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It's Not the Fall That Kills You 1

Sep 11th, 2014
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  1. Five hours.
  2.  
  3. Drew could handle cold. He could handle heat. Bugs crawling up his legs, sweat making skin itch as it dripped to the ground, thick, suffocating humidity, stray animals screeching with a noise like someone taking a toothpick to his eardrum--all tolerable. But this damn wait, this he just did not have the patience for. His mind had dulled to near-uselessness. Minor twitches, errant echoes and waving shadows kept stealing his attention, yet he managed to stay motionless on his stomach. Dry leaves and twigs surrounded him, waiting to rustle or snap. He dared not move, lest he alert the prey he’d been waiting for.
  4.  
  5. Even with his immeasurable patience, time was not with him. Fading light sucked detail from the world and shadows stretched as if reaching for something. The wind blew in his favor for now, but who could say what it might do in an hour or two? Ushi-onis didn’t have the best noses in monsterkind, but they sure as hell beat humans’ and Drew knew he reeked of himself.
  6.  
  7. He'd known the mission was trouble the moment he heard 'ushi-oni'.
  8.  
  9. “What?” he’d asked. It wasn’t like him to show apprehension, but he’d never had an opponent like this before.
  10.  
  11. “A ushi-oni,” his handler had replied, not taking her eyes off her workbench. She’d become married to her guns, in a way. Sometimes that gave Drew comfort, knowing his equipment was created and maintained with care, but at the moment, he was leaning toward annoyance.
  12.  
  13. “Ushi-oni, yeah, I heard that. But the word before it I don’t quite understand.”
  14.  
  15. Her eyes found their way to his, finally tearing away from her toy. He may have let some of that annoyance slip into his tone, but he wasn’t about to back down from a stare. “Feral. You know some monstergirls go ferahl, ja?” The thick undertones of her native german accent snuck into her words despite her usual efforts to hide them. She always got that way when frustrated.
  16.  
  17. “I know what a feral monstergirl is, Liess. I’m asking how a USHI-ONI, specifically, goes feral. Aren’t they all?”
  18.  
  19. “You’re not focusink un ze right details. It’s bekome more of a problem fer us to leaf her alone zan to kill her. Hence, she dies.” She turned back to her bench, throwing her ponytail back over her shoulder, letting the long, dirty-blond bundle of hair lay neatly down the center of her back. It was about the only thing ‘neat’ about her. Drew wondered if she ever actually cleaned those grease stains off her face and hands, instead wearing them as black scars from hours of intent work every day. A worn peach long-sleeved shirt curled up at the elbows did what it could to cover her, but it wouldn’t be long before Liess’ habits wore it beyond usefulness. Much more rugged demin short-shorts cradled her rear and hips, pockets in every spot the tailor could manage, most with a tool or two sticking out of them. In the dull orange light pouring down from the bulb over their heads, the skin tone on those long legs looked human. If he hadn’t known, he might not even realize she was a wight, much less a monstergirl. Maybe she always met him in the workshop because that’s the image she wanted to give. If he had to guess, she a sort of revulsion toward the stereotypical wight, their fancy clothes, fake accents, and silky grey skin wooing men with an air of elegance. Liess unequivocally rejected all of that.
  20.  
  21. As for why, Drew could only guess.
  22.  
  23. “Your accent’s slipping again.”
  24.  
  25. “As ist your ahrogance.” She laid the german on thicker than a blanket.
  26.  
  27. “Whatever. Which number am I?”
  28.  
  29. “Four.”
  30.  
  31. He was never the first. That’s why they kept using him--after so many agents died trying to take out their target, no one else would be willing. It wasn't that he was more skilled, but that he was less concerned with his own life.
  32.  
  33. Four wasn’t as bad as he expected, but it sure as hell wasn’t a comforting number. Most the time he was two or three, and the danger seemed to increase exponentially. The most he’d ever been was five, and that was not an experience he soon wished to repeat.
  34.  
  35. “What do I have available this time?”
  36.  
  37. Liess gestured to a bench behind her loaded with gear. “Explosives or higher-caliber rounds und whatever can shoot them. Claymores and C4 if you wish, zough I would suggest the M95 Special.” The accent had disappeared almost entirely. She may have spat the earlier comment right back at him, but that didn’t change how she dealt with her accent in the end.
  38.  
  39. “Special?”
  40.  
  41. “I made it.”
  42.  
  43. Drew spat out something between a grumble and a laugh before making his way over to the bench. Quite a spread, regardless of his target. Her ‘Special’ grabbed his attention first, colored in a sleek, polished black which emanated a chill, even in the heat of Liess’ workshop. After checking the safety, he carefully picked it up and held it ready. Enormously heavy, just as he expected, but the weight felt right in his hands. That was probably Liess’ skill speaking.
  44.  
  45. “Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this seems like a bit much.”
