitable headgear. I can scarcely move in a straight line. And I am wielding a loaded Lee Enfield rifle in my hands. Perhaps I should have ventured into Human World a few centuries later. Humanity only toyed with the concepts of virtue and chivalry in the age of the sword and buckler. It required the musket to teach human beings the concept of honor. Nothing quite as a projectile sailing at terminal velocity to truly cause one to rethink one's notion of what makes a man.

I am extremely drunk. I don't recall the last time I felt such intoxication, for obvious reasons. As if a burden has shrugged itself off my weary Kitsune shoulders. And I feel free. A pathetic drunken mess apparently, but free. Such is the joy of anarchy.

My vision is hazy, ever so slightly. I feel my chest sweating profusely, the rum exacerbating the heat. I…oh dear. I find myself on my knees, tripped on a stuffed bear of sorts. I pull back on these drawers…yes! Sandals…rubber sandals. With the rubber massage balls on the soles…two pairs. They smell absolutely foul but I do not care. It will still be more hygienic then standing barefoot over a shower drain that Buddha knows how many individuals urinated and shat into.

Should I try to shower in this condition? Bah, I am too drunk to make a rational decision, so shower it is. Or lest I adopt the odor of the four pairs of sandals I'm currently carrying in my hands. Ah, hot water cleansing my skin, steam easing the balls of my shoulders. And I most certainly look forward to hacking my hands off with my jian so as to avoid a staph infection.

Exiting the bedroom, I stumble into a hallway and support myself against the walls, pressing my left shoulder against them. It is so hot, I am tempted to tear the cuffs of my pants off and shorten them to knee height. I use my Lee Enfield as a walking stick, gripping onto the barrel as I make each stride. I stare at my feet and try to focus my walking…barely keeping in a straight direction. And this is why I prefer to debauch myself alone and with ease of access to a latrine. And to think it was hardly a month before when I drank myself into a similar yet gentler…borderline unconscious stupor.

Well, Yusuke already learned so much of the vile cretin that I am, on this red letter day. May as well show him the rest of me. Oh dear, stairs. How I do detest stairs when I am in this condition. I still recall the shame I felt when my step-brother Kokoda found me at the bottom of my apartment staircase. Mercifully he had the foresight to realize that I only suffered bruising and eventually a violent headache, and did not take me to the hospital. I prefer to keep my drinking habits to myself. A ritual, to destroy myself anew, just as Prometheus faces the eagle each rising morning.

Oh good, good. I climbed down the stairs without stumbling. Kurama, the vanquisher of stairs. The Stair King of northern Virginia. The A-Class demons will tremble at his sight, while the B-Classes collectively soil themselves in their trousers. Unless they are lizard or leviathan demons, in which case they likely are not wearing pants to begin with. A joke, for Makai's sake! Will no one laugh? That man was raped time and time again on that overpass, and even he had the fucking courtesy to laugh!

"Kurama? You alright there?" Yusuke asks. And it's Kokoda staring at me at the bottom of the stairs once again. I say "Yes Yusuke. I am alright…just right at home in my…natural habitat." The manner of his shoulder length hair and lack of hair gel, and the way his fringe hovers above his eyes, he does appear the spitting drunken image of an icon of Christ that Vladislav the Impaler used to hang in his study. Oh all those many books, and still I couldn't find the wisdom to mature out of the disgusting slime that I was.

Oh how free it feels to say that. No more repressed words, suppressed memories. That door has swung open, its hinges torn off. And my drunkenness make me seem as if I can glide. Or slide my face against the floor, more likely than not. I support myself with my left hand against the left wall. Clutching one pair of sandals in it. My right fingers hook around the flap of the other pair of sandals, while my right palm squeezes the barrel of my Lee Enfield. "The safety is off on that thing, right?" Yusuke asks. "I…think so," I reply.

Yusuke sighs and pries the rifle out of my hands, and I nearly stumble to my feet. No…no…better…I seize more control of my movements. Better. "Maybe this was a bad idea…" Yusuke mutters, his eyes staring unusually sheepishly at my face, my chest. I laugh slightly and reply "Nonsense. I would not wish to touch these plague infested sandals for nothing."

Yusuke leans forward to smell the sandals in my right hand. His head recoils and his throat stiffens. It seems as if he vomited in his mouth, at least slightly. I laugh earnestly and then say "If Abraxo cleaner can remove cannibal blood and body fat, it should work wonders for bacterial leprosy." "Lep..what?!" Yusuke exclaims. "A joke, Yusuke. Just a joke," I reassure as he drunkenly laughs a little on his part. Thank you. Laughter is medicine, if there is one thing I learned as Shuichi. Alongside love and trust and human decency. I...Shiori…if you see your son now, please hear my thoughts, and know that this was not your doing. A vile relic of humanity's past claimed your son's soul as his own, and this is the end result. A drunken Kitsune holding sulfur-scented sandals.

A sauna room which I'm not all hot to check out, given that this vault was made to gas people crazy, we're drunk, and I had enough hallucinations for one life, four sinks that are still altogether, and six shower stalls all divided up by walls that go up to our necks. Kurama and I managed to scrub clean two of the shower stalls, the first and the third from the door, along with those nasty-ass sandals. Well, beats walking barefoot. The second and sixth stall are broken and the fifth stall is clogged up with more kinds of hair then a animal with Chewbacca's head up its ass.

I got my MP5K right behind me on the floor, Kurama has his Lee Enfield with him somewhere. The door is locked in nice and shut, and so with the vault locked in, we would hear it if anyone else got inside. I look at the shower head, metal, a little rusty. We tried turning on the lights and got nothing, so all we have for a light source is our glowing Pip-Boys with their built in fluorescent flashlights. At least they're waterproof. Looking left, it gives Kurama this ghost-like look about him, like he is grayish green with teal hair. He's supporting himself with his right hand. His right hand holding the top of the dividing wall, and his head standing over the wall, that's all I see. Both our pants and boxers are hanging over the walls between us and the second shower stall, at the back edge. I'm…trying not to think about it.

"So, shall you do the honors?" Kurama asks, like it's some kind of ceremony. Here's hoping this ain't some sick joke, like there's acid in there. "Can someone stuff acid in there?" I ask. Kurama stares at me and says "Yusuke, have you completely forgotten chemistry? Acid burns through metal." He laughs a bit at the end. He's really wasted. I say "Hey, no need to get all smartass on me. Fine, I'll check." I turn the nob, and immediately take three steps back, my naked ass almost sticking out of the shower stall. It goes off.

I reach over with just my fingertips…okay…okay…no, ain't burning the skin. Thank fuck. I taste my fingertips. Yeah, water. I turn to Kurama and say "It's water." "Is it wet?" Kurama asks, laughing at the end. I shake my head and cup my right hand under the water stream, it's cold, my Pip-Boy's monitor covered in water drops. I bring my hand to my mouth and drink. "Tastes a little funny, maybe a little irradiated. Not as bad as some of the bottled waters we had."

I turn the knob to the right and feel the water getting warmer, warmer, now it's hot. Steamy. I never showered like this before, where the flashlight makes the steam look like souls flying around. Trippy. I hear the shower head on Kurama's stall turn on. "Argh!" Kurama yells. What?! "What's wrong?!" I yell back. Don't fucking tell me it's acid…I see him smiling a bit. Okay good. He says "The cold water almost caused myself to fall." "Turn the knob to the right, careful. It gets really hot three-quarters of the way to the right," I say, letting the hot water run down my back. Holy shit that feels so good. Like I had no idea how many aches I had on my body. Damn, that feels nice, feels like a second skin is falling off. If only we had soap.

I ask "Kurama, did you have soap back in Medieval Europe?" Kurama shakes his head, water spraying left and right. He says "Only on extremely rare occasions, when imported by Arab merchants. I rarely bathed at all back then." "Oh yeah?" I ask, letting the hot water pour over my hair. I rub my chest and feel the loose black hairs washing to the floor. I watch Kurama massage his hair slowly and say "Once a month, and even that was regarded as excessive. Bathing culture was common in Old Rus and tolerated in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an import of the Turks and the Arabs perhaps. In the Balkans…it depended on the locality. Vlad the Impaler himself discouraged bathing and banned public bathing, as he considered it immodest and un-Christian. The penalty for doing so was, as was for almost everything, impalement. Have your stolen possessions returned, plus an extra florin, and not return the florin at once to a watchman? Impalement alongside the thieves. Wrinkle your nose at the stench of the corpses? Impalement on a spear so high you would only smell the fresh scent of spruce trees. Become pregnant with a child out of wedlock? Impalement through the cock for the man, and impalement through the womb for the woman."

"Jesus fuck, man! That guy is sick," I say. Kurama nods and says "Was sick. Dying tends to cure all aliments. Oh but to not jest…the man was an absolute terror. I hold Ser Mirko responsible for influencing…well, adding to the influences, of Vlad the Impaler. Ser Mirko, as Duke Galeazzo…and myself, we tend to be creative with our executions. Mirko himself…very much so. Such monsters."

"Hey Kurama, it's over. They are gone, you are here. You are not like them," I say, watching his face stare down, his hair covering his cheeks like a wet mop. I hear Kurama say "You say that despite everything I told you. Why?" I…I think of something to say. Something. I end up saying "Should I kiss you again?" Why The FUCK DID I SAY THAT?! Kurama just laughs. I watch his hair shake and his head move up and down, and my heart stops again. He says "That is fine, Yusuke. You proved your point." I go to work analyzing what he just said…he…he doesn't sound like he's pissed off over that, so…I know jack-all more now than thirty seconds ago. Eh.

"Yusuke?" he asks, and I immediately turn to look at him. He's smiling softly, his right arm gripping the wall like he's having trouble standing. He just stares at me for like ten seconds. Then he says "You are a brother to me as well. Thank you." I want to be more than that. Fucking hell, why am I doing this to myself? He's your best friend! And so was Keiko when we were growing up…I mean what the hell am I trying to accomplish here?! The guy is drunk to the point of almost puking, and I'm getting him to take a shower with me? And if he slips and falls down, whose bonehead Idea was it? Here's looking at you, dumbass.

"Is something wrong?" Kurama asks. I look left and find his right hand over the wall, his head above the wall, his neck visible. Like he is standing on toes. I shake my head quickly and say "Nah, everything is good. Just feels nice to have a hot shower for once. Didn't think it be one of the things I shouldn't take for granted. If only the water was clean." I hear static…eh? "Just scrolling through my music, Yusuke. No worries. It requires more the alcohol for me to take a radio to a shower stall," Kurama says. Yeah, good, rather not have that. Then it will be me dragging his naked extra crispy ass before he completely cooks. I watch Kurama stare downward in the stall, can only see his head and his red hair glowing with the grayish green hue of the Pip-Boy flashlight. He says "I transferred music from an MP3 player into my Pip-Boy, using the computer by the medical room. My current library now totals over a hundred. Mostly American rock sounding names. A few from the 60s, 70s, 80s. Hm…Nightwish. Nirvana…Notorious Big…err…B.1.G."

Pfft! I'm trying to hide my snickering. "The song title says Party And Bul. The text cuts off. Do you know this band or is this exclusive to this universe?" "Play it," I say, failing at not laughing. "So you do know who this rock band is. Let us see…" I hear him press play. "I was a terror since the public school era." "Ahaha!" I start laughing, as Kurama gives me an annoyed look that screams 'Really, Yusuke?' "Bathroom passes, cutting classes, squeezing asses." "Now who does that remind us of?" Kurama sarcastically says. "Smoking blunts was a daily routine since thirteen, a chubby nigga on the scene." At that, Kurama laughs and shakes his head so hard that I think I'm getting sprayed all the way here. I hear the song cut off, and then more static. Hey, nothing sets the mood going, for a bisexual guy trying to get his rocks off with his best friend, like hardcore American gangsta rap. I mean, that's some serious overcompensation going on over there.

I hear Kurama's Pip-Boy get turned off as he says "I just..heh…remembered. Back in Vlad the Impaler's castle in Bucharest." "Yeah?" I ask, getting ready for another excessively violent war story of Kurama's psychotic ex-King. I like saying that, it makes it sound like it wasn't all Kurama's fault that he did that horrible stuff. Kurama says "There was a Byzantine-styled icon of Jesus Christ in his study, right by the east window with the crescent moon-shaped window frames." I look at him and nod to show that I'm listening. He continues "Aside from having slightly lower cheekbones and less-Asiatic shaped eyes like ourselves, the icon was the spitting image of you right now."

I smirk and laugh a bit at Kurama going on a drunken…thing, on how I'm the second coming of pothead Mazoku-Jesus. He says "Selfless, honorable, with integrity, and yet witty, deceptively intelligent, and incredibly resourceful. And a humor as dry as the wasteland outside us. Or perhaps…" he starts snickering to himself "Maya Cromwell's bone marrow." "Or vagina," I quickly say. I start cracking up again, as Kurama snickers to himself. It's easy to laugh when drunk. That and starting a fight. Which of the two someone picks says a lot about who they're drinking with, I sometimes think.

"Selfless, honorable, integrity, a sharp humor, smarts, and making shit out of nothing, heh. That's what I think of you," I say. "You deeply flatter me, Yusuke," he says, staring at the floor, his hair again covering his face. I hear him say "I am sorry for dispelling that rose-tinted image." Don't be like that, Kurama. C'mon, don't. I say "That shit didn't change cause of some old war stories."

He just turns to me, half his face behind his hair, I think he's smiling. Selfless. Honorable. Integrity. Sharp and dry jokes. Street smarts and pulling wins out of the ass. Kurama starts laughing, yelling "All this talk of faith and religion has reminded me again of Henrik!" "Who's Henrik?" I ask. Kurama reaches his right hand over the wall and stands up a bit, his neck and most of his wet hair visible with that spooky glow from the flashlight. He says "We met at a whorehouse in Olsztyn, Poland. He was the town's Catholic bishop, at least 70 years old."

"Okay, I am listening," I say. And now I'm starting to feel uncomfortable for some stupid reason about all the people Kurama may have fucked. Not because he 'bought' them, but because I…that's being stupid, Yusuke. Kurama says "I spent most of my zlots on repairing my chainmail and feeding Arkadiusz, I realized I had only half enough for a black-haired Polish whore named Karolina. So Henrik approached me, dressed brazenly in his Bishop attire…and we agreed to split the cost. When…when I close my eyes…I can still see his bearded, wrinkled ballsack swaying in suspended motion, ahaha!"

Selfless, honorable, integrity, sharp humor, smarts, resourcefulness. Addictive personality, depression, looking for release in drugs and alcohol, pissed off and guilty over shit in the past, missing parents, fucked up childhood. Sensitive and repressed at the same time. I now know why I fell in love with him. He is me. 887 years older.

I bury my head under the shower and rub the dirt off of me. He is me, 887 years older. I move to my waist, scrubbing what I can, feeling patches of chest and pubic hair fall off as I scrub. He is me, 887 years older.

I say "So, in all of this, the two things I'm taking away from all this, is that you, fox knight, have double teamed a hooker with a 70 year old Polish Catholic priest, and you fucked a Viking." Kurama keeps laughing, though sadder sounding. He says "You are a good brother indeed, Yusuke." I smile back and finish up my shower. He is me, 887 years older.

I'm back on the bed sheet, collecting our used plates and forks and food scraps. I stack them up and stand to my feet, walking in the sandals. I'm in my pants, the cuffs rolled up, and my boxers. It's getting close to midnight.

I drop the plates and knives in the sink, accidentally cracking one of the plates. Whatever, not like that stuff is practical anyway. I hear Kurama say "Why Yusuke, we could have sold that for song. Fine porcelain commands a mighty bottle cap in the land of paper and plastic." I turn to him by the bed sheets, opposite where we ate our dinner. He has the bottle of Riesling wine and is doing nothing to show that he wants to save some for later. I squint and see maybe like an 8th of wine left. Fox knight is really drunk, like starting to sway back and forth while sitting drunk. He's sweating like crazy too, even though he's only wearing his boxers.

Any idea of me trying to make a move on him is behind me now. I'm now scared that's he's going to keel over from alcohol poisoning. I walk up to him and say "Kurama, maybe take it easy with that. I mean, sleep is going to suck if you keep drinking…" I try to grab the bottle of wine. He grabs the neck immediately and starts chugging from it. "Okay I'm cutting you off. Last call was two hours ago!" I yell, pulling the bottle back, spilling wine on the edge of the bed sheets. I lean down for the cork and shut the bottle, walking to fridge. Kurama drunkenly says "Do you think that fazes me? I out-drank a Viking! And made love to one too!"

That guy, Hans. I ask "Why don't you talk about the Russian girl anymore? That nurse girlfriend of yours that you dated for what? Three years?" Kurama looks up, cross legged and sitting on the bed sheet. He says "I…never let Zinaida get close." "And the Nigerian girl?" I ask. I remember Kurama had a few girlfriends before. "Her name was Kasara. Why Yusuke, you tend to name my significant others as the 'Russian one' or the 'Nigerian one' or the 'Singaporean one'. Do I detect a spot of racism from our venerable messiah?" He laughs as he finishes that line.

I say "Hey fuck no. And what about…who was it, that girl you dated in your undergrad?" "I believe you referred to her as 'The Osaka one'. While her name was…was…what was her name again?" Kurama asks, as I laugh a bit.

I sit down next to him, asking "You remember your first? I remember me and Keiko's first time. We were 17." Kurama snickers a bit and says "Vashnitak, roughly two months after I offered myself to indentured servitude. They sent me to work the kitchens. There was a Kitsune, he was fourteen, as was I." I laugh and say "Fourteen? I only knew porn existed when I was twelve. Atsuko's cable box carried some freaky shit back in the day." Kurama nods a bit and laughs, saying "We age faster than humans, technically, as I may have mentioned before. Regardless, the Kitsune…his name was…Brazustra. I believe...yes. We were both kitchen hands, serving the magistrate and her guests. I was chopping roots when he leaned over and nuzzled at my neck."

And what I wouldn't give to do that right now. I…I'm trying not to bring attention to how I am…down there…right now. Kurama says "I was confused until he reached down and cupped my…sack. And then he slid up. And next thing I know I was inside a kitchen pantry while this stranger was showing me sensations I never knew existed." Oh fuck Yusuke, don't look down. Don't look down. I feel my hands twitching, that hole in my gut again. I force myself to laugh.

Kurama continues "Spent the next day fretting as to why my piss burnt fiercely. Inquired around, which then revealed that I was the fifth Kitsune that Brazustra gave his little gift to. He was whipped bloody for causing a scandal. An apothecary serving the magistrate took pity and proscribed me an elixir. I…drank the foulest tasting concoction ever. Liquid mercury, in fact. Cured my…we called it 'Kretsi' or pincers in Mykker. Was terrified of sex for decades after." Jesus, that's rough. Kurama just laughs about it, and then looks at me as if I was supposed to laugh with him.

We are literally a foot apart. Just looking at each other. I could…I should, no it's wrong. He's your best friend. He's you, 887 years older. "What happened with all the girlfriends, if I'm not getting into too much personal shit? I mean the ones you dated in Japan," I ask, taking this silent staring to a different place. Kurama says "I never let them get close." "What you mean?" I ask. He sighs and says "In more ways than one."

Oh, I get it. Now I'm snickering. "Shuichi Minamino, the twenty-five year old virgin. A bit of a step back from fucking a Viking and having a threesome with a Bishop, eh?" Kurama just growls at me, like I insulted something about him. Shit, I shouldn't have laughed. He says "Well, I, er, Zinaida and myself did…" "What base?" I ask. "Third. Once. It…I haven't been psychologically prepared for that since I realized how much of a vile beast I've been before. It…felt improper. As if I didn't deserve the comfort. It…didn't end well."

I freeze myself so I don't do something stupid. Yusuke, he's your best friend.

Yusuke, the guy's is fucking hurting, and you, you, want this.

Yusuke, the guy is you, 887 years older.

I just frown and look down at my pants. And I realize how obvious it is. And Kurama is too drunk to notice it. I think. I hope. I don't know what I want. I do know what I want, I'm just too fucking scared to act on it. There's the hole in the stomach again. Maybe I can pour some more booze down there.

"Yusuke?" Kurama asks, his voice all serious. My demon heart stops, again. I'm making this into a habit again. "Yea, Kurama?" I ask.

He starts gagging, his eyes start to get teary. He's throwing up…shit. Kurama covers his mouth with his right hand, I grab him by his left arm and lift him to his feet. We rush to the sink. His hand is covered in , beige, chunky vomit. I push his head a little forward, rub the back of his neck, and he lets it all out.

He vomits for like thirty seconds, and now is spitting out balls of saliva and bits of puke. I turn on the faucet, and Kurama puts his hand under it, scrubbing his right hand, spitting. He just spat accidently on his hand, shaking his head. I hear him sickly say "So, ugh, Yusuke. It seems that you out-drank me as well. Quite the…herculean feat." I pat him on the back and say "No man, you just had too much. Let it all out, I'll go get a bowl. You steady?" Kurama nods, and I rush to find a bowl in the cabinets. Found a green plastic bucket. This works. I turn to Kurama and watch him drink the slightly irradiated sink water.

I carry Kurama by the shoulder back to our bed sheets. I carefully set him down, fox boy crawling away from the wine stain. He rests spread out, snorting, mumbling something. He sounds very sick.

I set the bucket by the edge and take off my pants, now walking in my boxers. I walk back to the monitor with the security feed and I take a folded up white blanket that we found while searching for stragglers, right after I shot Tammy. This day is almost over. Almost.

I lie down to the left of Kurama and push against his left arm. I say "Move over and sleep on your side. I'm worried you are going to puke in your sleep and choke to death." "Yes…I hate how they spin. I hate how they spin. They always…spin," Kurama says. The spins, I had them as many times as you did. I kinda have them right now, a bit. Kurama's must be like he's in a typhoon. Poor guy.

"Yus…ke," he says all sick and stuff "now it seems…I have no more secrets left…you know me inside…out," he says, his back to me. Kurama's hair is still wet, clamped together and sticking to the sheets. I roll the blanket over us.

"Easy there, Kurama. Easy…" I say. Please man, you survived worse. So much worse. Don't die on me over some stupid drinking party we had.

I'm scared. I'm really fucking scared.

He rolls onto his back, mumbling. He's going to choke to death. He's going to puke and going to choke and going to die.

He's you, 887 years older.

I scoop up his left arm, slide my right arm under his back, and roll him back onto his shoulder. I then wrap my arms around his chest, holding him in place, his back touching my chest. He's really warm, like burning up warm. I feel the scars on his chest that Mr. Burke left him with. I bring my face to his hair and close my eyes. And I feel myself spinning a bit…and…I yawn…please, if anyone is listening, please let him live to tomorrow. And please let me die with him together.

Chapter Text

My skull throbs with such a force that I feel as if it has been caved inwards. Argh, my eyes stir…flickering lights…I taste bile in my mouth. I am in my boxers, a blanket covering my body. I have slept on my right arm it seems, for that very same arm feels lifeless. I shake and let the blood recirculate through the arm, that uncomfortable tingling sensation adding to the painful banging against my forehead. My vision blurs, my eyes flicker…I begin to see with better clarity. A green bucket before me. I push my left hand against the bed sheets under me and lift my upper body a few inches off the ground. A peek inside the bucket provides all the evidence I require. And suddenly my memory comes back to me.

So that makes Yusuke the second individual to know of my ritual of self-destruction. Wishing that, this night, this quantity of alcohol, this cocktail of guilt, rage, and self-loathing, that it would be enough for me to finally end my miserable life. A fall off a balcony, choking on one's own vomit. There are days when I simply drink to forget and repress. They are much more common. The goal is a reprieve, not a permanent release. I have always failed to muster the courage for that. A final…end of things. That pestering physiological need to live, to continue sucking in the oxygen to survive. I have at times hoped that a sufficient loosening of my inhibitions would be the solution I seek. Each attempt only results in a painful reminder of my failure. And just as my step-brother Kokoda found me at the bottom of a staircase, Yusuke was forced to clean up after my mess. It seems that every two yens of the debt I owe him breeds a third yen each passing day.

I stare at the bucket, at the remains of last night's meal of grilled salmon and rice. As Shuichi, I always lived in this manner, well, once I came of legal drinking age. Since the day Shiori risked her life to save mine. Since my eyes finally awoke, and my mind finally understood, and all the crimes and failures of my past flooded my mind, as if to drown me. Ever since that day, my life became a pitched battle between one side that seeks self-destruction, and another that seeks self-preservation. This battle has dogged me in my cups, in combat, in love…

I am one and the same, and my mind speaks a single voice. And yet, that voice speaks for life and death all at once. It makes me laugh, when I think about it steadily enough. Sigismund Freud would have razed all his research to cinders for the opportunity to study me for a mere hour or so. A 900 year old demon that slew his demon birth mother, raised and then euthanized his younger sister, fused his soul with a human infant's soul and quite literally returned to a mother's womb at the ripe age of 887, and stands squarely on the divide between Eros and Thanatos. Oh how it makes me laugh.

I smell mashed potatoes, pasta, and cheese. And the thin scent of spiced rum. I climb onto my left shoulder, and I see Yusuke, wearing a sleeveless white shirt and his boxers, stirring some meal in a pot, the pot on a hot plate. Yawning, I weakly mutter "Yusuke." He immediately flinches, as if from shock. Almost tipping the pot over, Yusuke stares at me in shock. The stare wounds me, though I guess…I have no one to blame but myself. I'd imagine knowing all that he knows now, and everything I done in my past…

"Jesus Kurama I was scared shitless. I thought you kicked the bucket. You okay, need water? Anything?" Yusuke frantically asks, his concern rather unexpected. Even sober, the man is a saint among demons. I say "No, no. Thank you. Oh very well…water would do. Or perhaps a hair of the…fox that bit me, as my fellow Kitsunes would say." Yusuke moves to the refrigerator and retrieves a bottle of clean water. Unscrewing the cap, he walks over to me and says "Here. I'm making mashed potatoes and some mac and cheese. Some starch will help the hangover."

Bringing the bottle to my lips, I drink greedily, feeling the cool water run down my gullet. I wipe my lips against my left wrist and say "Thank you. And my apologies for…everything yesterday." He stares at me with wounded, sheepish eyes. He masks his discomfort poorly. I wonder what disturbed him the most. I…remember him reacting most angrily about the seventy bastard children, and…my 'hypothetical' question about the brothel owner and the…prospective client. Likely either one, or both. And more. Yusuke asks "Are you okay? I mean, saying all that, how you feeling now?" Hm. Interesting. I think for a second, and then say "A tad more weightless. I…would say that it is progress. Doesn't undo the horror I caused but…" "Kurama, seriously man. You don't need to fucking destroy yourself like this. How many times did you end up like this? And why?"

I painfully let out a laugh, and then say "I'm not sure. Hundreds? Thousands? No, in the mid-hundreds. I…have these type of nights on a weekly basis. At times…more than weekly." "And you been doing this since you were 20?" Yusuke asks, an anxious look on his face. I smile weakly and nod slightly. Yusuke lets out a laugh that's passably nervous, and then adds "For such a smart guy, you are a goddamn idiot." I laugh and rise to one knee, saying "Thank you Yusuke."

Yusuke slowly reaches with his right hand for my left arm. He grabs it and assists me as I climb to my feet. I gingerly take a step, and then another, and then I slide my left foot into one of the once-foul slippers that I found last night. I find it progressively easier to walk, and with each step, I became more aware of how badly I need to urinate and defecate. I turn toward a door on the wall to the right of the door to the outside hallway, right from our perspective. Slowly walking, my head throbbing violently, I speak "I will take some time. Do not wait for me to eat." A few more steps, and I am at the door. A press of a switch, and the metallic door slides down, revealing a single bathroom with a sink and a toilet. I hear Yusuke ask "You want some protein in your mashed potatoes? I can chop up some Salisbury steak into thin strips." Hm, why not? I say "Sure, thank you." Yawning, I press another switch, sealing the metallic door.

Taking a plastic spork to my bowl of mashed potatoes and Salisbury steak strips, I pierce a thick cut smothered in potatoes, and I bring it my lips. Chewing, I let the grease of the steak ooze from the strip. I bring a tumbler glass of Kraken rum to my lips and swallow my breakfast. I then take a swallow of rum to cool my mouth.

Yusuke feasts greedily on mac and cheese, eating at an unusually brisk pace. He eats six, eight, at times ten shells at once, occasionally swallowing the last of the Riesling wine between bites. Is he so uncomfortable to be in my presence? Have I repulsed him that strongly? I ask "Do you remember everything last night?" His eyes turn to me. I sense fear, and a hole burrows in my chest. He does not move for several seconds, and then he speaks "Yeah, I remember." I ask "So, has sobriety made my actions difficult to bare?" Yusuke quickly shakes his head and says "No, not that. I'm just, worried bout getting to Arefu and all. We…we got a lot of stuff and I have no idea how to carry it. Especially the explosives. It's like still a mile to go until Arefu, and then we have the trip back to Megaton. I'm kinda worried that someone's going to break in our house and steal our crap."

I detect some dishonesty at the beginning of his response, but he is correct. That thought has crossed my mind before. Most of our caps are concealed in a 'crawl' space under our desk, a creation of either Mr. Burke or the previous owner. We placed our caps inside for lack of a better location, though I am concerned that whoever installed the crawl space 'safe' mentioned it to someone else, who mentioned it to someone else afterwards, and so on. Unless Lucas Simms had that crawl space installed, and assumed we would fine it and use it…no. Now I am sounding like Hiei.

I rub my forehead, the pain from last night lingering in its own way. I think on what Yusuke said. Hm, two-headed cows are used carry stores and salvage. Primitive. At the very least, a wheeled wagon would alleviate the burden. Can we construct such a device? "I am thinking about the logistical issue before us," I announce. Yusuke looks up to me and nods, his eyes flickering, looking away at times. I suggest "I noticed that we have a few spare tires, plywood, metal sheets, and nails. Using one of the more weathered pistols as a hammer, we may create a makeshift cart. Should ease the burden somewhat." Yusuke nods and hurriedly answers "Sure, fine by me." Yusuke…

Sun…is…too…fucking…hot. I feel like I'm hauling two pounds of sweat on top of everything else. At least the makeshift wagon is working. Was hoping to use the spare tires to replace the ones Jericho stole, but at least we can sell off the salvage for some serious caps. I take a look at my Pip-Boy…half a mile to go. I think I see the highway overpass that we need. Yeah, barely see a bunch of shacks on it, looking like metal trees on the highway. The whole place around us is one giant wasteland, like literally. There are a few burnt out barns and farmhouses and I spotted at least one gas station 15 minutes back in the eastern horizon, but everything nearby is just flatland and rocks. We are on some one lane road, like the kind in the backcountry back in Japan, the ones where you have to drive on the incoming traffic lane to pass the car in front. It's so freaking empty.

I asked Kurama a while back if he's cool with keeping watch for me. I wanted to listen to some of the music we downloaded onto our Pip-Boys, back at the vault. He didn't even hesitate, like he almost smiled when he said 'sure'. He's been giving me these looks lately, uncomfortable ones. Probably because I'm the asshole giving those looks to him in the first place. Well…it's nice to give this whole field of nothing a soundtrack. My Pip-Boy is currently playing "City of New Orleans" by American country rocker and fellow pothead Willie Nelson.

"…southbound odyssey the train pulls out of Kankakee." Aside from two flies the size of bowling balls and a scorpion the size of a large dog, avoided any trouble. There was a group of people that Kurama was able to see with his scope, about half an hour ago, but they didn't notice us or didn't care. Still, every second step I take makes me worried that some stray bullet is going to hit the part of our cart with the grenades and the C4. "Passing trains that have no names and freight yards full of old black men." Each other step, I'm dealing with how fucking anxious and awkward I'm now feeling around Kurama. And here I was hoping I would forget last night and keep that thought repressed, no dice. "And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles." At least it's too hot to think all the time.

Kurama tugs on the handle on the right, I tug on the handle on the left. Damn, another bump, another shake to the cart. "Good morning, America. How are ya?" Just one stray bullet, and we would be freaking ghosts trying to see if we can find all our pieces. "Should not be much longer," Kurama says all serious and everything. "Say don'cha know me? I'm your native son." His Lee Enfield bounces against his duffle bag full of loot. "I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans." I feel my MP5K banging both into my back and my duffle bag too. I ask "Smoke break?" "And I'll be gone 500 miles when the day is done." "I want to, but no. I feel more comfortable once we arrive in Arefu and rid ourselves of those explosives. As of now, we are a slow moving target. I have been casting glances around us, looking for potential snipers. So far, no such luck." He laughs a bit at the end, a little dark humor that I'm seeing more and more of each day here.

"Dealin' cards with the old men in the club car." This must be a living hell for him. Well, me too, but him…he spent almost all his life as Shuichi Minamino torturing himself for his life as Yoko Kurama. And now, he is stuck in a place where Shuichi is the tourist lying on a shantytown operating table with two holes in his abdomen, while Yoko is the guy covered face to heel in cannibal blood and a week's worth of food, booze, and apparently morphine. "Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle." It's not even been two weeks and we already endured enough shit to give both of us PTSD. And to think this job was just about delivering some stupid letters. "And feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor."

Oh that's nice. A cool breeze just went by, blowing some dust against my feet. I ask "Want to see what's in the letters?" Would be nice to know what we are turning insane over, get some perspective. Yeah, a good reason for why we are out here, killing raiders and crazies and our conscience. I see a crow fly far away, east to west, so small it looks like a fly. I take my headphones out of my ears and let them rest on the collar of my duster coat. It's so quiet here, aside from the occasional breeze, the cart, and the sounds Kurama and I make. And hot. So freaking hot. I feel a drop sliding down my fringe hair, annoying me. I wipe with my left wrist, my right hand pulling a handle on the cart. The overpass looks just as small as ever. I'm starting to get thirsty again. And I really want to stop for a smoke.

"Oh. Stop," Kurama suddenly speaks out. I stop, the wheels stop. I hear it, footsteps. Loud, fast ones, from the west. "See it," I say. A person, the size of a lima bean from here, running to us. Like fast, arms flailing. I bend my knees and take a few steps away from the cart, Kurama doing the same. Facing the lima bean, we slowly strafe to right, until we are a good dozen meters from the cart. Not enough to keep our skins if it does blow up, but still, we can pretend. Kurama puts his right knee on the ground and starts twisting his Lee Enfield around, the sling getting tangled with the duffle bag. I move my MP5K around easily, and then help Kurama get his sling untangled. "Thank you," he says, his eyes not moving away from the running person. He aims down his Lee Enfield and looks into the scope.

He stays still for five seconds, ten, twenty. Is he going to do something? If Kurama thought that guy is a threat, he would have pulled the trigger already. Would he shoot down someone if he wasn't sure? Looks like not, at least he hasn't gone completely nuts. I ask "Raider? Feral ghoul?" He replies "Human female. Unarmed, Caucasian or Hispanic. Her clothing appears ragged. The scope states she is 300 meters away. Fire on my go." "Got it," I say. It's so quiet here. Nothing but Kurama's breathing and the still faint sound of footsteps. "250 meters," Kurama says "I will yell at 50 meters. Wait for my signal." I say "Yep", my MP5K aimed at the growing lima bean in front, getting to jumbo size now.

There's this sense of dread in me. Alongside the dread that I just admitted to myself that I been having feelings for my best friend since I was 15. Along with that, the dread that I have no idea what's about to happen, and what we're about to do. "150 meters," Kurama mutters. I look at him, his muscles tensing, his jaw, his neck almost bulging. He's worried. He has a rifle and ammo and a scope and he's worried about the woman running to us. Or worried about what he's going to do, I don't know.

Kurama yells "HALT! Do not continue or I swear by all that I have left I will open fire! I said halt, damn you!" The woman slows down and starts to get the idea by meter thirty, the momentum carrying her. I squint and look at her. Long, dark brown hair, looks a little Latin, wearing these dirty knitted beige clothes, like someone made a sweater and pants out of sofa leather. She has this weird black collar around her neck, and a, shit is that a grenade? No, no, not a grenade. I yell "Kurama, that's not a grenade, it's something else!" The woman is on her knees, breathing really hard, her hands on the dirt ground.

Kurama yells "I told you not to continue! You have only two options left! Remain EXACTLY where you kneel or I will gun you down immediately! Will you comply?!" I steal a glance at him, his arms really tensing up, like they are about to snap in half. "Put down the device in your arms! Hands behind your head!" Kurama adds.

She looks up to us, climbs to her feet, and yells in a Maryland-accent "Please mister! Help me, please! They are after me, they been after me for a day I keep running and running and they keep chasing and I can't go back mister please I can't go back!" "Who the fuck are you talking about?!" I yell. I think I saw that collar before on a cop drama. She yells back "The slavers, please help! Please, you have to disarm the collar mister, please! PLEASE!"

Kurama yells "I warn you! Not a step forward! Not a step backward!" "Please!" she yells, crying now. Like a little at first, and now I hear her loud and clear. She takes a step forward. *BANG* Kurama shot at the ground in front of her, kicking up dust. She flinches and almost falls on her ass. The woman yells "Please! I can't go back! I CAN'T GO BACK! They'll hurt me bad for this, mister! Please help, I can't! I…I…I can't!" A runaway slave, with a bomb collar. And I'm guessing that device in her hand is either the detonator or some kind of frequency that's keeping the bomb from going off. Jesus fucking Christ. Slavery…

I shake my head and yell "We don't know shit about disarming bombs!" "Please!" she yells, crying even more. The woman takes another step. I hear Kurama eject the casing from the last bullet he shot. Kurama yells "I will not miss next time! We have nothing for you!" She just freezes there, like the realization hits her. The woman looks down, and then at the sun for a second. "I'm sorry!" I yell. For what good that would do.

She turns to us, the small balls of her eyes red, water stains on the ground. She nods at us and says "Goodbye." What? The woman takes the device in her hand, winds her right arm up, like she's prepping a fastball. Kurama suddenly yells "Yusuke duck!" I feel his thin, bony left hand grab the back of my neck as he drags both of us to the ground. I hear beeping sounds, and some final whimpers. The cart. We are too fucking close to the cart.

*Beep beep beepbeepbeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee* I try to tell Kurama, words got caught in my throat. I'll tell him on the other side soon. My eyes are buried in my arms. His hand feels so nice.


It sounded like a shot from one of Kurama's magnum revolvers. I look up, I still feel the ground, still feel Kurama pressing to the right side of me. I look left, the cart didn't go up like a Christmas tree. I look ahead…oh damn. Parts of her clothes got blown off, making her topless. Her head is still attached, barely. Her jaw is a meter away in at least three different pieces, her upper teeth visible. It's like something scooped out all but the back of her neck, like strawberry sorbet from a quart. Blood's oozing out, and it smells like burning skin.

At least she died fast.

"Yusuke?" Kurama asks, trying to get my attention I guess. "Yeah?" I say. Kurama reaches into a back pocket on his pants and says "I believe I will have that smoke break now."

It's rather hilly here, this close to the river. What seemed from afar as small mounds now rise ten feet high, flanking the left side of the road. On the right, a reddish brown rusted shack, two floors high, with a fence surrounding its perimeter and front yard. In the front yard lie pools of dried blood, three wide streaks of blood trailing onto the road and toward the ramp before us. In front, the ramp leads to the elevated highway, serving as a bridge across the Potomac. I hear a Brahmin moo in the distance, along with faint voices. Looking across the river, there seems to be a small town, or what remains of it, on the other side of the bridge. Buildings rising three floors high, and my scope identifies a few of the store names. A large building named 'Marzano and Co.', a small store named 'Ellie's Used Books', the ruins of a thrift shop named 'Honest Gabe', and a restaurant named 'Townsend Chops and Fish'. It reminds me of a westernized version of the small neighborhoods filled with boutique shops and cafes in Takayama.

I ask "Yusuke, do you remember when you, myself, Keiko, Kazuma, Shizuru, Botan, and Kaito visited Takayama during the summer of 2004? Do those stores across the river remind you of it? Small shops, quiet town life, locally crafted creations." "Yeah, I guess. An American version at least," Yusuke morosely replies. I speak "I recall Botan mistaking a crow for Hiei when it swooped down to filch her skewer of octopus." Yusuke proceeds to chuckle and says "Yeah, I remember that. Hiei didn't show up, he rarely did. It was nice, Takayama. We promised to go there again." "We never did," I morosely reply, the nostalgia bitter to taste." "Yeah," Yusuke replies, struggling to keep eye contact with me. I feel cold and hollow inside. The foul memories haunt me, the pleasant memories poison me. I clench my jaw and shake, speaking "Takayama is likely as deserted as that ghost town ahead." "Yeah," Yusuke speaks, his tone melancholy. "Yeah," I mimic, following the streak of blood toward the ramp.

We slowly make our deliberate ascent up the ramp, onto the bridge, pulling our cart of salvage. The blood trail extends for quite a distance, appears to turn behind a cluster of sandbags and a highway divider, turning to the left. Behind the highway divider is a two floor metal shanty, with a makeshift window that seems to once have been two wooden cabinet panels. They appear like the entrance to a bar in a Sergio Leone western, swaying and out from the steadily increasing wind. To the left of the shanty, another shanty, and then a third behind the second. Two long burnt sedans litter on the left side of the highway overpass between the first shanty and us, while the right side of the highway overpass is peppered with holes small enough to only allow one foot to fall through. There are two large gaps further ahead, large enough for a human to fall through. Metal sheets cover the gaps, hopefully nailed or welded to the cement. Is that possible? Err, engineering is not my forte.

We slowly approach the traffic divider, our rifles in our hands. With the bridge leveling to a flat surface, we leave the cart where we stand and turn to the town before us. I stare down the scope, aiming toward the divider. I smell gunsmoke…there are bullet holes on the ground, on the divider. A shootout recently occurred here, that much is certain. Then, Benjamin and Walter…have the people of Arefu attacked them? I don't understand. I mutter "Yusuke, something is amiss. There was a gun battle earlier." Yusuke replies "Yeah, no shit." It is pleasant to hear some of his familiar personality restored in his tone.

We approach the wooden planks, staring uneasily at them. I plant my right foot on them, testing them…sturdy enough. I whisper "Slow and steady." One step, two, three, I'm across. Another plank-way. One step, two, three. Across. I step to the left and allow Yusuke to cross, grasping onto his left arm as a precaution. He shies away, looking to the right. I grimace and turn my attention forw…"YUSUKE DUCK!"

I wrap my arms around his waist and spin him away from the falling grenade, my back facing it. I press my body on him and embrace the cement floor. *BANG* My ears ring, whole world shakes. Ringing less…less…it stops. I pat my body, then look at Yusuke. I then look behind, and notice a five inch blade of shrapnel hardly a foot away from us. I hear a voice yell in Pennsylvania-accented English "Have you lost your goddamn mind?!" Another voice, elderly and with a southern drawl, yells back "No, I'm trying to defend my people while you sit with your thumb in your ass!" I look toward the traffic divider, as an elderly Caucasian male with a brown, wiry goatee and moustache combination and a wrinkled face, armed with a shotgun, lowers the shotgun and yells "Hang on! You aren't one of them! I nearly blasted you two in halves." He is wearing a grey trucker cap with biker goggles on the cap, a black leather jacket with a crisscrossed bandolier full of shotgun rounds, grey jeans, and black leather gloves. I barely see the collar of a sky blue undershirt that he is wearing. The man drops his shotgun and raises his hands, more in remorse then surrender. Suddenly, a tall African-seeming male with a white bandana and a dark green camouflage patterned survival vest rises from behind the sandbags. Benjamin from yesterday, alive and well.

I yell "Have you completely gone leave of your wits?! Not six meters behind us is a cart with C4 and hand grenades! One errant shard of shrapnel and you would have blasted us all to Maryland!" Trigger-excited idiot! The man, who appears to be the spitting image of Ben Kingsley, yells in response "We can point fingers all day here or behind cover! Get in here before they spot you!" Yusuke and myself approach. Suddenly, the window from the house in front swings open and a Latina with short black hair, a thin, slender frame, and a scar across her chinless jaw, yells in Maryland-accented English "One more step and I'll blast your freaking head off!" She is armed with a rifle and adorned in reinforced leather armor. The imbecile who nearly killed us yells at his fellow idiot "Where the fuck were you two minutes ago?! God-dang it Samantha, stand down, they're not here to cause trouble! I think." "Alright Evan!" she yells in response. As I suspected, this man is indeed Evan King, the leader of this community. We continue our approach, walking around the traffic divider.

