The Immortal Guns of Talon Konstantine: Angel Hunter
Jynx sits down in the sand and looks east. The sun has been up for half an hour. He and Kumiko have been walking for three hours. He finds that he wears out quicker when Kaine's not there. He feels the tug of telepathic communication. We're leaving, Kaine says.
Finally, Jynx says.
Sorry. Things were messy, and Iai took longer to heal because he wouldn't stay still.
So. Um, McBride ...
Not now. We'll talk about it when we catch up with you.
Okay, but ...
Trust me. It's not something you wanna get into right now.
All right. There's a way station about five miles from where we are now. We'll wait for you there. You know which one I mean?
Yeah. It shouldn't take us more than a day. Unless of course, we get attacked by another train.
Then don't go to Grave.
But we still don't know what's down that hole.
I think you can make a pretty accurate guess. Stay away from it.
We will. Stop worrying.
Then just like that, the link fades.
"Is everything all right?" Kumiko asks.
"Yeah," Jynx says. "They're finally leaving France."
"It's about damn time."
"There's another way station close by. We can wait for them there."
"As long as it doesn't get flattened by a train."
"Well, if there's a big hole near it, we'll stay away from the hole." Jynx stands up and brushes the sand off.
Kumiko frowns. "You look tired."
"I'm fine. Sort of."
"You've never been apart this long, have you?"
Kumiko decides not to say anything else about Kaine not being there. She feels as lost without him as Jynx does. She can only hope that nothing delays Kaine and Iai on their way out of France.
They walk towards the way station in silence.
Suada Zacharias smiles as she guides her hovercraft over the charred remains of Memphis Mulligan's 'Mazin' Mirage. Nothing makes her happier than scenes of death and destruction, and many lives were lost on that site. She can feel the grief of the survivors, a greasy caress against her skin. She sets the hovercraft down near the burnt circle of the bonfire where the dead were cremated. She steps down onto the sand and looks around, her smile getting bigger. She takes a deep breath. She can still smell the burning flesh. It invigorates her.
In the distance, she sees a thin grey haze hanging over what used to be Hopesprings. The whole town burned to the ground, and the fire was put out only the day before. More than half the town's population died. The fire had spread too quickly for them to escape.
A jeep bearing a lone passenger is speeding towards the Mirage. The driver seems to have some pressing purpose in mind. Her orange aura is flaring high and wide around the jeep. Suada smiles and hopes she can help.
Suada bends down and studies the sand. It's not just sand any more. There's a layer of ashes and dried blood. She spies the thin edge of something white and digs it out of the sand. A white feather, its edges black and the silky strands clumped together with brown blood. She holds the feather up to the sun and smiles. The feather, though damaged, sparkles with blue and white light. "So pretty," she says. She walks to the trunk of her hovercraft and pops it open.
As soon as the trunk is open, Roland Lockhart lunges at the demon. Suada steps out of the way. Roland hits the sand and rolls, and then he springs to his feet. His hands are bound tightly behind his back with a stiff wire. If he gets home alive, his hands will be amputated because of the damage and the rot that has started to set in. As much as the thought of losing his hands scares him, he would rather get home alive. Getting home alive means getting away from the demon, and this might be the only chance he has. He sees the jeep and recognizes the driver. By the time his attention is back on Suada, night has fallen and Suada is gone.
The sand slides against Roland's pants legs as the land begins to tilt. He stumbles. A wave of sand knocks him down. He struggles back to his feet, trying to climb up the incline as it grows. He can't. The weight of the spilling sand is too much. Soon, the ground is at a ninety-degree angle, and Roland feels himself falling. Sand pours into his mouth and his eyes, but the sensation of falling is just that; a sensation. He's only lying in the sand at Suada's feet as she makes the illusion that the ground is turning on him. He remains still and waits. The falling sensation and the illusion pass.
