Monster Hunter Gensokyo: Frenzy
A Touhou fanfic inspired by Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International series.
Written by Achariyth
Frenzy takes place four months after Portent and two months after a planned work tentatively called Infiltrator. Events for both stories are referenced.
"I'm sorry, I was just talking about an RPG my friends and I were playing last week. Want to hear about my level five sorceress?" Noire said. The dark-haired kappa with a bob cut sat at a classroom desk alongside a mix of Newbies and veteran Hunters. I'd known her since long before Marisa had swept up a bunch of us in her get rich quick gold mining scheme back before Reimu started her lucrative monster hunting company.
I bit my lip as Sanae Kochiya's eyes widened. "No, no, no!" the priestess said, shaking. "You're trying to scare people off. Say that, and every gamer in a city block will be after your number. Last time Nitori did something like that, she had her own fan club."
What can I say? There's something about a cute engineer with a gun that guys find irresistible. From Noire's feigned innocence, I know she's aware of that as well.
"You don't want to get one the way I did," I said, hopping off of the desk. "Saltwater dehydration hurts." A while back, I had chased a gremlin through a sunken ocean wreck. To catch it, I'd transformed into my river kappa form. I caught the little monster right as the sea pulled the fresh water from my body.
"The love letters and free food made up for it," Sanae said, hiding her smile behind her hand. My hospital room had been flooded in cards and gifts from lonely technicians on the island.
I'm Nitori Kawashiro, and right now I'd rather be back in my lab instead of helping Sanae teach Newbies. But after a recent contract went sour, to the tune of hundreds of mummies, wraiths, wights, ghouls, zombies, and an abomination in a cherry tree, Reimu used some of the massive bonus from that mission to hire more Hunters. More shooters meant more guns, more ammo, and more everything needed to make sure we don't get caught in another last stand. While I'd rather play with my toys instead of creating cover stories more believable than "swamp gas off of Venus," the Newbies needed to know that skill. Most of us have that less-than-human look; it's best to sound as boring as possible so that people don't stop and ask more awkward questions. Like "Why are you carrying more guns than a police station?" and "Why are you covered in blood and gore?"
"Try again," Sanae said, staring down Noire.
While my kappa sister stammered her way through the rehearsed lies, a doll hovered its way inside the room and handed an envelope to Sanae. Opening the letter, the priestess said, "Class is over. Everyone, back to the office."
"I've got two jobs," Alice Margatroid said from behind her desk. It was good to see her up and around, especially after a priestess had purified her during a zombie outbreak. (It's a long story that I'm certain I've told before.) The doll master insisted that she was back to normal, but she hadn't hidden her cane half as well as she thought she had. Two dolls, each the twin of our blonde youkai secretary, passed reports around the room.
For once, the room wasn't filled with that dead werewolf smell that lingered since Flandre Scarlet liquefied some very bad doggies. Instead, it reeked of wet dog and oni. Kasen had been tutoring Momiji and Suika in the secrets of mountain hermits. Apparently, the process involved a daily dose of a marathon's worth of running. I breathed through my mouth as more Hunters squeezed their way into the small office.
We had three teams now, and our support section, formerly Alice and I, was now a team in its own right, thanks to Noire and a few others. Even with the harsh training and the horrors of the gut crawl winnowing away most of our recruits (try crawling through a dark tunnel after Flandre's exploded a McDonald's worth of cows inside), Reimu had hired Kasen, Momiji, Suika, and Mokou. Although in Mokou's special case, hiring isn't quite the word I'd use. Reimu even signed on Patchouli as our archivist even though the fussy librarian hadn't done the gut crawl. (She had flushed out the course with a spell card before she crawled through the tunnel. I wish I had thought of that!) All the new faces squeezing in among the veterans made Alice's office cramped. I tried to squirm around Momiji, but got a nose full of wet wolf tengu tail fur for my trouble.
I sneezed as Alice's Hourai doll slipped a stack of papers into my hand. I don't know how she managed to find that tissue as fast as she did, but I was grateful when the Hourai doll handed it to me as well. Momiji turned around and glanced at the paperwork in my hand. Underneath the tissue, my nose wrinkled.
"First up, there are reports of a aswang in Yokohama," Alice said, reading from the clipboard on her desk. "Only one's reported, for once." She looked around for volunteers.
No thanks. I've had my fill of undead. A graveyard's fill at that. At least the assignment would be a straightforward fight once they tracked down the werewolf-vampire thing. Note I said straightforward, not easy. It'd be perfect for Kasen and her Newbies. I hope they don't forget to bring salt.
"I hope the next one is more interesting," Wriggle Nightbug whispered next to me. Cute as, well, a bug, the boyish firefly could fire two pistols at the same time and actually hit what she aimed at. Apparently, compound eyes made Two Gun Mojo possible.
"Not too interesting, though," I whispered back while Alice ran through the details. Interesting had a way of finding me like the blood that invariably soaked my armor each mission. After chasing a gremlin through an underwater wreck, trying to escape after a werewolf took me hostage, fighting a wight alone in close quarters, and keeping Mokou from tripping a Halon fire suppression system and gassing an entire building, I was ready for some old-fashioned routine boredom. Sure, I could quit working for whatever Reimu's calling the Company this week, but I couldn't give up all the cool toys we got to play with.
"Kasen, take your team and Wriggle on this one," Reimu said. Even though the mission was a milk run, she wanted experience handy. A Level head didn't hurt either, which ruled out Marisa and Cirno.
"So much for interesting," Wriggle said. Her antennae twitched in anticipation as she tapped the Perpetual Unearthly Forces Fund (PUFF) bounty for the aswang. Even the short share of 7,500,000 yen could make for a memorable night on the town.
"The second job-" Alice began.
I turned the page over to the next assignment. Someone had snapped a photograph of an open-mouthed shark wreathed in tentacles around its face. From the size of the teeth in the picture, this was likely the photographer's last. I recognized this one instantly as the monster that filled the nightmares of the river folk. A lusca, or sharktopus as the current movies call it.
"I'll do this one," I said. I'd do it for free even, but the wise Monster Hunter doesn't make such claims in front of Reimu. She'd take me up on that offer in a heartbeat.
"I'll go, too," Noire shouted. She bobbed up from behind Kasen and Sakuya.
Our people have a long smoldering feud with these sea monsters. Normally, lusca remain in the ocean while we kappa keep to our rivers. But sometimes the sharktopus would swim and crawl its way up a river, devastating kappa villages along the way. They preferred our young, but would feed on any kappa nearby. Now, if a shark fin is sighted in a river, we descend on it like, well, a wrathful Reimu on a mischievous youkai. I've even participated on lusca hunts. It's become a social event, in an odd way. After the chaos between "what's that smell?" and "thank Kanako that's over," we even have a cookout. Sharktopus is divine with a spray of orange and a little pepper. Raw with a pinch of rice is good, too.
"That was quick," Youmu said from the front of the room.
"It's a kappa thing," Noire said.
