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The one who stepped on the snake and lived, stepped on the right end.

Chapter Text

When the boar-woman’s punctured chest had stopped it’s heaving, – a relief for both of us, what with that awful wheezing she’d made – I demonstrated another of death’s perks by digging my way from the aforementioned hole in her bleeding chest down to the stomach, pushing through flesh without a squeak of pain coming from her, as if I stuffed a cooked turkey, or rather a boar, – how does cooked boar taste by the way, and how chewy would it be? – and I would have liked to have benefited from the same lack of discomfort, as I dipped my hands into stomach-acid to fish out the jewel – The Juseki-jewel which glowed prettily like sleepy violet eyes, – that Duodecouple had wanted us to collect for him, eventhough that entailed the victor to have his hands melted by gastric-juices, because I did know that spiders vomited that stuff into their prey in order to turn their insides into a swallowable soup, – who ewer said that this wouldn’t happen to human flesh? – though luckily I’d never heard of spiders that hunted rabbits and I was larger than a rabbit, so it should be okay and I could concentrate on other things like how I really couldn’t wait to make some new friends, so much so that a million ants crawled around inside my brain, pointing me in the direction where the other contestants would be, screaming:
    "Good, good, boar-woman’s up and that last gulp of air inside her lungs have been let out; now go, go, go!"
   Especially the monkey, also the ox, ‘cause of his utility, but the monkey especially; I’d never met anyone like her, – shining like the sun on a battlefield, where I only ever seen predators or prey and smelled fear – and I couldn’t stop thinking about her, like that comet streaking across the sky, or when a baby-bunny first opened it’s eyes, though before finding her I needed to help my snake-friend, ‘cause he looked miserable with everything from the neck upwards missing, still providing said help turned out to be tricky, the moment that I closed my eyes and felt his head, which probably looked more like meatporridge now, squirm underneath tons of debri from the collapsed floors, thus with a disappointed sigh I had to relaye a:
   "Sorry friend, you’ll have to think without your head from now on."
It wasn’t like the snakeman could pout about it, so I didn’t waste too much time on condoleances, instead skipping away over the rubble, with my two friends sweeping around to follow, boarwoman almost falling over in the process, – women’s center of balance always took a while for me to adapt to – which made an impatient whine escape me, eventhough I wanted to avoid seeming as if I still carried a grudge towards her for suspecting me of murder earlier, and shooting poisonous glares the monkey’s way, since, after all, she had changed into a better person now, but the air smelled off the entrails that had been spilled tonight and my blood screamed at me to shed more, until, at dawn, the moon would be tinged red, the moon which right now hang heavy and bright in the sky like a ripened fruit, providing the perfect hunting-light, as if it couldn’t wait for me to continue entertaining it, as if the moon was also my friend, like the whole world would soon be, with the monkey being the first, the monkey who I wanted to share my own sun with.
   I would smile at her as I sunk my blades into her belly.

 

