Sweat rolled off Kint’s forehead, but the tengu barely seemed to notice the heat.
Hills of long grasses, golden already in may, blew in the mild breeze. He could see it’s effect but Kint felt nothing except the baking sun slicing through his clothes. The road ahead was long, a gray snake that cut the land.
The tengu behind him, Noda, actually whistled, apparently enjoying being roasted alive on the highway. Kint was in jeans and a T-shirt, but the tengu wore traditional clothes; long robes bound with wide sashes, Noda in green, Rayo in blue. Both wore tall geta sandals, their wooden stilts clacking against the concrete with each step.
Black bird faces, and samurai swords at their side, still no one noticed.
Kint wondered if it was just the year, or perhaps some spell. The world had gotten strange on him, again, but he couldn’t imagine this wouldn’t be worth slowing your car down. The tengu were cryptic about their ways, ‘loose lips sink ships’ their first words out of the egg, he imagined. If they came from eggs. Kint had never met a tengu child, or woman, the one time he asked about them a fortnight of silence had been their answer.
Despite their secretive nature they were more than happy to train him as a samurai, but he was double-damned if he knew for what. He wasn’t the most popular guy in the bird men’s tribe. Still it was a place of mild acceptance, and truth about his condition. He was thankful for that.
“Step live,” Noda said, and Rayo nodded. A car roared past. Kint had to step into the ditch to avoid becoming one with the road. The tengu ignored it, the car close enough to touch Rayo’s ancient gray hair.
“Assholes could have killed us.” Kint stepped out of the ditch, pulling a few vicious foxtails from his socks.
“Driver might not have seen, samurai.”
Noda had stopped moving, waiting for Kint to get in front of him. The tengu had never been even close to friendly, eyes on always accusing, back never to the man. He watched the samurai like a hawk, rather than the crow the tengu resembled.
It was Kint’s first trip to the store with the tengu in close to twenty years. The last had just been him really. Rayo had little interest in humans and had ordered Kint to pick up everything while he sat at an ice cream parlor. Usually they both preferred staying in camp, but with Kyo’s and Okabe’s groups on missions the tribe was out of people.
They had a long list too, it was summer, and marshmallows were important to the bird people. Besides that, and the usual bandages, there were a lot of side requests. Magazines had recently taken the tribe by storm and Kint was still unsure where to get these ‘CDs’ Katsu requested but it had been made clear to him that they were the most important.
Another hour of consuming heat, steady clacks of geta, and jaunty whistling crawled past. Senora was finally in view, and an odd pressure began to build in Kint’s neck. His steps slowed, and he tilted his head back to look at Noda. The tengu blinked, his tune going low. His yellow eyes were venomous, rage boiling out of nowhere.
Before Kint could ask the tengu who pissed in his tea, the question was blown away and a god’s trick started it all.
“Next to the marshmallows,” a voice said in Kint’s ear, old gin and fresh tobacco on her breath. He turned fast, empty space was all that greeted his eyes. A faint tingle between his ocean blue orbs alarmed him and his heart raced as they scanned the grassy hills. Whiskey had been his drink, once upon-a-time, and a buzz he had not felt since those days flowed unwelcome through his head.
Kint jumped, Noda’s sandal clacked sending a bolt of fear through him. One foot slipped back, tilting to the side to steady the samurai. He wore no sword, but still his hand dropped for a draw. A ringing blocked the tengu shouts but he saw yellow beaks exposing red tongues.
His vision faded, he stumbled farther back, then the world spun. A force, a strong gust of wind slammed into Kint, launching him back and up. A car passed where he had stood a moment before, he was ten feet in the air when he saw the vehicle.
A patch of wild roses caught him, small thorns knifing into his back. Every movement brought more stings.
A deep calming breath and he forced himself up, ignoring the bushes needles digging deeper. Distraction came with an even deeper pain in his hip from the harsh landing.
“Didn’t know you could fly, fish.” Not exactly an affectionate nickname, but Kint had no rank to challenge Rayo.
A mean laugh before Noda said, “A flying fish.”
Even rank with Noda, even if the tribe failed to respect it. “Fuck you Noda, and I didn’t fly, Sensei. I was pushed.”
