Chapter XLIX: Demons and Fish
Walking back from Glaze, ignoring the looks from people in the back-alleys who had obviously heard the low-scale war inside, I walked past a noodle restaurant. Inside, the sound of a radio talkshow blared, the lights from the storefront illuminating the street outside. Curious, I stepped inside.
Inside, the stove was cold, the building messy. Unwashed pots and pans sat on the bench-top, and in front of me stood a young woman, dressed in a leather jacket, a bizarre piece of armour on one arm, the other resting on the hilt of a katana.
'Something tells me you're not selling noodles.'
'Excuse me?', I responded, eyebrow raised.
Ah shit. A hunter. I made my voice smooth, honeyed, as I casually put my hands behind my back. My hand gripped the small handgun I had placed there after battling the Tong, just in case.
'What, religious? I realise it's unusual, but it's not a crime yet, is it?'
'Hey, I resent that. OK, I'm not alive, but I'm not evil either.' Am I? The Beast laughed, a wild hooting cry in the back of my mind. I shook off the sensation. Perhaps letting my innate animal loose earlier had been a bad idea...
'Oh, you're here for the Kuei-Jin?' Please, let me help you with that!
'What exactly is a Hengeyothing?'
'Right. That's cleared that right up for me, thanks. Well, if I hear about one, I'll let you know, alright?'
Oh spare me the melodrama. You enjoy your work, I'm sure.
'I'll be careful.'
Leaving the building, I turned regretfully towards the Kue-Jin temple. I did not want to have to deal with Ming-Xiao again, but it seemed an unfortunate necessity. If anyone would know about demons residing in Chinatown, it would be her.
I seek your death, Ming-Xiao, but for now, I will settle for information...
'Greetings, Min-Xiao. I had a question about a particular kind of demon. Have you heard of the Hengeyokai?'
'I see. Does it work for you?' That would complicate matters. Even if the Tong had been working for Ming-Xiao, it was doubtful whether she would mourn their passing beyond the loss of a tool, like a screwdriver. A demon, on the other hand, could cause bad blood, and I still had business in Chinatown.
'I see. I have some business to discuss with him. Would you happen to know where I could find him?'
'Red Dragon. Thank you, you've been most helpful.' I left the temple, heading for the Red Dragon.
The first thing I noticed when I caught sight of the man was the overpowering odour of fish. Even with my heightened senses, the pure strength of the smell was unusual, sinister. Even if he bathed in fishguts, I doubted the smell would permeate so strongly. By the distance everyone else in the building was keeping, I knew I wasn't the only one who smelled it. I walked up to the man, trying not to inhale.
The man launched into a spiel before I could open my mouth.
'That much, for information? That's a bit expensive isn't it?'
'Oooooh', I whined in a childlike way, hoping to catch the 'man' off-guard. 'Now I'm curious, what's your business?'
The man was to the point, all business. I changed my tone accordingly.
'Very well. I'm looking for Zygaena. Are you him?'
Yeah, I'll bet he is.
'Do you know where I can find him? It's important.'
'You seem nervous. Don't worry, he won't give you any trouble after I meet him.'
The man's voice was a little too eager, yet for some reason it didn't seem about the killing. Something was not right here.
'Kill? I just want to talk. I think there's something he might want to know about.'
'I swear. Talk is all.'
'You've got my word.'
I left the Red Dragon with the conviction I'd missed something, that there was something unusual about the conversation, about the man I'd been talking to. Shrugging, I went to find the young hunter.
Opening the door loudly, smirking as the young woman jumped, sword in hand, I called to her.
'I've found it.'
'I've set up a meeting at a warehouse. We can ambush the thing there.'
'You honestly think you can take the thing on your own? Hunter or not, you're only human. Even if you do have a nice sword.'
I looked at the blade, which glinted with a bright blue light in the light. The blade should have been heavy, at least as heavy as mine, but the woman held it as if it was a cardboard tube. Magic, perhaps.
'C'mon kid, let's go.'
I led the woman to the warehouse, and stopped by the stairs leading up.
'Listen, I can take more damage than you can. Stay back, got it? Keep behind me, attack when you've got the room and his attention is diverted.'
The hunter nodded, gripping the sword tightly. She muttered something under her breath in Japanese, which sounded almost like a prayer, or an oath. Putting a finger to my lips, I opened the door to the warehouse.