När vildsvinskvinnan punkterade bröstkorg hade slutat att häva – en lättnad för både henne och mig med tanke på det förfärliga rosslandet som hon hade gett ifrån sig, – likt en blåsbälg som höll vid liv brännande, förtärande flammor, demonstrerade jag en av livlöshetens fördelar genom att gräva ner handen i det förutnämda ihåliga bröstet och fiska upp juvelen – den skuggsvarta Jusekijuvelen, eller blänkande lila om du höll upp den i ljuset, – som vi fått i uppdrag att jaga, utan att ett pip av smärta kom ifrån henne, och jag kunde avgöra att det inte gjorde ont eftersom allting som var jag höll på att sippra in i henne och fylla ut tomrummet där livet lämnat efter sig, så som liv tenderar, ögon, öron och tankar, allt utom smärta, vilket jag gjorde en konkret slutsats av i och med att min hand sved rejält på grund av magsaften som den doppats i – pep gjorde jag inte för det – och fick mig att fundera över om min kroppsdel skulle frätas sönder, för jag visste att spindlar sprutar in matspjälkningsenzymer i sina byten så att deras innanmäten förvandlas till soppa som de enkelt kan sörpla i sig, fastän spindlar inte jagar harar, – de är för stora, – och jag är större än en hare, och därför gick det bra att tänka på annat, som att jag verkligen ville hitta kvinnan med de snälla bruna ögonen, Apan, – även Oxen, för han skulle bli en väldigt god vän, fast särskilt henne, – för att hon lyst som en sol från första stunden som jag såg henne, för att hon liknade ingenting du kunde hitta på ett slagfält, som den gången jag såg en komet passera över himlen eller när kaninerna där hemma fick ungar, – för att jag ville bli vän med henne så mycket att en miljon myror rände runt i mitt huvud och skrek:
   "Skynda på! Har inte vildsvinskvinnan suckat, som de avlidna gör när de rör på sig igen? Vänta inte; om du gör det hinner någon annan först."
   Innan jag kunde få slut på myretern som sipprade igenom hjärnan dock, var jag tvungen att undersöka en sak bland rasmassorna, då min ormvän saknade något från halsen uppåt, och det krävde att jag blundade och koncentrerade mig innan jag insåg att huvudets ögon slutat att fungera, och eftersom det låg en väldig tyngd över de slingrande köttslamsorna blev jag inte förvånad av hitta dem under några ton järnbalkar och stenblock. Synd då varje bit av en vän hade värde, även om det bara fanns blodgröt kvar, dessutom såg ormvännen bra moloken ut när jag sa:
   “Ledsen, du får använda dina finurliga fötter för att känna av omgivningen istället”, innan jag hoppade iväg över rasmassorna i den kollapsade byggnaden, följd av ormvännen och min nyväckta kamrat, – när hon svepte runt föll hon nära på framåt, då kvinnors balans alltid varit svårt att få till rätt i början, särskilt när de har riktigt framtunga påsar hängande från bröstet, och fick höra ett gnälligt:
   “Skynda på,” från mig, trots att hon inte längre var den avskyvärda personen som kallade mig mördare med blicken och grimaserade varje gång Apan sade ett ord, för jag hade doppat hennes svarta hjärta i blekningsmedel, eller snarare rött blod, då muskeln genomborrades av mina svärd, fast i vilket fall var hon en snäll vän nu, – och utomhusluften doftade av blodet som hade karvats ut ur kroppar likt ben ur en torsk, och skulle fortsätta att spillas tills månen, som hängde tung i himlen, en fallfärdig frukt dinglande från vintergatans glittrande gren, – täcktes av röda stänk, något den tycktes se fram emot eftersom den bidrog med ett fint ljus för jakt, – när staden låg mörk, badade månstrålarna mig – denna natt då mina ord skulle bli mjukare än då jag tilltalade vildsvinsvännen.
   Mjuka ord åt en kommande vän.

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One principle that I do my best to keep true to, is to believe the best of everyone and not let unflattering appearances fool me. My belief is that, by the simple act of having someone else place their faith in their good core, even the seemingly deplorable will find some warmth within their hearts, maybe something they thought to have lost.
   Though people like Usagi, who I had to prance around as to not end up as sliced kebab at the end of slashing blades, made it a challenge to keep my thoughts from pivoting into sacrilegios prejudice.
   The, by first impression, strange Warrior of the Rabbit, had flushed my partner Nezumi and I out of the sewers, where we’d hidden. Using a flock of undead birds. It reminded me of how hunters would send dogs into rabbit-holes, to force the animal out into the vulnerable open. Ironic.
   Blades rushed towards my stomach. I jumped, sailing over Usagi who stumbled by the force of his own attack. Before I could retaliate he’d obstructed me with a wall of pidgins and crows.
   I wondered how Nezumi faired, pitted against his own undead enemy. The longer it took for me to incapacitate Rabbit, the bigger the risk grew that the headless corpse of Snake would deal him some damage. Convincing Usagi to stand down would have been ideal, but when I tried he’d used that against me, so I had no choice but to save my breath and use an amount of force to take him down.
   Teeth clenched, I avoided a swipe that would have sliced up my stomach.
   Normal warriors steeled their minds to kill without discrimination, a living being would be as easy to kill as a robot. Usagi though, he gave me the feeling that he didn’t register any difference at all between me and and the cars and streetlights we danced past. All of it solid matter to cut through.
   Possibly, he’d been born with a syndrome that differentiated the way his brain processed information from the majority of the population, or maybe his mentality had been influenced by a necromantist-culture. It made no difference in that, his behaviour led to casualties. I had no choice but to think of it as damaging.
   After a decidedly clumsy blow from his side, I struck out with my leg to kick one the weapons out of Usagi’s hand. Jumping away and flexing the fingers I’d bruised, he looked at me with mouth hanging open in flat surprise. Then Usagi turned his back against me and fled, picking up his dropped weapon on the way.
   I won’t let him escape, I thought, as I sprinted after him into a park. He might be different, but I will reach him.

