Balancing Act 6.14

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I turned abruptly and thrust with Tyrfing. It wasn’t a great move—it’s difficult to translate the sort of rough image I had of my surroundings into the kind of detailed information you need to fight effectively—but I caught the man behind me by surprise and, well, let’s be honest here. When you’re a werewolf carrying one of the most powerful and destructive weapons ever wielded by mortal hands, and you’re fighting untrained, unarmored humans whose capacities seemed to be in some way damaged by the rakshasas’ control over them, you don’t need perfection.


Tyrfing bit deeply into the man, somewhere in the abdominal area. There was another quiet sound of surprise, but still no indication of pain, and I wondered idly if they no longer had the capacity for it. That seemed like something a rakshasa would do.


I wrenched the sword back out and bolted for the back door, shouldering my way through the people between it and me. I didn’t bother trying to fight them; it wasn’t worth the time it would take. I caught the first several totally by surprise—they’d had no reason to think that their surprise had been ruined, after all—and sent them sprawling without difficulty. Then one of them, a fellow more than six feet tall, muscled like a grizzly bear and armed with a woodcutter’s axe, planted himself solidly directly in front of me. He swept the axe in a short, vicious stroke at my head, growling incoherently under his breath.


I stepped into the attack, bring Tyrfing up to parry. Well, parry is probably a bit of a misleading term to use. The sword cut cleanly through the fiberglass handle of the axe, as I’d anticipated, leaving him holding around a foot or two of handle and nothing else. He staggered, thrown off balance by the sudden removal of half his weapon. I continued the momentum of my swing, bringing the sword around and into a cut that took his right leg off at the knee. A simple thrusting kick knocked him over backward, and I proceeded over him. I had a clear shot at the door now.


I had just about made it to the door when I felt something grab my arm and heard claws grating against my armor. I half-turned and slashed at my assailant. Their armor must have been exceptionally fine, because it actually slowed Tyrfing down a little bit. It didn’t matter, though. I still cut clear through their arm. They shrieked in pain, marking them as a rakshasa rather than another slave, and fell away from me. I turned to consider the door.


It had been blocked every bit as thoroughly as the windows. By which I mean that they’d literally bricked it up. It was hard to say for sure, but going off my memories of the building’s layout I thought they’d laid two or three feet of wall over the door. I could hack through it—Tyrfing can cut through almost anything given time—but time was the one thing I most assuredly did not have. Besides, even if I got the bricks out of the way, there would still be the wards to contend with. I might have been able to break them as I’d broken those over the front door, or figure out some clever way to circumvent them, but that would also take time.


Besides. I’d just about had it with subtlety. Petty, but true.


I dropped one hand into my cloak, feeling around. The object I was looking for was small, but I had designed the cloak with such things in mind. It was capable of moving objects through its substance in response to my will. Just a few seconds later I withdrew my hand, holding a very dangerous weapon.


It didn’t look like much. The silver ball was tiny, no larger than a pea, but there was so much magic packed into it that even that tiny amount of silver, even through an armored gauntlet, burned painfully. This was a stored spell of significantly more power than I could manage. It had cost me a great deal. I’d tried, initially, to replicate it, until I realized that it was not something I could manage safely and—with surprising wisdom—gave up on the project.


Just now I concentrated on it, drawing a bit of power up and focusing it on the ball. “Trial by fire,” I whispered, and immediately tossed it at the barricade. Then I turned and sprinted away, moving as fast as I could. I ran straight into the rakshasa I’d just maimed, and the two of us went into a tumble. But it was a tumble away from the door, so that was okay.


Exactly three seconds after I’d said the trigger phrase, there was an explosion behind me. Well, okay, that isn’t entirely accurate. What happened was this.