"Where is it?" I asked, praying that the monstrous fish hadn't been found near any of the kappa settlements.
"Matamoros island," Alice said, snapping her fingers. A Shanghai doll rode the projector screen down as it unfurled. A map of a familiar island chain filled the screen. "Near Tsukishima."
Bright Xs appeared along a U-shaped island and its nearby neighbors. On the Pacific side, of course. Large sharks and lusca avoided the shallow lagoon whenever possible. Not that I would be going for a swim. I learned my lesson from the last time I was there.
"Book us a ride," I said. Already, I was making a list of things to bring from my lab. Explosives, fish finders, pneumatic harpoons, a little surprise I called the Dezombifier that I wish I had with me during that disaster at the Buddhist monastery...
Why's everyone inching away from me?
"Not so fast," Reimu said. I snapped out of a pleasant dream of explosions in my head. "I'm not letting you run off all alone with a Newbie."
My smile grew strained. Last time I went off by myself, Sakuya and Mokou had to sneak me out of a building infested with a hidebehind and Monster Control Bureau teams trying to collect a bounty on me.
Look, the necromancer that dumped a millennium's worth of old graves on us was a kappa. That one of my people had caused the mess at the monastery, well, I wanted to find this rogue alone in a dark alley. And I was searching a lot of alleys back when Mokou and Sakuya saved me. I still am, and I think Reimu knows it.
"Last time we sent a kappa to the tropics, we found out that they don't like salt water," Sanae said. She had been my partner on that Tsukishima trip and nursed me after my...accident.
"We'll wait for it to come on shore first," Noire said. "Only a fool chases lusca in open water."
"You've fought them before?" Reimu asked.
Noire nodded. "So has Nitori. As I said, it's a kappa thing."
"Fine," Reimu said. "Take Marisa with you."
"Alright!" the witch said. "Tropical vacation time!"
Instantly, the room filled with a chorus of "I want to go, too!" Reimu banged the flat of her hand against the table until the din died down.
"Noire and Nitori are going because they're our lusca experts," she said. "Marisa goes because someone might need to fish either of them out of the salt water. Everyone else not tasked to a mission stays. It's an expensive trip even without the bribes needed to get Nitori's surprises on the plane."
I knew the real reason why Reimu sent Marisa. She wasn't coming to help us, the witch was there to stop me if I went off the reservation again.
"Make it stop," Marisa whispered. The witch held her hands over her ears and huddled in the center seat. Empty soda cans and trial-sized whiskey bottles covered the seat tray in front of her.
It wasn't the long airplane flight that reduced this master incident resolver and Monster Hunter, one who had faced down gods, youkai, and even Reimu herself, to a quivering wreck. The airline pilots had kept the flight nice and smooth, more's the pity.
"Don't forget to calibrate..." Noire said from the window seat. She rattled off specifications and procedures from some obscure bit of electronics manual that I couldn't recognize. Fortunately for her, Maria clenched her eyes shut. I'm sure the witch would have wiped the devilish smile off of my assistant's face.
Well, maybe not just Noire's. My smile matched hers. Do you really think I'd pass up a chance for a little payback? Especially with an audience captive for hours at a time? Marisa's treated my workshop as her own private arsenal for as long as I've known her. But as I wracked my brain for a set of technical specifications I hadn't already used, the plane banked to the left. Specks of brown and green could be seen thousands of meters beyond Noire. "Cool!"
Noire and Marisa pressed their faces against the glass. "Can you see the island?" Marisa asked. I couldn't see anything past the thick mane of blonde hair.
As the plane landed, I swore that I'd get the window seat on the next flight. Fifteen minutes later, as we sat on the runway and sweltered in the heat, I just wanted a shower.
"Okuu doesn't keep the Hell of Blazing Fires this hot," Marisa said. She tugged on her collar and fanned herself with an in-flight magazine. "Was it this bad last time?"
"Sanae and I took a helicopter, not a flying oven, " I said. "And I was smart enough not to wear a mountain of clothing to the tropics. Don't you have a spell to deal with this?"
The door mercifully opened. Now, instead of just being hot inside the plane, it was swimming-through-soup humid as well. That actually made it more bearable for Noire and I. Marisa looked like someone had just fished her out of the sea.
We walked off the plane and into one of those bad American World War Two movies that Suwako likes. Palm trees, whitewash, and rust gave the island that faded paradise gone wrong feel. I half expected to hear air raid sirens and men in khakis running in formation.
Island security waved the new arrivals toward the three-story building that served as Matamoros's customs office, airport terminal, and control tower. But before we went inside, an attendant with a sign for "Miss Kirisame and associates" waved us over to a side gate.
"There's only one rule you have to worry about on the island," Ms. Jones called over her shoulder as she drove our golf cart down the beach road. While it was nice to see a familiar face from my previous visit, I didn't want to imagine the amount of money Reimu must have thrown at her to get her away from Tsukishima for a week. Fixers aren't cheap.
"Surely there's more than that," Noire said. She watched wide-eyed as dark blue waves crashed against brown rock. A bread truck weighted down with our gear and luggage plodded along behind us. I wondered how nervous the driver would be if he knew that he was carrying enough gear to invade the island for the third time in its history.
"Well, none that apply to you three. I'd suggest that you refrain from blowing up anything expensive, though. There's not much infrastructure on the atoll or jobs, so stray bullets will ruin lives."
"That's great and all," Marisa said, leaning out of the cart and into the breeze. She'd ditched the apron, but was still stuck in her layers of petticoats and black dresses. "What's this one rule?"
"Don't cross the air field," Ms. Jones said. She pointed to the runway. "Ever. It's for safety. We never know when we're going to get a flight and the residents get testy whenever they can't get food and mail because someone's getting scraped off the tarmac."
"Shouldn't be a problem," I said, holding my cap tight against my head. It felt like we were riding in a wind tunnel. "Most lusca wouldn't bother hoisting themselves this far inland."
"Normally, that is," Noire said, looking down at a welcome pamphlet flapping in her lap. "Apparently the atoll sold fishing rights this year to a nation known for sweeping the seas clear of life. If one's hungry enough, it just might."
"Just don't go talking about monstrous fish. The authorities have been blaming the attacks on riptides," Ms. Jones said. That sounded about right; lusca liked to drag their victims away to underground caverns before feeding. "They don't want anything scaring the tourists off."
"It's hard to hide a fish...thing that big," Noire said.
"They'll just blame it on the American nuclear tests in the 1940s." Ms. Jones turned past a baseball diamond. More whitewashed buildings sprang up around us.
"Now that's more like it," Marisa said and whistled. I smiled as Noire gasped. You never forgot your first sight of the lagoon. Where dark blue rollers crossed on the bare rock shelf on the Pacific side of the island, the lagoon's aqua waters stretched to the horizon like glass. There was even a small stretch of sandy beach, complete with fire pits. It curved around until it met the busy marina and an even busier grill. I didn't need to be a fortune teller to know where Marisa would drag us tonight.