Chapter Text

After her first blow towards my stomach, one I jumped away from with my instincts screaming: Danger, I understood that Monkey hid more power in her tiny body than it seemed, after her second blow, I compared this power to that of a thermonuclear bomb, and that didn’t worry me, since my friends helped me with everything I couldn’t overcome on my own, furthermore Monkey, so terrifying in her superiority, fought without intending to kill, giving me ample chance to familiarize us by slitting her stomach, making her bleed out, if only she would quit jumping around like a flee, because that made me lose sight of her, and when you lose sight of somebody, you would soon feel hands strong as a bear’s paws, twist your wrists behind your back, and when I tried to shake her off it was already too late, as a knee pushed me off balance, and Monkey, though I struggled with all I had, forced me down on the ground as easily as if I had been a small child, a child she did not want to kill, although my neck lay exposed, – I wanted to ask why she didn’t box my heart out of my ribcage, but had to concentrate on pretending to panic, so that she wouldn’t figure out the reason that I had fled to the park, wouldn’t realize that Snake crouched ready to help me in the bushes, wouldn’t have a clue I pretended, because being caught in her grip made the emotion I pretended run rampant, until all thoughts drowned in it and I was sinking in freezing black water, I was throwing myself against the walls of a dark cage, I was clawing my nails bloody, screaming when walls heated around me, frying, screaming when they let in poisonous gases to suffocate me, screaming when they threw in rabid, drooling rats, screaming, kicking and ignoring the words that the Monkey said – I couldn’t make them out anyway, not the way I made out vibrations as my heels struck the ground, from the point-of view of my friend, who pointed that which flared bright and consumed greedily at us, hesitated, ‘cause it would hurt, but that Monkey needed to get off, and pain, pain, the Monkey’s scream joining mine and the weight above disappearing, which made me grin in the middle of crawling away from a thousand little devil-mouths ripping into my back, crawling over earth sprinkled with their glowing eyes, eyes wanting to eat everything, like my tail which had protected most of me and burned like a torch, so that I had to rip it off, like flaming strands of my hair that I patted, and most of all the dancing Monkey who they had swallowed whole, eventually taking away her voice, her movements, her life, felling a corpse to the ground, a corpse that wouldn’t rise again, but lay as useless ash, though I would get the jewel in her stomach, and then I would soon have plenty of friends to make up for the one I’d lost, through my wish an entire universe of suns could replace the one I’d lost.

Chapter Text

– Should have seen that one coming, I sighed, stretching my legs over the bridge-railing, from where I overlooked the park and Monkey’s blazing body.
The wind blowed towards me, and I wrinkled my nose.
What a way to go.That’s the thing about the living dead. Even if you’re adapt at sensing killer-intent, that won’t be tipping off a hiding corpse. This is what she gets for playing nice with maniacs.
A tweak of guilt followed that thought, because if I’d wanted, I could’ve warned miss Sharyu, not just subtly hinted at her impending doom.
– I know you think Juuni Taisen will end with all of us sitting down, sharing the pipe of peace, but I’ve seen Boar get lucky and shoot you more than once, and several times Ox has diced you up. Guess which stripperific pot of crazy has a killing-streak on you.
Imagine if I’d told her that. It didn’t matter; she was … had been an enemy.
Funny, the bad conscience working up acid in my stomach, wasn’t due to allowing miss Sharyu’s death, rather it was caused by the nagging voice of my mother in the back of my head, she who had told me to treat women fairly since the moment I grew old enough to ogle at them on the street. The fact that I would never get to go on dates, or that I would kill female soldiers on the battlefield didn’t matter. If you’re not respectful and honest to a woman, you’re a piece of shit: that was the just of what she wanted me to get out of my upbringing.
So … what did the playing field look like now? I thought and my brain throbbed at me in annoyance, demanding less working-hours. By now the Chicken is dead. She would have incapacitated Dog and Boar’s corpse beforehand. Tiger’s confronting Sheep, if she hasn’t skewered him already, and Horse is likely covering in the local bank after his bout with Ox. One of the big-players, Monkey, have been taken out, luckily by fire, so I won’t need to escape her bloated, moving corpse.
The meager optimism I tried to conjure refused to stick. Behind my eyes pain was pulsating, as if I had looked at a screen for hours without rest.
I swung my legs over the railing, falling to the road below. Until someone killed me I hadn’t lost this round.
Need to do my best as usual.
That entailed getting far away from Rabbit and his friend. Perhaps I could hole up in a furniture-store somewhere, check out their assortment of beds.
As if I can be reckless enough to sleep unguarded, my brain, holding some grudge against me, informed.
“Miss Sharyu I would have liked it, if you had stayed alive a few more hours,” I yawned to the wind, which sent another whiff of burned flesh my way.
I turned away from it, and made my way across the street, hoping for the best.

