[X] The above.
“O…kay. I understand.”
A crack in her facial expression. Like a child discovering words. A flash of an attempted smile.
“Make sure the vampire gets something to eat. Nothing bloody. Can you handle that?”
A careful eye upon her. She twitches.
She’s asking. Questioning.
“Something. Figure it out.”
You’ll have to keep a close eye on her.
Now, where did you put those guns?
There’s not much left, and nothing specialized for a silent operation, but it’s not like you can ask for more. You could, but you figure Yukari might not be so pleased to hand over a pile of guns for whatever purpose. Nor might someone be pleased to discover another storage room of missing weaponry. You really have to wonder where this stuff comes from, whether it be some long forgotten East German bunker, or from the ready rooms under the American Fort Knox. Perhaps it even comes from the motherland. Some of these weapons for sure have not been exported.
A poor Abakan. You run your hand down its side. Assault rifles are not suitable for this kind of work, unfortunately. Had you had one a week ago, you would have gladly carried it to the end, but now there are better alternatives. Yet it remains here, unused and discarded, having little purpose. It has so few brothers, it is a shame to leave it here. You won’t shy from its cousins though. If only you could find a Saiga.
You wrangle out a AA-12. It will do. It will do…
A dependable pistol. A glock. A silencer, even. More than you expected to find.
A knife. A vest. Take out the ceramics, there shall be no bullets today.
Flash grenades and third generation night vision. Not to be used at the same time, of course.
And finally, a harness. Suitable rope is procured. Rope has a number of purposes, especially in interrogation.
The moon is already darting to the top of the sky by the time you have all of your equipment laid out in front of you, but it matters little. You still must take the time to pack and load magazines.
Drum magazines must be partially disassembled, springs calibrated, ammo loaded in a careful order.
Weight must be distributed. Left upper back. Right lower. Waist. Flexibility on the legs is paramount. Freedom of movement for the upper torso is important.
Harnesses must be taut. Improperly worn, it may result in pain and rashes at the worst of times.
The locations of the knife and ammo must be standardized or carefully studied and remembered. Grenades must freely slip from their holsters, but only when tugged on.
You glance at the sky. There is a fantastic amount of moonlight peeking from behind dark clouds. It shall suffice for a night operation.
The trip up the mountain takes longer than you would prefer, but is otherwise safe. You almost thought yourself lost when a Tengu patrol doubled back thrice, each time almost discovering you. However you kept your nerve, and were able to evade them. It would do you no good to be discovered so early.
You crawl along on your hands to the edge of the bushes. Your target sits directly ahead, the only structure for at least a mile on either side. A curious little hut, built in a clearing with wide open view in every direction. You’re not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the house isn’t in their village.
Of course there is another problem. There are three of them. You only want one. They must be separated.
Your eyes scan the terrain for an idea before an object catches the bottom of your view. You take out a flash grenade, looking it over and thinking through the possibilities. Genius.
A dark, quiet night. Somebody call for thunder? And where there’s thunder, there’s lightning. Fortunately, you have both in one nice package.
You stand, gauging distance and steadying yourself. You pull the pin, and toss the first with a great overhand throw.
A flash of light and a roaring boom proceed a few seconds later. You quickly crouch and flip on the night vision, watching the house for any sign of activity. Not a creature was stirring, not even a wolf. That’s just fine. You have more, and lightning does strike twice – A little closer each time!
You let a few minutes burn away for authenticity. You stand, and chuck another even farther. This time, you think you can see one vaguely rolling over in their bed. That’s fine, too.
A third is thrown, and if you strain your ears through the ringing, you can hear movement in the silent night. You take off your pack, setting it aside. The only thing you keep on your person is a bundle of rope and the last grenade.
You crawl along the barren, grassy ground. Closer, closer. It must be perfect. Just close enough to throw it inside, but far enough not to be spotted. Your arms tire as you crawl, making you wish you had a grenade launcher right about now. Perhaps the Abakan could have served, today. Still, you don’t have one now, so it must be forgotten.
You are in position. Pull. Hold. Hold. Throw!
It arcs perfectly, coming right through the upper half of the window and exploding a second later. You press yourself against the ground, barely peeking up as the door to the hut bursts outward and figures come scrambling out.
She looks around. You can see those two ears twitch. Those beastly features.