Benjamin turns to someone behind the house that Samantha is situated in, and yells "Gale! Rashad! We got a cart full of salvage at the ramp! Bring it up, be careful! It has explosives!" I notice that he is wielding his pistol from yesterday in his right hand. It appears Arefu has ammunition to spare. Benjamin turns back to us and says "Kurama, Yusuke, good to see you both. I'll bring you up to speed." I watch Yusuke smile and reply "Good to see you too, Ben. First, we gotta speak with Evan here." Two men appear in view, both dressed in reinforced leather armor. One, male, Caucasian, Eastern European-seeming, in his late 50s, with greying black hair parted at the widow's peak, similar to Yusuke's aside from the fringe, a square jaw, a large, crooked nose, and large brown eyes, his pinkish skin tanned slightly around the neck. He is sporting black chinos with various pouches stitched onto the sides, armed with a rifle that appears quite similar to Jericho's Kalashnikov, only with a shorter barrel and a slightly smaller frame.

The other male, of African descent, in his late 40s, with curly black hair cut into a squarish shape, a thick black moustache, and faint black fuzz on his chin, his cheekbones low and his eyes also brown, although smaller than the Caucasian male, and his build somewhat slender, as if his leather armor is a size too large. He wearing dark blue jeans and is carrying a type of stock-less shotgun, of metallic material. I whisper to Yusuke "What are those weapons?" Yusuke replies "Guy on the left has an AKS-74u, guy on the right got I think a Mossberg, 500 model I guess. And Samantha has an M1 Garand, like that raider that Stockholm shot all the way back in day one." I nod and say "I follow."

The two men, Gale and Rashad, pass and nod at us, hurriedly approaching the cart. Yusuke yells "Watch out, the C4 and the grenades are in the back! Go easy with it, and watch out for shrapnel on the road! Those tires are real rubber!" The shotgun wielding individual yells back "Got it!"

As I turn back to Benjamin and Evan, Evan King glares at us and coarsely asks "What the fuck are you two doing here?!" Yusuke answers "Got letters for the Wests. Lucy sent us, from Megaton. Also got salvage from a vault, meaning to do some trading." Evan King shakes his head almost incredulously and replies "That's fine and all but I got bigger problems then being the town mailman and trading post! The shit is about to hit the fan in this cesspool, with those 'Family' thugs giving us grief." 'Family thugs'?

Yusuke inquires "You talking about some group of raiders? Or slavers?" Evan King shakes his head and says "No way. If that were the case, you'd be looking at a burned out ghost town." He approaches the edge of the bridge and spits a wad of saliva down to the banks of the Potomac. Returning to us, he adds "I think the 'Family' are just a bunch of punks. Well at first they'd do typical gang bullshit. You know, break stuff and make a lot of noise, but they always kept their distance. But this time, they gone too far! Look!"

He points behinds us. Us turning around, right between a destroyed car and another shanty house, lies three deceased Brahmin, the ultimate end of the three streaks of blood. Evan King adds "They killed all our Brahmin! That's our livelihood attracting flies over there! We had to beat them back with bullets before they would make off with them, so we don't completely starve to death." I ask "Any casualties?" Benjamin interjects "I think Sammy over in the house got one of them in the gut, then they retreated. I counted four of them. They came from over the rocky hill, went back the same way. Gabe, Rashad, and I went down to drag the Brahmin up, and the Family didn't return. Look at their necks though…"

"Jesus fucking shit…" Yusuke mutters, and I concur. The necks on each head of one of the Brahmin have been chewed through, as if by some wild animal. One of the necks on the second have more refined puncture wounds from teeth, albeit with still some struggle and tear. The third Brahmin has a hole in one of its necks, as if the same wild creature tore a large piece of flesh out. What kind of creature would do this? I ask "Does this 'Family' carry dogs or other domesticated animals with them?" "Hell if I know, didn't see any. Just saw a couple of the bastards down doing fuck knows what with the Brahmin while their friends took over-watch by the hill."

Yusuke seats himself on the traffic divider and asks "So what's been keeping these weirdos from overrunning the town?" Evan's eyes widen as he nods in acknowledgement. He replies "I've been thinking the exact same thing. They can strike us from either end, and until Lucky Harith's caravan came around cause some slavers blocked off the west, they could have taken us out any day. Look, we're really in a bad way, and when Harith decides to leave, we will be completely screwed. Will you two help us?"

I glance at Yusuke, who quickly nods. It is settled. "Yes, we will do what we can," I declare. After a quick pause, I add "I would imagine that some compensation would be in order." Evan King nods and says "Yes, we'll give what we can spare. In the meanwhile, I don't want to take my eyes off the ramp, and I need Benjamin, Gabe, and Rashad here in case those assholes make another push. Can you two please go door to door to make sure everyone is okay? It's the Ewers, Karen Schenzy, the Dankers, the Wests, the O'Conners, and then that ornery Mark Glatkowski." Benjamin immediately adds "I'll fill in the gaps for these two, give me a second."

Benjamin, Yusuke, and myself leave Evan at the barricade as I steal a glance at Gabe and Rashad dragging our cart up the ramp. Benjamin speaks "I never properly introduced myself. My name is Benjamin Canning. I was traveling up to Philadelphia before you two and Walter found me." "Where is Walter?" I ask. Benjamin Canning replies "In the back of the town. Evan King assigned at least one person with a gun for every house. Walter is with Mr. Glatkowski last I remember. Anyway, some weapons dealer named Mitch Harith came here with five bodyguards and a pack Brahmin full of ammo, said that there's been a large army of slavers to the northwest, probably the fine folk from Paradise Falls making sweeps on the local communities. Harith is rationing out the ammo per gratis and has his bodyguards reinforcing the town. You already met Gabe Shapiro with the AKS-74u, Rashad Alexander with the Mossberg shotgun, and Samantha Tavares with the M1 Garand. There's a Neil Lewis with the Ewers, short, bald guy, barely looks 20. Careful when knocking on the door, we already had at least one accident where he almost shot my ear off. Very trigger happy. The last of Harith's bodyguards is with Karen Schenzy, a Teresa Smith. Careful, she is almost deaf, and while not as trigger happy as Neil, gave us quite a scare when Walter and I walked up the ramp."

I ask "Who is with the Dankers, the O'Conners, and the Wests?" Benjamin replies "I think Mitch Harith is with the Dankers. The O'Conners don't need protection. Julius is with the Wests." "Who is Julius?" Yusuke inquires. Benjamin replies "This wastelander that arrived shortly after Walter and I did. He knows Walter, perhaps he is from Megaton?" "Don't known anyone by that name," Yusuke replies. "Benjamin!" Evan yells. Benjamin pats me roughly on the right shoulder and says "Stay safe. And thank you, Yusuke and Kurama. Both of you." He returns to his post by Evan King as Gabe Shapiro and Rashad Alexander drag our cart into the town itself. I nod at Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Alexander, saying "Thank you, gentlemen." Mr. Shapiro laughs and speaks in a New Jersey accent reminiscent of the man that tried to sell expired mayonnaise in Megaton a few days prior "I don't know about Rashad but I'm anything but gentle." "Good thing you're handling live explosives then," Rashad dryly replies in a deep, Midwestern accent.

We let the two pass and carry the cart to the center of Arefu, a zig-zag pattern of shanty houses up ahead. We turn to the house to the right of the Brahmin carcasses and approach the grey, metallic front door. I knock twice and await a response. A simple, bubbly, Virginian-accented voice answers "Hello, is this the mailman? Oh I do hope my fall catalog has arrived!" I beg your pardon? Yusuke mutters "What the…fahk?" Which rather skillfully translates my sentiments to post-apocalyptic Americanese. I reply "Err…Evan King sent us. He tasked us with checking on everyone. The attacks have momentarily stopped." The voice replies "Oh Evan, he's such a gentlemen! Please, do come inside, we have fresh biscuits cooking in the oven." Oh, at first you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.

The door unlocks and swings open, and we step inside. The shanty is two floors indeed, but quite cramped. The first floor has a dining table and two metal folding chairs in the middle, a small stove and a kitchen pantry on the left, the stove powered by power cells connected by cords on the floor, in a clear violation of fire safety standards. A somewhat tall, blonde, biracial, likely Caucasian with either Native American or East Asian heritage, woman dressed in a shirt and pants that appear to be various winter blankets knitted together, her attire a multicolored patchwork of stitches and small grease stains. Her hair flows to her shoulder in thin stalks, a few clutches of fringe hair draped over her forehead. Behind her, a metal staircase leads to the second floor. The woman smiles and says "Welcome strangers. I don't recall hearing your names."

As I prepare to answer, I hear footsteps, and suddenly, jean cuffs appear from the top of the stairs. And then a pair of blue jumpsuit cuffs. The jean cuffs turn into a short Caucasian male, in his early-20s if even that, with a large nose, a completely shaven bald head, a rounded chin, and large ears that stick out noticeably, dressed in a leather jacket with a grey undershirt. The man, almost a teenager the way he looks, immediately aims a 'Glock' looking pistol at us as Yusuke and myself prepare to draw our revolvers. His grey leather gloves crease as he anxiously shakes the pistol and yells in a Virginian-accent with a slight southern drawl "Get back mister! Get back, I swear to the Lord Almighty I shoot you two where you stand fellas! I'll do it, ya better believe it, hehehe!"

I immediately abandon my pursuit of my revolver and raise my hands, Yusuke pensively following suit. I calmly reply "Neil Lewis I presume?" Yomi's horns, this fool is more terrified then the people he's tasked to protect. A hand goes over the slide of the pistol as a Caucasian male with a bony, Western European face and shaggy brown hair, dressed in a blue mechanics jumpsuit, yells "Can you stop doing that?!" He turns to us and walks down the stairs, yelling in Virginian-accented English "What the hell are you two doing here?! Get the…fuck out of my property!" Yusuke answers "Hey, watch it asshole! Evan King sent us to do door-to-doors and this woman starts talking about some fall catalogue, she let us in."

The man slaps his forehead with his right palm and mutters "Oh for the love of…" As the woman seats herself by the dining table, the man in the jumpsuit says "That's my wife Brailee, she's dumber than a bag of hammers. Name's Ken Ewers. So what the fuck does Evan King want?" Mercifully we avoided an unnecessary bloodbath for once. I answer "Mr. King is just trying to ensure that everyone is safe. The attack has been repelled." I can see the color return to Neil Lewis' skin. The boy finally lowers his pistol. Good. I was rather concerned that I would be forced to answer an 'accident' with a 'tragedy'.

Ken Ewers folds his arms and speaks "Oh that's great. I'm peachy. I love sitting at home with my thumb up my ass while some snot-nosed idiot that was never weaned dangles a loaded pistol at everything at that moves. Damn, when you see Evan again, tell him that nothing will change unless we take action." "Will do," Yusuke replies. Neil laughs nervously and speaks "Well…I-I-I sorry pointed my gun at you fellas, I was-just-uh nervous y'all know right?" Grr. Brailee speaks "You two must be exhausted from walking in that horrible heat. Please sit and enjoy some freshly baked biscuits. Why what brings you to this fine town? Please ignore my husband Kenneth, he woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning." Er? I do not see any freshly baked pastries. Please do not tempt me with freshly baked foodstuffs that I know do not exist. It is cruel. I reply "We, well, we have letters for the West residence. Their daughter Lucy tasked us with a courier assignment." Brailee smiles vacantly and speaks "Oh my, that darling Matilda is probably whipping up some of her freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookies, and the kids are playing in the yard. Oh that little Ian is always so adorable with his hat. It's so nice outside, the grass looks so lovely this time of the year."


Ken Ewers yells "Brailee! Stop being weird and stupid! And you too Neil! And you two, get the fuck out!" We oblige, gladly, returning outside. As the door closes, Yusuke whispers into my ear "Post traumatic stress disorder is one helluva drug."

Looking ahead, toward the Maryland side of the bridge, I spot a spacious three floor shanty diagonally across from the Ewers residence, as well as a single floor shanty directly across from it along the left side of the bridge. Yusuke approaches the house on the left, making his choice for us. I follow. This instance, Yusuke knocks, speaking "You alright in there? Evan King sent us." "Who is it? Did the attacks stop?" a woman replies in Pennsylvanian-accented English. Yusuke answers "Yeah, they did. Name's Yusuke, got one other guy here named Kurama. We're doing door-to-doors to make sure everyone's fine."

The door unlocks and opens inward, revealing a more spacious lodging, with a dining table on the left side behind a kitchen stove and pantry, a mattress on a bed stand on the right, wooden shelves behind, and a locker resting in front of the bed. Before us, a Central European seeming female with dirty blonde hair tied into a ponytail, large, somewhat thin hazel eyes, a thin diamond shaped nose, a long squarish chin and a trapezoid shaped jaw, and a long, thin neck. Her skin is slightly tanned and her clothes are knitted leather sofa fabrics formed into the shape of a sleeveless shirt and shorts. A shortened shotgun is cradled in her hands.

To the left, seated at the dining table with her back turned to us, a caramel-skinned woman of either African or South Asian descent, with long flowing black hair, dressed in a baseball cap, a weathered dark green military-themed jacket with grey sleeves, black bloodstained cargo pants, and spiked brown combat boots, slowly feasts on a bowl of ramen with a fork. We take a second step, and the woman in the military jacket immediately flinches. We freeze. I blink, and as I open my eyes, the woman has turned her chair 180 degrees, now aiming at us with a metallic pistol. She is African-American, with a rounded jaw, low-cheekbones, brown eyes, and a short, small nose. She is wearing a grey, sweat-stained undershirt, and the logo on her baseball cap is that of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. The woman speaks in a high pitched Maryland-accent "I will ask once, who sent you?"

She must be Teresa Smith. Yusuke mumbles and then speaks "She's the deaf one, right? Alright, DON'T SHOOT LADY, WE ARE WITH EVAN KING! THE FAMILY FUCKED OFF AND EVAN'S HAVING US CHECK THE HOUSES! WE'RE WITH WALTER AND BEN!" The woman groans and says "You don't have to shout, I can't hear you anyway. I lip read, so don't cover your mouths or I'll start assuming less then friendly intentions. Name is Teresa, though I'd imagine you already know that." The other woman replies "Karen Schenzy, nice to know Evan King hasn't forgotten about us. Don't remember you two from yesterday." Karen Schenzy turns to Teresa Smith and speaks "Did Ben mention that two more were supposed to show up later?" Teresa nods and says "Yes, two Asians dressed like cowboys, one with red hair. Ben wanted to send a search party out last night, we laughed in his face."

I reply "He may have mentioned that we stopped to salvage a vault. We stayed overnight, dealt with…several raiders." Teresa's eyes light up as she asks "Any good rifles? Explosives? We need any edge we can get against these bastards." Yusuke replies "Hold on ma'am, that's our shit. First, we are going to see your boss Mitch Harith about selling the stuff for caps, then you can speak to him about divvying up the goods." Teresa's jaw clenches as she speaks "I did not catch your names." I eye her suspiciously and reply "Kurama. He's Yusuke." "Yusuke," Teresa speaks with slight disdain "you may act the mercenary all you wish. If these men attack in force, I will just write you an IOU." "Don't go there…" I coldly reply. Teresa laughs sarcastically and speaks "I'm afraid I already have. Now, unless you have something else to ask Karen, I believe you have a few more houses to check."

Karen turns to us and asks "What's up?" I'd wager her age to be at the far end of thirty. I speak "We were originally tasked with delivering a satchel of letters to the Wests. Is there anything you known of them? Lucy promised that her father will compensate us properly." I am also recalling that Lucy West labelled Karen Schenzy as rude and hostile. Currently I would attach such a label to Ken Ewers, though crises do affect people differently.

Karen grins with a touch of annoyance and replies "Oh, those people. I ain't got much issue with Davis or Matilda, but their daughter Lucy is a spaz and a liability, and that son of theirs, Ian, something very off about him. That boy ain't right, all I'll say on that." Now I understand Lucy's choice of description. I hear Yusuke muffle a laugh and ask "You sure about that?" Karen raises an eyebrow and asks "Yeah, why?" Yusuke replies "Do you stake it on your twenty years of selling propane and propane accessories?" "What?!" Karen asks, as I let out a much needed laugh. It's good to hear him make his usual witty banter, perhaps yesterday's experience simply shook him, more than anything. Perhaps he is not completely repulsed by me. Yusuke shakes his head and turns around, saying "It's nothing, just a joke. We'll go check on the next house." "Well that joke is a dumb one," Karen replies, as we see ourselves out.

A three floor shanty right across from the Schenzy residence. I take the initiative this instance, approaching the metal door. I knock twice and speak "Hello? We were sent by Evan King. Don't shoot, understand?" I hear a soft, male Pennsylvanian-accented voice ask "Is everyone outside okay? We heard gunfire and my daughter is terrified." His voice trails off, as I faintly hear "It's people sent by Evan King. Still, better to be cautious. Stand back, Mr. Harith." I reply "We are armed but our guns are holstered, I assure you we intend no harm to those inside." I hear the door unlock, and then open, revealing a tall Caucasian male with dark brown hair combed to the right side, a thick but trimmed brown beard, blue eyes, and almost no neck. He is dressed in a grey lab coat with small specs of blood and grease, a clean white undershirt underneath. The man is also wearing dark grey pants slightly stained in dried blood. There is a bandage around his left index finger. "Hello," the man greets, holding the door anxiously "my name is Thomas Dankers. I am the town doctor."

"Yusuke Urameshi," Yusuke replies. "Shuichi Kurama Minamino," I add. The man speaks in surprise "Japanese names, and a Japanese accent. Forgive my surprise, as I haven't heard such an accent in over a decade. Post-apocalyptic Gettysburg was as local as one might expect, heh, and well Arefu is seldom different. Please, come inside. Mr. Harith, please lower your shotgun, they are friendly." The man's voice betrays any wish of his to hide his fear. We step inside, myself first.

The first floor is much more spacious, perhaps the size of two of our own shacks combined, with a metal staircase in the center leading to the upper floor. On the left, a medical station, with rows of drawers and a computer monitor flanking an operating table. On the right, a kitchen on the far wall, including a stove, a refrigerator, and several wooden counter tops. A dining table stands closer to the entrance, four wooden chairs on each end, one of them occupied by an African-American male dressed in a yellow mechanics jumpsuit. The jumpsuit contains a woven white patch that spells in red English lettering 'Lucky'. A grey undershirt is worn underneath the jumpsuit, and a Minnesota Twins baseball cap rest on the dining table, next to a pair of biker goggles.

The somewhat dark-skinned man, I assume to be Mitch Harith, cradles a rifle with a large drum barrel attached near the muzzle. He is sporting short, black, fuzzy hair, a trimmed short, black beard, a perfectly triangular, long and thin nose, brown eyes, and medium to high cheekbones. The man appears rather thin, his jumpsuit at least a size to wide for him. He nods at us and speaks in a deep, sophisticated Maryland accent "Why two fellow students of Wastes! Pardon the state of my humble caravan, as the hostile evils of man's inhumanity to man persist in infamy. Regardless, we may relax, for we are in a realm of safety!"

It just dawned upon me that Yusuke and I are surrounded by lunatics.

"Mitch Harith, I presume," I reply, on my guard. The man smiles joyfully and nods, speaking "I overheard two of my bodyguards moving a cart of salvage around Mr. Dankers' welcoming abode. Shall I be in fault for inquiring upon said trove of treasure?" Yusuke raises an eyebrow and blurts out "What?" I ignore Yusuke and answer "You may sit at ease Mr. Harith, for that collection of salvage is, well, while not the primary purpose of our journey, it serves a tertiary objective, so to speak. Yes, it is for sale. We shall trade after Yusuke and myself conclude our door-to-door inspections." Mitch Harith leans forward and asks "Shall I remain inquisitive of the contents of said cart, or will I be party to a preview of our…meeting of the minds?" I reply "Ammunition, rifles, pistols, explosives. We even procured a medieval styled poleaxe, may serve as a vanity purchase if you desire for such devices. We also salvaged food, water, alcohol, and medicinal supplies, along with assorted rubbish that may be put to use by the more industrial members of this community." "You have my attention…Shuichi is it?" Harith asks. I reply "Yes, though you may refer myself as Kurama. It is somewhat easier to pronounce, from my experience."

Thomas Dankers approaches us and speaks "I will also ask about the salvage. You mentioned food and medicinal supplies. Now…food and water we have sufficient now, but I fear for the results of an extended siege by these 'Family' individuals. And I considered ourselves uncomfortably low on antibiotics, morphine, saline, and iodine, and I also wish to add to our stock of surgical tubing and bandages. Also, a few of my surgical tools require replacements, not necessary for minor operations, but it may be life or death in the instance of, say, a collapsed lung or a bullet lodged in a major organ." Thomas Dankers may wish to learn how to negotiate from Mitch Harith, his desperation is plainly obvious even if he remained silent. I reply "We have tools to sell, I assure. I cannot promise that we will meet all your needs for the other items, but we can make do. Will you barter with caps or trade?" Thomas smiles in relief and answers "Caps at first. Trade if necessary."

I would actually feel quite vile to take advantage of this man's desperation. Should I? No, no, I am not that man anymore. At least, I can pretend to believe so. I glance at Yusuke's eyes. He glances back, then immediately shies away. No…I will not act the miser. Perhaps the goodwill would be as valuable…time will tell. Regardless, any actual bartering will not commence until later. Yusuke asks Thomas "Lucy West sent us to deliver letters to her family. She mentioned you have a wife and daughter. They okay?" Thomas nods and replies "They are upstairs. My sweet Jamie has been terrified…her crying wounds me. My wife reads her die Brüder Grimm, it helps alleviate. If you have any children's books to sell, I would gladly purchase them as well. Thank you, for your custom and concern."

I reply "We salvaged plenty of items. I do not recall any children's books. If we have any, I will consider it." "Thank you," Thomas replies, as Yusuke and myself approach the exit. I suddenly hear the creak of a stair, and I turn right. A girl, roughly around seven years old, with long, matted, apparently unwashed brown hair, dressed in a knitted patchwork shirt made of table cloth, small beige shorts that appear more appropriate for a toddler, and leather slippers, she pensively stares at us from the upper stairs. Suddenly, a woman with somewhat short brown hair, dressed in clothing similar to Brailee earlier, lifts the child up and cradles the child's head with her right hand. The woman asks in Pennsylvanian-accented English "Why are you two here?" "Lydia…" Thomas mutters, his tone anxious. Yusuke smiles and replies "We just came here to deliver letters to the Wests and sell some salvage. We aren't here looking for trouble." "Good," Lydia coldly replies, pulling down on her collar until…she reveals a breast? Her daughter, Jamie, immediately buries her head in it. The two move upstairs, out of our view.

Yusuke asks for me "Doc…ain't that girl a little too old for that?" Thomas glares annoyingly at us and replies "It is none of your concern. Now, the Wests residence is the house up ahead. Closer to the Maryland bank of the Potomac, before the remaining two shacks, there is a large gap in the highway, be mindful. The two shacks on each end are the O'Conners and Mr. Glatkowski's hovel. Now, please remember what we discussed." I nod and reply "We will. Mr. Dankers, Mr. Harith." As they nod in response, Yusuke opens the exit door. We leave and turn to the right, facing a two floor shanty house attached to the adjacent right side of the highway. Between what I assume to be the Wests residence and the Dankers residence, a pack Brahmin moos at nothing in particular, the cow surrounded by boxes of ammunition and weapons draped under a blue blanket. Next to the Brahmin lies our cart. As long as Mr. Harith does not confuse his inventory for ours, I will keep my objections to myself.

Yusuke mutters "And here I thought those Dankers were the only normal ones on this bridge. Oh well, at least we can get the letters offloaded and talk with Mitch Harith about selling the Vault 106 salvage." I nod and reach into a back pocket for my pack of Marlboro cigarettes. Last three, I can plainly see. I retrieve one, and then offer the pack to Yusuke. He pensively stares at me for a second, then at the pack. He then cautiously claims a cigarette from the pack, saying "Thanks" in English. I nod, smiling, attempting to dissuade whichever fears seem to persist inside him. I will never harm you, Yusuke. Please, do not stare at me in such a way. Anyone but you.

I reach for my lighter. Igniting it, I light the cigarette currently cradled between my lips, and I drag on the rolled tobacco. Wedging the cigarette between my left index and middle finger, I exhale. I turn to Yusuke, only to find that he already lit his cigarette with a match. He puts the match out with a flick of his wrist, tossing it over the edge and to the Potomac. The day after we dealt with Gallo and Stampanato, Yusuke traded his lighter for my set of matches, claiming that the lighter creases uncomfortably in his back pockets. Exhaling, Yusuke asks "Thinking about sticking around, in case those 'Family' thugs make another attack?" What would you wish me to do? I resist asking such a question, and instead reply "There may be hope for profit. Salvage from the corpses of these 'Family' individuals at the least, sell to Harith and the Dankers in addition to what we already scavenged." "Yep," Yusuke mutters, solemnly, almost irritably. I frown and mimic "Yep."

Exhaling cigarette smoke, we approach the two floor shanty. At the distant end of the bridge, right before a well reinforced barricade of traffic dividers and sandbags, lie two shacks similar to ours back in Megaton, one on each edge of the bridge. Curiously, I do not detect a soul at the barricade. Did someone, Ben or Evan or Karen, did they mention a group of slavers to the north? I cannot recall. Regardless, this is highly disturbing.

We walk within three meters of the door to the Wests residence when the door itself swings inward. A Maryland-accented voice speaks "It's me, I'm coming out. Don't shoot, you hear?" A man in blue cargo shorts and a stitched plaid red and charcoal buttoned shirt steps out. His shiny black hair is just above the shoulder, his beard appears recently trimmed to a centimeter of thickness. The man turns to us and freezes, a makeshift rifle in his hands. I blink…it truly is him.

"You…I…" the captive from the highway overpass mutters, in shock. "You…you look better now," Yusuke speaks, his tone cautious, pensive. "I am, or I…I at least look like I am. I'm…my name is Julius…Julius Bermudez. Are you Shuichi Minamino?" He turns to me "And you, Yusuke? Right? Yusuke Urameshi?" "Other way," Yusuke replies, his smile guarded. "Oh, sorry then. I…I…to be honest, I don't know whether to despise you both for not arriving an hour earlier, or to bless you for killing those pieces of shit. So…thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you."

I frown and ask "That woman…who…forgive me if I am overstepping my…" "A friend. A very good friend," Julius speaks, his tone broken, his grief and pain clear. The man's head fringe remains, groomed and shortened so that only a few clutches pass his hair line. "I'm deeply sorry we did not intercede earlier," I speak, and then continue "We were approached by two of their own, who posed as traveling merchants en route to Arefu. We knew who they were, and followed, anticipating a hideout and salvage for ourselves. We did not anticipate…what they did…" Yusuke adds "We only arrived less than an hour at the overpass. We waited for one of them to show their heads by that…big gap in the highway. That's when we went on the offensive."

Julius nods and frowns, saying "I believe you. And thank you." I reach into my back pocket, retrieving my pack of Marlboro cigarettes. I open the pack and inquire "Do you partake?" Julius eyes the pack pensively, and then slowly reaches for it. "May I?" he asks. I nod. He retrieves the cigarette, and states "It is the last one." "We have more," I reply, smiling, reassuring. Julius places the cigarette in his mouth as Yusuke retrieves his set of matches. He strikes the match and leans forward, lighting Julius' cigarette. Barely visible streams of smoke exit rapidly from his mouth as Julius smiles painfully and speaks "Thank you. Yusuke. And Shuichi." After a short pause, Julius adds "I know you are here to deliver letters to the Wests." Yusuke says "Yeah, where are they?" Julius shakes his head and answers "Walter and I found them an hour ago." "What?" I ask, confused. He opens the door, and the stench immediately answers my question.

We step inside…finding the first floor living room a ransacked mess. Legs draped over the bed springs, a somewhat elderly male corpse with its neck, mouth, and lips torn off rests in a pool of blood. A female corpse lies on an overturned metal locker by the far wall, face down, blood drops pooling underneath her hovering head. I draw my jian and approach her corpse. I lift her head up with the flat width of my blade…even more mangled then Davis West. Her…nose is missing, and one of her ears has a clearly visible bite mark. Yusuke swears "Holy…shit. It's…it's like those fucking Brahmin. Kurama, you think those Family assholes sicced an attack dog here? Or…are we dealing with…" "Cannibalism," I finish for Yusuke, my fist clenching. Julius nods and says "I think so too. I hadn't had a chance to tell Evan…as…"

"Where is Ian West? And Walter?" Yusuke asks for me. Julius replies "Was getting to that. Clive O'Conner saw Ian leaving with a few people toward the Northwest Seneca metro station, by that ghost town. The O'Conners and Walter went after them, Mark Glatkowski was left to man the barricade, while I ensured no one moved the bodies until Evan King saw for himself." Yusuke angrily replies "That Mark guy ain't doing so good a job manning the barricade, as he's not even there. Jesus fuck man…this…this is brutal. Those cannibals at the McLean sewers were all kinds of fucked but…it's like a wolf went at a hunk of meat here. Jesus…"

"We have to notify Evan King," I speak, as Julius nods in approval. Julius replies "Go, tell him. I will go outside, I cannot bear the smell anymore." "Who will check on the barricade?" Yusuke asks as we exit outside. Julius answers "I will. I will find Mark and find out why he's missing, for one." "Thanks," Yusuke replies, as the two of us turn toward the Virginian side of the bridge. Before we take a step, I hear Julius speak "Kurama? Yusuke?" I turn my head and ask "Yes Julius?" Julius, his eyes staring to the ground, before turning to us, he speaks "About…what you know. About what happened on the overpass. I…I would appreciate it deeply if you would…keep it a secret." I nod solemnly, saying "Of course."

AN: Was going to keep this and the next chapter as one chapter, but decided to publish what I wrote up to this point and keep work on the next chapter. Regardless, enjoy.

Chapter Text

It's happening again. Cannibals, like Gallo and Rampton and Miyazaki and the rest of those freaks. I had my fucking fill of them already…again, have to go through this again. And rapist raiders ain't any better? Shit, a lot of the demons I took out back when I was Spirit Detective would have fit right in.

Maybe Sensui and Hiei were right…we aren't much different. We just do a better job of prettying it up. Well, fox knight and I got the best of both worlds, heh. Those faces…that…it's like that hallucination, with mom and…the Mazuku version of me…like I don't have enough shit to worry about?! Apparently not, because now I gotta choose between thinking about how that West couple got munched on and the sick shit being done to Lucy's brother, and my growing acceptance of the fact that sooner or later, I'm going to slip and let Kurama, my best fucking friend of over ten years, find out that I've been wanting something more for just as long. I wish I stopped thinking. I was really good at that before.

We pass Rashad taking watch by the ledge between the Ewers house and Schenzy's shack. He's looking through a set of binoculars. Hearing us, Rashad turns around and asks "Everyone alright?" I grit my teeth and say "The Wests are fucked. The O'Conners and Walt went after Ian. And the north barricade is unmanned, all swinging dick like a piss trough after last call." "Colorful descriptions, Yusuke," Kurama mutters, laughing slightly. I laugh nervously, must have sounded like I'm retarded or something. Kurama continues to smile, looking uneasy. Why, man…why are you doing this to him?

Rashad's face turns really tense as he asks "Fucked? How fucked are we talking about it here?" I say "You see those Brahmin stiffs next to Ben? Use your imagination." Rashad glares at me for a second, and then slowly turns toward the western horizon, muttering "Jesus…Christ." He turns back and says "Alright, I'll take care of it. Tell Gabe or Evan I'm on the Maryland side of the bridge." He leaves, still holding the binoculars, his Mossberg 500 hanging in a sling around his back.

I turn and run up to Evan King, who's staring down his binoculars at who knows what. There's nothing out there but rocks and dirt, while cannibals are eating people's faces two houses back! Ben sees us first and says "You're back! Is everyone fine?" I grimace a bit and say "Oh sure, it's all peachy out there. Say, you hear the news? Some psychos busted into the Wests and chewed their faces off!" "What?!" Ben yells in shock, as Evan slowly lowers his binoculars to look at me.

Evan King turns his body and yells "The whole family?! Davis, Matilda, Ian?!" Kurama answers "Ian is missing, and the O'Conners and Walter have left in pursuit." "Well who the hell is manning the north barricade? Where the hell is Mark?" Evan replies, his voice shaky, like he's in shock. I say "Now? Rashad and Julius. Before? Who knows? I have no idea where Mark is, I didn't check on his shack." "Chewed faces off?" Evan asks, as if he didn't understand me at first.

I point at the dead Brahmin and say "See those? Take the numerical value of what happened to them, and cube it. Kurama and I had a run-in with cannibals before but this? Those guys ran a slaughterhouse, this looks like a pack of dogs running down the wounded. Sick shit!" Evan glares at me and drops his binoculars. His face…oh damn, I shouldn't have went that far. "Davis…oh Jesus…I'm sorry we fought over that stupid radio…" Evan speaks to no one in particular. He leans on the barricade and takes off his cap. The guy is completely bald, his head wrinkled almost like a prune.

Evan covers his eyes with his left hand and morosely asks "Did anyone see anything?" Kurama shakes his head and answers "We went door-to-door, and only Julius had knowledge of intruders from the Maryland entrance. Perhaps when the O'Conners and Walter return…or perhaps Mr. Glatkowski could help." Evan tenses up and replies in a low voice "Glatkowski never helped anyone in over six years. I doubt he'll start now." He's crying now.

He's over sixty years old and likely seen all kinds of shit out there. And he's crying. Me and my fucking mouth.

I lean on the barricade next to Evan and say "Sorry to tell you this." Evan nods slightly, his face covered by his left hand. After a pause, he says "I…should not have let this go on this long. I…they lived here for over a decade, the Wests. I had families come and go but Davis, you could not ask for a better guy to shoot crows with and share a flask of whiskey. And Matilda, she wasn't the friendliest person out there, but come to her with a problem and she would iron out a solution in a day. She was our…town judge, I sought her for advice so many times. Jesus…that boy, Ian. He may be 21 but I remember when he came here 11 years old and holding onto his sister Lucy's shoulder."

We stay silent for a while. After a minute, I ask "What…should we do with the letters?" Snorting, Evan King rubs his eyes and says "Hold onto them, their boy might still be kicking. God, I pray it so. Yusuke, Kurama." Kurama replies "We're listening." Evan King nods, still staring at the ground. He says "When the O'Conners and Walter get back, I'm going to have Mitch send some of his people out. They…these monsters have to have a hideout or something. There is a train yard and a metro station up north, plus a couple of caves I reckon. If you help us with this, I'd consider it a favor."

I look at Kurama, struggling to look him the eye. He frowns, and then nods. I nod as well, saying "You have us. Just point us where we need to go." Evan nods and says "Later…later. I need to think…I need some time alone, fellas." "Okay," I say, giving him space, walking toward the Ewer house. Kurama and Ben follow, as I knock ash off my cigarette. I take a deep drag, exhale, that feels better. A bit. Maybe.

Ben gives me a pat on the back and says "Not to sound like an asshole but you really need to work on your people skills, Yusuke." Heh, yeah. I say "Yeah, whatever. Thinking about checking the north barricade?" Ben nods and says "Yeah, it's weird though. There's a large slaver force beyond the rocks, and apparently they're on the Virginia side. If the Family sent people across the river to distract us or something, they don't have many options. The Potomac is one of the nastiest, most irradiated rivers on the eastern seaboard. Evan King has some boats, but they're all on the Virginia side, and the closest bridge to the southeast is miles away. There are bridges to the northwest, but they'd have to sneak past the slavers."

I ask, as we start walking toward the barricade "You think the Family's in league with the slavers?" Kurama answers "As Evan King said, we would be staring at a ghost town." I watch Ben scrunch his face a bit, like he doesn't like what we are saying. Ben adds "That's not the only thing. Mitch was on the way to Paradise Falls when the slavers sent him back. Says they took potshots and he had to blast his way from a scouting party." "Wait what? Mitch deals with slavers?" I ask. I mean like, what the hell? Kurama stares at Ben in attention as Ben answers "All the major caravaners trade with Paradise Falls. Eulogy Jones leaves them alone. Hell, how else do they get their medicine? Either those slavers out in the northwest come from a different commune, or someone is lying. I don't know which is crappier."

I hear Kurama exhale cig smoke and say "Neither option is pleasant. Regardless, this location is defensible, but against superior numbers? How large is this army that Mitch spoke of?" "At least a couple hundred," Ben answers. Holy fuckballs…that's...bad. "A…couple hundred? Megaton doesn't even have that many people," I reply. Ben says "That's the ball-parked number that Mitch gave me." "Damn…if they come down on us, we're screwed," I reply. Kurama knocks ash of his cig and says "Let's wish for that to not be the case. These 'Family' creatures already command the lion's share of my attention."

Ben sighs and says "I guess you're right. One thing at a time. Still, the shootings happened a few hours ago already. If Walter and the O'Conners ain't back yet, what's holding them up?" Passing the Wests residence, I say "Maybe we should go find out. That metro station leads anywhere?" I hear Ben say "Yeah, Meresti station. Evan said that it used to be a storage and maintenance hub for the D.C. subway system. There's an outdoor train yard next to it." "Anything else in that town over there?" I ask. Ben answers "Evan said it used to be called Seneca, hence why the station is called Seneca Northwest. There's an old golf course east of the train yard, not much there. North of the train yard is a drive-through theater and parking lot, again, not much there. Past Seneca is another town, Poolesville, nothing but burnt out husks according to Mitch. If they are anywhere, they are likely either hiding in Seneca, the Seneca station, or the Meresti station."

Kurama asks "Why is it called Meresti? And why is this commune referred to as Arefu? Those are Romanian names." Ben raises an eyebrow and says "Romania-what? I don't know, I guess someone left a sign somewhere and everyone else grew to calling it that. There's a sign at the bottom of the Virginia ramp that says Arefu." Kurama mutters to himself "Arefu…Arefu." Ben speaks "Careful now, we're approaching the hole in the bridge." He nods at that gap on the bridge, covered in wooden planks. Kurama suddenly blurts out "Careful…Arefu. Of course…" He starts chuckling to himself and says "Yusuke, take the phrase 'Careful', and remove the first and last letters." Oh shit. "Oh damn, you're right!" Ben exclaims, as I start laughing a bit. I say "Sign must have weathered with age or something. Clever there, fox boy." I say, my voice trailing off near the end as my mind starts thinking about shit it shouldn't be thinking about.

"Fox boy?" Ben asks. Kurama sighs and says "It's just a name Yusuke grew to calling me." "Alright," Ben says, as the two shacks on each end get closer and closer. I see Julius milling around the barricade, that weird hunting rifle in his hands. Like he tied up the barrel to the trigger guard and stock with glue and two dozen rubber bands. There is a 30-something year-old skinny white guy resting against Mark Glatkowski's shack door, probably Mark himself. Short brown hair, a five 0'clock shadow, dressed a slime green and brown camouflage patterned hunting jacket and dirty blue jeans, his arms folded. He has a cigarette in his mouth. Guy looks Slavic, and got a long, skinny neck, maybe around my height. "That's Mark," Ben announces, as we ignore Mark and walk up to Julius. I see Rashad with his binoculars, by the left edge of the highway, watching the northwest.

"Hey Julius!" Ben yells. Julius holds his left hand out, telling us to stop. He then suddenly waves us to him, yelling "Oh crap, we got company!" Rashad takes cover by the O'Conner shack, his shotgun in his hands. Kurama swings his Lee Enfield around, while I move my MP5K around my dufflebag until it's in my hands. The guy who I think is Mark looks right and then immediately runs behind his shack, holding a Beretta 92 looking pistol in his right hand. Ben runs with his 10mm pistol and takes cover next to Julius, closer to the O'Conner shack. I take cover by the sandbag barricade, Kurama with me to the right. "You see them?!" Julius yells. I aim down the sights, yelling "Yeah, two! No, three! Someone's getting carried by the shoulder!"

"Should we unload?!" Ben yells. Kurama screams "NO! DON'T FIRE! It's Walter! He's wounded!" Oh fuck. I yell "Shit! Who's with him?! Describe them, fox boy!" Kurama yells "Man and woman, Caucasian! Both wearing black leather jackets and jeans!" "One of them carrying a Ruger Mini?!" Julius yells out. Ruger…Ruger…I yell "You talking bout the carbine?! Wooden body and crap?!" Julius answers "That's the one!" My eyes staring at the three at the ramp, I yell "Yeah, the lady's carrying it!" "That's Lizzie O'Conner! Alright, I'm running down to help! Keep aim on the Seneca metro station, they came from there!" Julius vaults over cover, holding his rifle in his left hand by the barrel. He yells "How bad is it?!"

The tall, guessing six foot six, man carrying a Desert Eagle in his right hand and Walter on his left shoulder yells in a raspy Maryland accent "He's bleeding out the pelvis, take a wild guess!" He looks Western European and has short brown hair combed to the left, thick brown eyebrows, and a short beard that goes with his long jaw and his butt chin. The woman on the right looks Western European too, maybe two inches shorter than her brother, with a shorter jaw then her brother, slightly less bushy eyebrows, and a short brown guy's haircut with the fringe combed to the right.

I see it now…he's bleeding just above and to the right of the crotch. His eyes are closed and he's not moving. Shit, it looks bad. "Who the hell are you?! You those merc friends of Walter?" Lizzie asks. I say "Yeah, what the fuck happened?! Where's Ian?" They get past the barricade and continue toward the Virginia side, likely to the Dankers. Ben yells "I'll watch the barricade with Rashad! Mark! I see you by the shack! For God's sake, help me out here!" I hear Mark grimace, and then get out of cover. He barely even looks at us, has this angry look on his face. Whatever, it is Ben's problem now. Clive grunts and says "We got ambushed at the…fucking metro station. Three armored guys with automatics, we got at least one, maybe two, had to retreat when Walter went down. Guy passed out, damn near screamed my eardrums off!"

Passing the gap in the bridge, we pick up the pace to the Dankers. Julius yells "THOMAS! THOMAS DANKERS! WALTER GOT SHOT, HE NEEDS HELP! GET THE DOOR READY!" The door to the Dankers swings inward and Mitch Harith gets out, holding his USAS-12 automatic shotgun, keeping it lowered. We're a solid ten meters away. I barely hear Mitch say "Thomas, they got wounded!" Kurama asks "Those men that shot Walter, were they the 'Family'?" Clive snorts and says "Too well armed and trained, those pricks know tactics and how to flank. Not the type that would hang out with idiots that throw glass bottles at barricades." I say "Well they stepped up to chewing necks." Clive says "I know! I know! It don't make no sense, damnit!"

The five of us get Walter through the door. Thomas has the operating table prepped and has a bottle of either vodka or rubbing alcohol in his hands. I say "He's passed out, don't think you need the morphine shot." I see Kurama give me a split second look, face is all uncomfortable. Yeah, fox boy, for once, I'm the one that figured out the other guy's personal secret. Thomas, wearing latex gloves, ignores me and up-ends the bottle on some gauze. Clive and Julius go to work removing the once blue pants of Walter's stitched blue suit costume that he got from Crow. Now blue with long streaks of red, damn he lost a lot of blood. They get the pants off and pull it to the ankles, showing Walter's grey silk boxers with a hole diagonally to the right of his dick, half his boxers soaked in blood.

Thomas tries to pull back on the sleeves, gives up immediately, and then settles for a vein on the underside of Walter's right knee. He rubs the alcohol around the area and then grabs a small packet of US army morphine with an attached syringe. I turn to look at Kurama, he's staring at the syringe like he just found a fresh donut. Jesus man…that look he has. He doesn't take his eyes off the syringe as the doctor injects Walter with morphine. Finishing the injection, Thomas tosses the syringe into a waste basket and says "Everyone! Leave!" Lizzie yells "I think the bullet went in and out!" Thomas replies "Noted! Now leave, I require space!"

