“Something very exciting is approaching, and you’re at the middle of it.”
The words had been echoing in Drew’s head for the past day. There was always the possibility Ishawna had been lying, of course, and if her aim was to fuck with Drew’s head then she had already achieved her goal. But why bring it up? Was this all just another way for her to have fun? Not happy with just fucking his body, she wanted his head, too?
Yet, he couldn’t dismiss the possibility she was telling the truth. That something was brewing, something he’d been kept in the dark about. It’s not like this was the first time the Company--Liess, in particular--had kept secrets from him, but whatever was about to happen involved him directly, if Ishawna was telling the truth.
Drew raised his head and stared at the door to the hallway. He’d holed up in his bedroom to get some precious space from Ishawna. The ushi-oni followed him around relentlessly, watching his every move as long as he wasn’t in his bedroom. She could’ve come in his bedroom, too, and he wouldn’t be able to stop her, but for some reason she was respecting it. The way she tailed him might even be called cute if she didn’t always have that crazy smile on, mouth slightly open, those piercing yellow eyes never blinking.
If that was cute, so was puking into a pile of shit.
The bedroom next to his was Ishawna’s. She’d purposefully picked the one in the middle to make sure Drew couldn’t pick one further away. He’d yet to see her stay in there for more than a few minutes, though. She spent almost all her time in the living area, doing whatever it is ushi-onis did until Drew was out and about at which time she’d go into stalker mode.
Blitz’s room lay at the end of the hall, and its silence spilled out into the hall so bluntly he couldn’t possibly ignore it. He stood up and took a deep breath, then walked out to her room and grabbed the doorknob. He’d put this conversation off a day too long.
“Blitz, I’m coming in.”
Drew could already feel Ishawna’s eyes on the back of his head. With one smooth motion, he opened the door, slipped in, and closed it behind him. This had nothing to do with Ishawna. She could stay out there and keep to herself.
On the bed, Blitz sat with her back against the wall and legs sprawled out with a book in her wings. Drew briefly wondered why it wasn’t a cell phone then remembered the Company would’ve taken anything like that. She wore a light blue dress that made it down to just above her knees, small frills at the edges. Not something he’d usually expect from her. Hard to fight evil and strike poses in a dress.
She tried to sound casual, but from the way she kept the book blocking her face, Drew could tell it was an act.
“I said I’d answer that question. Now’s probably a good a time as any.”
Drew cringed inwardly. He’d already waited too long and given her time to come up with answers of her own. He looked around for a chair, but the only thing to sit on in the room was her bed, and he didn’t want to get too close to her for this. Standing it was, then.
“Why that ushi said I knew how to kill.”
The book slowly dropped. She couldn’t deny her curiosity. “Then, you…?”
“Yes. Many times.”
“But they’re all bad guys, right?”
Might as well be, thought Drew. “Not… necessarily.”
“So they’re making you do it?”
“Then some of them were an accident?”
“None of them.”
“Blitz, stop trying to make excuses for me. I’m not a good guy.”
“But you’re fighting that ushi-oni, aren’t you? And she’s evil.”
Drew rolled his eyes. “To me, to you, yeah, she’s kind of a bitch.” He said that part extra loud. “Some of the other monsters I’ve killed probably weren’t so much. At least, that’s my guess. I don’t really get to know them all that well.”
Blitz looked ready to crumble. “Then why?”
“I’m pretty good at it. It’s kind of what I grew up into. And there was no where else for me to go.”
“There had to be somewhere else, something else you could’ve done. They tricked you, didn’t they!?”
“Blitz, I told you once, I’ll tell you again: don’t make excuses for me. I know exactly what I’m doing and what that makes me.”
“But you can’t just… just…”
Oh, god, she was about to cry. He didn’t know how to handle kids for shit. Drew took a step forward but reconsidered. That might hurt more than anything.
“Do you, uh, want the whole story?” Maybe if he kept talking she wouldn’t break down.
“Umm,” she looked around the room, then buried her head in her knees. “Yeah.”
