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August 08, 2022

Battle Royale

By Mel Trent

The Immortal Guns of Talon Konstantine: Battle Royale

I.

"Hey! Stop! You're under arrest!"

Iai turns towards the sound of the young man's shout as he and the twins walk out of the Seven Seas Hotel. A few blocks down the street, he sees Elijah smirk and then vanish. He doesn't quite realize that the young man is shouting at him until the sun glints off the blade in the man's hand and catches Iai's eyes. "What?" he asks.

There's a tin star pinned to the man's brown leather vest. The word deputy is scratched across the center. He holds a knife in his left hand, the tip pointed at Iai's throat. In his right hand, he clutches three sheets of paper.

"I think he's confused," Jynx says.

"He looks scared to me," Kaine says.

The deputy shifts the heels of his boots. "Just come quietly," he says.

"No, sorry."

"He's not going anywhere," Jynx says. "He's ours."

"He's a wanted criminal," the deputy says.

"You must be mistaken," Iai says. "I'm a tracker's apprentice."

"Yeah, and you're worth fifty thousand stars." The deputy shows them the wanted poster.

Iai steps off the porch and snatches the wanted posters from the deputy's trembling fist. He stares at his own face for a second before he looks at the other two posters. He looks up at the deputy. The deputy takes several steps backwards.

"That's not good," Jynx says.

"No," Kaine says.

"Should we stop him?"

"Not yet."

The deputy brandishes his knife.

Iai grabs the knife out of the deputy's hand and pins the wanted posters to the porch railing.

In the desert outside of Steelrain, Suada frowns and rubs at a sudden sharp pain in the center of her forehead.

Jynx and Kaine watch Iai walk down the street towards the post office.

"Uh ..." the deputy says. He scratches his chin.

"When did those posters come out?" Kaine asks.

"Uh ... I think it was about when President Honda was killed in France. Yeah, maybe the day after that."

"Hmm."

Jynx leans over the railing and looks at the posters under the knife. He taps Roland's picture. "You know, that's disrespectful. This man's dead," he says. "He never did anything wrong. This is the bitch that killed him. We were there. We watched her do it."

"So why the hell did CrimeNet put out posters on their own employees?" the deputy asks.

"They must not have liked the fact that their building was attacked and figured that since Iai and Roland were lovers, they were working with the demon," Kaine says.

"That's pretty fucking stupid," Jynx says. "Hey, do you think Cash knows about this yet?"

"I wouldn't be surprised. CrimeNet didn't waste time coming up with suspects. I doubt they would waste time getting an investigator here, especially after what happened to the Mirage."

"Cash isn't gonna like this one bit. This could get interesting."

"How much is Iai worth again?"

"Fifty thousand stars."

"That's a lot of money."

"Yeah, but --"

"We don't have a lot left."

"We don't?"

"McBride gave me some when we left France, but it's not gonna get us home."

"What happened to all that money Kumiko won in the poker game?"

"She gave it to Memphis and Christian."

"All of it?"

"Yeah."

"Damn it."

"So ..."

"We don't have time for that. We got demon ass to kick, and we kinda need him."

"Yeah, I know. But after we're done."

"Why don't we just turn in Suada? She's worth more."

"You really think she's gonna walk away from the fight alive?"

Jynx doesn't answer. He looks down the street. Iai has reached the post office, and just as he's about to step in, Winston and Pollie step out. Pollie bursts into tears and flings herself into Iai's arms.

The porch planks creak. Kaine feels a cold chill shimmy up his spine.

"You fucking bastard," Kumiko hisses.

"Uh ..." Kaine says. "I thought you were asleep."

"You were going to leave me behind."

"Um ..."

"You were going to go fight those demons without me."

"Yeah, about that. I, um ..."

"You were going to go out there and die and not even say goodbye to me."

"No, I wasn't ... I'm not planning on dying. Not today."

"Well, you're not going without me!"

"Kumiko --"

Kumiko scrunches her eyes and slaps Kaine.

Kaine blinks. "Uh ..."

Jynx laughs. "How cute! Their first lovers' spat!" he says.

"Shut up," Kumiko and Kaine say.

Jynx keeps laughing.

The deputy pulls his knife out of the railing and slips it into its sheath. The wanted posters flutter to the dust. "Well, you do what you need to do. Better come to the sheriff's office when you're done, though. Sheriff Barker's gonna want an explanation for all this," he says.

"Sure thing," Jynx says.