The five of us, the O'Conners, Julius, Kurama, and me, we funnel out of the house, me leaving last. Wait…wait a minute. Oh shit. I knock on the door "Hey Mitch, open up! I forgot something!" Clive asks "The hell you on about?" I turn to Kurama and say "Remember those medical tools we salvaged? I'd think now would be a good time…" Kurama blinks, and then nods immediately, saying "Yes, of course. I forgot as well." The door swings open as Mitch asks "Is now a good time?" I say "We got some medical tools we looted from the vault. Scissors and I think a good knife thing…what's it called?" "A scalpel. It is called a scalpel," Kurama answers. I hear Thomas yell "In that instance, I would appreciate the scalpel! Mr. Minamino, do you have surgical training?!" Kurama says "I have a basic knowledge of pharmacology and I know how to sterilize equipment." Thomas yells "Can you thread a suturing needle?!" Kurama yells "Yes!" Thomas yells back "Perfect, come here quickly! Mr. Urameshi, bring me the new scalpel! The rest, remain outside!"

I head to our cart of shit and yell "Got it!" Going through the various bags, crates, and metal boxes, I try to remember where we left the medical supplies. I look behind me…alright the O'Conners and Mitch really need to stop staring at me. I glare at Mitch and say "Don't even fucking think about it." Turning back to the cart…metal container I remember. I lift the lid, some medical supplies…morphine, painkillers…not this one. Another metal container, lift the lid…surgical tubing…yeah, there are the tools. Screw it, I'm taking both boxes with me, no need to bullshit around with Walter bleeding like that. Putting the lids back on, I stack them one on top of the other and say "Mitch, get the door. I'm coming in."

I get through the door, hauling the containers, one on top of the other, my submachine gun bouncing against my duffle bag. I set the containers on the floor and look up to…damn Walter looks like a mess. Kurama is by the sink, threading a needle with his plastic glove wearing hands, while Thomas is shining a flashlight with his left hand at Walter's bullet hole. Thomas says "Oh dear, I urgently require that scalpel now! A bullet fragment is lodged and I rather not reopen his pelvis with my current tools." I open the lid on the container on the right and fetch the scalpel, saying "Here, use this." Thomas does not even look at it, saying "Give it to your red-haired companion, the instrument must be sterilized. Ergh, he'll need blood as well…hurry, I cannot use a dirtied scalpel." I already handed it off to Kurama, who just dropped it into a pot of water boiling over a hot plate. "That's good enough?!" I yell out. Kurama nods his head and answers "Aside from residual radiation, it would suffice."

"Anything more you need? We scavenged a lot of useful crap," I say. Thomas says "For this procedure? Do you possess any type O-negative blood packs? Or do you know his blood type?" Argh, damn, forgot about this…wait, I remember. We told each other our blood types. Kurama says for me, going back to threading the needle "A-positive. Do we have any blood packs?" I kneel down and go through the container with the morphine and painkillers...only two packs. I read them off "B-positive and B-negative. That okay?" Thomas groans and yells "Of course not, why on earth would pre-war fools store group B blood?! We require an A or O group blood donor. What are your types?" Kurama finally gets the needle threaded, sets it down, and then replies "We are both type ABs. I know, it won't do."

Thomas keeps a towel pressed over the wound and growls "Mr. Minamino is more useful here, not to offend. Mr. Urameshi, inquire outside. Perhaps someone on this bridge is a blood type A or O." I nod and say "Got it." Feel like I'm on autopilot, just reacting and getting stuff done. I mean, I actually like Walter, despite how weird and stupid he can be. If he needed blood, I'd give him. Hell, back at the supermarket…he did shoot that guy for me.

I step outside and yell "Any one of you a blood type A or O?! We need a donor on standby!" I see Karen and Teresa showed up to watch the show, Teresa's Browning BDA pistol shines under the sun, like it's been spit-shined while we went door-to-door. Teresa yells "Say that again?" I walk a few feet forward so she could see my lips move, saying "We need a blood donor. Type A or type O." Adjusting her baseball cap a bit so that she could wipe some sweat off her forehead, Teresa says "I'm your huckleberry." Phew, I did my part. I wave her over and say "Thanks." As we head back to the door, I hear her say "One box of 9mm rounds and a bag of potato chips." I turn around and ask "Would you like some tea and a cookie too?" Teresa smiles and replies "Oh you know the way to a woman's heart." Smartass.

We gather around the outside of the Dankers residence, myself, Yusuke, Julius, Benjamin, Teresa, and Karen coming within close proximity of Evan King, who is kneeling by our salvage and Mitch Harith's Brahmin. Samantha and Neil stand a few meters behind us, both appear uneased. Mark Glatkowski blankly smokes a cigarette by the edge of the bridge, his eye contact with us as poor as Yusuke's with me. The Ewers remain in their homes, Gabe Shapiro and Rashad Alexander guard the south barricade, the O'Conners guard the north barricade. The Dankers and Mitch remain inside, hopefully at least of them tending to Walter in a helpful manner. A blood donation from Teresa Smith and a rather tense and messy operation stabilized Walter, at least according to Thomas. Now Walter rests on a bed for the infirmed, unconscious when we left him. Thomas secured a few choice X-rays of Walter's pelvis. It is unknown if he suffered any structural bone damage.

Kneeling by the Brahmin, his shotgun in hands, Evan King speaks "Now, I ain't deaf like Teresa, I ain't stupid like Samantha, and I ain't chickenshit like Neil." A few chuckles reverberate as I snatch glances at Neil Lewis kicking at air and walking in the direction of the northern barricade. Evan King continues "I know what you all are saying. 'Evan King is sitting on his laurel doing nothing. Evan King is not taking action. Evan King is scared to step on a radroach'."

His gaze moves through the crowd, lingering at some moments longer than others. Evan continues "I have led and protected this community, this home, OUR home, for over twenty-five years. I watched Lucy and Ian West grow from pre-teens to young adults. I cradled a newborn girl, oh it has been so many years since I did that, I…" Evan pauses to compose himself, halting a stream of tears. A ball forms around his neck, the man clearly suffering from grief. Evan continues "I brought my wife and child here. When the 2263 cholera epidemic took them both, I buried them myself, in the mound under the overpass. I buried the others too, most that none of you even knew. Carley, Jake, Kyle, Tomas, the Corbins, the Tangs, I never forgot their names. I…I never forgot what family means to me."

He rises up, an angry scowl overtaking his face. Evan continues "Those of you that say that I'm just going sit down and hope this passes? Shame on you, fucking shame! The Wests were family to me! Every single one of you are family to me! Well, aside from Mitch's people, no offense. Anyway, I loved Davis as a brother, and I will be damned many times over if I would let his son being held captive by those sick…freaks! No more cowering behind barricades, NO! I am sending a team into the Seneca ruins, and they are going to find Ian, find where these bastards that dare call themselves 'The Family' are hiding in, and they are going to drag them out of their rat holes and give the Wests the justice they are damned owed. If there is anyone that has something to say, now is the time!"

No one speaks. Content with the silence, Evan continues his speech "Do I have one? At least one? One to go north and bring Ian back to us?" "You have one," Yusuke immediately answers. He turns to me and frowns slightly. Is he worried that I would disapprove? Is he still disgusted by my sight? Please Yusuke, answer me!

I frown in response and say "You have two. We will lead the rescue. We have much experience in these matters." Evan nods and says "Good, good. In that case, I'll let you two pick the rest." Yusuke nods and says "Alright, good." He turns to Mitch Harith and asks "Can we hire some of your bodyguards for the rescue? We'll pay them with salvage." Yusuke turns to me and anxiously asks "If…that is okay with you." His tone tortures me. I say "Yes, yes. It is fine. We need combat-hardened veterans." Mitch pauses for a second, and then answers "I am unsure. Perhaps if I was convinced..." "I'll go," a feminine voice from the crowd speaks. I turn around and see that Samantha Tavares is the source. She shrugs her shoulders and says "Sorry Mitch, but I really need to pay off my gambling debts." I overhear Mitch growl and say "Perhaps you should be more disciplined with your bottle caps while engaging in Texas Hold'em." Samantha ignores Mitch and turns to me, asking "So, Shuichi right? Will you have me?" I nod at the short, black haired Latina, short in stature as well, perhaps a few inches under Yusuke. I say "Yes. That makes us three."

Yusuke asks "What about Gabe and Rashad?" Evan King interjects "No, Gabe and Rashad are needed for barricade duty." "And Ben and Julius?" I reply. Evan King shakes his head and answers "You may pick two of the four. Ben, Julius, and the O'Conners. Two others must stay. I will not leave Arefu a sitting duck, not with those cannibals attacking from the south and a giant slaver army in the neighborhood."

Ben and Julius approach us. Ben speaks "If you want me, just say the word." Julius adds "Myself as well. However, it may be best to recruit one of the O'Conners, given that they recently escaped from a firefight." Evan asks "Did they say who the hell shot at them?" I answer "Only that those who attacked were armored and military trained. Clive has his doubts that they are with 'The Family'." Ben says "I tangoed with armored raiders and slavers before. I'm a good shot and could be of help." Yusuke says "Alright, Ben. You're with me. Julius can stay on the barricade. Actually, can you go ask which of the O'Conners want to help out? Thanks." Julius replies "Alright, will do. Stay safe, you four."

I return to Evan King and speak "I believe that gives us four." "Five," Karen Schenzy suddenly blurts out. A few muffled voices erupt as Evan King speaks "Karen? Seriously? Why, I remember you hated that boy." Karen grimaces and replies "Hate is too strong a word. And he is one of our own, I can't just sit around and do nothing. Besides, Yusuke and Shuichi need people with experience. Raise your hands if you ever did mercenary work for the Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts." Karen raises her right hand, as Evan speaks "Alright, it is your choice." Karen turns to me and speaks "One condition. I need some better armor and some ammo, and maybe a better gun then this sawed-off." I reply "I will let you browse." Karen smiles and says "Thanks. Appreciate it. And…I'd imagine I'd get some pickings for the salvage, right." I sigh and say "Yes, of course. We will arrange something."

"So that gives us five, maybe six," Yusuke announces, casting glances at Kenneth Ewers, who just approached the crowd, a cigarette in his mouth. A voice shouts from the back, speaking in a Midwestern accent "You have six…or seven, if you would have me." I turn around and see Mark Glatkowski stepping forward, his gaze directed at the ground, which does not elicit much confidence. Evan, his face spelling one of shock, says "In-freaking-credible. If only you pried your ass off your couch six hours ago and bothered to check outside." Mark solemnly replies "Well, I am here right now. And I'm not asking for much…just armored clothing and a box of 9mm ammunition." "Why?" Kenneth Ewers angrily asks, stepping forward, his fists clenched. Mark turns to him and weakly smiles, saying "I feel responsible for what happened. I should have paid more attention. I…I know I seem a recluse, but I do care for this community. I want to…"

Kenneth rapidly approaches Mark and swings a wild right at Mark's chin. Mark attempts to move his head back…no, clipped on the chin. His legs slightly buckle as Kenneth swings an uncoordinated left hook that glances across Mark's abdomen. At this point, Yusuke's between the two, pushing both of them apart. Mark angrily yells "You have no right! No right!" Kenneth attempts to snake around Yusuke, the detective privy to the attempt. Mr. Ewers yells "You haven't flexed a muscle for I do not know how many years! A bloatfly lands on your shoulder, you are too lazy to shoo it away! So many times, the boiler, the latrine, Simon Hoff's caravan! All you had to do was speak up, you anti-social mute moron! And now this! Do you really believe this stress is going to help Brailee and her condition?!"

Yusuke extends his arms out, blocking both of them. He yells "Enough guys! Calm the hell down!" "To hell with calm!" Kenneth yells, swinging a blind right hook. It strikes Yusuke across the face, pushing him back, sending him to a knee.

I feel my teeth strain as I clench my jaw. I approach. Yusuke…his lip draws blood. I…I will hurt you for this.

As this vile, malignant bastard grapples with Mark Glatkowski, and as Yusuke daps his lips with his right hand, staring in anger at the blood on his fingertips, I conduct a debate in my head. Between dangling Kenneth over the railing until he rains urine, or between dislocating a limb. Yes…dislocation will do fine.

I approach Kenneth from behind and wrap my arms around his waist. Prying him away from Mark, who slips an opportunistic 'jab' at Kenneth's nose, I bend my knees and lift him up, up in the air, attempting a belly-to-back suplex. I arc my back as I lift him over my head and SLAM him into the concrete, hearing screaming. "My shoulder! My freaking shoulder!" Kenneth yells, as I twist right and rest on my fours. Kenneth's back to me, his right arm grasping at his left shoulder, I take his back and wrap my legs around his waist, hooking onto him. I then swing my right leg around and over his head while I push his head to the right with my right arm. I wrap both my legs around his arm and attempt an armbar to maximize his suffering. Kenneth's yells intensify as I slowly pull his left arm back so as to clearly hear the sound of his elbow popping inward, feeling hands grasp for me, people pleading me to stop.

"Kurama, Shuichi man, stop! You made your point man," I hear a familiar voice, and smell a familiar scent. I let go of Kenneth's arm and allow him to crawl away in shame. Evan King and Teresa Smith tend to him as I roll onto my back and look upwards, at the glaring sun, at Yusuke, his head eclipsing most of the nearby star, his lower lip slightly bleeding. He extends his right arm, I grasp it. Pulling me to my feet, Yusuke says "Thanks. Seriously, thank you." He pulls me closer for a short moment, scant seconds, embracing me with just his right arm. I smile, the gesture putting me at ease. I feel myself calming. Better…better. His eyes suddenly waver…no…Yusuke. Why? I'm sorry, I…I shouldn't have confessed all those vile things I did. I…idiot. Idiot! Why am I such an idiot?!

"Have you left your brains in the vault? Dropped him an inch to the right and you'd have broken his freaking neck!" Samantha chastises, which I immediately ignore. Evan yells "Alright, we had enough bullshit! Those heading out with Yusuke and Kurama, well, listen to them! Teresa, help Kenneth into Thomas' office. And then keep watch on Brailee, I don't want her to know about this, not now! The rest, well, you all know what to do. God dang it…"

No hesitation. He just went and German suplexed that asshole. And I reached the point where I'm not all that freaked out. Don't know whether I should laugh at that or cry. At least it's a step down from feeding people to their pets. Oh c'mon, this again? He realized he crossed a line and stopped. And he didn't completely destroy that guy's arm. Cause that's going to un-kill that woman and un-break that guy's shoulder. Don't Yusuke, stop. Just stop it already.

I keep snatching looks at Kurama, and he keeps frowning and turning away, looking miserable. I can't help it. I could be talking serious about something like what happened to the Wests or strategy, but when that conversation nearly ends, all the other thoughts start snaking in. And every time I go back to the vault, and when I kissed…ah damn this. Damn this!

"Yusuke, something the matter?" Karen asks, now wearing the rust green combat armor that we looted from the vault. She has rust green metallic shoulder pads, 'greaves' and a chestplate, along with a belt around the middle of the chest with pouches latched on. Stuffed with medical supplies, ammo, and some other survival gear. She's also wearing black combat boots and a baby blue bandana that's wrapped around her head, her ponytail sticking out from under the bandana. She's carrying a loaned SKS rifle, rare find from the vault, don't see many of those I'd guess. Her sawed-off shotgun is in a strap below her right knee. I say "I'm fine Karen."

We walk to the end of the northern ramp, about to make mine and Kurama's first steps into post-apocalyptic Maryland. Me, Kurama, Karen Schenzy, Benjamin Canning, Mark Glatkowski, Clive O'Conner, and Samantha Tavares. Mark Glatkowski is wearing a blue sweater with holes in it underneath his opened hunting jacket, also wearing a light green flak jacket and some metal plates on his jeans that Samantha helped attach. He is carrying a loaned Remington 870 shotgun, and is wearing this trucker cap with some old corporate logo from some long extinct company, one that sells beef jerky or mustard, I'd guess. 'Oscar…Mayer.' Never heard of them.

Besides carrying his 10mm pistol in an ankle holster a la Walter, Ben is lugging around a knockoff Galil Shortened Automatic Rifle. He looks in a lot better shape, even looks like he gained some water weight. He nods at me as I look at him, so I look away before it gets weird.

Clive brought some UMP looking submachine gun that I never saw before, probably unique to this dimension or however the hell it works, took it out from storage. He put on a beaten-up bulletproof vest and slipped it over his red shirt but under his leather vest. Kurama and I slipped on a pair of flak jackets, and Samantha duct taped an old big-ass telephone book to her chest, looks as stupid as it sounds. She also took a military-styled green helmet and strapped it on. She's holding her M1 Garand in her hands. About to get off the ramp. Seneca is a complete ghost town. I'm getting creeped out just by looking at it. Probably going to go straight into the metro anyway.

"There's a jet lab near the metro entrance. A pair of ghouls operate it, Murphy and Barrett. Leave them alone and they'll do the same," Clive announces. A jet lab? Oh…like that crack pipe we saw at Silver's lab. Kurama asks "Are these ghouls in any manner associated with The Family?" The sun is starting to set, my Pip-Boy saying that it's 4:38 PM. It's not as hot anymore, though still pretty damn humid. A fresh breeze helps cool me down, tickling the back of my neck. "That's what I'm going to find out," Clive answers.

Marzano and Co., whatever it used to be, is on the right, first building we pass on the waterfront. On the left is another large, three floor building. Derelict with the windows long broken. I see a worn-out sign that reads 'The Montgomery Enquirer'. There's what looked like a barbershop next to it, and then some brick building to the right of the likely barbershop, windows boarded up and any signs that once were there now long gone. Honest Gabe's department store is next, on the far left corner of the street. The metro entrance is to the right of it, between the streets. I turn my head right and follow the signs. After Marzano and Co., Ellie's Used Books, then some small shop or café that's been ransacked to shit, at least from over here, then another brick building with boarded up windows and no signs, then a building at the corner. 'ohn's Pharm', I read from a sign. John's Pharmacy, I'd guess, or some other name. Clive looks at me, must have noticed me staring at the store. He says "You'd have better luck finding fish in the river." "No harm in staring," I answer back. Clive laughs a bit and says "You know, I knew an idiot that once stared at the sun, trying to win a bet. Didn't end that well for him." "Hey, he's an idiot," I reply. Clive shoots back "Happens to the best of them." Hah, guy's got a sense of humor. Nice, we need more of that.

Clive has been taking the lead since we started out. Behind him, me, Kurama, and Ben, walking side by side. Karen, Mark, and Samantha are behind us, been hearing them whispering to each other. This feels tense. Like, I have this deep pitted feeling that something bad is going to happen, on top of the…other stuff. I look back, spotting Samantha and Karen muttering to each other. I slow down and walk with Mark, asking "What the hell was that back there?" Mark just blinks, doesn't answer. I say "I think I asked you something." "Yeah," Mark answers, staring at me with this wounded look. Weirdo. Looks like we found Hiei's human cousin. Hiei…

Whatever. I walk next to Samantha and Karen, asking "You two been in action before right? Any specifics?" Karen, her face already turned to me, says "Yeah, I used to work with a group, did survey work for the Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts." "Outcasts?" I ask. I remember Marinos mentioning them. Karen says "A splinter group of the Brotherhood of Steel. They only care about collecting rare tech, not as friendly as the main Brotherhood group. They…are okay with locals, sometimes. Like when they contract out work. I got into shootouts with Super Mutants a few times, and once with raiders." "How'd they go?" I ask. "Still here, ain't I?" she answers, smiling and looking down on our footsteps.

I turn to Samantha and ask "You ever ran across cannibals before?" "Nope, you?" she says, sounding a little pissed off. I answer, approaching the metro entrance, "Yeah. We were out collecting a bounty on this raider, and then got ambushed by cannibals with stun guns. Kurama cleaved a way through them." "Kurama?" Samantha asks. "Shuichi. A nickname we have for him," I answer. Samantha's eyebrows twitch a bit as she says "Oh. Well as long as cleaves through the right people, I won't complain. You think The Family are cannibals?" What the hell is that supposed to mean, the right people? Whatever. I say "Yeah, looks like it. Probably storing Ian for a later snack. I'm just hoping they like their meat fresh and don't have an appetite." "I hear you," Samantha replies.

She then immediately asks "How long you known him? Kurama?" Hm? I say "Long, since we were kids." I see Kurama's ears twitching, him walking a bit slower. Samantha asks "Is he usually this violent?" Fuck you. I snarl at her and stay quiet. I say "Only to those that…that…" He fed someone to their pet rat. He curb stomped and horizontally bisected people just cause he wanted to. He…he…"those that deserve it" I finish saying.

We make a U-turn and head down the ramp to the Seneca metro, the chain-link doors slightly open. Clive whistles and says "Flashlights on." He and Mark switch on the attached flashlights on their guns. Samantha pulls a flashlight out of her pocket with a clamp on it, clamps the flashlight on her SKS. Kurama and I attached flashlights back in Arefu, me helping fox boy stick them on. Kurama switches his flashlight on, I do the same. Karen's flashlight just fell off her SKS. I go help her tighten the clamp on the rifle…almost…got it. "Thanks," she says, the flashlight already on.

Suddenly, Ben asks "Hey Clive, isn't this the point where we split up?" What, I don't get it. Clive blinks and then says "Oh, yeah. Ben wants to check out Meresti train yard from the outside in, go poke through houses along the way." Ben nods and says "Yes, I'd like one volunteer to head out with me. Anyone?" I look around, not exactly the most enthusiastic faces. Eh, maybe I should…"I'll go," Mark suddenly says. Okay, that works. He walks up to Ben and says "I know the land, I may be able to assist." "Alright, works for me Mark," Ben says. He turns to the rest of us and says "We'll meet inside the train yard. If we don't see you for a few hours, we are heading back to Seneca via the tunnels. If you don't see us, well, be careful." "Thank you, Benjamin. Stay safe as well, both of you," Kurama answers. Mark smiles and says "Will try. And thank you."

Aiming my MP5K at the fence, I press my right shoulder against it and reach for the left side of the fence with my left hand. I slowly push it open and I funnel inside, feeling a hand on my back. Someone tall, probably Clive. Alright, I start aiming my MP5K, swinging it around…shit it smells bad. Like worse than the Tokyo subways by far, smells like urine and ammonia. Walls are weathered, some crumbling, some already crumbled. There's a Nuka-Cola vending machine on the far right, before the turnstiles. I see a lit bathroom on the near left, at the bottom of the ramp. I whisper "I'll check the crapper out. Samantha, with me." "Okay," I hear her say.

We stack up to the left of the bathroom doorway, me in front, Samantha behind me. I crouch and peek around the corner…hear flickering. Radroach probably. Nothing under the stalls, no feet, nothing but the smell of piss and ammonia. I step inside, sighing, wait…maybe they are hanging on the roof. I turn around to Samantha and move my eyeballs up, she gets the idea. We take a few steps, and I whisper "Three…two…one…" We twist and aim at the roof. Nothing.

Bathroom had nothing but a dying radroach, someone putting a boot to it already. We get back outside, shaking our heads. Time for the turnstiles. I hear Clive whisper "Watch for tripwires. Could be from The Family or Murphy. Or someone else." We pass the turnstiles, no tripwires, no shotgun traps, no falling grenades. Hallway curves to the right, looks like to the train platform, wait wait. There's a well-lit room on the left, sign says "Station Manager Office." Clive whispers "That's Murphy's place. Okay, I'll do the talking. One second." He lowers his UMP-looking rifle and slowly approaches the office. Stacking up to the left of the doorway, Clive turns around and looks at us. I get the idea. I point at Karen, and the two of us huddle behind Clive, Kurama and Samantha watching the flank.

Clive swings inside, I listen "Easy Murph, Barrett, it's me, Clive." A hoarse ghoul voice replies "What the fuck are you doing here?" Another hoarse, slightly deeper voice replies "Last warning smoothskin, turn your ass around before I blow your arms off!" "Oh I wouldn't do that," Clive answers, his voice a little tense. Karen moves up, inches closer to the doorway, I follow. I hear the less deep voice yell "Both of you, relax. Let's not do anything stupid." "Only thing stupid is letting these smoothskins go last time! You heard the gunshots, they are bringing nothing but trouble," the deeper ghoul voice says. Clive backs up a step, his arms raised, his UMP hanging from a sling around his neck. The deep voiced ghoul voice says "And stop shining that fucking flashlight in my eyes! It's making me nervous!" Clive says "I'm just here to ask a few questions." The deep ghoul voice answers "Well speak into the barrel, asshole!"

I whistle.

Clive takes two steps back and gives me a really pissed off look. I ignore him and say "We outnumber you five to two." Karen continues "And we got grenades. If we wanted to take you guys out, we wouldn't be talking right now." "Fucking smoothskins…" the deep ghoul voice answers. The other ghoul voice says "Barrett, back off. Clive, we're good. Just keep the guns lowered, alright?" Clive says "Will do, Murphy. You heard the guy, no cowboy shit."

I straighten up my stance and lower my submachine gun, approaching the doorway. Damn, that ammonia smell really hits me now. It's like a meth lab inside, with a bunch of chemistry glass-stuff on a metal desk, bunch of tubes, shelves full of baking soda and random chemicals I can't even pronounce. On the right side, there's a locker near the back, opened and full of bulky packages wrapped in cellophane.

In front of the locker, on the right, holding a double barreled shotgun, is this really tall ghoul, like seven feet tall, with corpse-like skin, looks a little dark, I think he's black, or was at least. He has a small patch of curly black hair on his head, and is dressed in a brown leather combat armor getup. Standing behind the desk on the left with the chemistry setup, a shorter ghoul with even patchier ghoul skin, like I can see the muscles and veins on his neck in clear detail. He has short stalky brown hair that's been combed down, some of his fringe covering over exposed muscle, and he is wearing black, thick framed glasses. He's wearing a red t-shirt with a bunch of stains on it, and brown cargo pants. I'm guessing the one with the shotgun is Barrett, and this guy is Murphy.

To the left of the locker, there is a doorway, and I think I see another door past the doorway on the right. Walking into the office, I say "Hey, see. Guns are lowered." The guy in the glasses says "Good, good. Keep 'em that way. Name's Murphy." "Yusuke. That shootout earlier was between some assholes that kidnapped one of ours and Clive here. One of our guys got shot, bad. We think The Family might know who they are." Murphy lets out a nervous laugh and says "Ey what? All you want is directions? Well you should of said so in the first place. Well, you got two choices. Follow the main hallway to the platform, and take the tunnel to Meresti Station. Option two, I got a manhole in the back that shortcuts your way to Meresti, only problem is that I keep a bunch of nuclear waste barrels next to the manhole. Keeps the nosy types away and does wonders for my complexion, heh."

"Station platform, please," Karen says, and no one with a brain is going to argue. "Too hot for you smoothskins, eh?" Murphy laughs, annoying ass-hat. Resting my left hand on the doorway, I ask "So Murphy, what you know of The Family?" Murphy pushes his glasses up against his half missing nose and says "Just that they like to keep to themselves and let us two keep to ourselves. Once in a while, one of their guys, short man, Trey I think his name, got this wiry beard, he brings some stuff to sell for caps." Karen speaks out "You 'think' his name is Trey? He's the only guy you likely meet here regularly and you don't know his name?" I see Barrett raise his shotgun by an inch…eh. Don't want to do this now.

Murphy turns to Barrett and shakes his head with an angry look. He then turns back to us and says "Hey, we ain't hermits. Okay, I…eh…got a little thing going, as you might notice. I cook souped-up jet, I call it Ultrajet, and I trade it with Trey for whatever they scavenge, you know, to get by." "Ultrajet?" Karen asks, scratching her jaw. Murphy shrugs his shoulders and says "Jet with some extra stuff, to give it more of a kick. Look, if you got any bright ideas, don't." I don't like this, guy has a business deal with these cannibal freaks.

Kurama says "Murphy, you are not the first ghoul to associate with…'smoothskin' cannibals, and you would not be first I'd kill." Barrett swings his shotgun barrels at me, saying "Give me a reason, asshole." Okay, getting really really tense here. I back off, hands up, and say "Look, maybe we can work something out…" Shit, I feel a hand wrap around my neck…losing balance, Kurama just shoved me out of the doorway. "WOAH HOLD IT HOLD IT!" Clive yells. "TAKE IT EASY!" Murphy yells. "I GOT TWO SHOTS, ENOUGH FOR YOU!" Barrett yells. "I have six bullets, and I can attest to .44 rounds causing grievous bodily harm to the ghoul physiology. Lower your shotgun, and listen," Kurama calmly but seriously demands.

I hear a pause as I climb off my knees. I see the back of Kurama's head, his revolver aiming at I guess Barrett. Fox knight says "We simply wish to rescue one of our own." I hear Murphy say "Hold it, first, lower the goddamn guns. Second, cannibals?! What the hell are you talking about?" I yell "Clive! How long have these two been here?!" Murphy yells "Almost a year!" "That before 'The Family'?" I ask. Clive says "Way before, I think." I hear Murphy reply "They moved in two months ago, maybe a little longer than that. Again, all I know about them is Trey, and I like to keep it like that." Kurama says "Yes, and to do that, you will not run through your side entrance to Meresti to warn them of our arrival. And your reward for doing so is a reliable purchaser for your 'Ultrajet'." Wait, what?

Murphy asks "You going to buy my stock, red haired cowboy?" I hear Kurama reply "No, but I will direct you to a certain Irishman who might. Consider it an apple dangling before you. Lest we consider the alternative." "I don't like this smooth-talking smoothskin, Murph, don't listen to his shit," Barrett says. Don't screw it up you seven foot tall pile of rotting crap.

Five seconds, ten…Murphy breaks the silence "Alright, I'll stay out of this. But you better not screw up my deal, alright?" "We will not," Kurama answers, as we back away from their hideout.

We get within five steps of the elevated level overlooking the Seneca train platforms when Karen asks "What the hell was that? Did you plan that, Kurama?" Kurama sighs and replies "Experience is always a helpful crutch." "Do you even know an Irishman or was that all bullshit?" Samantha asks. I watch Kurama turn his head and say "Would you be surprised if I said yes?" I hear Samantha spit and say "Well, at least you are an honest nutcase that likes to take a flamer to a twig." "Excuse me?" Kurama asks, as I metaphorically bite my tongue.

Samantha 'Tsks' and asks "What, you going to snap my arm for that?" I hear Kurama seething, saying "Curious choice of words for someone that greeted us with promises of 'blowing our freaking heads off'. I think that is what you said, more or less." Samantha growls and says "Difference is, you know who you were dealing with. That shit with Kenneth was extreme, no matter how you spin it." Clive growls and says "We can kiss each other all day or we can try to save Ian from getting eaten. What y'all say?" Thanks Clive, and…funny choice of words there. "I have nothing to say if Ms. Tavares does not," Kurama coldly says. Samantha just snarls and keeps walking. We all keep walking.

The elevated platform has four escalators, two on each side, going down to the two subway platforms below. There is a booth in the middle, poking inside…just a really dusty skeleton and a few tin cans. Back outside the booth, the signs on the platform closer to Murphy point toward 'Harper's Ferry'. Next station is 'Leesburg'. I ask "That's the way we need?" Clive shakes his head and yawns, saying "Nah, that will, argh, that will go toward West Virginia. We need the far platform, toward Meresti. Meresti Station is, I think, some kind of storage for trains." "A metro hub?" Kurama asks. Clive nods and says "Yeah, something like that. It's a large train yard, I passed through there before on scavenge runs. Never been inside, but it does look like a good place to hide from super mutants and other people."

Us five keep walking to the far right escalator. I see a sign, hm. I ask "Clive, that platform is heading toward D.C. I thought we are going to a train yard." Karen suddenly speaks out "Tunnel probably goes two-ways, I scavenged in these kinds of ruins before." Clive takes the first step onto the escalator and says "Yeah, that's around the place where Walter, sis, and I got ambushed. Stay chilly and keep your flashlights on."

Karen is the last off the escalator, holding her SKS with her left hand, by the barrel. She says "These tunnels rarely have weird twists and turns. The split towards Meresti should be on the left." Clive nods and says "Yeah, we chose left too. Kind of a guess though, Walter said he had a hunch. Well, we found something at least." Climbing off the platform and onto the empty subway tracks, Kurama asks "Remind me, who attacked you there?" Clive approaches the edge of the platform and says "That's the thing…" He jumps down to Kurama. Clive continues "Three armored guys that know how to suppress and flank. If they are with The Family, we have problems." "They sound more like mercs or a survey team," Karen says, as I jump down onto the tracks. Clive replies "Maybe. Maybe The Family hired them. For what, I don't know." "Cannibals hiring mercs? Who would take a job from them?" I ask, as I watch Karen and Samantha jump down onto the tracks. Karen blurts out "Caps and water are good motivators, and they wouldn't be the first mercs to ever work with psychos."

Our first, measured steps, inside the sprawling metro system that seemingly sprawls across three American states. I shine my Lee Enfield's flashlight down the length of the east-bound tunnel. Nothing but tracks and occasional debris. No corpses, no rotting remains of the trains of eras past. Nothing but the pitch black darkness baiting us into its cold embrace.

A thought crossed my mind that terrifies me to my very core.

If there is no Ki in this world, can spirits exists? When I depart, will my soul walk the earth? Would I have the company of Yusuke as I do?

Or will I become nothing? What is nothing? Nothing.

I should have killed myself years ago. Now, I fear death. It is queer and humbling, and it shakes me to my core. "You alright there?" Clive asks. Can he even contemplate the philosophical terror that lays siege to my psyche? "As fine as one could be, given the circumstances," I reply. Our flashlights dance in the darkness, beams shining at the unknown, scrambling to see who wins the prize of first uncovering our eventual deaths. I heave a deep sigh, my lips dried. I wish for morphine. I crave it as I once craved alcohol and sex, and as I later crave alcohol and death.

Even a cigarette would bring me joy. A smile crosses my lips, the idea of me desperate for a smoke. At the very least, I have become psychologically addicted to nicotine. Well, as foolish as it may seem, it does bring one great pleasure to occasional destroy oneself. I only wish, and cower in fear of the alternative, that there is a world outside of this. A genuine reprieve.

"Keep those flashlights steady, feral ghouls like to wander in these tunnels," Karen warns, as we continue our approach. *CLANG* "What the fuck was that?!" Yusuke nervously asks. "Just kicked a can, my bad," Samantha answers. Grr, she loves to toy with my nerves. My flashlight shines on the far tracks…I see a subway train up ahead. I aim my flashlight at the rear door and sputter out a failure of a whistle. Clive snickers and says "Jesus that sounded bad, hehe. Yeah, I see it. We got ambushed further ahead, like a hundred meters past the tunnel split." I see, still. Would be prudent to investigate.

I speak "Someone should pass through the train cars regardless. Any volunteers?" A silence for five seconds, ten…"I'll go. You and me?" Karen speaks out. "Sure, you protect my flank. We remain close at all times…" Karen interrupts "…watch our corners, do 180 sweeps, got it. Not my first rodeo." I nod, my face illuminated by Clive's flashlight. I say "Never insinuated that it was." Clive laughs and says "Insinuated…where do you find these words?" Ha. I shake my head in dismissal as Yusuke says "Hey, Shuichi has an educated vocabulary. You should hear him during happy hour." Ha-ha. Very amusing, Yusuke. At the least you do not sound threatened by me any…one glance at his face dispels those notions. Very well, at least he is pretending to not be threatened by me anymore.

Damn this all. I am going to die alone and broken in this wasteland, am I?

We reach the rear door, me shifting my Lee Enfield into my left hand, climbing onto the thin plane of metal balcony before the rear door. I have barely enough room for my feet, if even that. The step back I needed just now to grab the door handle and slide the door to the right nearly caused me to fall back onto the tracks. "Easy there, I got you," Karen Schenzy reassures, as I take a step inside the train. The stench of rotted skeletons assault my nasal orifices immediately and with extreme prejudice. Subway seats, beige with the red and sky blue leather seating torn and weathered, corpses arraigned is various poses of impending doom and religious enlightenment. Some of the skeletons are small, undeveloped bones inside a still carriage, a stuffed dog toy resting on the ground, rolled in dirt and dust. I turn back and reach for Karen's hand, prying her onto the train. I whisper "It looks very grim."

I turn my attention back to the train car, my flashlight illuminating the nature of these people's demise. I hear Karen mutter "You can get used to the smell, but looking at them, great way to get the goosebumps." I shine on the baby carriage again, now noticing a corpse at its feet, the skeleton's back facing the roof. The spine and ribs see damage…bullet holes. We slowly trek onward, our flashlights shining at more and more rotting bones. Yes, another one. That is the fourth to have a hole in its skull. "They were shot. A mass murderer," I say, the realization coming to me. "Yes and no," Karen replies, her back making contact with mine. "Sorry," I say, taking a few steps forward.

I ask "What are you suggesting?" More corpses, nothing of value else. We are approaching the end of the train car, a short bridge and another door to follow. Karen says "Not suggesting, more like pretty sure about. I met a pre-War ghoul in the DC ruins before. Said that, after the bombs dropped, the first few weeks were nothing but evil. That there were people stockpiling guns, end-of-the-world enthusiasts, criminals, police officers, just completely crazy and fucked up people, they started making it that it's them or us. That with emergency services in the toilet, and comms cut off all over the world, they came to realize that America and civilization kicked the bucket, that they're one borrowed time from radiation exposure, and nothing but leukemia or a bullet to the heart is going to stop them. So it begun."

"The first raiders?" I ask. It makes sense, society is littered with such animals. Animals such as Mirko Karapandža, Galeazzo Maria Sforza.

As long as they exist, I am not truly vile.

As long as they exist, I am not truly vile.

As long as they exist, I am not without delusions.

Karen spares me from my own thoughts and says "Yeah. At least the first raiders of DC. That ghoul, she said that some really fucked up things were happening. Mass murders, snipers shooting at anyone that moves, people tying up other people…" "I know, I know. Life never fails to show its savage nature," I say, pressing onward. "Heh, would you mind if I use that quote from time to time? Paraphrasing for normal English of course," Karen wittingly replies, to which I smirk and say "Sure, why not. I will not even charge royalties." "Thank you!" Karen sarcastically replies, amused with herself from the sounds of it.

Opening the opposite door of the first train car, I step onto the bridge between myself and the next train car, shining my flashlight at the roof. I motion and stamp my feet against the bridge, signaling for Yusuke and company to advance. I shine my flashlight at them for a second, yes, they are fine. I hear Clive whisper "Three more train cars to go."

I pull the next train car door apart, stepping inside cautiously. My flashlight shines on the inhabitants, a few scattered corpses. Corners…nothing. Nothing of value. The vultures and the jackals have already striped these tunnels bare. Another exit, another bridge, another train car. I slide it open, slowly, shining my flashlight…


"Who are who?! Who the hell are you?! Get out! Out!" the bearded Caucasian man in a torn down red winter coat, green spotted t-shirt, half torn jeans revealing his fleshy, hairy penis, and sneakers with holes exposing his toes, aims a rifle at us, the intruders to his littered shelter. He stands upright, next to a shopping cart filled with rubbish, his left shoulder leaning against a metal pole attached to the benches on the right. His filthy matted hair and beard both reach his shoulders, and his accent appears closer to Midwestern American.

I start to step back, slowly. Karen yells "Easy, easy! We just making sure we ain't getting ambushed…" The man yells "Ambushed?! You with those from earlier?! GET OUT! DROP YOUR GUNS AND GET OUT!" I hear whispering from outside, flashlights flickering back and forth. The man's eyes turn, Karen's and myself's flashlights illuminating the vagrant into a spectral visor. The vagrant yells "How many of you there?! I got two of your people! Get out! Drop your guns and turn the other way! Get out of my train!" Samantha yells "We are just passing through!" This is nerve wracking, his eyes keep flickering back and forth to us…we are squeezed inside a tight corridor and his aim is unwavering. If he fires out of reflex, someone will likely be wounded. I speak "We are getting out sir! If we were raiders, we would not speak now!" The man yells "I thought I told you to drop your guns and get out!"

*BANG* A shot from outside the train, shattering the window. The vagrant flinches and turns right. More shots, Yusuke's MP5K. The muzzle flashes brighten the entire tunnel, bullets pepper the ceiling. I steady my aim. *BANG* Missed! He turns to us! *BANG* Karen misses as well! We run to cover behind a length-wise row of seats split by the subway hallway, myself behind the seats on the left, Karen behind the seats on the right. I eject my cartridge. *BANG* Shot strikes near my legs! The vagrant has taken cover behind a row of seats as well! A double subway door is to the right of the vagrant, metal with shattered glass windows.

"Argh! I got two of your guys with me! Lay down your guns and get out of here! Last warning!" He fires another shot. Missing my legs again. I shine my flashlight at Karen, who grimaces and shakes her head. She inches toward the hallway-side edge of her cover and fires a blind shot at nothing. I rise to my feet, aiming down my scope…everything is too enlarged! I immediately return to cover *BANG*, a shot struck the wall, in the direction of where my head likely was. *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* "Ah my leg!" the vagrant yells, bullets firing from outside.

I peek around my cover, the vagrant rising to his feet, favoring his left leg. His rifle is in his hands, he aims through the window. *BANG* Yusuke! A burst of bullets answer the vagrant's shot, yes! He is struck, I wager around the left hand, his right hand holding onto the rifle, struggling and failing to keep it up right. I hear Karen rising to her feet. *BANG* The vagrant collapses, his rifle falling through the window. I do not wish to do that again.

I yell "Yusuke! Are you fine?!" "Yeah! We're good! Asshole didn't shoot shit!" Yusuke replies, his voice sounding from afar. The opposite subway door opens, a flashlight beam shines across the corridor. "It's me fox boy, don't shoot!" "I can tell man! Thanks! You shot through the subway doors?" Karen replies, sighing in relief. "Clive and Sammy did, I just shot back when he stuck his rifle at us," Yusuke says, his attention aimed at the vagrant. "Jesus he smells bad…holy fuck he's naked!" Yusuke exclaims, to mine and Karen's amusement. "He's dead?" I ask. "Almost…almost…now he's out…"

We looted what Karen referred to as a makeshift hunting rifle, akin to Julius' weapon, along with seventeen .32 caliber rounds, two unopened cans of pork and beans, a lighter, and a weathered Swiss-army knife. The rest was garbage that we had no interest of carrying. The remaining train car was devoid of all but a single corpse. With that, we proceeded onward, shaken by a single vagrant. "We trying to go against trained mercs and/or cannibals, and a single hobo gave us problems," Clive mutters under his breath, as we approach the tunnel split. "He got good positioning and no one shot him fast enough. These things happen," Karen replies. "Fucking nut…" Yusuke swears under his breath, as our flashlights illuminate both tunnels at the crossroads. The tunnel to Meresti reveals nothing. As for the tunnel toward the DC ruins…a train car and…what is that?

"Oh crap, I think those ferals saw us," Clive speaks in a hushed tone "Keep moving…keep moving, maybe they won't follow." "Got it. Yusuke, Karen, you watch the back," Samantha speaks "Clive, me, and Shuichi will keep watch for any armored guys that mean business." "Fine," I say, as I hear the familiar growls and snarls of feral ghouls. "They are coming…" Yusuke mutters. "That's why the people with semi-automatics should stay behind. Ferals are almost like machines with how they feel pain," Samantha replies. Sound logic, almost appears as if you are not putting myself in a better situation to die. Slightly ironic, technically.

We move, at a brisker pace than before, passing a mostly rotted corpse. Dead ghoul, it appears. "They are turning the corner, a few coming at us," Yusuke anxiously announces. I smell blood, the site of the earlier battle is near. "Is this where Walter was shot?" I ask. Clive, towering over me as he walks, his bizarre rifle that he calls a HK UMP45-24 shining at a bullet ridden wall of the subway tunnel, says "Yea, looks like it. There are a few pillars and a maintenance area up ahead, maintenance area behind a chain-link fence, on the left. That's where they flanked us from and shot Walter."

"They are getting close, four of them. I'm going to shoot," Yusuke mutters. No, no, too close. While anyone in ambush would already expect and plan for us, they likely do not recognize that two of our own are focusing on ferals from the rear. I mutter "Yusuke, switch positions." "Hm?" Yusuke mutters. I turn around and move my rifle to my left hand, gripping it by the barrel, drawing my jian with my right. I sidestep around Yusuke and say "Yusuke, forward. Karen, keep your flashlight on the ghouls." Karen grimaces and says "You crazy man, alright got it." "Stay safe Kurama, don't do anything stupid," I hear Yusuke plead. I say "It's pleasant to know you are concerned." Damn this.