“Saying somethin’?” Noda asked, hand on his sword hilt. Kint’s only weapon, a wooden bokken, sat against a tree near his tent, and even with a decent katana he could never hope to best Noda. The tengu had a hundred years on him and strength beyond a human’s.
Rayo’s hand landed on the other Tengu’s though and there was a short moment of tension. Finally the younger backed down, anger in his eyes now focused toward Rayo.
A split second it was over.
Felt like hours to Kint. As the tension faded, time still moved in stopgap.
Tengu culture was strange, rank meant a lot but was limited. Only two captain’s under Katsu, the leader. Rayo was one and long as he and Okabe breathed there was little hope for advancement. A third could always be appointed, but ‘creating’ an opening was much more expedient. Common too. Okabe had been appointed when his captain, Kahono, ‘slipped’ from a rooftop on a rainy evening. Rumors abounded, but the appointment stuck without witnesses.
If Noda was gunning for Rayo’s position that would make Kint a witness. Suddenly he missed his bokken.
“Speak.” Rayo’s voice was commanding. Kint nodded, and took a second to collect his thoughts. The tengu would rather wait than waste time with long speeches.
“A voice said, ‘By the marshmallows,’ then air pushed me across the road.”
“I heard nothing,” Noda said soon as Kint stopped talking.
“You wouldn’t over your damned whistling,” Rayo muttered. “Step live.”
Noda waited for Kint to take his place, the tengu picking up his whistling again soon as he did. It was not lost on Rayo either, his head tilted as it began. If he wasn’t going to say anything, the samurai couldn’t.
They continued on, back in their line. Noda’s whistling got cheerier the longer it went on. The tengu appeared normal to Kint but they had glamoured properly before they walked into the small city. A faint sheen of magic, glamours had little effect on cursed eyes.
The Wal-Mart was right on the edge of the town. The tengu stopped at the edge of the lot. With a grunt, Rayo held a red purse out to Kint. He took it with a small sigh.
Tengu handled ‘servant’ matters in a hierarchy, which as a human left him at the bottom. He carried, he paid, he hunted, butchered, cooked, and cleaned about 80% of the time. On his good days he told himself it was some type of training. On his bad, he stabbed a tengu in the leg with a chopstick. Not often, but things happened.
It had been around ten years since he spoke to another human, so this would be awkward at least. Trips to the store were handled by the mission crews typically, bringing back whatever the camp needed. Strange year though, the crews were busier than ever.
Rayo and Noda, were ordered to pick up the necessities. Noda’s arm was still aching from his last mission, he and Rayo were the only ones that returned, so someone had to carry things back. Katsu was too busy planning the next camp’s location, so that left the samurai.
Current culture was a bit lost on Kint, although he did enjoy the walkman at camp from time to time. After that voice though, he wondered if the sour feeling was just the possibility of human interaction.
The doors were barely twenty-feet away now. A homeless man stared at the two tengu as they passed, his mouth dropping several times. Clearly like Kint he could see a lot. The vagrant’s gift was natural, some were just born with sight beyond.
The samurai’s were pretty far off natural.
The store was cold, as they walked sweat cooled on Kint’s tanned body. He had combed his black hair and tied it into a simple ponytail before leaving camp this morning. As he dragged a metal cart after the tengu, a barber shop caught his eye, along with the woman running it.
Both were out of the question. A samurai’s hair was his honor and tengu were the worst wingmen.
Kint quietly followed Rayo, trying not to wonder how much nicer the walk back would be without a few pounds of hair. They passed a glass door with ice cold water in bottles, the samurai felt his throat tighten. Even tengu needed food, so he assumed at some point they would be stopping for some. The old bird took a straight line back to the dry food section.
“That desperate for marshmallows?” Kint asked, a cold ball forming in his overheated chest. Tengu were not easily agitated and he could swear Rayo was sweating now.
“Don’t act stupid,” Rayo said.
“I’m not acting,” Kint said. “Why are we jogging?”
“That,” Noda said, nodding at the bags of fluffy sweet pillows. A long shelf of them. S’mores Season was spelled out in red letters, with a display of chocolate bars and graham crackers on the shelf next to it. Out of place toys sat on top of the stack of bars.