  46.  
  47. “With ushi-onis, there is no ‘too much’.”
  48.  
  49. So here Drew laid, prone, silent, and ever-watching behind Liess’ ‘Special’. He considered the explosives for a while, but eventually dismissed them. Confirming the kill would be difficult and dangerous. Even taking down an entire building with a ushi-oni in it might not kill her if she wasn’t in the right place when the explosives went off, and confirming the kill would mean searching through the debris for a feral beast which might still be alive. No, Drew wasn’t even going to consider getting close until he could see his target was dead or incapacitated.
  50.  
  51. Drew struggled to remember the last time he’d seen a ushi-oni. Of all the monstergirls, they were one of the more scarce species, and of the ones that lived, only so many were fit to integrate into society. In all irony, the ushi-oni Drew’s memory came up with was a doctor. Thankfully, not attending him at the time, but he couldn’t possibly forget the sight of a monstrous, hairy, bull-spider walking through the hospital halls sporting a lab coat and a white eye-patch with a red cross on it. His first thought had been about how to kill her. It wasn’t that he had an urge to, but rather, he wanted to sort through the problem before it manifested. He shook his head. ‘IF’ it manifested. The ushi-onis who lived among humans were either born with a more reasonable lust than others of their kind, knew how to manage it, or simply suppressed it with a stronger seal. He’d never asked how people or monsters made those seals… perhaps it would be useful knowledge for the future.
  52.  
  53. At the moment, however, the issue was not how to suppress, but how to eliminate.
  54.  
  55. With an insanely-high regeneration rate, immense strength, and surprising speed, ushi-onis were contenders for the most difficult monsters to kill. Dragons also came to mind, their flight giving them a great advantage both in combat and escaping, plus explosions and other means of fire often did nothing. Bullets bounced off their hides, but the human parts were vulnerable enough. He heard they were oddly vulnerable to electric attacks as well, whether EMP, taser, or, if you were desperate, thunderbird.
  56.  
  57. Drew failed at suppressing the resulting grimace.
  58.  
  59. Just like dragons, ushi-onis had their weaknesses. Destroy the heart which pumped that cursed blood to their veins or deal massive damage to their brain. A hit with the gun he was using anywhere on the ushi’s chest would probably obliterate her heart, and any hit on the head would do the same to her brain. That didn’t mean Drew should slack on his aim, however. He readjusted his aim to make it more comfortable. It might still be a while before--
  60.  
  61. Movement.
  62.  
  63. Drew tensed up, his hand squeezing on the gun’s grip and his pupils dilating in surprise as his eye went to the sight. On the bare ridge of the hill before him, something emerged from the forest. Something large, green, and hairy. A ushi-oni. Carefully, he raised his other hand to help adjust the gun ever so slightly to the right, placing his target dead center. About five hundred meters away and blissfully unaware of her situation. Drew choked down a sigh. His relief could come later, when this monster was dead.
  64.  
  65. Holding his aim steady, he waited. Five hours had already burned away, another few seconds for a better shot was nothing. The ushi-oni was walking perpendicular to him, giving him only a shot at her head. Granted, a slug from Liess’ Special could probably go through her entire body with ease, but he couldn’t leave any room for error. Heart or head, and he much preferred the heart. Aiming for the head would leave less room for error--a glancing shot might only destroy some or most of her brain, but if he aimed dead-center on her chest, he’d have a chance at a decapitation along with obliterating her heart.
  66.  
  67. Not only did he want to land his shot straight on her chest, but he needed to see her front to confirm her identity. All ushis looked like the same hairy, over-sized bug to him, but his target had a distinctive pattern on her chest. While other ushi-onis might wear intricate designs and symbols drawn in hair, the one he hunted didn’t have something so elaborate. A slim, cresting wave, the back of the wave on her left breast and the tip on her right. Assuming ushis could, in fact, scar, he might see some marks from her encounters with the other agents who tried to take her out.
  68.  
  69. ‘C’mon…’ Drew mouthed. Only so much path lay exposed for Drew to have a shot before the ushi would disappear back into the cover of the forest or, more likely, the cave he’d tracked her to. It’d taken five hours for her to show up; who knew when he might get another chance, or if she’d even come back. If he was number four, she had to realize someone wanted her dead very badly, and might never expose herself again like this. Drew’s head began to throb, his blood pumping so hard he could hear it echo in his ears. His aim drifted up to her head. Better to be prepared to take her out than hope for her to turn. His finger hovered over the trigger, and his thumb gingerly flipped the safety.
  70.  
  71. The ushi-oni paused, turning her face and shoulders in Drew’s direction. Did she see him? Smell him? No, her eyes weren’t so focused. Maybe she caught a hint of something, but whatever it was, it wasn’t enough to give him away completely. A slim smile creased his face and he lowered his aim down to her chest. While distorted, the view gave him what he needed to know. Hair painted upon her chest a pattern much like a wave, flowing from one breast to the other. With her head turning, he could see the tip of her far horn had been broken off as well. No doubt about it: this was his target.