"That's Rumrunners. Only real restaurant on the island, or at least the only when were you can get something besides catch of the day. " Ms. Jones turned again, following the beach away from the marina. Marisa sighed as the road took us into a tangled mess of palm trees, wide-leaved brush, and vines.
"Is that kuzu?" Noire asked, pointing to where a thick braid of vines choked out a palm tree.
"Kudzu is everywhere," Ms. Jones said. The thick leafy canopy shrouded the sun from sight. "They tried to get rid for 60 years. Now, they just try to keep it from spreading to other islands. Some of the locals even blame it for the lack of rats and cats on the island."
"That's interesting," Marisa said, wringing out her collar. "But where's the shower?"
"Hurry up, Marisa, you're going to use up all the cold water!" I shouted, banging on the bathroom door. The door and the shower muffled her undoubtedly caustic response.
She'd been in there for an hour, and I was starting to get twitchy. Mostly because I'd been trapped in this concrete igloo the island had given us to stay at out where the lagoon met the Pacific. It would have been spacious, even with three women, if we hadn't stacked piles of monster hunting gear in the center.
Yes, you read that right. Concrete igloo. No, it's not some crazy military building, just one designed to withstand the typhoons that regularly swing through the islands. They look goofy, so the island keeps these houses far from the tourist areas. Noire and I want to build one when we get back.
"Hey, Nitori, did you know that you can see where the Americans mined stone from the ocean during the war?" Noire said, reading from a pamphlet. I swear, that girl had read me every brochure on the island at least once while Marisa showered. "Wanna swim in the quarry?"
"No thanks." I sighed, unballing my fists. At least the hut was air conditioned, or I think I might have dunked Noire in the ocean just outside our door. "I got my fill last time." Along with my own private room at the local medical station. I planned on not going kappa form or swimming while we were here.
"Well, did you ever got to any of the other islands? The guide says Ralik is between here and Tsukishima," Noire said, pointing to a map on her pamphlet. I doubted that even Aya could have made anything out from a picture that small.
"Sanae did," I said, scowling as my mind drifted towards the tedium of a sterile white room. "As soon as the doctors cleared me to leave the station, we left for home." And not a moment too soon, as the local doctor had plans of getting enough data to publish a kappa appendix to Gray's Anatomy.
"She said it was a typical Third World shantytown. Too many people, too few jobs, and more children than a legion of Keine clones could wrangle."
"Well, when this is done, I'm going to visit. This is my first trip away from Gensokyo and I want to see everything," Noire said. She started digging through a duffel bag. "I even brought a camera."
"Don't tell me that you're turning into a tengu."
The bathroom door flew open. Marisa walked out with a fluffy towel around her body and another wrapped around her hair. "I feel much better. So, what do they have to do around here?"
"You two go ahead," I said, thumbing open the latches on a black Pelican case. "I want to check on the gear."
"You're coming with us," Marisa said, staring me down. "Bad things happen when you wander off."
"It's an island! How much trouble do you think I can find?"
"You did a good enough job last time you were here."
"Fine," I said with a sigh. "I'll go."
"Shower's free," Marisa said, nodding to the open bathroom door.
I fumed as Noire strode into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
"This is a waste of good fish," I said, driving a wicked hook through a mackerel before tossing the fish out into the surf. After rinsing my hands in the ocean, I waded further down the water line, taking care to avoid the thick cables stretching out between the beach and the bait. My thick rubber waders slipped and slid on the slick rock under my feet.
After sleeping off a night's worth of revelry and alcohol, we had set up shop on the Pacific side of the island on a stretch of sand between the runway's edge and the ruins of the old wartime pier. Not much of it remained except for a concrete pillar and a rectangular scar the size of a soccer field hewn into the ocean floor. The locals called it the Shark Pit, after the triangular fins that flourished out here where the Pacific waters churned into the lagoon. Sport fishermen would crawl down a rock pile covered in brush and kudzu just for the thrill of reeling in a shark.
Last week, however, one of them didn't return. The Shark Pit had held another monster that day.
"This is what the fishermen brought in last night," Marisa said from the shore. She scanned the ocean surface with a pair of binoculars. Our carbines and that abomination of a shotgun that Marisa loves so much rested on a plastic tote box by her feet. I shuddered to think of what the salt spray would do to them. "You don't think that's enough? Try to look tasty while you're out there then."
"You're the one who marinated herself in beer all night," I called back, flinging my last fish past the white wall of breaking waves.
"All done!" Noir hollered from the other end of the beach, waving her hands. While I slipped my way back to safety, she flew across the rock floor in her bare feet. Show off. I wobbled ashore and helped my assistant tie the cables to a charging circuit connected to a car battery. Noire had stolen the idea from commercial fishermen who used electrified harpoons to quickly and humanely kill large fish. I doubted that it would work. Not because of Noire's skills, but because I knew the universe was conspiring to drench me in blood yet again.
"And now comes the hard part. Waiting," Marisa said, opening a case half as long as the witch was tall. She assembled a black rifle that, when finished, would be as tall as she was.
"Does Reisen know you stole her elephant gun?" Noire asked. She twisted down the last lead to the battery and walked towards her stash. She'd opted for a spear gun, an M4 chambered for the heavier 7.63 round, and a brace of soda-can sized explosives that she lovingly called her depth charges. Unlike Marisa, Noire hid her arsenal behind a wall of rocks she had stacked on the beach just for that reason. A similar stack hid my more exotic collection of firearms and gadgets.
"I just told her that Nitorin needed to run some acceptance tests," Marisa said. She slid a magazine the size of a hardcover book into the sniper rifle.
"She believed that?" I said, drooling over the M107A1 on the beach. Reisen guarded her favorite toy jealously, as everyone in the Company wanted a turn behind the sights. If that was all it took to get the rabbit to part with it...
"Marisa laughed as she eased her way into the prone. "Not a chance. It did keep her busy long enough for Wriggle and Cirno to slip it out of the armory. I wouldn't make eye contact with Miss Cuddle Bunny any time soon. Not until Youmu can calm her down."
"You going to hide that?" Noire said, settling into a beach chair next to her stash. Lusca were clever and weary. Some had even learned to recognize firearms.
"Fine. It'll give me something to do."
"That's a pretty one," I said, fishing a red pebble from a pile cupped in Noire's hands. Held up to the sun, the smooth stone blazed in the light.
"I like this blue one better," Noire said. She tapped a long flat disk. Sunlight gleamed off of its translucent surface.
"What do you have here?" Marisa said as she walked over. She plucked a green one from Noire's collection. "Nice! Hey, Nitorin, didn't you say that gemstones looked like this before they're cut?"
I nodded as I glanced out to sea. Nothing, not even sea gulls playing with the bait.
"I found all this in just fifteen minutes," Noire said with a smile. She slid her collection into a vest pocket. "The beach is covered with them."
Marisa's eyes widened as she backed away. "I'll be right back. Call me if anything happens." She turned and flew down the beach.
"So, are you going to tell her that it's just beach glass?" I whispered.