“Its…” Drew trailed off, unsure of where to start. If he were to truly go to the beginning of all this, then that meant his childhood. He almost chuckled to himself--Blitz was going to be the first person he’d ever talked about that with outside of Liess, and that had been more business than anything.
“If I’m going to explain it, I’ll start with my parents. My father used to work construction, and my birth mother had died not long after I was born. Some accident, I was told, but nothing more. Probably something to do with monsters, the way my dad hated them. Well, he hated almost all of them. My stepmother was a succubus. She never told me exactly what her job was, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a lot different than what I do now. Either that, or she picked up the craft incredibly fast. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“My father was an amazing father, or so I was told. I was too young to remember much of what he did, but my mother and the people that had associated with him told me as much when I grew up. Always put me first, kept himself in shape, kept a steady though grueling job, and looked out for me. He met my mother when I was four or so, I think. Thought she was attacking me and got in a few good punches before she was able to explain. One of the rare succubi that actually asked a guy out before fucking him wild. I didn’t know this, of course.” Drew shrugged and found himself sitting on the bed, facing away from Blitz. “But apparently that was enough for my father to give her a chance.
“Her name was Bevlt, a sturdy demon only a couple inches shorter than my father. Purple skin so smooth light gleamed off it like it was polished, wings and a lithe tail darker than black. She said she’d first run into my father while walking past a site he was working on and joined in with a couple other monsters cat-calling the men.” Drew glanced back at Blitz. “My mother told me it used to go the other way around, oddly enough.
“My mother did some, eh, mild stalking before deciding to ask my father out. Where my father was rough, she was sharp. He was more abrasive and straightforward, she was sly and subtle. Apparently those things go well together, because they got married a year later.” Drew squinted at the dull yellow light on the ceiling. “Could’ve been the sex too, though.
“When I was six or so, my father joined the Paladins. You’ve probably heard of them at some point, being a monster yourself, though they’re not the organization they were fifteen years ago. He learned to fight under the Paladins. They may be all human, but they’ve got some interesting anti-monster techniques and tools, some of which I use myself.
“Mom wasn’t that big a fan of it, and she tried to convince him to leave them, but never had much success. It was always dangerous as a Paladin, even a married one. It’s the one exception to the relationship boundaries they--monsters--almost always respect. And it’s not just like Paladins got kidnapped and raped--a lot of them died. For them, it was a war, and plenty of monsters treated it same as they did.
“One day, my father didn’t come back.”
Blitz unhid her face from behind her wings. Her expression looked even more frail than before. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s a long time passed.” His eyes met Blitz’s. “Anyways, my mom was pretty sad for a while, but it wasn’t long before that sorrow turned to anger. I was old enough to realize what had happened, and why she’d be sad, but her anger was something else. She didn’t scream and rage about, she just started going out and killing monsters. Don’t know who exactly, probably revenge at first, but after that who knows? Wasn’t subtle about it to me, either. In fact, when I turned sixteen, she started training me to kill as well.”
“What!?” said Blitz. “But, you’re not supposed to kill the bad guys, just knock them out and give them to the police!”
Drew narrowed his eyebrows at her. “Where did you get that idea?”
She looked away. “Superman.”
Kids, Drew thought with a groan. “Real life isn’t like that, especially when you have a scorned wife and a kid who's been raised to hate the very existence of monsters. And the police? They’re run by the mayor. Who, at the moment, is completely under the control of a monster. Send any monster who’s fighting for their side to the police and they’ll be out before you can blink.”
“But aren’t the police mostly human?”
“Humans who listen to their bosses. And who knows how many of them are married to monsters.”
“But… that seems… well…”
He knew what was going through her head. Two sides of her fought inside her mind: the part that knew how cruel humans could be, that knew their cold distaste from her past, and the part that told her ‘this is still wrong.’
“Not fair,” she managed to get out.
Drew gestured with a finger. “If there was one thing the Paladins were right about, it’s that this is a war, and in war, if you want to win, you don’t fight fair.”