II.

Kaine takes Kumiko's hand and pulls her into the lobby. "I wasn't leaving you behind on purpose," he says. "I just ... I thought you'd be safer here."

"Safer? Kaine, I don't want to be safe," Kumiko says. "I told you I'd help you, and I can take care of myself. So deal with it."

"It's not that simple."

"Then what's the problem?"

Kaine looks over his shoulder out a window. Jynx is still leaning against the railing. The deputy has taken his knife and walked away. He can't see very far down the street, but he can hear Pollie crying. "Nothing's changed," he says.

"What d'you mean?"

"My visions. They haven't changed. I don't usually have the exact same vision more than once. Most of the time, something changes. Nothing's changed from what I saw in Whatcheer."

"That doesn't mean anything."

"It means that even if you stay here, I'm gonna be walking down those tracks alone."

"Do you still think you're gonna die?"

"Yeah. I mean, I don't think that. I know."

"Then what do you care if I live or die?"

"How are you supposed to be a famous bounty hunter if you die? You can't. And it's not your fight."

"Yes, it is. I want to fight with you. I'm supposed to be fighting with you. That's what Grisha told me. That my destiny was with you."

"I'm not going to let you die. Not for me. I won't let Jynx and Iai die either." He takes a step back from her, letting her hand fall out of his. He smiles. "Don't wait for me."

Kumiko suddenly feels as if her skin is covered in millions of ice--cold moths all fluttering their wings in vain attempts to take flight. The light around Kaine brightens, and she sees the outline of the angel. It stuns her. She lifts her hand to grab him and opens her mouth to say his name. She can do neither. The angel's wings are no longer as broken as they were the first time she saw them. Then he's gone.

For a moment, she can only stare at the empty space.

Jynx steps into the lobby. His face is frantic. "What the fuck was that? Where's Kaine?" he asks.

Kumiko clenches her fists and slams her foot on the ground. "Fucking bastard!" she says.

Jynx looks around. The ripples in the air slowly subside. He closes his eyes and concentrates. Feathers tickle the back of his throat as he picks out the path of Kaine's teleportation. He coughs. What the fuck do you think you're doing? he asks.

He gets no answer.

III.

"I'm sorry," Winston says. Iai hasn't told him that Roland is dead, but there's something different in Iai's eyes now. There's less hope. Winston can guess that things have been difficult for Iai.

"I'm glad to see you're both all right," Iai says. "I was worried."

"Have you come across that demon yet?"

"Yes. And she's waiting with two others out in the desert."

"You're not going to fight them, are you?" Pollie asks.

"I have to."

"But your back ..."

"My back is fine."

"Are you hurt?" Winston asks.

"No. I was. But McBride helped me. Kaine and I were fighting with a train."

"You mean Jynx."

"No."

"And what do you mean fighting with a train? No. Don't tell me. I don't think I want to know."

"What about those wanted posters?"

"I was wondering if you'd seen those yet."

"Not until a few minutes ago."

"It's taken care of. Those bastards didn't want to believe me, and now that investigator they sent is missing. It didn't help that neither you or Roland were exactly honest about your past."

"I apologize. And I'm sure Roland would as well. There were certain things that had to be kept silent, and there was much I couldn't explain."

"I understand."

"Thank you for everything. Goodbye."

Iai extracts himself from Pollie's embrace and walks back towards the hotel. Jynx and Kumiko are standing on the porch. He doesn't like the expressions on their faces. As he gets closer to the hotel, he starts to feel the fading undulations in the energy. His back begins to itch again, and he feels the small protrusions grow. Trickles of dark blood seep through the back of his shirt.

"Something's wrong with him," Pollie says. "He's bleeding. I felt ... something in his back when I hugged him. It felt like there were bones or knives sticking out of his back."

"There's nothing we can do for him," Winston says.

"I think he's changing. I think the demon that killed Roland is in a lot of trouble."

"I think you're right."

IV.

It almost feels like swimming. Kaine feels himself completely immersed in the floes of time. Voices and sounds swirl around his head. Images prickle the very edge of his mind. Everything he sees is blurred and suffused with a grainy glow. If he wanted to, he could clear it up, but he doesn't have time to watch the whole universe.

He feels the demons' energies crashing against him and pulling back like a violent riptide. His instinct is to fight it, but that's where he needs to go. He lets the current pull him. He doesn't feel the damage it does as it slams him, but he knows his aura is shattering.