  72.  
  73. She was stationary, half-turned towards him, and still unaware of her peril. This was his chance.
  74.  
  75. All the little things--the sweat dripping down his face, the cicadas trilling, the aches in his arms and legs--they all disappeared in an instant. The world ceased but for the gun sight and Drew’s finger. A void swallowed him and his target, and his leer launched at the ushi like a thousand daggers. The distance between them evaporated. He laid feet from his target, the barrel resting upon her skin. Air slipped from his lungs in a long, silent whisper. His muscles held true. His finger pulled back.
  76.  
  77. She bent over.
  78.  
  79. A resounding crack and concussion filled the hills for miles, the gunpowder putting every ounce of its single brilliant flash into forcing that bullet down the long, twisted barrel. Wildlife scattered. Even with earplugs, Drew’s ears buzzed and faltered, unable to hear the curse under his breath even as the slug shot forth. Smoke, flash and force ripped from the end of the barrel, and a searing metal slug bore down on the ushi-oni. While her motion moved Drew off his ideal target, twelve millimeters of death travelling at that velocity still had plenty of destruction to dole out.
  80.  
  81. Drew couldn’t tell exactly where the bullet hit first, but he could definitely tell it hit. There was nothing left of her face and the bullet’s path led it straight through the right side of her chest. Well, what used to be the right side of it. Blood bloomed from her body, splattering across the air as if she was a painter lost in madness. Her right arm flopped to the ground next to her, nerves firing off tiny twitches in its fingers. The bullet continued through a leg and severed it clean off, causing the ushi to fall flat on her face.
  82.  
  83. “Shit!” No need for silence or caution now. His target, if still conscious, knew exactly what was going on, and still might have her heart intact. Her head remained attached to her body, her brain was still mostly there, and he’d gone and hit the wrong side of her chest. Scrambling, Drew yanked the bolt back, flinging the empty cartridge out, then slammed it forward. You could never rely on the second shot, but right now it was all he had. Unfortunately, the ushi-oni’s fall had begun her on a reckless tumble down the hillside. She vanished into cover of brush and tree, though her large body did plenty to disturb the foliage as she fell. Drew desperately followed the movement with the sniper rifle’s sight, hoping to get a view of her actual body, but the forest never thinned. If it turned out this ushi-oni was indeed still alive, he needed to either put in a second, finishing bullet in her or bail immediately.
  84.  
  85. His target was quickly tumbling out of the range in which Drew could rotate the rifle. Doing everything he could to calm his nerves, Drew slowly exhaled, drew the rifle snug against his shoulder again, and fired. A second boom rocked the landscape, though this time there was no more wildlife to scare off. In fact, the shot drew out something new. Something that froze Drew in place.
  86.  
  87. A howl.
  88.  
  89. “Fucking--“ Drew scrambled to his feet, tossing off all the dirt and filth he’d accumulated in his five-hour wait. He flipped the Special’s safety back on, grabbed it, and ran toward his car. It sat a comfortable mile away, and the ushi-oni was still falling down the hillside, but he had no choice. It was bad enough luck that the ushi bent over at the worst possible time then fell conveniently into cover to keep Drew from confirming a kill, but now he had wolves rushing toward the scene. If he was a betting man, he’d put money on those ‘wolves’ being the monstergirl type--this forest was infamous for its feral population. Even if they weren’t, Drew had no desire to deal with a pack of the real thing. Probably even less chance of surviving that way.
  90.  
  91. His arms and legs pumped as fast as they could with his gun in tow. If he returned without confirming the kill as well as losing the rifle Liess entrusted to him, she’d kill him herself. Rage, not adrenaline, fueled his ruthless sprint. Wolves! Fucking wolves! All he needed was two goddamn minutes to go down to the ushi-oni’s body and either confirm the kill or finish her off. No matter how aggressive her regeneration rate might be, two minutes wouldn’t be enough for her to recover completely from that first shot. Yet, if he really did spend those two minutes checking, he’d never be seen again. He hadn’t signed up for this. He had not fucking signed up for this! Why did the world always decide to shit on him so hard? Did he look like a toilet?
  92.  
  93. Through some errant stroke of luck, his sprint successfully carried him all the way back to his car without further trouble. The wolves may have never caught his trail, or the smell of gunpowder overwhelmed their noses, or they just weren’t fast enough. Drew didn’t care which, only that he was out in one piece. Also, the ushi-oni hadn’t chased him down, and that sparked a flash of hope. She’d had time to recover, and there was no way a few wolves would deter a ushi-oni. They didn’t seem like the type to run from a confrontation, either. But here he was, in his car, the only scratches on him from low branches. They didn’t tell the tale well enough, however. He’d gotten out by the skin of his teeth.