“I haven’t seen any battles. I haven’t seen armies fight. How is it a war without those?”
“What you’re thinking about--thousands of men marching toward an horde of monsters until one side kills more than the other--war isn’t always like that. We still don’t know how the monsters showed up here, but whether it was deliberate or not, they couldn’t show their hand right away. They had to figure out what they were up against, who and what was here. My guess is that once they found the male half of our species malleable to their influence, they decided to take invade slowly with subterfuge rather than force.”
Blitz stared hard at the floor. “I… but… why would we do this? Why not just live with you guys? I thought we were getting along.”
Drew hunched over to cover a snort and a laugh. Yes, they’d been getting along just so well. “Ask the ones who fight. In the end, though, I don’t think there’s any good answer. I’d say fear probably brought both sides to the edge, but as for what pushed them over it? Dunno. All I know is I’ve got a job because of it.”
“You could’ve done something else!”
“Could I?” Drew looked deep into her eyes. “Could I really? Killing was part of my life, whether I liked it or not. The only way for me to live was by adapting to it, learning it myself. It’s what I do.”
She lunged forward, grabbing Drew’s shoulder. “Don’t talk like that! I know you could be something else!”
“Oh, really? You know?” Drew removed her wings from his shoulder. “Like what?”
“Well,” she said, her eyes wandering in a frantic search, “a policeman! Or, um, an architect!”
Drew didn’t know which was more absurd. “Yes, a policeman, of course, and just get raped by every monster I ran into on the job. And an architect? Are you serious? Why the fuck would you say that?”
“You’re, uh, good at analyzing things and, uh, putting together a plan.”
“And I know fuck all about buildings except how to take them down.” He stood up off the bed to look down at Blitz. The sad thing looked ready to burst into tears, but Drew wouldn’t be doing her any favors by going soft on her. “I’m a high school dropout, Blitz. Senior year my mom decided school was too dangerous and taught me killing full-time. If it doesn’t have to do with killing, I’m an idiot about it.”
Now she faced the floor. “You could learn,” she mumbled.
“Not me. Maybe you, when all this is over, but this here is my life, regardless of whether I chose it or not. Anything else’ll get me killed.”
“There’s gotta be some way out of it, right? Can’t you quit? I’ll go with you…”
Drew could feel his hands curling into fists, his blood burning hot enough to steam. “Blitz. No.”
“If you just left the city, even the country if you had to, I’m sure you could--”
Eyes alight with anger, Drew shoved his face into Blitz’s. “Do you have ANY idea what kind of situation you’re in? Why you have to live in a shitty apartment with a couple of murders? Why you can’t call anyone, can’t tell anyone your real name, can’t even send a fucking email? There has to be some end to your cluelessness!”
“I’m not clueless…”
Dammit, now he’d done it. Tears fell down her cheeks, her eyes weeping stubbornness and pain. Drew bit his lip to keep himself from apologizing--that wouldn’t help anyone. Blitz had to see how stupid she was acting.
“I know why I’m here. I think.”
Drew cocked his head. “It’s not because someone’s trying to get you to make friends, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“You’re not funny.”
“I’m not trying to be.”
She grimaced then poked at the bed. “I think someone’s after me. Someone that your… that these people are fighting against.”
“Oh?” Maybe he had been wrong about her. “And why would someone be after you?”
“I… don’t know.”
“Well, unless you want to be stuck running around with people like me the rest of your life, I suggest you figure that out.”
He let the silence hang, giving Blitz a moment to speak up if she wished. Her thoughts, however, remained inward. Before he could leave, though, he’d have to give her some sort of encouragement. Leaving her like this would be cruel. Even though he’d come in here to explain himself, it’d ended up a lecture. Should’ve expected that; he’d always been short with kids. Watching her quietly wring out the last of her tears, Drew rocked back and forth then laid a hand on her head.
“Just try not to die. You don’t belong in the middle of all this.”
With rigid steps he walked out of her bedroom, glancing back at the curled up bundle of Blitz on her bed every half step until the door clicked shut. A muffled “thanks” caught him before he walked off. He smiled in spite of himself.