There was a sudden light behind me, so bright that it was painful and I wasn’t even looking at it. The light had a strange golden tone, a bit like dusk sunlight, and brought with it almost unbearable heat. I instinctively drew on the ice inherent in my jotun blood, chilling the air around me and coating my armor with a thin layer of frost that almost immediately melted. It was still very, very uncomfortable, and I was going to have some mild burns, but I wasn’t dead or on fire, and that was a victory under the circumstances. The spell had never been meant for use at such close quarters.


A moment later there was a boom that quite literally shook the earth. It was unbelievably loud. Not “rock concert” loud, or even “gunshots” loud. No, this was an entirely different kind of loud, the sort of sound you would expect from a car bomb. The screams of distress and pain that echoed in the following silence sounded tiny, strangely muffled. Tiny bits of something hard, propelled at a speed uncomfortable to contemplate, hit my back and went through the armor like a paper screen, engendering small but bright sparks of pain in several places.


I took advantage of the rakshasa’s evident shock to elbow him viciously across the face. The ridged metal left bloody cuts on his face, and between that and the force behind the blow it took the fight right out of him. He slumped to the ground, and I pushed myself away and stood. I turned, dizzy but ambulatory, to examine the results of my little toy.


There was a sphere, nine feet in diameter, that was simply gone. The bricks were gone. The door was gone. The walls were gone. The ceiling was gone. The floor was gone. The earth itself was cratered, the shallow pit lined with glass from the sheer heat of the not-explosion. At least as importantly, the wards were gone.


When I’d battered my way through them, I’d left them too damaged and disordered to function as intended. In the wake of this far greater power, though, they were simply gone. Eradicated. Demolished entirely.


Damn. I was feeling pretty good about my decision not to experiment with that thing.


“Door’s open,” I called, not particularly caring whether anyone heard—Kazuhiro was surely clever enough to figure that out, and even if he weren’t I expected Miyazaki or Hrafn could. My voice sounded odd, simultaneously too loud and peculiarly flat. I realized suddenly that I was only hearing out of my left ear, my right presumably damaged by the noise of the explosion.


That freaked me out more than just a little bit. I mean, sure, it was probably nothing my preternatural healing couldn’t cope with given a little time, but what if it wasn’t? That would suck so utterly.


Several small fires had been started in the hallway, and they provided more than adequate light as I made my dizzy, unsteady way back to the main room. I passed a number of slaves and two strange, twisted shapes that had to be rakshasas as I went. They were not dead, for the most part, but they were badly burned, peppered by shrapnel, and clearly even whatever the rakshasas had done to them wasn’t enough to overcome this degree of damage. Some of them tried to crawl, where to I don’t think even they knew. Most, though, weren’t capable even of that. They lay still, or curled up, whimpering, moaning, and sobbing to themselves. The air was thick with the scent of burned meat, a vile stench if ever I smelled one. It was a scene from Hell’s nightmares.


I strode down it unflinchingly, numb and dazed and half-deaf and horrified and haunted by what I’d done—by the fact that, given the chance to try over, I wasn’t sure I could or would do anything differently.


I seemed to hear Loki’s delighted laughter in the back of my head. Optimistically, I wrote it off as a stress-induced hallucination.


The rakshasas were equally devastated. Both of them looked strange, wrong, like wax statues of a human being left too long in the sun. Their shapes were warped, unnatural. Their arms were twisted, their faces looked like some strange blend of a human and a cat without any hair whatsoever, their proportions disturbingly off-kilter. One was seven feet tall and freakishly thin, with bizarrely tiny arms that made me think of a tyrannosaur. The other was maybe half that height, must have weighed nearly two hundred pounds, and had such long apish arms that I expected it was more comfortable with quadrupedal locomotion than any form of human transport. Both had long, sharp claws that seemed an intermediary step between unkempt human fingernails and a raptor’s talons.


Neither of them moved. I beheaded them both anyway, just in case they were faking it. When in doubt, you can never go wrong with decapitation. I didn’t have the leisure to burn them, unfortunately. That would have been ideal. But cutting their heads off with Tyrfing was a solid second best.