Suada crouches beside Roland and cups his chin in her hand. He flinches. Her eyes are bright yellow and sunken so far back in their sockets they might as well be in the back of her head. He's seen the effect before. It happens when she uses her powers, and her eyes reflect the color of psychic energy. The yellow he sees in her eyes right now is his aura. She smiles. Her eyes slowly move forward again. She waves the feather in front of his face.
"Know what this is, pretty?" she asks.
"A feather," Roland says through clenched teeth.
"Not just any feather. This came from your lover. He's got these in his blood." She runs the tip of the feather down the bridge of Roland's nose. "You've seen enough of his blood. I'm surprised you didn't know. He's a feather plucked from Samurai's wings and sent across the Void to protect the star angels. Looks like he was here when the caravan burned."
"I won't let you hurt him."
"You won't? Aw, that's a shame. Because I really want to make you watch him die."
Roland tries to get to his feet. Laughing, Suada yanks him up by his elbow and throws him back in the trunk. She drops the feather into the trunk with him and slams the trunk closed just as the jeep is coming to a stop about twenty feet away.
Perry Lafontaine recognizes Suada right away. She draws her gun and stands up in the jeep. "Hands in the air!" she shouts. "Now!"
Suada smiles and puts her hands up.
"Step away from the vehicle," Perry says.
Perry steps out of the jeep, keeping her gun trained on Suada. After seeing what Suada did to those security guards on the surveillance tape, Perry considers shooting first and asking questions later, but Suada appears to be unarmed. Perry doesn't think it would be right to just kill an unarmed suspect, even one who's supposedly a dangerous demon. She has questions she wants answered first anyway. The situation is far more than it appears to be.
Carefully, Perry approaches Suada and pats her down. She finds no weapons. She presses her gun into the small of Suada's back and grabs the collar of Suada's duster. "What's in the trunk?" Perry asks.
"A pretty man," Suada says.
Perry turns Suada towards the hovercraft. "Open the trunk." She shoves Suada forward.
Suada pops open the trunk. "Hello, pretty," she says. "Don't jump on me this time. We have a visitor. Say hello to our nice visitor, won't you, pretty?"
Perry sees the charred feather and wonders where it came from.
"Just shoot the bitch, Perry," Roland mumbles. The wire has cut deeper into his hands and wrists. Pain leaps up his arms. His head throbs. If Perry doesn't kill Suada, they'll both die. Iai will die, and Roland hates himself for letting this happen.
"What the hell is going on?" Perry asks. She's pretty sure that her superiors' original theory that Roland, Iai and the demon are working together is wrong. Besides, she doesn't think Roland would willingly cooperate with a demon.
"Ah, the age old question," Suada says. "What the hell is going on? Well, there's God, and there's Chaos. There's heaven, and there's hell. There are three star angels and three star demons. Do you see what I'm getting at? Balance. But. There's also the feather. He upsets the balance. So I'll take him to Chaos, and Chaos will make the balance right again. Or so he says. I think Chaos has other issues. He's very bitter about something. And while I'm looking for the feather, I get to hunt for angels, too. Isn't that great? I get to hunt angels. I'm Angel Hunter, hunting angels. Killing angels. It's a great job."
"Perry, stop wasting time," Roland says. "Kill her."
"Shut up, now, pretty. I think you've said enough." Suada slams the trunk closed.
Perry takes a step back. Before she can fire her gun, Suada turns, and with a smile, she thrusts a sword through Perry's gut. Perry squeezes the trigger. She watches the bullets impact flesh, but Suada just laughs.
Iai has tried to convince Kaine that the locket is better off with McBride. Whether it actually is or not, he's not sure, but he knows that if he attempts to pick McBride's pocket, he won't succeed. Kaine is insistent that they don't leave France without the locket, and Iai decides that the worst that could come of trying is a stern look from McBride and Kaine being disappointed. He waits until McBride is squaring things away with the hotel manager and Kaine has gone out to the pastry shop down the street. It's easy enough to brush past McBride and get his hand on the locket, and if his mark had been anyone else, he would have been able to walk away with the locket without being noticed.