  94.  
  95. And something inside him nagged that he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
  96.  
  97.  
  98. **
  99.  
  100.  
  101. After dropping the car off at the company warehouse, Drew began his dreary voyage home. He’d have preferred to drive home, but the car was company property, along with the rather incriminating gun inside of it. His shoulder still ached from shooting it, but if he was to let something bug him, it sure as hell wouldn’t be aches. He kept himself guarded on the streets, his pace quickened but still wary. Sunlight was fading fast, and any human with half a brain wouldn’t be caught outside after dusk in this part of town. He could only wonder if the nicer neighborhoods were any safer.
  102.  
  103. Pale orange light retreated from creeping shadows on tall buildings. Drew kept an eye on the eroding sidewalk, avoiding the clumps of weeds and pitfalls, his sneakers hitting the old cement with a dull thud each time. Cars came and went, their patterns of slowing and accelerating pointing out the potholes and stop signs. Every now and then Drew would hear the scraping of a low-rider scuffing against the asphalt. Kinda asking for it, driving a souped-up cars on an old, battered road like this. And anyone living around here had no business dumping all that money into making their car look stupid. Stale, cooling air of the evening wisped into Drew’s lungs, so dirty he could almost taste the grease on it. Time was still running. He shoved his hands into his pockets and picked up the pace until he arrived at the subway station.
  104.  
  105. He was never alone, yet he always wished for it. Today it was a couple monstergirls, both lamia, talking amongst themselves at the near end of the station. Drew quietly walked down to the far end and waited. Waited not just for the train, but for the talking to die down--and that took no time at all. It rarely did. He felt two pair of eyes boring into him, scanning him from head to toe as brazen as the sun at noon. The voices started up again, this time more hushed. Drew’s feet separated a couple inches, giving him a broader stance. His right hand snuck into his jacket and checked the holstered beretta inside. Cold metal met his fingers. It wasn’t often he actually had to draw it, and even more rare he had to shoot, but he could never hesitate when the moment came that he needed it. Monstergirls almost always had the physical advantage--guns were about the only thing keeping a man safe anymore. You could head out with just a tazer if you were daring, but so many monstergirls just shrugged that shit off you couldn't count on it half the time.
  106.  
  107. Drew’s next breath came out heavy. He glanced over to the lamia, but it seemed these two weren’t prowling tonight. The subway came in with a dazzle of noise and lights, faces buzzing by in a blur at first, gradually slowing until Drew could make them out. Not many on today--most men had already gone home, and those who hadn’t were probably almost there. Drew was a bit further from home than he’d have liked, but maybe he could hang onto a little of that luck which’d gotten him out of his earlier situation with everything intact. The doors before him hissed open and he stepped inside.
  108.  
  109. Even with a slim number of riders in the sub car it felt cramped. A scylla and an oni dominated the front of the car, making their own little ruckus, and a man sat closest to the door Drew had walked in. They met eyes and Drew gave him a slight nod before walking to the rear of the car and taking a seat. The monstergirls yapped at each other as if in a bar, complete with the obnoxious tones of drunken women. Drew could’ve easily learned all about them and their lovely conversation, but he tossed every word out of mind the moment it barged in. He adjusted himself in his seat. The atmosphere didn’t sit right with him. It didn’t take an expert to see the potential here. Two men, two monstergirls, no simple means of escape. It was always a gamble, using public transportation like this. The city had started posted guards during peak times, but everyone knew that did shit. Tetra arms could sneak a hand into a guys’ pants--scylla and kraken, a tentacle--and start yanking him right there. Who noticed? Who cared enough to speak out? The guards existed to look good, to make the mayor seem like maybe, for a second, he wasn’t some monster’s slave.
  110.  
  111. As if listening in on Drew’s thoughts, the ruckus of voices in the car died down. He saw without looking their stares, heard without hearing their thoughts. Should they? Should they not? Drew had means to defend himself, but he'd much rather avoid a confrontation. Anything could happen when it came down to a fight. Over the years, he’d learned how to blend in, be the target monstergirls didn’t want to go after. Subtle things like posture, eye contact, facial expressions mattered more than anything. You had to know what the monster was looking for, too. Did she want a fight or was she looking for easy prey? Was she alone or with friends?
  112.  
  113. The moment the car stopped and the doors opened, Drew was gone. He didn’t want to give the monstergirls time to reconsider their passivity and the other man in the car wasn't far behind. Smart guy.
  114.  
  115. The darkening city welcomed Drew no more than anyone else as he emerged from the subway station and started toward home. The last, dying rays of sunlight still clung to the rooftops and the streetlights that still worked flickered on. He'd walk in the door as late as any sane man dared.
  116.  
  117. It wasn’t a human’s world any more.
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