Back in the central room, things had worsened considerably. Kimiko was down, near the front door. She didn’t look good. I couldn’t see what was wrong, and hardly had the leisure to check, but the air reeked of fresh blood, and odds were good some of it was hers. Alexis was standing outside, her posture making it plain she didn’t have the first idea of what to do. She had that gun out, but her hands were shaking too badly to use it, even if she could have figured out whom to shoot.


Aiko and Snowflake were still standing, but clearly in dire straits. They had been pressed back nearly to Kimiko’s position. Snowflake was limping badly, her left foreleg held clear of the floor, and her snarls held both desperate rage and a sort of resigned fatalism. Aiko had lost her dagger somewhere, but it hardly seemed to matter; her left arm hung limp at her side, and it wasn’t hard to see that she wouldn’t have gotten much use out of it anyway. She still moved with the same ferocity, but she was slowing down, getting clumsy. It wouldn’t take long before they wore her down, and Snowflake could never hope to stand them all off with her injuries. She might possibly have been able to flee, but I knew without even considering it that she wouldn’t do so. It wasn’t in her nature.


The ground was littered with corpses—how many was difficult to tell, because the fires’ hellish light wasn’t strong this far from ground zero, and the madly dancing shadows it cast were almost worse than unsullied darkness—but the rakshasas themselves were still unharmed, and the advantage of surprise that had let us pull off a charge on such a numerically superior foe was played out. It was only a matter of time now, and everyone knew it.


Of course, that was before I hit them from behind.


I probably should have charged the rakshasas, knowing that they were the real threat here. I did not. Tactics be damned, I wasn’t going to watch Aiko and Snowflake die knowing I could have prevented it. I was not.


I hit the thralls from behind, and I hit them hard and fast. I could say that I did something fancy, some extravagant bit of swordplay that was as beautiful as it was deadly, that astounded even as it killed. But that would be a lie. That would be an absolute lie.


The truth is that fancy maneuvers are things meant for the practice hall. They are designed for formal matches with rules of right of way, target areas, and fair tactics. They are very occasionally useful when fighting someone equally as skilled as you are.


They are no good for battle. When you’re fighting for your life, or your friends’ lives, you don’t want something fancy and impressive and honorable. There is little room for honor in real violence, and less for glory. When life is on the line, you seize every advantage you have, or you die. That is the truth. Anything else is either a beautiful lie designed to convince the youth to throw away their lives in service to a cause they hardly even understand, or based on situations not relevant to ninety-nine percent of conflicts.


In my case, the advantages were fourfold. First, surprise—because they surely would not expect anything to have survived the conflagration I had just set off. They would assume it had been a suicide attack, meant to trade my life—all our lives, probably—in return for a tactical advantage. Second, position. I was standing right behind the enemy, and there’s a reason that description is the basis for all kinds of metaphors describing an unfair advantage. Third, I was a werewolf. That made me almost certainly stronger and faster than any of the people in this room, excepting the rakshasas. Fourth, I had Tyrfing. What that meant in this context was that I could disregard certain rules and restrictions that govern ordinary fighters.


If I were an ordinary person, with an ordinary sword, the best I could do would be to kill one opponent, maybe two, before they figured out I was there. I would have tried to reduce the weight of numbers against myself a little bit, an ultimately futile endeavor—they were simply too numerous for that to matter, in the long run.


Instead, I focused on simply removing people from the fight. As many of them as I could.


My first attack beheaded two enemies and removed the arm from a third. Two of them dropped, while the last staggered away, fountaining blood, still not screaming. I stepped into the hole I’d made and swung again, capitalizing on the chaos my arrival had spread. This attack was a long diagonal slash from upper right to lower left, and left five people on the ground in pieces of varying shape and size.