McBride's hand clamps down on his elbow. Iai looks at his feet and prepares an excuse. "You keep that thing away from him," McBride says. "You hear me, boy?"
Iai nods, a little surprised.
"It's dangerous to him and Jynx. If he does anything to it, he could kill 'em both."
"Then why not keep it yourself?"
McBride hesitates. Iai wishes he hadn't asked. "Just keep it away from him," McBride says. He lets go of Iai's elbow, and they walk out of the Blue Moody Inn.
Kaine comes out of the pastry shop with a big brown bag in his arms. "Hey, look! I got donuts," he says. "The lady who runs the shop gave me a whole bag for free."
"For free?" Iai asks. "What did you do to deserve free donuts?"
Kaine shrugs. "I dunno. I think she just wanted me to go away. She kept calling me a demon. I don't care. I have donuts. Mmm, glazed. Want one?"
"No, thank you."
"Good. I didn't wanna share anyway."
"You boys be careful," McBride says. "I'll catch up with ya later."
"Where are you going?"
"I got some things I need to look into."
"Okay. Well, um ..."
"Don't mention it."
"Right. See ya."
McBride tips his hat and heads east. Kaine and Iai head west.
Once they're outside of France, Kaine asks, "Did you get it?"
"Yes," Iai says.
"Well, let me have it."
"If it is what you believe it to be, don't you think it's dangerous to tamper with something you know nothing about?"
"No. I do it all the time."
"Kaine, I think that trying to release whatever spell he put on the locket will do more harm than you realize."
"He stole our memories."
"I didn't say I agree with what he did."
"He had no right to go and erase stuff in our heads that he put there in the first place."
"Given the circumstances, I think he did what he had to do."
"I just wanna see if I can tell how to undo it."
"No. It won't do you any good to have those memories back, and you will end up hurting yourself. The whole point of my existence is to prevent you from getting hurt."
"Then you undo the spell."
"I don't know how. And it won't tell you what you want to know. That answer isn't there."
"All right. Fine. What do I care? I got donuts."
For half an hour, they walk in silence. Kaine eats his donuts and tries not to think about the locket. He thinks about Kumiko instead, and that seems to help.
Iai's back begins to itch. He ignores it, but the itch doesn't go away. It gets worse. He scratches. The itch is right inside his shoulder blades, right underneath the two wing shaped marks on his back. He scratches until he feels something tear open. A sharp pain jabs through his back. He stops walking.
"What's wrong with you?" Kaine asks.
"I don't know. Maybe I'm not fully healed yet," Iai says. The itch calms down. His back feels raw.
"I'm fine. Let's go."
Winston isn't surprised to learn that Perry left the hotel an hour ago. She struck him as the kind of woman who would take matters into her own hands rather than wait for someone else to mess things up. It worries him that she went alone. Internal investigators spend most of their time behind desks. Even if Perry has any training beyond filing paperwork and stringing red tape around her cases, she probably hasn't put that training to use in years, and going after a demon alone is just plain stupid.
Before he and Pollie leave Kestrel, Winston stops by the post office to check the wanted posters, just in case there's been more information learned about the demon. Instead, he sees the wanted posters for Iai and Roland. It makes him angry. He decides that following Jynx can wait. He has to find this demon and prove that Iai and Roland are innocent.
He doesn't tell Pollie about the wanted posters. She's already angry. He doesn't want her so mad she can't think.
They follow the tracks of Perry's rented jeep back to the site of the fire. There, they find fresh blood on the sand and the marks of what looks like a small hovercraft. They don't find the jeep. They don't find Perry. The hovercraft doesn't leave any distinct tracks as it moves, but it moves enough sand to leave a vague impression that leads towards Steelrain.
Winston doesn't much like the way things look. He doesn't think there's anything he can do to bring the demon in. He only hopes that if the demon is going after Iai, Iai can do something. Of course, if the demon has done any harm to Roland, that might not be so easy.