I charge, the female feral ghoul illuminated by Karen's flashlight. A thrust of my jian into her charging throat, a swipe left, and I shove the ghoul aside with my right shoulder. More blood in the air. Three more, with another from afar, possibly approaching us. Two of the nearby three charge, one still adorned in a torn yellow hazmat suit, the other in a police officer uniform. I kick the hazmat suited ghoul in the left kneecap with my left foot and poke him in the chest with the stock of my Lee Enfield. The ghoul tumbles over, snarling. The feral in the police uniform lunges….leaps! A downward swipe, barely dodge. Yes, his back is facing me, perfect. I swipe my jian right to left, cutting at the knee tendons, and then use the momentum to swipe left to right as the ghoul kneels. Resistance from the skull as I slash my jian three-quarters of the way through the head. I press my left leg against the back and pry my jian back, allowing the feral to collapse face first. I cannot see the hazmat-wearing feral. "Karen!" I yell.

"I know! I know!" she yells, her flashlight beam dancing haphazardly. I cannot…oh dear. Oh dear. She yells "There! Oh shit!" Argh, vile creature nearly grasped my left leg. The hazmat ghoul crawling, I take one more step back, and then stomp my right foot on his hands, drive the stock of my rifle upwards, and then drive it down with ALL my might, breaking through his skull. The fourth ghoul tripped over the police uniform-wearing feral. I drive my jian into her neck and silence her snarls and growls. The fifth ghoul charges. Charges…I yell "Keep that flashlight steady!" Closer. "Steady…" He winds his right arm back for a lunging scratch. I duck under the swipe and slide my jian across and through his right ribs, cutting deep enough to leave no mystery. Deep enough for the fats and grease to give resistance. No more ghouls approach. Mercifully.

I break into a run and return to the rest, my jian and Lee Enfield stained in blood, rotten flesh, brain matter, and skull fragments. Yusuke asks "Where's Kurama?" Karen laughs and replies "Your crazy boyfriend is back, brought you some old brain bits." "Eh fuck you!" Yusuke replies, to which myself, Karen, and Clive laugh in earnest. Ah, I cherish moments such as these. Perhaps we will find another patch of feral ghouls soon.

We passed the 'maintenance area' five minutes ago, finding nothing but shell casings, debris, and a trail of blood drops which we are currently following along the tunnel. Not even a vagrant with a homemade rifle to terrorize us. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20. Regardless, we are well past the Seneca station and are nearing a steep upward ramp in the tracks. "Haven't seen too many ghouls or critters lately," Clive speaks out. Karen replies and concurs my thoughts "Means some organized people either past through here or…" "Set up shop," Samantha completes Karen's sentence. Unless something has gone horribly awry, we must be close.

I speak "If these cannibal cretins are nearby, they likely laid traps. Be wary for tripwires. The previous collection of cannibals we encountered tied a tripwire to a shotgun." "Took out one of your guys?" Karen asks. I allow myself a self-serving smirk as I reenact Brian Rampton's legs exploding into a gory mess. Such creatures deserve a slow, agonizing death, fit for their crimes against nature. I should know…I was spawned by one. Ha. Haha. Oh how hilarious it sounds! I answer "One of them. I…was curious." "Interesting. Details, please," Karen replies, highly intrigued from her tone. I answer "I lifted and shoved one of the bastards into the air, kicked the tripwire at the same instance. I learned that shotgun rounds can be quite effective against human legs." Clive interjects "Ha, heard a few tripwire stories, but that one's a first. You should be happy the shotgun wasn't attached to the roof. And aimed at your head. Just a story I remember from a merc, a while ago."

"Going to be hard to set up a shotgun to the roof here. Even with Clive giving a boost," Yusuke accurately replies. Clive sighs and replies "It's the words in the words that count." Karen laughs and says "Words in the words…oh god, we got two word-smiths here." Very amusing. Ah, nice to see you, Yusuke, laughing at my expense. Preferable to staring at me with reprehension…Yusuke, why? Am I truly that vile? I regret it, my dearest friend. I regret it every day. The bastard…the children I abandoned, the whores and bed-slaves I diddled, the men, women, and children I had executed. I regret it all! Is that not enough?

"You alright there, Shuichi?" Clive asks, a concerned look on his face. Samantha yawns and speaks out "Watch out Clive, say the wrong word and he'll dislocate your shoulder." Keep prodding me, Samantha. I am not in the best of moods. See what kind of fox you get. Yusuke replies in a low tone "Samantha. Knock it off." Hmph. Thank you, Yusuke. I appreciate the gesture.

As the tracks level out, a fork in the road appears before us. Orange light far in front, with a derelict train standing before an enclosed wooden gate fit for a small aircraft hanger. On our immediate left, a spacious hole in a connecting tunnel, leading to a dimly lit cavern littered with garbage and a few skeletons. Following the fork to the left, the wreckage of two trains, on each side of the tracks. One train car on the right has been gutted by a diagonally tilted train car on the left, the second train car from our front, it appears. For the first instance since we departed from Murphy's laboratory, the installation lights, both on the sides and the roof, are burning bright. This is indeed the place.

"Flashlights off," I command in a hushed tone. I switch off the flashlight of my Lee Enfield as others tend to theirs. In thought for a second, I add "Also, be mindful of traps, tripwires, and shotguns aimed at every possible location." "Yes boss," Karen replies with a tinge of sarcasm. We proceed, slowly, myself aiming down the scope of my Lee Enfield at the pit. Nothing…just rubbish. We carry on to the train wreckages. Hm, there is a gap under the train car that gutted the train on the right, high enough a gap for either one of us to crawl under, one at a time. Appears stable, must have existed in this position for 200 years. The blood trail passes underneath it.

Clive silently volunteers to cross first. Laying on his stomach, prone, he inches his way along quickly…crossed. Yusuke follows, then Samantha. I remove my duffle bag and lift the sling of my Lee Enfield off my person, slide both under the gap, to be dragged out by Clive's long arms. I then crawl under…avoiding a nearby, slightly exposed nail three inches in length, and climb across. And as I reach the other side, I realized that Karen's combat armor would make crossing the gap a Herculean effort.

I hear her whisper "I'm going to try my luck with the train car on the right, keep an eye for a possible ambush. Hold tight." That, we do. The sound of a train door sliding open, and then a few footsteps, now barely audible inside the train car. She does move rather recklessly, anyone inside would hear her with little difficulty.

Putting the duffle bag and the Lee Enfield straps back around my shoulders, I raise my left hand slightly, so as to hush those around me. Hm…no, nothing audible aside from Karen's faint footsteps. They continue…continue…another train car door slid open, and another…and now silence.

Nothing. Not a thud, not a whimper. As if she just disappeared into thin air. Silence. I am concerned.

The others read the concern on my face, they understand. Clive adjusts a switch on his UMP and whispers "I will take the lead. Watch my back." And we do so, following Clive as he crosses the thin space between the left wall and the left train car. Between the train on the right and the derailed sole train car on the left, a palisade adorned with barbed wire seals that route. I feel tempted to deposit a few frag grenades that I carry in my duffle bag and force our way through, though I cannot help but worry as to what just happened to Ms. Schenzy. Is she deceased? Is she held captive? Has she set herself upon our nemesis, and is biding her time for an opening? Or is she a muffled cough away from becoming spotted?

One step by Clive. Two…three…near the end.


What…I see it. Clive does not even realize it yet. He is about to scream very loudly.

"ARGH! AHH! AH! GET IT OFF ME! FUCK! IT HURTS! IT HURTS LIKE HELL ON EARTH!" Clive screams, dropping his UMP, twisting and falling on his buttocks. The rusted brown bear trap digs into his right leg, squeezing blood out. I hear footsteps, movement. "Guns down and hands up or we kill the woman," I hear a deep male Maryland-accented voice speak. Think Kurama. Think…

"I got an idea," Yusuke whispers, glaring at me nervously. He removes his duffle bag, then his MP5K, and sets them on the ground. Drawing his revolvers, the detective glances at Clive screaming in agony and says "Stay safe, man." He immediately falls prone and parallel to the gutting train car and rolls sideways, ugh, he may have gashed his arm against that rusty nail. For my sake, please already have your tetanus vaccination beforehand, Yusuke. I've seen enough bouts of lockjaw to cause me worry.

"I won't warn again. Get out…slowly. Your friend ain't doing so well," the voice speaks, barely audible over Clive's screaming. I cannot even approach to assist him, for he is most likely within their line of fire. Damn this…Samantha is reaching for his hand. *BANG* A bullet kicks up dust mere inches from Samantha's arm. "Five! Four!" the voice yells. I hear Yusuke running across the train car on the right, yelling "Surprise motherfuck…* A thud. No, no. This is not happening. A different, more nasally Maryland-accented male voice replies "Batter up, step right up. Next to the plate."

I angle my Lee Enfield in my hands. If this is it, so be it. I will take as many of these fucking bastards with me as I can. You wished for this Kurama, after all. The end of suffering. Without Yusuke, would make no sense anyway. Then why am I afraid?


I open my eyes…I think that gas KO'd me…my eyes burn so freaking bad. Uh, where am I…I'm in a subway train, leaning against a metal wall that's blocking off a quarter of the train car. I rub my head and reach for my revolvers…they're gone. My MP5K is gone, so is the duffle bag. And the bowie knife I hid in my duster…shit that one is gone too. What happened…oh, oh fuck it's happening again.

I see Kurama inspecting a faraway passenger subway door, the ones that slide apart from the middle. He's kneeling down, pushing on it, knocking on it, with Mark inspecting the nearby window…Mark! Ben! Karen and Samantha too! What the hell?! "Kurama?" I ask, and everyone's eyes turn to me.

Kurama has a lump on the right side of his forehead. Karen has a black eye and a scratch on her chin. The rest look fine. I climb up…damn! My chest hurts…okay…okay. Karen says "You got hit in the gut with a baseball bat…looked like you were going to show us what you had for lunch." Okay, I remember now, that guy with the gas mask and the baseball bat…Jesus it hurts. Okay, slowly, I'm standing up…leaning against the metal wall. I ask "Ben, what happened? They caught you too?"

Ben rubs the back of his neck and lies stretched out on the subway train bench, on his back, legs closer to me. He says "Yeah. We tried to enter from the tunnels outside. Didn't get far until we had five people aiming guns at us. We were here before your group." Okay, I get it. At least we got the numbers here…I think. Where's Clive?

I ask "What the hell happened to Clive? Last I remember, he got caught in a bear trap." Kurama's arms twitch as he angrily says "The subject of a new recipe for human rotisserie, perhaps. Oh how I look forward to skewering these vile, cannibalistic bastards. Starting with those mask-wearing imbeciles that nearly suffocated me with that foul mist." It's hard to see in the dimly lit subway, with the single oil lamp in the middle, but I think Kurama's eyes look really red and bloodshot. Karen sighs and says "Yeah, redhead has been talking like that for a while." Kurama turns around and snarls, sarcastically saying "Well the tone helps with the situation. Wish to know what will restore my friendly deposition? Perhaps finding a way out of here!"

Kurama's getting pissed off. It's the McLean sewers and Vault 106 all over again, shit. I don't need to see that again, please man. Keep it together.

Samantha, who is resting her back against the subway pole, says "We stopped hearing Clive's screaming about half an hour ago. Could mean he just passed out but…" "I hear you, don't need to finish that," I say. I don't need more ammunition for Kurama to go batshit crazy again. Thinking of something…think…yeah, that. I ask Karen "Hey Karen, you were caught first. Did you get a good look at the guys? Were they cannibals or mercs or…" Karen, who's sitting on a subway seat to the left, nods to the right of me and says "We got your answers right there." Heh?

"Hej." Holy fuck, a guy was sitting in the corner right next to me all this time?! I step back and turn my Pip-Boy flashlight on, saying "Freaking hell, you scared the crap out of me!" "Apologies," the guy says, his accent sounding Swedish or something. I give him a good look…thick, dark brown hair combed forward, an outdoorsman's beard, thick and brown too, his nose is flat and the tip is higher than the nostrils. His jaw is really long and wide, looks even longer due to the beard, I can't tell if he has a really thick beard or Batman's chin.

He has wide shoulders and is wearing this black combat armor that makes him look like a NFL quarterback. I look at the chestplate…a white claw. Talon Company. Fuck me.

"They said your name is…Yusuke Urameshi…is it?" the merc asks. I take a step back and say "The fuck was Talon Company doing here?" The merc sighs and says "I am not sure, I only followed the orders. Reggie said a wanted contract would pass through the area, a Walter Joseph Karamazov. When he did, we engaged. Then…well…I am here."

"Details, asshole. I want them," I say, getting a little pissed off with the general answers. The merc sighs again and calmly answers "We were camping in a sector of the railroad system used for maintenance, to plot our course of action. We received word from a source who received word from a second source that Mr. Karamazov departed Megaton with four mercenaries to deliver a satchel to a resident in Arefu. When a band of rough-seeming fellows passed us, we did not engage, simply hid and observed. None matched the description."

Karen interrupts "One of the guys looked like Ian West. Apparently he was walking on his own, maybe they had him at gunpoint. He looked like shit, according to the merc." I turn to Karen and say "Maybe they put Ian in a train like this one." "Assuming they didn't salt him already," Ben interrupts. Kurama gives up on the train door and says "That also means that there is a Talon Company informant in Megaton."


Oh crap. More problems.

I turn back to the bearded merc and say "Alright asshole, go on." The merc sighs again, almost like it's a tic, and says "A second band approached. We waited, Reginald aimed down his sights. A whistle, and we engaged. Reginald and Steven were shot, Steven fatally. The second band, whom I assume to be with your group, they retreated, Steven collapsed. Reginald bled from the thigh…two of the men of the first band greeted us. Reginald drew his pistol, was shot dead rather quickly. I surrendered."

"And now you are here," I say, satisfied. Believable story, though I don't trust this shit for shit. The man nods and says "And now I am here. And I believe you didn't answer my original question." What? Oh, yeah. I say "Yeah, it's Yusuke Urameshi. You?" The merc stares at me with his dead brown eyes and says "Jorgen Rasmussen. I am relatively new to this land."

I say "And if you want to stay long enough to get to know it, I'd suggest you do exactly as you are fucking told." Don't care how polite he's been, the guy is fucking Talon Company. We're trapped inside a tin can and there's a python in the corner, smart money is on us ganging up on him and bashing his brains in.

And now I'm sounding like Kurama, shit. Oh, don't go there again…stop man.

Samantha yawns and says "Take it easy on him, Jorgen has been helpful." Kurama replies "He also is employed by the same organization that placed a contract on Walter's vacant head. Now, Jorgen, listen and listen very carefully. The only reason why you still breathe is due to you likely playing a still unforeseen role in having us all escape from this prison and slit the throats of these damned cannibals. Obey our commands, and perhaps we will offer you a one day head start to run as far from us as humanly possible. Understand?" Jorgen has the balls to smirk and says "Yes." He then returns to burying his head into his arms, his beard folded.

Mark suddenly speaks out "Er, Mr. Minamino, do you have any suggestions for us to escape? The doors are impossible. I would imagine that the Pre-War train engineers would require access to the lower engine and…well, maybe we can pull out a hatch and escape underneath." Karen makes this 'chi' sound with her cheeks, like she's sucking saliva through her teeth. She follows it up with saying "Nah, nice try but not going to work. If the engine ain't in the way, there's like a few inches of space between the rails and the train. Speaking from experience here, no one is squeezing through."

"What about the windows?" Ben asks, rising to a seated position, stretching his arms. Karen replies "What about them? Punch at them until they break and hope no one hears us? They took all our crap from us. Best thing we have for them is our shoes." Wait…wait a minute. I ask "Kurama, last time you hid you a knife in your boxers. You…" I really don't need to be thinking about what's in Kurama's boxers right now. Kurama sighs and says "Such foresight wounds me. No, I did not conceal a dagger in my underwear this time, though I wish I did. But…there is something else I concealed."

Yeah, he does…and there it is. Kurama pulls his rose out of his hair, as Karen leans her head forward and asks "Is that some kind of flower? How is it supposed to help…and why is it in your hair?" Kurama taps the stem against a subway pole and answers "Yes, it is some kind of flower. It will help, as it is not just some kind of flower. And it is in my hair because no one would search for some kind of flower in someone's hair." "Heh, smartass," Karen replies, sounding like she enjoyed Kurama's answer…no man, don't think like that. Are you going to hate every asshole that smiles at fox boy?

Kurama turns around and walks up to one of the windows. He taps the bottom of the rose against the top left corner of the window…yea, he made a crack in it. "Holy shit, what is it made of?" Samantha asks, staring at the rose as if she's not sure it's real. Kurama drives the rose down to the lower left corner and says "Embrace the mystery." Heh, that's kinda funny. Samantha waves Kurama off and walks away, nice try getting info out of him after you been such a bitch all this time.

Kurama drives the rose from the bottom left to the bottom right, then to the upper right, then back to the upper left, making a clean cut around the window. He then digs the stem into the upper left corner and presses his right hand on the lower right corner. I see him push his right hand, nice it's coming off, the giant chunk of glass slides around like a revolving door. Kurama is using the rose to make sure it doesn't just fall off the train and tell all the cannibals the bad news. Just a bit more…oh…whew, it was about to fall out. Fox knight grabbed the back of the glass chunk and is pulling it out…it's out. He sets the glass gently on a subway seat and looks back at our escape route.

Turning back to us, Kurama says "I require two stealthy volunteers that do not fear dirtying their hands." Kurama looks at me…those eyes…it's hard to stare at them. I weakly smile and look to the side, saying "I, uh, I'm not exactly the most subtle guy, you know that, man." I hear Kurama awkwardly answer "Oh yes, right. Well, someone must remain watchful of our mercenary captive." "I'll do it," Mark suddenly speaks out. Kurama raises an eyebrow and asks "Are you sure? Once we climb through this window, I expect you to follow my orders to the letter. There will be throats slit in mattresses and at bedside chairs." Mark nods and says "I know. I…I need to contribute. I cannot be a coward and a non…participant." Mark is speaking weird, and a quick glance at Kurama's face shows that fox boy agrees.

"I'll go to," Karen volunteers. Kurama shakes his head and replies "You do not walk with soft steps. I heard you from outside the train, and I'd wager that so did these cannibals." Karen 'grhs' and waves Kurama off. That leaves Ben and Samantha. Suddenly, Samantha says "Alright, I'll do it." "Really? Surprising, I would have expected another snide about my perceived 'viciousness'," Kurama replies, almost making fun of Samantha. She answers back "Oh, I think you are a vindictive piece of shit, don't think twice. But, you look like you got a plan, better than the rest of us, and I'm not waiting for these assholes to kill me. I'm in, what I gotta do, I'll do."

Kurama smirks like he doesn't believe her. He turns to the window and says "Very well, follow my lead. Find a knife or a similar sharp object. If you find a target of opportunity, eliminate. Otherwise, do not stray."

Standing on the subway seat, Kurama clamps his hands around the bottom of the window frame, probably trying not to touch the glass. He mutters "Should have thought this through better…no choice." He sticks his head out as I help lift him above the bottom of the glass. Next is his right hand, then his right leg…shit he almost slipped out. "I'm fine, thank you," Kurama whispers, taking a look at the train platforms in front of him. There's a long dining table on the middle platform, and wooden planks bridge the other platforms. The space in the far back has wooden walls with barbed wire on top, see crates and barrels there. Storage probably. I gently push his left leg and left arm through the hole as he kinda slips and quietly falls down. Looks like we avoided any cuts.

Mark is next, Ben and I grabbing his legs while Kurama puts his hands under Mark's chest, keeping him from the glass. He goes through, skinnier then he looks. Then last we have Samantha. Rinse and repeat…there we go. The three crouch down with Kurama taking point. I hear him whisper "Make way for the dining table, search for knives. Then we take that enclosure ahead." "What about the door?" Mark whispers. Kurama turns around and whispers "I do not see any means to open them, probably in a train up ahead. No time, we arm ourselves first. Throw weapons through the window if we must." "Got it," Samantha answers, with Mark nodding along.

Kurama crosses the bridge toward the dining table, Samantha follows, then Mark. I keep my eyes moving left to right. I say "Ben keep watch with me. Karen, watch the merc." "Way ahead of you," Karen answers. Good, was worried no one was checking on the python in the room. Kurama gets to the dining table, looking at it from a crouched position. Mark and Samantha circle around it, looks like there's nothing. "OH THEY'RE FLOCKING FROM THE NEST, VANCY BOY!" What the fuck?! That male Southern accented voice came from behind that metal wall blocking off part of the subway…OH FUCK THEY'VE BEEN LISTENING IN ON US!

Kurama freezes, they all freeze. I hear a generator starting up…spotlights from the upper platform shine on the ground. On Kurama. Another male Southern drawl, more deep then the other, goes "Time is a flat circle!" Another voice, from above, yells in female Maryland-accented English "Took them long enough!" "We have to get to them…" Ben whispers. I'm confused, freaked. What's happening? What's going on? Same deep voice goes "The Red King of Ephyra rises from the ashes of the cornfield! The hill whispers! The rock collects moss! Lord, that hand…the window! The window!"

"Freeze you assholes!" another voice yells, Maryland-accented, deep. A skinny black guy in a red and white striped shirt, grey jeans, and a ripped, brown trench coat, walks down the far escalator steps with what looks like Kurama's Lee Enfield. The cannibal has long, thick braided hair tied into a ponytail. Another person walking down the escalator, with some kind of makeshift rifle, maybe the hobo's that we took. He is wearing a red sweater under a brown leather jacket, blue jeans, a bandolier around his chest. I hear someone from above say "Go ahead, give us a reason."

"OHH THEY ARE GOING TO DO ALL KINDS OF THINGS TO Y'ALL, IT'S GONNA GET CREEPY! MMM-MMM-MMM!" the Southern drawl asshole yells, out. "Shut the hell up Errol! For the last time shut the hell up!" someone from above yells, very close. By the nearby escalator. I back up a bit, turn to Ben, and say "We need to jump though." Ben looks at me like I lost it and says "Jump through? We'll be lucky to just skin our knees off." The deep Southern drawl goes on "The monster at the end of tunnel, to steal from the Father of Lies! Time is a flat circle!" I don't care if Ben is following. I run, and jump.

Fuck I think I cut my elbow! Nevermind it, see an Arab woman with long black hair in a pink down coat and sky blue jeans, holding a pistol. I slide my left arm around her neck and grab her gun and pull and pull and she pushes against and yells in Virginian-accented English "Get off!" "He got Fatima!" the white guy in the bandolier yells, aiming his rifle at me. I pull the gun out and press the barrel to her right ear and yell "Move one more step and I'll fucking blow her brains out!" The black guy yells "Try it and I'll shoot your friends first!" He gets closer and closer to Kurama…aims Kurama's Lee Enfield at fox boy's head. Dumbass.

Kurama grabs the barrel with his right hand and drives a karate chopped shaped left under and against the black guy's nose, while sliding his right leg behind the black guy's legs. He trips the guy and now has his rifle. Showtime! White guy in the bandolier yells "We just need to talk! Stop!" I take the shot. Missed, fuck. FUCK! KICKED IN THE BALLS! CAN'T BREATHE!

Fatima grabs for the pistol and we wrestle, she's fucking biting my arm! Fuck! I drop the pistol and shove and wrestle her into the escalator! Hope it hurt! *BANG* One gunshot! Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you! I grab her hair and pull back on it, making her scream, twisting her head. Throat punched…can't breathe! Fuck you! Still got my hands on her hair, I pull forward and send her face into my right fist! And again! And give her the right hook, she's out! Fatima just fucking collapses, like her right leg is bent backwards, she's fucking down for the count. "Who's next?!"

Fuck! Someone just jumped on my back! Feel a cool metal touch to the back of the neck, this is it. I close my eyes, sorry Kurama. I tried.

A female Maryland accented voice says "I'm going to make this clear once. Make one more move and I will kill you." I open my eyes, hearing the sound of someone getting the shit beaten out of them. It's Kurama, getting the shit kicked out of him by the black guy and this fat, middle-aged white guy with long blonde hair, balding near the front. He's dressed in some grey, dirty trench coat and grey slacks. They are going hard on him. They are going to beat him to death. They are fucking going to kill him. "Stop this now! He fucking stopped!" Black guy yells "Oh too bad! I'm…just…getting…started!" I yell "LET! HIM! GO!"

"ENOUGH EVERYONE!" some new voice yells out, accent-less English, kinda like Crow's voice. I smell burning fuel, and I see some bright flame by the escalator. A white guy with brown hair combed to the left, a little bushy, clean shaven, wearing this brownish green long coat, looks like it's made of some animal hide. He has a black t-shirt underneath and is wearing beige cargo pants, the cuffs tucked inside his black boots. He's also wearing an oven mitt and is holding this weird makeshift sword that's hooked up to a fuel tank that is tied to a tight sling around his back, making the sword flame up. The guy, I'm guessing the leader, turns to the black guy and the long haired white guy and says "Trey, Karl. That is enough." Trey, the black guy with the ponytail, says "Bullshit, he tried to kill…" "Trey. That is enough," the sword guy repeats. Both Trey and Karl back off.

He turns to me and whoever is on my back. The guy asks "Holly, how fares Fatima?" The woman on my back, Holly, she says "Better. Her eyes are flickering and she's mouthing off. Looks like she got knocked out. Fatima, can you speak?" Fatima mutters "Uh, yeah...what happened?" Holly says "She'll live, Vance. What do you want me to do with him?" Flaming sword guy presses a button and the flaming sword stops flaming.

Vance gets up to me and goes to one knee, looking down at me. He has creases on his forehead, a long, hawk-like nose, and a bit of a square jaw. Medium cheekbones, blue eyes. I'd say he's around late 30s, early 40s. Vance calmly asks "Why did you intrude us? I already know that less then amiable purposes were intended." I feel Holly's knee digging into my back. I think of what to say. The truth works, we're all going to get eaten anyway. Fuck it.

"We came to Arefu to deliver letters. Then you cannibal assholes attacked, fucked up the Brahmin, chewed up the Wests, and kidnapped Ian. We were here to take him back," I say, looking down. The floor feels nice and cold, could get used to this. "I see," I hear Vance say. I close my eyes, get it over with.

"It is rude to not stare into the eyes of an individual when you are conversing with one," Vance says. I open my eyes, lift my head up, look into him. Happy? He says "We do not consume human flesh, and unless compelled to by your belligerent actions, we will not kill you. I swear that on the eyes of those I love." Oh, okay. I almost believe him.

Vance continues "We will talk later. After a night of rest. We will break our fast and discuss all that needs to be discussed. All I ask of you, and your people, that you refrain from escape or any further harassment. Do this, and I promise, I will answer every one of your inquiries." I look at him and smile a bit, showing my teeth. Laugh a bit. Vance raises an eyebrow and says "If I wish to kill you, we would have done so long ago. I assure you, we do not eat human flesh, and if we did, I am not one to play with my food." "Heh, alright," I say, still not believing him. Not like I got much choice here. Doesn't look like Kurama is going to take his rose out and stab one of those assholes, so no amount of stalling would do any good. I ask "What happened to Clive?" Vance answers "I will tell you tomorrow. After we have a night of rest. I assure you."

They're gonna feed him to us, ain't they?

"Do you have my word that you will not cause any further trouble?" Vance asks, sounding a little angry. I say "Sure." "Fair enough," Vance replies. He turns around and says "Trey, Karl, marshal our guests back into their quarters. Holly, bring Fatima upstairs. Let Diane tend to her wounds. Justin, Alan! You two, find plywood, nails, and a hammer! We will repair the window!" "OOOWEE, WE GOT OURSELVES A LITTLE POW-WOW! THEY BEEN COOKING UP SOME FINE GRUB FOR Y'ALL, YA BETTER BELIEVE IT!"

Vance's left fist clenches, he looks down. He says "He is simply antagonizing you. He is quite skillful at that." Vance turns around and yells "And Alan, you keep watch on Mr. Errol Bradley and Mr. Gerry Simoneaux. I do not wish to hear their voices for the rest of the evening."

We're resting against the double subway doors that are facing the back wall, opposite the side where we jumped through the window. They took Kurama's rose, fox boy didn't even put up a fight. They nailed a board over the cut open window, and they gave us all each a bag of potato chip and an already opened beer. And...they gave us all a bucket to share. For you know what.

My elbow hurts like hell, probably skinned it. Got a small scratch from that nail earlier, when I crawled under the train. My balls still throb, and I still got that earlier pain in my chest from the baseball bat. Kurama's right eye is swollen, purple, he's favoring his ribs. It's been a while already, the two assholes across the wall have shut up, with that Alan guy giving them shit. Justin is keeping watch on us, I'd imagine someone else will switch Justin out, maybe one that doesn't listen to Vance as well as Justin did. The Justin guy, the guy with the bandolier from earlier, he kept saying that everything will be alright, how Vance just wants to talk. Yeah, let's find out.

If Kurama gave up, what's the point for me?

We're shoulder to shoulder, pressing against the double door. Ben, Mark, Karen, Samantha, Jorgen, they're all asleep. Karen and Ben snore pretty loud, I think Jorgen is muttering in his sleep in some Scandinavian language. Kurama thinks he's Danish or Swedish. Are all Talon Company mercs from Europe?

Kurama's shoulder feels so nice. He's warm, and I can hear his breathing, sounds like he's aching too. I whisper "Kurama…" A pause for a while.

"Yusuke…" he whispers back, like it took some physical effort to say. Yeah, got to say something I guess.

"You had your rose. It was like with Calva and Miyazaki back in McLean. You could have killed Trey. Taken his gun. Maybe we die, but we die standing. I'd…I'd thought you'd have liked that…why?"


"Did you…did you give up? It's okay if you did…I won't hold it…against you."

He pauses. I turn my head left, stare into his face, covered in the dark, my eyes adjusted, making out his cheeks, his right eye, his red hair clumping together.

Kurama's jaw moves left to right, and then he puffs up his cheeks. I wait for him to answer.

"Yusuke…there are demons here."

I blink. Hm.

I whisper "Youkai?"

He pauses, and then whispers "Yes."


I lick my dried lips and whisper "How do you know?"

He answers much faster than before "I am a Kitsune. I…may have lost my Ki, but I still have my…sense of smell. I smell demons. Youkai."

"Trey? Karl? Vance?"

Kurama whispers "Perhaps. I am unsure. May…may suggest the reason for the Brahmin…and Matilda and Davis West. Perhaps."

"What should we do?" I whisper, sighing.

"Rest. Rest well. And…and see what tomorrow brings. I…wish to pry information out. If…if Vance is willing to offer, I'm not sure. Lies to be sorted from…the truth. I…we'll see," Kurama answers, muttering, like it hurts for him speak.

I'll let him rest. I whisper "Okay, okay. Goodnight." I see the corner of his mouth smile. He whispers back "Thank you. Good…night." He closes his eyes. I do too. His shoulder feels so warm.

His head too. His hair, brushing against my left cheek. He's still, sleeping. My shoulder feels so warm. I close my eyes.

A deep Southern drawl mutters out "The twin suns sink behind the water. The shadows lengthen…in dark Carcosa."

Chapter Text

Fresh thistle in the air, the tavern in Chandatucki, by the Gandarean coast. ‘The Hesskider’, as the spider demon Huchimaci named her establishment, after the giant kraken-like sea creatures that frequent the deep waters to the east, into the horizon that no Youkai has ever sailed to and returned. For her maize liquor will drag you to the slippery depths of a wanton crotch.

Huchi continues to insist on thistle. Lavender would better mask the stench of vomit on the ground floor and cum in the upper levels. Damned miser with her lavender, entire bushels of the crop and she insists it must only be placed in every blasted beverage she serves. I have come to naming her the ‘Lavender Tsaritsa’. I saunter over to the counter, my hands clamping onto the counter edge. My bastard sword dangles in my belt, and I just realized that I placed my wooden sandal wearing feet into a faint puddle of spilt alcohol. Sigh, so much as nothing stains my silk, white robes, I will not raise a fuss.

“The usual, boss?” Huchi speaks in Japanese, her Incan accent concocting an amusing garbled mess of a question. Her blue dyed hair drapes over her rounded body, her golden eight arms glued to the counter in what seems as a giant menorah. I reply “Perhaps something creative today.” Huchi’s four eyes widen in surprise. She speaks “Go on, I’m listening.”

I start “I…err…overheard of this cocktail that certain humans have been consuming lately. In this locale known as the Colonies. A wind demon I encountered in passing, possessed a few interesting pieces, his corpse provided a Makai version of this potion, a recipe.” Huchi nods as if to show she is listening. I instruct “Follow these directions. Ready? Err…two saltrice eggs, beaten finely, two ounces of fjordjina, and two tablespoons of molasses. Mix well. Then, find eight ounces of ale and heat in a cast iron until steam arises. Pour gently into the rum concoction, and then provide cinnamon. This parchment contains the instructions.” Huchi’s complexion indicates disgust and horror that creatures exist that consume such a mixture. Her eyes trace the parchment just to ensure she heard me correctly. Eh, my curiosity was enflamed.

Huchi speaks “Er…very well. I…think we have eggs that have not turned rotten yet.” I reply “Certainly. Rotten eggs would rather injure my feathery disposition, I’d hope you’d assume. And if I find another leaf of lavender in my drink, I will insert it into your arse. I’m certain your hidden admirer would find that most pleasant, if the rumors are to be true.” Oh how I enjoy twisting those many hands. A subtle vengeance, killing her would be rather extreme, a madness more suited for those humans I dined with in Human World. Galeazzo Maria Sforza’s assassination, or the literary representation of it, still reverberates in my conscious. Should not be surprised though, the fool engineered his demise.

I turn and find my men seated by the grand table at the edge, under the mounted hesskider trophy that Yomi has repeatedly insisted he will pitch a cherry through the hollowed eye socket with his eyes closed, that prideful, ‘shit of the tongue’ imbecile. His grey, silk robe is already stained in maize liquor. Does this dullard comprehend how valuable those robes are? We were fortunate to ambush a caravan freighting them. Bah, he only appears to understand the worth of a prize if he nearly dies for it.

Sakeesh the snake demon is there as well, so is Zekana a fellow Kitsune and one of my organization’s most gifted lockpickers. And I believe the hawk demon with his head turned away is either Bibidu the Mace or Elaidu ‘Horn-Biter’. I seat myself with my back to the entrance and speak “Gentlemen, lady. How fares this day? Any rumors worth repeating?” Yomi speaks “Yeah I beat that punk Sakeesh at darts again, clean 180 machine, who’s that? Me!” Sakeesh, his black robes and white bandana, covering his scaly skin, he scornfully replies “Ugh, I only bothered to humor you so you would leave me be. Foolish human ‘games’ and the simpleton stag demons that engage in them.” Yomi yells “Oh yeah?! Want me to shove your tail back up your ass, punk?!” Sakeesh smirks in anticipation of a brawl and replies “I’d dare you, dullard.” Yomi, his blue Japanese junior high uniform stained in liquor and food particles, rises from his seat and yells “That’s it! I’m going to turn your scaly hide into boots!”

Sigh. Zekana yells “Boys! Settle down, settle down! Oh why can’t we behave for once!” Indeed, though I have grown accustomed to the dysfunctionality of our entourage. Kuwabara grasps, or fails to, at Hiei’s collar, Hiei strafing around the orange-haired mountain of a child. Jenny Stahl places our meals on the American 50’s styled diner table. Yusuke, adorned in his duster attire, continues to avert my gaze. Fine enough, I consume a bite of my irradiated squirrel bites…oblivion below it is as if I am chewing boiled grass! I need a beverage, immediately. I yell “GOB! I ASKED YOU FOR A DAMNED DRINK!”

Gob, the necrotic bartender, hurriedly provides me with my Jack Daniels reserve, the bottle in the middle of the wooden table, shot glasses for all of us. I pour, to myself, then Botan, then into Hiei’s and Kuwabara’s cups, which have been abandoned as the two berate and threaten each other.

I bring the glass to my lips, smell the sweet taste of oblivion, and…it appears that Yusuke, seated to the right by the jukebox, is inserting a quarter into the very same jukebox. A few buttons pressed…and the record is jammed in the contraption, creating this grating clicking noise. Yusuke turns around…a jian protruding in his chest. He smiles…blood seeping from his mouth. He yells in an odd voice “Hey everybody, did the news get around, about a guy named Rosey Pete?! Ol’ Pete just flew into this shanty, and he’s choppin’ up every kind of meat!” My shot glass is my rose whip. Yusuke continues “He’s hackin’ and smackin’ and fackin’!” Now my Smith & Wesson magnum revolver, the barrel pointed to my mouth.

“He’s er feckin arse banditin’ chemo’s ballsackin’!” yells McLiddy as my mouth hovers above his foul-bushy penis.

Keiko, seated across from me in Yusuke’s loft, on a cushioned chair, sips tea from a green porcelain cup. She’s adorned in her high school uniform, her legs crossed and her hair flowing over her shoulders. That clicking sound continues. Myself, dressed in my plaid red and grey buttoned shirt and brown slacks, I sip on a cup of iced earl grey and milk, a guilty pleasure of mine.

I speak “And at this instance I find myself grasping McLiddy’s flaccid member, a sneeze away from my lips. I mean, this belligerent idiot, he has the nerve of accusing me of…fiddling children and and…arse banditry? That is an insult to proper banditry, I speak on the authority of my centuries as the Thief King of Gandara. It is also an insult to arses, which, despite these slanderous insults, I do not simply ‘plunder’. And and, I find myself prepared to fellate this…this…your fiancé referred to him quite colorfully as ‘The Walking Dick.’ So, my question to you, Keiko, is…why?”

She sets her tea down on the dining table and asks “Well, perhaps it is a metaphor for something else. Does this ‘Dick’ have any bearing to your life? Has it clouded your thoughts, pushed you to outbursts?” Eh. I reply “May these dreams simply be just that? Dreams?” Keiko shrugs in her seat, speaking “It is your anger. Buddha spoke. You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.” Sigh. I reply “Of course, of course.”

That accursed clicking sound continues.

Keiko shrugs in her seat again, more of her legs revealed by the subtle movements of her blouse. She asks “Well, this ‘Dick’, how long has this friend shadowed you?” I reply “Roughly a week, I believe.” Keiko raises an eyebrow and speaks “Truly? I considered it nearer a millennia.” Hm. I ask “Are you speaking of Edward McLiddy or…” Keiko smiles and gazes slightly under. The clicking sound pauses. Music from outside plays suddenly.

“Twenty men have tried to take him, twenty men have made a slip. Twenty-one would be the ranger, with the big iron on his hip. Big iron on his hip.”

The clicking sound continues, as I realize that my right hand is grasping my erect penis, painfully constrained in my slacks. I ask “Keiko?” Her blouse parts, her legs splay outward, revealing her sex. She says “Yes, Kurama?” I say “You do understand that I know I am in a dream, correct?” Keiko smiles gingerly and hikes her blouse upwards. She speaks “Well, perhaps the answer to your question is quite simple.” Irk. I reply “I am not an animal, and I cannot. It is foul in multiple markets.”

“Do I repel you?” Keiko asks. I reply “Of course not. I find you quite attractive. And, I must admit, I have thought in passing, with guilt and shame shadowing.” Her smile creases lustfully. “What about Hiei?” she asks. Really? I simply shake my head and reply “Blatant homophobia aside, the man has the emotional maturity of a toddler.” She asks “And Kazuma?” Oh dear. I laugh and reply “Er, I highly doubt he would think the same of me. Bit of a dullard, I must admit. Admire his honor, though.” “Yusuke?” she asks. Yusuke…

I reply “Oh I have considered, but I cannot. The man is my dearest friend. As far as Kitsune culture is considered, to think such thoughts is incestuous.” Keiko licks her lips in a sultry motion and replies “Well, you do live in the Southern United States.” Oh dear, I spit my milk tea in laughter. Wiping my lips “Indeed, but, no, why? Why ask?” Keiko rises from her seat and approaches myself and my erection. She answers “I do not know. Ask yourself.” “I just did,” I reply, as she seats herself on my lap, gyrating her hips. Oh…no…this is foul…

“Can I use the bucket next?” Yusuke asks Botan, standing in the doorway. Botan turns to me and asks “Is he drooling?”

Keiko moans “Kurama…Kurama…Kurama…”


The stench of shit is the first element I notice, no thistle or lavender to mask its stench. The second element I notice, is that I slept with my right thumb in my mouth, now a wrinkled mess. Yusuke stands above me, saying “Sorry I…uh, woke you up. Vance is meeting with us soon, left some water and lima beans. Feeling better? Your face looks purple.” Oh yes Yusuke, I feel much better after I dreamt that I fondled your fiancé. I’m certain to think in the back of my head that telling you such would bring me great relief. After the back of my head greets my nose and jawbone. Oh how I grown to despise these dreams.

I look right and see Karen defecating in the bucket, obscuring herself behind a far side horizontal row of subway seats. Yusuke remarks “I asked Karl if we could use their bathrooms, shit is unsanitary. He told us to piss off. It’s like we’re living in medieval times.” Hmph. Yusuke suddenly speaks “Err, sorry, didn’t mean to bring up the past.” “It’s fine,” I reply. Sorry I dreamt of Keiko in such a way.

Jorgen remains as he was yesterday, his head buried in his hands. Ben stretches his back and clenches his nose with his right hand, discomforted by the smell. Samantha and Mark converse inaudibly a few seats away from Jorgen. I ask “Any word of Clive O’Conner?” Karen announces “Alright, done…fucking hell this is nasty. Sorry about that. Least they gave us paper towels, assholes.” Yusuke replies to my inquiry “We asked, Karl said nothing. I’m really, really hoping this isn’t going to be a Texas Chainsaw Massacre situation.”

Yes, that is a concern of mine as well. I rise up from my seated position and say “Well, if it comes to that…we still have our teeth.” Yusuke grimaces, barely keeping eye-contact, an improvement at the least. I’m sorry, Yusuke, I feel ashamed and disgusted with myself. I place my left hand on his right shoulder and squeeze gently, eliciting a sharp yet subtle flinch and an awkward smile. He replies “You’re a good friend, fox knight.” I smile and reply “You as well, detective.”

As Karen approaches a nearby bench to sit down, Mark and Samantha stand back in apprehension. Karen turns to them, shoves her hands within an inch of their faces, and yells “Go on! Count the flecks! See any?! No?! Good. Should have just thrown a grenade back then…” Yusuke muffles a few laughs and then says “Well, if you excuse me…fucking one bucket in the same room.”


The blonde round-fuck Karl knocks on the boarded up window, saying in deep Maryland-accented English “Times up, you’re meeting with Vance. Hands where I can see them at all times. Let me stress that I am looking for excuses to shoot someone, after what you guys pulled.” Karen replies “Yeah, yeah, no sudden movements. I know the drill. You guys are Brahmin pussies compared to the Outcasts.” Oh, I gotta use that line one day.

Out of nowhere, Errol yells in his deep-South accent “Oh my, Lord have mercy, LORD HAVE MERCY! You hear that Alan?! Lady says you chicken shit to a bunch of tin-cans that went chicken shit! What you gonna do about it?! Huh?!” “Shut up,” Alan coldly says in Virginian-accented English. “Ey tough guy?! What you gonna do about it?!” Errol continues. Seriously, shut up, you’re fucking up the one chance we may have to get out of this.

I hear someone banging on a window, probably Errol’s and Gerry’s. Karl says “How about I throw some tear gas grenades in and keep the windows locked?! You’d like that?!”

Errol finally shut his mouth.

After a wait, the doors slide open, Karl saying hello to us with a sawed-off shotgun. He’s got the same clothes as before. Karl says “One at a time, slowly. Sit yourself at the dining table. Speak when spoken to.” I can see his hand twitching enough for me to keep quiet. At least the platform is lit up nice and well. Nice to die with some light shining.

I don’t see anything bout Karl to say he’s a demon, but hey, I had trouble realizing Kurama was a demon when I first saw him. “Stop staring,” Karl says, nudging at the air in front of this sawed off. I think they learned their lessons about sticking their gun barrels into arms-reach. Alan, this biracial guy who I’m guessing is part white, part either Asian or Native American/Native Mexican, he keeps an eye on Errol Bradley’s and Gerry Simoneaux’s little slice of the train, carrying a Sten looking submachine gun that’s made of random garbage.