A few steps later, I was standing next to Aiko. She was panting heavily, making a little pained noise on every exhale. I’d left nearly a dozen enemies maimed or dead, and when they turned to face me she’d attacked again, killing several more. Most of the slaves were dead now, with the exception of a small clump gathered around the rakshasas where they still stood on the sidelines. That group seemed a little better armed than the rest, a little less impaired. They also seemed reluctant to attack; presumably the rakshasas wanted them nearby.


“Took you long enough,” Aiko muttered, wincing slightly. That, combined with the way she moved, suggested that she had ribs which were bruised, cracked, or fractured. It was hard to guess which.


A broken rib can kill you, if you get unlucky. The sharp, splintered end goes into your heart, and you drop dead. Or it punctures a lung, and you drown slowly on your own blood. Or, if you get really unlucky, it punches through the wall of your stomach or intestine, and the wound starts pouring toxins and bacteria into your bloodstream, and you die over the course of weeks from septic shock. It’s a bad way to go. Not that there are many good ones, I suppose, but that’s worse than most.


I tried not to think about that too much. Aiko wouldn’t appreciate it, no more than I would accept her keeping me out of the fight to protect me. We all knew the risks here.


“What were you doing, anyway?” she asked, stretching her working arm in a way that suggested it was mildly injured as well, maybe a strain or pulled muscle or something. This hadn’t been a good fight for her; usually she got off the lightest of any of us. I suppose everyone has bad days.


“Wait for it,” I murmured, keeping close watch on the room. No one had come to attack us, and the rakshasas were conversing urgently in that unintelligible language of theirs. I was guessing they were debating whether to take the field personally now that we were properly softened up.


Suddenly, the room was plunged back into darkness, the fires gone out all at once. “There we go,” I said in satisfaction. The rakshasas’ muttering cut off with a short sound of confusion that transcended language barriers.


Aiko and Snowflake both started to ask what I meant, and what was going on. The others would have joined in, presumably, except that Kimiko looked like she might pass out if I breathed on her too hard and Alexis was pretty clearly in shock. Before I could reply, though, their questions were answered.


Miyazaki emerged from the hallway, and redirected the flames he’d stolen. It was directed away from us, but I still felt the wash of heat against my face, even through the cloak and helmet. I realized for the first time that my face was also burned, just enough to be irritating, and the cloak of shadows would need some serious repairs.


For the other team, the tanuki’s magic trick was significantly more threatening.


It lasted only a moment, but fire flooded orange-and-crimson from his outstretched hands, pouring over the rakshasas and their few remaining slaves. I looked away. If pressed, I could always just say that the fire’s brightness was painful to my eyes. It would not be a lie, in the technical sense, although it would also not be the truth.


There was screaming, this time, the sort of high-pitched, desperate screaming you seldom hear these days. I tried my best to tune it out. It wasn’t too hard, since I could only hear it in one ear anyway. Once again, the air filled with the stench of burning flesh. I gagged, and hoped nobody was looking to catch me being squeamish. It wouldn’t do for them to think me squeamish.


The fire died, plunging the room back into merciful darkness. I could not see at all, my eyes too abused by this rapid shuffling between painfully intense light and total blackness. But I could feel shapes moving too fast through the air, and knew that Kikuchi and his kin had followed close on the fire. Miyazaki’s opening salvo had been to deal with the humans; now the tengu would finish the job.


I slumped the ground in exhaustion. The yokai would stab me in the back or stick to the deal; it hardly mattered at this point. I wasn’t up to doing anything about it in any case, and I seriously doubted I could contribute anything useful to the fight at this point. Aiko sat down beside me a moment later, and Snowflake hop-limped her way over to collapse near us, panting. It occurred to me that I should probably check on her; it takes a fairly serious injury to make Snowflake take notice. I’d never seen her hopping like that. I couldn’t seem to make my body move to actually do it, though, and after a moment I lost interest.