“Theses aren’t even that good plain. You should try them with chocolate and-.”
Noda cut Kint off before he could start. The bird men had hears his S’mores argument several times.
“The dolls, fish.” Kint would have flipped Noda off, but he was fairly certain he would lose his middle finger. He focused on the dolls. A unicorn toy, with it’s horn shoved into a stuffed crow’s back. A second toy sat next to the them, a yellow ‘4’ from a set of fridge magnets.
“Shi. Death,” Rayo said. “Death comes for a tengu.”
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence?” Kint asked. “I could easily see the gods trying to get us to try S’mores.”
“Respect!” Rayo bellowed. Noda shifted back on one heel, draw ready. Disrespect to the tengu’s patron god’s carried a harsh punishment. A child at the end of the aisle burst into tears, the mother’s face pinched tight. She dragged the crying kid away, throwing a dark look at the three.
“My apologies, Sensei,” Kint said, dropping to his knees, pressing his forehead to the cool floor. “I mean no disrespect.”
Rayo looked around, and then motioned to the samurai. “Up, I know you are just as mindless as you act.” Noda moved back as well. Kint tried to hold back the blush but a few people had gathered at the end of the aisle.
Rayo grabbed him, talons digging into his arm, and dragged him out of the store.
Kint felt a great deal of sympathy for the crying child.
A restaurant sat at the end of the block. They ate in the back.
Kint had ordered, getting extra pickles without the tengu having to ask. The temptation was strong to mess with Noda’s burger but it was hardly worth it with Rayo so on edge. Gods played with mortals all the time, and only a god could have escaped the tengu’s notice to whisper to Kint. The samurai could see there was more to it but asking was too much. This was a hunt now and tengu handled these things a very particular way.
The fries were nearly saltless and Kint made no comment on the tengu dunking them into their milkshakes. He kept sharp focus on his own food, rushing the burgers. Conversation could not begin properly until food had been consumed. Tengu weren’t the most talkative of people most the time anyway but the tenser things got the quieter the bird men were.
Finally the last fry was gone.
“Ice cream.” Rayo had spoke first, Kint nodded. “Two sundaes.”
“Sir,” he said, “Noda?”
“Two milkshakes, more fries.”
Kint ordered fast, smiling at the blonde behind the counter for far too long while he waited. He knew she was uninterested, her eyes barely catching on him.
Scarred bearded men were not everyone’s taste, so he smiled a little more. The other worker, a petite brunette seemed to smile a little extra too as she delivered the deserts to the counter.
“Afternoon,” Kint said, hoping the smell of sweat from the morning’s walk was covered by the cooking fries.
A raised eyebrow from her, followed by a pink lip scraping under her teeth.
“You new around here?” she asked. Her body leaned forward over the counter, arms pushing up her small breasts as they folded across her body.
Kint had to clear his throat twice, the sweating starting again in the air conditioned restaurant. Finally he said, “Just–just passing through. Might hang around a bit, on a job. Eli.” He dropped the tengu given name, wishing he had thought of something that sounded cooler.
“Cute name. I’m Barbara but my friends call me Babs. Get any time off from that job of yours, traveling man?”
Before he could answer, a sharp click of wooden sandals on the tiled floor met his ears.
Kint turned as Noda’s meaty hand landed on his shoulder. The tengu looked down into his eyes. “Sensei says to wet your thing another day, we got stuff to talk about.” The words were almost shouted, certainly loud enough to draw stares from the rest of the restuarants crew.
The wink from the girl was rather nice but it did little for his embarrassment.
Kint tried not to wonder how far he could have gotten, as they chewed their way through the food. The sundae he’d ordered for himself was nowhere near good enough.
Last bite gone, he glanced around. Years of forced politeness and fear of even more rebuke demanded he ask, “Refills?” Both nodded.
After he returned with the cups, Rayo took a long drink from a bottle he kept in his sleeve, then sipped his soda.
“Unicorn.” Noda had spoken before Rayo, a slap in the face when on a hunt, and Kint didn’t much care for it. Rayo wasn’t his favorite teacher but this situation felt weird enough without pecking order bullshit. He respected the old bird at least.