A sigh left him as he stared down the hallway. If he was going to be tackling elephants today, why not take on the other? There was a six-legged one with crazy eyes waiting for him in the living room, and he was sure she wouldn’t mind him taking some frustration out on her. She’d survived worse.
Her eyes molested him the moment he walked in the living room. At the moment, she sat on the floor, a tablet in her hands that she lowered as her attention left it. Drew was almost surprised she could read, but reminded himself she wasn’t stupid, just rabid. Their eyes remained locked on each other as he walked to the couch and sat down.
It was nice for once to be the one looking down on her.
“What did you mean.” He didn’t speak it as a question.
“What are you talking about?” she said, flashing him a grin.
“You know what I’m talking about.”
She shrugged. “I’m pretty slow. You’ll have to spell it out for me.”
Why did he expect this conversation to be the slightest bit easy? “What did you mean when you said I was at the middle of something?”
“Ohh, that. I’d completely forgotten. Has it been bothering you?”
She spoke with a tone that could piss off a puppy.
“Just answer the question,” he said.
“I don’t think so, not until you answer mine.”
He’d rather shove a splinter in his eye.
“Yes, it’s been bothering me you shitstick of a spider. Now answer the question.”
“You know, I’m a little surprised you don’t already know yourself. It concerns you pretty directly.” She tapped her cheek with a claw. “Perhaps your wight friend has been keeping secrets from you?”
“Undoubtedly. But she wouldn’t keep a secret like this from me. You’re full of shit.”
“I guess we’re stuck. If you won’t believe me, then I’m might as well say nothing. I won’t tell you what you want to hear just to make you feel at peace. I bet you don’t even know what that is you want to hear anyways.”
“I didn’t come here to play games with you. Tell me what I want to know or I’m done.”
The smirk she shot him made his blood boil. “Threatening to leave the very conversation you started? What do you think that’s going to get you?”
“Fuck this.” Drew stood up and started back toward his room, but Ishawna stopped him.
“Wait a second, don’t let that temper of yours run away with you. I’m enjoying myself, so if you’ll sit back down, I’ll start talking.”
Drew glared at her, but walked back to the couch. “So?”
Ishawna raised a finger. “I made an agreement with your Company not to tell you, you know.”
“Like you care about that.”
“It would be rude for me to disregard their request so quickly, but maybe if you entertain me a bit, I might forget my manners for a little bit.”
“I’m not patient enough to deal with this bullshit.” He made to leave but Ishawna spoke up.
“Stick around, and I’ll answer something else.”
Slowly, Drew settled onto the couch. “What?”
“Well, that’s up to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I will answer any question except the obvious. There’s got to be something you’re curious about that I can tell you, yes? How we got here, where I’m from, that sort of thing.”
A moment of silence passed while Drew tried to stare through her. “Okay. What are you afraid of?”
That creepy smile came back. “Still trying to kill me, are you?”
“Good.” She leaned her human half onto a nearby chair. “But I think my answer may disappoint you.”
“What, you gonna say you’re not afraid of anything? Wouldn’t believe it. Even a monster like you has her fears.”
“No, no, it’s just that you won’t be able to use it to your advantage.”
“I’ll find a way.”
“I am afraid of becoming helpless.”
Drew leaned in, expecting more, but Ishawna gave him nothing. “That’s it?”
Her eyes narrowed. “‘That’s it?’ If you aren’t worried about yourself, then you haven’t given it enough thought.”
“No, I mean: it’s that boring? You lived out on your own for however long, hunted by wildlife and monsters and assassins, and you’re bored of something like helplessness? Who isn’t? I’m pretty sure if someone cut off my arms and legs I’d be in some shit myself.”
Her eyes fell and she shook her head. “Like I said, not enough thought. What if you could never kill your target? Never protect yourself and got raped by every monstergirl who felt like it? What if all you were good for was eating, sleeping, and breathing? It’s not the loss of limbs or physical prowess I fear, it’s the inability to defy my future. My fate.”