His heart trips, stumbles and stops. All the air rushes out of his lungs. In front of him, he sees a figure wrapped in bands of bright white. He reaches for it, but it turns its back. Two dark fissures open along the back. Dark blood spills over the pale flesh and stains the light a blinding crimson. Something begins to push out of the wounds, and the figure hunches over.

Kaine thinks the figure is growing wings. Something bright that might be bone snaps out of the gashes. The figure shivers in pain. Then the rest of the wings push out and sag against the figure's back. Blood drips from the wings. The figure doesn't move. Kaine tries to move closer. The wings lift and spread. Light glints off of the feathers. Kaine shakes his head. No. Not feathers. Sword blades.

His heart trembles and begins to beat again. He sucks air into his lungs and curls his body against the pain that rips down his left side. When the pain subsides, he opens his eyes and finds himself lying in the sand at the feet of the three star demons.

Suada smiles down at him. "Hey there, pretty angel," she says.

Kaine scrambles away from them and reaches for Getsuei. The gun is gone.

"Looking for this, Shaman?" Elijah asks. Getsuei dangles from his index finger.

"We shoulda killed you when we had the chance," Suada says.

Kaine tries to get to his feet. The hammering pain in his chest keeps him down.

Fire begins to flare around Phoebe's fingertips. She opens her mouth to show him the stump of her tongue.

"Of course for all the trouble you've put us through, it wouldn't be right to do anything less than torture you with your own weapons," Suada says. She holds Kaine's knife up in front of her face. The blade is dull, and its lines move sluggishly. Her smile is split in two. "Don't you think that's fair, angel?"

Kaine struggles to his feet. His chest aches. The bell on his collar jingles as he staggers in place and fights through the stitches of pain to stand straight. Before he can do anything, Suada throws the knife. It plows through his right leg just below his knee. He falls again and hears the click of Getsuei's hammer being pulled back.

"After all that, you can't put up more of a fight than kitten in a wet paper sack," Elijah says. "You're pathetic." He pulls the trigger.

Kaine closes his eyes.

He hears the silvery singing of the bullet as it races down the barrel of the gun with white sparks and smoke at its back. He feels it following the grooves carved into the barrel over the centuries. For a moment, he can see the first time that Getsuei and its twin, Hizashi, were fired. It was the middle of a clear day, in the middle of a dusty road with faces pressed into windows and church bells echoing in the otherwise still, hot air.

There's a pinging sound, like a fingernail tapping the edge of a crystal goblet. The air ripples outward from the impact point. Kaine opens his eyes. The slug is suspended in the shield. He pulls the knife out of his knee and stands up. Elijah looks frightened. Suada keeps smiling. Phoebe's hands flare more, and blood and maggots push out of the pentagram brand on her forehead. Kaine plucks the bullet out of the shield and closes his fist around it. The bullet melts in his palm. He looks up at the demons. They're hesitating, but now they're angry. They don't like that he can use their powers against them or that his own weapons seem incapable of hurting him. The wound in his knee is already beginning to close.

Elijah is still holding Getsuei. Kaine doesn't like that. He holds his left hand out. "I think you need to give that back to me," he says.

Elijah shakes his head and fires Getsuei again. Again the bullet stops in the shield. "That's not fair!" he says. He throws Getsuei on the sand and brings his shotgun up to his shoulder.

Kaine pulls Getsuei into his hand, and the barrage begins. Flames, scattershot and Suada's sword seem to be coming at him from all sides. For the moment, he can deal with them. He's just not sure how long he can keep it up.

V.

The sound of gunshots from far out in the desert makes Jynx want to break into a full tilt run, but even if he runs, he won't get to Kaine in time. He clenches his fists and trembles. He watches flames paint the dull tan sky orange and red.

They haven't been walking very long, but every minute or so, Iai falls further behind. Jynx tries not to notice. He doesn't want to say anything. He's not sure if it's because of whatever is causing Iai's back to bleed or if Iai is still too upset about Roland's death. If he asks, he knows Iai will insist he's all right, and Jynx will have to leave it at that. Whatever's wrong with Iai, Jynx wishes it would hurry up and be over with.

Stifling a cry of pain, Iai falls to his hands and knees. Jynx and Kumiko turn around. There are two silvery spikes poking through Iai's back, and the back of his shirt is soaked with blood. Kumiko rushes to him and drops to her knees. "What is it?" she asks. "What's wrong? Iai?" She reaches a shaking hand towards the gleaming blades. Dark blood coils down the blades.

