I’m glad to say that I was never such a hand at fighting.
Oh, certainly, I learned some token amount of self-defense, but fighting was a skill that took a huge amount of effort and time to practice and wasn’t even likely to be very effective, on average, for a small woman like me. Other, more important abilities took priority. Besides which, my life was much too precious to mother to risk in fights. Her philosophy was that if I had no illusions about my abilities, I wouldn’t put myself in risk; instead, I relied on avoiding fights altogether, or failing that (in the unavoidable but infrequent case of youkai), surprise, careful preparation, and anything else that made sure it was never a fair fight.
Point being, I had quite a few surprises up my sleeves. Literally.
But all of those still involved the basic movement of reaching into a pocket somewhere and that took time, a luxury I didn’t have as the writhing ball of claws and bony arm and flesh took another impossible leap directly at me. It was all I could do to dive to a random direction and face down directly into one of the rapidly spreading pools of blood in the room. Better than a wound, I thought as I felt the slick, still warm liquid stain my forearms.
It landed two paces from me and made an angry but ineffective swipe at the air, giving me time to scramble backwards and away from it.
This wasn’t looking great.
I could clearly see the angry stab wound on its naked torso through the blood pouring from it. The thing was wild-eyed, breathing as hard as I, and it had a horrible manic energy to its movements, its spindly arms slicing through the air with the same swish sound a thin twig makes through the air when you swing it hard. I couldn’t read its twisted, inhuman expression, but I thought it looked... excited.
It opened its mouth to hiss at me and I got an unwanted glance at its stumpy, blackened teeth. Ugh.
It darted after me again, this time not leaping but using that same disturbing arm-run as before.
But it was as a mindless beast, and it couldn’t swipe at me while it ran, so I shifted forward with a heave and planted my foot on its face – more of a strong shove than a kick, but the surprised youkai couldn’t retaliate or shift course in time and tumbled backwards long enough to give me a few breaths of space.
Having a bare second to think, I finally managed to stumble upon the best strategy in this situation.
The youkai’s eyes widened slightly and before a second had passed, my vicious white-furred friend cannonballed through one of the paper walls into the room, lunging into the recovering youkai with a ferocious snarl. Even youkai aren’t omniscient and the horrible thing hadn’t seen him coming, focused as it was on me.
I fancied I heard the sound of fangs sinking in, absurd as that was. Although the dwarf was strong, it was also light, and a good powerful shake of my friend’s neck nearly sent it flying across the room to land on its feet. My friend had to drop it halfway through the bone-snapping, flesh-rending motion, however, because those claws didn’t stay still for long. I thanked the heavens above for his fast reflexes. He bounded just outside of claw reach and snarled and barked loudly, showing his fangs.
There’s a sort of primal, curdling fear that comes from looking directly into a beast’s toothy maw, and although I hadn’t faced any bears, I imagine it only intensified when said beast was bigger than you. I’d managed to get to my feet at that point, and the rabid barking and baring of fangs made the youkai pause, still, for just a moment.
A moment of stillness was what I needed.
In a single fluid, practiced motion, I reached into a pocket, drew, pointed, gripped with two hands and shot twice. Both shots squarely found its chest.
The whole movement took a single heartbeat to complete, and my heart was beating very fast.
Yes, an honest-to-goodness gun. A state-of-the-art piece of gleaming steel built to kill, shipped halfway across the world at no small cost. A wondrous machine of death that I fervently wished I didn’t have to use.
But damn, did it feel good in my hands.
I waited a moment, and although it wavered in place, it didn’t fall. My eyes widened in surprise.
Youkai were tough, but this wasn’t supposed to happen. This small disgusting creature got stabbed, bitten and shot twice, and it was standing without much trouble. That should at least have put it down. Why was it still standing? Just the force imparted by the bullets should have been enough to send it sprawling.
I didn’t spend much time thinking about it, because I had four more good answers for that question in my hands. It still had the stamina to try a lame dash towards me past my friend, making me miss the second to last shot, but the final one, at alarmingly shrinking range, hit the top of its misshapen forehead dead-center and it went down like it had just run into a low clothesline. When it went down I had the silly mental image of a bureaucrat stamping a paper without even looking: fast, efficient, with a satisfying thump sound.
I was satisfied with that last shot.
But it was still somehow moving around on the ground, trying to hit something with its claws. I was certain there was no real force behind its strikes, but just to be sure, I picked up the fallen villager’s spear and looked down at the disgusting soon-to-be-corpse. My friend kept his distance, still barking. Good boy.
The three good men dead around me were my responsibility. Nobody should be killed by a youkai this near to a shrine maiden. Because of this small, stunted, twisted, emaciated-looking little beast, I had three new failures on my shoulders. The thought sent a sting of annoyance through me.
I had been around death an unusual amount in my short life, but not usually so violent and gory as this, and the diffuse red sunlight bathing everything in its sickly shade didn’t help the look of the place, although it had the advantage of hiding some of the blood on my clothes and on the floor, dark-red-on-red as it was now. I tried hard to avoid looking at the one guy who had his head mostly taken off.
A body riddled with holes and tears isn’t fun to contemplate, even if it’s a youkai. I raised the weapon to end it – I’d stab until it stopped moving entirely and finish it off, as quickly as I could.
It sputtered something, spitting blood.
I furrowed my eyebrows. Was it trying to speak?
[ ] Just kill it post-haste and get out of here.
[ ] Listen to it. Can’t hurt, at this point.
There was no good picture of Hina with a gun, so please enjoy this unrelated Alice instead.