She looks right over you. She cannot see you. Her eyes are not acclimated. You almost hesitate to activate the night vision, wary of even the slightest sound or buzz, but you must. You can see her clearly now. She scans the treeline, not the ground right in front of her.
They chatter at length, although you can’t pick it up. Their excitement dies down, but yours only grows. A final look around, and one goes inside. There are two. One wanders around the house, and the other stares at the sky. That one goes inside. There is one.
You barely inch towards the house, making only the slightest moves as the last one tarries outside. You start to gather a length of rope in your hand between crawls. Just enough to fit around her head…
She walks closer to you as you remain perfectly still. You must strike now, or her eyes will adjust.
A flash, and you are up in a second. She turns, bewildered, but ignorant of fear or danger. You smack her hard enough to spin her around, quickly jumping on her and throwing the rope around her neck. She balks upward, trying to kick, but unable to scream. You tighten the rope, forcing her onto her knees and bring her down. You bash her face against the ground – Once, twice, until she stops moving. A quick check of the pulse. She’s alive, but barely breathing. You remove the rope.
A quick look around tells you that nobody heard, or at least nobody came to check. You unbutton her shirt, rolling it up and gagging her. A quick fasten of the rope around her legs, and you engage in a dead heat, pulling with all your strength until the two of you are out of the clearing. You check your prisoner for a pulse, and satisfied with the results, you re-don your pack. You carry her now much gently. Not out of caring, but necessity. If she dies now, you can’t beat an answer out of her!
Your search for a suitable interrogation point leads you further up the mountain. Trees become sparse, the ground uneven. Tengu structures are more frequent here, although few are manned. You come upon a small mountain spring, and decide it will do. You set your prisoner at the pool’s edge and shed your pack, cracking your knuckles. It reminds you of Chechnya.
Of course, the prisoner must be awakened before interrogations can take place. You can stab them when they’re unconscious, but if they’re not just asleep they tend not to wake up. You pat down the vest for the mandatory suture kit, and find smelling salts instead. They will work, but first…
Ah… yes. That’s good. Sharp. Vivid. Strong. Your fatigue is gone. These salts will only last for so long, however. You take a second and break it under her nose, quickly working to remove the gag.
Her eyelids flutter as she moans, slurring words through her bloodied mouth.
You plunge her head into the water, holding it there as she begins to thrash. Fifteen. Fourteen…
You pull her up as the thrashing stops. You punch her in the diaphragm, and she comes back to life, spitting up a mix of green bile. You allow her barely two huge gasps before you plunge her back in. Ten. Nine.
Up again. She spits outs whole mouthfuls of water, choking as she gets as much air as she can.
“I want to know something.”
Down again. No need to ask the question, yet. She needs to understand that there will be pain regardless. The pain is lesser if she answers, though.
“Are you listening? You must listen.”
Her eyes roll around in her head, but she is able to mouth off a faint ‘yes’. That’s good, good. Cognitive functions still exist. Too much oxygen deprivation and well… there goes the brain. You allow her a precious few moments to grab a breath before asking succinctly while tightening your grip on the back of her head.
“Now answer me: How do you protect from Yukari? How does she not spy, and sneak, and trod upon your realm?”
Her mouth forms words. You lighten your grip for just a moment, easing her on. You put your ear close.
You dunk her back down in the water. Holding. Holding. Ah, it won’t do any good if she decomposes. You let her up. As you throw her aside, you notice she can barely move, barely breathe. Airways checked. The gag is reapplied. Limbs are bound. It takes three days for a human to die of dehydration. You suspect it will take longer for a Youkai.
Another interrogation awaits you. You might have to get creative. Time is burning. You must be off this godforsaken mountain by sunrise.
You must head further up the mountain, before you may come down.
Double quick, now. Don’t tarry. Over that ridge. Down that crevice. Moonlight is burning. Legs are aching.
The largest building on the mountain. Not two stories tall, but a vast eastern-style mansion. Servants dart in and out of structure, so how are you to know which is a “seer”? It’s quite simple, really. It always is. The best well dressed are the ones best off. This is true for the businessman, at the top of his glass tower in a prim suit. It is true for the rebel, lurking in his cave in a military dress uniform. It shall be true here, as well.
To enter the house is madness. To ignore it, impossible. The target must be flushed out.