Chapter Text

   – Don’t worry, it will be over quick.
   A second after Ox told me this, my decapitated head rolled across the gravel.
   Like turning a book back to the first page, I opened my eyes to look up at the red-tinted clouds hanging behind the flashing skyscraper. Here the twelfth Juuni-Taisen would begin in twelve hours.
   I hated skyscrapers, even when understanding how practical they were. Especially this one who sported the interior of a luxurious hotel, with conference halls affordable to only the powerful and rich.
   Three flats are enough for that kind of use; the government funds three-hundred.
   The knowledge that those floors would collapse in a few hours brought my inner revolutionary satisfaction.
   Tears of exhaustion welled up in my eyes and I splashed my face with water from the near-laying fountain to clear away some of the nagging sleepiness. Next thing I strode, not into the skyscraper, but to a row of asps adorning the edge of it’s approach. Leaping, I grabbed on to a low-hanging and pulled my body into rattling summer-leaves, that would hide me while giving me a vantage point over, where I undetected (almost – Ox seemingly noticed every fly spying on him within a two mile radius,) could watch the competition arrive, for as long as I wanted, though until Ox got here i wouldn’t enter myself. If I did, the Rabbit would kill me, as it had happened on my very first path. I had gotten as far as the elevator before his blade pierced my back. What a great start. It wouldn’t take long, he arrived three minutes behind the Tatsumi brothers, three minutes too late to stop Rabbit from killing the younger and make him his zombie-slave. The only one who could was me. I saw the them now, like doubles in a mirror, Snake telling some joke about a crocodile swallowing a hippo that made Dragon frown instead of laugh. Aiming to one-up his baby-brother Dragon told a joke about a waiter with goat-horns being mistaken for the devil. It had made me cough out a chuckle the first two times I’d heard it. Now I could recite it down to the second Dragon delivered the punchline.
If I called out to them now, convinced them to wait for Ox, the Rabbit, who was wise enough to not attempt decapitating people with Ox in the same room, would have no corpses to ambush other competitors with at the start of the game, and allying myself with the Tatsumis would go easier. It seemed such a winning strategy that I’d chosen to do so at every path in the beginning.Yawning I turned on my handheld, hoping that the fire-brigade game could hold me awake. The automatic doors opened before the siblings, from where I sat, it looked like the skyscraper swallowed them.
   Soon Ox’s strode into view with the proud bearing of a bull who knew himself to be the most formidable beast in the pasture. My stomach flared. Like with Monkey, many people admired Ox and called him a hero, – mercenaries who had similar reputations as upholders of justice, I could count on one hand. At the same time I knew for sure how much his enemies on the battlefield must have hated him.
   The matador-like warrior didn’t deserve my grudges as much as other opponents, – unlike most, he took great care to kill in a non painful fashion; if people weren’t wary of him, they would never have considered teaming up and protecting the scrawny rat-kid. The kink was just that. Why would the most feared face in the Juuni-Taisen, bother with dragging along someone else? Despite several attempts at manipulating myself onto his side, I had never been able to convince him to not show his sword through my brain-matter. Even Rabbit I had somehow managed to ally myself with once.
   Unfortunately, winning solo was an impossible ideal with my physical-capabilities, therefore every time I restarted, I had to decide what person to bet on beforehand.
   Not chicken. I spotted her, the silly crest at the top of her head put a mohawk on the long evening-shadow she cast. One of my favorite saying was: Don’t compete with the master at their own game. In this situation it translated into: Don’t try to double-cross Chicken, because she will triple-cross your double-crossing and feed you to the crows, pidgins and all other feathery-servants that lives in this city.
   Rustling in the bushes alerted me to Sheep, passing up the front-door in favor of entering sneakily through a went or something. As bad as Chicken that one. His kind, old man-routine never fooled me. What mercenary survived that long without growing ruthless?
   As the sun touched the horizon, Dog arrived. Here we had someone who thought himself to be the “bite before they bite me”-type. His track-record made one think the exact opposite. Maybe because I was young his inner kindergarden-teacher snuck to the surface. If I took a page from Chicken’s book, and spooked him with the threat of Rabbit being a necromancer, he would be swayed to not rip my throat.
   Dog turned is head around and sniffed down the street. I could tell the wind had carried the smell of alcohol to him, which preceded Tiger’s arrival. If this hound was a bad man who struggled with a good heart, the cat had the opposite problem. That someone as broken and enslaved to the primal desires of violence and drinking as her wished to be a righteous warrior, awoke only pity. Maybe she realized herself how futile that dream was; Tiger couldn’t have come to the Juuni-Taisen to met her idol without being prepared to die.