Justin is holding the hunting rifle and aiming it at us from the middle of the nearby escalator. Trey is closer, on our right, aiming with Kurama’s Lee Enfield. His hands are shaking too, shit. Vance is sitting at the far right end of the dining table, a blonde woman in her late 20s sitting next to him and across from us. Her hair is combed forward, kinda short, and she’s dressed in a sleeveless black leather jacket and a red wool undershirt. Standing to her left is a red-skinned middle-aged Latino man, kinda Native American looking, with a wide jaw and thick black hair combed back, a bit like Kuwabara’s except not sticking past his forehead. He has a wiry goatee and is wearing a grey shirt with the words ‘Maryland Terrapins’ spelled out in red (for Maryland) and black (for Terrapins). He’s also packing a SPAS-12 shotgun. At least his hands aren’t shaking. Damn, there’s a lot more of these guys then I expected. Counting Errol and Gerry, I think they are at least as big as Gallo’s group.

“Welcome. I trust that Mr. Bradley and Mr. Simoneaux did not disturb your sleep,” Vance says waving us to the dining table. I go sit across from Holly…”Too close, one seat to the left” Trey coldly says. Vance shakes his head and says “No Trey, that would be fine. You sir…what is your name?” “Yusuke Urameshi,” I reply, taking my seat across from Holly. Kurama takes the seat to the left of me. Then I watch Karl move Jorgen to sit to the left of Kurama, followed by Mark, Samantha, Ben, and lastly Karen at the end. Weird, I get that they wanted to sit the Talon Company merc between us and the rest, but that order…it’s like he listed us in the order of least aggressive to most. I know Ben and Mark surrendered, but Mark is the bigger pacifist of the two, and Samantha doesn’t like Kurama all that much. If I’d ever need to call on either Samantha or Ben for help, well, it’s not even a question. Why the hell did they insist on this order then?

Was Errol and Gerry in there to spy on us? And why the hell were they even locked up in there with us? Who are they?

I look down at my plate, a cut of meat and some mashed potatoes with gravy, beer on the side. Does not look human…still no sign of Clive. We got plastic forks and knives. Vance speaks “Hello, Yusuke…did I pronounce that correctly?” Yeah actually. I nod and say “Yep.” Vance keeps quiet, I guess he wants me to introduce the rest of us.

Yusuke is a common Japanese name, and not many demons know that my last name is Urameshi. Back in Makai, everyone outside of Enki’s people defaulted to calling me ‘Raizen’s Spawn’, ‘Raizen’s Bastard’, or ‘Koenma’s Lapdog.’ My name was mentioned many times during the first and second Makai tournaments but I don’t think many paid attention. So far, not catching any special response from Vance, or Holly, or the Latino guy with the SPAS-12. I say “Your turn.”

Vance sighs and says “Very well. My name is Vance Holmquist. This is my wife, Holly Yilmaz-Holmquist. This gentlemen to Holly’s right is Randall Fagundez. I believe you have been already introduced to Trey Givens, Justin MacNabb, Alan Notaro, and Karl Kiefer. Fatima Girgrah is being treated for…concussion related symptoms by our doctor, Diane. And several others await introduction, as befit the situation. Now, as you say…your turn.”

Okay. I look at Karl Kiefer, pretend to focus on his shotgun while I take looks at his face, and say “Next to me is my good friend…Kurama.” No reaction. I continue “That’s an old nickname name he uses. His full name is Shuichi Minamino.” No reaction from Trey. None from Justin, can’t see Alan’s face to judge. Turning to Vance and Holly, no reaction from them. None from Randall. What fucking demons is Kurama talking about?

I continue “Next to Kurama, he’s not with us, that’s Jorgen Rasmussen. Some Talon Company asshole that tried to kill our people earlier. Next to Jorgen, we got Mark Glatkowski, he’s with Arefu. After Mark is Samantha Tavares, hired help, caravan guard. Then is Ben Canning, also hired help. Last is Karen Schenzy, with Arefu. Kurama and I came here to deliver letters for the Wests…I think you have them. Brown satchel…course then you kidnapped Ian and did some fucked up shit to his parents, so we came here to take him back. Evan King hired us, well, we…kinda volunteered. All of us, including Clive. Which, well, we asked a few times already about him. Where…is he?” I look down at my slab of meat, poking at it with my fork.

Vance signs and speaks “It’s microwaved Salisbury steak. Unless Boston Food’s possessed highly curious notions of what the pre-War public wanted in their dinners, I’d safely assume it free of human parts. And, since you have asked patiently and politely…Brienne! You may bring Clive downstairs!” I hear a faint female voice, then someone groaning, coming from the upper platform. I see a red-haired white woman in a really tight grey leather jacket and torn up blue jeans, she’s carrying someone on her right shoulder. Someone that’s a foot taller than her…yeah it’s Clive. Thank fucking Buddha or Christ or Thor or whoever the fuck is out there that this ain’t some…wait…got make sure he’s not missing his foot. Salisbury steak my ass…okay, I see he has both feet. I yell “Clive, you still got your leg?!” He groans and yells back “Both of them! Go ahead, that ain’t man-meat!”

Brienne leads Clive down to the seat next to Holly, which he takes. Guy is limping badly, and it looks like his right leg has a cast hidden under his jeans. Brienne sits down to the left of Clive, rubbing his right shoulder. She leans forward and presses her chin on Clive’s shoulder like they’ve been dating for years. Clive smirks and shakes his head, saying “Lady, only you could make a man want to stick his other leg in a bear trap.” Brienne smiles and…okay her right hand just disappeared under the table. She speaks in a sultry Maryland accent “Oh we can skip that sugar, and get to…” “Brienne!” Vance yells, as he and Holly give dirty looks at her. Brienne freezes as Vance adds “Not in public. Your antics are wearing myself thin.” “Okay, okay,” Brienne says, and I can see her hands on the dining table.

Clive smiles awkwardly…and did I just hear a zipper? Jesus this lady is something else. Vance sighs and says “Brienne Quinsey, at your service. Unfortunately.” Brienne’s cheeks go red as Clive says “Yeah, okay, well. Anyway, I got both my feet still with me. Vance...well, I’ll let the guy speak.” Vance cuts into his steak and says “You may proceed before it turns cold. I assure, it is safe to consume.”

I take a small cut, nibble at it. I say “It tastes like beef…I…err, can’t say I know how people taste like. Doesn’t taste like my fingertips, so I guess that’s a plus.” “Pork,” Kurama says, “it’s been said to taste like pork.” Vance nods and adds “Indeed. So…I must begin this with an apology. Last night, I gave a lie, lie of omission to be exact.” Okay…

Karen speaks out “Alright…we’re listening.” Vance sighs and speaks “I mentioned that we do not consume human meat. That is correct.” Okay, good. Vance adds “What I did not mention, is that we all previously did.” Uh. He says “We are cannibals, all of us. All of us have consumed human flesh prior. I…I have sought an alternative to such a craving, and I have found it successfully.”

I see Kurama’s muscles tensing, his anger boiling. And we got nothing but our teeth and nails. And this plastic fork.

I hear Karen and Ben whisper, Samantha muttering “Oh damnit.” Randall says “Easy, don’t give me a reason.” That voice. I say “You’re the asshole with the baseball bat.” Randall laughs and says “Yeah, and now I’m the asshole with the SPAS-12. So relax.”

Giving a look at me and Randall, Vance then continues “I see your apprehension, allow me to start from the origins.” Swallowing a piece of steak with some potatoes, Vance says “I used to reside in Rivet City, to the southeast. Myself and Justin MacNabb. My title was chief engineer, Justin served as a janitor. We once volunteered for a scavenging run into Anacostia, to bolster a detachment of Rivet City security. Our scavenging attempt resulted in an ambush by raiders. The raiders were repelled, but Justin and myself were buried in rubble, alongside two fresh raider corpses. By day seven, starvation brought us to the brink, and we consumed the corpses. By day ten, an errant explosive leveled a portion of the apartment we were trapped inside. Super mutants were in the vicinity, so we, ironically, have them to thank.”

Vance takes a sip of beer, and calmly continues “We returned and were immediately quarantined in the medical bay…Chief Harkness disciplined the security detachment for nearly leaving us to starve. We…did not include the detail about us surviving on raider flesh. After a week of bed rest, we were deemed fit for work. A week later, I found myself staring at Mr. Henry Young as prey. Justin confided similar thoughts. We…shrugged the thoughts aside, alcohol and light narcotics sold by Mrs. Cantelli helped ease our minds. Until Officer Lepelletier, in her infinite wisdom, decided to cart several raider corpses into the Rivet City holds, and place them in storage container several doors down from main engineering. Her belief was that…their bodies can be used to draw out mirelurks from the lower holds for efficient extermination. A week lasted when I failed to resist entering the container. Justin already…’sank his teeth’ a day ago. It was a week later when security found Justin consuming the corpses. They beaten him violently and were prepared to execute him…when I intervened and promised to administer his exile. I…collected all my belongings which I could carry, allowed Justin to do the same. And we never returned to Rivet City again.”

He sighs, sips on his beer, and waves his right hand at Holly. Holly takes over “Vance and Justin lived as scavvers in the DC ruins, selling to the ghouls in Underworld. I was with my own group of scavvers. We visited the remains of Howard University Hospital at the same time, found ourselves in a standoff, and then quickly joined forces when a nest of super mutants was stirred. It…it ended with Vance, Justin, and myself trapped on the fourth floor, along with two of my old team, already dead. We…played dead while the super mutants went room to room. They never found us, somehow…but they camped outside. And we waited…we had regular food at first, some emergency MREs from the hospital that wasn’t looted until then. When those ran out…Vance and Justin…”

She sips on her beer, and then eats a thick cut of steak. Looking past my shoulder, maybe at Justin, Holly turns back to us and continues “I will not lie, it was disgusting at first. Yet, the super mutants didn’t leave and, and…there are very few things worse than watching someone eat while your stomach hollows out. I…I gave in. We ate both the bodies, ate them faster than we’d like, so they won’t rot. Then there was nothing left but the bones, genitals, and heads…it was my idea to try eating the blood packs. Compared to eating eyeballs, it wasn’t a difficult choice. And we had plenty to survive on, with the blood even helping us hydrate a little. It took two more weeks for the mutants to leave, but we had our energy. We were able to make our way to Underworld. And so we continued, and we eventually stopped craving human meat, just the blood packs. We found a couple others along the way, some which saved us from a shootout with slavers. We found Meresti Station, mostly abandoned, just Karl here living alone and scavving. Moving in was easy. We…we created a safe haven where people like us…where we aren’t looked as freaks and monsters. Where we could be safe. Where we could be family.”

I…I see. Okay, so…makes some sense. I believe it. I ask “So…this is like…Cannibals Anonymous? You’re treating cannibalism like its alcoholism?” Vance nods and says “Yes, yes! That is exactly what my teachings concern. We do not consume human flesh, only human blood. We do not consume for pleasure, only nutrition, and to keep the psychological dependency on human flesh at bay. Not all of us even practice, for Karl never consumed human flesh and made his stance clear on human blood. Neither does Randall here. And they have lived amongst us without so much as a hair on their heads harmed.”

Then why the fuck did you chew up the fucking Wests?!

Kurama asks “So, you…practice…vampirism?” I remember one vampire bat demon from Genkai’s forest, so…hey, maybe. Maybe one of these guys are one of them, just in disguise somehow. Vance laughs a bit, eats some mashed potatoes as I go to work on my steak, and replies “Are you insinuating that we are of the mythical creatures of lore? That I can turn into a bat and fly away? Of course not. Do I cast my image upon a mirror? Absolutely. Though I must admit, I am surprised to encounter such a learned Wastelander capable of applying the proper label to our ways.”

Alright, someone’s gotta ask the question. I see Karen stirring a bit. She yells “Why the hell were we attacked yesterday?! What do you want from Arefu?!” Vance sighs, puts his fork down, and looks down at his plate. Looking up, he speaks “I was attempting to contact your settlement leader, Mr. Evan King, about a mutually beneficial exchange. We would provide protection from hostile threats. In turn, we would request donations of blood to sustain us. I originally considered having Ms. Diane Kildare, our doctor, visit Arefu to extract our blood donations. Once we learned that your settlement has a Dr. Dankers, we intended to establish a small caravan route. Alan Notaro would have led the Brahmin.”

I ask “So what, this is an extortion angle? And how the hell you know bout the Dankers?” I hear whispering amongst our people, look left…everyone but Jorgen is looking around, fidgeting. Vance sighs again, and then says “I assure you, we intended no incidents. Allow me to explain…”

“LIAR!” Mark just yelled out of nowhere, damn near got us all shot. Karen laughs a bit and then says “Say that again, with more feeling.” Mark just shakes his head, gritting his teeth. He bangs his fists on the table and yells “You gave your word, Vance! You promised that no harm would come to our community!” Wait, wuh…what?!

Karen yells “What the...ffffuck you talking about?!” “He had an inside man,” Ben just blurts out. “What, Mark, what’s going on?” Samantha asks. Even Jorgen is looking a little active. Clive speaks over us “Wait, let Vance expla…” Kurama snarls and speaks over all of us “This parody of a man, this Mark Glatkowski, has been in contact with these fine gentlemen all this time!” Kurama looks at Mark like he wants to kill him.

Mark speaks out “What is Arefu?! The O’Conners, Karen Schenzy, Davis West, and Evan King, up against the worst of the wastes. And of the five, one is gone, and the other is past the age of 60! There is slaver ARMY in the vicinity, and one glance would make it clear that we are low-hanging fruit! So, yes, we made contact, myself and Holly, while I scavenged in the northeast. I dined with ‘The Family’, I spoke with each one, listened to Vance pontificate upon his ‘mission’. And I placed my trust in you, for I finally would improve Arefu, a community I long cared for, despite Evan King and Kenneth Ewers and all who view me as a parasite. I…I struggled…I…sought ways to help. I scavenge, and I am fortunate to find enough for myself. And so, I saw an opportunity, to repay Arefu’s kindness. And I found my trust betrayed, by this silver-tongued liar and…horseshit peddler!”

Karl yells “Stand still, or I will shoot you!” “That is enough! Everyone!” Vance yells, standing up from his seat. Karl backs off, Mark calms down, Vance speaks out “I…did not order my men to attack Arefu. I did not order them to attack your Brahmin. I did not order them to kill the Wests. In fact, I can provide you the identity of those that did attack Arefu yesterday.”

I ask “And…who are they?”

Vance turns to me and kinda whispers “Gerry Simoneaux and Errol Bradley. They are two of our newer disciples, arrived two weeks prior. They have caused nothing but grief for us. These two…idiots! These…imbeciles, were the ones that harassed your community, pelted your bridge with glass bottles, and attacked your settlement. Be fortunate that I did not simply exile them!”

Karen grits her teeth and says “So, Mark, you just thought it be a good idea to play middle-man with a bunch of…’cannibal vampires’, without letting us in on the scoop?” Mark nods and says “Of course, what response do think Evan King would have? His pride and his paranoia as his sword and shield, the man would have simply doubled the O’Conners’ shifts on barricade. Irrelevant, and useless in the face of an organized raiding party…no offense.” Clive shakes his head and says “None taken. I…look I’d definitely could have done without the bear trap, but Vance’s people? I trust them, funny enough. And…we need them. If it means giving blood once a week, sure, I’ll do it.”

Jorgen coughs…what does that asshole even want in this? Hell, why is he here with us? The merc says “Pardons, but…I could not help but notice a few words from your backstory, Mrs. Holmquist. You mentioned that you consumed blood packets for sustenance. I’d regard that to be a fair trade. Drawing blood when most medical caravans contain blood packs in surplus, and Stimpaks being sufficient in non-emergency scenarios, it just seems less of a burden.” Clive shrugs his shoulders and says “Heh, sure, for an asshole that tried to kill me, you got a good idea there. I like it.” Vance and Holly are nodding…Mark is nodding, Karen is now nodding. Vance asks Karen “Can you speak for Mr. King? While Mr. Glatkowski has been of great assistance, I assure him, we found his influence in Arefu…wanting.”

Karen thinks for a bit, stews over her brunch. She’s nodding, saying “Yeah, as long you bring Simoneaux and Bradley and get them talking. Evan King needs to hear them say it. Can you do that?” Vance’s face went dark all of a sudden. He turns to Holly, and then Randall, Karl, looks around the place. He says “Mr. Bradley’s and Mr. Simoneaux’s detainment was the first disciplinary measure I ever was forced to undertake. If I must, I will execute both of them myself, but I simply wish to avoid a violent approach to the best of my abilities.” Karen says “Then you have a lot more in common with Evan King then you think. It took hearing about Davis and Matilda getting mutilated to move him to action. He loved that man like a brother.” Vance frowns and speaks “It is unfortunate. I assure you, we brought Ian here for his own safety. Once this meeting is concluded, I will allow you to visit. In turns of course, as he is suffering, and would not wish to be overwhelmed. As you may imagine. If he wishes to leave, I will not prevent him from doing so.”

Errol Bradley and Gerry Simoneaux, so they’re the fuckers that ate the Wests. And shot up the south…wait…wait a minute. Kurama asks before I could ask “Who are these two, Errol Bradley and Gerry Simoneaux? You mentioned that they are new disciples…” Vance looks pretty pissed off as he stares at the subway prison. He adds “Those two…” Randall interrupts “A pair of psychotic backwoods hicks from the old Deep South. Errol loves to needle everyone around him, and Gerry stayed mostly quiet…” “Until roughly a few days ago…” Holly speaks out “when he started rambling on about…the King in Red, and time being a flat circle. And this place called Carcosa. And that…Christ is a toddler and his father is a liar.”

Holy fuck.

Kurama and I look at each other. We don’t even need to say anything. We found our two demons right here.

Holy shit. Holy fucking shit. We might be able to figure out what the fuck is going on now!

Kurama turns back to Vance and asks “Pardon, but out of curiosity, how did you know of our arrival? We expected an ambush, but your preparation exceed a simple defense strategy.” Kurama turns to Ben and Mark, the sides of his face tightening. Ben shakes his head and says “Nope, said nothing.” Vance speaks out “He is speaking the truth. We struggled to pry anything out of either of them. Mark’s silence was rather concerning.” Kurama asks “So, how do you distribute Ultrajet from this train depot?” Vance and Holly laugh a bit, as Karl says “I still got connections in Megaton.”

“Moriarty?” I ask. Karl shrugs his shoulders and says “Who else?” So, that explains that.

Kurama climbs off his chair, slowly, saying “Now, if you would excuse us. I believe we promised a Lucy West that we would deliver a satchel of letters to her kin. I would look upon this kindly if we…may have our personal effects returned.” Randall tightens his grip, Karl takes a step back, Trey and Justin looking a bit nervous.

Vance waves them off and says “Karl, bring Mr. Minamino his satchel of letters. Escort Minamino and Urameshi to Ian West. Mr. Minamino, all your possessions, including your weapons, will be returned to you once we depart for Arefu and secure this agreement. Forgive my caution, but after last night, I cannot permit you to carry arms. At least not in this visit.” Kurama sighs, kinda angrily…and says “Very well.”

Karl moves and walks toward the back of the station, behind the escalators. I see a small shop over there, metal shelves with random guns, ammo, armor, meds, all neatly organized. They even have a store here? Kurama, meanwhile, he has his back to me, takes a few steps, and then stops. His back to us, Kurama says “One more thing, Mr. Holmquist.” I hear Vance speak “Proceed.”

“Mr. Simoneaux and Mr. Bradley attacked the Arefu Brahmin from the south. The West residence is situated in the north…”

I was about to ask that, but got so excited at the idea of questioning the two in the cage that I forgot.

Kurama continues “Do you expect us to believe that those two in that subway car, that they killed and mutilated Davis and Matilda West?” I hear Vance reply “Of course not.”

“Did Bradley and Simoneaux kill Davis and Matilda West?”


“Is Mark Glatkowski the only member of Arefu you established contact with, prior to yesterday?”

I watch Vance lean forward a bit, a blank look on his face. He glances at Randall, nods, and then turns back to us, saying “No, Glatkowski was the first. He was not, however, the last.” Kurama turns around, approaches his seat, and puts his hands on the back of the chair. Leaning forward, he asks “Did you kill Davis and Matilda West?” Vance growls and replies “Have you completely ignored everything I said? Of course not.”

“Who killed Davis and Matilda West?”

Vance stretches his neck, bending his head to the left and right. He takes a sip of beer, sets it down, and then answers “By process of elimination, the truth is rather obvious. If not altogether pleasant.”


Mark Glatkowski mutters “Mother of Mary…” I hear Ben and Karen looking at Mark, confused looks. Jorgen is raising an eyebrow, Samantha is shaking her head, looking like she ate something bad. Kurama is just staring at Vance stone-faced and I’m just confused as…oh.

Oh…oh damn.

Samantha speaks out for us “That kid, Ian West…” Karen shakes her head and says “Oh no, no man. Don’t say that…no…he…oh Christ he was living two houses away! That’s…I knew that boy was off but that…oh fuck…”

Ben gets it, Jorgen gets it. I feel sick, even looking at my half eaten steak is making my stomach churn.

Kurama sighs and speaks “Well…a…job is a job. We…we were promised to deliver those letters, and so we will do just that.” Fox boy sounds robotic, like, like, like he’s shutting off his brain so he doesn’t do anything violent. To Ian West at least.

Kurama killed his demon mother because she tried to cannibalize his demon sister. Vance has been dipping into ‘necessity’ as the reason behind eating human meat. I don’t know how Kurama’s mind is sifting through all this. He looks like a powder keg in a gas station, and someone is ignoring the warning signs.

“Can I have a smoke?” I ask “I’d really like to have a smoke. You can light the cigarettes for us if you’re worried about us carrying fire.” Kurama nods, his face looking very uncomfortable. He says “Myself as well. Please.”


A distant, aggravating hum, the fruit fly buzzes just out of arms reach, a needle scratching on the outline of my skull. If only I chose to be reborn as one of you, just existing to piss others off by existing. Would make things easier…flies don’t have teeth. My headphones dangle on a loaned MP3 player, a failed attempt to ease my thoughts. An American-accented country bluegrass song plays “Six More Miles to the Graveyard” by Hank Williams Sr.

Time is flat circle, Simoneaux likes to preach that old-time religion. Oh how little that backwoods, Mississippi dog-fucking retard knows, Lord have mercy. Justin said that folks came plotting all manner of nefariousness like taking be back to the old parish. Old…feels mighty queer saying that, all being a day removed. Time can be pretty flat with old age, old age bringing cycles, mistakes repeating, history repeating. That we doing this shit over, and over, and over again on loop, like a record of life spinning infinitely, with each and every fucking chip and crack creaking the speakers of the caricature of physics known as sentient life.

“Oh, the rain is slowly fallin’. And my heart is so sore. Six more miles and leave my darlin’. Never on this earth to meet no more.”

Flies, consumed by fish, consumed by mutated grizzlies, hunted for sport by humans. Nature, the supposed evil of supposed self-awareness, that one may rise above the base Maslovian needs of food, shelter, safety, sex, illusions of family, to achieve a certain self-realization of an existence whose only point is to expire and rejoin the great recycling of flesh and spirit. Nature…what is nature? Dolphins murdering their children as an excuse to reproduce and achieve orgasm, ants enslaving and cannibalizing rival nests, chimpanzees tearing the heads off their fellow young and eating the slivers of flesh and spinal fluid out of pure fucking meanness. A mistake, a violation of standard mathematics and physics, that from nothing comes this harbinger of evil and delusion known as ‘life’. Billions of meat-sacks waiting patiently for the upcoming rapture and release of their souls, crying in frenzied laughter when they fail in the endeavor. Hilarious shit.

“Oh I hear the train a comin’. Bringin’ my darlin’ back home. Six more miles to the graveyard. And I’ll be left here all alone.”

Like the chimpanzee that basks in the mother’s horror of her child’s decapitated head rolling at her feet, and then realizing that all his supposed self-actualization, and his sense of family, and safety, and survival…every fucking little rung of the pyramid, that it’s all a flash in the cosmic soup we call reality, and for all your titles, all the leaders and the followers and the kings and their soldiers, they are all nothing, returning to another illusion created by the narcissistic self-importance of an A-class ogre with the humility to consider himself special, when in reality, he is not so special. Be good, follow my supposed standards of a ‘good life’, and the pearly gates of Spirit World bring you in where you realize that you are amongst nothing more than a sad-collection of rubes sucked in by a raw deal and given the ‘fair exchange’ you were promised since life’s creation, and you were just too fucking stupid to claim your prize. An eternity of walking the cosmic spectrum of time, until you are ready to close the circle and begin anew.

Twenty-one years of age, or five-hundred and eighty-seven years, or perhaps infinite years old. All a matter of perspective, or as Mr. Simoneaux says…time is a flat circle. My knowledge of a Carcosa is scant, though. Maybe he’s like me, and Carcosa is some yahoo village in the sand-blasted hellhole of Tourin. Maybe he’s human, and it’s some old piece of literature that affected the very soul of his conscious, as humans tend to enjoy doing. Accepting a preposterously idiotic violation of the natural laws of cosmic order for a narrative that eases their fears that, yes, you are somebody, and someone much, much, much more powerful then you either loves you or despises you anyway, so long as you do exactly what he says.

“Six more miles, to the graveyard. Six more miles, long and sad.”

I knock ash off my cig and take another drag. Inhale. Exhale into the fly, see who the annoying ass is now.

“Six more miles and leave my darlin’. Leave the best friend, I ever had.”

J’ai gros coeur.

That reptilian fucking raider, coming in those years ago, got that pool cue, going to ransom us he says. Lean, white guy, real lean, like he’s the hungry one. Thin head, balding black hair with the muttonstache, in long johns and leather gloves. Remember those gloves grabbing my shoulders, only 14 years re-born, the weird boy Ian West that likes to draw in the dirt. Those hands trying to get a good grip, as Lucy was bleeding from the forehead. A call of the wild, blood in the air, and the inner me needed something to kill.

Reach forward, open mouth, teeth around the jugular, bite down. Metallic taste immediately…his throttling just makes the tear worse. My species ain’t like the quest-class demons, we need our human flesh. Spat out the meat but it was enough. Laissez les bon temps roulez. Let the good times roll.

Empty roads, wandering. Greed, loss. The New World and the Old. All my experience boiled to programming. Taste of flesh, thoughts scratching the skull.

“Six more miles and leave my darlin’. Leave the best friend, I ever had.”

I am so fucking sorry Lucy. I…your presence staved off the calls of the wild. Wrote over my programming. The inherent code is there, and the maintenance ceased. I should have followed you to Megaton, idiot. Your little couillon. The end result is obvious, denial the only life preserver, and the holes are many. Once the air escaped, then we all return to what we are, creatures enslaved by our programming. Damn idiot.

A knock at the door. I hear Karl speak “You have visitors, they came from Megaton. Couriers.” I hold back my urge to laugh. Letters from Lucy I’d wager on the odds. I say “Okay Karl.” The metal doorknob twists, door opens inward. Two men, east Asian, one with long red hair, barely grown fringe over his forehead, green eyes, slight red chin stubble. Dressed in a white undershirt, a red vest peppered in these golden circles, stitched black pants raised by a leather belt, a beige trenchcoat duster, some stitches, with pockets on the outside. Brown boots, holding a brown satchel. Doctor John Holliday sends his regards.

The other male, a few inches the shorter, black boots, stitched grey pants, a black shirt, and a grayish white vest, a black but otherwise identical trenchcoat duster draped over his frame, some stitches and cuts. A five 0’clock shadow snaking faintly up to a disheveled set of hair, a widow’s peak with hair fringe obscuring his forehead. Wyatt Earp sends his regards as well. Now ain’t that a daisy.

Karl glares at me, speaking “I’ll be outside the door, far enough to give privacy. Yell if you need help.” “Thank you, but I don’t think that will be necessary,” I reply. If these harbingers of Megaton are here to exact a violent, Wasteland justice, well, I am too philosophically hexed to loudly protest. Karl nods, likely ignoring my statement, and shuts the door with those big, meaty hands of his. Now, it appears that Doctor Holliday and Wyatt Earp see something quite pleasing behind me…

“Ian West?” Wyatt Earp asks. I reply “Why yes. Now what would drive two Megaton couriers to make a pass on this edge of human civilization?” Wyatt’s head jerks slightly, he glances a concerned look at Doctor Holliday, who is staring quite intently at my person. Wyatt replies “We got letters from your sister. Lucy West. We…were going to give them to your dad, but…well…yeah. We know. We know what you did.” Hm, his accent is Japanese.

I reply “You do? Please tell me then, for I am not sure myself. I fancy to think that, some tataille, some monster committed those evils while I happily dreamt of nothing.” “You actually believe that?” the Japanese Wyatt Earp asks. Ah. I reply “Mais, no. I know I killed my kin. And then I gnawed on their face and necks. And…I will have to live with myself for this. Somehow. Say, what is your name?”

“Yusuke Urameshi, and this guy is Shuichi Minamino,” Yusuke answers. Should I impress with my basic grasp of Makai Japanese? Yusuke interrupts my train of thought “Your accent is not like Lucy’s. Where you from?” Hm, the truth would be pleasant, a little confession before I blow my fucking cranial bits through the back. Hm, no, they already take me for a madman, speaking of how an apparition born in the Lingala-speaking corners of the Alaric moved at a young age to the Sioux-speaking parishes of Gandara, was then killed and had his spirit fall through a time-dimensional altering portal from the curiosity of seeing a quest-class demon toy with a weird-ass cloak, arrived in post-apocalyptic America and had his soul fuse with the unborn boy of a Louisiana family with a little daughter already there…yeah, I’d be better served speaking to the goddamn wall. The wall don’t look back and judge, not like I want for things that need judging.

I answer “The Bayou Wastes. Used to be called Louisiana. Came from a ruined parish called Strawberry. The accent is Cajun. Lucy has one too, not as obvious though.” Yusuke leans forward and says “I’ve seen videos, tapes. Your accent is a bit off, kinda nasally.” Very well then. I say “Okay, next time I’m born, I’ll take better effort to match the locale.” Hah, their reactions amuse me quite well. Momentary reprieves, from the reality of my person. Or demon. Both? Eh.

Shuichi suddenly speaks “Are you not curious about the letters we brought? We suffered through a great many ordeals to bring you these.” Hm, his accent is quite bizarre as well, a little queer for Japanese. Somewhat Slavic mixed in, probably stowaways on a ship from what’s left of the Far East. I answer “I just took the only family my sister had left, and I tore their lips out. The only things those letters will bring is the cruel reality that she will never wish to see me breathe again.” “She is your sister,” Shuichi mutters. I reply “And Davis and Matilda are my parents. Seems family is…not what it should be.”

Vex my heavy heart…my tears come forth. I bury my face in my old, black, wide-brim top hat. I can’t cease my tears…the release swaths me in a serene ease. If only we can drown in our tears, a euthanizing kiss of death, and the circle is closed. And rounded again.

Rubbing my glossy eyes dry, I gander up and see Shuichi and Yusuke sitting in the chairs in front of me. The satchel of letters is on the table. I take my hat and put it on, giving them more space. Shuichi keeps staring with those green oversized eyes. He suddenly smiles, softly, like he sees something he likes, and I’m humble enough to deduce that I’m the subject. The redhead reaches into his duster and says “There is something else. Something I have for you.” I try a little laughter to fan the smoke and break the mirrors “You’re a daisy if you do.” Yusuke smirks slightly, his look confused. I see him mutter under his lips. He moves closer to Holliday, whispering into his ear. Now my interpersonal communicatory talents may have dulled with a second childhood in an irradiated swamp and a derelict highway overpass, but I reckon Wyatt Earp’s internal discomfort is closely related to the proximity of Doctor Holliday’s person.

Shuichi turns to Yusuke, his green eyes piercing the raven-haired cowboy’s constitution. Shuichi speaks “All will be explained shortly. Now, Ian West…I’m afraid words fail me in this instant. So I will resort to…an artifact of my possession, that may…convey my present sentiments.” I nod and speak “My attention and my curiosity are at your disposal. Now, please don’t disappoint. I reckon you for a piece of shit if you do, heh-heh.” Shuichi nods and retrieves a worn, brown wallet.

“Fox-boy, what the hell’s going on?”

Fox-boy? Err…what?

My eyes track the glint of ruby red encased in Makai nzoku darkened ivory. Attached to the tarnished silver pendant chain, the last remaining worth of my father Muzhinga of those many centuries past. I feel a strange sense of ease as I watch the crimson gem hover to and fro in the death throes of its pendulum motion.

I stare into the green eyes of ‘Shuichi’, and I dare to ask, and risk that all of what just transpired was the ugly defense mechanism of my increasingly shattered consciousness. I ask “Tolura?” Shuichi shakes his head, replying “No, but close.” “What the fuck man…” Yusuke mutters.

I scan those green eyes, that…Slavic accented Japanese. Fox-boy…Kitsunes. But…close. Oh, no, how? You were fucking un-killable. Has…like me? Have cosmic physics gone as mad as myself? I…I laugh.

Laughing comfortably, I climb from my chair and speak “It is good to see you again, Kurama.” He rises as well, and we embrace as old thieves-in-arms are want to do, his hands just as bony as ever. For the vast majority of my life, you were the closest thing I ever had to a goddamn family.

He places the ruby red in my right, seals my right fist as a gesture of assurance that I am not seeing a foul hallucination before an imminent demise. Kurama speaks, while Yusuke stares dumbfounded.

“You as well, Kuronue.”

We laugh, at the absurdity of this all. That we return, as Ian West and Shuichi Minamino, in the irradiated carcass of a world long departed, where only the vapors of its spirit remain to breathe life. And I do not even care that this Yusuke now stares at me with this bizarre furious glance of bloody murder and butchery, for I found peace in time of crisis. For I know now truly that time is a flat circle, and I will not die alone, broken with regret.


Gunfire, from outside. We break our embrace, turning to the door. I hear a holler “Gerry and Errol made a break for it! Alan’s shot! Someone help!” “SHIT!” Yusuke yells, as Kurama yells “Karl, open the door!” We hear no response, and so we stand behind my old friend as he turns the doorknob and finds it unlocked. We exit the room, into the metro hallway, armed with nothing aside our curiosity.

Reaching the living quarters of the upper platform, Karl is aiming his sawed off shotgun down at what I would hope to be a super mutant behemoth, otherwise he may wish to consider a different weapon. Diane, the brunette Western European seeming woman in the worn lab coat, collects Stimpaks and morphine in a wicker basket, an act that suggests the immediate threat has passed. I yell “Karl, do not fire!” Karl flinches but does not turn around swinging his shortened dick. We approach, and allow Diane to pass to the escalator steps. Looking below, Vance, Justin, and an unknown black male of tall built wearing a dark green survival vest, they hover over a motionless Alan Notaro. There is that familiar scent of blood in the air, stirring my insides. I resist salivating as Karl speaks “No idea what happened. Heard gunfire and saw Simoneaux’s backside heading to the eastern barricade. Alan was already bleeding. Hell, I heard your man Ben yell that one of the freaks tore the subway doors down. Look! They must be super mutants in disguise, no way are those two human.”


AN: 'Ian West' in this story, is partially inspired by Rust Cohle from 'True Detective'. Gerry Simoneaux is partially inspired by Reginald LeDoux of the same series. Ian West speaks in Cajun English and incorporates Cajun French phrases, which may have different meanings then standard French, African French, or Canadian French. 

Chapter Text

"Nuh, nuh, nuh, you ain't going nowhere," Yusuke yells out, grabbing Jorgen by the neck and holding a revolver to the back of his head. Vance divvied up the guns, and Ben, Randall, and Samantha went out for those crazy hicks Gerry and Errol. Jorgen raises his hands up and speaks in that weird accent "Damn this, I have been nothing but cooperative to you! Why am I treated this way?!" Yusuke yells out "Maybe something to do with you trying to fucking kill us?! Huh?! Thought about that?!" I say "Easy big guy, you're getting crazier than Shuichi here." "Hey, go fuck yourself Karen!" that dumbass yells. Oh, don't start, not now. Not while I'm on the tail end of a bad case of cramps.

"Yusuke, please. Relax," Kurama says, his Lee Enfield in his hands. Yusuke kicks out Jorgen's legs and says "I ain't letting this guy out of our sight." "Then don't. Diane, what can you tell of Alan and how those beasts murdered him?" Vance asks. Diane, kneeling at Alan's stiff corpse, says in a Virginia accent "I kid you not, it's as if one of the two, Errol or Gerry, they tore off part of the subway pole and impaled him through the chest. I found the pole in the tracks, bloody at the end. Those two were not normal." "I thought he was shot…" Shuichi asks. Diane nods and says "That was my first thought, but the only casings are by the dining table where Randall stood, and the only way to replicate this wound is…maybe if he was shot at point blank with a shotgun. No, as insane as it sounds, it most likely is the subway pole." "Jesus…" I say under my breath.

Ian West, fuck it's hard to look at him now, knowing that…he walks up to us. I feel like my skin is a pincushion, so freaked out to be around him.

He looks the same, with that hawk like nose, short, pointy chin, chin scruff, thin blue eyes, and shoulder length dirty blond hair tied into a ponytail. He's wearing that weird wide brim black hat, and has this black 'Adidas' tracksuit top and bottom with white stripes on the sleeves and sides of the pants. He's holding a Mossberg 590 Mariner shotgun. I grip tightly on my SKS, trying to not stare at the Bayou cannibal.

His own folks, Jesus…

"Lord have mercy, those backwoods yahoos really dialed a number on Mr. Notaro. Either they ain't of this world or one of them is walking with a torn labrum," Ian says with that nasally, kinda hushed Louisiana accent. Yusuke tightens his right arm around Jorgen's neck, saying "Just give me a reason." Kurama asks "Yusuke, what is troubling you? Calm yourself, Jorgen is valuable. He speaks his part in Arefu…and maybe he will receive that twelve hour head start I promised him…" Kurama giving a little menacing end to that statement, making Jorgen know that he got no friends here.

Jorgen speaks "I…recall it being a one day head start." Kurama turns away and says "Hmm, did I say twelve hours? I meant to say eight." This guy is a damned road bandit. Hey, Talon Company merc gets no sympathy from me, fuck him. Just Yusuke suddenly having a bug up his ass is getting me worried, on top of being in breathing distance of a guy that ate his freaking parents.

Jorgen puts his hands on the back of his legs and falls to his knees, probably trying to not dig his grave any deeper. Hey, every inch deeper eats into the four hour head start he's going to get.

The Arab-looking woman, Fatima, she's walking down the stairs, her forehead and left side of her head all wrapped in medical tape. She's moving, slowly, taking small steps. Clive ain't moving that fast himself, being in a cast and now using a crutch. If we gotta move fast, this will get ugly even faster. Can you say shit-storm?

Ian turns to me, I feel my skin crawling. He asks "How's the rest of the parish? I knew Evan going be sending warm bodies but I don't know these people. They came with the Megaton couriers?" Vance answers for me, thankfully "This gentleman, Mr. Canning, volunteered with Ms. Tavares, who serves as a caravan guard for Mitch Harith's weapons emporium. Errol's and Gerry's assault from the Virginia border and your misinterpreted 'kidnapping' caused quite a stir, as you are already aware of." Ian nods and says "Reckon that I do. Perhaps selfishly in regards for Mr. Notaro, I'd prefer that both of the two hillbilly crackers live long enough to sing their little diddle to Evan King. Would not wish for my psychotic outbreak to 'drive a wedge' between our people, no pun intended I assure."

He just passes it off as a psychotic outbreak. It's his freaking parents!

I remember when my mom and pop bit it, fucking cholera outbreak of '63. Way back in the Pennsylvania Wasteland, in Snyder Town. Still miss the hell out of them.


"Karen," Ian says, sounding really creepy. I force myself to look at him and say "Yeah?" He glares at me…I feel my fingers twitching. Thank fuck I got a rifle here.

Ian coldly says "There are broader…natures at work here. The sort you'd have of nightmares, you hear?" "I hear, I hear," I say. I hear, and I don't understand, nor want to. Fucking freak.

Fatima walks up and asks "What happened? I heard…oh God, Alan…" Vance answers "Simoneaux and Bradley, they somehow escaped and…did this. Randall and two of the 'emissaries' from Arefu went in pursuit. Robert and Martha should intercept the two lunatics before they can escape." Fatima raises an eyebrow and asks "Escape? From the train? How?" "Bare hands," Yusuke answers. Fatima rubs her forehead, as if having a migraine. She says "Vance, I know you don't like to talk like this, but we should have executed them." "Excuse me?" Vance replies, sounding half shocked and half pissed off.

Fatima gives this hand gesture like she's asking Vance to stop. She replies "I…I really did not have a good feeling about them, from the day they arrived. Something is off about them, and, I'm, sure you understand that this is coming from one of us. At the very least, should have sent them out of here. There's trouble, and then there's those two."

Vance grits his teeth and tightens his jaw, his shishkebab flaming sword in his right hand, the flame turned off. He says "We do not execute our own…" "Then we should have thrown them out when the bottle incident happened!" Fatima yells, and then goes back to rubbing her forehead.

Yusuke says "Nu-nu-nu-nu, as of now the only guy we have that can talk is this piece of shit here and he ain't got much. You exile those brother-fuckers, we ain't got shit to explain to Evan King. But hey, I don't care. Stupid bitch…" Fatima glares at Yusuke, squints her eyes, and then asks "Were you…yeah, you're the guy I kicked in the nuts. How they feel?" Yusuke yells back "Just peachy! How's the head? Got any brain damage?" "Yeah, go fuck yourself," Fatima replies, giving Yusuke the bird. Yusuke yells back "You first! I got a bloody subway handle with your name on it!"

"ENOUGH!" Vance yells, and that calmed everyone down. Okay…maybe not everyone. "Fuck this shit," Yusuke swears, letting go of Jorgen, who grunts and heaves a sigh of relief. Yusuke starts walking away, toward the direction that Gerry Simoneaux and Errol Bradley went. Kurama, or Shuichi, or whatever his name is, he says "I'll speak to him," and then jogs after Yusuke. So that achieved fuck-all.

Alright, where is Clive? And Mark? Familiar faces, gotta gravitate to them in these situations. There's that shop under the upper platform…I see Karl behind the counter, sorting through stuff and things. Looking up, Justin is looking over the railing, holding an old pipe rifle with a scope on it. Maybe upstairs will be more my scene. Alright, escalators, I see Justin eying me. I ask "You seen Mark or Clive?" Justin answers "Clive is…with Brienne." I can faintly see him blushing a bit. Smart caps are on Brienne being the village bike. I ask "And Mark?" "Near Ian West's quarters. He…does not appear all that well," he says. I reply "Yeah, no kidding. He sold his town out to a bunch of 'rehabilitated' cannibals and got his neighbors shot up and chewed up." Justin glares at me and says "Obviously, neither of those incidents were our responsibility." "Obviously?!" I yell, look at this guy. I say "If you didn't bring those two yahoos into your little 'flock', our Brahmin wouldn't have gotten slaughtered. And if your witch doctor leader didn't try to molest Ian, his parents might still be alive and Clive might still have both of his fucking legs!"

Justin just shakes his head and snarls under his breath. I say "Whatever," and move on, turning left, toward a hallway. I keep walking, feel eyes behind me. I hear footsteps. Keep walking, that's right asshole. Follow me, give me a reason…no be smart here. We're outnumbered, and they could have just gotten it over with anyway. Vance sounds like one of those tribal cult witch doctors selling radscorpion venom by the bottle, but he's been straight shooting with us so far. And…"Karen…" I hear Justin say. I turn around and say "Look, I'm just pissed over the whole situation. I had to sleep in a train car and then crap in a bucket while other people try not to watch." Justin sighs and replies "And whose fault is it but your group's? You came here intending to kill us." "Maybe. Good thing we didn't," I say, giving a smile to reassure.