With a sigh, you again untie your pack. You select a length of rope, check your harness, and ensure your knife comes out smoothly. Then you begin to circle. Once around the house at 100m. No features. Again at 150. Nothing. 200. 250. 300. Something clinks as your foot snags an object. Your steel-toed boots have caught a protrusion of pipe. You unearth it a bit more, flicking on your night vision and gauging its running direction. Back to the house, yes… and the other end goes further down.
You follow it.
As you reach the end, a brown muck barely showing a metal pipe, you become aware of how insane this situation is. You have just followed the septic line for the house of a Tengu who is much too well off, who really deserves to be raided with high explosive and a generous helping of fireteams. Yet you are running around, vainly searching for where their shit ends up in order to get them to leave a structure.
You must devise a better way of tackling structures.
The thought consumes you as you automatically survey the situation. Tear gas. No, too obviously you unless you hid the canisters. Hrm, lots of flow. Back it up maybe. Incendiaries – No, too much commotion. You might as well tell them all “Come here!”. A rock? No, a rock won’t snugly fit the exit. Is this the main drain? A secondary force, the anvil to your hammer, or sickle, perhaps. But no. The Youkai may be able to be vaguely controlled, corralled, and directed, but the Tengu are experienced against them, the humans have the wall, and Yukari wouldn’t blink an eye. Dirt. Simple pressure should suffice. Then again, waste is designed to seep into dirt.
Well you must do something. If you had a hammer…
With a hammer you can strike anything and everything to death. With your hands alone, you could. But not metal. Metal is not so easy to destroy as people. A strike. You use the butt of your rifle, but you must be gentle. It is not a Saiga, it was not born from Kalashnikov’s family. A rock must do. Pounding metal into metal. This is a job for the železnodoro men. It is said, though: If support can reach you, you must not need it. If you need support, it must not be able to reach you. You have found this to be true.
The pipe is destroyed. Crushed, blocked, rendered unusable. You use your knife to loosen earth uphill, and cover the end for added measure. You lug a few larger boulder chunks after that, and decide that must do without equipment. You are no plumber. You hope none of them are, either.
Moonlight fading. Always with the deadlines. Grozny by 0640? Be there at 0600. Trenches by morning? We had foxholes in 5. Kill 10? 100.
Back up the mountain.
Time burning. Tick. Tick. Tick. You wish it were a clocked explosive, but it’s just inside your head.
A shriek of timid confusion. The bottom rung, the servants. Then angry yelling. The authority is not pleased. A mistake has been made, but not theirs, you know the truth. A call for calm. The moderate.
Evacuation. Running from wastewater. You sneer to think of the things you’ve charged straight at.
Circling. Confusion. Disagreement. You identify several that could be leaders, or seers as it’s been put. You shift weight on the branch you sit on, careful not to disturb the entire tree. Your eyes follow the prey below, ignorant of your presence. You lurk like the Amur tiger, and the striking similarity nearly causes you to blow your cover with an audible laugh. It’s true, you’re stalking an inferior prey with night vision superior to a normal human. Just the perks of equipment, is all.
They’re moving. One of the important ones coming your way. Alone.
You silently lower yourself through the tree, quickly retrieving your pack and gauging her path. You make yourself a suitable lead, and hang the pack on a tree at chest level. Backtrack a few meters, and up you go. A leap, catch the next branch, and you perch yourself with not a sound.
Up, up. Out of sight, not in mind! You quickly screw a bolt in, checking to ensure its grip and then threading rope through and back into your harness. You carefully appraise the length, estimating the distance to the ground with the relevant issues factored in. Check the harness. No give, just some chafing on your legs. This is why you were never a mountain troop.
You sit there, clinging to the side of the tree’s trunk. Waiting. Watching.
Borrow a cup of sugar, neighbor? Aww sure my little pumpkin! Borrow a toilet?! Come right in! Stupid Americans. Stupid Tengu. So comfortable in your homes, so ignorant of the truths. A security action? Bah! You know nothing of war. Win the hearts and minds, lose the countryside. We know that lesson too well. Now you are the ones ensnared. We can build road and rail for a thousand miles, and have. From Smolensk to Königsberg. Moskva to Grozny in more recent times. You cannot even build an electrical grid! Pull up your generators and field kitchens and ignore the trees and ditches. You’re 70 years behind us when you face the Motti. You know nothing, and so we will bury you.
She draws close.