The battle lasted only a few minutes. There was still no light, and I couldn’t seem to concentrate enough to feel the movement of the air that might have told me something about what was going on, so I know very little about how that fight went. It was fairly quiet as battles go, which isn’t really saying all that much. There was the clanging of metal on metal, the softer, wetter sounds of metal on flesh, the occasional scream of pain or ululating war cry.


Eventually, the sounds of fighting died away. I heard heavy, clomping footsteps coming closer, and briefly debated standing up to defend us. I dismissed it as the ridiculous notion it was.


Miyazaki spoke a single word in a deep, resonant voice, accompanying it with a thump of his club on the floor. A moment later, the room was filled with a gentle golden radiance. It had no evident source, and cast no shadows—which, believe me, is a lot creepier than you might think.


The rakshasas were dead. Very, very dead. The largest piece I could see was a forearm. The tengu hadn’t been satisfied with just beheading, it seemed. One of them was standing guard, in a position where he could watch both doors. Another was methodically executing all of the incapacitated-but-alive slaves. I might have found it repugnant or immoral, except that it was so clearly an act of mercy. The degree of injury necessary to subdue them had been far beyond what a human could reasonably expect to recover from.


Kikuchi himself was walking over to stand by Miyazaki. He had that katana held in a ready position so calm and casual I wondered whether he was even aware he was doing it. It was dripping blood, literally. He considered me for a moment, and I wondered if I was about to die for my high-handed treatment of him. If there was an emotion on that alien corvine face, I couldn’t read it.


“Are you well?” he said eventually. His voice was still mangled by the beak, making it a little hard to understand, but I thought it actually sounded concerned.


It occurred to me that he was talking to me. It occurred further that I should probably answer him. But I couldn’t think of a good reason to do so, nor did I have the faintest idea what I might say. I mean, what the hell kind of question was that? Was I well? How on earth could anyone be well right now? Furthermore, if I was well, would I really just be sitting here staring into space like a lunatic?


“He’s in shock,” Aiko explained, sounding very tired. “His injuries aren’t too serious, though. He should be fine.”


Shock. Well, that explained a lot. I wondered idly whether it was physical, emotional, or magical in cause. I could make a pretty strong case for all three, which struck me as a very indicting statement about the kind of life I’d been leading.


“We still have those bastards upstairs,” Miyazaki said. The tanuki no longer seemed so comedic. There were a number of holes—bullet holes, it looked like—in his vest, along with a number of burns, and his exposed arms were so bloody it showed through the hair. But he was just as huge and solid as ever, the injuries not seeming to bother him at all, and that massive club was thoroughly bloodied. There were bits of…things I had no desire to contemplate further stuck between the iron studs.


Kikuchi hesitated. “Go on,” Aiko said. “We aren’t going to be much help anyway. We’ll stay here and make sure nobody comes up behind you.” What an absurd statement. Snowflake was lamed, Aiko had one working arm and injured ribs, Kimiko was unconscious, Alexis was completely raw, and I was loopier than a racetrack, and fairly injured myself. I was pretty sure the only way we could stop toddlers was if they came one at a time.


“Are you sure that’s smart?” I mumbled. The words were mushy, but intelligible. Score one for the home team; I was not going to be a mute. “There’s only four of you.” Hrafn, of course, still couldn’t come inside. I was starting to understand why the vampires, for all their terrifying power, hadn’t driven out the competitors. They had too many weaknesses, and those weaknesses were too well known.


“Rakshasas are schemers,” Miyazaki said dismissively. “They go down easy enough in a fair fight.” He started for the stairs, drawing the rest along with him more or less by default.


I watched them go. Then I suddenly blinked, and seemed to come awake. “Hey,” I said to Snowflake. “Are you okay?”


The ankle’s broken, she said dispassionately. Not seriously. I can’t put weight on it, but it isn’t terrible, and it should heal all right. There’s a cut on my side that’s going to need stitches. One of my ears is going to be pretty well notched, and there’s a nick on my chin that will probably leave a real nice scar. Quite a few bruises, of course. Other than that I’m fine.