“This could be bad,” Rayo said, eyes out the window. His voice was as far away as his stare. “Death comes for a tengu.”
“How dangerous can a unicorn be?” The bird men let loose a low hiccuping sound when they found something funny. Often at the samurai’s expense.
The tengu’s laughter was common enough, but today Kint could not see the joke. He understood when they found the first of the bodies.
They had started out in the tiny downtown. As far as towns go, Sonora was not large by any means.
Years ago they were camping in the foothills near the ocean. Wildfires were common, the California tengu considered them an enemy as much as any of the creatures they hunted. This was a bad summer, three separate times they had been forced to flee. On the third one Rayo had left a dagger behind by mistake.
The tengu had walked back into the burning camp, his very posture defiant of the fire that raged around him. Kint had literally never seen the tengu nervous, even then, but this day had left the old bird looking as if death himself whispered catcalls into his feathered ears.
The samurai wasn’t sure what about unicorns was so damned scary and he usually wasn’t the curious type in these sort of matters.
The city itself had a lot of trees and forested areas. Giant redwoods grew in places, shopping centers right across the street. Kint liked the look of it. The last place they had set up camp had been farther south, too warm for his tastes. Too many people too.
Rayo noticed the trail first. Kint could hear tengu’s bird nostrils drawing more air. He sensed nothing, but that was not unusual. Humans were not the most psychic of creatures. Even with the curse Kint could only ever see what was right in front of him.
“There,” Rayo said, pointing as he spoke. A massive concrete pipe led into the hillside. It was ten feet off the road into the forested area. A stinking little pond bred mosquitos next to it. The tengu’s geta were high enough to keep them out of the water, if one of them decided to go. The samurai had his doubts that would be the case.
After a moment of expectant silence, Kint sighed and nodded. Rayo caught his arm, and slid his short sword free of the belt.
“If you damage my sword I will kill you, even if it takes 800 years.”
“Scream loud before they kill you so we know.”
“You scared, Noda?” Kint asked with an eyebrow raised. Noda’s reply was an odd smile, but the samurai’s own pulse drowned any reflection on the response. He tucked the small blade into his leather belt and prayed it stayed there until he returned.
He was the shortest of the group, five-seven with shoes. Still he had to crouch, as he worked his way into the filthy tunnel. Both sneakers were wet before he even made it to the pipe. Body hunched he sloshed into the darkness.
He wanted to rush the search, but he waited, ankles soaking. Darkness faded to him, his own eyes emitting blue light that filled the tunnel. He had a pair of sunglasses in his pocket to wear at night if he needed them. Curses could sometimes be a tradeoff.
Tengu had their own ways of seeing in the dark of course, and probably less noticeable than Kint’s, but again the arguing was not really worth his breath. Right now he was holding it, the smell of fetid manure and rotting flesh strengthening by the foot.
Sparkly piles of shit sat deep enough to poke out of the water. Kint blinked a few times, unsure if he was seeing things right. The manure was enough, but the amount of skeletons was beyond his understanding. A few still with tatters of clothing and gray shreds of flesh. He counted eight skulls in sight, some big enough to be adult.
“Lord help us,” he whispered without thinking.
A splash, movement at the end of the tunnel. The light from his eyes barely lit the unicorn, a soft neighing sound echoed off the concrete. It was about waist height but already bearded, gangly as any equine foal. White fur, filthy from the mud, and a tangled white mane.
The horn was just a foot or so, but plenty long for a kill.
It charged, and the samurai’s training took over. He rolled forward, drawing the small sword. The creatures leg was too thick to remove but his blade went to the bone. The foal dropped and Kint finished it in one fast slit. Silvery blood poured from the neck, the faint smell of licorice blessing the foul cavern.
Tengu would be ashamed to run from the corpse filled cavern. Kint had little shame most the time anyway, so running was fine for him.
The light at the end of the tunnel was nothing compared to diving into the cool water of the dirty pond. He went in hard, his stomach scraping bottom. Relief flowed over him anyway, the water bringing calm ; a cool blanket that kept the darkness at bay.