"Let her find out on her own," Noire replied.
A triangle cut across the surface of the water. I lowered my field glasses. Sure enough, it was still there.
"Fin! There's a fin!" I called out, pointing at the sea. Marisa and Noire jumped out of their chairs. The witch settled behind Reisen's beast of a rifle, while Noire waited to throw the battery's switch. I just stood there, with my field glasses, watching for another sign of shark or worse.
An hour later, blinking away the glare from dry eyes, we resumed our vigil from the comfort of out beach chairs.
"You've got to be kidding me," Marisa said.
Noire stood at the water's edge holding a fishing rod three times again as tall as she was. "I'm hungry," she said and cast her line out to sea.
"I spy with my little eye-" Marisa began.
"Water," Noire and I chorused.
"Let me finish. I spy something that begins with 'E.'"
"Even more water."
"You ever see a crab stand up tall like that? It looks like it's on stilts."
"Stop playing with your food, Noire."
"Marisa, it's not even near me."
The sea had over the course of the day ebbed away until we could see the bait fish on the top of the waves. Bare rock stretched for hundreds of meters where the sea once stood, except for the rock quarry's cut out, which looked like a large inviting swimming pool in the middle of the expanse.
I'm not sure how long we waited by the water's shrinking edge. It might have been mid-afternoon, if you went by the lengthening shadows. It felt like late evening. I know I needed a nap. Even Marisa looked as droopy as the sun baked kudzu behind us. I pulled my cap over my eyes and leaned back in my chair.
Rubber crunched against gravel. I turned as a golf cart swung around, rolling to the edge of the rock pile's drop. Ms. Jones leaned out of the cart and cupped her hands. "Get in. There's been a large shark attack over on Ralik."
Just reading about Ralik Island in a guidebook, like Noire did for the hour it took to get there, isn't enough to give you a feel for the place. Knowing that the island has more population per square kilometer than Tokyo is one thing. Seeing the maze of cinderblock building crowd out everything else on the island hits you in the gut in a way that words alone cannot. The guidebook doesn't say what it's like to watch an overturned sea turtle larger than most dinner tables gasp its life away in slow motion on the deck of a fishing boat while the owner takes bids for the meat. Nor does it tell you of the mother's terror for kids not even my own species as they scramble up the mast of a rusted out landing craft so they can dive into the water below, often missing the hulk by inches. Nor does it tell you how to keep Noire from buying from the fish market an industrial sized cooler crammed full of ice and a fish loosely resembling red snapper.
Let's just say this part of the trip was a real eye-opener for me. Even after a shark(topus) attack, life went on over at the protected lagoon side. On the Pacific side, however, they hacked sharks to death. What remained after the fury got bound in nets, tied to buoys off-shore, and left to rot.
"Why are they doing that?" Marisa asked, watching the red cloud in the water spread and fade.
"Wait here." Ms. Jones walked over to a group of men with long knives While she spoke with them, a young child ran over and latched onto the water bottle in Noire's hand. She lifted the water bottle over head. Both kappa and child giggled as he dangled from the water bottle. Marisa pulled him down and send him away with a swat from her hand.
Thankfully, I had kept my pistol next to my heart and not where little hands could easily steal it.
Ms. Jones came back. "Apparently, rotting sharks repels other sharks. They said that they've seen the creatures that size before, but never after leaving the dead sharks out."
Noire and I turned and stared at each other with open mouths. "We've never tried that before," I said. "We never would have thought to. We're river people."
"And these are sea people," Marisa cut in. "Ask lots of questions while you can."
I stumbled out of the bathroom, a thin wet robe clinging to my body. Even after an hour long nap on the boat ride back from Ralik, all I wanted to do was sleep. In the dark, please. It's after eight at night, can someone please turn off the sun?
Falling into my bed, I wormed my way under the covers and cocooned myself in the sheets. My eyes closed. For a moment, my body felt as if it were buoyed about by waves and then sleep's embrace claimed me.
Then something heavy bounced on the mattress by my head. "Wake up!" Marisa said, shaking my shoulders. "We're going out."
I don't remember exactly what I mumbled back to her, but Noire swears that I threatened to turn Marisa into human andouillette sausage. I don't exactly believe her; no kappa alive remembers how to make that old recipe.
"Closer the door behind you." I rolled away from her, clenching my eyes shut.
"You're coming with. I don't speak fisherman. Someone has to translate for me."
"You speak liar well enough!" Noire choked back her laugher as Marisa thumped my arm. I groaned and opened my eyes for the first time, blinking away the glare. "Take Noire."
"I'm not going without my best friend," Noire said, giggling.
If looks could kill, I would have just depopulated the entire island. "Why are we doing this?"
"Information," Marisa said, shaking my shoulders before tugging the sheets off of me.
"We got some good tips on Ralik."
"And we can get some more from the fishermen at Rumrunner's."
"You just want free drinks."
"No one says that we can't enjoy ourselves while we're here at this tropical paradise." Marisa dropped a stack of clothes on my head. "We're leaving in half an hour. Wear something cute."
"Please?" Marisa said. She looked up at the butcher with wide, hopeful eyes and her brightest smile. The market's meat and fish specialist shrugged off her attempt to wrap him around her finger. At least there was a counter between them, else Marisa would have likely tried a more direct approach.
"It's too early for this," I groaned, sifting through the pharmacy aisle of Matamoros's largest market. Granted, if I'd been able to sleep in until noon instead of being pushed out of the igloo door at dawn, it would still be too early to deal with Marisa's cute little old me routine. Something in these bottles had to be able to kill this growing migraine. If not, I'd just steal some vegetables from the massive freezers that took up half the store. Perhaps the improvised ice packs would work.
"No," the gruff butcher rasped, slopping fish, guts, and blood into a twenty liter pail. The mess looked like good old fashioned kappa-style chili, just like Grandma Kawashiro used to make every weekend. I was glad for my sunglasses, though. He kept his counter spotless and gleaming.
"But we wanted to go shark fishing today," Noire said, adding a cute little tremor in her lip to that classic heart-wrenching pout. I hated listening to all this saccharine cutesy crap before breakfast. "and everyone says that you've got the best bait and chum on the island."
I rolled my eyes as the vice crushing my head squeezed harder. Why couldn't we just steal the bait that we wanted? Settling for a small bottle of generic ibuprofen, I shuffled off towards the register.
"That might be, but you're not getting any today." I hadn't seen a man so immune to a girl's charm since Rinnosuke. The butcher might look like he just escaped from college, but he had to have daughters of his own.
"Why not?" Marisa added her own sad puppy face to Noire's.
"This stuff doesn't grow on palm trees. It takes a day to make. You want it tomorrow, place your order now."
"Alright, we want an order," Marisa said, shifting to as professional a mode as a girl in a witch's hat and a tank top can manage. "Not just for tomorrow, but every day after. Until we say otherwise."
"Do you offer bulk discounts?" Noire asked. Unlike Marisa, she hadn't turned off the cute girl act.