“Oh,” I said. “I suppose it could be worse.” I frowned. “Do we need to set the ankle?”


She hesitated. Not yet? she said tentatively. I don’t really know. I can get around all right for now. We can see about the actual medicining later.


“Okay. What about you?” I asked Aiko.


She grimaced. “This arm’s useless. Some bastard hit me with a hammer. I don’t think the shoulder’s broken, but I’m not going to be juggling any time soon.” She concluded with a liberal sprinkling of pejoratives and obscenities in a multitude of languages, which I couldn’t really parse at all.


“Are your ribs all right?”


She started to shrug, winced, and made an ambivalent sound instead. “Sore. Nasty bruises. Maybe cracked. Oh, and I sprained my good wrist, I think.”


I sighed with relief. “Oh good,” I said. “I was worried there was something serious.”


She snorted, then nudged me with her elbow. “What about you? I mean, shit, Winter, you don’t look so good.”


I took inventory. “Mild burns on my face, arms, back, and legs,” I said after a moment’s thought. “Shrapnel wounds on my back. I think it was the bricks exploding that did it. I must have taken a hit or two I didn’t notice, because my right hip doesn’t seem to want to work right, and the ankle is sore enough I think it might be sprained. I’m fine otherwise.” I frowned. “What happened to Kimiko?”


“She got overrun when they hit us from the rear,” Aiko said. “They just swarmed her. She must have taken out half a dozen of the bastards, but they just kept coming. It was like they didn’t even care.” She shivered slightly. “That was some creepy shit. Anyway, they took her down and got a few hits in, but we managed to clear them out. Snowflake held ’em off—that’s where she broke the ankle, some jackass with a bat lying on the ground—and I dragged her out.”


“How serious are her injuries?”


Aiko shrugged helplessly. “Enough?” she said. “I don’t know medicine. We got most of the bleeding stopped. She’s still breathing. That’s about what I’m good for.”


“Right,” I said. Then, “You think he’s going to win this?”


Aiko didn’t pretend not to understand what I meant. “Probably. This is totally Kikuchi’s kind of fight. I mean, shit, look at how easily he went through those guys,” she said, nodding at the pile of dismembered corpses in the middle of the room.


“Those were the weakest of the gang,” I said. “The stronger ones will be upstairs.”


“True,” she said. “But he’s got two other tengu and an old tanuki with him.” She shrugged. “Eh. Doesn’t much matter. I don’t think we can run fast enough right now to get away from ’em regardless.”


“Good point,” I admitted with a wry grin. “I reckon we’re pretty much all in now, and the dice are cast. Nothing to do but play it out.”


“How are you people so calm?” Alexis asked suddenly, sounding nearly hysterical. I started a little at the sound of her voice; I ‘d nearly forgotten my cousin was there at all. A dangerous habit to get into.


“It isn’t worth getting worked up over,” Aiko said with another abortive shrug. “Besides, we’ve both been hurt worse than this before.”


I grinned. “Yeah we have. Remember that time you got shot in the guts with a poisoned arrow? I thought that was gonna be the end of it.”


She laughed, although it looked slightly painful and trailed off into coughing. “Yeah,” she said after a moment to catch her breath. “Then there was that time right after we met, when you were in a coma for a week. I still don’t know how you aren’t dead.”


“And the time you personally insulted the Dragon King and implied his security was incompetent? When he’s your own freaking uncle? I wouldn’t be surprised if he up and killed you one of these days.”


“Well, at least I didn’t stab myself with my own magic sword right after. Besides, you tried to run a con on Loki. That’s, like, a bazillion times worse. You should pray that all he does is kill you.”


“In all fairness, I should point out that he thought it was hilarious. And given that you once tried to frame Erica as a drug runner, I don’t think you’ve got a leg to stand on when it comes to accusations of willfully pissing people off.”