   Leaning back I examined what kind of taste in my mouth the thought of teaming up with Tiger or Dog gave me. My stomach didn’t turn at the idea, though at this point I couldn’t choose someone on the merits of being preferable company. Even Boar, who loved watching me dance between her bullets, who I rather shove a toilet-brush down my throat than spend time with, was a valid option, because she thought herself an immortal fire-arm’s goddess in relation to the scrawny teen with a stick-sword, and that was one big, oozing, exploitable weakness.
   For the fourth time, I missed a jump in the game because my eyes blinked too long.
   She was a heavy-hitter, like my last options Horse and Monkey. Around them I could take a nap, with a note on my back saying “STAB ME”, and they wouldn’t move a single hair on my head. That did them (by extension me) more bad than good.
   I yawned, then awoke shivering to the light of a risen moon. Cursing I heaved my body, that creaked like a plank of wood, away from the trunk and massaged my ankles before jumping down. The only man made-light remaining came from the lobby of the skyscraper and glittered against the rushing water in the fountain. The noise stood out to me, and I realized it was because none of the typical night-life-noises were drowning it out.
   A city without people feels weird, I thought. Can’t say it’s unpleasant, though. This place must have been this quiet from the start, before civilization came, with all the traffic, constructions and drama. Now the planet’s reclaiming it’s airspace.
   A hasty look at the clock standing next to a darkened lamppost, told me that there would be four more hours until Boar arrived. I would rather wait them out in a warm room.
   Usually I would have a plan before entering.
   The thought floated past.
   How many times lately have I walked onto a path without figuring out what I should do, because I didn’t care?
   I scowled until the muscles in my face lost the motivation to keep it up.
   I haven't lost my will to fight. Is there anything I haven’t tried?
   My feet froze as air stopped traveling down into my lungs.
   I don’t want to die.
   Exhaling, I swung around and stomped away from the doors which closed, spurned, driving my feet down hard, as if to punish them for stopping.
   – Thank God the other warriors aren’t seeing this, I growled through my teeth.
   Though, did it matter if they saw me piss myself? I never wanted to enter the Juuni-Taisen. Why not scream, cry and choke as they threw me to my death, again and again and again?
   I don’t want to die.
   My body was constricting me, like a cage cramped with too much meat.
   Nine paths left. Down to the point where I could count them on my fingers.
   Who will kill me the next? If Boar gets a hold of me she will shoot one limb at the time, watching me crawl over the ground in a futile attempt to get away. Alternatively Dog will be pumping me full of poison. Might as well walk straight into Ox nine times and end my life painlessly.
   Warriors with stronger attachments to life than me, knew better than flinching from death. That was when it took you for sure. Pursing my lips tightly I begun to recite “Who killed Cock Robin” in a loud voice.
   – Who killed Cock Robin? I, said the Sparrow, with my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin. Who saw him die? I, said the Fly, with my little eye, I saw him die. ...
   I rambled several unique verses, getting the words grinded into my backbone out in the right order. When I reached the end I repeated it, sometimes snapping the rhyme out quickly, tongue like a whip, sometimes pronouncing each syllable carefully, breathing in sync with the words, until I felt it drown out my other thoughts and could take a deep breath.
   That felt like my first time in a war-zone all over again, I thought, closing my eyes to bask my throbbing head in blackness. I need to think of something.
   Grimacing I considered my worst enemies in the war, Ox and Rabbit.
   Few had ever defeated them, most of the time one took down the other, then the survivor cleared the battlefield bereft of equals. Almost no equals, Monkey could be their match, technically. As far as I had been alive to witness it, she had never survived through the witching-hour. Thinking about miss Sharyu made my stomach churn. I would compare it to being stuck in a puzzle-game, only without the scripted plot where every action contributed to clearing a stage. Miss Sharyu was a key. Instinct told me that she should open a door somewhere. In atleast thirty paths I had held on to this hope, while the confidence in my intuition dwindled.
   What if I’m wasting my time, paranoia pointed out.
   – Perhaps I’ll die no matter what I do, I said, just to feel how the words weighted on my tongue, then shrugged.
   I might as well go with the hopeless option that shows the most promise, I thought.
   I had hoped that deciding to choose the Monkey would remove some of the concrete off my shoulders; they remained heavy.
   Still need to revise my plan of action after Monkey’s killed. Can’t place hope on her miraculously surviving.
   A gasp escaped me, the sound when you found a secret door in the game-level you’d been exploring for days.
   Monkey surviving, that was a thought.