The tengu were saying something but Kint doubted it was that important. The Samurai spun in the shallow water, noting the glittering manure’s rainbow color sparkling brighter in the sun.
As soon as he felt like vomiting was no longer a distinct possibility, he climbed out of the pond.
“Blood?” Rayo asked.
“Blood. Bones. A foal.”
“Parents.” Noda added after a moment of silence. Kint had lived with the tengu since ‘48, and he was just getting used to the word limit on hunts. Too many, and the bird people disregarded you. Once literally, when he lost his cool, they just left him in the woods.
Chasing after people shouting curse words didn’t endear anyone at camp.
“Ideas?” Kint asked.
“Keep looking,” Noda replied.
“We just ate,” Kint said stomach churning again at the memory.
“The parents, fish.”
“Fuck you, Noda.”
“Blade?” Noda asked.
Kint waited for a quiet grunt from Rayo before he passed the elder’s sword back.
“Wet. Dirty. Sheathed bloody.” The tengu pulled one feathered brow up.
The cool mud felt nice against Kint’s forehead, but he had to take another dip in the filthy water to remove it.
This near their den the trail was easy to pick up. Rayo led again, practically running down the road. Noda followed Kint, the tengu’s stare pierced him. The samurai’s mind was on other things though.
A long time since he had seen that much death. A lifetime wasn’t enough to forget evil, whatever its form. Memories old and new held his attention, the moment lost.
A blue and white shaved ice stand stood at the edge of the fairgrounds.
Kint ordered three, and a snocone for himself. A few young women were running the stand. He was sure he still smelled and he assumed they saw some bits of dried rainbow manure stuck to his clothes. The tanned one even held her breath as she grabbed the damp twenty. His nose had gone dead to it. But the sound of air rushing into nostrils, and the funny looks told him it was still very much alive to the rest of the world.
Still she smiled, pink lips curving bronzed skin. The samurai was grateful for the moment.
“Bye,” she said with a wave at her coworkers, before she exited the small truck. Light brown hair disappeared around the corner.
Kint made his way back to the tengu, they had waited while he picked up some more sweets for them. Their appetites were voracious whatever the situation. As he handed Rayo his two snocones, he couldn’t help but notice the distant look in the old bird’s eyes again.
The situation was grim certainly, snacks though, were far more important than words. The tengu had priorities.
Kint bit into the blue raspberry snocone, enjoying the tart sweetness. A few kids ran past, one of them bumping into Rayo’s swords. The boy glanced at the tengu’s hip, and Rayo’s glamour twitched into a smile down at the child. Later Kint swore he heard the kid’s mind snap, but Rayo always insisted it was his ‘nice’ smile. Either way the child whimpered and backed away.
“Extra syrup,” Rayo asked without enough inflection to consider it a real question. Voice dead. If this got anymore serious talking would stop all together. They might even split up, a common practice on the hunt. To the tengu there was nothing like handling a life or death situation alone.
Kint’s fears were realized when, the food gone, Rayo nodded at him, and then pointed. He would go west. Noda southeast. Rayo Northeast. A taloned finger slid under one yellow eye, and then a nod.
A search, Kint taking the smaller section since he was unarmed. Tengu swords were rare and as he had been taken on as apprentice he couldn’t carry a lesser blade. It would insult those who trained him. Kint often wondered how him getting his ass-kicked all the time made less of an insult.
“Careful, fish,” Noda said drawing a look from Rayo.
Kint had his doubts it was said kindly, still he nodded. No time for bullshit. His curse might keep him alive, what state he was in was up to him. Spending the rest of his sentence being dragged around by the tengu was not very appealing. He was tough but the memory of the horn was strong as he dodged between the few early fair-goers.
“Had enough unicorn crap,” he muttered.
The edge of the little fair was covered in small rides. Kint wondered how well a unicorn could hide amongst the people but a glance back at the glamoured tengu was all he needed. Magic blessed a lot of creatures and he hardly knew any who could not manage some form of camouflage.
They usually didn’t last long without one.
A dragon ride roared past, screaming kids with their arms held high. Kint knew his thin frame could fit in the ride but it wasn’t worth the teasing from the tengu. He did know a real dragon in Fresno but despite the species, it was uncomfortable to ask to ride someone.