"Sign this," the butcher said, sliding a clipboard into Marisa's hands.
The witch scrawled a pen across the page. "That takes care of tomorrow. what about today?" The butcher smiled for the first time since meeting Marisa and pointed into the store. Marisa followed his finger with her eyes. "You've got to be kidding!"
"Fire!" I shouted, bringing my arm down in a chopping motion. Noire let go of the water balloon catapult's cup. A ball of dog food pellets shotgunned high into the air and splashed into a breaking waves. "Maybe a little higher."
Noire nodded, scratching figures into the sand with a stick. Reaching over to the hastily improvised tripod for our chum launcher, she adjusted its height.
"I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'd be on a beach shooting dog food into the ocean," Marisa said. She scooped another load into the catapult, always keeping an eye on the water.
"'If it's stupid and it works, it ain't stupid,'" I said, repeating ancient kappa engineering wisdom. Noire pulled back on the catapult. Five seconds later, the air rained dog food again.
"The judge is still out on that. That butcher just wanted us out of his hair."
"You did lay it on pretty thick," Noire said, tinkering with the tripod. I seem to remember a certain kappa egging her on as she played along.
Marisa shrugged as she reloaded the launcher from a five kilogram bag. "It was worth a shot. So, how long do you think we'll have to do this to see results?"
Once more, Noire lobbed fish and rice pellets into the sea. "An hour, if we do this once every five minutes."
That took the fun is out of shooting dog food. Not that I expected there be much fun in making it rain nutrition over the ocean. Normally, for something as repetitive as this, I'd just make a machine handle this, but we needed to start the chum slick right away. In the time we've been waiting for the lusca to appear, I could have designed one, if I hadn't called away every five minutes to service the chow cannon fifty-two times in a row.
At least we can see several small fins slicing through the dark blue water. Noire, Marisa, and I had worried that the butcher was snickering at three idiot girls silly enough to toss dog food into the water. He still might, but my concerns were alleviated when Noire reeled in a pair of what she called blue snappers within the first hour. She's got them on ice for tonight's dinner.
I yawned and sat back down in my chair. Maybe I'd give Noire's rod and reel a try. It beats waiting-
Out in the ocean, the fins scattered quicker than fairies from a shrinemaiden duel. I sat up, and slung a spear gun and my M4 carbine behind my back. Pulling the slings tight, I glanced over at Noire. She'd armed herself in the same way and had managed to stash some of her depth charges in the pockets of her vest. I pointed at her and then at the sea. She nodded, and took off further down the beach at a brisk walk. Picking up a harpoon long enough to double as a walking stick, I set off in the opposite direction.
Marisa eased behind the scope of her monstrous rifle and waited. I knew there was also a stack of Master Spark cards near her.
After about fifty meters, I stopped and crouched, waiting as I watched the waves. My heartbeat pounded in my ears. I forced myself to take long, slow deep breaths. Breath in, two , three, four. Hold, two, three, four, and out, two, three, four. Something was out there. Predators don't flee like that unless some really nasty stopped by. It seemed like the entire world held its breath. If something doesn't happen soon, I think it might choke.
A triangular black sail broke through the dark blue waves in front of me. I'd hunted lusca before, so I knew my role. Bait. Sharktopus were still fish, kind of, and a well-aimed spear would pith it like any other fish. It's hard to make that precise a shot when a mass of teeth and suckers are bearing down on you, so I'd hold its attention while Noire took her shot. Hopefully, she'd turn the beast from a bad day into the beach into the island's biggest fish fry with her first shot.
The fin took a leisurely circle out beyond the surf. At one point, I thought I'd get to make the kill, then it looped back around towards me. Back to being the decoy. Looks like it's time to do my best Honey Ryder impression. (Hey, I have a soft spot for movies featuring Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.)
I stood up, harpoon in hand, and drove the butt of the spear into the ground. Meandering along the beach, I picked up the occasional piece of beach glass. I couldn't quite bring myself to sing "Under the Mango Tree," like Honey Ryder did in Dr. No, but I hummed it. Keeping that fin in the corner of my eye, I made my way closer to Marisa and Noire. Occasionally, a black octopus tentacle writhed in the air before slipping back under the water.
"Come on," I whispered, as the black fin stalked me. I even turned around once, just to see if it would follow. Apparently, kappa was on today's beachside menu, but the lusca was being cagey about it. Biting my lip, I staggered forward. My walking stick broke my fall.
Three tons of calamari, teeth, and hunger charged through the white spray wall, splashing into the shallow waters of the rock shelf. There was still enough depth, however, for it to swim instead of crawling on its tentacles.
I've been a part of my village's lusca hunts, but always as a chaser, never as the lure. Even then, the biggest I ever saw had been a blue shark before whatever process turns a fish into part squid, part shark had its way with it. That one was only 200 kilograms of saw teeth, twitchy muscles, and flailing tentacle. By flailing, I mean bone crushing, not erratic. The one torpedoing toward me was ten times worse.
Of course I froze.
"Nitori!" Noire screamed, rushing towards me.
I turned and ran at an angle towards the rock pile, in that ancient kappa lusca hunting drill. When it beaches itself, Noire would hit it from the side. But no one had told Marisa our plan.
Sunlight glinted from her scope as she wrestled the heavy rifle towards the sharktopus. In the water, it pivoted sharply. One pulse from the tentacles ringing its middle sped it towards deeper waters. Small fountains chased after it as Marisa got the gun working.
I shouted, fumbling for the carbine on my back. More shots followed. The lusca vanished into the white rolling waters. A trickle of red trailed behind it, until a soda can splashed nearby. A second later, a giant plume of water shot skyward, obliterating any trace of the monster fish. For a minute, the beach had a brief and intense rain.
As the ringing in my ears faded, I lowered my M4 and said some really unladylike things that Patchouli won't let me repeat here. That thing's been hunted before. It recognizes guns. Best we can do today is hope that it doesn't grab a snack at one of the other islands on its way out. We're going to have to be trickier tomorrow.
Wheels within wheels. It's not the usual kappa approach to invention, but I'm not going to braid and spool three separate strands of heavy fishing line by hand. Fifty meters makes for a lot of braiding. Nor was I going to pawn off the job to Noire. She had to figure out how to boost the spear gun's air pressure.
Using a magically-enhanced laser pointer, I tacked a giant reel to a thick steel spike. Noire scowled as she watched my work. She had a better hand for wielding. Chemistry and circuit design's more my forte.
"Stop that," Noire said, lashing a pair of compressed air charges together. Most spear guns used a pump-action reservoir to launch a harpoon. We needed more power to throw a heavy spear through the sharktopus's thick, sandpapery hide. "You're just making more work for me."
"Fine," I said, walking away from the trio of spools and spikes. I had to step around the piles of components and tools littering the igloo. Creation is rarely a clean process. Opening a fishing tackle box, I rooted around inside and pulled out three envelope sleeves. "I still have to slip the capacitors in between the tines." Fortunately, I had a better hand at soldering.