Hara Michiyo runs her fingers along the rim of the shattered headlight of her train. It has taken her several days to get the damaged train far enough away from Grave that there's no risk of those mean boys coming back to do more harm. She's tired. Her vision blurs behind a mask of tears. The shards of glass cut her fingertips, and she bleeds. She caresses the train's steel skin, leaving a smear of red on the silver sheen. She can't fix this one. If it had been just the headlight or the windows, maybe she could do something, but that horrible boy with the sword tore the inside up and undid all the hard work Michiyo had done.
"He'll pay for that," she whispers to the train.
The train doesn't answer. It's dead. Far in the distance, another train howls a mournful whistle. The walls of the underground station shiver as the trains begin to run. Michiyo lifts her head and screams.
"What was that?" Kumiko asks.
"What?" Jynx asks. He's been half asleep for a while, with strange images flitting through his head. He can feel Kaine and Iai getting closer. When he sits up to pay more attention to whatever it is Kumiko thinks she saw or heard, he doesn't feel as tired as he had been.
"I thought I heard a scream."
"I didn't hear anything."
"And the ground is shaking."
Jynx presses his hands to the worn floorboards of the way station. She's right. There's a faint tremor under his palms.
"Should we go find out what it is?" Kumiko asks.
Jynx shrugs. "Might as well. I'm getting bored."
They draw their guns and step out of the way station. They are roughly half way between Grave and Steelrain. The hull of the great ship Phoenix that surrounds Angel City looms in the north, and against its dark shell, the lights of Steelrain glitter. All around them is a silent expanse of desert. The sand is going grey in the waning daylight.
The ground continues to vibrate. They hear several train whistles in quick succession. It sounds like they're calling to each other. And then suddenly, the earth is still, and the air is silent again.
"That was creepy," Kumiko says.
"I think they're pissed," Jynx says.
"Pissed at what?"
"Whatever Kaine and Iai did to the one in Grave. They probably killed it."
"Great. Revenge of the zombie trains."
"That's probably what they're gonna do. Whatever Michiyo's got planned, I think we're starting to get in her way. We need to hurry up and get this over with."
"I don't think it's gonna be that easy."
"No. Trains don't seem to go down too easy."
"I don't mean that. I mean that." Kumiko points east with one gun, towards the dark lump of a hovercraft setting down in the sand some distance away, and beyond that, the wavering shapes of Kaine and Iai.
Feathers tickle the back of Jynx's throat. He coughs and spits them onto the sand. "Angel Hunter," Firefly whispers. He thinks there's more, but he's already running towards the hovercraft.
Kumiko doesn't need to ask what Firefly said. She knew a third star demon would show up. It was only a matter of time, and when she sees the woman who steps out of the hovercraft, she knows she's looking at a demon. It's the same feeling she had when she first met Iai and knew he wasn't normal. Except she had also known Iai wasn't evil. This woman is full of malevolence.
She sees the woman smile as she runs closer. The woman's eyes flash first purple then pink, and then Kumiko collides with a wall of sand. She staggers back a few steps. Another wall rises behind her, knocking her into the first wall. The sand sucks at her as she pulls away from it. It's not just sand; it's quicksand, and she's already up to her ankles in it. She tries to pull herself out, but the more she struggles, the deeper she sinks. There's no solid ground to get to. She can't call for help. Anyone who tries to help her will get sucked under, too. She doesn't think anyone could get through the walls of sand. She stays still and waits to see what will happen.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Jynx sees Kumiko fall down and not get back up. He can't tell if the demon did anything or not. He sees no long-range weapons, though he can see the glint of a sword much like Iai's in the demon's hand. Behind the hovercraft, he sees Kaine and Iai racing toward the demon. Iai is heading for the rear of the vehicle, and Jynx thinks he hears the sound of someone pounding on the inside of the trunk.