Someday though, the situation would be right. Another upside to his curse. Lots of chances to live dreams.
A light scream ripped past him. Past the ride. He jumped over the small fence surrounding it, leaping again to vault off the railing, high into the air. He spun over the ride as it passed again, keeping momentum through the landing, and ducked under the other set of tracks, feet tearing earth as he ran.
The fence on the other side was an easy jump. He darted into a tent. Nothing in his sight, so he turned around, slowing for a second.
No sign of the tengu. No more screams.
Kint wondered if he would be silenced as easily.
A small bathroom sat inside. The samurai took a deep breath, and walked into the men’s room. Nothing, besides the normal smells. Strangely empty, but it was Thursday afternoon. Fair was just now filling up.
Bloody cloven hoofprints and a small pile of rainbow dung led into the Women’s restroom.
Out of, Kint hoped. A long moment of deep calming breathes that never worked anyway. Then he stepped in, unsure what to do if he was wrong. He really needed to mention a sword to Katsu again.
A whiff of pot and the samurai was met with the tan girl again. Snuck off for a smoke break.
Her abdominal cavity was open as her eyes. Kint closed the lids immediately, hiding the dead hazel from the world and shifted her torn shirt to modesty—what little the unicorn had left to be modest about. Blood soaked her clothes, pooling around her and squishing under Kint’s shoes.
A single hole in her throat, right through the artery. Wide enough to see into but Kint was no coroner. Not a lot he could do, just look and remember.
Time was important, although somehow he felt like the screams were meant for him alone. He doubted she could have made them either.
Against his own crying mind, he pulled the shirt back again, staring into her torn chest to see what evidence he could pick up.
The beast had not even fed properly, just ripped her open.
Kint pulled open the purse the tengu had given him and stuck some cash under her tongue for the gatekeeper of whatever god she cared for. He darted back out and slowly made his way back to the shaved ice stand, looking for any sign of the unicorns.
A few minutes passed, and people were starting to fill the park. Lights flashed by the bathroom, yellow, blue, and red. Someone had found her.
Kint gave in to the wanderlust and started walking around the small fair, eyes on the bright booths. Still he kept an ear perked for more screams and an eye out for dark feathers.
Licorice on the wind, he expected to find a tengu on the other side of the funhouse. A one-eyed unicorn feasting on a policeman impaled on its horn was a close second.
Fully five feet tall, it resembled a goat The legs were thicker and the mane was more like a horses. Longer horn than the last, fully two feet and opalescent, it glinted in the afternoon sun.
A vicious shake dropped the man to the ground. A stomp finished him. Kint noticed the silver on the man’s fingers. He picked up a green beer bottle, vowing to finish the beast.
Kint’s monster roared and the unicorn roared back.
He broke the beer bottle on the corner of the funhouse and charged. The unicorn ducked, rushing forward, the samurai dodged to the side. He slashed downward, beer bottle taking the other eye. He dodged back, avoiding a slash from it’s horn. It bucked, splashing silver blood over the ground and onto Kint.
Another dodge as the blinded animal somehow honed in on him. The samurai dived to the side, slashing at the jugular. He connected but the bottle snapped and Kint noted the red on his hand where it sliced into him. He punched with the other, his fist smashing into a bleeding eye.
The samurai ran now, away from the screaming creature. He got to the nearest trashcan, a metal one chained to the building, and lifted it up. A couple of quick taps on the can, and the unicorn looked at him.
Head low it charged full speed. Kint caught the horn with the can. Pushing down, and away from his body, he let go. Wrapping his arms around the unicorn’s neck, he dug the bottleneck into its throat, silver blood gushed over him.
It fought, but the chain held. Thrashing the unicorn flipped onto its side. Kint scrambled away, jumped, and brought both feet onto the skull. The memory of blood on tan skin brought more kicks. The skull snapped with ease.
Another kick separated the horn from the twitching creature. Kint was not a prize taker, but it would make a decent weapon.
He kicked a little dirt at the corpse. There was no possibility of covering the filthy beast.
Breathing hard, he carried the horn with him continuing his search for the tengu. It takes two to make foals—unless unicorns were more special than he realized—so he also kept a sharp eye out for another beast.