“If I became helpless, I wouldn’t be around much longer. And I don’t believe in fate.”
Ishawna frowned. “I was hoping with our similarities you might understand as well, but I can see that isn’t the case.”
“‘Similarities’? We are two completely different beasts. Just because I’m satisfying your perverted fantasies of ‘excitement’ doesn’t mean I’m anything like you.”
“You should learn to look beyond skin and fur. Surprising you haven’t learned that already, given you’re still alive.” She leaned toward Drew. “We are both searching for a way out. You’re still trapped where you are because of your unwillingness to act, me because of lack of direction.”
“Forgive me if it’s hard to sympathize with a thing like you.”
“I don’t want your sympathy. It’s worth as much as the corpses of the men before you. You might be a bit more interesting if you weren’t so blind to your own problems, though.”
“How about you worry about you and I worry about me? Or you could fuck off and die and make both our lives so much easier.”
“I hate easy,” she said with a grin.
“Yes, that’s extremely clear.”
“How did you end up with this job?” she asked.
Drew leaned back and crossed his arms. “Why should I tell you anything?”
“Because if your answer is interesting enough, my lips might loosen up.”
“Unlike you, I’m not interested in playing games. If you’re going to answer the question, answer it.”
“It’s up to you if you want to talk or not, but you came to me, not the other way around, and I can tell you for sure that what I know you’d want to know too.” She ran a claw through her messy hair. “Also, I’m not a liar. You are very amusing, but I’m not one to string people along. If I like your answer, then I’ll talk.”
“You realize a vow of honesty from someone you don’t trust is kind of pointless, right?”
“Yes, but the burden of trust is on you.” She yawned and stretched, resting her head on a nearby chair. “I’ll be having my fun one way or another, doesn’t matter what you do or do not learn, whether you die or live. So if you want that answer, you need to play,” she concluded with a mocking smile.
Drew gritted his teeth, staring hard at Ishawna. Her head would look so much nicer with a gaping hole in it. If only he had Liess’ Special with him.
“Fine. I’ll answer your stupid question. What did you want to know again?”
“How you came to work for Love Inc.”
So she already knew their name. Which meant getting his answer was all the more important. “They killed my mom and realized I could be useful. They offered a job and I figured I’d be dead or as good as such if I didn’t accept their offer, so I did. Simple as that.”
“Simple as that? They killed your mother. And what about your father?”
“Doesn’t matter. You asked how I got the job and I told you.”
She wagged a finger. “The whole question, dear Drew. Which includes the information about your mother.”
“Fuckin--” Drew shifted in his seat. “Fine. My mom was waging her own little war on them for killing my father. I don’t know how many of them she killed, probably dozens or something, and they fought back.”
“But you don’t seem to hold much grudge for losing your mother.”
“I liked my mom, I really did. Probably loved her at one point, too. What I would’ve really loved was if she didn’t go and get herself killed. If I’d had any relatives or friends who were still alive or I had some skill beyond killing monsters, I may have looked a little harder for an alternative. But in that situation, I couldn’t see one. Can you fuck off with the questions now and answer mine?”
“How did your father die?” When Drew opened his mouth to protest, Ishawna raised a hand to silence him. “Last question, I promise. You’ll understand why in a moment.”
“He fought against monsters as a Paladin. You know who they are, right?”
“Of course. Humans who trained specifically to fight monsters. They still have a hand in human politics, if I remember correctly.”
“A weakening one. He died when I was young. I don’t know how he died, specifically, but it doesn’t really matter, does it?”
Ishawna was positively ecstatic, her grin reaching across her face and her eyes alight with glee. Drew shrunk back into the couch.
“Oh, but it does matter, Drew. You wanted me to answer your question? Well, as much as it might disappoint your Company, I think I’ll do just that. You see, the fact they wanted to keep from you, the reason you’re about to be the center of something very amusing,” She crept closer to Drew, a hint of her breath hitting his face, “Is that your father is alive.
“And he knows something very, very interesting.”