Suddenly, a huge wind scorpion rears up out of the sand behind Iai. Iai doesn't see it. Before Jynx can warn him or shoot the elephant-sized creature, it slams its jaws down on Iai's waist. They both disappear under the sand. Jynx stops and shakes his head. There's enough blood to convince him that something happened, but there are no feathers.
The demon flashes by in front of him, and he feels something sharp slice at his wrist. When he looks down, his hand and Hizashi are lying on the sand. Blood pumps steadily out of the stump, but he doesn't feel any pain. He doesn't feel any effects from the sudden loss of blood. He tries to wiggle the fingers of the supposedly missing hand, and he feels them move. He still can't see his hand, but it's there. The demon is heading for rear of the hovercraft. Jynx can't see Iai, but he's sure that Iai is still there. Otherwise, the demon is wasting her time.
Kaine jumps onto the hood of the hovercraft and then onto the roof as the demon comes around to the trunk. Iai has managed to open the trunk, but now he's struggling to get to his feet. Kaine can't see Roland in the trunk, but he knows Roland is there. He fires at the demon, catching the back of her left leg. She stops and turns to him.
"That wasn't very nice," she says.
"Yeah, whatever," Kaine says. He fires again, aiming for her head.
Suada slaps the bullet to the sand with her sword. "Get out of the way!" she shouts.
Kaine falls off the hovercraft as Suada seems to pick it up and flip it over. When he gets to his feet, the hovercraft is rolling towards him. He starts to move. His heart clenches, and sharp pain rockets down his left arm. He falls down on his knees. He tastes blood in the back of his throat again. When he looks up, the hovercraft is still rolling towards him, but something looks strange about it. His heart stops, and his vision slips into blackness. He closes his eyes. He feels the hovercraft pass through him. He opens his eyes again. He sees everything as it really is, and he sees the illusions Suada is using. Kumiko is sinking in a pool of quicksand. Jynx is tangled up with two large snakes, and though he seems to know the snakes aren't real, they're still getting in his way. The hovercraft is right where it should be, and just beyond it, Iai and Suada are facing each other with their swords drawn.
Kaine doesn't really know how he does it, but he finds a way to undo the illusions. Suada is too busy to notice that her illusions are gone. Kaine feels blood oozing over his chin, and then he falls face first onto the sand.
Jynx isn't surprised when the snakes vanish. He's not sure if he did it himself or if Suada just stopped. He gets up and sees Kaine lying face down on the sand. He runs to Kaine with Kumiko not far behind him.
Suada smiles at Iai. Her eyes are full of his bright white aura. "I've been looking forward to this for a long time, pretty," she says.
Iai says nothing. His skin crawls. His back begins to itch.
"What's the matter? Aren't you happy to see me? I brought you a present and everything."
"What do you want from me?"
"Nothing. I'm just doing my job. I'm supposed to take you to Chaos."
"Let Roland go, and I'll go wherever you want me to."
Suada laughs. "Oh, pretty. Don't be so foolish. Do you really think I'd let that happen? I've gone though so much trouble to find you. I went to the monastery. I tracked down your boyfriend. I'm not just going to let him go. And you're not walking away from here without a fight."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"You. I want you to make the first move. My sword's bigger than yours, but you're faster than I am. I'm rather curious to see where the advantage lies. So come on, pretty."
It's probably not the smartest thing he's ever done, but Iai can't help falling into her trap. She's hurt Roland, and this is the only chance Iai has to save Roland. He lunges at her, aiming the tip of his sword at her throat. She sidesteps and takes a slice at his shoulder. He brings his sword up to block almost too late. Her blade leaves a small cut on his shoulder. Suada laughs. Already, she knows the outcome of the fight. Iai can't beat her because he's too worried about protecting Roland, but that doesn't stop him from trying. She knows she'll win. She can hurt him without breaking his skin.