None of this work would win any award. Chewing gum and baling wire approaches never do, but they get the job done. You won't see any actual chewing gum in my work, though.
The door trembled on its hinges as something heavy slammed into it. The doorknob turned, slipped and turned again. "Who ordered the tuna melt!" Marisa said, backing into the igloo. She carried a large brown bag filled with Styrofoam boxes. Noire held up her hand without looking up from the harpoon gun.
Marisa sniffed the air and scowled. The maze of tools sprawled out in front of her. "Ozone again?" She set the bag down by the door and dug out two small boxes. "I'm just going to leave this here for you two. If you need me, I'll be outside."
"Do you thing we have enough?" Noire asked, setting the last of ten white buckets at the top of the rock pile. Like yesterday, the beach itself was placid, unlike the wall of churning waves and rock in the distance.
"You do know that's for the lusca, not you, right?" I called back. Marisa and I had already slid down the rocks to the beach. "Pass it down."
A bucket hissed and then popped as Noire pried off a lid. Something in the brush rattled. Maybe the rats came back last night. She inhaled deeply. "Shame. I've got to get this recipe."
"Gross," Marisa said, gagging and heaving by the rocks. To a kappa, the buckets of fish, guts, oil, blood, and meat smelled like a feast. From the way Marisa's skin suddenly matched the kudzu, humans thought differently.
I wiped the sweat from my brow. "Please tell me that you didn't do that to all of them. It'll be hard enough just getting those down here without having to worry about making a mess."
"Just the one," Noire said, hoisting a bucket over the edge. I grabbed it from the bottom and walked it over to the rocks by my stash, looking like those women in paintings who carry large baskets on their head.
"I'm going to check...on something else," Marisa said, moving upwind.
As I hauled off eight more buckets one by one, I could hear a constant rustling. Must be a rat. Returning to the rock pile, I saw Noire struggle with the wobbling open bucket. "Be careful!" I called out.
Noire unsteadily swung the bloody pail out towards me. Drops flew everywhere, splashing on rock, vines, and even my boots. A quick rinse in the ocean should get those clean again, much to my relief. I stepped underneath the bucket and steadied it with my hands.
A green blur lashed out from the rocks, wrapping itself around the bucket before plunging into the fishy mess. Blood and oil sprayed everywhere as the chum was ripped away from Noire and I. A river of red drenched me in fish guts. For once, my armor wasn't soaked; I'd left that back in the igloo. I still had that sticky crimson sheen that I'd come to expect at the end a mission. Why? Because the universe hates me. I wiped my eyes clean and flicked the excess into the rocks.
Noire screamed as vines pulled the bucket into a thick clump of kudzu vines. More tendrils rolled out, falling onto the blood-soaked sand below. Wherever the plants touched red, they wicked away the mess, leaving white sand.
A shiver ran through me. Spinning about, I dashed away from the writhing vines. Tendrils lashed out and wrapped around my ankles. I fell face first onto the shells and pebbles littering the sticky sand. Scrabbling for purchase, I looked back. The leafy tendrils drained away the blood from my pants.
Something bit into my leg, as though someone scraped sandpaper across my skin before clamping down. I screamed once, and the vines pulled on my, dragging me towards that thicket against the rocks. My second scream was louder and shriller. I fumbled with a multitool that I shook out of its nylon sheath. It slid from my slick fingers. I was dragged away before I could reach it.
Marisa ran towards me, cupping an object in her hands. "Get down!" She pointed a wooden block in my general direction. Eight trigrams etched one her elemental furnace glowed white. Flame gushed out, burning through the kudzu by my feet in second.
"Be careful!" I shrieked, rolling my oil-soaked body away from both the plant and the fire. I cringed; those shells underneath me were sharp!
The witch marched past me, still hurling great jets of flame. Bright yellow fire lashed against the rock pile as she burned out the kudzu thicket. Even the white pail melted under her assault. She walked down the rock pile. Wherever kudzu grew, she seared the rocks clean.
Noire donned a thick set of work gloves and scrambled down the popping rocks. "Are you okay?" She rolled me onto my side into the medical rescue position. The black-haired kappa looked me up and down and threw up her hands. "I won't be able to tell if any of this is yours." She tried to scrub her gloves clean in sand. Instead, she turned her black gloves white.
I sat up and rubbed my hands together. It hurt, but a small stream of rock and shell fragments dropped from my hands. Wincing, I patted myself down. "If I had more than bruises or scrapes, we'd know it by now."
"You've got a friend," Noire said with a scowl. She took hold of my foot and pointed to the vine entangling it. A myriad of thin wiry hairs poked through my pants. Nitori worked her gloved fingers around one tendril and broke the vine. Blood oozed from the end. "We've got to get this off of you." She tugged on the vine.
Marisa later told me that I'd make a great scream queen, whatever that means. All I know is that hurt. Imagine someone ripping tiny hooks out of my flesh, and you'll get the idea. That vine didn't want to let go.
"I'm getting the first aid bag and the sat phone," Noire said. "I want to run this by Patchouli and Reisen."
"Can I at least rinse this gunk off?
It had taken a while for Noire to tie a tablet into the sat phone, but by the time Marisa had returned from sterilizing the beach for a kilometer around us, we'd established the video link. I'd like to say that Reisen talked Noire through a complicated procedure to remove the vines from my leg. She tried, but it was easier just to rip it off. I'm glad they got me drunk first, but I'm never going to be able to drink bourbon again.
Noire held up the vines in front of the tablet's camera with a pair of tweezers. "Any idea what this really is?"
"It looks like kudzu," Patchouli said, pushing Reisen out of the frame. The librarian shrugged. "What do you expect from me, taxonomic classification? I'm an alchemist, not a botanist. "
"I can run it by Yuuka or Eirin if you save a sample," Reisen said, stepping in front of Patchi.
"Let's try Eirin first," Marisa said, helping me sit up. "I don't want to see the Garden of the Sun filled with those vines."
"Make it two samples," Reimu said, wrenching the camera back in Gensokyo off its base and aiming at herself. "We might be able to collect PUFF on it." Normally, I'd recognize that as the bounty system that pays us for ending the types of monsters that send the humans on rampages that kill innocent monsters and youkai, but the only PUFF I recognized then was a magic dragon. I think Marisa dropped some mushrooms in that bourbon when I wasn't looking.
"It's pretty easy to kill with fire," Marisa said. Most monsters were, to the point where the unofficial first law of monster hunting stated that when all else fails, kill it with fire. She leaned closer to the tablet. "We only found it by accident, though. We never knew it was there."
"Think you can find it again?"
"I'll have Alice draw up a contract on this vampire kudzu. You might have some more work down there," Reimu said. She tilted her head and looked at me. "Get her out of that mess and cleaned up. Meanwhile, I need to make a phone call."