Justin's cheeks puff up a bit, as he nods. He says "There are super mutants in the northeast by Germantown. And a slaver army in the northwest. We need our groups to work together, if we intend to call this land our home and breathe to say the words. And to be honest, I am very worried. And…I am not the only one here that feels that way." I nod and say "Yeah. And I ain't the only one from Arefu either." Justin nods and says "Promise me that there will be no trouble." I nod and say "As for trouble between us, yeah, I promise." "Thank you," Justin says, turning away. That…I say "Justin."

"Yes?" he asks.

"Sorry about what I said earlier, about the cannibal part. I know you didn't choose this. And I know you are trying to make yourself better," I say.

After a pause, Justin says "I already made myself better. It is Ian you should be encouraging."

Oh. Oh…oh fuck.

I ask "What happened? What did he tell you…was it something that happened when the Wests came from Louisiana?" Justin shakes his head and answers "Ask him, it is his baggage. If he wishes to share, he will do so. And Karen…thanks." We nod one more time and then continue our ways, him back to the upper platform, me to Ian West's room.

I see Mark leaning by the doorway to Ian's 'room', against the wall. He has his hands in his pockets and looks downright miserable. I say "Mark…" His eyes open up and he immediately jerks his head to me. Two fat blueish-green dots in the soup of red, white, and pink. I ask "You alright?" Mark shakes his head and says "Guess on three attempts."

I lean next to him and look down. I think of something to say. I mean, I should be throttling his neck. He goes on having secret talks with these nutjobs and doesn't let anyone know. He could have said something earlier. What if we took a different direction in the tunnels? Is he crazy enough to take them on just himself and Ben Canning? I say "You could have told us you knew of them. We kind of guessed that Meresti was their hideout. We pretty much guessed the right tunnel to take. It would have been just you and Ben against all of them." Mark replies "I…I was afraid to say anything. Fairly common situation, it seems. I…I thought the rear would be unguarded. I would have taken someone hostage, then organized an exchange."

I laugh and ask "Mark, seriously, do you really think you're capable of doing that?" He turns to me and smiles weakly. He replies "I am not sure…I never had the opportunity to find out." "You're an idiot, you know that?" I say, smiling a bit. Mark nods and says "I…I am intelligent enough to understand that, at least."

I yawn, and then say "Well, at least it works out for us in the end. Ironic really, that Ian was the one we had to watch out for. If I knew before hand…well, I'd just have advised all of us to leave him here." Mark nods, his face blank.

I ask "You think something happened to make Ian snap like that?" Mark simply shrugs his shoulders, looking at the ground. He lived closer to them then I did, maybe he heard something? I ask "Did Davis and Matilda…did they…?" He looks up to me, a little confused looking. He asks "Abuse him? Is that what you are asking?" I nod. I kinda find it hard to say those words. I never liked their kids, but Davis and Matilda were okay-ish in my book. Matilda is…was…a bit of a stick in the mud and maybe just a little bit sociopathic in how she can manipulate people sometimes. Davis really loved his bourbon, and I remember him getting into a fist fight with Evan on more than one occasion. Still, not something to throw around randomly, especially about the dead. They ain't got much of a platform to plead innocence.

Mark answers "Honestly? I considered that, and my suspicions were fueled when Lucy West departed for Megaton. Matilda…doubtful, but who truly knows? Davis…he was a fiery one when in his whiskey. Still, Evan King being Evan King, if he knew, he would have corrected the both of them in short order. As much as he spits on me, I have grown to admire the man's character." Eh, this again? I say "Evan doesn't hate you, he just thinks you don't pull your weight around." "Do you?" he asks. Hm. Eh. I say "You're low maintenance, and you do a decent job feeding yourself. I'd say that offsets." Mark smirks a bit, and then says "At the very least, thank you for being honest." "Don't mention it," I say. It's one of my redeeming features, I guess.

"So, you believe this will work?" Mark suddenly asks, after a long pause. Yeah, the real question in this. I say "If it doesn't, we hopefully won't live long enough to complain." Mark starts chuckling a bit, don't hear him do that much. He says "Perhaps a little too honest." "Sorry man. Maybe we won't live long enough for you to complain about that too," I say, pained smiling and all.


"Yusuke," I speak, approaching my dear friend, whom just earlier appeared ready to execute Jorgen. Normally I would not frown upon such a decision, given that the cretin is a Talon Company assassin, but…this is not Yusuke. Well, it isn't Yusuke to refuse to make eye contact with myself and flinch at my touch, but since meeting my long lost ally Kuronue, he has become a powder keg ready to ignite. I seen him clench his fists on multiple occasions, and the few words he has exchanged with Kuronue have been rather tense.

"Yeah Kurama?" he asks, pacing back and forth the end of the long subway train, a maintenance door to our right. I speak "Why? Why are you acting this way?" He refuses to look me in the eyes, speaking "The hell you talking about, I'm acting as I always am." That…that angers me more than anything. I speak "You may refuse to look me in the eye and act as if I'm the walking Black Death, but you insult our friendship by lying through your teeth. We have known each other for more than ten years, and I would have thought our friendship is meaningful enough for you to speak truthfully with me." I would have thought our friendship is meaningful enough for him to not judge me for the vile beast I am, but after confessing my sins, it seems I grossly misjudged.

I am doomed to die alone. Time apparently is a flat circle.

Damn my pathetic soul.

Yusuke freezes, his muscles tensing. He turns to face me in the eyes and speaks "Don't go there, Kurama. You're my best fucking friend, don't go saying shit like that. You…you want to know what's wrong?" His hands are shaking and his voice is hoarse. I nod and answer "Of course."

He shakes his head, almost appears ready to snarl, and, after an extended dozen or so seconds of inaudible muttering and glances to the ground, he replies "You…we came here with me expecting another episode of the Kazuo 'Kurama' Kiriyama show, and when we find out that Ian West killed and ate his own fucking mom and pop, you're all cool with that…because he was some demon dude you knew from way back now either reborn like you or in disguise?!"

! I…I…I speak "So you wish for me to just kill him?!" "I 'wish' for you to stop acting liking a fucking lunatic!" he yells back, pointing at my chest. Oh…is it this again?! I am a 'fucking lunatic' again?!

"Yusuke…this…'fucking lunatic' as you called him is the reason we are not being digested in the stomachs of cannibals living in a sewer waystation! Or being gagged and tortured and raped like Julius!" I reply…my anger rising. I…do not bring me to this Yusuke, I beseech you. He replies, and I shudder as to how I may react "And you are the reason why we did all kinds of sick shit to a bunch of random people that ended up gassed by some creepy-ass vault experiment! You…you fucking fed a woman to her pet rat! Alive!"

I…I reply "She was a fucking raider!" He fires back "She was unarmed and had nowhere to go! Kill her? Sure, a bullet to the head, get it over with it, she's a raider, I fucking get it. But what the fuck does feeding her to her pet rat accomplish?!" Yusuke…stop…please stop.

I say "I…I apologized. I realized I crossed the line…and I corrected my behavior. I…told you…you were right. And…she was a raider." Tears in his eyes, he yells "And so were you!"


That's where I stand now. Like one of those hyenas. I…I see.

I…I say "I…was a raider. I…I tried to become better. Being reborn as Shuichi Minamino…" "I know that Kurama! And I don't give a shit what you were then! I'm giving a shit about what you are now!" he yells. I…I…

"I'm…I'm sorry man. I shouldn't have said that, you ain't like Carruthers or Stampanato or Forteza or those assholes at the highway overpass. You…to the people you care about…you're a prince, I…I really shouldn't have said that," Yusuke replies, wiping faint tears away. I feel numb. I suppose I deserve this.

I say "Would…wouldn't how I reacted to knowing Ian West's true identity prove that I am not the vindictive bastard you make me for?" Yusuke shakes his head and says "No. It…" "It makes me a bloody hypocrite…you do not need to finish the sentence. I…I am beginning to understand what you are trying to say. I…correct me if I am wrong," I reply. I should have realized sooner. Oh well, hypocrisy is the least of my crimes.

Yusuke remains silent, so I would take it that I found the root source of this. But…no…then why has he refused eye contact since two days prior? I ask "Is that everything that troubles you?" He nods and says "Yeah, it is."


Is this my fate? Lose Yusuke and be saddled with Kuronue? Am I that repulsive as to lose the man I considered a friend for over a decade? At…at least Kuronue would not disapprove. If he does, he is a greater hypocrite then myself, as incredible as that sounds.

I…I dare to ask "Yusuke?" "Yeah?" he replies.

"Do I disgust you? Is knowing my past such a bitter pill to swallow?"

Yusuke answers, his face stone still "No, stop asking that. I don't give a shit. I…I just wanted some consistency, you know. Look, these past couple of days have been a bit of a nightmare…I'm…I'm just tense. That's it."

'Liar', my brain resonates.

I crave morphine. Three syringes, perhaps four. In quick succession. Shut my eyes and let this nightmare pass.

I feel empty, cavernous.

"I'm sorry Kurama," Yusuke speaks, with a tinge of sadness. He rests his back right by the maintenance door. "Me too," I reply. I think I have at least seven syringes back home. If not, I can break into Emory Church's cabinet. I may be greeted with a shot to head, all the better.

I rest my back against the wall, to the left of Yusuke. I feel a slightly warm pipe press against my thighs. My best friend despises me, compares me to a hyena, and lies to my face by claiming innocence. My long lost friend Kuronue, we have been reunited. After he brutally murdered his parents.

I now dare myself to think. If he simply survived and drifted into this world my chance, as we did, then as disturbing as it is, it cannot be cannibalism.

But…if he died, as I died, and fused his soul with an unborn human, as I have done…and to…to cause this.

Perhaps Yusuke has a point after all…no…no…stop. I cannot think this way. I cannot destroy everything around me. No…I…I would rather be the most shameless hypocrite walking, or the greatest fool on this barren rock, then to walk that path. I look right, to Yusuke. I ask "Do you think Kuronue returned…as I did?" Yusuke shakes his head and replies "I don't know…you said he died. I don't know how demons go about resurrecting themselves…" I interrupt and answer "The same way I resurrected myself, except we usually fuse our soul with an unborn Youkai." "Heh?" Yusuke asks.

I sigh and explain "It is quite complicated. Well…when a spirit leaves a vessel, they retain their memories and identity that they held while occupying the vessel. As when you were killed in the car accident, you remained Yusuke Urameshi as a spirit. When you were resurrected through Koenma's assistance, you retained your identity. This is the same for demons as well. Once deceased, we may walk as spirits aimlessly for eternity, or instead wait for a recently conceived fetus to take enough form so as to fit a spirit. All…all fetuses are conceived without spirits, and only once a spirit fills that fetus, which almost always occurs, does that fetus take shape and lead to life. The drawback, is that the process scrubs the prior identity away. And thus tabula rasa occurs. We are returned to life in a clean slate."

Yusuke glares at me as if I lost my wits. After a pause of digesting this information, Yusuke asks "So…how did you retain your Yoko identity?" I knew this question would be asked. I reply "A spirit already occupied the fetus known as Shuichi Minamino. I simply forced my spirit to merge with the human spirit already present…" Yusuke interrupts "Wait, humans go through the same process?" I smile and answer "At times. Before you became Yusuke Urameshi, you were a different person, likely Japanese, or at least of the Japanese islands. Unless your prior identity traveled as a ghost for quite a spell." "But…how do you explain Spirit World?" he asks. I answer "Spirt World welcomes the human spirits that are willing to enter. Not all do, possibly fearing judgment, or some other logic. They either remain as ghosts or reincarnate themselves. Obviously, Botan cannot ferry the sixty million men and women that die each year on her own. Aside from special cases such as yourself, all spirits must approach Spirit World on their own initiative."

Yusuke nods and says "Okay…okay…so how did you keep your Yoko identity?" I answer fully "As Yoko Kurama is a demon, and his spirit fused with Shuichi Minamino's in such a manner as to avoid the identity scrubbing process that human spirits are subject too. We are of slightly different material, as you know." Yusuke frowns and nods, saying "Okay…so…like you said. You are both people crammed into one, right? One identity, one spirit, one body, right?" That…yes, that sums it quite well. I answer "As of the moment of fusion, yes. I am Shuichi 'Yoko Kurama' Minamino. I do not possess a clear recollection of Shuichi's memories, I mean, of the human spirit that claimed Shuichi's vessel. But I retained Yoko Kurama's memories, and now have the memories of Shuichi 'Yoko Kurama' Minamino. Does that make sense?"

"Kind of…" Yusuke answers, which I will accept as a minor success in explaining spirit metaphysics. I say "Feel free to ask, I have nothing to hold back." I only hope that comment drives a needle into his skin…perhaps he is correct. Perhaps I am vindictive. "Look man, I am fine, alright?!" he yells. I am not an idiot, and yet he plays me for one. I ignore him. "Kurama!" he yells.

The door swings wide open.

The suddenness caused Yusuke to flinch and fall into my arms, causing us both to tumble to the ground. Staring from below, I see Randall and Samantha carrying a bloody, beaten, and rather large long haired blonde Caucasian by the arms, peppered in facial scars and wearing a green undershirt under a black, sleeveless, leather vest. The back of the vest sports the logo of a giant crushing a tree over its back. Sandwiched between the logo is, in woven yellow English lettering, "Juggernaut M.C." above the giant, and "Biloxi, Ole Miss" below the giant. The man is also wearing stitched sky blue jeans, and his large and long, muscular arms are bespecked in bizarre Egyptian themed tattoos of a cat with horns and a crocodile with horns. He is dragging his feet and appears to drip blood from his face.

Behind the trio, Ben is aiming his rifle at the captive's back, his clothes slightly stained in blood. He notices us and yells "Errol escaped! We got Gerry, but he put up a fight!" Two figures suddenly appear from behind the maintenance, door. One of them, a Mediterranean-seeming man with slightly above shoulder length brown hair, a trimmed brown beard, and a gray bandana, dressed in grey, blood stained combat armor, carries a biracial, I'd wager East Asian and African, female with half a head of brown hair, the other half torn by the roots and leaving a bloody scalp, by the arm. She is also adorned in similar grey combat armor, only her chestplate is shattered and blood is streaming from the wound. The man carrying her pauses to check her pulse, and then yells in Maryland-accented English "Ah no, no fuck. Fuck! Fucking stop! Just stop!"

We rise to our feet as the armored man sets the woman gently on the tracks, on her back. He checks her pulse again, frantic, his head shaking. The man buries his head on the ruined chestplate and…I believe he is sobbing. I hear him mutter "Please…please don't do this…please." "She is gone," I mutter, more so a query then a fact. He shakes his head while pressed against the female's chest, smearing his hair in her blood. The man mutters "Don't…please don't say that…" Vance, Kuronue, and Diane are approaching, Diane rushing to the female. She quickly checks the woman's pulse, shakes her head, and then slightly squints…I see a tear rushing down her check. "Robert…I'm sorry," she gently and miserably speaks.

Robert continues to sob, ignoring all of us. I hear Vance speak "Martha is…was it their work?" No response from Robert, who is inconsolable. Vance shakes his head and speaks "I will ask Randall. And Gerry personally. Ian, with me." The two depart, while Justin and Trey approach.

"Oh god-damn this…" Trey mutters. Justin approaches Robert from behind and kneels at his side, placing an arm on his left shoulder. "I'm…I'm very sorry," Justin solemnly interjects. Robert simply shakes his head, his hair a brush soaked in red paint. The man replies "Please…just leave me alone with her. Just…just do that." Justin grimaces and says "Robert, please. We must…" "Just do it, Justin," Diane replies. Justin's protests cease as he, Diane, and Trey all turn toward Gerry Simoneaux, who is now on his knees and in front of the eastern escalator.

We leave Robert to his sorrows and approach the cretin and possible Makai demon.

His arms now behind his back and bound in cable wire, Gerry Simoneaux simply kneels and smiles to himself as his nose gradually bleeds onto his jeans. Randall aims his shotgun at the back of Gerry's head and yells "Just give me the okay, Vance! I'll smear this piece of shit's brains all over the subway car!" Vance's jaw clenches. His flaming sword holding hand tightens as he replies "Quite tempting…but no. No, it will not be your hand that ends this bastard's miserable life."

A flick of his thumb, and the lawn mower blade in Vance's hand engulfs in a gorgeous and threatening blaze. Vance speaks "I will ask once…where is Errol Bradley?" Gerry ignores the flaming sword…and his smile grows as he turns to…me. The blonde speaks in a deep Southern drawl "I…I saw you. In my dreams. You too." He turns to Yusuke, and laughs "We'll do this again. Time is a flat circle…it's almost time, ain't it?"

"The fuck you're talking about?" Randall asks, and I concur. Is this man truly a demon? Or just mad? Vance turns off the flame of his sword, sizing the captive up. Smiling, Gerry answers "It's been some time…Errol and I, and others. Humans too, many of them. The beaver bowl and the lion den, the chains rattling." He proceeds to laugh…his laughter psychotic…I grip my revolver, stepping back. Randall does the same, Samantha, Trey, Yusuke...a flick of the wrist and Vance's sword comes alight once more. To think a laugh would strike such fear. Spittle streams from the madman's mouth as he yells "What am I talking about?! You dare ask what I am talking about, you say?! I speaking of all that has transpired! Of the past and the present, and of the turns left and right! I'm speaking…I'm speaking of ending of things, you hear you liars and fools?! There are…there are broader dealings at work here! And for once, for very once, there are no beards, and no glasses! No gods! And no masters!"

His laughter intensifies…I see Karen and Mark walking down the escalator. Kuronue approaches, his shotgun in his grip. He asks "You one of us, ain't you? All high off that Carcosa time spiritual but I think we know what you know. You pulled that pole off with your bare hands, didn't ya? And the doors? You and Errol, just biding your time, swinging those little dicks in your mouths around for some angle or another. Now what's keeping me from my do-do is the why about this little con game you playing. So…perhaps time we speak like gentleman are to speak."

Trey offers a perplexed right eye and states "Motherfucker is making less sense than Mr. Flat Circle." Is it time? Should we finally admit our nature, mine, Yusuke's, and 'Ian's'? And from the smile on Mr. Simoneaux's face, his? Hm, to be captured and bound after tearing through metal…perhaps Errol is the demon. And this man is simply an idiot he brainwashed. He would not be the first human to reach this state, not even the first of my recollection.

Or perhaps he is as I am, incapable of tapping into my hidden Makai powers unless driven through extreme stress and fury. We must be on our guard…perhaps it is safer to shoot him here and now…no. Then the peace and alliance between Arefu and Meresti comes into doubt.

I turn to 'Ian', his think hawk-like nose and his gaunt face a reflection of his old Kuronue form, which I am curious to see. His 'dirty blonde' hair and chin scruff…not so much. I used to sport faint, grey stubble, Kuronue insisted on his clean-shaven appearance that he once singed his chin hairs root and stem. His human form would amusingly not permit such a body modification. He appears of half a foot shorter height then his demon form, and his blue eyes stand in slight contrast to his Makai lavender eyes. The slight differences, I am quite familiar. I still recall the confusion of my red hair, dismissed as the genetic anomaly of an otherwise healthy 'infant'.

Kuronue speaks "Trey, Karl, Randall…Holly, Vance. There are words that I'm about to speak that will, me being the rambling, gambling man that I am, I'd wager good caps that those words going to give y'all some confusion, anger, and fright. I ask y'all to think about the biggest piece of shit you encountered in your life still standing and, when I speak these words, you remember that ammo is scarce and cost money. Unless I am that very same piece of shit, for in which case I ask you to think of the second asshole on that esteemed list. Now…Gerry…you like me, a product of an attempted reincarnation gone ass-sideways? Or you still got your old bones and you just using a borrowed skin to blend in…nah…you don't strike me the smart type. You'd be strutting your Makai stuff and damn all that have their stomachs spinning the wrong way around, no? Yeah, you like me, Errol's the other kind. I've seen a couple before, back in the journey from the Bayou, a couple there, one in the Carolinas…even one here passing by years ago. So…what is it? Kitsune? Jorogumo? Leviathan? Ifrit? Help me out here, will ya?"

"Ian, what on earth are you speaking of?!" Vance yells, predictably incredulous. I close my eyes and heave a deep sigh. Opening, I announce "No Vance, you are not the fabled vampire bat of lore. Though I may direct you to a nearby individual that somewhat fits the mold." I turn to Ian 'Kuronue' West, the latter setting aside his shotgun and removing his tracksuit top, revealing a sleeveless brown shirt. Kuronue then proceeds to remove the undershirt, revealing scattered scarring, something that I mercifully was able to treat prior to landing in post-apocalyptia. Lasted scant a day before my chest became a bleeding, scarred mess once again. Hmm, did I hear Yusuke groan?

Scanning the confused faces around him, Kuronue sighs and warns "Brace your breeches, for you will bear to something alien and profane." He shuts his eyes, as all but myself, Yusuke, and Simoneaux take a measured retreat, as if they expect Kuronue to erupt in explosion. His muscles tighten, his jaw tightens, Kuronue adopts a slight hunchback. I watch his ears elongate, his nose elongate, his hair darken, his height rise by a foot. And his back…as if the flesh parts in two parallel vertical slits, as a dark fold of cartilage crawls through the opening. "What the…oh God. Oh Jesus, sweet Jesus," Karen mutters, her eyes wide with horror. Trey's jaw drops as his body freezes, clearly in shock. Karl and Robert hurriedly move to cover behind the escalators as Diane and Mark leap into the tracks behind Kuronue, disappearing from view. Holly grasps the back of Vance's trench coat as the couple gape in wonder and possible religious enlightenment. And Justin, he falls to his knees and sheepishly asks "Ian…what…what OH GOD!"

The black wings unfurled, the beating of the span fanning us in a urine-stenched gust. And suddenly, I am awash in a fleeting sense of nostalgia of times past, only for the sensation routed by memories turned a toxic sour. Still, there is a comfort in seeing him once again, his pendant swinging to and fro around his neck. At the very least, I will have one friend remaining in this graveyard. Until he is taken from me by the Sisters of Fate, as those around me tend to be.

Kuronue speaks "You may keep your guns holstered, I am not a wild creature." His voice…my accent as Shuichi blends Japanese with Polish and Russian accent notes. As Yoko Kurama, my accent adopts that of Old Polish and Old Russian with faint traces of the Tamil accent of Southern India, specifically the Kitsune habit of having our 'a' vowel sound as 'ah'. As for Kuronue, his prior 'Ian West styled' high pitched and rapidly spoken Cajun English contained slight notes of the accents of the North American natives. Those of the American heartland as Kuronue stated many year prior, when he lived amongst them prior to the foundation of the United States. In his bat demon form…his 'Highland Chimera' form as the proper classification, Kuronue's accent becomes a bizarre mixture of Congolese, Sioux, and Scottish. A result of living amongst the wind demons in Tourin following his father's demise, if he is to be believed. Which, following my 25 years as a human raised in Tokyo, becomes absurdly hilarious.

I break the horrified silence "So, you can tap into your Makai form at will? We are still struggling in the endeavor. What secrets are at play?" Kuronue turns to us and answers "Concentration and practice. Once this is over, I can explain." "Did you live through the apocalypse? What caused the loss of Ki?" I ask, in anxious anticipation. "Unsure," he replies "my spirit fell through a bizarre time portal. I was meaning to ask you the same." I answer "Sadly, ours is a repetition of the same. A wayward demon was causing chaos. Spirit World tasked us to contain and deal with the threat. Only we underestimated our foe."

Kuronue glares in incredulous shock and asks "Spirit World?! My, I have missed much. If Yoko Kurama is working for King Yama…" "Koenma, the son," I reply. Serving him was a sweeter drink to taste then the father, I do not contest. "Well, I look forward to the story all the same…now…Mr. Simoneaux…it is time we ask…who's dog are you?" Simoneaux laughs, his smile never leaving his face all this time. Shaking his head, he answers "Have you not listened? No beards, and no glasses. No gods, and no masters. I am no dog, for dogs do not catch other dogs…hehe."

Reclaiming her nerve, Karen speaks out "I…I heard of you people. Shapeshifters and crap like that, humans turning into giant hawks and these super mutants with horns. But…I thought that was all bullshit…all jet inspired nonsense. I…fuck." Ignoring Karen, Kuronue speaks "Dogs do not catch dogs…but dog catchers, aye, that fits the frame. Demon or not, I do not give a dying Brahmin's final shit. You're a slaver, no one else uses that terminology."

And in an instance, Kuronue's transformation does not feel quite as terrifying.

Almost ignoring the Highland Chimera standing beside him, Vance towers over Gerry and asks "Slaver? You and Errol…slavers?! Well, if you're no dog, then whose master is yours?! Eulogy Jones is it?! I knew this…I knew Paradise Falls would sink its foul talons south. I expected Arefu to be the target, then us…of course…of course!"

Karen speaks out "They're trying to get our settlements to raise pitchforks at each other…divide and conquer. Fucking fuck, how long has Jones been planning this?!" Ben, who witnessed all that unfolded from the upper platform, yells down below "Of course, there were four that attacked the southern barricade! One got shot, and still no one here's with a bullet hole in them!" Gerry starts chuckling…a foul, crazed chuckle. He mutters "Black star…rises. Seas take the lands, time is a flat circle. Usurpers fall and rise usurpers." "What the hell are you talking about?!" Yusuke yells, his tone angry.

Rising to his feet, and prompting all of us present to aim our weapons at the captive, Kuronue quickly picking up his shotgun, Gerry bellows "A slaver, you identify correct, and Errol in kind. But we have no masters, no Eulogy Jones. So…we became masters. The Lions of Old Beaver." What…what is this man speaking of?

I suddenly realize that the color of Vance's skin has gone pale. Licking his lips, Vance asks "The slaver army to the northwest…" Gerry smiles…the answer received. Oh…oh damn this. I…I ask "Vance, who are these Lions of Old Beaver?" His gaze never leaving Gerry, Vance answers "The Grey Lions, the second largest slaving settlement outside of the Pittsburgh ruins. Also from Pennsylvania…a capital within the giant arena to the north. The ruins of Pennsylvania State University. Ten thousand slavers, one for every five slaves." "And five hundred of the most savage of us wait for our moment to pounce. Do not fear…Carcosa awaits. Souls of the dogs need shelter and feed…for the Lions hunger. And many of those in attendance will gladly accept its frosty touch, for we Lions, we have plans for those that survive. For those that break."


Walter finally woke up this morning. The first thing he asked for was water, which I provided. Boiled water that has cooled down in Thomas Dankers' cooler, albeit still the usual irradiated Capital Wasteland fare. Thomas administered Radaway while Walter laid unconscious, so it should not cause much harm. Teresa's blood donation sufficed, and with Karen Schenzy part of the team that ventured into the Senaca metro station, Teresa has opted to guard the Dankers' lobby while Lucky Mitch Harith waits for a chance to rummage through Yusuke's and Kurama's pile of salvage. Peering through the second floor window, more so a pair of sliding cabinet doors that swing open akin to a wasteland saloon, I yell "I would advise against that Mitch! Yusuke and Kurama kept an inventory." He backs away and turns around, pretending to ignore me. A lie, I have no idea if Yusuke and Kurama remember half of what they salvaged, but I will help where possible. And I despise shifty caravaners.

If only…if only they arrived sooner. Angela…no, it is not their fault. Not yours. Those bastard raiders. Jerome, Carlos, and the rest of those monsters. I…do not think about it. They can't hurt you if you don't remember. She was shot on sight. You were detained. That's all that happened. Keep repeating it…it will be true. Do not dream. If you do, do not dream that. If you do, do not remember. In time I will believe it.

Walter informed me, before the attack, that Jerome's raider gang were operating a highwayman scheme, luring travelers through a checkpoint and picking them off. We thought the overpass was deserted, or at worst, a few feral ghouls. A quick salvage stop enroute to Megaton, Balt our ultimate destination. Fleeing Fred Town from the north, Angela and myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid! We should have continued south! But no, I insisted on Balt, gambling on the chance that they'd let us into their fortified settlement.

Without Angela, there is no point. Balt is irrelevant. What can I do, but continue surviving. The sad tale of many souls trekking this unforgiving land.

If Yusuke and Kurama would have me, I would lend them my gun. They appear a well-put together team…and I watched how Kurama retaliated against Kenneth. Reminds me of old Travis from Fred Town. No hesitation, no words. It became simply his clan versus a hostile. I can deeply respect that…I can trust that. It is difficult to find those one can trust.

Perhaps food, and shelter…perhaps trust is what we all seek for. Security, not just from danger, but in knowing that there are those that will always stand alongside you. Angela…she was one. Of the several from Fred Town, she was the only one. Angela Terrence, may your soul know the comfort of peace. If such a thing exists…souls I mean. There is always peace of some kind at the end.

I see the same state in Benjamin Canning…he has suffered loss as well. He is lost, weary, perhaps someone else to ally with? While I am concerned about his mental well-being, he can carry himself well in an emergency. Who knows, perhaps with the West residence largely devoid of the living, I could join this community. It would be nice to no longer have to travel. To have a genuine roof over my head…not a campfire tarp or a burnt out hardware store in a ghost town.

I will miss her, the sister I never had. I will miss her with every waking moment. I have to, for I am terrified…that she would just fade as another memory. What is the point of living if all there is in life is eating, drinking, and shitting? No, I will rather latch onto Harith's caravan. The thought makes me gag.

Perhaps some fresh air will do me some good. I climb off my cushioned chair and approach the doorway, exiting Thomas and Lydia's bedroom and study. The door opposite is for storage I gather, while the room at the direct end of the hallway, past the stairs, that was where I last saw Lydia Dankers breast-feeding her daughter…at a rather overripe age. I head down the stairs. On the left, seated by the kitchen, Walter and Teresa appear in mid-conversation. Teresa is dressed as she was yesterday, while Walter sits shirtless and in his blood-caked jeans. I nod in acknowledgement and leave them be. I'd imagine Walter is eager to learn of what happened since he lost consciousness. On the right, Thomas consults a clipboard, inspecting his inventory. Is he concerned of theft…and should he have reason to be concerned? Thomas turns to me and smiles, nodding and returning to his accounting. No, appears to just be a habit of his…otherwise he would not have left me unattended in his bedroom. Nevertheless, I approach the doorway and exit.

I look right…huh? Squinting my eyes…oh…oh damn it. I yell "We got company!" My rifle, where did I leave my rifle! I yell again "Everyone! Get out! Out! NOW! HELP!" I left the piece of garbage in the bedroom, damn this! I yell "EVAN! RASHAD! GABE! HELP!" I see Evan exiting his house, Mitch appearing with him. Frantically pointing at the northern barricade, I yell "Get your weapons! NOW!" Teresa exits the Dankers residence, Walter probably repeated to her what I hollered. I run up to her, yelling midstride "A dozen approaching from Seneca! We need to back-up Liz!"

Teresa yells in response "Damn, alright!" She steps back and allows me to step inside, herself following suit. She yells "Thomas, you take Lydia and the girl and find someplace safe." A worried look on his face, yet one that speaks of experience, Thomas nods and replies "At once." She turns back to Walter, who has limped his way to a sofa by the dining table, collecting a loaned linen shirt, mostly dirt spotted white with beige and light green fabrics stitched over former holes. I hurry toward the stairs and yell "I am collecting my rifle, will be down in literally two dozen seconds." Almost trip on the final step, regain my balance, push onward, faster, time is key. Inside, where is it?! There, by the window! I grab it, and turn around, damn!

I twisted my right ankle…oh…oh…it is nothing, I can do this. Back on my feet, run…damn it throbs. Down the stairs, breath labored, ankle hurts, it will heal soon. Go, through the door, into the sun, Gabe and Rashad running past me, Neil scampering ahead like a headless yao guai. I join the press, trying to block out the pain. Evan, from behind, he yells "Don't shoot unless they shoot first! Make sure it's not Clive's and Karen's group coming back before pulling the trigger!" From the northern barricade, I can barely hear Liz yell "It's Karen! They have strangers with them! Ian is with them!"

I slow myself down…oh my the ankle hurts. Okay…they do not appear to be held at…wait…only one is held at gunpoint. I do not recognize him, or the man in the trench coat duster. Or the fellow Latino with the University of Maryland shirt and the expensive shotgun, the blonde woman standing by the man with the duster, or the red-haired woman who Clive is leaning against. His limp is quite noticeable, and I can faintly see bruising on the faces of Yusuke and Kurama. And…is that a Talon Company Mercenary…wait, he also is held at gunpoint. His arms are not bound like the blood-stained man in the leather biker jacket. I approach the barricade, going down to my right knee, so as to relieve the pressure. Behind me, Walter limps toward us, his Steyr Aug in his arms. Rashad is to my right, his Mossberg shotgun aimed at the group. I whisper "Rashad, that shouldn't be necessary." He replies "I'm aiming at the unrecognizables, I ain't stupid." To my left, Teresa kneels by the barricade, only her neck and head above the top of the cover. She switches off the safety of her Browning BDA pistol and says "Slow and steady, too many variables. Be on your guard."

They stop several meters in front of the giant gap in the highway. The blonde in the biker jacket falls to his knees, the bearded Talon Company dressed male follows suit. Liz yells "Clive! What happened?!" The biker laughs and yells in a Southern drawl "The fella in the trench coat crushed his ankle!"

"What?!" Liz and Evan yell simultaneously. My rifle, I bring it to aim at the 'unrecognizables'. Muzzles are already aimed at the blonde, and the trench coat man…the University of Maryland man would do. "No wait! Wait! Silence Gerry!" the trench coat man yells, anxious, frantic. He extends his arms in surrender and yells "Which of you is Evan King?!" Karen yells "The wrinkled prune in the baseball cap!"

Evan rises from the barricade, shotgun in his hands. He aims the shotgun at the trench coat man and yells "Start with your name, boy!" The trench coat man flays his arms out, panicked, and speaks quickly "Please, only listen to this man when he is prompted! His name is Gerry Simoneaux and he is the one who slaughtered your Brahmin and attacked your southern barricade! Him and another one of our people, Errol Bradley, who escaped our confinement and killed two of our own! I am Vance, I am the leader of what you call 'The Family'! This is my wife Holly, and these men and women you see before you are Randall and Brienne. This man in the black is Jorgen, unaffiliated, it will be explained. We have more people, but we came for peace, not conquest."

"What the fuck happened to my brother, asshole?!" Liz yells, her Ruger hovering slightly. Clive yells "Sis, relax! I stepped on a bear trap, shit happens! They have a doctor there, they treated my leg, gave me Stims, a cast, I'm good. Tell her, Brienne." The red haired woman named Brienne says "He is good…Elizabeth O'Conner? Clivey here told a bit about you…" Teresa laughs and yells "So they snare your leg in the bear trap and give you a hooker as an apology?! Interesting family you have there, Vance."

Holly yells "I told you not to bring that slut with us!" Vance mutters under his breath. Teresa whispers "Listen Julius, he said 'It's better than showing him in crutches'." Hmph. Evan yells "Ian! They treat you fine?!" Ian replies "That they did, Evan." He does not appear relieved to see us, and he is wearing this tracksuit outfit that I did not see him wear before.

Walter yells "Why is there a Talon Company Mercenary with you?!" Yusuke whistles and says "Jorgen, speak or get thrown off the bridge." The merc, Jorgen, he speaks in this bizarre, gravely accent "Err, you are Walter Joseph Karamazov, correct?" I hear Walter reply "Yes, now answer my question." Jorgen nods, glances at the ground, and then answers "I was of a three man assassination team. A contact in Megaton spoke of you visiting this settlement, and so the three of us made camp inside the metro station. We intended to assault the town later that day. Ironically, you and the O'Conners came to us. I…was not the man that wounded you. The other two are dead, and I am disarmed. So…apologies?"

"I forgive you," Walter replies. Yusuke and Evan laugh, only to stop when Kurama starts to laugh. Walter snarls and yells "He confessed his sins and asked for forgiveness. Pray tell how I am such a fool for turning the other cheek. Jorgen, listen. Unlike these vultures, I am a man of God. Jesus forgave those that spilled his blood, and I can only strive to emulate his virtues. Yes, I forgive you." Jorgen smiles and speaks "Matthew 3:39. 'But I say to you, That ye resist not evil: but whoever shall strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also'." Walter replies in a sudden impromptu sermon "But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you." "Matthew 3:44. I have not heard scripture in too long a spell," Jorgen replies. Kurama sighs and speaks "Now that it is apparent that Walter has no interest in exacting any measure of vengeance against the man that nearly killed him, if you would provide us with your contact in Megaton, I will grant you that 10 hour head start."

Karen laughs and speaks "I was expecting him to be down to 6 hours." Jorgen shakes his head and replies "Once we are out of danger. The slavers are a greater concern. Unless we act, those 10 hours will do me little good. And…I can assist. Please…I can fight." Kurama smirks, his head shuddering in anger. He speaks "Ask for a weapon, or any assistance, and I will give you your 10 hours after I shoot your knees." "And who gave you the right to make those decisions?" Walter asks.

The tension could be cut with a knife. And I am still anxious about this talk of slavers. The group to the northwest, what of them? Kurama's fingers flay in anger. He speaks "Right? Oh no right, aside from my basic need for survival and eliminating potential threats before they could ferment. But if you speak so for Jorgen, I will offer you a proposition. Any lives cost by his eventual treason, I will hold you responsible. Deal?"

"Are you threatening me?!" Walter coldly speaks, his voice raised. Evan speaks out "Everyone calm the hell down, that merc has nothing to do with our Brahmin or the Wests, that right Ian? Clive? Karen? Mark?" He does not trust us outsiders anymore then these 'Family' types. Ian speaks out "Jorgen is irrelevant in this state of affairs, weh. His sins extend toward Clive and Walter, seemingly absolved." "He killed your parents, Ian? That man, Gerry?!" Evan asks, his eyes never leaving his sights, seemingly aimed at Simoneaux.

There was a pause…a strange one. I see Vance nodding, saying "Yes, this man killed Ian's parents. This man…this…beast…he is a slaver!" "What?" Teresa asks. Mitch Harith asks "Slavers?! Paradise Falls? I don't remember seeing that man before." Ben Canning answers "Not Paradise Falls. The old Penn State ruins."

Oh…oh no. God no…the Grey Lions. Walter glares in confusion. Evan understands, Gabe and Rashad do as well. Teresa cracks a terrified smile…and Neill proceeds to hyperventilate. Samantha adds "Yeah, those slavers…that army to the northwest…also…those slavers. Say it…Gerry."

Mr. Simoneaux, his arms bound, he laughs and speaks "Oh I may be a slaver. I may be a dog catcher. I may very well be a Grey Lion, but I ain't no liar. You wish to know the truth…Evan King?" Yusuke yells "Asshole, you speak when spoken too…" Evan King interrupts "He is being spoken to, boy! Now Simoneaux, you started your sentence…finish it." Vance yells "Evan, please, do not make a hasty decision…" Randall yells "I can shoot his fucking brains out, just give the…" "FREEZE! ANYONE SHOOT ANYTHING AND GETS A NEW EYESOCKET!" Liz O'Conner yells. It's very, very tense. And my ankle pain in throbbing again.

Gerry yells "I didn't kill the West folks! I shot up your barricade with my dog catchers and Errol, and the latter sunk his teeth into your damned Brahmin, but I didn't eat any human flesh that day. Oh, you might be best served looking at the cannibals behind me, Vance, Holly, Randall, the rest. All of them! You want the truth! These men and women came to extort you for your blood, and they were stupid enough to let us slavers infiltrate. You want the truth! All of you, everyone here, gonna die today or gonna die when your backs break from working the quarries, but you can make that choice later! For time is a flat circle, and there is unfinished business at work!"

He snaps his bindings apart effortlessly. In a blink of an eye, Gerry spins around, strikes Kurama across the chin with his left fist, and, before Yusuke could turn his revolvers at the confessed slaver, grabs the Asian bounty hunter's wrists and wrenches the revolvers out of his grasp, holding Yusuke as a human shield. The revolver in Gerry's right hand is aimed at Yusuke's skull, the revolver in his left is aimed at Mark Glatkowski, who fumbled with his pistol and dropped it on the ground.

"Let him go!" Kurama yells, on the ground. Karen, Samantha, Ben, they quickly hop the barricade. Jorgen approaches, he passes unmolested. Ian yells "Gerry, fucking chickenshit capo, let that man there go. You think some outsider gonna help in that?" Gerry laughs and speaks "Oh he is the outsider I need, Highlander Chimera. Now, go on, tell them! Tell them who killed the Wests!" "Fucking let go of me!" Yusuke yells. Vance yells "Evan, please, Gerry, STOP! I can explain, please!" Evan screams "That man says you're some kind of cannibals! The Brahmin! The Wests! It makes fucking sense! Karen, is what Gerry saying true?! Mark?!" Kurama shakes his head, rising to his feet. He hisses "Let that man go or I will grant you a death that will last weeks." Gerry laughs and speaks "Oh I have suffered worse than whatever you can offer, especially compared to what this world can offer."

Yusuke, held at gunpoint by Gerry, yells "What happened to the fucking rambling?! All some kind of show?!" Gerry replies "Every show's been based on the true story. Time is a flat circle, and we're going to meet and have an end of things once again. I'll see you in Carcosa soon enough." A shotgun goes off. "Don't fucking fire you idiot!" Kurama screams at Evan, his Lee Enfield in his grasp. Liz yells "I can put one through the shoulder! The Asian merc could live!" Clive yells "Sis don't!" Kurama yells "Do not even dare!" "Will someone answer my question?!" Evan yells.

Vance yells "Yes! We are cannibals! We are recovering cannibals! We came here to offer protection in exchange for blood pack donations! That is all! We sustain ourselves on human blood, and there are blood packs in abundance in this wasteland! We had no intention of creating threats, Gerry and Errol are the ones responsible. Any of your people that treated with us and says otherwise are liars! And any blood shed today will be on their hands!"

Karen yells "He's telling the truth! I believe him! They had a dozen chances to kill us all, we even tried to break out, beat the shit out of one of them, and they still didn't kill us! When Jorgen surrendered, they didn't kill him! When Clive got his foot caught in their bear trap, they treated him immediately! Tell them Clive!" Clive, still leaning against Brienne, speaks "That is the truth, I swear on all of it. We lied, we lied that Gerry killed Ian's parents because it's hard to explain and…and…and saying the truth might…um, it's not pleasant alright! Look, they are good people, they been speaking to Mark and…"

Evan yells "Mark you been speaking with these freaks without letting us know?!" I can barely hear Clive mutter a regretful "Fuck." Mark answers "Yes! Yes I did! I am sorry, sorry for looking out for Arefu's interests! There are slavers in the northwest, slavers in the north, SUPER MUTANTS IN THE NORTHEAST! These 'cannibals' came with a proposition, I treated with them, and what they wanted and offered…it made sense then and it still makes sense now! If we shoot each other now, that's what these slavers want! There is only one threat here and that is Gerry Simoneaux!"

Gerry laughs and speaks "Threat, you say? We would never have known so much of Arefu had you not taken Vance's offer of visit. You're the most dangerous sumbitch both sides of the Potomac, congratulations!" I look left to Liz…her hands are shaking. Her hands normally should not shake…a veteran of these situation should not have a shaking Ruger…her aim adjusts. Clive yells "Liz don't! Stop!" Brienne is cowering behind Clive, I cannot tell who is supporting who. Kurama comes to a stand, several meters away from Gerry and Yusuke. He has his back to us…the message is clear. To shoot Gerry is to shoot Yusuke, and to shoot Yusuke, the bullet must go through Kurama first.

Gerry speaks out "Oh, but perhaps Mark has some competition with another dangerous man. Barely a man…or much older technically, from what he's said. Vance, who killed the Wests and cannibalized them? If you are the recovering cannibals you call yourselves…perhaps your detox needs work." Holly shakes her head, saying "Vance, no, don't! You can't say that…" Vance pushes away from Holly, faces Evan, and speaks "Yes…I killed Davis and Matilda West. I killed them…and I cannibalized their bodies. Do what you must to me, but my people are blameless…" "NO! No! No! No! Hold fire!" Ian yells, aiming his shotgun at…Evan? Evan's mouth is agape…he asks "Ian? They…he admits to…doing that to your family and you…want me to…" "I killed them," Ian speaks.