She manages to get behind him, and as he turns to face her, she drives her sword into his chest. He looks down at the blade that impales him. She doesn't like the look in his eyes. It's not surprise or even pain. All she's done is make him angry.
Roland has climbed out of the trunk, determined to find some way to help Iai kill Suada. Without his hands, there's not much he can do. He tries to free his hands and only does more damage. He pushes himself up to his knees. He sees Suada plunge her sword into Iai's chest. "Iai!" he screams.
Iai brings his sword down on Suada's. Her blade breaks in half. Suada stumbles backwards, still clutching the broken sword. Iai grabs the piece that's in his chest and pulls it out. Blood and feathers spill from the wound. Suada runs towards Roland and pulls him to his feet, holding the broken sword at his throat. Iai doesn't move. He doesn't know what to do, and he wishes, just for a moment, that he had never come into this world.
"Drop your sword," Suada says.
"No," Roland says.
"Drop it or he dies!"
"She'll kill me anyway. Don't."
Iai opens his hand and lets his sword fall to the sand. The broken half of Suada's sword is still in his left hand, and he tightens his grip on it. He's not sure what he's going to do with it. There has to be something he can do, but anything he thinks of puts Roland in too much danger. The raging itch in his back starts again. He grits his teeth.
Suada laughs. "That's it, pretty," she says. "You've lost." She draws what's left of her sword across Roland's throat and drops him to the sand.
Iai rushes forward, intent on burying her own sword as far into her skull as he can. He knows she won't stay dead. She'll be back, and he fully intends to spend the rest of his existence hunting her down and killing her until she can't come back. If it means following her to hell, he'll do it. Nothing else matters any more.
Before he gets to her, a single shot rings out. The bullet plows into the side of Suada's head. Her eyes widen. She turns to see where the shot came from. Blinding purple light fills her eyes. She drops to the sand, and the light is gone.
Iai drops the broken sword and kneels beside Roland. He unties the wire around Roland's hands, cutting his fingers wide open. He doesn't notice the cuts. He holds Roland in his arms, fighting back the tears that well up in his eyes. Roland is already dead. There's nothing Iai can do to save him.
Slowly, Jynx lowers his gun. Even if Iai had managed to get to Suada, she would have had the chance to kill him, and Jynx wasn't going to let that happen. Iai will have another opportunity to kill her himself. Jynx watches Iai clutching Roland to his chest and has to turn away before he starts to cry. He can feel how much Iai loves Roland, and Iai isn't going to deal well with grief. He wishes he could destroy all the demons for good, but he knows they'll just keep coming back.
Kaine wakes up and finds himself in Kumiko's arms. The sky has gotten darker. He wonders how long he was out. His chest aches sharply. The tear in his heart is worse now. It won't hold up much longer. He sits up.
"Are you okay?" Kumiko asks.
"Yeah," he says. "What happened?"
"I killed the demon," Jynx says. He hesitates and looks over his shoulder. Iai hasn't moved. "Roland's dead."
"She'll come back. They'll all come back."
"We'll be ready next time."
"Yeah, we will be. I'm not so sure about Iai."
"I think he'll be all right. Maybe."
"What about you? Are you really okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I think we should get back to the way station before we get eaten by wind scorpions or something," Kumiko says.
"I like that idea," Kaine says. He stands up, leaning against Kumiko. The pain in his chest is almost unbearable, but he doesn't let it show. By morning, the pain will subside, and they can move on.
Jynx walks over to Iai. It has gotten too dark for him to see very clearly, but he thinks he sees two long streaks of blood soaking through the back of Iai's coat. "Iai?" he asks, even more concerned than he was before.
Iai lifts his head and looks at Jynx. His eyes are red and swollen. He says nothing.
"I'm sorry I shot her. I should have let you kill her."
"No. Thank you. I was being foolish. I just ... I don't know what this is."
"It's normal. You're supposed to feel like that. It goes away."
"How long does it take?"
"I dunno. I'm still waiting."