We crept in slowly, making little noise. Wherever the demon was, it wasn't here.
From behind a set of shelves walked the man from the Red Dragon, chuckling as he saw us. I gripped the sword hilt, looking at the man as he laughed almost hysterically, his eyes wider than a human's should be.
'What's so funny?'
'It sure is. But it sounds like you've been dipping into your own merchandise.'
The man mutated, growing in size and stature, accompanied by the sound of tearing skin and snapping bone. The head elongated, eyes moving to the sides of the head, claws growing from under the skin of the hands.
'You didn't tell me this thing was a fucking shark demon!', I yelled at the girl. I detested sharks. It was never nice to come across something hungrier than you were.
'Die demon!', the girl roared, racing forwards, sword in hand.
'You idiot! Stay back!'
She raced forwards, swinging the blade angrily, without thought. The creature was raising a clawed hand, ready to tear her to shreds. There was no way her fragile frame could take that kind of beating. Swearing, I raced forwards, tackling her out of the way. I don't know what had caused me to care, but I felt somewhat protective of the young hunter. The woman fell to the floor, her blade skittering across the floor, my body falling close to hers. My back was torn, bleeding, liquid fire spilling agonisingly from my shoulders. I winced, touching the mess. Even with my healing ability, that was going to sting. I glared at the woman.
'Stay back or it will kill you!', I hissed, standing up unsteadily.
Again I tapped into my innate Tremere abilities, creating a shield of blood around me. I drew my own sword, and felt my strength increase, my senses heighten. The Beast raged again, desperate to be released. Stronger than usual, desperate, hungry. I fought hard to resist. Who knew how much I could frenzy before I became more animal than man. The battle was fought on two sides - one against the demon, one against myself.
Diving between the monsters legs, I slashed viciously to the side, splitting the muscle of the creature's back leg. It roared in agony, turning to face me, swinging a claw wildly. Rolling away, I turned again, drawing the creature back. The young hunter ran behind the creature, digging her own blade deeply into the wound I had open, pulling the sword down. The creature roared again, trying to turn, but it fell heavily onto it's left knee, the blood spilling onto the floor, making it slippery. The girl darted away again, hiding behind the shelf. Seizing the opportunity, I ran forwards, chopping at the creatures neck. Try as I might however, I could not get the blade to do much damage - the creature was far too strong. Growling, fixing me with a too-human eye, the creature balled a giant fist and propelled me against a large shelf, causing it to topple over on me. I reached for the katana, looking in frustration at the hilt. The blade had snapped, making it useless. Standing weakly, I drew the colt from my belt, and fired at the creature.
I fired again and again, hitting the creature in the face, putting out one eye. It shook it's head madly, the gore dripping down it's neck. Again it charged, and I was too unsteady to avoid it. Bracing myself, I felt the impact, felt my body slamming into the wall behind me, heard the cracking of bones. I slumped to the floor, barely alive, barely conscious. The creature, thinking me done for, turned to the girl, chucking cruelly. She backed away, frightened, yet gripping the sword in front of her in both hands. She didn't stand a chance. I could not let her die.
The creature walked forwards slowly, enjoying the fear coming from the hunter. I couldn't find the gun, couldn't see it in my clouded vision. I turned to face the girl again, felt need pull inside me. With rage, I stood, pressing myself against the wall for balance. Raising both hands palms up and towards the creature, I screamed, a roar of fury, of rage, of desperation. I watched, roaring, as the creature turned to look at me in surprise. Saw the blood, leaving it's mouth, leaving it's eyes, the wounds in its body, trailing the sky to enter my palms. I felt myself strengthened, even as the creature began to slowly topple.
Groggily, I walked towards the girl, who apart from a nasty bruise developing on the side of her face, seemed unharmed.
'I'm nearly in hell right next to it. Bet you're glad it didn't have tentacles.'
The woman looked at me in confusion.
'Never mind', I muttered, slightly embarrassed. 'Get out of this work, OK? It's not healthy.'
The hunter shook her head, as if debating with herself, and then handed me her sword. As I had guessed, the blade had a feeling of magic, unnaturally light.
'It will not break like yours did.' Again, she hesitated. 'Defy your nature, demon. Man suffers enough without your help.'
'I'll remember that', I said, stumbling towards the door. Right now, I needed to lie down.