What, no why? That makes no sense. "Fuck it, it's true," Karen adds. Sighing, she continues "Ian…he did that to Davis and Matilda…Ian, explain your piece." Grimacing, Ian speaks "Evan, that raider…when I aged fourteen, Lucy did not take a knife to his neck. I took my teeth to the very same, and that stirred something deep and dark. Lucy…she could keep them at bay…but…it was only a matter of time. And that alcoholic beating bastard…it…I couldn't hold myself!" "He was your father damnit! And Matilda, why her?!" Evan yells, tears in his eyes. His shotgun is pointed at the boy. Ian grits his teeth and yells "There are things at work here! Things that Karen, and Ben, and Mark, and all that went to take me from Meresti, they understand! I…I can't make you understand, not now, not with the slaver army upon us and Yusuke held hostage."

"But I can!" Gerry yells, laughing. He continues "Ian is a Highlander Chimera, a bat/hawk hybrid known as Kuronue, who served under a violent raider named 'Yoko Kurama', a fox demon. This bastard I have here, his father comes from a line of human-eating cannibals. You think Vance and his idiots are dangerous? Hehehehe." I finally speak "What the hell is he talking about?!" Evan yells "I don't understand this, I DON'T UNDERSTAND ANY OF THIS! I…Ian, you know these two Asians?!"

Ian yells "Mais, if! I knew Kurama for hundreds of years. I knew of Yusuke's pa for longer. And all this is of no matter, all worth speaking now is that this yahoo is holding hostage one of the men that rose to this town's need! Deal with the slaver scum, then I can explain all! For who's the real threat, the one's talking or the one's talking and wagging revolvers?!"

"Yusuke, shift your head to the left!" Kurama yells, his Lee Enfield aimed down the scope. Yusuke obliges…and Kurama does not shoot. Gerry takes a step back and speaks "Does this help, or should I take a few more steps back eh? Don't fool anyone, that scope is showing a giant blob I reckon. And by the time you skin that smoke wagon I'll be giving this dumbass a third earhole." He turns to Liz and cajoles "Well, O'Conner right? I see a bunch of people scared to pull that trigger but you. So, one dead merc, some outsider, that worth taking out this slaver? Now, Errol Bradley already beat feet and is probably telling my boys all about the big kennel just waiiiting to be snatched, but, y'all know that it's a cruel world out there. Maybe he made it, maybe ain't. That maybe, it worth you putting a bullet through Yusuke and Kurama here, just to get to me?"

Clive yells "Liz don't listen to him! Everyone, don't listen! We ain't shooting the help!" Liz yells "That piece of crap goes free then that army is guaranteed to come down on us! Sorry but it comes down to Arefu or two outsider mercs and I think you'd make the same decision in your…" Kurama spins around and aims his Lee Enfield at Liz O'Conner. "No don't!" Clive yells, wrenching free of Brienne. Hopping on one leg, he jumps and grabs at Kurama's rifle. A shot rings out…no one harmed. Mark leans down for his pistol.

While Kurama snakes his right leg around Clive's legs and trips him onto his back, Gerry shoves Yusuke and swipes the revolver in his right hand across Yusuke's face, sending him to the ground. Gerry then turns left, and fires a shot at Mark's left knee. *BANG* Mark's knee immediately reddens, as he recoils in pain. *BANG* a shot from Liz's Ruger, missing. Gerry catches Mark as he falls to the ground and props the Arefu local to his feet, wrapping his left arm around Mark's neck and pressing the revolver in his right hand against the right side of Mark's face. He yells "How about one of your own?! You willing to pull that trigger now?!" "Him?! With pleasure!" Liz yells. Evan yells "Liz, stand down! Goddamnit I said stand down!"

Liz yells "Really Evan?! You said nothing when I was aiming at the merc but suddenly you give a shit about Mark?! We're done with your 'wait and see' bullshit, if you won't do something then I will!" Kurama pries himself off Clive, the latter on the ground, yelling "MY LEG, MY FUCKING LEG!" Liz yells "Clive! I should have shot all four of you!" Evan, Mitch, Teresa, they are all yelling "Liz! Liz, stop!" "Do it!" Mark Glatkowski yells.


"Just, do it! There isn't a way out of this! Either he shoots me or someone else will, so just fire!" Mark screams. He…he is crying. His left leg a bleeding mess. "No one is shooting anyone, Mark!" Evan yells, his shotgun wavering…most of us lack the weaponry to cleanly put a bullet between Gerry's eyes and no one else's. Gabe's Kalashnikov…perhaps, but doubtful at this angle. By the time he adjusts position, Gerry will likely realize what is planned. My pipe rifle and Teresa's pistol are useless for such a sensitive shot, and Kurama demonstrated his inability to shoot at close range with a scoped rifle. And his unwillingness to risk a quick draw of his magnum revolver. That leaves Walter and Liz…and she has apparently taken matters into her own hands. I turn to Walter and ask "Can you make that shot from this range?" Walter grimaces and replies "No…I…I learned electronics and basic medicine in my vault. Only shooting I ever practiced with was using a BB gun…and I was not quite well at that either. Center mass, sure, but not a perfect headshot."

Oh hell.

"Liz, I said stand the hell down!" Evan yells. While Yusuke climbs to his knees, Kurama reaches to help Clive onto his feet, muttering "My apologies, my apologies. You forced my hand." Gerry raises the revolver in his left...Yusuke screams "KURAMA!"

Mark jerks his head back, cracking Gerry's nose. The revolver in Gerry's hand goes off, blasting a hole in each of Mark's cheeks. Liz steadies her Ruger. I spring to action.

I grab and redirect her rifle barrel before she could kill Mark. Mid-struggle, I turn around to see Gerry shoot Clive in the stomach. Clive, still holding onto Kurama's right arm, collapses back onto the floor, he's no longer screaming. Are his eye's flickering? Liz ARGH, struck me in the chin, I fall backwards, grabbing the barricade, and looking right. I hear Liz scream "CLIVE!" She fires, Mark's right shoulder reddens. Gerry drops the revolver in his right hand, it clangs against the concrete. The gap in the overpass right behind them…Mark elbows Gerry in the chest. And again, and again, and again.

Gerry disappears through the gap…oh shit! Kurama, Yusuke, myself, Vance, and Evan, we run toward Mark, come on, almost, good! Evan grabs Mark's right arm before Gerry could drag him several dozen meters to his death in the irradiated Potomac. I grab Mark's left hand, Yusuke and Kurama support Evan as Vance supports myself. The five of us pull, I look down, damn, Gerry is grasping onto Mark's blooded leg. Mark…oh Christ. His cheeks are completely blown off, and I can see his teeth through the blood drenched holes. Spitting blood, Mark asks "Why bother?" "Because you are family!" Evan replies, gritting his teeth.

Gerry laughs, and yells "It's only a matter time before I kill you Urameshi and you traitor-dog Kurama! You're in Carcosa now, Spirit Detective! Your Spirit Gun ain't going to save you now, and I ain't stupid enough to fall for any of your bullshit tricks again! And Kurama, I only regret that I didn't have the chance to burst your human bitch mother's skull!"

Yusuke mutters "Who…who the hell are you?"

Oh…oh God…his…skin…Gerry's skin is turning this foul reddish brown and…his canines are growing, his muscles are growing and…are those horns sprouting from his head?! This…Gerry Simoneaux yells "If only I still had that Orb of Baast! Would be nice to know what Kitsune-Human hybrid souls taste like!"

I hear Kurama mutter "…Gouki?"

And this man…Gouki…a double shot flare gun concealed in his…person. He aims. And fires a flare into the sky.

*Boom* The flare goes off. The flare gun aims at us…

I let go as Evan King erupts in flames, and as Yusuke and Kurama let go and send 'Gouki' and Mark into the Potomac.

His skins cackles and burns and blackens as the all too familiar smell of burning flesh gags me. Evan King he…he doesn't even scream, just stares in shock. Now…now he is screaming, hoarsely, hard to hear…his legs buckle, the man falls onto his left shoulder, then settles on what remains of his chest.

The four of us that remain, we rise to our feet. Ian mutters "Oh…Lord have mercy." Liz continues to cry for her brother, cradling him in her arms. Clive's eyes are still flickering…Thomas is rushing to him with morphine and Stims.

Yusuke speaks "I…I thought he was executed…along with those other brainwashed demons from our earlier…cases." Kurama speaks "I thought…we frisked him thoroughly, I never expected that demons can still shapeshift…with no demon energy. I…like the raider at the highway overpass…idiot!"

I ask "Do you…think that thing is…dead?" Kurama turns to me, his face pale. He speaks "No…I believe that thing planned all of this to happen. Or…at least some of this." "Oh," I say.

I see a flash from the northwest, a red line, zipping toward the sky. Zipping upward, and upward, and, as if just below the clouds, the flare erupts in a brilliant red glare amidst the cloudy sunny sky.

Licking my lips…I speak "We…we must get ready. Find a route of escape if one even exists, assign weapons, grab what we can, figure out a way to run or…"

Yusuke completes for me "or fight five hundred slavers."

Chapter Text

Three, four, keep hearing the jingles of ammo belts…six. Reckon we have six of them slavers entering the Dankers establishment, in search of Dankers for enslaving. Took them long enough to fiddle that lock. Kurama called it on the carpet, as he tends to do. They're gonna make a pass on this here domicile first, a doctor, his wife, and a little girl making prime slaving and hostage material. Thems the coullions, for we moved the bulk of the town over to the Maryland side, all safe and tucked and liberated from the elongated nails of batshit crazy ogres like that Goki fucker. And just like Goki, we got plans for those that attain survival by escaping the thirty meter radius of mine, Yusuke's, Kurama's, Samantha's, Karen's, and Gabe's presence. We just gonna assume that the recently departed Evan King, may his soul find peace, not have his displeasures over how our plans gonna involve his old house and beloved town.

I got this sporty crossbow, Sabertooth 10A. Yusuke has a bowie knife, seeming sharp enough to shave a Brahmin's royal oysters, Kurama wielding that Chinese sword of his, Samantha and that caravaner Gabe both with surgical scalpels, and Karen channeling her Jeanne d'Arc through the dusty, wooden shaft of a halberd, a modern day landsknecht in my wide brim top hat. I could not resist, the headwear and her German ancestry and generous distribution of the words 'fuck' and 'shit' complete the look. The halberd, taken from a museum as Yusuke suggested, has been repaired and sharpened to the point that only the wooden shaft remains of the 14th century.

It is paramount to agree, that these six pieces of shit are approaching a thorough and painful fucking. It's the rest that have me concerned. Those searching the King residence and my…old house.

The canister of gasoline and the lighter are beside me, far apart on two separate shelves. Seems eerie to use little Jamie's bedroom for this dice toss plan of my old Kitsune friend but the view of mine bedroom is impeccable.

I share the kiddie's bedroom with Raizen's progeny, the Japanese Yusuke Urameshi, who has by some far-out calculus of madness, genius, and/or pure fucking meanness, has viewed me with contempt and scorn. I'd wager to say that my relationship with Kurama is what's keeping this weirdo fucker from twisting my head with his…skinny little fingers, heh.

The Kitsune himself has taken position by Thomas and Lydia's bedroom, accompanied with Samantha. Karen and Randall wait in seclusion downstairs, ready to fuck them up the ass when the hammer strikes the iron.

I hear mumbling down below, they still too distant to be an immediate matter. Too uninformed and stupid. I take this momentary respite before the impending storm to nudge my left fingers against the sliding door window, just giving it a gentle enough push, no screeching, good. Yusuke's Pip Boy showed it to be 5:03 PM, the man answered earlier, begrudgingly for some strange-ass reason. The orange-bloody sky compliments it…they always pick these times for these moments. Sunset, sunrise where you ain't even offered your first shit of the day, or in total-fucking darkness. And those clouds, looking like rain clouds. Picturesque day to die, it seems. I'll be giving these slaver scumbags that scenic death, if they hear the news.

A short black man in a brown sleeveless leather vest and a grey sack over his head goes to work on the lock in front of my home. We slid a bookcase right behind the front door, should give us few dozen more seconds. This ain't no dumb muscle plan that Yoko Kurama cooked up, they never are. Precision and timing, execution and dumb luck. Well, Plan B was us shooting our way out of here, which was the original Plan A anyway.

Four…five, five more slavers with their backs turned. I see rifles, stun guns, eh, that a bow and quiver? Gotta keep an eye on that one, hope the Plan A takes her out of the equation. One of the orange-colored lion-shaped-hat wearing slavers, he turning his head…and with that I pull my fingers back. He ain't saw nothing…I think.

"Kuronue," Yusuke mutters in a pissed off tone. Yeah, I know, those pair of sons of bitches coming into close proximity. I crouch behind Jamie's bed, crossbow bolt cranked back and pending insertion into sinew. Yusuke to the left of the doorway, knees bent, blade angled downward at a 45 degree. Four sets of feet moving onto this floor, standard procedure. No imagination with these folks. Expect two for us and two for Kurama and Ms. Tavares. This shit actually seems easy.

I hear male Pennsylvanian-accented English "Ain't hearing shit, place is…" A hoarse male voice cuts him off "Shh, stay focused, check your corners." They ain't hushed enough, I can hear them clear as day. We left the bedroom doors unlocked despite the front door being locked, making them think we are hiding in more clever locations. Reckon at times the simplest plan is the most effective.

Doorknob turns, door opens, two males, obviously. One, Caucasian in biker goggles and a red and white bandana, dark blue and white striped tracksuit, got a stun gun. Other also white, and wearing some red jacket, not paying attention as he behind the stun gun guy. Another step, let them both in…other guy has a grey undershirt and blue jeans, sawed off shotgun. Lethal and less-than. I aim at the stun gun guy, pull the trigger.

They jerk their heads, the arrow slams into the stun gun guy's gut, slamming him into the ground. I hear a distant sound of a skull caving in as Yusuke jumps on the sawed off guy's back and stabs at his right hand. Sawed off drops, and I see Kurama across the hallway on top of a Latina's back, not Samantha, his Lee Enfield slid under her neck. He's pulling up with the rifle, trying to snap her neck. I run to the stun gun guy and pull a crossbow bolt out the bow holder. I drop the bow and grasp the bolt like a knife, my foe taking out a knife as well, groaning and looking confused.

He lunges forward, I take a southpaw stance. Going for my head, I bob and weave to the right, let the knife stab the air to the left of my head. He's pulling his arm back, time for a counter. I shift the weight from my left leg to my right leg, bunch my shoulders, twist my hips, and go for the right hook with the bolt in hand. He's jerking his head back, yes, good timing, stabbed the bolt into the jugular. Pull bolt out, he's bleeding, going down, Yusuke's stabbing the right ribs of the other guy.

I take the blood soaked crossbow bolt and go for a lead right to the other slaver's gut, stuck him with it…damn he headbutted me! I stagger back, Yusuke drops the knife…and is now laying on these downward angled right elbows on the back of his neck. Slaver is staggering, I hear a woman scream downstairs, and the red jacket slaver falls on his stomach, not making many sounds. Yusuke continues the…damn he's going biblical on his sorry hide, the slaver's back of his head looks a reddish purple mess, growing one hell of a hemotoma. Yusuke slides off the back, gets to his feet, and is soccer kicking the shit out of his head…I think I heard the skull crack. I say "You can keeping going if it makes you feel better." "Funny asshole, eh?" he replies. You are indeed.

We step out to assist the rest. Kurama and Tavares step over the Latina slaver dressed in a black and white tracksuit and wrapped in bandoliers, her mouth foaming and her neck looking gator-ugly purple. Samantha got some red on her leather armor cuffs, and those fingers of hers look mighty sticky with blood. Her scalpel is dripping. "So I won't stand amiss to say this floor secured, yes?" I speak. Samantha says "Err, sure. Let's head down." She speaks in a hushed tone "Shapiro, you good?" Gabe Shapiro replies "Yeah, we're good. We got the entrance covered, go with the plan."

And so that becomes our cue.

Samantha, now armed with her M1 Garand flanks me as I return to Jamie's bedroom. The crossbow bolts have been dipped in gasoline, and we got bottled water in case the wrong clothes catch fire. Kurama lights the lighter, brings it to the cocked bolt, and it's a burning. My old partner in plunder immediately pushes the window flaps apart, as Samantha aims her rifle down below. *BANG* my ears ring, as the slaver with the bow goes onto her ass, bleeding. Good call, woman. "They got fucking snipers!" a black man in an orange 'lion' hat and blue and white padded armor yells, the number 12 in white across the chest and back. I steady my aim, sight down my bedroom as shots ring out. *BANG* *BANG* The flames at the tip of my crossbow dance. "Get inside now!" a familiar Southern drawl, Georgian I reckon, sounds out as I pull the trigger.

I don't even wait to watch the house go… *BOOM* damn the force almost knocked me off my damned feet as I been turning back to the hallway. Samantha remains at the window, going in and out of cover to the right of the window. *BANG* I hear her shoot. Kurama and I leave her and head to Thomas and Lydia's bedroom. Stepping over the Latina slaver, I see a middle aged black male slaver, bald, in patched brown and grey denim jacket and leather jeans, a grey undershirt that says 'Bloomington University' in red. Throat slit, looked like a struggle. Yusuke is to the left of the window, with his MP5K, muttering "I took out two but there's like four outside and more in the King house. One of them was carrying Molotov Cocktails in a crate. I got her before she could set up." "Beautiful," I say. Ornery weirdo, but good instincts. Sounds like Raizen's boy alright.

Kurama instructs "Kuronue, set the bolt alight. We'll keep them at bay." He reaches for his Lee Enfield, kneels on the Dankers' bedroom floor, and pulls the lever back to inspect the ammo feed. Satisfied, he slams it into place as I fiddle with them lighter. Flick, flick, yes yes. I pull the bolt back…okay reckon I should have done that first. I suck on my burnt thumb as Yusuke and Kurama unload. Voices from below "Someone get that door open!" "The dogs are biting back!" "Fucking shit, Chester get those Molotovs outta…" I pull the trigger. Bolt of fire zips into King's manor. All those explosives from Mitch Harith and that Vault 106 go…*BOOM*

Burning flesh everywhere…and now the crate of molotovs caught fire. Kurama aims down the sights on a few fleeing slavers, got one in the back, he goes down, shooting a Kalashnikov into the sky.

And then a flatbed truck with a large military style machine gun turret on the back comes up the highway as the other two slaves jump aside. Yusuke mutters "Oh shit…oh…EVERYONE GET TO THE FIRST FLOOR!" Kurama fires a parting shot, at the driver perhaps, as we turn and flee. I yell "Samantha we going down! Follow, yes?!" Samantha yells "What the hell?!"

Yusuke takes his third step down the stairs, and I hear the pounding sound of the turret. Holes and rays of light are appearing all around us, sawdust in my nose, I trip and fall down the stairs, landing on Yusuke, the walls are collapsing, Samantha jumps down the guardrail, Kurama and I crawling toward the last set of stairs, wood and metal raining down, my ears ringing, sawdust everywhere, Yusuke shoves me off the last few steps. I land on my ass, looking at the 2nd floor above, still holding on. Raizen's boy, lying on the ground, yells "They got a big-ass machine gun on some truck! Gabe, where's the RPG?!" Karen and Gabe are crouched down, nervous but not shitting themselves. Samantha and Kurama climb down what remains of the stairs and join us four.

Gabe has Kalashnikov all primed and ready, Karen still holding the halberd with her SKS on a sling around her back. There's a white male slaver in a sleeveless trenchcoat and a half broken gas mask, resting on the broken dining table with several stab wounds on the chest, a double barreled shotgun at his feet. By Thomas' clinic I gander upon this freaky wide spray of blood across the cabinets a leather jacket clad body, I think…yeah, white male, has a filet of meat hanging over his back, dead or dying on the floor. Karen whispers "First swipe went across the eyes…you don't want to look."

She turns back to us and speaks "RPG's in the fridge with the other stuff you wanted hid. Though I gotta ask, how the fuck we supposed to hit the truck from here? The stairs are fucked and I'm not climbing up them with live explosives." Kurama speaks "I did not see a slaver operating the turret. How do these things function here?" Karen laughs nervously and says "Oh yeah, I forgot how you some outworld demon squirrel…" "FOX!" Kurama corrects for what has been the seventh time. Karen continues, as Kurama seethes to my mild amusement "Fox…that fell into some time portal and ended up here…" "Yes, yes, now will you answer my inquiry?!" Kurama seethes, as I could have sworn his hair flicker a shade of silver for a second.

Karen smiles and says "Relax…they are automated. And given that they aren't shooting everything in sight, and I doubt even the Grey Lions would spend on targeting ID cards for five hundred or so of their people, someone's operating the turret electronically. Remotely, I'd guess someone with the driver? Or maybe the driver? Was it shooting as it drove?" Yes, we certainly intended to stand and watch, to see if that is the case. Definitely worth a massive, gaping chest cavity. I reply "Mais, next time, you stand and watch." "So, you have no idea," Gabe answers. "If," I reply. "What?" Gave replies. "Yes," I reply. Am I so incomprehensible, or is my surroundings thronged by morons?

"Alright assholes, you had your fun!" a female voice sounds outside, hoarse and Pennsylvanian-accented. Cradling her SKS, Karen the Barbarianess waves us all to pucker down. We congregate around the door and listen. The slaver woman continues "You killed a dozen of us, ain't gonna do any good. You can kill a dozen or two more and it won't do you any good. Cause we outnumber you all by at least 10 to 1, and are done screwing around. You don't come outside by the count of ten, and this machine gun turret will reduce your place to swiss cheese. Hear!"

A distant mechanical creak…oh damn it's firing! Wait…no, targeting some other house. Karen grimaces and mutters "Those dickheads are...damnit! At least we moved our stuff to Seneca…I lived in that shack for almost eight years!" "It's just a shack," Gabe replies, inspecting the magazine of his AK-74u. Karen replies "You try having your home of eight years get shot to pieces by a bunch of assholes you never even met before." Gabe grimaces and speaks "Yeah, living with a caravan kinda makes that impossible…anyway does anyone got any ideas? I have no plans to die here or in some quarry in the Pennsylvania sticks…any ideas we need them now."

"We create a gap in the wall and fire this rocket or RPG or whichever the blazes it is called, at the turret," Kurama speaks out, his tone getting just the right kind of tense to keep a youkai sensor-ly aware if I did not just concoct a new word just this instance. I speak in a tone poisoned with sour sarcasm "Brilliant strategy, will we wait for the turret to shred this domicile apart and pray to the forces of creation and destruction that at least one of us survive the volley of gunfire, prior to firing said RPG grenade into a torrent of bullets? Or will we act efficiently and take turns firing the grenade into the wall at near point blank range, and just as efficiently blast ourselves to bits?"

Karen speaks "Or we could just take some of that C4 in the clinic office, line them against the dining room wall, and blow them from cover in the clinic. We moved the storage out from the closet right over the dining room, so the 2nd floor shouldn't cave in immediately. And we might get some of the assholes in the explosion." "Or that," Yusuke speaks. Well, I stand corrected.

"We got wounded here! We're trying to get out!" Gabe yells out. "Five!" the slaver lady who has been referred to by her slaver friends as Rosholt, counts down at an eerily slow pace. Me reckons they trying to recuperate themselves, otherwise they just kick the door in and lob flashbangs. I voiced my concerns, and was rewarded with a strip of explosives for planting on the front door. Samantha and Karen have nearly completed the bricklaying, and Kurama is currently and gently untangling the wiring, leading it through the main hall. "Four! Alvarez, Gibbs, Seiblitz, you take the door! Claiborne, get that gun aimed at the door now! Sanders, I want that turret locked on three counts ago! You hear that assholes?! We have every angle covered! Only way out is either surrender to us or dig a hole through the floor, and it's a long way down. Surrender, and maybe I'll…eh, maybe I'll claim you all for myself, get you working on stuff less…backbreaking then the quarries." Yusuke, at the ready with the RPG, mutters, "I can hear them freaking laughing…" "The punchline will be at their expense, aye?" I ask. No response, not sure I want to poke this idiot when he be holding tubular death.

"Three!" Rosholt yells. Karen and Samantha are retreating to a safe distance with Yusuke and myself behind the wall between the clinic and the main hall. My Mossberg 590 Mariner in my hands, I watch Gabe step over the wiring that Kurama laid out to the walls of explosives. "They always breach at two," Karen mutters under her breath. Yusuke hugs the edge of the wall, his fingers straying far from the trigger. Whiplash from the C4 jerks his digits and we be spirits guessing as to where each other's bits have blown to. Kurama himself lies prone, aiming his rifle down the far corner by the dining room wall, reckon that be a decent line on the turret operator…if he/she still in the driver seat.

"Two…" We hear muffled voices, they movin…I take the remote connected to the C4 wiring. "It's showtime!" one of the slavers holler. I turn the dial.


Shock stole my balance, damn near fell, hear screaming, flash from Kurama's Lee Enfield…Yusuke steps out of cover with the RPG. Kneels. I turn to look around the corner. *SWOOSH* rocket 69 flies true and fair…boom! Truck goes up in smoke, I tell ya, oh that's a pretty sight. Falling debris nearly landed on the rocket, that made hearts skip beats. "Show's over!" Karen yells, grabbing her halberd. Samantha readies her M1 Garand, Gabe his Kalashnikov. It's time to head into the shit.

"They nuked the fucking truck!" Rosholt yells, her grasp of the obvious awe-inspiring. "Alvarez! Seiblitz! Fuck they are dead! Claiborne, Minsky, go go go!" There are blown up bodies around the hole that used to be the front door. Gunfire, flashing muzzles by the burning truck. Smells like smoke and burning flesh, good smells for good killings. A large black man with a scoped rifle, clean shaven with a short, square haircut, dressed in an oversized grey shirt and blue stitched jeans. I raise my Mossberg. Red dots appear over his chest and legs, his body shaking left and right, Samantha's and Gabe's work. Grey shirt falls right and on his right shoulder, shit that's a shotgun muzzle! *BANG* *BANG* Gabe and Samantha get out of the way as a white slaver in a denim jacket, a white undershirt, a gold chain, and mud-stained grey jeans strafes to his right. Clean-shaven and bald, with these thick eyebrows. *BANG* Kurama's Lee Enfield takes out the slaver's left leg. Slaver yells and shoots the ground, losing his SPAS-12 in the process. He falls face first and quickly reaches to his right ankle. I run up to him, he draws a Colt 45, I knock the pistol out of his hand with my barrel, hear the sound of a finger breaking "FUCK!" he yells. He tries to get up, I aim the barrel at the right side of his noggin.

*BANG* Brain and skull bits everywhere, think…that's one of his eyeballs hanging out what's left of the socket. He done, and my shoes are filthy.

I eject the casing as…two grenades fall into the damn this! We run to through the front, into the open, white brunette woman in sleeveless leather *BOOM* jacket and jeans with a Galil, and a bald reddish-skinned Latino with chin stubble in a white undershirt and dirty brown cargo pants with an M4. They fire, shit my thigh! Gunfire from someone send those two falling, lady gets half her skull shot off, guy is favoring his right rib as he falls to his shoulder and as I spin around from my throbbing leg…there! The lady with the bow and a chubby white guy with a brown beard and a mullet, dressed in dark blue denim and red cargo pants, I think it's a Lee Enfield or one of those German Karabiners. I fall on my ass and fire at the two, sending them both back into cover. Gunfire everywhere, muzzles flashing, ears ringing, my thigh throbs and bleeds. Wide guy with the Karabiner yells out in Pennsylvanian English and Deutsch "Sheiskerl! Fucking shitstorm, they killed Rosholt!"

The Pip-Boy on my left arm plays "Oblivion" by this American thrash metal band called Mastodon. My Lee Enfield hanging on the strap around my body, I fire my magnum at the slaver between myself and the ruins of the King residence, a balaclava clad male in green military fatigues with a metal harness over him, armed with an M1 Garand that jammed shut a few seconds prior. "I almost had the world in my sight…"

One slaver to the left of the harness-wearing man, a skinny bald Arabic male with tanned skin, a black trimmed goatee and mustache, and an eyepatch over his left eye, dressed in dark blue and grey camo-designed cargo pants and a sleeveless white shirt soaked in sweat and revealing his hairy chest, the slaver armed with a hatchet and strafing to the right. To the right of the harness-wearing slaver, a third slaver, female, black haired Caucasian with the sides of her head shaved, armed with a machete and dressed in a black biker leather jacket and pants attire. The harness-wearing man steps back, grunting, muttering in Pennsylvanian-accented English "Fuck that hurts…" "How can…I tell you that I failed?! Tell you I failed…"

Gunfire all around me, ears still ringing. My jian in my left hand and my revolver in my right, I have lost count of how many shots I fired. No need to guess, I definitely have less than three left. "Falling from grace cause I've been away too long." The Arabic slaver starts humming tunelessly, I turn left…damn the female knocked my revolver away with her machete! The three charge, think think! "Leaving you behind," I dodge my head left and swipe overhand with my jian, slashed across her neck! "with my lonesome song." She falls, gurgling blood. ARGH! The hatchet slashed my back! The balaclava slaver approaches with his rifle as a club…"DUCK!" Karen yells. I duck, and Karen drives that poleaxe through the balaclava clad slaver's head, getting lodged three-quarters of the way past the nose. "Now I'm lost…" Karen drags the dead slaver as her momentum keeps her running, and I turn my furious gaze to the man with the hatchet, the edge of the overpass several feet behind him. "in oblivion."

He swings the hatchet downward, I catch it with my jian, drive my jian to the left and damn! I pushed with my sword too strong, lost my grip of it, sending both our weapons bouncing off the pavement. "I tried to burrow a hole into the ground." The slaver bends his knees and grabs the back of my thighs, clearly has some grappling talent. I sprawl and keep my stance spread, preventing him from pinning my legs together and sending me to the ground. "Breaking all the fingers and the nails from my hand." I drive downward elbows on his head, weakening his hold. His grip loosens, I drive my left knee into chest, and again, and again! "The eyes, of a child see no wrong."

He breaks his hold and steps back…I adopt an orthodox striking stance, jab misses, a second bounces off his right cheek, I bend my legs and feint a haymaker right hook, he takes the bait! "Ignorant bliss, impending doom." Swaying his head back, the slaver becomes vulnerable to me wrapping my arms around his left leg. He mutters "Shit, shit…" as move my grip up his leg, near his crotch, lifting his leg and forcing his balance on his right leg. My left hand let's go of the leg and shoves its palm into his chest, worsening his balance. My left leg sweeps his right and the two of us tumble down, myself landing into his guard. "Faster than stars falling."

Immediately he grabs my left arm and wraps his legs around my neck, triangle choke, reminiscent of my victory over the Teutonic Knight centuries ago. "Tell you I failed." Damn, his grip is tightening…hard to breathe…I straighten my posture, lift…my head, lift the slaver, slam his back into asphalt "Falling from grace, cause I've been away too long", grip loosens, lift again, take a few steps forward…power bomb his head *crunch* across the concrete ledge, heard his skull crack, completely unconscious, "leaving you behind" I lift his body up, blood seeping from the back of his head, and I toss him over the railing and into the river, "with my lonesome song" myself panting for air.

I turn around, Samantha and Yusuke firing in the direction of the ruins of the West house, Gabe dragging Kuronue back into the Dankers, is he wounded? I yell "Karen, keep watch on the south-bound ramp…" "FICK DICH INS KNIE!" Someone yells in German, which from my very very scant grasp, does not refer to something pleasant. "in oblivion." I turn around, and a tall, lanky tanned skin Caucasian male in jeans with fresh stitches, a sky blue Liverpool FC jersey with the number 9 and the name 'Suarez' on the back, and a hockey mask, with pantyhose over his head and a sledgehammer in his hands, locked in combat with Karen's blood soaked poleaxe, both by the ruins of King's house. Her SKS hangs on a sling around her back, her hands occupied, I swing my rifle around and aim the scope…hold my breath, shot him in the chest…Karen's left foot crushes his neck. "Leave you behind…with my lonesome song." She turns, swings her SKS around and aims…

Not at me, I turn and aim, four flashing muzzles, Karen fires, as Samantha and Gabe retreat into the Dankers house. "in oblivion." I eject my rifle casing and open fire at the muzzle flashes coming from the burning wreck of the West residence, strafing to the right, running to cover. Automatic fire, from both sides. The song enters the chorus. I yell "Kuronue, they shot you?!" Yusuke angrily answers "He's fine!" My right shoulder to the remains of the wall, I turn out of cover and fire at one of the four slavers from afar. I return to cover before I can see if my shot had any effect. I eject another casing, and then run through the hole in the wall, collecting my jian enroute, entering the remains of the dining room. Gabe and Samantha shot through a piece of the opposite wall by the clinic, and are now taking turns firing from it. Kuronue, armed with a Colt 45, and Yusuke, armed with his remaining revolver, the other revolver currently in the Potomac, they take turns firing from cover behind the remains of the front door, assorted burning limbs and clothing scattered around the main lobby and the asphalt, amidst the more intact corpses that have already entered rigor mortis.

I kneel by Yusuke, the detective turning to me and saying "You gone silvery again. Oh yeah, I picked up your revolver, here." He procures it from the space between his back and the remains of the bookshelf cabinet. I take it, open the cylinder, one bullet remaining unspent. I eject the six casings, discard the five spent ones, and collect five new bullets from under my duster coat. Karen and Kuronue continue exiting from cover and taking solitary shots, as gunfire peppers the walls, at times a bullet or a shell piercing through harmlessly. I reload my revolver, and then do the same with my Lee Enfield. Kuronue mutters "These lions are the bilingual sort. Been hearing Pennsylvanian German-glish, some Spanish, and I swear one bitch spoke Chinese." Yusuke suddenly and frantically exclaims "Shit Kurama, you're bleeding!" I smile in reassurance and reply "Just a scratch, a long one, but still a scratch. Had it been swung an inch closer though…" Kuronue groans and speaks "You Raizen's progeny, yes yes? Make it seem as if he dying on account of ruptured guts or something, I tell ya." I laugh in agreement, as Yusuke simply seethes and shakes his head. Focus your rage on these cretins Yusuke, I know I am.

Looking behind us, Yusuke squints his eyes, and then yells "Oh shit, two cars coming from the south side!" I turn, aim down the scope of my rifle, "Four slavers inbound, on Humvees." "Ah fuck, we'll get them! Karen, Ian, with me! The guys on the north side are bleeding, finish them off!" Gabe Shapiro yells, leaving myself, Samantha, and Yusuke to clear those up north. We immediately take Gabe's and Karen's spot by the clinic wall, Yusuke grabbing one of the procured Galil rifles.

I drive my rifle stock into the wall to increase my hole in the wall, giving my scope an unimpeded view. Four slavers, two male and armed with rifles, both light-skinned Caucasians dressed in road leathers and balaclavas, one dark-skinned male armed with a scoped pistol and dressed in a red and yellow striped tracksuit, and the female with the bow and quiver, all hiding amidst the strewn rubble of the West residence. My Pip-Boy segues to the next song, "Crystal Mountain" by Death. Death/thrash metal, my guilty pleasure. "Built from! Blind faith! From self! Induced Fantasy!" Samantha fires a shot, striking one of the rifle-wielding slavers in the foot."Conjuring power…it opens wide! On your seventh day!" The dark-skinned slaver peaks his head from cover. I hold my breath and squeeze the trigger. "Is that how it's done?!" A red mist and the man collapses behind the rubble.

"Shit! They're breaking for the north side!" Samantha yells, as one of Yusuke's shots send one of the rifle-wielding slavers to the ground. I aim my scope at the remaining two slavers, the female leaving a faint trail of blood as she flees. She turns and aims her bow, nocks an arrow back, and I hear Samantha fire a shot from her rifle, wounding the other male slaver in the…thigh I believe. "Inside crystal mountain…evil takes its form!" As that male slaver falls through a hole in the bridge, the female slaver lets her arrow loose and…oh fuck!

The arrow pierced my scope…I just barely jerked my head away from having an arrowhead and optical glass pierce my right eyeball. My heart is raising, and Yusuke stares at me in shock. How could a random thug let loose such an accurate arrow in an era of guns and…she's running to us, and her…her back is tearing open to reveal eight spider legs as her arms and legs morph and "SHE'S A DEMON!"

"Holy fuck what the hell is that?! RUN!" Samantha yells as we agree in act, fleeing from the wall as a dozen spear shaped legs pierce through the metal. "All the traps are set…to confine!" The Jorogumo yells in Aztec-accented English "Can't believe I'm going to kill the great Yoko! Going to add to my skull collection, motherfucker!" The wall tears as gunfire sounds of behind us, the three of us making a stand. "Oh shit!" Gabe yells from behind, as the three of us pepper the walls and the legs with bullets, a slight spray of green blood from one of the legs. The legs retract and I hear the Spider Demon climbing up the back wall.

We turn our attention to the two Humvees, three slavers dead in their car seats, one unaccounted for. No, there I see, Caucasian male with a thick black beard and long black hair, brown road leathers and a green bandana covering his face, armed with a style of long barrel rifle, in cover behind one of the vehicles. Karen, armed with her SKS, her halberd in a sling around her back, and Kuronue, armed with his Colt 45, each claim a side of the Humvee and advance on the remaining slaver. Sniper fire from afar brings all of us to kneel, must be from the main slaver encampment. Good, this is good, they are concentrated on the Virginia side. The Spider demon behind us remains a concern. Almost reading my mind, Gabe, who is occasionally firing a shot at the remaining human slaver, walks backwards with his Kalashnikov aimed at the human slaver, yelling "That one of you demon types?" "Yep," Yusuke replies.

The remaining human slaver turns the left corner of the Humvee, into Kuronue's path. Both fire, blood sprays against the edge of the highway, and I hear someone collapse in a groan. "Fine here!" Kuronue announces. Gabe sighs in relief and says "Okay, time to take care of that…what the hell that is."

'Whatever it is' just perched itself on what remains of the room, the Spider Demon snickering from its nest. I hear shots from Karen and Kuronue, while Samantha angles and strafes to the left. Can conventional weapons bring this demon down? Currently, the Spider Demon hops left and right, damn this, she is causing us to waste ammo! And Yusuke…he is running back into the Dankers house. Of course…the RPG.

I yell "Keep the bastard occupied, but conserve ammunition! We still have several hundred more of them to fight!" "I hope your fucking plan works, Kurama!" Samantha yells. I turn to answer and suddenly watch an arrow pierce her right thigh, causing her to yell "OH FUCKING HELL THAT HURTS!" I continue to fire with Gabe. A wail from the Spider Demon and she falls from the roof, bow in her right hand, three of her legs bleeding green.

Gabe yells "O-kay, they bleed like the rest of us! Fuck it up!" Hell! My days, the Spider Demon is throwing metal debris with its healthy legs, at such speed! I narrowly avoid having my ribs sliced open by metal sheets, Gabe rolls to his left, fires from his Kalashnikov, two shots strike the Spider Demon's chest, Spider Demon wails, most of us on the ground, fearful of the flying debris.

Gabe Shapiro's Kalashnikov clicks…ammo spent. His eyes flicker in fear, he mutters "Oh no no NO!" The Spider Demon pounces and rapidly pierces Gabe's chest with her legs, with the movement and speed of eight giant sewing machine needles. Gabe offers a final groan as I fire from my revolver, striking the Jorogumo in her giant oval back. A curling snarl from the Spider Demon and she turns her attention to me, I fire and…damn her legs can extend far, knocked my revolver out of my hand. I step back and immediately reach for my jian, one of her legs swipe at me…yes, I slashed it off!

Green blood streaming, I duck under a following swipe and slash off a second leg. She is suffering clearly, oh it has been too long since I killed a fellow demon! Continue you opportunistic trash, I will gladly add another notch to my rose! Samantha, lying on the ground, fires a shot from her M1 Garand, piercing the bottom of the demon's belly, oh she felt the throbbing sting of that. And suddenly, Karen leaps into the air, halberd in hand, and drives the axe through the top of the Jorogumo's head, killing her and negating the need to waste a rocket. And thus, Karen Schenzy joins the small handful of humans that I ever knew to kill a demon in my presence, well done.

It seems Samantha just realized that arrow is still lodged in her thigh, for she does her damnedest to remind us. Yusuke arrives from the Dankers house, armed with a loaded rocket launcher. I speak "Yusuke, carry Samantha, it is time we…." *BANG* Sniper fire rings out, about time the slavers use their brains. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, get it out, get it out!" Samantha screams. Karen exclaims "Oh shit, Gabe's done. Damnit man." "We can't get to the boat with these snipers having us pinned!" Yusuke exclaims, holding the RPG is his arms.

All of us kneeling and hearing gunfire over our heads, Kuronue exclaims "Yep, they now past the 'take them living' stage, reckon." "That's the size of it, yea," Karen replies, the fear growing on her face. "Fucking help me!" Samantha yells again. Karen speaks "Alright, I…I…think I can help."

As Karen whittles the wood down on each end of the arrow with a surgical scalpel, a rag of fabric torn off the corpse of a dead slaver at her side, Kuronue, myself, and Yusuke scour for scoped rifles while crawling on our knees. We barely found four, and only two with a working scope. We would possess three had the Jorogumo not let loose an arrow through my Lee Enfield's scope. I…I still have shivers from that near-miss…I am very sensitive concerning my eyes.

We huddle by the edge of the highway, Karen nearby pressing a bottle of water to Samantha's lips. Her screams have calmed to a steady grimace. Yusuke is armed with the RPG, while myself and Kuronue are armed with what both Yusuke, Kuronue, and Karen have referred to as an 'M24' (Kuronue's) and an 'L42A1'. My rifle is British, as is my Lee Enfield, and of similar design and operation. Easier feed for the ammunition as well, I may simply abandon my Lee Enfield if it comes to that. The sight allows better range as well, yes, a good find indeed.

"We must thin their numbers, then retreat! If we retreat now, we will suffer further casualties!" I yell commands. I have gotten quite accustomed to this, while Yusuke acts sullen and silently enraged in alternating measures. And now, looking through the scope of my L42A1, the five Humvees perched just across the far coast and the distant hill, I return to cover before a fellow sniper could claim my head. Kuronue suddenly blurts "Shit…this is skull-fucked, yes." "Heh?" Karen asks, kneeling and lifting Samantha by the shoulders. Kuronue grimaces and replies "Counted at the least three snipers and a few of these big tube things. Looks akin to rocket launchers or those old time war cannons." I let out a smirk and reply "If there are the same as those from my era, they cannot hope to make a clean strike against us. And as long as they do not strike the eastern side of the bridge…" Yusuke suddenly speaks "Kurama, you're the smart one here. Don't you think rockets hitting any side of the bridge would cause issues? I mean, factor in the shockwave and…"

Karen asks "Is the tube shaped like a dick with the head pointing to the back?" What? Kuronue says "If you referring to that rocket thingamathing, and I pray you do, then aye." Karen's face shows a pale twitching smile, and she mutters "Oh…great…they got Javelins…"

A tail of white smoke rises from the distant hill, as a black dot rises higher and higher into the sky, becoming larger, and larger, and oh dear that thing is coming toward us!


The missile strikes the burning remains of the West residence, sending entire blocks of concrete into the river. The bridge itself is now split down the middle, although we have no intention of crossing by land anyway. Karen yells "Javelin missile launchers! Saw them with the Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts! Really high-end stuff, the missiles have this heat-seeking VI, was supposed to be used against tanks and helicopters! They won't hit us but unless we can magically put out those house fires in five seconds they will blow the bridge to shit, and that's not factoring in the explosives we planted on the east side!"

"I got one better!" Kuronue yells, turning to me. He adds "Aim for those with the giant tubes! Then we make like radgators and scat!" Suits myself! "Ready?!" I yell "Three, two, one, aim!" We aim. I pick a hooded slaver standing on a Humvee seat. "FIRE!" I yell, hold my breath, and squeeze. I see flash of sniper muzzles.

They all miss, and the slaver I struck is falling down with the Javelin launcher. Kuronue's victim holds an RPG, rocket aimed toward her Humvee, smoke coming from the rocket…YES! The misfired rocket propelled grenade set two Humvee's into a raging inferno and a third Humvee on fire, three of the slavers scrambling to remove their burning clothes, a few on the ground missing limbs. I yell "Brilliant lucky shot, Kuronue. We just earned ourselves a quick reprieve! Now, everyone, TO THE BOAT!"