Waiting for a clean bill of health seemed silly to me. What's the point of waiting to see if I turn into a monster when I'm already one? I'm pretty sure that if I was going to turn into a leafy mess that only Yuuka would love, I would have done so by now. Still, it's nice to know Reimu cares. She brought over the medical staff from Tsukishima, the same ones who treated me the last time I got hurt in these islands and the only people who've treated kappas in this time zone.
At least the wait brought me something I haven't had on this island; solitude It's a rare commodity on such a small island, and rarer still when Marisa keeps on dragging me to Rumrunners every night. Even the sterile hospital room with a bed harder than concrete couldn't dampen that enthusiasm.
I pulled out my tablet and hopped back up on the bed. I swiped my thumb across the screen and a world map unfurled. Diamond Xs studded the map. Japan had a lower score compared to America, China, Europe, and even some areas of Africa. Zooming in on my homeland, I recognized a few new marks, one only kilometers away from Gensokyo.
A list scrolled in front of me. Hobgoblins in Nagano, angry poltergeists, a rampaging jiang shi, that aswang Kasen's team chased down in Yokohama. All monster attacks . My eyes widened . How the hell did a chupacabra from Mexico make its way to Mahora, Japan? No undead outbreaks, even though monster sightings were on the rise.
That little traitorous bitch of a necromancer went to ground. I'd find her. That hobby of hers would give her away. I just had to find the right event.
In Hokkaido, an entire small village disappeared without a trace. The buildings were still there, complete with tables with meals ready for dinner, but people and pets vanished. Strange tunnels were found nearby, and the brave souls that entered them never returned. I dragged that into a special folder, and the X in Hokkaido turned red.
Someone knocked on my door. I shut off my tablet as slid it under my pillow. "Come in."
Marisa walked in, accompanied by one of the Tsukishima doctors. "Hey," she said, grinning. "He says you're human." I scowled at the witch. "You know what I mean."
"I wouldn't have put it quite that way," the doctor said, coughing into his fist. I rolled my eyes. Is everyone going to make jokes about what I really am? "But I don't see any signs of infection."
"Or infestation," Marisa deadpanned.
"Anyway," the doctor cut in. "Keep the leg dry and wrapped when you go out. Please, try not to go into the water. I'll get a nurse to check you out and you'll be good to go."
As soon as her left, Marisa's smile faded. "St. Vincent's Island spotted a giant shark an hour ago. Well, some of them think it's a shark, other's a squid." She slid me a map of the atoll and pointed to an island between Tsukishima and Matamoros.
"Anyone hurt?" I said, sitting up straight.
She shook her head. "They evacuated the beaches as soon as they saw it."
"It's staying close. We're in its hunting grounds."
"If it heads to Ralik again, it's going to feast. After seeing that thing, I'm not sure that shark trick magic or whatever will work." Marisa held my gaze as she spoke. "We're going back out there tomorrow and we're staying out there until we get that thing."
The sea was a bloody mess like those bad horror movies Remilia loves to laugh at brought to life. Last night, Noire had bought, begged, and outright stolen over 600 liters of liquefied fish, blood, oils, and offal. It was a shame to see all of that kappa stew cast onto the waves. The slick reached past the white breaking waves that separated the shallow rock shelf waters from the deeper Pacific Ocean.
I raised a sledgehammer high into the air, and drove a steel spike into the sand and rock on the shore. It took a while to hammer it flat. Setting the attached reel to spin freely, I tied one end of the braided line to an improvised sparkler harpoon.
Noire shrieked. Not in fear, but like she was at a Birds and Beasts concert. She pointed out towards the waters where nurse sharks thrashed and churned their way through the shallows, even up at the water line. Loud clicks punctuated the air as jaws clamped down on floating fish chunks. Normally these nurse sharks so docile, you'd have to stick a hand down one's throat just to get it to bite. Now, the wise kappa who wanted to count to twenty on her fingers and toes wouldn't set foot in with the blood-drunk fish.
"That's not natural, is it?" Marisa aid. She had set up Reisen's sniper rifle near another of the steel spikes. Unlike yesterday, we made no attempt to hide anything. In a frenzy, the lusca wouldn't care.
"The sharks or Noire?" I asked.
My assistant carried a white bucket to the water's edge and set it down. She tipped it over and a red flood surged into the waves. Sharks beelined over, sucking up the fishy mess as the tide swept the chum out to sea. Two nurse sharks even swam up onto the shore, sticking their snouts inside the overturned pail.
Noire laughed freely. "Can I keep one?"
If I could have figured out how to get on the plane, I would have said yes.
"I'm more partial to black cats myself," Marisa said with a shrug. She wrapped a handkerchief around her mouth and nose.
"Don't let Ran hear you say that," I said, watching the frenzy in the water. The two nurse sharks slide back into the water, joining the churning shallows. Noire ran back towards the stacked buckets of chum.
"That's got to last all day," Marisa said, the cloth muffling her voice. She stacked decks of spell cards next to the Barrett rifle. "Man, this place stinks."
"We still have ten," Noire said with a pout, carrying the bucket away as she spoke.
The sharks left. One moment, they splashed together in a swirling mob, the next, they sped away in all directions like rings of danmaku.
Noire's eyes widened and she spun around and ran the bucket back. Running isn't quite the proper word; she had settled into that high speed shuffle people do when overburdened.
"Drop it!" Marisa shouted. She picked up a spear gun and fiddled with the reel by her feet.
Noire tiptoed to a stop and set the bucket down. A swift kick tipped it over, spilling blood and guts away from the water, splashing over the rest of the bait.
I cringed; like an idiot, I'd left my gear over there while I was setting up. As usual, cleaning off my gear at the end of a mission would be murder. Although, if the scarlet-smeared landscape was anything to judge by, this one was going to set new records for misery. Worse still, that spill left me with just what I had on me for functional gear.
One kappa-kludged Saturday Night Special of a spear gun, one M4 with a full rifleman's load on my belt, a deck of useless water-based spell cards strapped to my wrist, a diving knife on my thigh. Not exactly the best weapons for shark hunting. Oh, and one sledgehammer. At best, I'd be a quick decoy.
We spread out to our places, each with a spear gun tied to a reel tamped into the ground.
The first ripple swung around the sole pillar in the ocean. I raised the spear gun to my shoulder and tracked the knife's edge of a fin through the sights. The black chimera threw itself out of the depths and into the shallows.
Normally it would have fled. We made no efforts to hide ourselves or our firearms from the typically cautious beast. However, the siren call of liter of fresh blood drove it into a frenzy. It would rend and tear anything that remotely looked tasty, including two kappa delicacies far away from their native rivers. (Yes, and Marisa, too. Why should I bother to mention her when everyone knows humans are monster crack?)
Right now, that crazed sharktopus had decided it wanted a bite of Noire. Charging through the waters like a crow tengu in the sky, it hurled itself through ever shallower water until it could no longer swim. Then it pulled its way across the beach by its squid-like appendages. Nothing that massive should run so fast, especially without legs.
Noire stood her ground admirably, even if she looked a bit shaky and pale. Not that anyone would blame her. She jerked her trigger, and her harpoon tumbled end over end into the water. Another flew straight and true, but sailed over the lusca's back. Once again, Marisa proved why we kept her to her shotgun whenever possible.