Chapter Text

I hid behind a tree, breathing heavily. One would expect that outmanoeuvring a headless corpse would be easier the tenth or so time he chased you. On this occasion Snake had herded me into an apartment complex. Escaping had entailed smashing through a window, which had dealt me a plethora of uncomfortable cuts.
   It was logical that the battles I repeated wouldn’t play out identically to the last, as my opponents improvised and adapted to circumstances which I couldn’t replicate perfectly, though was it too much to ask that a brainless man would be more predictable?
   While Snake himself was blind and deaf as a worm, Rabbit, who fought Monkey the street over, could spot me. Therefore I exposed as little of my body as possible while peeking past the trunk. Snake was crouching, palm pressed against the ground. He seemed to be sensing vibrations through the earth this way, like his name-sake. As soon as I made a move he would find me and resume the chase. Thus I remained still. I would wait.
In the light of the streetlamps Rabbit continued to assault Monkey, while she avoided each and every swipe of his blades, eventually kicking one out of his hand, at which point Rabbit rushed away with Monkey chasing, just as she had done close to a hundred times before.
   Counting the seconds, I glanced at Snake. When I reached five he stood up and spurted away in the same direction as Rabbit and Monkey. Going there to kill the latter. That order had seemingly been conveyed directly to his non-existent brain.
   My heart skipped into the throat as it was time for action, – Annoying, how it still does that. – and I pursued. My hope was that Snake would zone me out, absorbed by his new mission. He turned on the spot.
   A wall of searing flame rushed towards me. With the smell of boiling air in my nose, I threw myself sideways and rolled behind a car.
   It should be against the law for a zombie to be this obnoxious.
   The flames evaporated and I saw Snake hurry away. Biting my lip, I came to the conclusion that if I couldn’t get closer to Snake, Monkey would turn into a deep-fried primate.
   Figure it out.
   My gaze swept around me.
   He sensed my footsteps; how far above ground did his periphery extend?
   I leaped to the top of the car. Ahead of me: Vehicles, facades of buildings, streetlights and a bridge. Firstly I used cars as footsteads, making my way across the parking lot, jumping, rushing sideways upward a building to reach the streetlamps. Between those the leaps were larger, approximately ten metres. Most people would call clearing even one impossible; I traversed them all with half a mind, focusing on Snake as I gained on him. It looked like he didn’t notice me. With a final greater jump I reached the bridge as he passed underneath it. Rushing across, …
   Dear God don’t let me burn to death.
   … I threw myself down on top of Snake.
   Mum would never have allowed me to head out to war if I couldn’t atleast time a fall to land on a running man’s shoulders. Snake’s bones made a wonderfly hideous, cracking sound when my feet struck. He stumbled, giving me the opportunity to sever the straps binding the flamethrower’s fuel-tank to his back with my rapier.
   Hands that acted too soon, fingers, pressing like pliers, took a hold of a boot and pulled me away. My back smashed against the ground and Snake’s legs locked around my stomach, squeezing so hard that I feared my organs would split.
   My mouth opened into a soundless – Oh, while the legs pressed all the air out of me like a boa constrictor.
   A corpse can’t be startled. It wouldn’t need to recover from a surprise.
   I messed up. For a second my muscles were relaxing, taking the sight of Snake’s hands nearing my throat with stride.
   What am I thinking? my thoughts screamed, and pulling my sword closer, I stabbed Snake in the sternum, below the severed neck.
   There are not enough paths for me to assume that next time’s the charm.
   Snake continued reaching, ignoring the blade sinking deeper. Though it felt like it was Horse I grappled against rather than a man only slightly leaner than me, the rapier gave me leverage enough to push him upward, enough to let me thrust my hand out for the flamethrower. Before I could touch it, Snake kicked it away.
   No, no no no … wait … yes.
   Finally his blindness worked to my advantage; the tube still lay within reach of my fingers. While Snake pressed himself down to the hilt of my blade, fingers settling in a comfortable choke-hold, I pulled the nozzle towards me, aimed, took a moment to begrudge that this would hurt, and twisted it like I’d seen Snake do countless times.
   The flames that hit Snake like a bulldozer, would have also burned my face off if I hadn’t turned it away beforehand. During one second the heat made me feel like I was a hot-dog which a child had put in a microwave to watch explode. The hold around my stomach loosened, allowing me to shut the nozzle and roll away.     Smoke coming from my hair made a warning-alarm go off and I patted my head like crazy. Meanwhile Snake squirmed on the ground, embers glowing across the charred flesh.
   Take this, you rotten bastard, I thought while turning the flamethrower on, from a more sensible distance this time, and let the fire finish it’s former master.
When the corpse stopped flailing, I threw the nozzle away, stood for a couple of seconds, consuming the ensuing stillness with a painting breath, then threw myself down on my back.
   Please let me sleep.
   – Not right now, I scolded, while pinching my arm hard.
   There Miss Shariyu, that is all the help I can give you.