Breathe. Lean back into position, visualize the maneuver. It must be done with utmost precision. Know exactly how you will move and twist. You must be ready. You must be perfect.
The crack of a branch below. You let go.
You fall backwards through the air, identifying her figure in a split second. Your body twists, righting out as you lose those last few feet of air. Your arms strike forward, grabbing her under her head right as the line goes taut, snapping back up half an inch with a jolt. In the same instant you flex upward, lifting her up just another inch.
She lets out a gurgle as you hold her in a deathly chokehold, held up by your arms and her tiptoes. Her legs buckle as she tries to hold on, swatting at your arms with her hands in a futile attempt to drive you off.
You lift up a bit, just enough to raise her off the ground completely for half a second. Her arms stop and give a twitch as all airflow stops. You lower her back down, still forcing her to stand on her tiptoes – A stress position. You ease up on the hold, just enough to allow her to get some air.
“Understand? Resist again, I’ll pull up with all my strength.”
You make a cracking sound like her neck would, to emphasize your point. She tries to nod, and then has to gasp at the pain. You can’t help but giggle. She mouths a ‘yes’, instead, having learned her lesson.
“Simple, now. What keeps Yukari out?”
Silence. No response. You apply more pressure, and she chokes out part of an answer. You let up so she can talk.
Pressure, and ease up a bit…
“Posted… around the treeline and structures. Magically im-”
She loses her words in a cough before starting to choke on her own spit. You let up quite a bit, letting her rest on her feet as well. Your back receives no such relief, as you continue to hang upside down.
“Magically imbued. We mark our domain. She cannot trespass with her powers.”
“Similar to the shrine maiden’s ofuda?”
You ask quickly, driving it along to get yourself out of the situation so you can get down.
Breathing. Breathing. Shut up and catch you breath, you bitch.
“Completely, but we are specific in our desire to keep her out.”
Choke. A babble as you apply strength to her throat, lifting her back up. Hold… and she’s out. You release her limp body, quickly leveling yourself out. You bounce off the tree before securing a proper foothold, but from there you’re able to easily use your harness and rope the way you’re supposed to – To climb up. You remove the bolt you had placed earlier, intent on leaving no trace you were here. From there, it’s a simple drop back down through the branches.
Again, you tie your victim. Arms together, legs together, arms run to legs, placed on belly. Gag. Grab the pack, and think… about the pain. The chafing. The stinging around your crotch. Your back feels like you pulled out a vertebrae. Your head’s foggy from the blood pressure of being upside down. And it still feels better than when a thermobaric landed next to you.
Maybe you can grab an hour’s sleep when you get back to camp. Or sit down, take off the gear. Maybe there’s food. Or water. Or food and water.
…You didn’t have any food when you left.
You stagger into the camp as the sun starts to blaze over the horizon. No time for sleep. This is your one off day. You grasped it from the jaws of the beast, barely. Barely. Preparations’ must be made, today! There is no time for sleep. There is no time for- Eh, food can be eaten on the move. Where is it, where is the food? That is the Youmu. The…
You blink through fatigued eyes. Youmu is in a sleeping bag. With the vampire. They are asleep. Youmu. Is in a sleeping bag. With the vampire.
Where the fuck did she get a sleeping bag.
And more importantly, why is she sleeping with the vampire. You wonder also, perhaps, why the vampire is sleeping. But you can’t dwell on questions like that. No, no. You will ask later. Later.
You let your pack fall where it may, and take a seat upon those old crates. Your vest comes off along with the night vision. You just sit there, faintly staring at the woods. You rub your legs, your back. You urge up the effort and sit up long enough to remove the harness, too.
Your hands find their way together. You glance at them and see the ribbon in between smears of dirt, sweat, and blood that have come to cake your skin. There is no feeling from the hand that it bandages. You carefully unwrap it. There’s nothing under it.
Not anything. Nothing. Calluses, maybe, but the wound is gone.
Heh, well. That’s just fine by you. Maybe while you’re finding some magic you can find the magic that explains that, too.
Where the fuck are you going to find magic, charms, and some meaningful ability to use them?
[ ] Reimu. Friendly to humans. Friendly to you, surely.
[ ] Byakuren. Friend to all peoples is a bigger step, huh? She might ask why, but you can lie.
[ ] The world of the dead has-- had spiritual charms.