"Please stay back," Iai says.

"But ... but ..."

"Please, Kumiko. It's all right. It's just ... I can't stop them any more. They won't wait."

The blades punch further upwards. Iai doubles over. Blood drips onto the sand.

Kumiko gets up and runs back to Jynx. Behind them, the gunshots and the flames are an almost constant din.

"Go on without me," Iai says.

"Are you sure?" Jynx asks.

"We don't have time to waste. He can't fight them by himself for too much longer. Go. And leave Suada for me."

"Okay."

Jynx and Kumiko begin to run.

Iai struggles to pull his shirt off, and it tears against the blades. Blood pools around the openings and spills over his back. The blades push again. He breathes out, emptying his lungs of air while his wings of blades grow. He inhales when the pressure stops. In one final, painful thrust, the wings break free of his flesh and drop against his back, dripping with blood and white feathers. He can't explain the feeling of euphoria that follows. All the questions he hasn't been able to fully answer are now answered. This is his true nature. A feather, a sword, the angels' weapon. He understands now what Samurai meant when he said that pain was his only reward.

Iai rises to his feet and lifts his wings, shaking off the blood and feathers. He brushes his fingers against the silver glass tube that hangs from his neck. Inside the tube is a small scroll on which are written his name and Roland's name, entwined like the bodies of lovers. He feels the energy begin to pulse. Even that is something he won't be able to keep, but his purpose has never been clearer. He runs towards the battle leaving a wake of blood and feathers on the hot sand.

VI.

"It's over, Shaman," Elijah says. Blood rushes through the veins and arteries under his now transparent skin. The muscles of his cheeks twitch as he peels his lips back in a hideous grin. He stares down the shimmering barrel of Kaine's gun. He presses his shotgun into Kaine's chest. It might be a case of whoever has the faster trigger finger, but Elijah doesn't think it's going to matter. Getsuei is empty.

Kaine stopped feeling the pain a while ago. He's been burned, cut and shot. His heart has locked up and sent bolts of pain down the left side of his body. Now he's just numb. He has nothing left to draw on. They knew what they were doing. Instead of killing him quickly, they've played with him. They forced him to use as much power as he possibly could. He's exhausted already, and they've hardly broken a sweat. They're still waiting for Jynx, Kumiko and Iai. The warm sand under his back is beginning to feel too much like a shallow grave. He thumbs back Getsuei's hammer.

Elijah laughs.

"What the hell are you laughing at, you little shit?" McBride asks. He fires his shotgun, catching Elijah on the left shoulder.

Elijah stumbles backwards then teleports.

Fire swirls around McBride, catching the brim of his hat and the hem of his coat. He beats them out in the sand. When he looks up, he sees the charred remains of a body clutching a silver gun and beyond that, Steelrain burns. He knows it isn't real, but he can't shake the illusion. "Kaine!" he shouts. "Where are you, boy?"

"He's dead, old man, and so are you," Suada says.

McBride turns to face her and pumps his shotgun.

She rushes at him, drawing her sword.

Behind him, he hears another shotgun pump. Before he can fire at Suada or turn to face Elijah, he's shoved out of the way by what feels to him like a giant hand. It feels like Gloria's hand.

"No!" Elijah screams. He teleports just before Suada slices through him.

Suada stops and turns to face Kaine. She smiles. "That was an interesting thought, angel. Make us kill each other. I like it," she says.

"Yeah, well, I try to keep things exciting," Kaine says. "I can't stand a boring a fight."

Suada flinches at a sudden slash of silver light that falls across her eyes. She looks towards Steelrain. Jynx and Kumiko are fending off flames. Iai isn't far behind them. "Pretty came back for more," she says. "His wings are ..."

"Swords. That oughta be pretty interesting, too," Kaine says.

Suada's smile turns into a nasty snarl, and she takes a half--hearted swing at Kaine. He sidesteps her sword, and the butt of Elijah's shotgun slams into the back of his head. Suada bolts towards Iai. Walls of flame spin around all of them. Out of Phoebe's mouth comes the guttural clucking of tongueless laughter.

VII.