Chapter Text

For a short moment I saw a look of surprise cross Usagi’s face, and he grew more aggressive, swinging the blades without conserving energy. It made getting into the blindspot behind him all the easier. When I reached out to trap his arms, he, likely predicting my intention, started away.
   Not so fast, I thought.
   Leaping, I tackled him from the back, pushing him down in the process.
   I grimaced when Usagi cried out as his body scraped against the asphalt.
   – I’m sorry, I said as I forced the weapons out of Usagi’s hands and wrenched his arms back.
   At this point he was screaming and flinging himself like a rodeo-horse. When he tried to stand I kicked his feet away. The fact that I had to struggle on top of a large cotton-ball posing as his rabbit’s tail, complicated the struggle, and I worried that Usagi would dislocate his shoulders with his flinging. My concern must have made me hold loser for a moment, because he nearly managed to roll onto his back with me sitting on him. With my left arm I pressed harder, while my right hand reached for a point at his neck. Closing my eyes, concentrating on the life-energy that was swirling around in the body below me, electrical currents debouching from the spine like branches of a tree, I pressed down my thumb between muscle and bone. As through magic Usagi’s entire body grew limp, paralyzed.
   I sighed in relief, while Usagi gasped. Tremors passed beneath his skin as he tried to will the sleeping muscles to stop refusing him. He twisted his head back and forth, the one part of the body allowed to keep it’s mobility.
   – You will be able to move again soon, I promise, I said, while putting down his arms and standing up to make him feel less trapped.
   Instead of a reply I received a thin wailing, growing into a scream.
   – No, no! Stop it!
   – Usagi?
   I reminded myself to not start shouting at the man who begun breathing in a hastening pace.
   Did I trigger a phobia of his? I wondered. Or it doesn’t have to be something that peculiar. Juuni Taisen is a deathmatch and I just rendered him lame.
   – All will be fine. You’re safe Usagi; I won’t hurt you, I chanted, stroking his back and moving my hands in circles where I knew it would have a calming effect.
   A quivering eye, large as a bloody moon turned and stared. He whined and layers of sweat broke out over the greyish skin as he continued to panic unabited.
   – Usagi please, I said reaching out to stroke his head, like a mother would do to comfort a crying child.
   Quick as a viper he twisted his neck nigh unnaturally backward, and dug a row of crocodile-sharp teeth into my fingers. I blinked in surprise when they cut through my gloves and blood dropped in abundance down onto the ground. Gruffing, I first attempted to wrestle my hand loose with as little collateral damage as possible, though with every passing second Usagi bit down deeper, soon scratching against the fingerbones of my ring and index-fingers.
   My ringfinger. If Usagi bit it off, where would I place the wedding-ring when my boy-friend and I married?
   It’s funny how negligible fears can take their grip over you at such times. What terrified me wasn’t losing a bodypart, but the possibility of not being able to wear a ring on my wedding.
   With that fear alive in my mind, I jerked. The sensation was comparable to racking my fingers against a saw. My hand plopped free, the two smaller fingers dangling like bundles of meaty straps. Inhaling deeply, I let my backpack slide down to the ground and used my unharmed hand to produce a pressure-bandage and disinfectant from it. While I worked to dress the wound, Usagi was staring at me, mouth ajar and covered in my blood. I won’t lie and say I didn’t pour a greater abundance of disinfectant than necessary on my fingers, then scolded myself for acting as if a dog with rabies had bit me. Still I took the time to be thorough, – ofcourse, using only one hand also slowed treatment down, – all the while feeling his eyes on my neck. When I turned to him, finished, I noticed a slight fearful trembling shaking his body. The smallest bit of rancor that I might have harbored after him biting me, disappeared in that moment.
   – I understand how terrified you must be, I mumbled.
   What should I do? Perhaps if I took my time, without doing anything sudden or unexpected, he would come to understand that I did not mean him any harm. We were exposed out here though, and I also needed to consider Nezumi. Right now he’d perhaps finished off Snake and returned to the point where we split up, provided that the fight had gone well. I would have to carry Usagi, and that opened up a slew of problems to consider. Foremost: He might slip open my throat like he did my hand. Paralyzing him completely to avoid that would be immensely cruel considering how scared it made him. The same with pulling him by his legs or arms. That was the way one moved corpses from a battlefield, or how the jailers in some of the most oppressive prisons I’d visited pulled convicts that were too weak to stand. The mere thought of treating another human being like that … There was no sedative in my backpack that would serve to calm him, – I had prepared for poison and bleeding; not panic-attacks – or that wasn’t entirely accurate, since I had a small vial of chloroform, enough to peacefully put a warrior to sleep if I had no other choice, but using something that strong would bereft me of the chance of reasoning with Usagi, then Rat and I would have to either carry around a large unconscious person, or be forced to abandon him. Pursing my lips I considered the last option I could think off.
   When hunters captured wild animals alive they would cover the creature’s heads with a sack. Does in particular were known to be sensitive enough to die of fear; putting something their eyes seemingly forced them to relax, and the trick worked to some extent on humans.
   It’s rough treatment, I reflected while taking off my leather jacket. Atleast this will keep him from chewing on me.
   I tied the clothing together over both his eyes and mouth, eliciting another yammer that formed a lump in my throat. I caressed his back and leaned forward.
   – Listen to me Usagi, I am going to carry you for a while, until I find Nezumi and a hidingplace. Then we can remove this.
   While saying this I heaved Usagi’s uncooperative body onto my back, concentrating on keeping him from diving over my head, which barely reached his chest.
   It could be worse; It could be Horse.
   He gave a surprised cry and his shivers were traveling into my back. Hushing him, though I didn’t expect any results, Usagi surprised me by growing still. Not a calm stillness. He gave me the impression of carrying a hunting dog on my back, one with prey dangling right before its nose, and a longing to strike.
   As long as this distracts him from panicking, I told myself, forcefully keeping my breathing relaxed.
   His scent entered my nose, sour from the lingering fear, sweat and a subtler smell, metallic and sickly sweet at the same time. Many warriors share that smell.
   – You were interested in being in a team right? I said. What about discussing an alliance once we’ve settled somewhere?
   Though I couldn’t call it an answer, Usagi made the same kind of noise I’d heard continuously from him before the tournament started. A noise that made him sound puzzled. Meanwhile his head twitched from side to side, like a bird that curiously studied something from all angles. Perhaps he reacted to my voice?
   – If you remember, my goal is for all of us to survive. You don’t have to kill everybody to have your wish granted, I elaborated.
   Usagi continued to sound the same, because I spoke with him or because of some other factor, I wasn’t sure.
   As I stepped over his blades that lay where he’d dropped them, it struck me that if I left them Usagi would be defenseless. The blood on their tips had dried and created a crust that looked as black as oil in the beaming moonlight. Not only Snake’s blood; also Boars (maybe even Chicken’s). Perhaps later we could come back for them; now I rather not bring them along.