Meanwhile, I had dropped into the prone and steadied myself. A quick breath out, and I squeezed the trigger. My harpoon, complete with its braided line, embedded itself deep into the flesh below the rear dorsal fin. The reel spun freely, sounding like a bicycle chain in rapid motion. Rolling to my feet, I flailed about until my hand slapped against the reel. With a push of a button, a ratchet set, ending the reel's spin. It would no longer feed line to the sharktopus.
The lusca spun about and charged me instead. I zigzagged down the beach, but it wasn't long before I could smell ocean rot over the miasma of drying blood. I rocketed ten meters into the air just before two tentacles could grab me.
I trembled as I hovered high in the air. Those tentacles were built like a squids, complete with rows of jagged teeth hidden inside the suckers. If one wrapped around me, I couldn't escape before the beast tore me apart.
Marisa emptied her Barrett at the fish, each shot sounding like loud metallic popcorn. For all of the fury, red only fountained from the beast's side once. She swore as she leapt to her feet and pointed her elemental furnace at the fish. A Master Spark lashed out and steam rose wherever the light struck. The shark writhed and ran for Marisa. Clouds of buckshot and Noire's rifle fire bit into its hide. Blood-crazed and hurt, it thundered across the rocks.
The creature lunged at Marisa, tentacles splayed out in a fleshy net. Marisa took flight. While I found refuge in the skies, she wove around and under tentacles, tail, and teeth, showering danmaku whenever possible.
Even as hot embers sizzled against its hide, the sharktopus still pivoted about on its appendages like a deranged tope. Jaws snapped and tentacles whipped around, yet the witch managed to avoid the writhing mess.
"Get out of there!" I shouted, watching the spectacle through my scope. She kept on getting in the way of a clear shot. I didn't know how she kept from getting dizzy. A bull-jumper would shy away from some of the close calls. I didn't think she flew so well without her broom.
Spinning and scattering stars in her wake, Marisa shot down the beach towards Noir. My fellow kappa's eyes widened and then she vanished. I shook my head in disbelief. What good could Optical Camouflage do against a creature that could smell you miles away?
Now that I had a clear shot, I fired once. The shot must have gone wide; the kick sent me spiraling. After my tumble, I dove to the ground and landed on my feet.
Meanwhile, Marisa flew to the end of the Shark Pit. The monster fish barreled behind her, until it was jerked back off of its running tentacles and flopped against the shore. The line tying it to the its anchor snapped taunt.
Marisa skidded to a stop and loaded another drum into her shotgun. The lusca lunged against the line, snapping like a leashed dog at the end of its chain. She pelted it with shot, blowing chunks from the tentacles lashing out towards her.
I walked my own fire from the tail to the ring of appendages by the its pectoral fins. Between Marisa and I, we were hurting the fish, but we'd run out of ammunition before it would fall. Assuming the lusca didn't rip free of the harpoon snaring it in place. Who even knew what Noire was up to? I kept watching for but never saw that sweet spot where the skull met the spinal cord.
Silver fell from the sky like an angry god's thunderbolt, piercing the shark's skin behind the skull. A load electric pop snapped through the air. I recognized that sound. A capacitor had discharged, violently.
The lusca collapsed as sure as someone had just turned it off. The limp mass of fish meat and calamari slumped into the sand. Marisa kept her shotgun pointed at the beast and waited. Some monsters played possum when hurt.
I sprinted towards the fish. No muscles trembled at all, no breathing (lusca can breathe air), nothing.
Noire decloaked and dropped from the sky. She stared at the fallen sharktopus and shook her head. "That was a lousy throw." She pointed towards the harpoon. It missed the spinal column by a few centimeters. Fortunately, she had grabbed one of my improvised sparkler harpoons when she was invisible. The electrical surge was close enough to the nervous system to scramble its brain. A proper kappa hunter wouldn't have needed that edge. Then again, most proper kappa hunters went up against much smaller lusca.
"Someone call Ms. Jones for the clean up," Marisa said. She looked out at the crimson beach. "We're going to need help."
I sighed and reached for my phone.
It only took an hour to grab the pictures, the tissue samples, and the after action reports needed to prove a fulfilled bounty and contract. (Regarding that after action report, we quickly came to the same conclusion on what we should have done differently. Everything!) However, cleaning up the beach and out gear of blood, brass, chum, and the general litter of the fight took two days, even with police and fire departments assisting. And, yes, it was every bit as miserable as I assumed. Your average island in the Middle of Nowhere, Pacific Ocean doesn't have the special solvents I normally use. I had to fall back on the universal solvent, elbow grease.
Noire and I never did get our traditional post-lusca kappa fish fry. Some alphabet soup agency I wasn't familiar with dragged away the carcass just after we got the tissue samples we needed. We made up for it by eating Rumrunners completely out of tuna steaks.
I waited outside the airport building with a heavy rucksack and two duffels in hand. The cathedral of rust could have used another could of paint. Whoever had complained about watching paint dry never had to watch rust spread. Sure, there were the usual take one/give one novels on a shelf inside the terminal, but I preferred to read Clancy's Debt of Honor in the original Japanese.
At least it was early enough in the morning that I could wear my usual utility dress without sweating though it. I had to leave my key in a duffel, however. It plays merry hell with metal detectors and for some reason security folks don't like that. Still, it would be nice to return to a land where I didn't need a shower as soon as I stepped out of the shower.
Don't get me wrong, Matamoros is a lovely place to visit whenever I'm not chasing down a hundred million yen worth of killer fish. It's still just a small island, though, and the charm quickly fades. I'm not a saltwater swimmer, after all, and the bar scene at Rumrunners got old two days ago. The job's done, time to move on to...other things. As soon as the next flight leaves, that is. It's only four hours away.
"Nitori!" Noire waved as she ran over. "I'm glad I found you."
"My fellow kappa beamed as she grabbed hold of a duffel. "More like what's right. Marisa just signed a contract to clear the island of vampire kudzu."
I feigned a smile. "You get to be bait this time."
She grabbed hold of my second duffel and dragged it and me away from the airport. "And I've chartered a tuna boat for the afternoon. We can even feed the sharks in the marina when we get back..."
Looks like I'll need to get a refund for my ticket to Hokkaido.
Thanks to Captain Vulcan for reviewing an early draft.
Noire is supposed to be the black-haired kappa from the kappa mob in Wild and Horned Hermit.
This isn't the final chapter of Portent. I know. I broke another promise. However, when I was writing the last chapter according to my outline, a character made a decision that shattered the plot completely. At the same time, I saw a picture of a lusca and three thousand words in a day later, Frenzy started taking shape. I'll still finish Portent, I've just got to piece the plot and foreshadowing back together.
It's hard to believe that I've been writing Touhou fics for two years now. Thanks everyone who preread, reviewed, and most especially those who have read my writing during that time. I can't thank you all enough, not without gushing.