It should hurt, seeing the face of the demon that killed his lover while he watched, but Iai feels nothing. He feels no hatred, no burning desire for revenge, no grief. He doesn't even feel the passion he once felt for Roland, the small clenching in the pit of his stomach and the fluttering in his chest. It isn't numbness. It isn't emptiness. There's simply nothing there. If he could bring himself to feel anything, he might feel betrayed by this sudden nothingness after struggling for so long to make sense out of his emotions. Instead, he fights. This is all he knows. The movement of feet, arms, torsos, blades and blood is his universe now, spinning in infinite and violent harmony. In the back of his mind, so far back he doesn't really hear it but only remembers later that it was there, Samurai whispers, "You understand now. I will bring you home."

VIII.

Kaine isn't moving. He's lying face down in the sand, still as a stone. Elijah was standing over him until McBride took a shot at him, but Kaine hasn't even twitched. Kumiko begins to run to him. A wall of flame cuts her off. She hears Phoebe trying to laugh and then two singing shots as Jynx puts bullets through the back of Phoebe's knees. Phoebe goes down. The flames die.

Elijah appears behind Jynx and pumps his shotgun.

"Jynx, get down!" Kumiko screams.

Jynx hits the sand and rolls to his back to fire. Elijah fires first. The bulk of the shot slams into the center of Kumiko's chest. Jynx unloads Hizashi into Elijah's gut. Kumiko drops her guns and crumples.

IX.

Kaine is on his hands and knees. His head is ringing and throbbing. He can feel blood trickling down the back of his neck, under the collar. Then the collar loosens. His heart skips. The collar slips off his neck and hits the sand. The bell gives a muffled ding as it lands.

He feels the leylines pooling under his palms. He curls his hands into fists, pulling at the leylines. Tears spill from his eyes. An image of Kumiko, cheerfully explaining the biolock mechanism on the collar, flashes through his mind. The air around him pulses, rippling the sand. He closes his eyes and pulls tight every muscle in his body. Energy currents from everywhere and everything rush towards him. He pulls until he feels like he might explode all his muscles and his bones, and with an ear--shattering scream, he lets it go.

X.

Winston and Pollie have been standing just outside of Steelrain, listening to the fight. They can't see much. It's too far away. Every once in a while, they see flashes of light off of Iai's swords, but they don't really know what they're seeing. Most of the time, the scene is shrouded in flames.

Things come to a sudden and eerie standstill. They both tremble without knowing why. The sound they hear is without a doubt a scream, but it isn't the sound of a human scream. Pollie covers her ears.

The cry is still slashing through the air when a bright flare of white light blinds them. A wave of heat crashes towards them, pushing scouring sand ahead of it. They shield their faces. The sand and the heat rip at their dusters, leaving the hems frayed and seared. The scream chokes off and dies. The sand is still. They look. Out in the desert, the pale afternoon sun winks off a sheet of grainy glass, and nothing makes a sound.

XI.

Jynx lifts his head out of his arms and look around. "Kaine?" he asks. He can't see anything, and no one answers. His eyes are still full of white light. He hadn't been able to look away in time. He had felt the pull, and when he realized what was happening, he was unable to move for a moment. He had watched the white--hot fire rolling off of Kaine, knowing that anything the fire touched would be instantly turned to ashes, including him. Still, he hadn't been able to move. The flames broke around him. He watched Elijah burn, and then there was darkness.

He can't tell if he's dead. His body is numb in some places, bruised in others. He sits up. The surface under his hands isn't sand. He rubs his eyes. Faint grey shapes shimmer in the lingering white. "Kaine?" he asks again.

He feels a hand on his shoulder, then on his face. He reaches for the hand. His fingers close around a cold, slender wrist. It isn't Kaine. His eyes brim with tears.

"Are you all right?" Iai asks.

"Where's Kaine?" Jynx asks.

Iai doesn't answer. He appears to look over his shoulder. Jynx can't really tell.

"Damn it, where's--"

"He's all right," McBride says. "I think."

"You think? What the fuck does that mean? What happened? What about Kumiko? I can't fucking see!"

Iai presses both hands against Jynx's cheeks as the tears stream from Jynx's eyes. "Shh. It's all right," he says. "Kaine is just unconscious. Your blindness will pass."

"Kumiko. What about Kumiko? She took that whole shot in the chest. She ?"

"She'll live, but we need to get back to town quickly. I've done all I can for her. At least for now."

Jynx says nothing. He lets his head drop to his chest. Iai tenderly wipes the tears from his cheeks. He wonders why Iai's hands are so cold.

"It's almost over," Iai says. "There's one fight left."

Article © Mel Trent. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-08-04
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