Chapter Text

There is a limit to how obvious a trail can be before you turn suspicious. Even a sheep that doesn’t feel hunted wouldn’t slam his hooves into the ground to make the tracks twice their usual size. I’d blamed Sheep’s apparent clumsiness on him being old and possibly a bit senile, but this …
   – … Is like a hare fooling the pursuer by jumping backwards in it’s own tracks.
   Turning away from the rope, – tied to the edge of a roof in order to fool me into thinking Sheep had climbed down the high-rising houses, and leaping back the way I’d came across the tops of towering buildings, I swept my eyes across every nook and cranny in search of the small clues that would reveal where Sheep had split from the deceiving path. – One he must have laid out beforehand for this kind of occasion. If I had been the old ram I would’ve prepared false trails across the whole city in the hours before the tournament. Completely with an explosive bogey-trap at the end.
   A gust of wind took hold of my hair and, frowning, I brushed the silky strands away from my face. The moonlight gleamed against the golden cufflinks of my outfit and caught a red glimmer. I lowered my arm and studied the droplets of blood, which must have belong to the warrior of the Chicken. Even the smoothest killing was rarely clean. By now the wind that stroke freezing fingers across my chin, would’ve stolen the last warmth from her corpse. She had gone out with conviction, challenging me to protect an ally. To go from killing a youngster in over her head, to an old man who hadn’t known when to stay retired.
   I should hurry on, I urged myself. Just then, my gaze fell on the faintest of footprints outlined in the dust.