“What are you two doing?” Alexis asked with a sort of horrified fascination.


“Don’t mind us,” I told her. “We tend to react to stress with inappropriate humor. It isn’t acceptable in most social situations, but I find that it’s actually very good for making you feel better. Maybe you should give it a try sometime.”


My cousin looked at me like I was crazed—which, in all fairness, was not entirely unlikely, nor without justification.


It took nearly half an hour for Kikuchi and his cohorts to finish their grim business. To my surprise, there was no interference or interruption. Clearly someone had arranged for the police to be occupied elsewhere, or otherwise kept them away. I amused myself for a while trying to guess who, but was eventually forced to conclude that there were so many possible parties that trying to figure it out was a hopeless venture.


I checked on Kimiko after a few minutes. My brain was clearly still addled, or I would have done that first thing. She had some fairly serious injuries—hellacious bruises, lacerations, a few broken bones, that sort of thing—but she was still alive, and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. She remained unconscious throughout, probably due to head trauma—there was a sizeable bruise on the side of her head, and it didn’t take a genius to guess that somebody had thought to club her about the face while she was on the ground. Head injuries are notoriously unreliable, and it wasn’t impossible that it would kill her, or make her wish it had. Unfortunately, they’re also notoriously difficult both to examine and to fix. It was well beyond my rudimentary first aid skills.


Finally the yokai came back down the stairs. We’d heard ominous noises, periodically—you know, screams of terror and agony, explosions, that sort of thing—but they actually looked fairly healthy. Kikuchi’s right arm was visibly broken, but he seemed quite capable with his left. One of the other tengu had some nasty burns on his face (and, believe me, the only thing weirder than a tengu’s real face was a tengu’s real face without feathers). Miyazaki had acquired even more burns, gunshot wounds, and a few slashes, but still seemed to be just too tough to faze.


“Is it done?” I asked, my voice flat and tired.


“It is,” Kikuchi said, his tone equally grim.


“Did any of the humans make it?”


“They wouldn’t surrender,” the tengu said, unreadable now. “We tried to take a few alive, but they killed themselves when they saw their masters die.”


Was he telling the truth, I wondered? Had it been truly necessary to kill them, or had he simply not looked for an alternative? If he hadn’t, did it even matter? Would I have done any better? Had I done any better?


“Truly, tonight’s has been a bitter business,” Kikuchi said, walking out into the middle of the room. He looked around at the various corpses, and I almost thought his expression looked haunted. But that was probably just me projecting. “But it’s over now.”


“I don’t know that I would go that far,” said a deep, unfamiliar voice. I turned to look at what was going on, just in time to see the uninjured tengu reach over and slice his kinsman’s throat out with his sword.


The traitor turned enough for me to see his face, and I nearly pissed myself.


The skinwalker’s baleful yellow eyes looked out at me from the tengu’s face.

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4 Responses to Balancing Act 6.14

  1. Mian

    Never smelt burnt flesh have you? It honestly smells pretty damn good — like roast pork. You still get the awful feeling that you shouldn’t be liking the smell, but Winter’s not the type to not be drooling over it. Particularly that much of it.

    • Emrys

      Keep in mind that he ate a large meal just before this scene. Also, there is a difference between cooked flesh and burnt flesh. Roasting meat would make him drool, but in my experience truly burnt meat smells pretty bad regardless of where it came from. And that isn’t even considering the hair, blood, clothing, and various building materials that were also in the blast radius, all of which can smell truly horrible when they burn. Between this and the way he was already feeling, I don’t think it’s that implausible that he would be a little upset by the whole scene.

      tl;dr: Normally you would be correct, but in this case I thought there were enough mitigating factors that it would be reasonable not to focus on him feeling hungry as a result of smelling it.

  2. Anonymity

    woops, this was meant for next chapter, shit. i mustve accidentally click the back button, and there is no delete button… hopefully the author will delete this one and ill repost the comment on the next chapter

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