The screams started soon enough. Even without them, the people running away was a good trail. Often in his line of work, you just backtracked from the running people.
Running again, he stepped first onto a trashcan, then leapt to the top of a food truck. He heard someone say something but the tone was lost in the blur of the moment.
Immediately the scene was clear. Noda was running after a chestnut the size of a clydesdale with a golden horn. Rayo was near the cotton candy stand, dodging around a smaller gray.
Noda turned away. Kint shouted but he was too far off, going the wrong way entirely now.
A woman was down near Rayo, one hand to her blood soaked shoulder. Kint moved for her, flipping forward off the food truck. He hoped they could pick up the trail of the other later.
Rayo had his well in hand, dodging with ease and taking bits out of the unicorn, wearing the beast down for an easy kill. Kint grabbed the woman’s wrinkled arm and dragged her to the side, giving the tengu more space to fight.
The woman was bleeding heavily, so Kint pulled his blue T-shirt off, barely getting it around her shoulder before the breathing stopped. The cursed samurai put the shirt back on, then closed her haunted eyes.
His shirt reeked of copper, heavy blood marred the light blue. Kindly it gave his body weight as the madness in his scream caused his head to feel light. Then he felt the laughter. It felt like it came from him but he wasn’t sure anymore. He certainly wasn’t in the mood to laugh but still it came, short harsh peals ringing from him.
Control was long gone for the samurai.
Although his intent was simple: kill all the unicorns. End this. Very simple, he realized, turning the corner to see Rayo standing over the gray unicorn. Silver poured from the animal’s throat. The older tengu removed a piece of paper from his belt, wiping his katana.
Neither of them saw Noda. He dived from a ride, falling silent as a leaf. His sword was drawn, shining steel caught Kint’s eye. The younger tengu landed just behind Rayo, blade drawing a straight line down the elders back.
The samurai had little doubt who would be Noda’s next target. All he had was a broken horn, not much longer than a dagger. A smart man would run. Kint’s feet pushed hard.
Noda raised the blade high to finish it but the samurai was already on him. The horn drove easy through the tengu’s back, the jagged end biting Kint’s palm. A kick to the back of the tengu’s leg, and Kint grabbed Rayo’s dropped katana, training taking over. The sword made a sound, but Noda was quiet, head hung for removal. Betraying a clanmate was okay, failure at it was not.
Kint had never executed someone with a sword but the blade was sharp.
Noda’s head rolled and Rayo was halfway to his feet, when he picked it up. Kint knew it was tradition but even if the older tengu was in good health he also knew who would end up carrying the trophy.
“Steal a car,” the tengu said.
“Yes, Sensei,” Kint told him running off. He had not driven since the war but vehicles couldn’t have changed much. The memory of the lights hit him, the cop must have driven something. He rushed for the bathroom, a dead man’s car was less of a theft than a families jalopy.
Luck was, as usual, close enough to make him uncomfortable.
A police car with an open door. Rabbit’s foot key chain. Shotgun sitting upright against the dash.
No one shouted at him when he sat in the seat. He spun the key, enjoying the roar of the engine. One thing he missed about his old life he realized.
It was quiet all the way to the tengu. The bird man opened the back door, collapsing on the seat. Kint got out to slam the door.
“Swords!” He grabbed Rayo’s katana first, tossing it in back. “The betrayers.”
“Sir,” Kint said. He grabbed the blades, tossing them onto the backseat as well.
“Other one is going to get away.”
Kint had to stand on Noda’s back, and pull upward on it, before it broke free with a wet sucking sound. People were starting to gather around, as he finally jumped back into the car.
He pulled the long car onto the road. Kint had thought it would be hard to pick up the trail but something he could not name pulled at him. A tightness in his forehead and a taste on his tongue with no memory.
Driving faster than he had ever before, he tore out of town sure of himself and his direction.
The unicorn ran down the small highway, chestnut legs beating hard against the asphalt. Kint speed up. The beast moved at the last second but the car still clipped it leg.
Brakes locked, the rubber tires protesting as they kicked stink into the air. He heard Rayo roll off the seat, but the shotgun was already in hand and door opened. A glance into the back window told him the tengu was feeling okay enough to right himself.