Kuronue and myself drag our sniper rifles in slings around our backs, and leap into the one remaining Humvee without flattened tires or a leaking fuel tank. Yusuke runs to collect his MP5K, myself abandoning my Lee Enfield for my new rifle. Difficult to aim with an arrow protruding through the scope. We already loaded the Sabertooth crossbow and the Galil rifle into the vehicle, along with Karen's poleaxe and SKS and Samantha's M1 Garand. And several rifle magazines that hopefully have enough ammunition in them.

I wait in the driver seat, Kuronue in the passenger seat to the right of me, Samantha groaning in pain in the back while Karen keeps her head low. Yusuke, crouching as he moves, returns with his MP5K in his left hand and the loaded RPG launcher held over his right shoulder, too unstable for my comfort.

I yell "HURRY YUSUKE!" Yusuke tosses his submachine gun in the air for Karen to catch it and drop it with the rest of our arsenal. The Detective then carries the RPG with greater stability as he climbs onto the back of the Humvee. I shift to reverse, turning the wheel left, now in drive, turn slightly right, down the ramp, gunfire raining down…almost there! Left! I hear a humming sound…and Karen yell "Incoming shit!"


An explosion detonates somewhere behind us, the vibration almost causing me to lose control…the commercial fishing boat just at the end of the coast, Rashad and Neil waiting for us inside. We pass the ranch house that used to house the Arefu Brahmin and slow down by the coast, the wheels digging into the muddy shore. I shout commands "Neil, Yusuke! Cover us! Karen, get Samantha to the boat! Rashad and Kuronue, move our weapons and ammo inside! Act fast, they possess heat-seeking missiles!"

"Where's Gabe?!" Rashad asks, carrying several of our guns toward the boat. Oh…well… "Where the hell is Gabe?!" Rashad yells. Samantha, about to climb into the boat, groans "He's gone, slavers took him out." Rashad stops his movements and immediately turns to us "Took him out? What the hell does that mean?!" "It means he's dead Rashad! They shot him down! We checked, his pulse is gone!" Samantha yells in response, tactfully excluding the fact that a demon ended his life. Rashad shakes his head, collects Karen's poleaxe, and heaves it into the boat, almost striking Samantha with it. "Relax!" Karen yells, as Neil fidgets in horror of his own shadow. Rashad grasps the edges of the boat and sighs, his head low. He kicks the edge of the boat and mutters "Slaver trash…I'm going to…oh damn, Gabe. Damnit…"

Rashad climbs over the edge and into the boat, as Karen and Kuronue move the last of our weapons into the boat. I hear the sound of moving vehicles "It's time to leave! Everyone inside now!" Neil yells "Oh fuck the-the-they're coming man!" He fires from an AR-15 at two approaching doorless trucks, four slavers per Humvee. They return fire as one of Kuronue's shots strike a passenger and knock her off the incoming car. I fire a few rounds from my revolver and leap onto the boat, Neil and Yusuke following suit, Neil hyperventilating so strongly that I believe he will pass out. Bullets continue to be exchanged between the slavers and us, Karen and Samantha doing the firing with their SKS and M1-Garand, Samantha sitting down as she peers in and out of cover.

Rashad assured us earlier that he knows how to operate a fishing boat. Julius assured us that a switch to one of my Pip-boy radio frequencies will trigger the C4 we salvaged from the vault. Kuronue and Karen assured us that they are more than enough for what we need. For our sakes, let all four be right.

You son of bitches want this?! Huh?! You got it! I pull out of cover and yell "FIRING!" Press the trigger and oh shit I felt that, and smell the smoke. Rocket propelled grenade zipping, c'mon I wanna see! *BOOM* Got it just between one of the Humvees and the cattle shack, oh they look like they're screaming alright those motherfuckers. Now for the encore!

I yell "What's the frequency?!" That prick Kuronue yells back "104.3! Wait, allow them to reach the bridge!" We're sailing toward the Maryland side of the Potomac, hear a couple of shots from the Virginia side, Samantha and Kurama returning fire. I yell "Neill, Karen, you see anyone on the overpass?!" "Nu-nu-nobody man, oh this is fucked!" Neill yells back, shaking so hard he just fell on his ass.

"Got one!" Samantha yells out, and I look and see her grinning a bit. Guess it took a crossbow bolt to the thigh to get her juices going. Now, shit! Bullet just zipped over us, broke one of the boat glass windows. Rashad, who's manning the controls, yells "I'm good!" "Now?!" I yell, my finger on the radio dial. "Almost!" Kuronue yells. More shots from above, hearing them hit the water. Another window breaks, broken glass sliding up and down the deck. This is ridiculous! "Now, motherfucker?!" I yell.

Kuronue turns to me, gives me this half pissed off smile, and yells "Yes yes, motherfucker! Let's rock!" 104.3 it is, turning…

Oh holy fucking Bridge on the River Kwai fuck the whole bridge and overpass and all the houses and trucks and slaver shits dead or alive are raining down into the Potomac! "YES!" Kurama yells as he pants in relief. I hear Rashad yell "Slaver motherfuckers go burn in hell!" I switch my Pip-Boy back to playing music, and hit play, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou." "That my song, Raizen the Second!" Kuronue yells, laughing a bit. "Woohoo, kinda pissed with my old house going down but fuck it if that ain't a good sight to see!" Karen adds, firing a shot into the sky and…"Oh fuck some of the slavers are flying!"

"Now when I was just a little boy…" Kuronue yells "See them! Two chimeras and a moth demon!" "Standing to mah daddy's knee." I grab the Galil rifle and aim down, pull the trigger, fire a few rounds, shit they're zipping left and right, getting closer!

"I got it!" Samantha yells, I hear her rifle go off, oh yeah one of the chimera demons wearing road leathers got his right wing clipped, and a shot to the gut, he's going down into the soup.

The other two fuckers get past our shots, the second chimera, in a sleeveless white shirt and denim jeans, armed with a 12 gauge shotgun, lands in front of us, the moth, dressed in blue cotton buttoned jacket, a white V-neck, and blue jeans, landed somewhere at the front of the boat. Neill panics and throws his AR-15 at the chimera, smacking him in the face and making the demon shoot to our left into the water. "Oh no you didn't," the chimera demon says in this West African accent.

I aim and fire a shot into his right thigh, send him to one knee. He raises his 12 gauge with his right hand and Kuronue immediately rushes and grabs the barrel. The first waves from the blown up bridge hit us and cause the demon slaver to fall on his back, his black wings sticking out of the boat, Kuronue now holding the shotgun. The chimera demon yells in West African accented English "Wait…please wait!" He gets to one knee, back against the end of the fishing boat, wings starting to flap, flies up just enough for Kuronue to blow through his neck and send his head into the river. "Born on the Bayou…born on the Bayou!"

"Oh get off me asshole!" Samantha yells, and I turn around to see her kicking at the face of the moth demon, both of them fighting over her M1 Garand. Karen is barely hanging on to the moth's left wing, hovering over the water. She snakes her right leg onto the edge as I grab my revolver and Kurama draws his magnum. We stand parallel to the boat and fire a pair of shots into the moth demon's groin, making him lean over and help Karen climb back on the boat. I see Samantha reach into her left boot, pull something shiny out, and "Eat this!" She stabs and leaves a hunting knife in the right side of the moth demon's head. Tavares then pulls the M1 Garand out of the moth's hands, slams the ass of the rifle into the moth's nose, flips it around while holding the moth demon back with her left foot, expels a spent cartridge, and *BANG*, one between the eyes, sending some purple blood spraying the deck.

Oh shit a tall wave is coming in, "Cover your mouths!" Karen yells. The cold water hits my back and oh damn a severed burnt leg just slid off my right forearm, boot mostly still on it. I try to get up and…I got some meaty finned arm wrapping my neck. Some South American accented fish demon, sounds feminine and wearing soaked-through road leathers, says "Drop your guns assholes, I'll blow this guy clean off…holy shit is that Yoko Kurama?!" Now! I jerk my head back and slam it against her chin *BANG* ears ringing, see a flash from Kuronue's Colt 45 pistol. Turn around and see the fish demon with a bullet in her neck, eyes flickering...not anymore. "Reckon we has a few them sharks circling the floating wagon, be on guard," Kuronue says in that weird way he talks.

And right on cue, a piece of shit climbs and rolls into the left side of the boat. Male long haired Latino in blue and red checkered button shirt and grey jeans, he coughs out the nasty water and throws a revolver on the floor, hey that's my revolver that fell in with Goki. I walk up, kick my lost revolver away and aim the one without the wet gunpowder at the slaver's head, human. He spits out and yells in a New Jersey accent "Wait, wait don't shoot! I-I I just tried to climb in, okay, I surrender. You don't shoot guys that surrender. Look, I found that in the water alright!"

I yell "Yeah, I know." "So what you waiting for?" Karen asks…to me. Oh, that, yeah. I turn to him and say "Given the circumstances…sorry." *BANG* What the fuck did that sniper bullet come from…oh fuck the slaver stabbed me in the gut! I'm on the ground, fighting with the slaver over the grip of the knife in my belly, Samantha yells "Some asshole still on the bridge! What's left of it!" "And I can remember the 4th of July! Runnin' through the backwood bare!" "Got him, he's down!" Samantha yells, fucking crackshot. Shit it hurts.

Ah! He pulls the serrated knife out and Kurama scoops his right arm and snaps the shit so hard the slaver forgot to scream. Knife falls down, I grab the hilt with my left hand, there take that! In the ribs, now he's screaming. Pull myself back a bit, grab my revolver, aim at his head, almost between the eyes, he's down. Fucking asshole, it hurts! "Where did he get you?!" Kurama yells, his eyes golden Kitsune eyes fixated at my abdomen, his silvery hair drenched in irradiated water and some splashes of human and demon blood. I point at where I got stabbed, and Kurama immediately tears at my blood stained vest, pulling it apart and sending buttons onto the deck. It's turning dark red, easing the bleeding as it turns my white undershirt bloody. Kurama sighs and smiles, saying "I think you will be fine." Good, he still cares. Good.

I get pulled to my feet and go get my other revolver, pull back on the hammer "You think it can still fire?" I ask Kurama, as if he knows the fucking answer. A tanned hand and a leather clad arm grab onto the edge of the boat, another boarder. Like fish in the barrel, hey, drown or beg for mercy and hope you don't get a bullet to the head. I walk over, hear some guy mutter in Midwestern-accented English "What happened man? What the hell happened?" Walk over, a bearded brunette Central European-looking guy, with part of his short hair singed off along with his left eyebrow. He looks at me like he is the biggest dumbass on this rock. "Let's find out," I say, aiming the barrel of my wet barrel at his head. He yells "Wait, wait a minute!" *BANG* Still working fine, as his dead body falls under the boat and, did something heavy just land and "Let's try this again, without any cheap tricks and wooden sticks boy!" Goki yells out, in his full ogre mode with horns and all, his clothes soaked and mostly ripped, his tattoos almost shining. "I guess I should be happy you picked boxers over briefs," I say, trying to get him angry. More likely for him to do something stupid again.

"Wha-wha-what the fuck, oh-oh shit he's bigger up close!" Neil yells, firing his Colt 45 pistol when he should still be holding his rifle. Goki just smacks the pistol away and into the water, his chest absorbing the shots like flea bites. He gives Neil a front kick to the chest that sends him halfway across the fishing boat. Kuronue, Kurama, and I fire…he's turtling up and taking the shots, what is he made of? He's bleeding but they look more like paper cuts then bullet wounds. "Voila merde!" Kuronue yells, driving the buttstock of his shotgun at the hands covering his head. Goki hisses and grabs the barrel of the shotgun before Kuronue could line it up with that dumbass head of his. Kurama swings his jian left to right at Goki…

Goki just twisted the shotgun barrel and used it to block the jian. Kuronue immediately lets go and draws his Colt 45, firing a shot into the shotgun trigger and then another shot into Goki's left ankle, yes that hurt him! Kurama regroups and attempts another jian slash, and gets oh shit he got smacked in the gut with the shotgun barrel don't pull the trigger he pulls and thank fuck Kuronue shot it broken, asshole has brains at least. Kurama's on his back, got the wind knocked out of him. Kuronue aims for Goki's head as I do the same, pull the trigger, empty with my left revolver, Kuronue fires as he gets smacked in the face with the shotgun buttstock, shooting off a piece of Goki's ear as Kuronue falls to the deck, face bleeding.

I fire my right handed revolver, got him just below the neck, still shooting at him like he's in Ned Kelly's armor shit! One more shot, "fucking revolver jammed! FUCK!" "HOW THE FUCK DO YOU JAM A REVOLVER?!" Karen screams out from somewhere on the boat.

Shit, AR-15 at Goki's feet, the one Neil threw, Goki hasn't noticed it yet. Also the knife the slaver stabbed me with. "Oh I looked forward to this boy, the ones in the deep have plans for you, ragazzo," Goki mutters...'ragazzo'?

*BANG* Rashad realized what's going on and just shot at Goki with his own 12 gauge, yelling "Slaver piece of shit I'll kill you!" Goki turtles up again, takes another spray to the back, and then fucking chucks the shotgun into the fucking control room, looks like he just shot put a fucking shotgun into Rashad's chest. "Now, one more goddamn time detective!" Goki yells, and I'm scrambling for the knife…got it…how the fuck is this supposed to help?!

And I just now noticed the fishing crane being lowered, with Samantha holding onto the crane with her M1 Garand held by the barrel with her left hand. "NOW!" she yells, as Goki is starting to realize what is going on, saying "Oh crap." Yes! The metal hook of the crane, wrapped in rope, slams across Goki's head, sending him face first to the deck. "Get the rope!" Samantha yells, falling off the crane, "AHH!" she yells as she lands, her thigh likely giving her issues. I run toward the rope…fuck, ouch, someone is grabbing my left shoulder. I see a grey fish demon's hand swinging into view, grab the demon's left wrist with my left hand before its talons could rip out my throat. Serrated knife in my right, I slit the demon's left wrist, getting blue blood flowing, turn around and shove her left hand away, demon barely hanging on to the edge with her right hand. She yells in some weird language "Celaka! Pukimak!" I shut her up by throwing my knife into her neck, getting another spray of blood, grip lets go and she's back in the water.

I turn back to Goki and *BANG* Samantha just shot down another boarder, Western-European looking female in plaid shirt and jeans. I'm clear, grabbing the rope, Goki's starting to come back awake, I grab the hook and slam it again, and again, and one more time, wrap the rope around his neck, his forehead bloody. I yell "Karen, do it!" "Done!" Karen yells, and the crane rises up as Goki gets to his knees. He grabs his bleeding forehead and glares at me with a confused look, opening his mouth but with nothing to say. And only now with the robe and hook yanking his neck off the deck do his eyes show that he knows he's in deep shit.

He tries running forward but that's the exact wrong thing to do, making the robe tighten even more. "You bastard, you fucking bastard!" Goki yells as his feet leave the deck and he starts to kick around cause he's getting fucking strangled. I hear gunshots, and then Rashad yelling "Got two of the bastards, what the hell is going on?" Karen yells from the front of the boat "Wasteland justice Rashad, you like it?!" "I like it Karen, that I do…woah you got a slaver boarding behind you, I'm out of ammo!" Rashad yells, as Kuronue and Kurama rise to their feet and Goki rises a few feet above the surface. "Fancy a dangle, yes?" Kuronue laughs, a gash over his right eye bleeding over his face, getting into his eye, causing him to squint and wince.

I hear a man scream and yell in Chinese I think "Qǐng zhùshǒu! Tíngzhǐ! AHHH!" Now I hear both the Chinese guy and Goki gurgling, with Goki still kicking around, now a solid ten feet above the deck. Eleven, twelve…I hear metal creak, oh shit the crane is giving way. Kurama yells "Watch yourselves! The crane is collapsing!" A few hinges come loose, I hear a few metal nuts fall onto the deck, see one roll by the AR-15. Crane is leaning toward the back of the boat, Rashad yells "I'll try something! Red dial Samantha?!" "Yes! Hurry!" She replies.

The crane starts swinging counter-clockwise toward the right of the boat, Goki's feet dangling with it, it's falling into the water! Neil runs under the falling crane and to us…one final hinge snapped and it's heading in *SPLASH*. Crane is sinking as Goki swims to the surface, grabs at the rope around his neck, spits out some water, and mutters "Damn…" as the rope quickly pulls him to the bottom of the river, gone from view. Good fucking riddance.

"It's over…we won," Kuronue rises up, licking the blood off his fingers, that's nasty. "Yeah, whatever," I say, turning around. Would have been nice to see him get put through the fucking meat grinder. Beating the shit out of people, yeah, that I like, and if I have to put down a human or demon in defense of the whole world, I'm not going to think twice. But this…killing to survive, to run away, there's no end game to this. Even if Kurama called it right and all the remaining slavers are stuck on the Virginia side of the river, we barely dented their army. How many we took out? 50? 75 tops, out of 500. Fucking miracle we only lost one guy. Oh if they knew we were hiding the rest of us in these buildings around the metro an in Meresti, and if they came in force, oh we got problems.

At least with Goki, or Gerry Simoneaux now, him probably drowned by now, that leaves one less thing to worry about. The other guy, Errol Bradley is out there, but again, like Kurama said, they are stuck on the Virginia side, with no bridge to cross. Thank fuck Kuronue can fly and plant explosives at the same time. At least he has his uses.

Kuronue just shrugs his shoulders and turns to Kurama, giving him his right hand. Kurama extends his right hand and they each grab each other's right forearm, like some kind of handshake only they know of, fucking cannibal flying asshole.

Retrieving it from Karen, Kuronue tidies his black top hat and yells "May some kind soul explain to me whichever the fuck is his problem?!" "Hey, fuck you MAN!" I yell, on fucking edge. Kuronue grits his teeth and asks "If you got something worth speaking to me, speak it now or forever shut your fucking gob!" You wanna push those buttons, shitcock?! "Can you two hold off on making out or comparing penis sizes or whatever it is you two do? We just went through hell and came out alive and swinging," Karen says, walking to us with her blood stain poleaxe.

"Not all of us," Rashad says from the control booth. "And not thanks to some of us, I'm talking to you Neil!" Samantha yells, limping up to Neil and smacking him in the head. She adds "When we get back, I'm going to have a word with Mitch about how tits on a robobrain useless you are!"

"Well I am for one thankful I did not sit in that boat," Liz O'Conner says, aiming down the sights of her Ruger. I pay no attention to that comment and smile in relief. Shuichi's plan worked beautifully. "What are you grinning about, Julius?" Randall Fagundez asks, dressed in a grey shirt that spells 'Maryland Terrapins', his SPAS-12 held by the barrel in his right hand. "That we live to see another day, Mr. Fagundez, that we live," I reply. It has become quite dark, and it has just started to rain, gently so far.

His plan truly was brilliant. Fortifying one of the large houses while booby-trapping the other two that were large enough to hide several of us, destroying the booby-trapped ones once enough slavers were within the blast radius. Correctly predicted that most if not all of the slavers were on the Virginia side of the river, with no easy means to cross for miles away, meaning they would have to ford the river, meaning they would have to abandon their vehicles to assault us from the west of the Seneca metro and risk being shot apart by the river banks or drowned by mirelurks.

And then, wired the bridge to implode while they would escape by boat, cutting off the slaver access to the Seneca metro completely and planted the idea in their head that every inch of land they encroach may be wired to detonate. And then Yusuke's correct suggestion of leaving the noncombatants that are fit to fight if needed to be hidden in the derelict buildings here, while Clive, Walter, Fatima, the Ewers, and the Dankers hide with Ben Canning and Karl Keifer in Meresti, our ultimate destination. As a precaution, once Shuichi's team make land, we are to rush to the Seneca metro and traverse the subway tunnels to Meresti station. From there, we will activate one of the trains and go toward Potomac-Cabin John metro, deserted by most reports aside from small packs of wildlife and ferals, the next stop to the East. A bridge less than a mile to the southeast will take us back to Virginia, and from there a relatively short and hopefully uneventful trek to Megaton.

We are perched in a coach bus, myself, Liz, Randall, Robert, and Mitch. Brienne, Vance, Teresa, Jorgen, Diane, Holly, and Justin are in the derelict Montgomery Inquirer building, three floors and plenty of vantage points in case we do get assaulted from the west. In addition, there is a panic room under one of the floorboards that leads directly to a ventilation shaft, that in turn leads to the metro. If needed, we can flee east while those in the Montgomery Inquirer can escape through the metro, regroup in Meresti regardless.

The group has perched the boat by the shore and are disembarking as we speak…Mitch asks "I do not see Mr. Shapiro among them, unfortunate, but given the circumstances, and the fireworks display, I am amazed anyone even returned." "I say we would be mighty assholish to flee at first opportunity. I cannot have that on my conscious," I add, glaring at Liz O'Conner, who had her own ideas once the bridge collapsed. Liz refuses to make eye contact, and so I claim this as a victory.

Hmm, Shuichi's hair has gone silver, and Yusuke seems to be favoring his abdomen. Samantha is being carried by Karen by the shoulder, and Rashad is glaring vacantly at the ground, stiff and possibly enraged. And if Rashad is stiff, then Neill is an over-caffeinated…he's running? "Neil where the fuck you going?!" Samantha yells, as Neil flees to the east with an AR-15 draped around his back. "Neil what the hell?!" Rashad yells as Shuichi yells "Ignore him, he can be eaten by ferals for all we are concerned. Julius, Liz! It is safe!"

We, as in myself, Mitch, and Randall, exit the bus, with Liz and Robert left in the coach as two pairs of eyes toward the west. "What happened guys?" Randall asks, as Rashad and Shuichi pull a cart full of what I can gather to be weapons, medicine, and other necessities. "Gerry Simoneaux is like the turd that doesn't want to flush, that's what happened. Unless you asking about stuff besides the crane falling into the river," Karen answers. Yusuke interjects "I got stabbed by boarders on the SS Fucked, and Samantha got hit with an arrow back on the bridge. Gabe was…the slavers got to him. Stabbed him to death on the bridge."

"Stimpaks are good things, if I have not mentioned before," Ian mentions randomly and bizarrely enough. "Enough of all this, we have my goods, we have a coach bus with sufficient fuel. Can some kind soul please explain why we are using the ghoul infested metro?!" Mitch Harith angrily asks, harping on this point…again. We originally suggested moving his cargo to the metro for ease of access, but Mitch demanded the cargo remain with his men at all times, and since four of them joined Shuichi's group, and the vast majority of us had less then subdued concerns that, if left on the coach bus, Mitch Harith would simply steal it and flee, we compromised on leaving some of the goods on the fishing boat and the bare minimum with us in case we were besiged. That way, if needed, the boat could be scuttled, and a salvage operation with hazmat suits could be done in the future. And the main squad that stirred the hornets' nest would have their choice pickings for their self-defense needs.

Of course any attempts to take the boat east is pointless, as we will look like idiots when we run aground in the middle of a mirelurk nest.

Karen wipes the sweat off her brow and replies "You really want us crammed in that little thing? There are super mutant sightings between here and Cabin John, and all it takes is one rocket, hell, one busted engine, and we'd be fucked. So can you do us all one big favor, and finally, just for once, shut…the fuck…" *BANG* What the living fuck that was a sniper shot! "Watch the Inquirer building! Third floor!" That was Liz O'Conner in the coach! *BANG* "It's coming from the safe zone, what the fuck?!" Samantha yells, falling to her knees as Karen drags her toward Marzano and Co. We set up sand bags…just in case we had to fall back, why are they firing from where we left our people?!

"What the hell is this?!" Shuichi yells, his silvery hair swaying to the right as we…gun shots coming from the back of the coach, windows shattering, Liz yells "Don't shoot I'm trying to get out! They shot Robert!" She does so, falling on broken glass, Ruger in hand. "What the fuck is going on?! Didn't we leave our people there?! Who's in there?!" Yusuke yells. "Vance, Holly, Jorgen…" Liz mutters, glaring at Randall. "Woah, woah, I ain't knowing shit about this!" he yells in protest. Shuichi yells "Of course! Jorgen Rasmussen! I am going to strangle Walter with the flat of my fucking sword when I get my hands on him!"

I fire off a shot from my pipe rifle toward the upper floors of the building, and then retreat to cover, hearing sporadic rifle fire, sounds of a bolt action rifle. This is ridiculous, we do not even know, or at least I do not, what is going on in that building. Argh! "Everyone, I propose a team of us breach the derelict building and find some clear answers!" I yell, my heart racing as a second rifle rains down more sporadic gunfire at our location. "It's a fucking killzone man, tell me otherwise! Mais, we be in the dirt in ten yards and ten seconds!" Of course Ian, I am damaged but suicide is not the forefront of my thoughts. "We go through the entrance Liz made, through the back, four of us, take shots and keep whoever is shooting at us pinned, and someone, I volunteer, to check on Robert and see if he is still alive, and if not, commander the coach bus and drive it through the front," a ten-second plan of mine if there ever was one.

"That couillon material alright but hey, I propose to be a part of the suppression team," Ian replies. "I'm in, the Stimpaks keeping me mobile, I can help," Samantha adds. Whistling, Randall interjects "Got an addition to the plan, two teams of three. Some of the walls are knocked down, and if we cover both buildings we can flank and pinch the shits." "Yes, and I am starting to wonder if maybe your people are the ones shooting at us," speaks Liz, snarling and arcing her head to the right as if to stretch and loosen the muscles before a fight. "Bitch, don't start this shit me," Randall replies, and before the two go to blows, Yusuke says "Two teams of three, got it. Kurama, you Julius, and Samantha roll together? I'll take Randall and Kuronue or Ian or Ragin' Cajun' here." Ian laughs and says "Oh my, did I accidently shit in your breakfast? Brother, what the fuck you causing me grief for?!"

"Two teams of three, any questions or better ideas?!" Yusuke angrily replies. Ian yells "One of each! Are all the Jaypan born with sticks up their asses? How about you wrench that bad boy out and club the slavers to death with it? Mais, it may just make you slightly less a jackass!" "This is not the time!" Shuichi yells out, trying to seize control of the situation. I nod and listen. "Karen, Mitch, keep firing shots from the sandbags, to divert their attention. Liz, Rashad, boost us through the window. We go on three! Ready?!" "Yes," most of us reply in unison.

"One, two, three, go!"

Samantha the first through the breach, myself next in line, Rashad offers his hand to boost, and I step inside, *BANG* one of the windows on the right shatters, upholstery flying overhead, "and how you expect me to put a bullet through all these seats and into the window, Mr. Bermudez?" "You are a resourceful woman, Ms. Tavares. I have my faith in you," I reply with just the right touch of cheek.

Ian just entered, good, two with long range rifles. I say "Okay, moving up…I saw one on the…" "Yeah, I saw them too…just…move slow, the front window has been shot up," Samantha replies…I see Robert's leg at the driver seat, blood spray on the perforated windows, he is either dead or on her doorstep. Seeing no more glass fragments on the ground, I lie prone from my earlier crouched position and advance, side by side with Samantha, our elbows bumping as we occupy the entire middle lane.

"Wait, hold it," Samantha speaks as, argh, Ian just clashed his head with my thigh "I got a clear shot at someone's leg, grey jean, see a pistol ankle guard, this match anyone's profile? 2nd floor window on the left. Randall, can you comment?" "No I can't fucking comment, I don't remember what kind of pants my people wear. Don't go shooting random legs until we know what the fuck is happening. If they are firing back at us, do it, but don't forget that some of your people are in there too, plus our doctor!" "Shit, I forgot about Teresa…" Samantha mutters. "And Jorgen?" Randall asks. Shuichi, who just climbed inside, laughs and speaks "Jorgen? Are you speaking truly? Why is everyone but me suddenly placing such a high value on the life of a contracted assassin that tried to kill one of us?!"

No one answers as Samantha and I inch onward, Samantha saying "Not this window, a bit further up, shit this is ridiculous, I'm not standing up and risking my head getting blown off." Alright, God, alright, this is fine, we will power through this. Whatever this is…past another, we are almost past the halfway mark. "Any closer and they will see fingers through the windows, and I doubt they will ask themselves if they recognize those digits," I anxiously speak out, my pipe rifle aimed toward the left side second floor.

"I see a head moving, flash from their rifle, it's one of the assholes shooting. Julius, get ready to move on Robert and the wheel, we have to do this really quick," Samantha commands, as Randall adds "Keys were left in the slot, just twist and set to drive, don't hit the gas." "Alright, alright, okay, I'm ready," there are worse ways to die then a bullet through the heart, though I do not plan to give them the satisfaction.

Samantha takes a deep breathe. *BANG* "Got him!" I rise and up and run *BANG* that woman on the 2nd floor window, damn this! I duck behind one of the seats *BANG*. "Shit, can someone help Julius out?!" Randall yells out. "Kuronue, do it," Yusuke speaks. "Fine, 2nd floor window on the left?" Ian…Kuronue, whichever his name is, he replies. "Yes, the walls are perforated and the cover is flimsy!" I reply, my heart racing, my have I gotten myself stuck.

*BANG* Ian leaps into the seats on the right, opposite me, one row ahead. I can barely the shooter yelling "Droga! Que porra está segurando nossos reforços?! Será que Bradley espera que adiar esses filhos da puta por nós mesmos?! Diga Correia vou enfiar este rifle dentro de dele bunda caipira!" That is definitely not one of our people. "They speak Portuguese like some them slavers, weapons free, shoot to kill them. I thought they stuck in Virginia, shit," Ian speaks, and now we at least know Vance's group have not betrayed us.

"One draw fire and the other fire? Shall we flip for it?" I ask. "I got something scoped and you swinging makeshift limp dick. You draw, I shoot." "Fine, on three?" "Co faire no? On three." What? "Three." "Wait, now?" "Two." He is mocking me. "One." I peer right, fire a shot with no intent to connect *BANG* bullet flies through the middle of the coach *BANG* "She down, move up Julius!" Ian yells, and I do so. "Livia is down, caralho!" a man yells in a strange accent.

Hurry, faster! Damn it Robert is slumped, shot in the chest, turn the ignition, his right foot is stuck to the breaks! Pull, pull, not budging, I wrap my hands around his torso and yank him just enough to tip him over on his right, gravity doing the rest of the hard work, the brakes freed. We are moving, I steer a little to the right, good, oh damn third floor window shooter, dark skinned male with dreadlocks wearing a flak jacket and dark grey cargo pants, armed with some kind of Kalashnikov…I back away and run toward the others *CRASH*.

*CREEEEEEK* Damn we are burrowing inside, hear some screaming, look ahead and a somewhat dark skinned Latina in a cotton skin tight grey shirt and jeans, a bandolier around her shoulder, fires a shotgun round at the roof of the bus before getting pinned to a wooden receptionist counter and having her shotgun fly out of her hands and slide across the coach bus. Wooden staircase covered in old carpeting on the left, overturn water cooler and sofa ahead, giant whole in the wall on the far right, broken ceiling fan spinning from the shockwave, metal chain dangling and bouncing underneath it. Slaver lady reaches for her shotgun "Que merda, essa porra?! Preciso de ajuda, pessoal!"

I climb to my feet, aim my pipe rifle at the hole on the far right, and press onward, "filho da puta," the slaver says in apparently Portuguese or Brazilian. She flails her arms trying to snatch at the pump-action shotgun, just spat a small spray of blood and some of her lip, might have bitten through it during the crash, the only sounds amid a few footsteps above and the slapping rain at the rear of the bus. My aim adjust toward the slaver, and she realizes this. She smiles nervously and says "Não, homen, por favor, podemos falar sobre isso?" The bus has pinned her around the waist line, not sure if enough to cause internal bleeding, one way to ensure. She frowns and fearfully yells "Vamos lá! Tenha um pouco de consideração!" One, two in the chest, she coughs, glares in shock, "Vai se…fod…" slumps dead, shotgun for me, I set the rifle down.

"Porra, guns down dogs or I blow your homen's skull off, é melhor você acreditar!" a light skinned buzzcut Latino male slaver in a long sleeved black and yellow jersey that says 'Steelers' over the number 43, a grey flak jacket unbuttoned, and a pair of blue cargo pants with an ammo belt hanging just under the shirt and around the waist, pressing a sawed off shotgun to the right side of Jorgen's head, and clearly a graduate of the 'speak two languages mid-sentence during standoff to better ensure the captive audience shit their collective underwear' academy.

Before I know it, Shuichi is right behind me, revolver aimed at Jorgen and the slaver, and I see a bemused smile on his face. The silver haired cowboy's L42A1 rifle is dangling around his shoulder on a sling, and an AK-74 borrowed from Mitch Harith is held in his left hand by the barrel. "Your choice in hostages are awe-inspiring. Less than 24 hours ago, we were deciding if and how to execute him," Shuichi speaks as if this is amusing. "What…não não, it doesn't work that way homen, you fucking crazy?!" the Brazilian slaver stampers, would Shuichi actually shoot through Jorgen? Well…it is one way to deal with two threats at once...

Jorgen grunts as his neck is gripped by the slaver's left arm, he sprays saliva and mutters "The question…you should be asking…is not if this man is insane…but…" "CALE A BOCA, PORRA!" the slaver yells out, and Shuichi nearly responded with deadly force. Jorgen smiles and speaks "Two shots, I'll try my chances."

Jorgen grabs the barrel with his right hand *BANG* burst blasts a breach through the wall, the slaver letting go of Jorgen's head and backing up, shoving away at Jorgen as he attempts to regain composure…Jorgen's back is between us and the slaver…at the least he will absorb the 2nd and final shot…there is a fire axe behind a glass case on Jorgen's left.

The slaver lifts his shotgun up toward Jorgen, at least I believe so from the angle of his shoulder. Jorgen grabs a handle at the edge of the glass case and…*BANG*.

The glass case slammed into the barrel of the shotgun, causing the slaver to aim down and blast a hole into the floor. With the slaver hunched over, Jorgen immediately uses his meaty left hand to violently club the back of the slaver's head, once, twice, four times, he holds the slaver's head in place and drives his right knee to the nose. Slaver falls on his right ribs, and Jorgen continues to pummel the Brazilian, using his fists like hammers as the slaver accepts the assault without resistance or even a sound, for he is likely unconscious. Jorgen's fists rain down with increased ferocity as he spits and yells "Damn…you! Slaver…bloody…bastard!" *Crack*. One of the last punches generate this 'cracking' sound, and now the slaver is in convulsions. Jorgen climbs up, pants for air, and says "They have more hostages upstairs, I counted ten more slavers, if you were the ones firing at them, maybe less."

Shuichi speaks "Very well, Jorgen, you are with myself, Julius, and Samantha, we will use the staircase on the left, the rest will enter through that breach in the wall and find a staircase to the 2nd floor. Knock down walls if need be, that fire axe may help." Jorgen snickers slightly and speaks "Well, if I may, given that you have threatened with execution on more occasions then your partner, I would prefer to work with him." Shuichi's jaw tightens, and he eases into a somewhat enraged smile, speaking "Sure…Yusuke, if Jorgen doesn't listen to your commands, do me a favor. Kill him." "Got it," Yusuke quickly replies, "alright, on me. Ian, you the crackshot, you take point." "Seems as you just rather see me shot, no?" Ian replies, stretching his neck and staring down Yusuke. Yusuke replies "Fine, Jorgen, you take point." "Fine with me," Jorgen replies as Ian blurts out "So Jorgen was your second choice. Mais, I feel rather concerned here."

On point, I slowly climb the wooden staircase, my pipe rifle in hand, hugging the right side of the staircase. Behind me, Samantha with her M1 Garand. To the left of Samantha, Shuichi with the AK-74 he borrowed from Mitch Harith, his L42A1 rifle in a sling hanging around his shoulder. I faintly hear indiscernible whispering…"…cale a boca, fuckhead."

Some derelict office building, Clive mentioned the floor is mostly old cubicles…it will be a maelstrom inside. I steady my breathing, only a few more steps left…more whispering in Portuguese, some English, just repeating the obvious, that we are approaching an ambush.

Two steps…one..."Porra! Guns down or we shoot, caralho!" Three, four…five…six…nine slavers, rifles, pistols, shotguns, hard to see, some of Vance's people held hostage, Diane, Brienne, Justin. "Down, I said fucking guns down! Nascimento, they flinch and you shoot the redhead you got it?!" yells a, I believe bald, dark-skinned Latino slaver in some sort of flak jacket and cargo jeans, armed with a rifle, difficult to see with the poor lighting. I hear Brienne squirming in the grasp of a female slaver with dreadlocks, a…blue and white jersey with some lion on it, and jeans, holding a pistol. All of them behind office cubicles and overturned metal desks, a row of cubicles on our right leading to a spacious office…I know where to go.

There are two ceiling lamps offering flickering sources of light, one just above us…I can hear the pounding rain as well…and I think…that was thunder.

"If this is a hostage exchange then just fucking say so!" Samantha yells, as the bald slaver laughs slightly and speaks "Filha da puta, you want to speak exchange? Put down your guns, face down, right now! Maybe I don't kill a couple of you as examples!" "Correia, Jesus, this bitch won't stop squirming, can I take out a knee?!" a white slaver in his late 50s speaks, holding Diane hostage with a pistol, southern drawl accent, Deep South I'd say from experience, long wiry beard and long, thin gray hair.

"I have a better exchange!" Shuichi yells "set your weapons down and I will let you leave! Fight and I will make your deaths last days!" Correia, the bald slaver, laughs and says "Idiota, you expect to handle 500 hundred of the Grey Lions?" "Eh, I would say around 425, including the two we killed below and the two we shot upstairs. And it dawns upon me that…not all of these remaining 425 are here to assist…so…my offer still stands, Correia," Shuichi answers back, though from his facial expression, he is likely just stalling for time to analyze his surroundings and plan his approach. I already have mine planned, take cover by the last cubicle just before the larger office, flank the two slavers on the right, including the one holding Diane hostage.

"Fuckhead, I'm your last chance to get out of this breathing! Every second you spend bitching about this digs your grave and the place we drop you in the mines deeper homen," Correia responds. The only way he will attach a slave collar is around my dead stiff neck, and I feel most of us share the same feeling. It is true, these slavers have been herding us, attempting to corner and force us to surrender and take us alive. Each bullet spent and casualty taken just increases the need to take us alive for the sake of profit and posture…and it seems we are about to reach the point where petty slaughter is the more valuable commodity, if we have not reached that point already. These lions have been humiliated and wounded, they will not let this stand. Any of us that survive will be made an example of, that is certain…no, they are not taking myself alive. Not again…"NOT AGAIN!"

"CALE A BOCA, CARALHO!" one of the rifle-wielding female slavers yells, standing to the left of Correia. My aim is uneasy…not again, I am not ending this like the overpass again…no…no! "Tell your attack dog to calm down homen! Kalashnikov down! Next time I speak…Mike, take more than a knee cap, claro?!" Correia yells, the situation deteriorating…I'm no fool. There will be some killing to be done soon.

"Alright…alright…I will…set my Kalashnikov down," Shuichi speaks….what? What…what are you doing? He…he is kneeling, setting the rifle down…what…his rifle is on the floor. Still kneeling down, Shuichi speaks "See? It is set down." Correia yells "You think I'm stupid? Kick it to me! You two, guns down!" "Yes," Shuichi replies, nodding to us, I think he is smiling. "Yes what?!" Correia yells out.

He draws his revolver and fires at the ceiling lamp above us.

Chapter Text

"Dios es quien me salva (Lord is my savior); tengo confianza, no temo (I have trust in Him and will not have fear)," I whisper as my wounded leg winces in pain. Constant stream of bullets, the redhead, or silverhead, just kicked the fucking hornets' nest…those hostages are either dead or going to be…damn asshole. Gotta move, Julius and the psycho cowboy have gone to the other end of the hallway, and I'm stuck with the rest of the slavers.

That was a damn good shot though, shot the bitch next to Correia right in the chest, one hell of a quick draw. "Mate! Mate! Mate!" someone yells out, I think Correia, lots of gunfire being exchanged…someone is going to try the flank, I'm ready for them. *BANG* revolver gunfire right around the corner, I sit back, back facing the stairs, and ready my M1 Garand.

Something sticks into view and fires, a revolver held by a heavy, bearded, dark-skinned slaver in a cap worn backwards, cargo shorts with side holsters, and a t-shirt with a flak jacket. I fire, got him in the arm, he drops the revolver and trips on his feet, getting fully into view. I fire again, in the gut I think, he falls back, rests against the corner of a cubicle, and yells "Porra! Atire essa cadela!" Hear footsteps, shit, he came with a pair. "Almeida, merda!" Another slaver, male, lighter-skinned, and clean-shaven, turns the corner wearing jeans, a jersey, and a bandolier, wearing glasses and a panama hat. I fire, shot some part of his shotgun, "Porra, meus dedos!" He drops the shotgun, and immediately grabs his fingers, must have shot the trigger guard. "Arde en el infierno, pendejo (Burn in hell, dickhead)," I speak, pulling the trigger, right in the upper chest, maybe the heart, *BANG* one more, into the middle of the chest, he falls back, his legs give way, and he slips and flops face forward, I think his glasses broke from impact.

And the bearded slaver, Almeida I think, is rising up with the revolver in his left hand, damnit! I fire, missed, shit! He runs to my right, fuck, now we have people shooting us from both sides! "Chupa me pau, filha da puta!" Almeida yells. I lean out of cover, see someone limping away, left arm aimed over shoulder, *BANG* Almeida firing back but he is firing over my head. Aim, squeeze, *BANG* got him in the back, he crumbles down. *BANG* shit, that one almost got me, back in cover, shit shit, the slavers know I'm here now. Hear gunfire on other side, Shuichi and Julius trading shots. Two there, one here, they probably got most of who they have left keeping them pinned…means my turn to flank…shit.

My leg is aching, breathe, breathe, I got one shot at this, got to do it right. That shotgun over there…I use the barrel of my rifle to hook the trigger guard, pulling, wow it didn't hit the trigger guard, I actually shot him in the hand. Alright, what do we have here…Winchester Model 1897. Holds five…I grab the Winchester's barrel with my left hand. I shot six rounds with the Garand, two rounds left…I pull the lever back until it clicks, reach into a pouch around my waist, hate handloading like this, pinched my thumb doing this last year, one, two, three, fuck, if I die, let it not be from screaming after having my finger crushed…four, keeping the lever in place, five, good enough! I let go of the lever and it slams forward, sealing the ammo feed, phew. I throw the remaining bullet away…'If death should overtake me on this field, grant that I die in the state of grace, forgive me all my sins, those I have forgotten and those I recall now. Grant me the grace of perfect contrition. Amen.'

"Porra, sim! Eu atirei bom no filho da puta!" a woman yells.

I get up, savor the gulp of gun smoke-flavored air, and turn the corner.

Flashes of gunfire, three on the right, see Shuichi's silver hair in the flash, two toward the back, got hostages. Justin, Brienne. Keep running, no one sees me yet, past the cubicles, first in path a slaver holding Brienne hostage, fair skinned female slaver with dreadlocks, a…blue and white jersey with some lion on it, and jeans, holding a pistol. "Porra, porra caralho, I shoot you bitch!" she yells, as terrified as her hostage. Brienne spots me, her eyes narrow, she recognizes me, don't don't…slaver is huddling behind Brienne, impossible to shoot, shotgun or rifle, only choice available, drop the shotgun, kneel, argh, and aim, slaver's aim adjusting "Foda-se você também!"

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG* she…shit, I'm okay, she shot through Brienne's chest, Brienne sliding out her grasp, almost have a visual *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*, chest, chest, chest, *BANG* *BANG*, chest, chest, falling *BANG* *BANG*, missed, missed, *CLICK*, drop Garand and grab shotgun, heart racing, ears pounding, Brienne not moving, another slaver closing in, I'm going to fucking die today.

It's so fucking quiet now. I'm back to this again, the moment when it all slows down. It's incredible, heart feels like it will fly out of my chest. I feel this slight shiver down my spine, I am not afraid. God is with me, He will decide whether I live or die today, why should I argue otherwise?

Black male, long braided hair and wispy grey beard, flak jacket, submachine gun, Uzi? Uzi, flash from muzzle firing, I aim my shotgun, pull the trigger, smoke, dust, flash of light and distant flicker of remaining ceiling lamps, smell blood, body bangs the floor, ears still pounding, flash of thunder, felt it through the floor, barely hear yelling, shooting, slaver I shot yelling and grabbing the dinner plate-sized hole in his gut, I think yelling, his l