The creature was in the ditch, right near where Kint had first heard the voice. The samurai was limping, exhaustion and rage taking their toll on old injuries.
The unicorn’s back leg was twisted, mouth spitting foam, horn soaked in blood. It’s body was covered in scars, one ear ripped in half. A puncture similar to the Kint’s own scar sat on the shoulder.
“Wait,” the voice was female and had the gall to be scared. “I am Nuau, the last of my people now.”
“The last unicorn?” Kint asked. Intelligence showed in the unicorns amber eyes.
It waited long enough to show him that the unicorn knew how to lie, but it spoke truth when it said, “I am the last of my tribe.”
“Sad story.” Kint couldn’t call up a grin, but the shotgun barked his fulfilled vengeance. He fired again, ensuring the beast was dead.
The limp was a little worse, his steps a little slower. He made his way back to the car barely noticing Rayo leaning against the vehicle. Kint dropped the shotgun onto the backseat. The tengu stared at him. Really stared. Yellow eyes cut deep, the samurai felt them to the core of his being. Last time he had been stared at like this was when he had requested to join the tribe.
“Are you okay, Sensei?” Kint asked, his voice shaking a little.
“Yoroi Katabiri,” he said with a shake of his jacket. “Chain.”
“That’s still gonna bruise like hell.”
Rayo shrugged, a little shudder came with the motion.
“How long have you been with my people, friend,” he asked.
The samurai forced his mind off the amount of time since he had been called that. He knew it was not years Rayo wondered.
“Long enough to be honored by your words,” he said. “Enough that I feel tengu more than man some days.”
“Too long then. I will speak to Katsu in the morning. We will start missions, work together.”
“Good luck, Katsu hates me.”
“Actions speak. But some are misunderstood. This one will not be.” The tengu picked up his own katana, and lovingly wiped down the curved blade. He gave it a few small swings, staring close at the blue handle. A smooth motion and once more the soul of the warrior rested in its ocean colored sheath.
Rayo drew both blade and sheath from his belt, and followed it with the shorter brother.
“My father made these, iron not of this world or any other I’ve seen. Shark he killed before I was born, before humans walked the earth, wraps the handles. Wood of these sheaths is a gift from a kodama whose life my father saved on several occasions. And who saved mine on several more. She was my first love, samurai. My heart still rests in memories of her. These blades are not something I would give to a man who was simply a curse. These blades are not a debt paid but a vision of promise, hope rests in these blades, and now you carry it with you. You understand, Kintaro?”
“Yes, Sensei.” Kint was sure he didn’t understood at all.
The tengu handed him both the blades with one hand, and stepped back. Kint slid the blades into his belt, tipping them forward.
“Down, for the tachi. Always down with the tachi.” Kint heard a slip of emotion in the tengu’s voice, as he refereed to the longer sword. The samurai knew there was something different about Rayo’s swords, the hilt curved away from the blade. An oddity, he had never seen another katana with the same style.
“Yes, Sensei.” He flipped it over, liking the weight on his hip. He would need something to attach the longer one to his belt, otherwise it would slip. But they felt familiar. As if they were always there, even though he had never worn a real longsword. “Always, Sensei.”
Rayo nodded, waving one hand with his palm to the sky. Kint took the invitation, and drew, giving the well balanced blade a few slow motions. He drew the shorter as well, wondering how to fight with two at once.
“I am no longer your better. We are equals and brothers.”
“Yes, brother.” Kint almost choked on the words, sheathing his swords to wipe at his eyes.
“The blue looks better on you than the green anyway.” Rayo picked up Noda’s swords then dropped them back into the car with a small sigh. “Need cleaning.”
“Thank you, Rayo.”
Rayo climbed into the front seat. “Get some chocolate as well, we will try S’mores. Maybe, take your time and get a hamburger. Probably a new shirt first. A shower too, won’t get far looking like that. Have a good night, brother.” The tengu laughed peeling out, Kint watched one dark feather drift in the wind.
A smile twisted his lips as he imagined Rayo and Katsu bickering about the camp’s lack of marshmallows until tomorrow.